Stuart Scott writes that communication is one of the biggest obstacles to a good marriage (Stuart Scott, Communication and Conflict Resolution, 1). How can biblical counselors help a couple struggling with communication speak in a way that loves others and pleases God? One of our own counselors and board members, Doug Franchville, outlines a program to help a married couple become effective communicators for His glory and their spouse’s good.
By Doug Franchville
Communication in general, but specifically in marriage proves to be a significant issue. It must consist of a dialogue where each spouse has the purpose to gather information to understand how to help each other grow in their relationship with Christ, which will invariably enable them to grow closer to each other.
Communication root-cause problems are primarily with the heart (Matt. 12:34-35). Both parties must continuously examine their hearts and repent to God and each other if necessary at the start of any communication (cf. Matt. 7:4-5). Without this, any technique or methodology will fail. Thus, this should be our starting point when contention occurs. Given these, we start the program with a clear goal (mutual progressive sanctification), framework of the methodology (seek to understand vs. be understood) and highlight the primary failure cause (heart and need of repentant attitude and action). Techniques are then built on this foundation.
The Conference Table
Adams recommends a ‘conference table’ approach to establish frequency, environment and boundaries/rules. The conference table is an actual table meant to be designated for communication. He states that it should be a daily, scheduled time. Rules are established following Ephesians 4:25-32:
- Be honest (v25), speak, speak truth, speak the truth lovingly (4:15)
- Keep current (v 26,27), be angry and sin not, solve each day’s problems, don’t be anxious for tomorrow (Matt 6:34)
- Attack Problems-Not People (v 26, 27), No unwholesome words, only edifying communication
- Act! Don’t react! (v 31-32), put-off, put-on
Starting the Discussion
The discussion starts with each spouse discussing the problems of the day and how they responded to the problem. They are to self-analyze against Godly standards and admit their own sin and seek forgiveness and help. Adams admits that the concept may seem unnatural and very difficult at first, but states that it establishes habits of consistency. Obviously, you want expansion beyond the ‘conference table’ in frequency and type (touch, call/text, act of service, gift), but the approach certainly fits the principles of the foundation discussed previously.
As the communication is enhanced, more feedback will be brought into the analysis with Philippians 2:3-4 as a Godly reminder to consider others above self. An exercise can be established where the husband explains the wife’s point of view and vice versa. Then each party explains if this was correct, and mutually discusses ways of improving (channel or interpretation issues).
In addition to the Ephesians 4, the following can be used as a scorecard or assessment:
Biblically directed to communicate in the following way
- Be a ready listener and do not answer until the other person has finished talking (Prov. 18:13; James 1:19).
- Be slow to speak. Think first. Don’t be hasty in your words. Speak in such a way that the other person can understand and accept what you say (Prov. 15:23, 28; 29:20; James 1:19).
- Don’t go to bed angry! Each day clear the offences of that day. Speak the truth but do it in love. Do not exaggerate (Eph. 4:15, 25; Col. 3:8; Matt. 6:34).
- Do not use silence to frustrate the other person. Explain why you are hesitant to talk at this time (Prov. 10:19; 15:28; 16:21, 23; 18:2; 20:15; Col. 4:6).
- Do not become involved in quarrels. It is possible to disagree without quarreling (Prov. 17:14; 20:13; Rom. 13:13; Eph. 4:31)
- Do not respond in uncontrolled anger. Use a soft and kind response and tone of voice (Prov. 14:29; 15:1; 25:15; 29:11; Eph. 4:26, 31).
- When you are in the wrong, admit it and ask forgiveness and ask how you can change (Prov. 12:15; 16:2; 20:5; 21:2; Matt. 5:23-25; Luke 17:3; James 5:16).
- When someone confesses to you, tell him you forgive him. Be sure it is forgiven and not brought up to the person, to others, or to yourself! (Prov. 17:9; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13; 1 Pet. 4:8).
- Avoid nagging (Prov. 10:19; 16:21, 23; 17:9; 18:6,7; 21:19; 27:15).
- Do not blame or criticize the other person. Instead restore…encourage…edify (Rom. 14:13; Gal. 6:1; 1 Thess. 5:11).
- If someone verbally attacks, criticizes, or blames you, do not respond in the same manner (Rom. 12:17, 21; 1 Pet. 2:23; 3:9).
- Try to understand the other person’s opinion. Make allowances for differences.
- Be concerned about the other person’s interests (Eph. 4:2; Phil. 2:4; 3:15, 16).
In essence, the plan never completes as it is a continuous effort to improve communication, but it has great rewards in maturing in Christ and in the marriage.
10,000 Blessings in The Wonderful Counselor,
Rod and Staff Ministries
 Jay E. Adams, Competent to Counsel, Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1970, pg. 231-238
 Wayne A. Mack, Homework Manual for Biblical Living, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1979, page 37, Note: Mack specifically references that this material was provided by Pastor Timothy Keller