Guidelines for Mature Marriage Communication
- Commitment to God is vital in a marriage. Imagine a triangle with God at the top. As you both grow more spiritually connected with God you also become more emotionally and spiritually connected with each other.
- Agree to listen to each others’ feelings.
- Teamwork = you are both on the same team. Two guards on the same basketball team, while dribbling down the court, would not try to steal the ball from each other because they are on the same team. Couples who argue in unhealthy ways are on opposing teams and need to join the same team. The goal of conflict resolution is not who wins. When a couple resolves an issue or even agrees to disagree, they both win.
- Conflict resolution is the goal of mature “arguments”– not who wins. When you resolve a conflict or agree to disagree, you both win.
- Never attack each other. This is another aspect of being on the same team. Calling each other names or attacking each other in any way is not a good way to bring resolution. A mature couple will discuss their differences of opinion or their perceived offenses while listening to each other’s opinions and either agree on a compromise, apologize for an offense, or agree to disagree, but all without attacking each other or calling each other names.
- Commitment to each other means a lifelong choice to be loving to each other, even when not feeling that way at times. The FEELING of love varies even day by day. Two people marry each other because they love each other. It is totally normal when living with each other for a long time, for those feelings to go up and down. In Revelation chapter 2:1-5, God clearly taught three steps for rebuilding waning feelings of love. God complimented the church in Ephesus about a number of very good things they were doing and had only one constructive criticism: they had “lost their first love.” The depth of love and enthusiasm that they felt for God when they first became believers had significantly decreased. God taught them that LOVE IS A CHOICE that could be achieved using three simple steps: “REMEMBER therefore from whence thou art fallen, and REPENT, and DO THE FIRST WORKS;” THOSE WILL BE OUR NEXT 3 STEPS FOR REVIVING THE LEVEL OF LOVE IN A MARRIAGE.
- Remember=A mate can start by remembering the romantic and loving feelings that were present early in the marriage and remember the loving things that were done for each other. As human beings, we all take things AND OFTEN EACH OTHER for granted and forget the importance of maintaining those love feelings and behaviors.
- Repent means to recognize that the decision the couple each made to love each other deeply at some time in their relationship had now declined in intensity. It would be wise and profitable for each member of that couple to make a “re-decision” to make a determined effort to rebuild the depth of love that had been present earlier in their relationship.
- Do the first works means that WHETHER OR NOT A MATE FEELS THAT DEGREE OF LOVE, he/she can choose to do the loving things daily that were done for each other early on in their marriage. The valuable lesson God taught humanity in that passage is that IF A PERSON BEHAVES LOVINGLY TOWARD GOD (AND THIS WOULD APPLY TO A MATE, OF COURSE, AS WELL) THE FEELINGS OF LOVE WILL USUALLY BE REVIVED.
- No “should” or “shouldn’ts”. These are PARENT-TO-CHILD statements and are condescending in marriage. Wives have already had a father. They don’t need or want their husbands to be their fathers, but rather their lover and friend and equal. Likewise, husbands don’t need or want another mother. Shoulds and shouldn’ts don’t work well anyway. As humans, we are usually automatically defensive whether we know our mate is right or wrong, which results in arguments. If A mate is doing (or NOT doing) or saying something that the other mate believes to be wrong, dropping SHOULD and SHOULDN’T messages on each other is VERY UNLIKELY to bring about change.
- “I feel” messages are very effective to bring about positive changes. Messages like “I felt really loved just now when you….” “I felt sad today when you….” “I feel angry toward you right now because….” It’s really difficult to argue with someone about whether they feel the way they say they do. It would be really narcissistic to say, “No you don’t feel that way.” The expressive mate is not even insisting (depending on what it is) that the offending mate change, merely wanting the offending mate to realize how the expressive mate FEELS about the offending mate’s action. non-action or choice of words. EXAMPLE = A husband and wife agree to meet somewhere at 6 p.m. after work the wife, for example, shows up 40 minutes late and doesn’t answer her phone when he eventually gets worried and tries to call. The wife’s boss actually gave her a last-minute task to do that took her 40 minutes. When she finally arrives, it would be condescending and ineffective to say, “You SHOULD always call me when we agree on a time to meet and you know you will be late.” He is actually correct, in most cases. But she will naturally defend herself and maybe even get angry at him for getting angry at her when she had a semi-emergency. This results in an argument. But if he says, “I feel angry…or I feel discounted, or even I feel anxious when you meet me 40 minutes late and don’t call me first to let me know.” If she is a caring wife, she will care about how he feels and WANT to change that. “I FEEL” messages don’t always work, but they work about four times more often than “YOU SHOULD” messages, plus are respectful, “speaking the truth in love” as encouraged by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:15.
