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    Feb 13, 2022

    Class 6: Communication

    Series: Marriage

    Category: Core Seminars, Manhood & Womanhood, Marriage, The Gospel


    What we’ll do for the rest of today’s class is to look through three basic purposes that we see in Scripture for communication in marriage. I should point out that what we’ll discuss this week and next will have broad relevance to your all relationships, well beyond marriage.


    Marriage Core Seminar

    Class #6: Communication


    The Importance of Communication in Marriage

    Remember back to class one when Jamie talked about the paradox of marriage. That is, the power of a marriage is the fact that a husband and a wife are different from each other by design, which most fundamentally shows up in the different orientations they have toward marriage, that of leader and helper, and the way God’s wired men and women for those roles. That’s the power: they fit together in a complementary way, she is made to be a helper fit for him, Genesis 2:20. Different from him, complementary to him. Yet, they are also called to be one flesh, Genesis 2:24 - 25, and this fundamental difference will absolutely drive you crazy unless you can also be one flesh; on the same page, so to speak.  That’s the paradox of marriage, different yet one flesh.  Some people mess this up by trying to squeeze their spouse into their own mold. “This would be so much easier if you’d think about it like I do.” Which compromises the power of the marriage. Others mess this up by embracing the differences and just staying there. “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus…not much we can do about that.” Which can fall short of one flesh.

    As you’ll remember, the Bible gives us three basic tools for bridging that gap from Genesis 2:20 to 2:25, so we can embrace our differences and be one flesh. Those tools are 1) the Bible’s teaching on our roles and orientations in marriage, which we’ve looked at the last few weeks. 2) Communication, which is our topic for this week and next, and 3) sex.

    So then, communication - “If marriage is source of the union, sex is the picture of the union, family is the fruit of the union, then communication is the essence of the union: It is where the union fails or succeeds.”[1] Communication is the gas that makes the car run. Without it, you’re not going anywhere in your marriage. Today’s class focused on biblical communication in general, and next week’s will focus on conflict. Two weeks can’t possibly be comprehensive, but it’ll be a good start.  [Book Plug – The Exemplary Husband by Stuart Scott]

    What we’ll do for the rest of today’s class is to look through three basic purposes that we see in Scripture for communication in marriage. I should point out that what we’ll discuss this week and next will have broad relevance to your all relationships, well beyond marriage.

    The reason we’re looking at the Bible’s goals and purposes for your speech rather than a list of dos and don’ts is the simple fact that good communication flows from the heart, as Jesus says in Matthew 12. What’s behind Biblical communication is a set of Biblical desires (the heart) for communication. After all, James 3:7, “no human being can tame the tongue.” More than better communication techniques, what we need in marriage are biblical desires, goals, and purposes for our communication.  It starts with the heart. 

    Before we get to the 3 purposes though, let me just say a few words about the role of husband and wife in communication.


    Roles of Husband and Wife

    You’ll recall from class #2 that there’s to be a shape and structure to every marital relationship; the husband leads; the wife as his helper responds.

    What does a husband’s leadership look like in regard to communication:

    • It means that he is always moving toward his wife in their conversations, he is always pursuing. His temptation or desire or preference or default position is so often to draw back, to withdraw and let her pursue him. That is abdicating his God given responsibility to lead.  His job is to pursue her. As we discussed two weeks ago, through his speech he is making vulnerability safe for her.
    • He’s making sure that there’s sufficient time for communication. In the busyness of life, especially when kids are in the picture, and in very busy Washington, DC, it can be surprising how long you can go between good, deep, self-disclosing conversations. It’s his job to be planning life to make sure that communication happens. Marriage retreats are a great way to step back and take a broader inventory of all aspects of your marriage, including your communication. 


    And what about a wife?

    • She’s responding to his pursuit of her, by opening up to him, by being willing to be vulnerable because of her trust in God, as we talked about two weeks ago from I Peter 3. She’s extending trust in communication that’s not yet earned.
    • She’s helping him, letting him know when communication isn’t as it should be, either because they’re not talking enough, or they’re not talking about the right things, or they’re not talking about them in the right way.


    These roles don’t mean in any way that a wife isn’t planning and initiating some or even most of their conversations. But he is responsible to be sure that communication in the marriage is healthy.

    So then, thinking through the lens of a husband or wife’s role in the marriage, what should we want our communication to accomplish, what are our biblical purposes (desires and goals) for communication?


    To Know and Be Known

    One of the most important fruits of good communication is the fruit of union. Like I just said, feeling like you’re one flesh. That’s much more ambitious than simple information transfer. Anyone who’s ever thought that the main goal of communication in marriage is to simply relay information, a transactional interchange, is way off the mark. After all, how did God communicate with us? Not merely by relaying information, which he did, with words, which is very significant, but, he also became one of us. The Word became flesh.  Through this he knows us and we can experience being known by him. Communication is a tool for discovery and self-disclosure.

