One: Communication

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here at Journey and it’s always a joy to talk with you and learn with you how to live a life that can stand up to anything.  That’s the kind of life that awaits those who place their faith in Jesus.  When we decide to follow him he comes alongside us and teaches us – like a master teaches an apprentice – and what Jesus teaches us is how to live the life we’ve always wanted to live.

Today we are in week two of a three week series on Marriage.

Now’s a good time to explain a couple of caveats.  First-  I will tell you that this series is aimed for the large percentage of marriages in here that fall in the bell curve of normal.  There are some marriages that are hurting in such a way that it falls outside of the normal range.  And for those folks, I want to encourage you to get professional counseling – professionals who can help you untangle the web of communication in a marriage.

I want to recommend to you our ministry partners at Spence counseling.  No more than $25 a session, with or without insurance, and we are very proud and thankful not only for Spence but also for everyone in here who has trusted them for some help in their marriage.

Secondly, I am also going to talk in generalities at time about certain differences between men and women.  And, being generalities, they do not apply universally to every person in each gender.  You are you – and you should be celebrated for being you.

We live in an age that is trying to make sure that every human being is treated with dignity and value and respect.  And since gender has been used to oppress – women, specifically – there is a desire to do away with gender differences entirely.

I applaud the effort to make sure people are treated equally with dignity and value – however I believe we can do that without depriving us of the special dignity and value that is attached to gender.  The bible is clear that a man is different than a woman and it’s okay to include gender in what makes each of us unique and lovely.

Okay – enough with clarifications – onward we go.  Last week was rather introspective.  We talked about weeding self-centeredness out of our lives because self-centeredness is a home wrecker.

Today we are going to talk more nuts and bolts about how we can make our marriages stronger and healthier.  And that’s good – I am a ‘best practices’ kind of guy.  I like to hear from others what works when it comes to making a marriage healthy.  And so today we will have a bunch of them!

You should be taking notes!  It’s good stuff today.  And – knowing that marriage is difficult, I would be devouring any kinds of “best practices” to make a marriage healthier and stronger.

Today I want to talk about the importance of communication in your marriage.  Good communication is like oil in an engine.  It keeps things running smoothly.  If you don’t have oil – your car will run terribly and eventually it will blow up.  Well, the ability to communicate your thought and feelings and desires and difficulties too  – will in large part determine the health of your marriage.

Your words are powerful!  If I started listing all the verses that speak to the power of words, we would have no time for anything else.  But since I asked you to pray through Ephesians 4 for yourself last week, let’s look at Ephesians 4:29

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 

Your words – especially your words more than anyone else’s – can either build your spouse up, or tear your spouse down.  For God’s sake, and for your spouses sake – use your words to bring life.  So I want to talk first about three ways you can bring life to your marriage with your words.

Encourage your spouse when speaking to them.

Encourage your spouse by speaking well of them in front of others.

Encourage your spouse by speaking well of them to God.

Encourage your spouse by the way your fight with them.

Let’s start with the first – how to encourage your spouse when speaking to him or her.  Here’s some examples of encouraging words.  “I love you!”

Are you verbalizing those words to your spouse enough?  Or are you like the old farmer – “I told my wife I loved her when I married her, and I told her that I’d let her know if I ever changed my mind.”  That is a dumb farmer.  And his wife is miserable.  And he deserves a miserable wife.  He forgot farming 101- you reap what you sow.

Guys listen up – because of all the billions of people on earth – the only person who is supposed to be reminding your wife of her beauty is you.   If you aren’t telling your wife that she is beautiful, loved, and lovely inside and out, then who is?  The guy at work?  You want that?  She doesn’t want that either.  She wants to hear it from you.

Now listen – there isn’t a guy in the room who doesn’t want to hear his wife say, Babe you are looking good tonight!  Don’t let anyone fool you.  We like to be complimented too.

So this applies to both wives and husbands.  But let me get after the husbands a bit here.  Guys, will you please compliment your wife – often and sincerely.  No flattery.  Flattery is the worst.

