Wednesday, October 15, 2008
‘I SHOULD not have said that.’ ‘I did not express myself clearly.’ Have you ever felt that way after trying to communicate with your mate? Communication is a skill that needs to be developed. As with any skill, some people seem to be able to master it quite easily, while others have a harder time. Still, even if you belong to the latter group, it is possible for you to learn to convey your thoughts in a pleasant manner, to communicate effectively. At times, cultural pressures squeeze people into a certain mold when it comes to dealing with their mates. ‘To be manly,’ men may have been told, ‘you should not talk too much.’ Talkative men may be looked down on as frivolous and insincere. Granted, the Bible does say: “Every man must be swift about hearing, slow about speaking.” (James 1:19) However, that counsel applies to both males and females and shows that communication involves more than just speaking. Two people might be talking to each other at length, but what if they fail to listen to each other? Likely, there would be no real communication. A major part of successful communication, as the above scripture shows, is the art of listening. Communicating Without Words A husband and wife enjoying tea together In some communities, wives are expected to keep their opinions to themselves. Husbands are to remain resolutely aloof in the family. In such an environment, husband and wife are left to guess at what the mate wants in any given circumstance. Some wives become very good at discerning their husband’s needs, acting quickly to fill them. In such cases, communication without words is going on between the husband and wife.
Typically, though, this type of communication is one-directional. While the wife may learn to discern what her husband is thinking or feeling, the husband is rarely expected to develop the same skill and discern his wife’s feelings. True, in some cultures men observe women’s emotional needs and try to fill them. Even in such cultures, however, many marriages would benefit from better communication. Communication Vital Frank communication can prevent misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Early in the history of the Israelites, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh who dwelled east of the Jordan River built “an altar great in conspicuousness” by the Jordan. Other tribes misunderstood their actions. Thinking that their brothers across the Jordan had committed an act of apostasy, the tribes on the west prepared to war with the “rebels.” Before setting out to war, though, they sent a delegation to communicate with the eastern tribes. What a wise move! They found that the altar was not for making illegal burnt offerings or sacrifices. Rather, the tribes on the east feared that in the future the other tribes would tell them: “You have no share in Jehovah.” The altar would be a witness that they too were worshippers of Jehovah. (Joshua 22:10-29) They named the altar Witness, likely because it served as a witness that to them Jehovah was the true God.—Joshua 22:34, footnote. Their explanation was enough to convince the other tribes, who dropped the idea of taking action against the two and a half tribes. Yes, open and frank communication averted armed conflict. Later, when Israel rebelled against Jehovah God, their figurative husband, he told them that he would mercifully ‘speak to their heart.’ (Hosea 2:14) What a fine pattern for married people! Yes, endeavor to reach your mate’s heart so that he or she can understand your feelings. This is important, especially when strong emotions are involved. “Words are cheap, some say,” observes Pattie Mihalik, a journalist in the United States, “but words can also be priceless. And while some might find it hard to express sentiment, the result can yield much more than money in the bank.” Developing Communication Skills ‘Our marriage was a failure from the beginning,’ some may claim. ‘This marriage cannot be saved,’ others may conclude. They may feel that it is impossible to improve their communication skills after the wedding day. Yet, think of those who live in societies where marriages are arranged by relatives. Many in such cultures eventually establish good lines of communication in their married life. One couple in an Oriental country were united in an arranged marriage. A go-between had been asked to travel a long distance to find a bride for the man. Still, the married couple, who lived almost 4,000 years ago, displayed outstanding skill in the art of communication. The man, Isaac, met the go-between and the bride-to-be in a field. The man serving as go-between “went relating to Isaac all the things he had done.” The Bible account about this marriage continues: “After that Isaac brought her [Rebekah] into the tent of Sarah his mother [this step serving as the official wedding]. Thus he took Rebekah and she became his wife; and he fell in love with her.”