Pitfalls In Marital Communication 
Based on the talk given at the 1st PCC Marriage Conventicle on 28 Oct 2019 

All marital problems may be traced back to sin. So the ultimate solution to all marital problems may be found in Christ. Therefore, the more the husband and the wife die unto sin and are renewed in the image of Christ, the more they will enjoy their marriage, and the more their marriage will honour God. In the mean time, the more they recognise the centrality of Christ in their marriage, the more they will cease to expect their spouse to be the one to give them the satisfaction that they crave. 

Nevertheless, it remains the responsibility of the husband and wife to work together to improve their marriage, even as they wait upon the Lord for sanctification. And one of the most important, if not the most important, ways to do so is to learn to communicate with one another. Indeed, Dr Jay E. Adams is surely right when he says, “A sound husband and wife relationship is impossible apart from good communication” (Christian Living in the Home [P&R, 1972], 27-28). 

If communication is essential to happy marriages, then a failure at communication has grave consequences. Not only will marriage become a source of deepest grief, it will also bring shame to the name of Christ even as the husband and wife find their prayer life severely hindered (see 1 Pet 3:7).

Of course, marital communication is not only verbal. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to keep our words few. We think of how the apostle Peter instructs wives who have unbelieving husbands to try to win them without words (1 Pet 3:1). This will, no doubt, apply even in the case where the husband is a professing believer but extremely harsh and difficult. 

Nevertheless, verbal communication should be the norm in every marriage. God made us rational creatures with the ability to communicate with words so that we may enjoy each other’s fellowship at a spiritual level. 

Therefore, we must work on our verbal communication before it degenerates to a point where recovery becomes almost impossible. 

In this study, we want to consider several pitfalls to godly communication, or ways in which we sabotage good communication with our spouse. We will order our points using the acrostic, COMMUNICATION. 

These points are not only relevant to marital communication; therefore, even if you are not married, you will probably find them useful to work on improving your communication with loved ones—whether with parents, children, close relatives or friends. 

But as it is especially designed for marital communication, I would encourage you, if you are married or in courtship, to read it together with your spouse or spouse-to-be. As you do so, may I encourage you to consider if you have been guilty of any of the mistakes highlighted and to take some time to pray with one another regarding your mutual failures. 

Caustic or Sarcastic Words and Tones: “Yeah, yeah, you are always right!” 

Sarcasm is not necessarily wrong. However, spiteful sarcasm is caustic and a form of verbal abuse. The Lord Jesus warns against the sin of breaking the 6th commandment with words. “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Mt 5:21-22). 

You could be killing the spirit of your spouse by your sarcasm and tones. 

Overstatement, Exaggeration & Generalisation: 

“You always drag my mother into this”; “You never take my feelings into consideration.” 

Hyperbole and even generalisation is a legitimate figure of speech. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”(Mk 8:36). But if it is intended as a means to win an argument, it will generally aggravate the argument rather than help. 

Minimising & Refusing to Acknowledge an issue: “What’s the big deal? It is just a dress!” 

Facetiousness does not encourage deep relationships. “Fools make a mock at sin: but among the righteous there is favour. The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy” (Prov 14.9-10). Neither does having no empathy for your spouse. 

Manipulating & Side-Stepping: “Forget it: you’ll never understand anyway.” Or “I was just joking.” Or raising another complaint as soon as you are proven wrong on the present one. 

There are many ways of manipulation in speech. Some of us may be so used to it that we think nothing of it. But manipulation is a form of deceit: “So is the man that deceiveth his neighbour, and saith, Am not I in sport?” (Prov 26:19).

Unyielding; Blaming & Accusing: Always trying to assign blame and never willing to share it. 

Adam and Eve fell into the sin of blame-shifting immediately after the Fall; but Cain surely took the cake when he blamed Abel for the reason why his offering was not accepted (Gen 4:6-8). 

Nit-Picking & Harping on issues: Describing and focusing on minor flaws and on past history instead of looking for positive solutions. 