Sincerely, make sure you are expressing your admiration for your wife.  Tell her specifically what it is that you find so lovely about her.  Let her know what stands out to you regarding her outward as well as her inner beauty.

Don’t take her for granted.  Don’t rob your wife by not letting her know how beautiful and loved and lovely she is.

It’s interesting to read the Song of Solomon, which is in the bible – Song of Songs – it’s a story of two lovers – and the way they talk about each other – it’s enough to make a person blush.  But I like how the husband compliments is wife – and he starts at the top of her head and works his way down.  Check it out.

You are beautiful, my darling,
beautiful beyond words.
Your eyes are like doves
behind your veil.
Your hair falls in waves,
like a flock of goats winding down the slopes of Gilead.

Now you might want to choose a different metaphor than your hair looks like a flock of goats!  In our culture that’s not a top shelf compliment.  But here’s the funny thing – I’m not sure it was then either.  But the guy gets credit for trying.  She’s like…  we’ll let that one ride, you’re not doing too bad a job here.  A for effort.

But the big idea here is that this guy is complimenting his wife- starting from the top of her head and working his way down.

Your teeth are as white as sheep,
recently shorn and freshly washed.

Your smile is flawless,
each tooth matched with its twin.
Your lips are like scarlet ribbon;
your mouth is inviting.
Your cheeks are like rosy pomegranates
behind your veil.
Your neck is as beautiful as the tower of David,
jeweled with the shields of a thousand heroes.

And then it gets rated R – and some of you who have never before been interested in cracking a bible open are like, what’s the name of that book again?  Song of Songs.  Chapter 4.

Encourage your wife with your words.  Tell her what you admire about her.  What you respect about her.   It will encourage your wife and strengthen your marriage.

Here are more life giving words of encouragement.  “I respect you.”  Now here’s the deal – both men and women like to hear their spouse say that you respect them.  But for many guys this phrase is particularly life giving.

Back in the day I used to cut my own lawn – before I passed it off to my kids.  But often Jody would come out to see me and she’s have a glass of water – and she’d say – babe – the lawn looks great.  Thanks for taking care of it – the lines are so straight.

And ever time I’d be like, Oh golly.  Thanks for noticing – I try.  She was conveying to me that she respected me for my hard work.  Small thing.  Big payout.

Wives – if you don’t express your love and respect for your husband – then who on this earth will?  What do you admire about your husband?  Does he know that you admire that about him?  (I told him when we got married!  Don’t be a dumb farmer!)

So here is an assignment for you.  Find a good time to ask your spouse this question.  How can I express my love and respect for you better?  Am I expressing it well enough?  Often enough?

And if you have a spouse that asks you that question, then say a prayer of thanksgiving in your heart – and then be very gentle and offer ONE and only one way that he or she can improve.  This is a “Thank you for asking, darling” Not a “About time you asked dummy” moment.  And if nothing comes to mind, then use it as a chance to encourage your spouse.  One of the things I respect about you is that you express your love and admiration for me often and well.

Is there any more encouraging, life giving words, than a spouse asking “How can I

love you better?”

  1. Encourage your spouse by speaking well of them in front of others.

I’m going to put this in the category of ‘low-hanging fruit.”  These are easy ways to instantly improve your marriage.

Ever been in a room when for one reason or another the conversation turns toward bashing our spouses?   Do your marriage a favor and take a pass.  You will make your marriage better by not joining in.  You will be protecting your heart. Commiserating with complainers with do nothing good for your marriage.  When it comes to spouse bashing – joyful non-participation is key.

Now even better?  Complimenting your spouse – turning the conversation to the good.  It’s one thing not to bash – even better if you have the chance to compliment your spouse – even if your spouse isn’t there to hear it.  You aren’t trying to score points – it aligns your soul toward your spouse and will make your marriage better.

Here’s a bonus tip.  One way you can make your marriage better by the end of the week.  When your spouse calls you, speak kindly when you answer.  None of this – “What?” “What do you want.”   It’s your spouse!  Not a bill collector!

