Changing the Tone of Marriage (New Language)

This past fall I took an introductory Hebrew class. The first night of the class was an introduction to the Hebrew alphabet, pronunciation, articles, and nouns. It was completely overwhelming. As a closing comment for the evening our professor said, “Take comfort, there are three years olds all over Israel who are learning to do what you just did.” His point was made even more clearly by my five year old daughter, who, just the week before started K-5. She was learning the alphabet. So was I. She was learning to write letters, huge ones, tracing them with directional arrows. So was I. She sounded out words at a laborious pace. So did I. Learning a new language at 36 is a brain transplant.

When you get married you will be forced to learn a new language. Communication begins with someone having something to say. He speaks. Interpretation begins. She reacts very differently to what he said than did his work colleagues, or college roommates, or even his dearest mommy. Or perhaps the lady of the house has something she would like to share, so she shares. Yet, he is not nearly as attentive as her mom, or as the girls with whom she has already shared. His answer is quick, simple, direct, case closed. But she feels as if there is much more to say. He is done! She is not. Obviously, something was lost in translation.

I have travelled to foreign countries. I have also lived in middle Tennessee which carries quite a population of Hispanic field hands during harvest season. For some reason when we are speaking with someone who does not understand our language we naturally believe that if we talk slower and louder the foreign party is somehow more likely to understand what we are saying. Just believe me when I say that slow, loud English to a Romanian is just as comedic as English at normal speed. In marriage it is nearly the same scenario. Yet in marriage we believe that if things are lost in translation we need to say more and say it loudly. Yelling loudly changes the tone of marriage, but instead of improving communication it is a step in the wrong direction.

Effective marital communication is an exercise in linguistics. It requires the study of your spouse. What does he/she understand? How does he/she react when you say, or do “x” or “y”? Take notes! Marriage, in a sense, requires lessons in language. Here are some principles to remember:

1. What you don’t say is as important as what you do. Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” When there is trouble in communication we are apt to say more. In doing so we are usually apt to hurt more. When we speak without thought we are prone to make painful mistakes. Learn your spouse’s language and become fluent in it. Use his or her words, not just your own. It will save a lot of pain.

2. The most important question is not, “What do I want to say?” The most important question is, “What do I want my spouse to understand?” This question flips the burden of proof. It requires you to think before you talk. It requires you to practice love and sensitivity before you practice speech. It requires you to speak the other person’s language.

3. Evaluate yourself as a messenger. Proverbs 15:2 says, “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.” If you find it constantly frustrating to talk, the problem may not be with the receiver, the problem may be with the messenger. Sure, it takes two to tango, but learning to communicate more effectively will always help the dance!

4. No one reads minds. Women are pretty close, but they have yet to perfect the art. CONFESSION: My biggest challenge in communication is that I somehow believe what is in my brain is naturally in everyone else’s brain. In believing other humans share a common brain with me I am prone to leave out very important details. For me, the phrase, “speak your mind” would be a massive improvement in communication. Learning to effectively and lovingly communicate your mind, instead of assuming everyone else is reading it, may also improve your marriage.

When it comes to marriage we must learn a new language. Married lingo is different from dating lingo. Get out the pen and paper, take notes, and sound out the words. Take comfort, three year olds all over America are learning a new language as well.


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