Communication is absolutely vital to human existence, and God desires for us to communicate with each other in a way that will solve problems, build relationships, and bring glory to Him.
What are the basic purposes of communication? Why is it so powerful and important? One of the most significant purposes of communication is to solve problems and build relationships. In marriage, communication is the single greatest factor in working through problems. If you’re not dealing with problems right now, communication is the single greatest factor in building and strengthening your marriage relationship.
I once talked with a woman who told me that she and her husband were getting a divorce. “We have never really talked,” she said. She then made a statement that has echoed through my mind over the years. She said, “You know, Pastor Davis, since we decided to get a divorce, we have finally started talking. We have talked more in the last week than in all the years of our marriage. If only we could have talked like this for the last few years, I don’t think we would be getting a divorce at all!” I strongly suspect that she was right. Communication not only builds relationships, but it helps solve problems in those relationships.
There is so much frustration in homes and families because of failure to adequately communicate. I’ve had young people say to me, “My parents won’t talk to me.” Parents, it isn’t our impression of how much we are communicating with our children that matters; their impression is what counts. It’s a wise father and mother who don’t rely on just spanking, grounding, or grabbing car keys, but who know how to grab a child’s emotions in a heart-to-heart conversation.
One of the greatest family crises that can develop is communication shutdown. All other crises inevitably erupt from it. Once communication has shut down, it is often painful and difficult to get it started again. And when it does start up, it will often begin with conflict that causes people to run away instead of staying with it. Any time there is a problem, the solution is not less communication; the solution is morecommunication. The problem will not work out if you just walk away.
It has been said that communication is to a relationship what blood is to the body. As the blood flows through the body, carrying out impurities and bringing fresh cells and life, so communication regularly carries out the impurities of a relationship and causes the whole relationship to be fresh and new and alive.
Since it is so vitally important to families, how can we make sure that we are communicating effectively? I’d like to share several practical steps.
Discover, Learn About, and Show Interest in the Interests of Your Spouse and Your Children
This principle is found in Romans 15:1-2. It says we “ought . . . not to please ourselves . . . Let every one of us please his neighbor . . . to edification.” Find the interest of your spouse and get interested in it. Maybe it’s gardening or sewing, the stock market or computers. Perhaps it’s hiking, biking, fishing, hunting, carpentry, cooking, quilting, singing, or playing an instrument. There are hundreds—even thousands—of possibilities.
You may have heard this statement before, but let me share it with you right here:You’ve got to be interested if you’re going to be interesting. In other words, if you want to be interesting to someone, you’ve got to take interest in the other’s interests. Look for it. Discover it; learn about it. By doing so, you create an area where two people can connect and begin opening doors for communication.
Listen with Your Entire Being
Isaiah 55:2-3 says, “Hearken diligently unto me . . . Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live.” That word hearken, the Hebrew word shama, means “to listen intelligently, to pay attention.” This is distinct from the simple act of hearing; it means listening on purpose. The phrase incline your ear is the Hebrew wordnata. It means to stretch or bend. It implies that you are doing something to cause yourself to yield. When we listen, we need to do it on purpose, intelligently, with our entire being.
In a previous article, I mentioned a study on the total message in communication. The researchers found that words make up only 7% of the total message. Inflection and tone of voice make up 38%, and body language and facial expressions make up 55%. If you’re not really paying attention when your spouse or child is talking to you—if you’re hearing their words but not looking at them and really listening—you will only get a small percentage of the total message. It’s vital that we give our full attention to our spouses and children when they are talking to us.
Watch for Opportunities to Praise, Honor, and Reverence Your Spouse, Parents, and Children
Twice in the Psalms, we’re told that praise is “comely.” Putdowns are ugly. A young man should never put down his sisters. Why? Because he’s training himself to do the same thing to his wife someday. Some young men use putdowns because they appeal to their carnal natures, to their egos and sense of importance. In a distorted way, it makes them feel like a big man. But if you really want to be a big man, be humble and praise others. Putdowns are ugly, but appropriate praise is beautiful, proper, and fitting.
I shared with a young lady how important it was that she honor her father so that she would know how to reverence her husband. Why is that so important? Because I have never seen a woman able to steal away a man whose wife was reverencing him. I’ve seen it tried and have watched it fail, because the reverence of a wife creates a powerful connection of communication that draws him to her and protects him from other women with wrong motives and wrong attitudes.
Plan Times and Settings Just to Communicate
Purposely set time aside just for communication. Have a date night with your wife just to talk. Men, we may not feel like we need this, but the truth is we need it more than we think we do. Deliberate communication brings balance to our lives. And your wife needs it because it gives her a feeling of intimacy, closeness, and oneness with you.