I read this week that 55 percent of communication is body language.  38 percent is the tone of the voice.  Only 7 percent are the actual words.  So when you speak on the phone, you are already operating at a huge deficit – 55 percent of your ability to communicate well is not in service.

And of the 45 percent that’s left – 80% of what’s left is communicated in the tone.  So think about the tone of your voice as much as the words.  Put some effort into greeting one another lovingly.

By the way – these stats mean that text messages are the most limited way to communicate – you can only use 7 percent of your ability to communicate. Which is why text messages have launched a thousand fights.  It’s not a terrible way to communicate but it’s very limited.

Here’s another bonus tip.  Write this down.  Since body language is 55 percent of communication?  Here’s a great way to communicate love to your spouse.  If you are home, and your spouse walks in the front door – get up off the couch, leave the computer, walk to your spouse and greet him or her with a hug and a kiss.  Welcome home.

My wife Jody heard someone say this, she began to implement it in our home – and it has been so wonderful.  I’d come home and she would walk to me and hug ma and say, “Glad you’re home”.  It’s a small thing with a huge return on your investment.  If you aren’t doing this – begin right now.

Here’s another bonus tip.  One of the best things you can do for your family is to speak well of your spouse in front of your kids.  Complimenting your spouse to your kids or in front of your kids is great.

One thing that we’ve implemented in our house is something we call the “Blue Plate Special”  We have one blue plate in our house.  And every once in a while Jody will put the blue plate at the table where one of us normally sits.  And after the meal, everyone else at the table goes around to say one thing they appreciate about the person with the blue plate.

Make sure you include your spouse at times, and you too.  And then your kids get to hear you compliment your spouse.  It’s a good deal.  Even though it’s interesting to see the kids sometimes struggle to know what to say.

Help them out – one thing I appreciate about you is….  That’s the blue plate special  and you’re welcome.

Speak well to your spouse.  Speak well of your spouse.

Third – speak well of your spouse to God.

What we have discovered is that praying together is a marriage builder.  And there are some people in here who are struggling in their marriage but listened to that and said, I will never do that.

Okay, why?  Because you aren’t good at it?  Who cares?  Who is grading you?  Only you.  Start with prayer at the dinner table.  We join hands around the table and we say a short prayer – and if I’m praying I say something like, “Thank you Lord for the meal.  Thank you that you have always provided us with food.  We’ve never had to skip a meal.  Thanks for Jody who made it.  And thanks for my kids – I love them.  Bless us Lord, amen.

At night time, and there are people in here who have a much more fulfilling prayer life together than Jody and I do – but at night before we go to sleep I put my arm around Jody and I say, Father – thank you for my wife Jody.  I love her so much.  Bless her as she sleeps.  Help us both to feel refreshed in the morning.  Help us both be good parents and good spouses.  Amen.  Sometimes Jody prays for me.

Sometime longer, but sometimes not.  It doesn’t take a lot of work to get to that point.  You can write it out and memorize it.  Recite it.  And your marriage will get stronger.

Please be willing to try it.  Be teachable.  Don’t say you want a stronger marriage and then dismiss every idea that has been proven to actually strengthen marriages.  And this is a proven way to make your marriage stronger.

And if you are very uncomfortable praying out loud – just say to your spouse – I’m going to try to pray for us tonight.  Please don’t laugh.  And then go for it.

Encourage your spouse with your words while fighting with them.

In every marriage, conflict will arise.  And I read one author recently who said that in any marriage, two critical components to a healthy marriage – like oil to an engine are

First -The ability to hear criticism without being crushed.

Second.  The ability to criticize without crushing.

Are you able to handle these two things?  Are you mature enough not to be crushed if your spouse says, “Hey can I challenge you about something?”  Like oil that makes an engine run – your ability to hear criticism without being crushed, and to criticize without crushing, will make your marriage stronger and healthier.

So the first thing I’d recommend about resolving conflicts is that it is very important that you Remember whose team you are on…  And the answer of course, is that you are on the same team. 