Solomon probably had this sinful habit in mind when he wrote: “Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins” (Prov 10:12); and “An ungodly man diggeth up evil: and in his lips there is as a burning fire” (Prov 16:27). 

I-must-win mentality, including Cross-Complaining: “So I don’t listen to you, huh? Well, you never want to take the time to talk about anything that’s really important.” 

Paul appears to be condemning this attitude when he says: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil 2:3). 

Criticism, even ‘constructive’ ones. Try to be more affirming rather than critical. Avoid all unnecessary or unedifying criticisms. 

Husbands and wives sometimes think that it is their duty to correct one another. So they fail to see that they are often acting upon the impulse of the flesh rather than genuine love when they criticise each other. We must remember the words of the Lord: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?” (Mt 7:1-4). And yes, it is applicable in marriage too. 

If you have no confidence that your criticism will build up your spouse, then refrain from raising it. 

Assumptions, Mind-Reading & Assuming the other party can read your mind: “You’re only doing this to make me feel bad.” “Ask yourself why I am angry!” “I know what you are going to say, I don’t want to hear it!” 

Remember the truism of the apostle Paul: “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?” (1 Cor 2:11a). Don’t assume you know. Don’t assume your spouse knows. 

Tantrums & Black-mailing: “How can you side with him against me? I am your wife!” 

There are many kinds of blackmail. Conversational blackmail is usually emotional. The Hebrew slave who fought with another was using a kind of emotional blackmail when he retorted against Moses: “Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian?” (Ex 2:14a). Tantrums and accusation of lack of love is another kind of emotional blackmail. Think of what Delilah did to Samson: “And she said unto him, How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me? thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth. And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death” (Jdg 16:15-16). 

Interrupting & Mono-polising of Conversation: Not allowing the other party to complete his/her sentence; or not even giving him/her much of an opportunity to speak! 

“A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself” (Prov 18:2). Having a conversation with anyone like that can be extremely vexing, not to mention having a spouse like that. 

Obscure & Vague or Dismissive Responses. “What did you do today?” “Usual.” “You look flustered.” “Whatever” or “What do you expect?” 

This is usually more a problem in parental communication with teenagers. 

However in marriages where communication has broken down already, it will make matters worse. We should note that one who is dismissive of questions asked is actually thinking of himself more highly than he ought to think (Rom 12:3). He is saying: you are not worth my energy, effort or time to reply to. 

Not Listening with Interest: Showing disinterest on what is said, for example, by interjecting with something totally out of context. 

This is similar to the previous point, but exhibits itself a slowness to listen coupled with a swiftness to speak (Jas 1:19, 26). Also: “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him” (Prov 18:13). 

Communication is an art as well as a science. Learn how to do it well by watching out for the pitfalls along the way and avoid them. But communication is also a spiritual exercise. Therefore, pray for humility and meekness to see your failures. 

Evaluate yourselves before evaluating each other as a couple. Pray for humility to listen to what your spouse has to say about your shortfalls. 

Confess your faults one to another as James reminds us: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Jas 5:16). 

Pray a Psalm 51 prayer. That is: pray a contrite prayer where your own sin is acknowledged and confessed without blaming your spouse or anyone else for your failures. Ask the Lord to help you to be Christ-like in your communication. Amen. 

—JJ Lim

Communication Pitfalls

o Caustic or Sarcastic words and tones.

o Overstatement, Exaggeration & Generalisation.

o Minimising & Refusing to Acknowledge an Issue.

o Manipulating & Side-Stepping

o Unyielding; Blaming & Accusing.

o Nit-Picking & Harping on issues.

o I-must-win mentality, including Cross-Complaining

o Criticism, even ‘constructive’ ones.

o Assumptions, Mind-Reading & Assuming the other party can read your mind.

o Tantrums & Blackmailing.

o Interrupting & Monopolising of Conversation.

o Obscure & Vague or Dismissive Responses.

o Not Listening with Interest.