I’m excited and honored to welcome back Pastor Bruce Goldsmith, of Laurel Hill Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Va., to guest post on CBB today as he continues to share valuable insight on creating a Godly marriage. Our hope is that this series will help couples in forming a beautiful and strong foundation for their marriage built on God’s love – you can read all the posts in this series here. And I’ll turn it over to Pastor Bruce now:
Several years ago, I had a session with a couple who were in their mid-sixties and who had been married for over 45 years. They had a long life together, and had finished their working careers, and were grandparents. They were a wonderful couple to be around and to converse with. During the first session, we exchanged a few pleasantries and then I asked them what I could do for them. What unfolded from that question ended up being a series of weekly counseling sessions that lasted for several years. On the outside, this couple seemed to be in love with each other and a perfect match. After all, they had been married for many years and lived what looked like a great life together. But I have learned, what appears to be good on the outside may not necessarily be good on the inside. So, as I asked them questions about their relationship, it became clear to me that they had never really known each other. That may sound crazy but the reality was they had lived a very superficial life together. Day-to-day life was what anyone would call, “normal,” but their inner, personal lives, were wrecked by the exclusion of openness and a lack of transparency.
The purpose of this post is not to deal specifically with openness and transparency but to talk about what keeps these two subjects from being a part of a healthy, God honoring relationship. The problem all centers on communication. Let me back up just a bit. One of the things that is very helpful in determining how a couple relates to each other is to put them in real-life situations that cause their emotions to come out and to see how they deal with basic relationship skills. To do that, I like to play a game with the couples I meet with. It is a very simple game that requires the skills of listening and the ability to take instruction and some basic building skills. The game is a building block game. I have two identical toys: one that is already built, per the picture on the box, and the other that is in pieces. Each toy has the same number and color of pieces and the same shapes. The objective is for the woman to build the exact replica of the already built toy with the loose pieces of the second toy. When it is complete, both toys should look the same. Simple enough. The catch is the couple must sit back-to-back and the woman cannot speak at all during the process. Oh, I almost forgot to mention this. The woman has no idea what the object is supposed to look like when it is complete. All she has is a bunch of multi-colored pieces in her hands when she starts. When the couple is ready to begin, I say go, and the man begins to give instructions to the woman on how to build her toy so that it looks just like his toy. As a footnote, the toy being built can be done by either the woman or the man, it makes no difference. I just choose to do it this way. Normally, I give fifteen minutes to complete the task. What I learn from this exercise is how well the couple communicates or should I say, how poorly they communicate. The point of the woman being silent through the process is for the man to have to express his instructions carefully and clearly. At the end of the exercise, I like to ask the woman what she was thinking and the emotions she was feeling. This will often help clarify what needs to change in the way the couple corresponds with each other. In other words, the man will usually give instruction based on the way he normally thinks which is often very different from the way the woman thinks. Therein is the problem. Most couples do not understand that their communication cannot be one-sided. Good communication is not just orders from the man or vice versa. That is not communication at all. Communication is the ability to present a thought, idea, concept, etc., with the recipient being given the opportunity to reflect their own thoughts, lovingly and graciously, even if they disagree. In addition, neither of the parties involved in the communication are to be without care and consideration for how their partner feels and how they process things. And no one person is to make assumptions about what the other is thinking and feeling. Assumptions cause lots of problems in relationships.
God honoring marriages are ones where the couples are not afraid to communicate their most intimate feelings as well as their thoughts and concerns but that takes several things. For example, it takes practice and willingness. But also, it takes humility on the part of both partners. Unfortunately, many couples feel the need to get married before they understand this need for good communication. So, when life settles after the wedding, they go back to the way they normally interact and the relationship stagnates. This was the case with the couple who had been married for many years. They had never learned how to properly communicate with each other. In other words, they never allowed themselves to express their inner thoughts and feelings. And even though they felt a lot of emotion, they never gave each other the privilege of sharing without one of them shutting the other one down, either by not responding or acting as if they didn’t care. What further exacerbated the problem was the husband grew up in a family where no one showed their true feelings, so naturally, he didn’t show his wife any feelings either. What was normal for him became normal in their marriage. Sadly, it was killing his wife and their marriage. She wanted openness, for him to share his thoughts and feelings with her, and it was very uncomfortable for him. So, after many years of trying, she began to shut down in a lot of areas. Thankfully, through counseling, he has been able to see these traits in himself and has come a long way to heal their relationship.
One of the best things that can happen with a couple considering marriage is to talk about everything. I mean everything. Over and over, repeating feelings and thoughts. While the other partner listens carefully and intently. And then having the same opportunity. Never giving the indication that what is being said is boring or insignificant. Hear this! Nothing your future spouse or current spouse says to you is insignificant! If it were, they wouldn’t say it. It may be unimportant in the big picture of life and unimportant to you at the time but people find their security by talking to the one they love and being allowed to say what they want to say even if it seems insignificant. This kind of communication builds trust and respect which will take the relationship through all kinds of storms. The truth is, we either encourage our partners to be the person they want to be, by communicating well or we teach each other to shut down and live superficial lives. When that happens, the relationship is in real danger. The kind of danger that creates roaming eyes and roaming hearts, looking for the one who will listen and spend time communicating. Because another reality exists in relationships, communication creates relationships, even if those relationships are not healthy or helpful.
Such was the case with this couple. But after many years together, and several affairs, due to a lack of openness, the couple, thankfully, is still together. Did you know God is a great communicator? His Word, the Bible, is full of His language of love, communicated to us. Every page is a message of His desire for us to be blessed and to have a holy life in Him. In fact, He wanted His message of love to be communicated so clearly, He came to the earth to communicate it personally. He suffered in many ways giving that message, and ultimately, giving His life for us. And He did that, so we would have a home with Him, in heaven, and a personal, saving, close relationship with Him. If you want your new marriage to be blessed, start with communicating everything to your spouse. Help him or her understand the need you both have for learning the most intimate parts of yourselves. It will take some work, especially if either of you are not good at communicating your inner thoughts and feelings or if you have been hurt by someone who was uncaring, in your past. But it will come, as you are patient with one another and have each other’s best interest at heart.
One of the most popular Bible passages read at weddings is 1 Corinthians 13. In those verses God gives the way true love expresses itself. Listen to what He says, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NASB) “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Conversely, the description of a person who is unwilling to live this kind of relationship is also made clear in 1 Corinthians. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NASB) 1 “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
Maybe today or on your next date night, start the time off with serious communication about your feelings and listening carefully to your partner’s feelings. If they are not interested, as tough as it may be, don’t push the relationship. It could be, God is telling you something. Your life will be much happier by being with a person who really wants to know you intimately and cares enough to show you that by communicating well.
Ask your future spouse this question: “How well do you think we communicate with each other?” Then have them tell you what they think of your communication as a couple. Be honest and let them know if you feel the same way.
Photography & Styling by Sarah Darcy.