Has this ever happened to you? You speak a sentence to your spouse. It’s nothing very different, really, from any of the other sentences you speak every day. At the time it seems like your words are clear and familiar, pretty straightforward in their meaning. But then you find out, whether immediately or later, that what your spouse heard bore little resemblance to what you meant.
For example, let’s say I call my wife, Betsy, to tell her I’m packing up leave the office and will be home shortly. She hears, “You can start putting dinner on the table because packing takes three minutes and the trip home takes seven.” Well, at least she used to hear that. But after one cold dinner too many she learned I was really saying, “I have to shut down my computer, clean up all these papers, pack my briefcase, put an envelope in the interoffice mail, and fill the car with gas on the way home, so hold dinner for half an hour.” Such miscommunication is surprisingly common, and the results can range from the mildly amusing to the truly problematic. What went wrong?
Well, perhaps nothing actually “went wrong.” Perhaps it’s just a very critical component in communication was overlooked: the fact that husband and wife are often quite different from one another. You simply communicate in different ways. These distinctions aren’t deficiencies; they are differences designed to fill your relationship with a whole new and expanded way of seeing things. Here are three ways such differences can show up:
Personal or Impersonal?
When my wife, Betsy, and I have couples in our home, the conversation can easily split off in two directions. The women start talking about relationships, children, the home, and things that affect them personally. Meanwhile the men might head out to the deck, where they discuss abstract subjects like lawn care, the playoffs, the latest political intrigue, or some new technological toy. Oddly enough, we all go away feeling bonded together and relationally enriched.
Objective or Subjective?
A marriage commonly features one spouse (often the husband) who gravitates toward objective facts and observations and one (often the wife) who is most comfortable in the subjective and intuitive. The spouse who loves objectivity will, when communicating, tend to seek data and decisions—“just the facts, ma’am.” The one who takes a more intuitive approach may find little satisfaction in facts or opinions that don’t convey the emotional or interpersonal heart of a situation.
A husband, for example, may hear about something that has happened and respond briefly with an opinion. He expresses his opinion once, believing once is sufficient. If his wife is the more intuitive spouse, she may not be satisfied knowing his opinion. She wants to know how the news affected him, and she wants him to know how the news affected her.
When she shares how it affected her, expressing it once may not be enough. Repetition, for her, is a form of emphasis and depth of expression, a kind of emotional identification with what happened that goes beyond a simple matter-of-fact opinion. So, guys, if your wife is repeating something, don’t allow yourself to become impatient. With gentleness and genuine interest, find out why it’s important to her. You just may find out it should be important to you, too.
General or Detailed?
Someone has said that usually men are the headlines while women are the fine print. This is certainly true in our marriage. When I (Gary) hear that someone we know has just had a baby, I ask two questions: “Boy or girl?” and “Is everyone healthy?” That about does it for me. I know if the gift should be pink or blue and how to pray. Is there more?
Apparently a lot more. Because when I mention the birth to Betsy, it invariable triggers a small avalanche of questions
“What’s the baby’s name?” (Same as the parents.’)
“Weight and length?” (Small . . . Hey, it’s a baby!
“How long was she in transition?” (Ummm, what’s transition again?)
We’ve laughed about this fundamental difference between us since we were newlyweds, and this particular illustration is still fresh today.
These categories—personal/impersonal, objective/subjective, and general/detailed—aren’t exhaustive, and they certainly aren’t meant to excuse sin, but recognizing them can help us begin to respond to one another with more humility and grace.
At times every husband wishes his wife thought and communicated a little more like he does (and vice versa!). Some husbands even embark on a futile quest to remake their wives in their own image. But God has not made men and women to be identical; neither has he made them to be antagonistic. He has made us to be complementary. Complementary means “that which is required to supply a deficiency,” or “the necessary opposite part.” Complementary, God-created, man-and-woman relationships appear in their purest form in marriage. From God’s perspective, this is “very good.”
Within each marriage there is also a second unique set of factors that don’t necessarily arise from the sort of categorical and largely male-female differences described above. These are personal attributes having their source in upbringing, life history, and gifting. They are likewise meant by God to enhance and enrich your life and marriage. In combination, a married couple’s complementary and unique differences can produce marked differences in communication style.
Here’s the simple truth: Whether due to gender, background, or preferences, our spouse communicates differently than we do. Unless those differences are unbiblical and sinful, we shouldn’t try to change that.
Every difference in communication style between a husband and wife can be a pitfall or a redemptive platform for change.
When we try, in humility, to address what sin has done in our spouse, God approves and extends grace. But when we try to change our spouse into our own image, we stand in opposition to God and miss out on the breadth and depth of fellowship and intimacy that he wants to produce in each marriage.
Every difference in communication style between a husband and wife can be a pitfall or a redemptive platform for change. Whatever your situation, God has handpicked your spouse—with all of his or her unique traits—to complement you in precisely the ways needed to accomplish God’s will in your life, in your spouse’s life, and in your shared life as a couple. And that includes how the two of you communicate. So if your style includes resisting or refusing your spouse’s style, and insisting that your spouse see and say things your way, the result will be poor communication and probably an ever-widening gulf in your marriage. But if you humbly value your spouse as a gift from God, embracing his or her unique perceptive and contribution, you both will grow in godliness and oneness.
Content adapted from Love That Lasts by Gary and Betsy Ricucci, ©2006. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, crossway.org.