Avoiding & Solving Marital Problems
Part 2 - Communication Pitfalls

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This is Part 2 of Bible Bell's series on marriage.

Herein we highlight five communication pitfalls that can hurt marriages and drive spouses apart. They are...

Pitfall #1 -- Competing for victory

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger

(Prov 15.1)

Melvin (irritated): You didn't turn off the lights in the bathroom when you were finished. How many times do I have to remind you?

Louise (sarcastic tone): Why do you have to make such a big deal about a few cents worth of electricity?

Melvin (harshly): Because you're so stupid and irresponsible about money, that's why!

Louise (reacting): Maybe you'd save more money if I just moved out.
  Here we have an example of turning a molehill into a mountain.

What begins as a small disagreement between Melvin and Louise soon develops into a threat of separation.

Marriage partners can escalate a minor spat to the stage that they end up threatening the very heart of their marriage.

All too many spouses look upon a family discussion or disagreement as being sort of like a debate or contest...

  • In a contest, it's natural for humans to want to score more points than their opponent.
  • When spouses seek to score points against one another, a family discussion quickly degenerates into a WIN/ LOSE competition.
  • As disagreement heats up, spouses begin using increasingly abusive comments to "score points."
  • Usually these hurtful words do NOT express what the two spouses really feel about each other. They're just caught up in the heat of competition.
  • When the dust settles both spouses wonder how the mess got started in the first place and wish they could take back the words they said.
  • The "winner" hunkers down in a cloud of gloom and thinks, "Boy, I won THAT one! Soooo... how come I feel so bad?"
  • A competition simply cannot take place with anything less than at least two people.
  • Accordingly, if you feel the competitive juices start to flow during a discussion with your spouse, BACK OFF!
  • Make no mistake -- if you and your spouse allow a competitive attitude to occur in your discussions and disagreements, you are sinking into deep kim chee!
  • And again I say -- BACK OFF!

Pitfall #2 -- Blowing off esteem

Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones

(Prov 16.24)

Melissa: I am totally fed up with my supervisor's favoritism toward Mary. Mary doesn't work half as hard as I do, but she gets all the compliments.

Boldar: Just ignore it and be glad you've got a job.

Melissa: (Looking hurt) You wouldn't say that if you had to work there. It really frustrates me.

Boldar: Everyone has that kind of problem once in a while. You shouldn't let it bother you so much.


  In this example, Boldar blows away Melissa's self-esteem by playing down the significance of the way his wife is feeling.

Boldar may think he is encouraging Melissa, but his comments are having just the opposite effect.

Melissa ends up feeling even more hurt because Boldar has said, in effect, that her resentment and frustration are merely an overreaction.

The danger in this case (and in all similar cases) is that Melissa might very well become reluctant to tell Boldar about her true feelings in the future.

Human beings just naturally conceal their innermost thoughts when they believe they will be criticized for having them.

When your partner is hurting or upset, here are some No-No's...

  • DON'T say "I know how you feel." Your spouse wants you to LISTEN to how they feel. If you say you already know how they feel (which I doubt), it comes across as meaning that you don't want to listen.
  • DON'T say "Aw, it's not that bad." These are not words of cheer and comfort. They are a major put-down.
  • For heaven's sake DON"T recite your own similar but (in your opinion) far more serious hardships. A person with a sprained arm today isn't interested in hearing how you broke your arm last year.

When your partner is hurting or upset, here are some Yes-Yes's...

DO acknowledge that you have heard how your spouse is feeling.

  • Say something like this: "I can see that this is really upsetting you."
  • This does NOT necessarily mean that you agree with his or her reactions. It merely means you are listening intently, and with a sympathetic ear.

DO keep your opinions to yourself unless and until your spouse very specifically asks for them.

  • Often your spouse won't even be looking for your opinion. He or she may just want to ventilate to a sympathetic listener.
  • Instead of offering unrequested opinions, ask questions to give your spouse every opportunity to fully express his or her feelings.

Pitfall #3 -- Mind reading

No one can really know what anyone else is thinking, or what he is really like, except that person himself

(1 Cor 2.11)

Ladeena: I just updated our Christmas budget. It looks like our money is going to be a little tight this year.

Orlando (in a resentful voice): In other words, we'll have to cancel the trip to visit my family!

Ladeena: Maybe not. Why don't we look at the budget together and see what we can work out?

Orlando: You didn't have any problem finding the money to visit YOUR family last year. But now that it's my turn, all of a sudden you discover we're short of money to buy plane tickets.

Ladeena: Last year we didn't have all of these extra bills to pay.

Orlando: Why don't you just tell the truth. You never have liked my family, have you?
  Ladeena starts a conversation with her husband concerning their Christmas budget.

Orlando immediately interprets this to mean that Ladeena wants to cancel their holiday trip to visit his parents.

Does Ladeena really want to cancel their holiday trip? I don't know. Neither do you. Neither does Orlando!

