Unclouding Your Communication: The 3 “Ts” of Talking

“Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.” Proverbs 18:21 (The Message)

I talk with couples all the time in a variety of locations. From coffee houses to homes to my office (my favorite is talking marriage over froyo), I love that people are taking their marriage seriously by getting outside input.  Side note: Counseling (getting help) is not an admission of defeat; it’s an admission of your humanity and a breaking of your pride. I’d challenge any couple to take a preventative step further by getting some check-ins with a professional marriage counselor BEFORE an issues even rises.

The “communication” conversation is one of the first things to come up. Why? If you’ve sat through ANY marriage talks with me, you’ll hear me say, “Communication is the oil of the engine of marriage. You can run out of any other fluid and get by. But if you run out of oil, your engine is done.” (I’m willing to bet a mechanic will contact me to prove my car fluid metaphor inaccurate.) But the point is worth making: communication keeps the engine of your relationship running smooth. It affects EVERY aspect of marriage (conflict, intimacy, relationship roles, etc).

And when I bring up the subject, a very typical response is, “Pastor Dave, we’re already good at talking.” But this is where a revelation came to me and Anne early in marriage: Being good at talking doesn’t equate to being good at communicating. It’s why I spend time helping couples work on assertiveness and active listening. But you can have the right elements but miss the mark because of  “talking mistakes.” And many of those faux paus are in these three areas:

1 – Timing. When you need to talk, consider the timing of when you initiate conversation. Some terrible timing moments:

  • Hitting up your spouse first when he/she walks in the door from a busy day
  • Dealing with heavy topics in front of kids/family/friends
  • Confrontation when tempters are beyond being constructive
  • Inserting criticism in the midst of a great moment.

Your timing can squash a moment or enhance it. If handled right, it can be the factor to help pave the way for your marital communication to go deeper and get healthier. Ignore timing because of your inability to be patient, defenses will go up, frustration will rise, and problems will continue.

2 – Tone. As a trumpet player, I learned that a wrong tone can take a beautiful musical arrangement and make it excruciating to listen to. Tone in marital communication is no different (or any communication for that matter). Just because you might be loud doesn’t mean you are going to be completely heard. To add to that point, just because your spouse isn’t picking up on what you’re talking about may have nothing to do with his/her hearing and more to do with the tone you’re using. Your tone is an essential tactic to consider. It can intensify what you’re talking about or distract from what is really being said.  It brings emphasis and priority while helping to convey emotion when words are not enough.

Side note: Tone is carried through more than your voice. Your body language and facial expressions speak clear tones…so be careful about those.


3 – Technique. This is where you realize something that you already know BUT need the constant reminder (as I do): you and your spouse are different creatures.

You are both unique and beautiful creations of God. But the way you were raised may have had certain techniques of how to handle communication that your spouse may not respond well to. It doesn’t mean your spouse was raised incorrectly and/or that your family did it right. But it does means that you may need to step back and evaluate whether your techniques for approaching communication are healthy or not.

I very much respond to touch. So when Anne is talking with me, she’ll place her hand on my leg or my arm. Anne responds to quality/meaningful time. I’ll ask her to go for a walk (one of her favorite activities) and it’s there, she feels a bit more free to talk openly. I would highly recommend a solid book on communication (love the “Five Love Languages“) and/or sitting with a professional to get some help in developing strong talking techniques.

“Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.” Proverbs 18:21 (The Message)

Keep the engine of your marriage running smooth by constantly evaluating and developing your communication. Don’t be afraid to get help when you (both) are facing some struggles. Remember: Marriage challenges are not a “me” issue; it’s always a “we” issue.

Keep talking. Keep working. And always feed hope.


Thanks for letting me ramble…

“Tone Deaf Marriage”

I’ve met both extremes.

I had a friend in bible college who, at parties, we’d make sit at a keyboard while we sing random notes.  Almost instantaneously, she’d play the exact note.  No mistakes. She can pick out any tones, notes, and/or pitches and play or sing them.  She’s very talented musically.

