Do you ever watch those dance competitions on TV? It’s amazing how the couples move across the dance floor in such harmony with one another. I wish I could say that I can dance. Instead, when I take to the dance floor, my moves are stunted; I stumble and am out of step with the beat.
Communication can be a lot like dancing. Discussions flow and move forward when we take turns speaking. But when we don’t follow steps of good communication, we struggle with who leads, we step on each other’s toes, and we move away from each other rather than with each other. There’s no fluid movement and no yielding to the other. More often than not, communication can be more like a battle of tug of war than a beautiful waltz.
That’s because of our sinful hearts. We naturally desire to have our own way. We look out for what we think is best for ourselves instead of seeking what is best for others. Our first instinct is not to extend grace, but to stand our ground and win at all costs. Watch any group of children on the playground try to agree on what game to play and you’ll see what I mean.
Communication is often an underlying problem in marriage. For many of us, we just don’t know how to talk to our spouses without one or both of us getting upset. In addition to our sinful nature, many of us never witnessed gracious and open communication in our families growing up. We were never taught the basic steps. All we know are dances called “The Silent Treatment,” “It’s My Way or the Highway,” “Don’t Rock the Boat” and “Just Who Do You Think You Are?”
It is possible for marital communication to become less like tug of war and more like a beautiful dance. The Bible tells us that in Christ we are new creations. Through Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death on the cross, he has freed us from slavery to sin so that we can walk according to the Spirit rather than our sinful desires. He empowers us through his Spirit to love others with the same grace he has given to us. The more we die to sin, the more we can live for Christ, and that includes communicating with love and grace.
Do you ever struggle in communicating with your spouse? Here are a few important steps that can help us move toward our spouse in grace:
1. Each person takes a turn speaking. This seems obvious but how often in real conversations do we interrupt each other? Or both try to talk at the same time? In a waltz, only one person leads the dance. In communication, we have to take turns speaking. It shows respect for the other person when we listen to what they have to say. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).
2. The job of the listener is to do just that–listen. The person who is listening does not interrupt, even if the other person is saying something that the listener believes is wrong. As James wrote, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).This also means they are not thinking the entire time about what they want to say in return. Rather, they are paying close attention to what the other person is saying so that they can effectively understand. They maintain eye contact. The listener also shows with their body that they are listening, i.e. their arms are not crossed in anger, they are not tapping their fingers on the table, they aren’t rolling their eyes, etc.
3. The listener shows they were listening by summarizing what they heard. When the speaker has finished speaking, the listener responds by saying, “Let’s see if I understood you correctly, you said_____.” Then the listener summarizes what they understood the speaker to have said, in their own words. This provides an opportunity for clarifying things that may be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Then it is the listener’s turn to speak their concerns. “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).
4. The speaker avoids certain phrases that are certain to put the listener on the defensive. Such phrases include, “You always___” “You never____” “You made me____” are just a few. Alternative phrases to use include “I feel ______.” “When you said/did ______ I thought/felt __________.” “I think the reason I feel/think _____ is _________.” As believers, we are called to encourage one another, not blame or put each other down. As Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, we ought to “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
To take each other’s hand and enter the dance of communication, even while facing a challenge or conflict takes a desire to work through things and a commitment to the goal of marital unity. It also takes humility and a willingness to listen and truly understand the other person. Sin often gets in the way of our communication but the grace of Christ is greater than even our sinful, foolish ways. Pray and seek God’s wisdom as you communicate with your spouse. Remember how much grace Christ poured out for you at the cross and seek to extend that same gospel grace to your spouse. And may the Lord of the Dance himself guide you and your spouse as you seek to move together as one, to the same beat, in a harmonious dance.
Christina Fox, @toshowthemjesus, is a homeschooling mom, licensed mental health counselor, writer, and coffee drinker, not necessarily in that order. She lives in sunny S. Florida with her husband of seventeen years and their two boys. You can find her sharing her faith journey at www.toshowthemjesus.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ToShowThemJesus.