—Genesis 24:62-67. Note that Isaac first heard the report and “after that” took Rebekah as his wife. The go-between was a trustworthy servant who was devoted to Jehovah God, whom Isaac worshipped. Isaac had good reason for trusting this man. Thereafter, Isaac “fell in love” with Rebekah, whom he had married. Did Isaac and Rebekah develop good communication skills? After their son Esau married two daughters of Heth, a serious family problem arose. Rebekah “kept saying” to Isaac: “I have come to abhor this life of mine because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob [their younger son] ever takes a wife from the daughters of Heth . . . , of what good is life to me?” (Genesis 26:34; 27:46) Clearly, she communicated her concern in no uncertain terms. Isaac told Jacob, Esau’s twin brother, not to take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. (Genesis 28:1, 2) Rebekah had made her point. This couple had successfully communicated about a most sensitive family subject, providing a good example for us today. What, though, if mates cannot come to an agreement? What can be done? When Faced With a Disagreement A young couple having a disagreement If you and your mate have a serious disagreement, do not give your spouse the silent treatment. That would convey a very clear message: You are not happy, and you want your mate to be unhappy too. Yet, your mate may not even fully understand your wishes and feelings. You and your mate may need to talk things over. If the issue is sensitive, it may not be easy to stay calm. Isaac’s parents, Abraham and Sarah, once faced a difficult situation. Because Sarah was barren, she followed the custom of those days and provided him with her servant girl, Hagar, as a concubine to bear offspring. Hagar bore Abraham a boy, Ishmael. However, later Sarah herself became pregnant, and she bore Abraham a son, Isaac. When Isaac was to be weaned, Sarah noticed Ishmael poking fun at her son. So Sarah, perceiving danger for her son, urged Abraham to drive out the slave girl and Ishmael. Yes, Sarah communicated how she felt in a straightforward manner. But what she asked for proved to be very displeasing to Abraham. How was the difference settled? The Bible account reads: “God said to Abraham: ‘Do not let anything that Sarah keeps saying to you be displeasing to you about the boy and about your slave girl. Listen to her voice, because it is by means of Isaac that what will be called your seed will be.’” Abraham listened to Jehovah God’s direction and acted accordingly.—Genesis 16:1-4; 21:1-14. When facing a disagreement, will you seek God’s direction? ‘Well,’ you might say, ‘if God would speak to us from the heavens, we could easily come to an agreement!’ That brings us to another key to solving marital disputes. Married couples can listen to God. How? By reading the Word of God together and accepting what it says as God’s direction.—1 Thessalonians 2:13. One experienced Christian wife said: “Many times, when a young woman comes to me for advice about her marriage, I ask her if she and her husband have been reading the Bible together. Most who have problems in their marriage do not have that habit.” (Titus 2:3-5) We can all benefit from her observation. Regularly read the Word of God with your mate. In that way, you “hear” God’s words as to how to conduct yourself day by day. (Isaiah 30:21) Just a word of caution: Do not use the Bible as a rod to beat your mate, continually pointing to scriptures that you feel your mate is failing to apply. Rather, try to see how both of you can put into practice what you read. A married couple studying the Scriptures using Bible-based publications If you are trying to handle a difficult problem, why not check the Watch Tower Publications Index* about your specific concern? Perhaps you are caring for aged parents, and that is causing tensions in your marriage. Instead of arguing about what your mate should or should not be doing, why not sit down and check the Index together? First, look up the main heading “Parents.” You may want to look up the references under the subheadings, such as “caring for aged parents.” Read together the related articles from the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses. You may be surprised at how much you and your mate can benefit from the Bible-based information, which has helped many sincere Christians. Checking those references and reading the material together will help you to get an objective view of your problem. You will find Scriptural quotations and citations that give you God’s thinking. Look them up in the Bible, and read them together. Yes, you will hear what God says about the problem you are facing! Keep the Lines of Communication Open Have you ever tried to open a door that has not been used for some time? Squeaking, the rusted hinges gradually give way. But what if the door had regularly been used and its hinges were well greased? It would have been easy to open. The same is true with the door of communication. If you make it a practice to communicate and lubricate the hinges of the door of communication with Christian love, you can more easily communicate your thoughts even when you have serious disagreements. You have to begin somewhere. Although communicating may initially require much effort, work at it. Then you can eventually enjoy an easier relationship with your mate, resulting in lasting understanding.
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