Will* says: “When Rachel is upset, she cries for a long time. If we sit down to talk, she gets irritable or even gives me the silent treatment. Nothing seems to work. I feel like giving up.”
Rachel says: “When Will came home, I was crying. I tried to explain why I was upset, but he cut me off. He told me that it wasn’t that serious, and I should just get over it. That made me even more upset.”
CAN you relate to Will or Rachel? Both of them want to communicate, but they often get frustrated. Why?
Men and women communicate differently, and they have unique needs. A woman may long to share her feelings openly and often. Many men, on the other hand, try to preserve peace by solving problems quickly and avoiding thorny issues. How, then, can you bridge these differences and communicate with your husband or wife? By treating your mate with respect.
A respectful person values others and seeks to understand their feelings. Since childhood, you may have learned to respect people who have more authority or experience than you have. In marriage, however, the challenge is to show respect for someone with whom you are on more of an equal footing—your mate. “I knew that Phil would listen with patience and understanding to anyone else who spoke to him,” says Linda, who has been married for eight years. “I wanted him to be just as empathetic with me.” Likely, you listen patiently and speak respectfully to friends and even strangers. Yet, are you just as considerate to your mate?
Disrespect creates tension in the home and leads to bitter conflict. A wise ruler stated: “A dry crust of bread eaten in peace and quiet is better than a feast eaten where everyone argues.” (Proverbs 17:1, Contemporary English Version) The Bible tells a husband to treat his wife with honor, or respect. (1 Peter 3:7) “The wife” too “should have deep respect for her husband.”—Ephesians 5:33.
How can you communicate respectfully? Consider some practical advice found in the Bible.
When Your Mate Has Something to Say
Many people like to talk more than they like to listen. Are you one of them? The Bible describes as foolish anyone who is “replying to a matter before he hears it.” (Proverbs 18:13) So before you talk, listen. Why? “I prefer it when my husband doesn’t try to fix my problems right away,” says Kara, who has been married for 26 years. “He doesn’t even have to agree or figure out why the problem arose. I just want him to listen to me and validate my feelings.”
On the other hand, some men and women hesitate to express themselves and feel uncomfortable if their mate pressures them to talk about their feelings. Lorrie, who was recently married, discovered that her husband takes a long time to share his feelings. “I have to be patient,” she says, “and wait for him to open up.”
If you and your mate need to talk about something potentially divisive, raise the matter when both of you are calm and relaxed. What if your spouse is reluctant to speak up? Recognize that “a person’s thoughts are like water in a deep well, but someone with insight can draw them out.” (Proverbs 20:5, Today’s English Version) If you draw a bucket out of a well too quickly, you will lose a lot of water. Similarly, if you confront your mate too forcefully, your mate may become defensive and the opportunity to draw him or her out may be lost. Instead, ask questions gently and respectfully, and be patient if your mate does not articulate feelings as quickly as you would like.
When your spouse does speak, “be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.” (James 1:19) A good listener listens not only with the ears but also with the heart. When your mate speaks, try to understand his or her feelings. Your mate will sense your level of respect—or disrespect—by the way you listen.
Jesus taught us how to listen. For example, when a sick man approached him for help, Jesus did not immediately solve the problem. First, he listened to the man’s entreaty. Then he allowed what he heard to move him deeply. Finally, he healed the man. (Mark 1:40-42) When your mate speaks, follow the same pattern. Remember, he or she is likely seeking heartfelt empathy, not a quick solution. So listen closely. Allow your emotions to be touched. Then, and only then, respond to your mate’s needs. By doing so, you will show that you respect your mate.
TRY THIS: The next time your mate begins speaking to you, resist the urge to respond immediately. Wait until your spouse has finished talking and you understand what was expressed. Later, approach your mate and ask, “Did you feel that I was really listening to you?”
When You Have Something to Say
“Sitcoms make it appear normal to speak badly about one’s mate and to be insulting and sarcastic,” observes Linda, quoted earlier. Some grow up in homes where disrespectful speech is typical. Later, when they marry, they find it difficult to avoid this pattern in their own family. Ivy, who lives in Canada, relates: “I grew up in an environment where sarcasm, screaming, and name-calling were the norm.”
When you talk to others about your mate, share “whatever saying is good for building up as the need may be, that it may impart what is favorable to the hearers.” (Ephesians 4:29) Impart a favorable impression of your spouse by the way you speak about him or her.
Even when you are alone with your mate, resist the urge to use sarcasm and name-calling. In ancient Israel, Michal got angry with her husband, King David. She spoke sarcastically and said that he acted “just as one of the empty-headed men.” Her words offended David, but they also displeased God. (2 Samuel 6:20-23) The lesson? When you speak with your mate, choose your words carefully. (Colossians 4:6; footnote) Phil, married for eight years, admits that he and his wife still have disagreements. He has noticed that, at times, what he says makes the situation worse. “I have come to realize that ‘winning’ an argument is actually a loss. I find that it is much more satisfying and beneficial to build up our relationship.”
An elderly widow in ancient times encouraged her daughters-in-law to “find a resting-place each one in the house of her husband.” (Ruth 1:9) When both husband and wife dignify each other, they make their home “a resting-place.”
TRY THIS: With your mate, set aside time to discuss the suggestions under this subheading. Ask your spouse: “When I talk about you in public, do you feel honored or put down? What adjustments can I make to improve?” Really listen as your spouse shares his or her feelings. Try to apply the suggestions you hear.
Accept Your Mate’s Differences
Some newlyweds have mistakenly concluded that what the Bible calls being “one flesh” means that the couple must have one opinion or personality. (Matthew 19:5) However, they quickly discover that such thinking is idealistic. Once they are married, their differences often lead to arguments. Linda says: “One major difference between us is that Phil worries less than I do. Sometimes he is able to relax when I’m worried, so I end up feeling angry because it appears that he doesn’t care about something as much as I do.”
Accept each other as you are, and respect what is different about your mate. To illustrate: Your eyes work differently than your ears; yet they cooperate so you can cross the road safely. Adrienne, who has been married for nearly three decades, says: “As long as our viewpoints don’t violate God’s Word, my husband and I allow each other to have differing opinions. After all, we are married, not cloned.”
When your mate has a different opinion or reaction than you do, focus not just on your own interests. Consider your mate’s feelings. (Philippians 2:4) Adrienne’s husband, Kyle, admits: “I don’t always understand or agree with my wife’s opinions on matters. But I remind myself that I love her much more than I love my opinion. When she is happy, I really am too.”
TRY THIS: Make a list of ways that your mate’s viewpoint or way of handling things is superior to yours.—Philippians 2:3.
Respect is one of the keys to a happy and lasting marriage. “Respect brings contentment and security to a marriage,” says Linda. “It is definitely worth cultivating.”
Names have been changed.
ASK YOURSELF . . .
How have my mate’s differences enriched our family?
Why is it good to yield to my mate’s preference whenever Bible principles are not at issue?