The Democrats won’t talk to the Republicans. The Republicans won’t talk to the Democrats. The debate is relegated to sound bites spoken at press conferences without real face to face conversation. Our representatives talk “at” each other not “with” each other. Name calling, accusations, and stonewalling ensue. The presidential candidates pronounce that they have all the answers while their political opponents have it all wrong. Subsequently, members of both parties feel ignored, constituents are frustrated, and multiplied thousands suffer the consequences.
Intrinsically, all of us know there is something wrong with this picture. We ask the obvious question, “why can’t our government officials just get together, talk it out, and come to some sort of compromise so that we can all move forward?” Though we may respect some for standing on their principles, all of us recognize the problems with this scenario.
Yet, a similar scene plays out in multiplied thousands of homes across the country every single day. Husbands and wives won’t really listen to each other. Neither party wants to compromise. One person tries to prove they are right and prove the other wrong. Both parties begin to talk “at” each other instead of “with” each other. Name calling, accusations, and stonewalling ensue. Emotionally, households “shut down.” Both spouses feel ignored, family members get frustrated, and children, co-workers, and other bystanders are hurt in the process.
It has been said that “marriage is the chief cause of divorce.” But the truth is poor communication skills are what usually lead to problems in a marriage. Without a doubt there will be times when there are differences of opinion, disagreements, and conflict. But, research clearly shows that having conflict in marriage is not the problem rather, how a couple handles their conflicts will determine their level of success and marital health.
The challenge is we are not born knowing how to communicate successfully. We usually learn these skills by observing our parents. If we did not see them having loving, collaborative, effective communication, then there is no reason we should know how to do it ourselves. The good news is that we can learn how to communicate effectively at any stage in life. And, learning to communicate well is the best thing you can do for your marriage.
A great place to start improving communication in your marriage is with the Apostle Paul’s challenge to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition … but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Phil 2:3-4). This means putting your mate’s needs before your own. It means seeking to understand your spouse before making sure you are heard or understood. One thing is for sure, it is impossible to listen and talk at the same time. Listening behind the words and listening for understanding is the bedrock of good communication and might be the best way to communicate love, compassion, and grace to your spouse. In fact, theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich once said, “The first duty of love is to listen.” This is why James declared, “everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19). Understanding causes anger to dissipate.
So here’s my challenge for us today: Let’s open our ears and our hearts to really listen and understand. Let’s end the stand-off. Maybe our government officials could start there as well.