Mind reading -- especially negative mind reading -- is absolutely POISONOUS to marriage communications.

Love ... thinks no evil

(1 Cor 13.5c, NKJ)

  • Don't ever try to read your spouse's mind or guess at his or her motives.
  • Take your spouse's words at their face value.
  • If you want to know your spouse's motives or thoughts, ask them.
  • Always assume the positive, never the negative.
  • With your spouse and all people, seek the reputation of being a person who thinks no evil and believes the best about everyone. (If people decide you are dense and can't take a hint -- GREAT!)

Pitfall #4 -- Hinting around

The following conversation takes place the morning of Darla's birthday, as Calvin heads out the door on his way to work...

Darla: Did you notice the cashmere sweater Peggy wore at the party last week? It looked really nice, don't you think?

Calvin: Uh-huh. Very pretty.
  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that Darla is hinting that she wants a cashmere sweater of her own.

Unfortunately, Calvin isn't a rocket scientist.

Later that day Calvin calls Darla, wishes her a happy birthday, and invites her to dinner at a fine-dining restaurant. That evening, Calvin gives Darla a Gucci handbag (verrry expensive).

Darla: You'll have to order pizza tonight. I don't feel like going out.

Calvin: Pizza? Okay. Do you have a headache or something?

Darla (sharply): No!

Calvin: Is something bothering you?

Darla: Don't act so innocent. You know perfectly well what's bothering me.

Calvin: I can guess. Look, sweetie, you're still a very beautiful woman. Don't get depressed because you've had another birthday.

Darla: Oh, so now you think I'm an old frump! Thank you very much.


  Darla makes the mistake of hinting at what she wants for her birthday rather than making a more specific request.

When Calvin misses the point, Darla then makes the even greater error of expecting Calvin to read her mind as to the reason why she is annoyed.

Unfortunately, Calvin falls into the trap of playing the guessing game.

Worse yet, Calvin makes a bad guess and touches a sore point that (up until then) hadn't even crossed Darla's mind.
  • God gave us the gift of speech.
  • Contrary to new-age philosophy, God did NOT see fit to give us the gift of so-called "extra-sensory perception."
  • Dropping hints is asking for eventual trouble.
  • It's good to make one's wishes known in a tactful way, but BE CLEAR and don't force your spouse into trying to read your mind.
  • Don't hint. Say what you mean!

Pitfall #5 -- Running for cover

And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

(Gen 3.10)

Laura: We need to talk about the problem between you and my mother.

Marcus: Later. I'm enjoying this TV show.

Laura: It's always "later" with you. I've been trying to get this settled for nearly a month now.

Marcus: We don't need to discuss this. Anyhow, it's none of your business.

Laura: But I'm involved, too. I love you both. This war between you two is tearing me in half.

Marcus (leaving the room as he speaks): She and I will work it out one of these days.

Laura (following Marcus into their bedroom): Don't walk away from this, Marcus. For once, you need to face up to the problem.

Marcus: There you go, blowing things all out of proportion again! I can't talk to you when you're like this.

Laura: Like what? It doesn't make any difference whether I'm calm or upset. You'll never talk to me about anything important!

Marcus (picking up the car keys): I'm going for a drive so I can find a little peace. We'll talk about this later, when you've calmed down.

Laura: Talk about it WHEN?

Marcus (leaving the house): Whenever.

Clamming up! Dodging the issue! Problem avoidance!!

Call it what you will -- when one partner refuses to discuss difficult issues, the marriage is headed for DEEP trouble.

Clamming up is a problem that feeds upon itself, and grows...

  • When one partner always retreats from difficult discussions, the other partner pushes even harder to achieve a resolution.
  • As the pusher pushes harder, the retreater retreats further.
  • Eventually the distance between spouses can become an uncrossable chasm.

If your spouse often clams up and retreats from difficult discussions, there are several possible reasons. These reasons include but are not limited to the following...

  • 1) Your retreating spouse knows he or she is dead wrong and doesn't want to face that fact.
  • 2) In past discussions with your retreating spouse, you have been so single-minded about pressing your own viewpoint that your spouse feels out-maneuvered.
  • 3) Your retreating spouse may consider that discussions with you are merely a prelude to doing what YOU want to do.
  • 4) Your retreating spouse is not as comfortable with verbal disagreements as you are.
  • 5) Your previous discussions have been unpleasantly heated, and your retreating spouse dislikes confrontations. (He or she may even fear that such discussions could result in physical violence.)
  • 6) During disagreements, you have a tendency to bring up old issues from previous disagreements, or to recall "previous sins" of your partner. Hence, your retreating spouse is fearful that a discussion of TODAY's issue will develop into a rehearsal of everything the two of you have ever disagreed on.
  • 7) Your retreating spouse may feel that family disagreements belittle him or her in front of your children.

For further help - We recommend you buy and read, "Strike the Original Match" by Chuck Swindoll. You can find it at your local Christian bookstore.


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