    Of course, to know and be known, we must be willing to be vulnerable. As a husband and wife, are you choosing to open up your heart and your life to one another? To share your deepest fears and joys and ambitions and values and beliefs? Or to admit that you were hurt by what your spouse said? That admission takes a surprising degree of humble vulnerability. And on the other hand, do you choose words that invite your spouse into greater vulnerability with you?

    One of the ways that sin corrupts our relationships is that it makes us hide from each other. But the trajectory of sanctification is to bring things out of the darkness and into the light. Practically speaking, that means in marriage that you will need to take risks by using your words to reveal yourself to spouse. That vulnerability can be scary, but it’s what’s necessary for a good marriage.

    Very practically, one barrier to self-disclosing communication is that there are different kinds of communication and sometimes husband and wife have different ideas of what they’re trying to do. So “how was the day” could be answered by a rundown of the schedule and what was accomplished, or it could be answered by the emotional impact it had on you. Very often, frustration in communication comes because one person is expecting self-disclosure and the other is thinking about information transfer.

    In their book Love That Lasts, Gary and Betsy Ricucci talk about six different types of communication[2]:

    • Small talk (“did you see the men’s downhill last night?”)
    • Information exchange (“what time do you think you’ll be home tonight?”)
    • Spiritual conversation (“how does the authority given to Jesus in Psalm 110 help you to trust him?”)
    • Self-disclosure (“I’m having a really hard time with that new person in our small group and I can’t tell if it’s just my pride or something about them”)
    • Value sharing (“do you think we need to cut back on screen time for the kids?”)
    • Correction (“The way you spoke about me at dinner last night really hurt.”)

    On one level, all six can fall into this category of knowing and being known. Obviously some are deeper than others. So when you feel like you and your spouse have ended up in two different categories, see if instead you can have the same conversation. And—husbands especially—try to ensure that all six are part of the regular flow of your marriage. Not all conversation has to be deep self-disclosure. But some of it should be. Not every conversation needs to be spiritual. But some of it should be.

    Another challenge to this first goal of communication is communication styles. Very typically, one spouse is more of an internal processor—who listens, processes carefully, and then speaks exactly what they mean. And the other is an external processor who’s often thinking out loud. Often (it seems), an internal processor marries an external processor, and vice versa. If you’re married to an external processor, you probably won’t have to do too much work to know what your spouse is thinking and feeling, though you may have to do some work to sort through all they give you. If you’re married to an internal processor on the other hand, you’ll need to become adept at drawing them out.

    That often involves asking good questions. Generally, good questions are open ended, go one level deeper, and drive to something at the heart level; like, “why do you think you reacted that way to his comment? or, “how did that make you feel?”

    Drawing them out can also involve simply summarizing what they said so that they know they were heard and are invited to go a bit deeper. “Wow, I am sorry that happened, it sounds like it was a very tense situation!” “Yeah, it really was, and what really made me anxious was …”

    One of the best parts of being married is to be known—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and loved. And that’s going to happen through conversation. Any questions before we move on to the next goal of communication?


    To Be One

    Knowing and being known is great—but very often what a couple discovers in that process is that you disagree. When you disagree, your goal is to be one flesh. Sometimes you get there by one or both of you changing what you think or feel. But you can disagree and still be one. In fact, a marriage where you agree on everything could actually be somewhat problematic because you’d lose the opportunity to push each other in your thinking, beliefs, and values. Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Again, the power of your marriage is found in the differences between the two of you.

    So how can communication help you pursue oneness when you disagree? Here are two ideas.


    Focus on understanding

    This is basically a repeat of what I said in section one, but it’s important enough I’ll repeat it here. Do you remember Jamie’s story from two weeks ago about the CEO coming into his office before the company made a decision that would be hard for his group? Simply telling Jamie that his needs and concerns had been heard, understood, and considered was so helpful when he had to follow the CEO’s leadership in a difficult direction. How much more so in marriage. Husbands: this is especially true for you, like we saw in 1 Peter 3:7; understand your wife.

    • Don’t understand her simply to argue against her - That’s a battle tactic, not love.
    • Don’t understand simply to convince her of your position - That values the decision above your wife.
    • Don’t understand simply to make her feel considered before you decide what you would have decided anyway - That’s demeaning and dishonest.

    No: before you make a decision, understand her because you love her. Because you’d never want to do anything without understanding how it’s going to feel in her world. And because she’s wise and godly and you value her perspective.

    You really can disagree and still experience life as one flesh if you truly understand one another and demonstrate over time that you value the other person in the decisions you make.

