Talk to Me
I love the book of Proverbs. And after years of reading Proverbs, I’ve come to a profound conclusion: If Proverbs mentions something a lot, then it must be important.
So what does Proverbs mention a lot? Money. Adultery. Pride. And it also says a lot about our words.
Proverbs warns against boasting, gossiping, and pointless arguing. At the same time, Proverbs celebrates wise counsel, gentle speech, and loving admonition. Time and again, the power of ordinary communication comes to the foreground.
Anyone who is married knows this: talking together is vital! When I speak with young couples preparing to be married, they all mention this as something they need to work on, or something they really value about their relationship: good communication! And when you’re first courting, it sometimes does feel like you could keep talking forever. There is so much to say.
But what happens? Husbands and wives begin to neglect this essential activity. We know it’s essential, but we try to forge ahead without it. It’s like we remove all the oil from our engine, and we start driving, just to see what happens.
Removing the oil from your engine would be intentional, deliberate automotive destruction. But when we stop communicating in marriage, it’s often an accidental thing. It’s a bad habit that we fall into without realizing the destruction that it can cause down the road.
We know it’s important, yet I’m afraid it is all too common for married couples to exist without really communicating. How does this happen?
The easiest answer is that we are too busy. We are involved in pursuing our daily work and career, keeping up a household, raising children, plus enjoying our hobbies. We are busy with many things, and many good things: serving in church, helping at the school, being available for other people.
And when you’re busy, you run out of time for certain activities. Maybe our personal devotions fall to one side, or we opt out of regular exercise. And perhaps we don’t have that precious half hour tonight to sit down with our wife or husband and just talk. After a month of living like that, you can feel like you’re co-habiting. You share a bed, you share meals, you even get along, but you’re not talking.
‘But of course we’re talking!’ you protest. After all, you’re coordinating your schedules each week. You’re planning your next family holiday. You’re discussing how it’s very warm for this time of the year, but how you heard it’s going to rain next week.
In other words, you’re great at exchanging information.
But you’re not really talking, because you have to get going to your meeting or because it’s almost time for sleep.
So time—or a lack of time—is one big factor. But we all know that if you want to make time for something, you can. Communication falters in marriage because talking can be difficult. Strange, right? When you were dating, it used to be so easy. But now there are some topics that are hard to speak about.
Like what? Typically the things closest to our heart—and that’s not the weather! What are we worried about? What sins are we struggling with? What do we regret about our life? We can be scared of the truth about ourselves. So even with the person closest to us and who knows us best—even with them, we’re afraid to be vulnerable.
It’s hard to talk about our personal fears, since they seem quite silly. It’s embarrassing to talk about sex, since that should just happen naturally, right? We hate to appear weak by admitting certain sins or getting emotional. Neither do we want to hurt our spouse. So we avoid having that tough conversation about the in-laws, or about some minor irritation in household living.
These can be crucial conversations. We know they might be difficult, with the potential for strong reactions. So perhaps we wait for the right moment—when we have enough time for a decent conversation, and she’s in the right mood, and the setting is good. And usually the moment never comes.
The Pattern of Avoidance
What happens instead of good communication is avoidance. Because I know that there are hard conversations that we need to have, I ensure that I’m not available.
What does avoidance look like? It can look like busyness. I say ‘yes’ to every request for help in the church. Or I plunge myself into work: long hours, week after week. Or to avoid those quiet evenings where we’re going to need to talk, I’ll go and tinker in the garage. Some people hide in the workshop, others behind a book, others behind the children.
This neglect will not result in a strong marriage. Remember Proverbs, and the emphasis that God puts on good and wholesome communication for all our relationships. If I will get along with my neighbour, or my brother in the Lord, I need to talk to them. How much more is that true for our marriages?
A closing off toward each other will make it impossible to achieve the unity that God desires for marriage.
As a result, we miss out on so much of the gift and blessing that marriage can be.
Probably every consistory can tell a story about a marriage that crashed on the rocks without warning. For years, everything seemed fine, but then the crisis hits, and she’s ready to leave, or he just had an affair. It’s all very sudden, but it’s been developing for years. And I am cautious to generalize about marriage breakdowns. But is it not fair to say that a lack of true communication is so often wrapped up with these other marriage problems?
It is probably common in many marriages that minor irritations are allowed to linger for years. It’s the way he doesn’t put the cap back on the toothpaste tube. It’s how she doesn’t flatten the cardboard boxes before putting them into the recycling bin. These things can seem small. But if you collect dozens of these irritations, and you never talk about them to resolve them, your marriage might come onto rough ground.
One author writes, “Every little problem you have every morning, afternoon, or evening with your spouse will be repeated for each of the 15,000 days that will make up a forty-year marriage.” So do not pretend you are happy with something if you are not. Bring it out, deal with it. It will be one less straw for the camel’s back.
If something happens in your marriage every day, it is important: the cooking, the dishes, the housecleaning, managing finances, and more. Every argument that you have about these things will be duplicated until you successfully address it.
So if there is something that irritates you about your spouse, resolve to talk about it. Or just make up your mind that it’s not a big deal, and that you refuse to let it bother you anymore. Instead, you’ll flatten the boxes, and you won’t complain about it.
When you give sufficient time to communication, you can address the thousands of little things that make up daily life. You exchange the necessary information that will ensure the kids get picked up from school and the car insurance gets renewed. When you have enough time to talk, you take care of those things for the first half hour or so, and then finally you get to the real stuff—as in, the most important stuff.
So what should you talk about? There is key ground that a husband and wife should cover on a fairly regular basis. For instance, what is something that has brought you joy lately? Something that’s been hard? How can I pray for you? What’s been on the forefront of your mind? How are your devotions going?
Talk about these things, making the time and space to be transparent.
I don’t pretend that this kind of talking is always easy. Neither do I say that talking in itself is able to resolve our difficulties. We’re still fighting against our natural selfishness, like our wanting to be heard and not really to listen. In our conversations together, we all need the continual grace of the Holy Spirit.
James 3:17-18 outlines the wisdom which comes from fearing the Lord: “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” Notice all the elements for wholesome conversation in our marriages today: purity, peace, consideration, submissiveness, mercy, sincerity.
That same text speaks of “reaping a harvest of righteousness.” For when we do life God’s way, according to God’s design, He will bless it.
And what are the blessings of really talking together?
You get to share the load together. You keep each other humble and honest in God’s service. You get the benefit of your wife’s perspective, and your husband’s insight. God gives a rich blessing to a husband and wife when they talk, when they open themselves to the kind of unity that He desires for them.
May God bless our marriages so that we may speak the truth, and speak it in love, and speak it often.