Communication Problems Are Seldom Communication Problems

Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Why is it that so many couples suffer from communication problems?” I see a large number of marriage counseling cases every year. The majority indicate that communication is a significant problem for them. Now the interesting dimension of this problem for me is that the majority of these couples have college degrees. I can remember one couple in another city where I worked years back, for example. The wife had a law degree and served in the community as an attorney. Her husband was working on a law degree and served as a bailiff in the court system. Another couple consisted of a business owner/entrepreneur and his wife, a very verbally capable woman in her own profession. Yet, both of these couples found it almost impossible to communicate with each other.

So what is the problem? They have verbal skills sufficient to conduct their professional lives. They appear to connect with their peers. They manage prospering enterprises. They give speeches, conduct trials, function as consultants, coach little league, teach school, pilot airplanes and yet cannot communicate with a spouse. It seems obvious that for most of them the problem is not an incompetency with the use of the spoken word. So, what is the problem?

Now, when you read what I state as the problem you are going to think, “He is being simplistic.” When I was a college student I would have agreed. There was an official on campus during my collegiate experience that would stand up in the meetings in the men’s dorm and declare every problem to be a spiritual problem. “He is being simplistic” was the anthem we sang after he left the meeting. But over the years I began to realize he was right, except that he was simplistic. That is, he never identified the nature of the problem or explained what he meant by “a spiritual problem.”

The attorney and the bailiff sat in my office one night in what I often refer to as a tit-for-tat exchange that grew in intensity as each one cast the next salvo. I broke in with, “Whoa” at a level sufficient to startle them. They stopped the escalation and turned towards me. “Open your Bibles to James 4 and read the first three verses out loud,” I said to the attorney. She did so. The response was amazing. She began to weep. When she regained control she said, “I’ve been in church all my life and no one has ever pointed that passage out to me in a context that made it relevant.”

You see what she realized immediately was that her lust (passion, demandingness) was generating the warring between them. She realized that demanding from her husband her desire was pure selfishness. The problem was not communication. She was telling him loudly and clearly what she desired but she was expressing it through her anger that she had been stoking for months because she was not getting what she wanted. He was reacting by defending himself and protesting as to the artificialness of such affection. You see, they were communicating only that the communication was not satisfying and they wrongly concluded that they had a problem with communication. What they had were heart problems of selfishness and pride.

Communication problems are seldom mechanical problems. Most people can explain how they feel or what is important to them if both individuals will patiently listen, reflect what they hear and ask if what they heard is what the speaker intended to say. I will sometimes have couples practice the process in my office. Under the watchful eye of the counselor they find out that they can communicate because they will exercise a measure of patience and will restrain a negative attitude. I will then send them home with the assignment to read James 4:1-5 to prepare for a communication session and then open with prayer. I will ask them to follow my strict procedure and to tackle only one issue at a sitting. They are then to write out the conclusion of their communication session. In this manner they deal with both the spiritual attitudes and the mechanical issues that have developed into poor communication patterns.


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