- Expressing appropriate anger to each other, when offended, is a sign of maturity in marriage. If one of the mates NEVER feels angry toward the other mate, one of them is not necessary!!! One must be doing all the thinking for both. God tells us in Ephesians 4:26-27 to go ahead and get angry without sinning. It is not a sin to feel or express anger. We are actually encouraged to share angry feelings when wronged, but God adds there to always FORGIVE BY BEDTIME or “you will give Satan a foothold in your life.” Depression is ANGER TURNED INWARD. Prolonged bitterness and grudges bring about a chain of harmful chemical changes in the brain including serotonin depletion from the brain, causing severe headaches and clinical depression, as well as the release of other chemicals from the pituitary gland that decrease immunity from all sorts of diseases. Bitterness and grudges are the leading cause of death in humans. Holding grudges means that person is still consciously or unconsciously looking for ways to get personal vengeance on the offender. The offense may have been very severe, but holding grudges is like swallowing rat poison and hoping it hurts the other guy. Forgiving by bedtime does NOT mean condoning the offense and does NOT guarantee that waves of anger will not swell back up during the time it takes to heal. It DOES MEAN that the offended mate has verbalized anger toward the offending mate but then, by bedtime, chosen to turn vengeance over to God. God will do a better job of it anyway!! God can read the offending mate’s mind and heart perfectly, and knows whether any repentance, for example, is sincere or not and will deal with the offender accordingly, including total grace and forgiveness if the repentance is totally heartfelt and sincere. Vengeance is God’s job and God promises to get vengeance in a fair and effective way if allowed to (Romans 12). God will NOT get vengeance if the offended mate decides to play God and remain bitter and insist on personal vengeance.
- Limit confrontations to here and now and never bring up past issues unless it is in marital therapy. Past conflicts, grudges, and bitterness should already be dealt with and forgiven. Share how you feel only about things that occur TODAY.
- “You never” and “You always” are condescending parent-to-child messages. Any mate who uses these phrases is bringing up the past, which should have already been dealt with and forgiven. A mate who uses these phrases proves to the mate that vengeful motives and bitterness are being held unto by the accusatory mate. Using these phrases puts a limit on the amount of closeness and intimacy that a couple can achieve.
- “I’ll try” usually ends up meaning, “I’ll make a half-hearted effort but not quite succeed.”
- “I can’t” really means, “I won’t.” So just be honest and say, “I won’t.”
- “I will” or “I won’t” messages are honest intentions and each member of the couple must feel free to make his or her own decision about what he or she is willing or not willing to do.
- Nobody can read minds! If something sounds offensive, a mature mate will ask the other mate to clarify what he or she meant to say and why it was said. A mate must never assume that he knows what the mate was intending to communicate or what her motives were for saying or doing what she did. One mate may do or say something with loving intentions but may say or do it in a way that gets misinterpreted by the other mate as being rude, condescending, or insulting. This is called “ascribing evil motives to others,” which anyone can do sometimes. People who suffered childhood abuse or even later significant abuses will naturally feel more self-protective and do this more often than those who grew up feeling loved and accepted. IN MARRIAGE, MIND-READING IS A DESTRUCTIVE CHOICE. Asking about the mate’s intentions and at least consider seriously what that mate is saying. ON THE OTHER HAND, a PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE mate holds unconscious grudges and bitterness–often toward a domineering parent growing up. The P-A mate may say or do something he thinks is funny or even kind, but his unconscious hostility toward the domineering parent gets transferred to the innocent mate–usually to whoever loves him the most and is least likely to reject him. Usually, a passive-aggressive mate will be repeatedly offensive without even realizing he (or she) is doing so by being repeatedly late, inefficiency on his responsibilities in the home (or at work), pouting and feeling victimized when he isn’t actually being victimized, promising to do or fix things but usually procrastinating and a variety of other ways. Therapy resulting in insight and working through his conflicts toward the domineering, critical parent, can result in overcoming these bad habits. But DON’T PLAY THERAPIST. Let a professional do that.
- Agree on which topics are out of bounds
- NEVER criticize your partner’s body, personality, or limitations. Neither marital partner is perfect.
- Agree to love each other unconditionally—as they each are, whether they change or not.
- Never explode or lose your temper. Anger is not hatred. Anger is not vengeance. Anger is not destructive. Sharing anger appropriately, as in these guidelines, is CONSTRUCTIVE AND BUILDS INTIMACY.
June 29, 2020
By Paul Meier
Paul Meier, M.D., is the founder of the nation-wide Meier Clinics (www.meierclinics.org) established in 1976. He is widely acknowledged as a pioneer in the integration of the physical aspects of man with the psychological and spiritual dimensions.
Dr. Meier received his Masters of Science degree in Cardiovascular Physiology from Michigan State University, his Medical Degree (M.D.) from the University of Arkansas College of Medicine, and completed his psychiatric residency at Duke University. Dr. Meier attended graduate courses at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, in 1975-76 while as a full-time faculty member. He also holds a Master of Arts degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, where he served as a full-time faculty member in pastoral counseling for 12 years.
In 1999, Dr. Meier was honored by the American Association of Christian Counselors with a Lifetime Achievement Award at their Worldwide Conference. In 2006, Dr. Meier was named as a Physician of the Year by The National Republican Congressional Committee and honored at a reception by the President of the United States and Congress in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Meier has been a guest on numerous radio and television programs throughout his professional career, including Oprah Winfrey, The Tom Snyder Show, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, and Radio Free Europe. He has been honored to teach and speak at many universities and seminaries throughout the world, often lecturing on insight-oriented therapy and other related topics. Dr. Meier has authored or co-authored over 80 books and written numerous articles for magazines and other publications.