Pillar Journal

Developing Good Communication Skills

As husband and wife, you must seek by God’s grace to develop good ways of talking with each other.

When you marry, you enter a covenant of companionship. Malachi 2:14 says, “The wife of thy youth” is “thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.” But healthy, God-honoring companionship cannot exist without good communication. As husband and wife, you must seek by God’s grace to develop good ways of talking with each other.

Healthy communication also involves listening. Be a good sounding board when your spouse needs to talk. James gives good advice when he says, “Be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). Husband and wife should each be willing to hear what the other has to say. No one should feel pressured to respond or be provoked to anger. An unseasonable rebuke or outburst of resentment will cause your spouse to retreat into silence—or worse, to resort to dishonesty, telling you only what you want to hear, even if it is not true. Many times the only concern or need is to “get something off your chest.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said that if we want to be of help to others as counselors, we must learn not to be shocked or repelled by anything we hear. Each partner in a marriage must open the way for communication, listening to the other without responding in haste or in anger. When a wife says, “Honey, I feel this way,” her husband should not say, “Do this or that, and you will get over it.” If he does, she will most likely say in response, “I didn’t ask you to tell me what to do. I just wanted you to know how I felt.” That doesn’t mean a husband or wife never needs counsel. But often he or she just wants to know that the other is there for him or her. We all want a sense of connection, and that sense lies at the heart of the idea of marriage. At times this sense of connection may result in tears. When open communication is real, tears do not spell disaster, but they can help purge pain. At such times, the spouse should hold the other in his or her arms, listen attentively, and love unconditionally.

Another aspect of healthy communication in marriage is discussing major decisions together and waiting until you have unity before moving ahead. Any decision that involves a major change for your family’s life, home, work, or church should be made only after talking together about it, praying together, and coming to agreement. Although the husband is the head of the household, a godly man should not—with rare exceptions—lead his family against his godly wife’s desires.

Healthy communication also involves the ability to take criticism from a spouse or give it without offending the other. This can be done by what we call the “sandwich principle.” You lay down a slice of bread, as it were, by saying something like, “You are wonderful and I appreciate you in so many ways.” You then name some ways that especially please you. Then you lay down a slice of meat, saying, “But I am concerned about something. I feel like you don’t seem to care about how my days go. You seldom ask me about them, or, when you do, you don’t seem to listen to my answer.” Then you put down the other slice of bread and say, “Don’t get me wrong, I am not criticizing you as a person. I am just concerned about one particular thing. I love you very much, and you have so many wonderful qualities.” When you do offer such carefully constructed criticism, your partner will be more inclined to eat your sandwich. This is not manipulation; it is disciplined thankfulness.

Paul is a great model for this in the Epistles when he criticizes his readers. For example, when he writes to the Corinthians, he lays down a slice of bread in the first epistle’s opening verses in which he thanks God for them and for their God-given graces and gifts and then assures them that Christ will confirm His work in them until the end (1:4–9). Beginning in 1 Corinthians 1:10, he begins to raise seven criticisms—seven slices of meat —together with his advice and solutions that point them to Christ. Then he concludes his epistle by laying down another slice of bread, telling them that he longs to see them again and will come as soon as possible, and, in the meantime, they should greet one another with a holy kiss (16:5–20). Though this was an unusually heavy sandwich to eat because of its seven layers of meat, Paul follows similar approaches in many of his other epistles.

What happens too often when we criticize our spouse is that we accompany it with strong, negative feelings. We forget that “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). We criticize without ever mentioning how many things we do appreciate about our spouse. We fail to be thankful to God for the many good things our spouse brings into our lives. If a husband comes to his wife and simply says, “You don’t care about me or how my days go,” she might respond by saying, “Wait a minute! Look at all the things I do for you—and, by the way, you don’t seem to care so terribly much about how my days go, either.” There is a vast difference between wise counsel and selfish airing of complaints. Let us share constructive counsel with humble gratitude.

Excerpt from
How Can We Build a Godly Marriage?
By Joel R. and Mary Beeke