Charlie Shedd writes about two rivers that are flowing along smoothly and quietly—until they come together. At this juncture the water “boils,” spray is thrown into the air, and mud comes up from the bottom. After this turbulence, a few miles downstream the two waters flow smoothly and quietly again, now as one. But the newly formed river is broader, more majestic, and more powerful than either of the two were on their own. He goes on to say:
A good marriage is often like that. When two independent streams of existence come together there’s going to be some dashing of life against life at the juncture. Personalities rush against each other. Preferences clash. Ideas contend for power. Habits vie for position. The waters boil and mud often comes up from the bottom. And you wonder where the loveliness has gone. But when you go downstream a few years these two lives are flowing smoothly and quietly again. But together they are more than either of them could have been on their own.
There will be conflicts in marriage—and not just at the beginning. There will often be surprises, creating turbulence in the waters. Healthy marriages manage to find smooth sailing again. But what about those marriages that seem to stay in flux—mud always coming to the surface; a constant spray in each other’s face; a killer waterfall always in view?
Many will say marital problems can be related to unsatisfactory communication. Communication between spouses is far more than words (good words, bad words, inflammatory words, soothing words, etc.). If I leave Linda alone all evening at a party where she knows no one—I have communicated a message to her without saying a word. If she is telling a story and gets one of the facts wrong (or maybe I am remembering incorrectly), and she sees me turning my head from side to side I might as well have given her the thumbs-down.
Remember the party where she is alone? What if I made it a point to check on her occasionally—and when I couldn’t check on her, intentionally catch her attention from across the room and smile and wink at her. That’s an unspoken word that yells loudly, “I love you!” (And it’ll probably pay off later.)
Most seminars on communication begin and end with technique: what to do and not do; what to say and not say. But Jesus reminds us the secret to good communication is not determined by skill, but by the heart (see Matthew 15:19). And that drives us right back to the Gospel, the only thing which can change my crusty old heart so what comes out of it says to Linda, “I love you” (see Jeremiah 17:9).
Paul gives us three principles we can live out if Christ is living in us (Gal. 2:20). These principles will transform any marriage because they remind me who I am and who my spouse is. They come out of Ephesians 5:1-25.
- WALK IN LOVE (1-7). We do this by imitating God and following the example of Christ who loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us—a sweet aroma. If I want sweetness in my marriage, I will make it my goal that everything I do and say to my spouse expresses the love that Christ has for me—by no means the most lovable person in the world (Luke 6:35-36).
- WALK AS CHILDREN OF LIGHT (8-14). Maxie Dunnam reminds us that we are not “bit actors” moving in and out of the drama of redemption—the new life of justification and sanctification—as we please. Once you were full of darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. So live as people of light. Our marriages need constant refreshing. Whatever the light shines on—if it shines clearly enough, consistently enough, and long enough—it will transform. Shine on your marriage.
- WALK IN WISDOM (15-21). Make the most of every opportunity to express love to your spouse. Don’t act thoughtlessly—think about every word, every move, every expression you make toward your spouse. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. He gives life, for He is the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. Give thanks for your spouse. And submit to your spouse “as one who is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life” (1 Peter 3:7).
Communication is not what you do; it is who you are. How’s your heart? It is the control center of what you say and do in your marriage. Get your heart right, and when the day comes one of you lays the other in the arms of God you will be able to say, “We walked hand-in-hand, we smiled, and we thanked God every day that out of all the people in the world we chose each other.”
Amen, and Amen!