    So focus on understanding.  In addition,


    Start with Values

    Very often in marriage, you’ll find that beneath a decision you disagree on are values you agree on. For example, you both love your neighbors and value an evangelistic witness to your neighbors and you value your relationship and being together. She wants to have the neighbors over and he wants to go out on a date. It wouldn’t be good for him to accuse her not valuing their marriage and neglecting their relationship.  If wouldn’t be good for her to accuse him of not loving their neighbors.   We’re tempted set up values-based strawmen like this to get our own way, to win the argument. But in doing that, we’re working against the understanding I just talked about, and as a result we feel further from each other than we really are.

    So in general, when you have a disagreement, start with what you value. Do you value the same things? Great! Acknowledging that will make the disagreement feel so much less troubling. Do you not value the same things?  Well, there’s likely some harder work to do, but, at least now you know where the discussion needs to be—at the level of values, not the level of the decision. Arguing about the decision when your values aren’t aligned is nearly always a conflict that will never resolve.  [example of paying for college]

    If you’re married to a Christian, we have a joyful hope that transcends all our disagreements, we can trust and rest assured that at the highest level our values align. And that gives hope that over time, with patience and understanding, as you search the Scriptures together, values that may not have aligned completely on your wedding day can slowly but surely come together.

    But once again, with understanding, respect, and trust, there’s no reason why you need to agree in order to be one flesh in your union. Jesus tells us, Matthew 12, that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (v. 34). Communication will reveal your heart—what you value, what you desire—and so it’s a critical part of pursuing union as one flesh.

    Any questions?

    Let’s move on then to a third goal for communication:


    To Build Each Other Up

    A third goal for communication is to use our words to build one another up spiritually. A great summary of that is in Ephesians 4:29. It’ll help to open your Bible to Ephesians 4.


    This section of Ephesians encourages us to be like God in Ephesians 4:24, and to be imitators of God in 5:1. And one key way we can do that is through our speech, which is what Ephesians 4:29 is about.  So, let’s unpack this verse and apply it to marriage:


    1. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth. The word for “unwholesome” in the original conveys the idea of “rotten.” Think of the bad fruit in Matthew 7:17 and 18. It conveys the harm that’s done with your words. What exactly is unwholesome talk? Well, the next three phrases explain by defining its opposite.
    2. But only what is helpful in building others up. We want to use our words in marriage to build the union and one-ness, not to break it down.
    3. As fits the occasion (ESV) or according to their needs (NIV). We want our type of words to be appropriate for the occasion. There are some moments in life that require encouragement; some that require exhortation; some that require comfort; and so forth. We demonstrate wisdom when we choose the right word for the right occasion. This is a reminder of how important using our words to understand the other is, like we talked about earlier in today’s class. If you don’t understand them, you don’t know what will fit the occasion.
    4. That it might benefit those who listen (NIV) or that it might give grace to those who hear (ESV). The immediate end goal of your words is grace. Grace is a very theological word, undeserved favor, like we saw last week. You are to choose words that show a kindness your spouse has not deserved. For example, in conflict, rather than responding in kind, can you respond with grace? The grace of the gospel – God sending Jesus for those who didn’t deserve his love so we can live differently—that same grace is a key goal of our communication.

    This verse is a great summary statement of the standard Scripture lays out for your communication in marriage. Were your words designed to build up your spouse, whether they were informative, encouraging, or correcting? Did you understand the situation well enough to speak wisely, or did you jump to conclusions and speak without regard to the occasion? And did your words communicate the grace you have received in Christ? Overall, in line with the context of this verse in Ephesians, you can ask the question, “Has what I said to my spouse helped him or her to look more or less like Christ?”

    Let me drill down on two types of conversation that fall into this “building up” category: encouragement and correction.

    First, encouragement. The writer of Hebrews tells us to encourage each other (10:24) and in fact, to do so daily (3:13). Hebrews 3:13 gives us a pretty specific idea of what biblical encouragement involves: “But exhort [or encourage, NIV and CSB] one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” We are called quite specifically not just to encourage each other by way of complements, but to encourage each other’s faith so that we won’t buy into the deceit of sin. We see a great example of this in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. We know from the rest of the book that the Corinthian church had more than its fair share of problems and faults. But Paul is careful to begin by encouraging them, specifically about their faith. 1 Corinthians 1:4-8, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    Paul encourages them that they’ve received God’s grace in Christ, and he encourages them that he can see the effect of that grace in their speech and knowledge, and in the gifts that Christ has given to them. As we read through the letter we learn that they’ve misunderstood all three of these things—speech, knowledge, and gifts—but Paul begins by encouraging them for the good he sees nonetheless.

    A good phrase that helps make biblical encouragement practical is the phrase “observing evidences of God’s grace.”[3] Observing evidences of God’s grace.

    • Observing how God’s grace has gifted your spouse in different ways.
    • Observing how God is giving them grace to live with their hope trained on him during times of difficulty.
    • Observing how God is giving them grace in places where they tend to struggle. In fact “to withhold encouragement despite progress—even if its just a glimmer of progress—is to rob God of glory.”[4]
    • Observing evidences of God’s grace in their speech, actions, desires, and ambitions.