Healthy couples fight for resolution of the issue.  Unhealthy couples fight for the ‘win’.  And when one person insists on winning, the marriage loses.

So let’s talk about what scripture teaches us about HOW to resolve conflicts in a marriage? James 1:19 which says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this:  Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.

  1. Be quick to listen.

But we aren’t quick to listen are we?  We are quick to make our point.  We are quick to make sure we are heard.

Want to know what one of the seven habits of the most highly successful people are?  Seek to understand before being understood.  This concept has made people very successful in business and it will make your marriage healthier too.

Proverbs 18:2 says: A fool has no interest in understanding: He only wants to air his own opinion.

Conversely, a wise person seeks to understand what our spouse is saying.  That means you have to really listen.  I’m not just catching my breath.  I am not mentally reloading for the next round of zingers and arguments.   We’re not going to interrupt our spouse with a dramatic!  “Oh give me a break! You can’t be serious” in the middle of it.

NO – we’re going to listen and try to understand the point of view of the person you love most in the world.   Listen – and try to understand – before demanding to be understood.

One of the best things I ever learned – this is very helpful if you’ll give it a chance –  Jody and I learned somewhere the importance of speaking back the other person’s view.  Jody will listen to me and then she will say, Okay, what I hear you saying is this…  am I hearing that correctly?

If you actually do this with sincerity and not like a wise guy – see the wise guy goes, “So what I hear you saying is that you’re always right and I’m a stupid moron, and you’re perfect!”

I’m pretty sure that’s not what your spouse is saying.  But if it is – your spouse will be able to confirm it and at least you’ve clarified what you’re fighting about.

But if I am sincere with this tool, and not being a wise guy – I will learn about why we are fighting.  And listen, You cannot resolve an argument until you know exactly what you are fighting about.   

If you take the time to listen and understand your spouses point of view.

Be quick to listen.    Secondly – be slow to speak. 

When you do speak- follow the rules.  There are rules to fighting fairly.  Don’t get a flag thrown for unsportsmanlike behavior.

Don’t use the words Always or Never.   This is basic – but as soon as you accuse someone of either Always being this way or Never doing that – it derails resolution.  Because the other person inevitably wants to defend themselves!  And I’m surprised how many people ignore this rule.

Don’t scream and yell – it’s just a bullying tactic.  Talk about the problem without yelling.

Don’t call each other names – don’t make it personal.  Fight about the issue.  Does it really help if the issue is, “We said we wouldn’t spend any more money on clothes this month, because we are broke, and yet I see here we charged a bunch of money to Kohl’s for new shoes?  What’s the deal?”  If the answer is – well I needed new shoes and there was a great sale on at the time, and plus, You’re stupid!”  That doesn’t help.  That’s not a helpful phrase.

Don’t get historical.  Love doesn’t keep records of wrongs.

Your words can either tear down or build up.  So be Quick to listen.  Slow to speak.  And lastly, slow to become angry.

The Bible gives us a very good rule that many people dismiss as being quaint an impossible to adhere to, but I say it isn’t.  Ephesians 4: 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”   Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

Okay, the last principle to apply?  Don’t go to bed angry with one another.  Or else, the Bible says, you will be giving the devil an opening through which to attack your marriage.

You can go to bed disagreeing with one another.  Agreeing that there’s a difference of opinion.  And that we will continue to work it out.  But we’re not angry with one another.  We are united in our effort to solve the problem together.  And we are united in our resolve to use our words to bring life to one another, and not to manipulate one another or bash one another.

So here’s the deal – I just dumped 25 years of best practices on you and you might feel overwhelmed.  Just review your notes – and if you didn’t take notes we’ll put the sermon online you can read it later to review some tips.

And if you have the guts…

  1. Decide what ONE thing you will begin to do to make your marriage better.
  2. Ask your spouse what one thing they think you can do to make your marriage better.
  3. If asked – be honest about the one thing they can do.
  4. And if not asked – don’t be angry. Later on you can say, can I share one thing that I heard today that struck a chord with me that I think would be awesome if you

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