The ministry of serving love involves discovering and meeting needs. Being committed to serving love is one thing; knowing how to discover and meet those needs is quite another thing.
Communication: Key to Discovering and Meeting Needs
Communication is indispensable to the ministry of serving love in marriage. Let’s face it: None of us is a mind reader. In a marriage relationship, discovering and meeting needs in an atmosphere of serving love presupposes that husband and wife are willing to talk. It is in the process of communication that needs are shared or discovered.
Barb and I have carried on a tradition in our home that began with my parents. Within minutes of greeting each other at the end of the day, we are sitting in two chairs and talking—just the two of us. We talk about the kids, we review Barb’s day and mine, we celebrate each other’s highs, and we mourn each other’s lows. We talk about everything! Sometimes our discussions are deep and serious; other times they are just newsy, connecting chats.
During this time, as we listen intently to each other’s heart, we notice what brings joy or tears. And we discern needs. Most significant, we walk away from our chat with a better idea of the struggles we face individually and as a couple. We know better how we can meet each other’s needs in the midst of our trials. In our talking, we discover exactly where to apply serving love. Barb learns how to help me; I learn how to help her.
Communication is the process of sharing yourself verbally and nonverbally in ways that your spouse both understands and accepts—though not necessarily agrees with—what you are sharing. Studies show that couples who communicate frequently have a more satisfying relationship. And couples who achieve deep levels of communication enjoy the most satisfaction of all.
Connecting through Good Communication
What do you think of when we say communication? Talking, to be sure. But just because someone’s mouth is moving doesn’t mean communication is taking place. Communication is sharing yourself verbally and non-verbally in a way that your spouse both accepts and understands. If the message is spoken but not understood, it’s not clear communication.
In addition to talking—or what we call expressing—there are two other vital elements to communication: listening and responding. When we communicate, we have a responsibility not merely to unload what is on our minds but also to ensure that our message is understood. We will explain these three components and coach you on how to use them to improve your communication.
Some of us express ourselves naturally and easily. But for others, expression is a skill to be learned. If you want to communicate clearly, you must begin with deliberate expression. When you have something to share with your spouse, sort what you want to say into three categories—what you think, what you feel, and what you need. Then start talking. Give details. Don’t be put off if your spouses ask you clarifying questions. And don’t expect the other person to read your mind or fill in blanks.
Expressing openly and in detail doesn’t mean expressing carelessly. Your words can be dangerous: “The tongue can kill or nourish life” (Proverbs 18:21). Be careful about what you say.
Try these three rules for effective expressing.
1. Take one issue at a time. Pouring everything out at once seldom gives your spouse much information about anything. It’s one way we tend to skim over our issues and never get to the core of them. You can help your spouse stay on track with a few helpful phrases: “Tell me more about . . .” or “What were you saying about . . . ?”
2. Allow one person to speak at a time. When you are communicating with your spouse, keep him or her in the spotlight. When your spouse is expressing, give him or her room for full expression—no interruptions, no feedback. If you both fight to be heard at the same time, communication is bound to break down.
3. Be specific and to the point. When I (Gary) express, I start at the top—the main point—and go from there. To Barb, this approach sometimes feels rushed and even a little rough. She would rather talk around the topic and eventually arrive at the main point. Wives, you will likely be more successful at expressing if you accommodate your husbands’ need to hear the bottom line up front. And husbands, you will make communication more enjoyable for your wives if you include plenty of detail with your main point.
One of the secrets to great communication is to listen attentively. If you want your spouse to freely share his or her heart with you, you must convey with absolute certainty that he or she has your undivided attention. Listening attentively isn’t easy. Maintaining eye contact may be unnerving to you. Jumping in with a solution may be hard to resist. But listening is the key to understanding your spouse’s needs.
At some point in a discussion, it is appropriate to move beyond listening to join the conversation. The point is not to introduce your own agenda but to clarify and fully understand what your spouse is expressing. This communication skill is called responding.
Typically, men and women have different ways of responding. Men tend either to try to fix the situation, get defensive, get angry, or withdraw. Even though they are listening to their wives state the problem, husbands are often already working on a solution: something to fix, a wrong to right, an error to correct.
Women tend to seek security, reassurance, a sympathetic ear, and validation in response from their husbands. Wives don’t always want a solution right off the bat. First they need empathy and understanding. Once a wife feels emotionally connected to her patiently listening husband, she may be ready for suggestions on what to do.
When your spouse has laid bare his or her soul, a wise response has three elements. Just remember the acrostic A-S-K:
Ask—“What do you need most from me right now?” or “How can I help you?”
Suggest—Offer to assist by saying, “Would it help if I . . . ?”
Kneel—Assume an inner posture of servanthood. Reassure your spouse that you will do whatever he or she needs you to do.
Maybe your spouse already knows exactly what he or she needs in a situation. But how much better to ask proactively, “What can I do to help you?” These are the caring words of serving love.
Admitting our needs to our spouses isn’t very flattering. It’s rather humbling. But God in his wisdom designed our spouse to love and accept our us unconditionally despite our obvious (and not so obvious) needs, weaknesses, and failures. And God designed you to accept your dear but needy and imperfect spouse the same way.
*For more about how to unlock the biblical secrets to a marriage that stays vibrant and strong for a lifetime check out our book 6 Secrets to a Lasting Love in our online bookstore!