    Encouragement is crucial to a good marriage. And equally crucial is the Godly acceptance of encouragement. We don’t want to puff ourselves up when receiving encouragement (“that’s right, I’m awesome; I’m glad you noticed”). But neither do we want to defame God by pretending that the evidence of his grace that a spouse just pointed out aren’t real. When your spouse encourages you, you can marvel at the power of God’s grace at work and marvel at his kindness expressed in that grace.

    There’s certainly a kind of encouragement that can promote a godless vanity because ultimately it glorifies your spouse rather than God. And there’s certainly a demand for encouragement that is idolatrous—where we’re living for the praise of men rather than the praise of God. But at baseline, both the desire for affirmation from a spouse and the regular encouragement of a spouse are good and healthy in a God-glorifying marriage. Your marriage should be full of God-glorifying encouragement. If you think this is a particular deficit for you, you might want to consider reading Sam Crabtree’s short book, Practicing Affirmation which you’ll see listed on the back of your handout.

    Any questions?


    Having looked at encouragement, let’s also look at correction. Correction should not be nearly as frequent as encouragement, but it’s just as important. If you think about it, the defensiveness that tries to push away correction is at its core a denial of the authority of Scripture. The Bible tells us that we are sinners who are being remade into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29), but if we can’t take correction, we’re either saying that we’ve already arrived or we don’t want to get there. If Scripture is perfect and you are not, then correction should always be welcomed.

    Of course, who likes to be corrected? I’d far rather be encouraged than corrected. I know that feeling in the pit of my stomach when someone is about to correct me, no matter who it is, no matter what it’s about. I wince.  And once correction gets started, we have an irresistible urge to push back on every mischaracterization, no matter how slight, to explain what we were really thinking or intending, to spend our energy rebutting what we can rather than listening. Which is perhaps why Scripture is full of admonitions to listen carefully and graciously to correction. Proverbs 13:13, “Whoever scorns instruction will pay for it, but whoever respects a command is rewarded.” Or Proverbs 17:10, “A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.” Or David in Psalm 141:5, “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.”

    So how can we receive correction well in marriage?[5]

    1. First, we must agree with God’s judgment. That is, his declaration that we are sinners. So your wife tells you were harsh with the kids. Why should that surprise and offend you? You’re a sinner after all. Even if she was wrong in that instance, it’s still worth listening carefully because it’s unlikely that this is never a problem.
    2. Second, we must agree with God’s justification. That is, his declaration that in Christ we are righteous. So much of our resistance to criticism comes from a works-righteousness mentality that our value as human beings is dependent on our performance as human beings, which makes criticism devastating at an existential level. But praise God it’s not! Our standing before God is dependent on Christ’s performance, which is perfect.
    3. Third, with that as foundation, listen to correction. Think it through. Even if part of it is based on misunderstanding, can you still profit from it? We all know that’s what we should do; the key to actually doing that is the first two things I mentioned.

    And how can we give correction well in marriage? A few thoughts:

    1. Don’t correct in order to punish your spouse or put them in their place as in, “You criticized me for being harsh with the kids yesterday and you think you’re so awesome and gentle, but what about that tone of voice you just used?” Self-righteousness is so prevalent in marriage, and it is no position from which to criticize. As Jesus said, take the log out of your own eye before attending to the speck in your brother’s.
    2. Don’t correct because you’re in a bad mood. I know that seems obvious, but how often is it, honestly, that it’s my own mood that convinces me that something must be said about whatever my spouse is doing. If you’re unsure, remember that it’s rare that a correction you have in mind today won’t be just as useful tomorrow.
    3. Don’t seek to do what only God can do. All you can do is highlight what you see as a problem. No degree of manipulation, arguing, or debating can change your spouse’s heart.
    4. Do be specific as to what you see. What exactly did they say or do? Examples are helpful.
    5. Do be constructive. How can you envision them changing? This is a helpful guard against correcting simply to condemn.
    6. Do be gentle. It’s so easy to assume a motive of self-righteous condemnation when we’re being corrected. Harsh, biting, impatient, or sarcastic correction will feed right into that fear, but gentleness helps your spouse trust your motives behind words of correction.




    I mentioned before Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Do you want to know your spouse, to understand them, to pursue the union with them that God’s given them? Listen to their words. And pursue that same union with your own words. May God give us all grace to build oneness with our speech.


    [1] Quoted from somewhere but the reference has been lost.

    [2] Page 84.

    [3] From C. J. Mahaney, Humility.

    [4] Love That Lasts, page 90.

    [5] This is a very brief summary of Alfred Poirer’s article “The Cross and Criticism” in The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Spring 1999 – volume 17, number 3.