I have another friend who’s not so talented in this area.  He has amazing gifts and abilities.  He loves Christ with all of his heart and that’s what matters. But he is the polar opposite of friend #1.   He loves to sing.  But he’s what you call “tone-deaf.” I can’t harp on him too much.  I love to sing in the shower.  And there’s been more than one occasion where I’ve had a knock on the bathroom door asking me, more like pleading with me, to stop.

As a trumpet player, I know the necessity for being able to hear tones to be able to know if something is sharp or flat, harmonious or obtrusive, perfectly balanced or completely off (Luckily, the trumpet makes up for my lack of voice…well, sort of).

My friends at “Marriage Works” (twitter: @mrgwrks) shared a great TRUTH:

The timing & tone of your words have a significant impact on whether your mate receives or rejects them. Speak wisely!

This is what helps uncover the problem.  It’s a condition called “The Tone-Deaf Marriage.

The symptoms: 

1 – Tone usage. Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” On of my favorite instruments to listen to is also one of my most hated instruments to listen to.  It’s the oboe. Why both extremes?  Played with proper tone, blended with the entire orchestra, can sooth the soul.  Played harshly and abruptly, can be painful and abusive (take it from the guy that sat two seats over from the novice oboe player).

Your tone can change the entire context of the conversation.  You may think you are not being harsh.  Look around the room as you talk. Watch your spouse’s face when you speak to him/her.  Their perspective is their reality.  Stop being stubborn about how you think you sound. It could be that you are “tone-deaf” to your own voice. It could be that you are so caught up with how you think you sound that you’ve never humbled yourself to admit you’re wrong.  And the result: you “make tempers flare.”

2 – Timing. Proverbs 25:11 says “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” In an orchestration, everything it timed out.  The tempo, taken wrongly, can destroy a musical piece. A prime example is from the movie, “That Thing You Do.” Guy Patterson takes the initiative, during their first performance, to up-tempo the ballad, and transform the song. I’ve seen it happen to worship songs.  Some songs seem to be more powerful at specific tempos and don’t belong at other speeds.

You’re timing with your words is critical.  I think of just a few weeks ago, when something that Anne and I have joked about before, ended up hurting her instead of making her laugh. Comedy is all about timing and I screwed up. It was a quick reminder about how our words are used. When the timing has been thought through, scripture says, it’s received like “apples of gold in a silver setting.” It means the words are presented well and have been sweet to receive.

Do you want your words to be presented in a way that they are heard and sweetly received? Watch your timing. If you have no idea what I am talking about, it could be you are “tone-deaf.” Ask your spouse about your timing.  If you’re afraid to ask, you may already know the answer.

3 – Mannerisms. Colossians 4:5 Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.” That refers to our manner of life, our behavior, our actions. But in the very next verse he talks about words: “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person.

I know that this verse in Colossians is speaking in context about how Christ-followers act towards those who don’t have a relationship with Christ. But I cannot help but think that those heading these instructions were living this at home before they were expected to live it outside. I can see Paul, the writer of Colossians, saying, you’ve learned this at home and in church, it’s time to live it the say way out in the world.

We cannot separate our words from our actions. They must be consistent with each other.  “Tone-deaf” spouses don’t recognize this.  They may say their listening, but their body language doesn’t tell that. You say you’ve forgiving, but your actions are still cold.  Actions are everything.  And for your actions in your marriage to be inconstant with your words to your spouse speaks of you being “tone-deaf.”

My challenge today comes from Proverbs 16:24, “Kind words are like honey–sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”  Have a talk with your spouse about this issue of being “tone-deaf.” Better yet, get a baby sitter and go out on a date and have a conversation. Speak truth in love and kindness. Show humility and teachability. The promise of scripture: the words you give and/or receive will be “like honey–sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.

Thanks for letting me ramble…