Husbands, when you cut off that communication or do not allow your wife to share her feelings, you’re doing more than simply not listening to her. You are cutting her off as a person. You are starting a dangerous and destructive process, causing her to feel more and more like an object, instead of like the most important person in your life.
Parents should also make times to communicate with their children. The older your children get, the more important this becomes. Too often, as children enter the teen years, communication between parent and child diminishes. It should be the opposite.
Plan times and settings just for communication. Too many families don’t sit down and have meals together, or if they do eat together, they’re watching TV while they do. Make an effort to have family meals as often as you can. It’s one of the best opportunities you’ll have to communicate.
Watch For — and Accept — God-Given Opportunities
As parents, it’s easy to feel too busy to take time out of the day to communicate with our children. But we need to realize that God sends opportunities that we need to take advantage of. I walked into the house one day, and one of my daughters came up to me and said, “Dad, would you like to see the dress I just bought?” Now, looking at clothes isn’t exactly my favorite thing to do. But listening to my daughters is. I took the time to listen to how she had found the dress and the good buy she had gotten. We weren’t discussing anything of earth-shattering importance, but it was a good opportunity to talk and build our relationship. Too often parents tell their children that they’re “too busy right now” or are too self-absorbed to notice the everyday opportunities for communication that God sends their way.
Now, there’s a balance here that we need to achieve, especially with younger children. Children should know that they can’t come barging in at any time and expect their parents to drop whatever they’re doing and give the children their full attention. They need to be trained to be respectful, polite, and considerate. At the same time, parents need to recognize the difference between a child being rude or disrespectful and needing training or correction, and a child simply needing the parent to pause and communicate.
Go through the Gospels and notice that Jesus, the greatest communicator who ever lived, not only taught and answered questions, but asked questions. We need to ask questions of our children. “How are you doing today? Have you been praying like you should? Did you read your Bible today, son? How do you feel about such and such? Do you know that Dad loves you?”
I could give dozens of questions to ask your children, ranging from simple questions about everyday life to those that touch on the foundational issues of who we are and what we believe. “Why is it important to put things away? Why should we pay bills on time? What did the sermon you heard at church say to you?” Questions open doors for communication, and they not only help us learn more about each other, but cause us to think through important issues.
Learn to Draw Emotional Word Pictures
This is especially important if you’re having difficulty communicating with a certain person. The goal of drawing emotional word pictures is to communicate in such a way that you reach not only the person’s mind, but the heart as well. This works with both men and women, but especially with men. You want to grab his heart in such a way that he can’t get away from it. A profound example of this concept is found in the Bible in 2 Samuel 12.
In the previous chapter, we read about the biggest failure in the life of King David—his adultery with Bathsheba. In an attempt to cover up what he had done, David arranged for Bathsheba’s husband to be killed in battle.
In chapter 12, God sent Nathan to David. Nathan was something of a spiritual adviser to David, and in this chapter, he comes to reprove David for what he has done. He begins by telling a story that contains a compelling emotional word picture.
There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: but the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished up, and it grew up together with him, and with his children.
Notice that every word here is building the emotional impact. Nathan continued with the story: “It did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.” David, who had spent his youth as a shepherd caring for sheep, could closely identify with the poor man and his love for that lamb.
And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.
We see the emotional impact this story had on David in the next verse: “And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die.” Nathan’s reply to David, as a follow-up to the powerful emotional word picture he had just drawn, brought the point home in a way that nothing else could have done: “Thou art the man.”
The key in drawing an emotional word picture is to find a person’s interest, if possible something close to his heart, and then draw a parallel between that and whatever situation you’re dealing with. The power of Nathan’s words came from the fact that David could so closely identify with the poor man in the story. He knew what it was to care for lambs. He had put his own life on the line to protect and defend his sheep. The terrible cruelty of the rich man, who wasn’t content to draw from his own immense resources but instead chose to steal and kill the poor man’s lamb, came to life for David in a powerful way. When Nathan drew the comparison between David and the rich man, David finally realized the full weight of his sin.
If you’re having trouble communicating with someone in a critical area, especially if you’re trying to work through some problem or difficulty, try to find an interest and create an emotional word picture around that interest. Anything this person is able to closely identify with is good material. It might be a hobby, career, childhood memory, or accomplishment. Find a parallel between the interest and the current situation, and create an emotional word picture that will grab the other’s heart and help him or her understand your perspective on the issue at hand.
Communication is truly the foundation of relationships, and our ability to communicate is one of the single most significant factors that will determine the strength of our families. By remaining aware of our opportunities for communication and implementing some basic principles, we can strengthen our families and experience the joy of truly fulfilling relationships.