by Tim and Sheila Riter
"Hey man, you're late. Anything wrong?" Sweat dripped off Alex after fifteen minutes on the treadmill.
"Dude, you wouldn't believe it. But then, you're married, so maybe you will." Don stepped onto the adjoining treadmill and started running.
"I got home from work today and grabbed my gym clothes like I do every Tuesday. Shontell seemed distant, like she'd had another bad day at work. Her boss has been putting a lot of pressure on her to finish that condominium project, and I'm kinda concerned. The baby's due date is still four months away, but I just don't want her to feel any unnecessary stress.
"So I go up to her, give her a hug, and ask if anything's wrong.' No, I'm fine, just fine.' So I told her she could talk to me; I'm her husband. Know what I heard? 'Go. Just go. You're late for your workout with Alex.'
"So I went! But I know I'm going to hear it when I get back. I don't have a clue if it's something wrong at work, or if I did something, but I know it's not over yet."
"Man, why can't women just come out and say what they mean? Danielle does the same thing. We had our tenth anniversary a few weeks back, remember? So a few weeks ahead, I asked her what she'd like to make it special. I'd saved up some extra money just to do it right. She said, 'Just surprise me! The greatest gift is our marriage.'
"I remember I'd heard her talking to a friend about this bed and breakfast inn down the coast. A little pricey, but nice. So I made the reservations, let her know the kind of clothes to bring, and surprised her. She said all the right things, how nice it was, how I surprised her, but her heart didn't seem to be in it.
"I asked her what was wrong, and she kept saying, 'Nothing.' Finally, the last day there, she told me she really had her heart set on a new wedding ring. How was I supposed to know that? She's never said anything about a new ring. Man, I can't figure out women. They just don't say what they mean. They hint, and they want you to read their mind. Then you try to, and you get crucified. Why can't they just tell us straight?"
Wives typically use indirect forms of communication. They give hints, they speak abstractly, and then they expect their husbands to know what they mean. Without ever intending to lie, they don't express the full truth. At times, they communicate so indirectly that their husbands can't come close to perceiving the real message.
When faced with indirect communication, husbands often feel like a one-legged man in a football kicking contest. They just don't have what it takes. They much prefer dealing with facts, logic, and problem solving.
They notice that something is wrong. That realization may come from receiving the silent treatment, getting some indirect messages, or just picking up the mood of their wife. They'd like to resolve the problem, so they ask about it, and get messages so indirect that they can't interpret their meaning.
When people get what they see as an incomplete message, they try to fill in the blanks. Husbands, with their strong problem-resolution skills, will often explore various possible meanings. But if the indirect message doesn't have enough clues to give them an accurate picture, they can't succeed.
Living the truth
Neither indirect nor direct communication is intrinsically right or wrong. Rather, each serves a particular purpose. Foundationally, though, wives make a mistake when they choose indirect messages that give a misleading impression, or that fail to accurately convey the intended meaning. Let's explore several factors that can help you live in the truth and communicate more directly.
Understand God's communication pattern. As Christians, we want to follow the example of God, who highly values communication. He communicated what he expected from his people by prophets. The Bible even calls his only Son "the Word."
God communicated with a clear statement of what he desired. Then, when the people either didn't understand it or willfully violated it, he restated it. He communicated directly and clearly so his people would know just what he wanted and expected. Should his children do any less in their marriages? We encourage couples to commit to direct and clear communication between themselves to avoid the possibility of misunderstanding. God has set the example for his children to follow.
Create a safe zone. Husband, creating a communication "safe zone" is your job. Yes, you get frustrated and upset at indirect conversation. But some of your irritation results from your own response when your wife tries to communicate with you.
You can create a safe zone in several ways:
- Choose honesty over defending yourself.
- Don't respond with an attack on your wife.
- Don't even think about verbal or physical abuse.
- Draw out your wife with active listening.
Let your wife know that you truly want to hear what she has to say, and when she sees that you've established a safe zone, you should see an increase in the clarity of your communication with one another.
Share the power of a common language. We encourage couples to use a common language, one the other can clearly recognize and understand. Wife, this primarily depends on you. Being female, you probably have more communication skills than your husband, so follow the principle set forth by the apostle Paul in Romans 15:1-2: "We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up."
Make an extra effort to speak so your husband can understand you. You can speak his direct language much easier than he can understand your indirect language. Speaking a common language will allow you both to follow the next principle.
Speak the full truth … in love. When you create a safe zone, recognize the dangers of indirect communication, and commit to speaking a common language, then you can risk speaking the full truth. That's biblical. As we have seen, in Ephesians 4:15, 25 the apostle Paul encouraged us: "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. ... Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body."
You don't have to tell everybody everything to be truthful! If you're still in the process of working through your thoughts and emotions, don't say, "Nothing's wrong; I'm just fine." You're not fine, so be honest with yourself and your spouse. Say that you are dealing with a situation you can't talk about right now, but that you will do so as soon as you have sorted it out. That's truth.
Adapted from Twelve Lies Wives Tell Their Husbands by Tim and Sheila Riter. © 2005 by Tim & Sheila Riter. Used by permission. To order, www.cookministries.com. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.
FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family.