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Communication: How to Share Hearts Instead of Exchange Words, Part 1

From the series Experiencing God's Dream for Your Marriage

This message focuses on a candid look at communication. If you want to learn how to improve the communication in your marriage, to share hearts instead of just exchanging words, then join Chip.

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Message Transcript

Communication is the highway upon which love travels.

Okay? Communication is the highway upon which love travels. You can love one another, you can love God, you can be committed to one another.

And if you can’t get out inside of you, what you really think and what you really feel and if your mate can’t do it in a way that doesn’t attack and wound one another, I will tell you, in years and years of marriage counseling, there are people that love one another, love God, and no longer are together because they could not communicate and get to the heart of the issues.

I told you earlier about that first couple years of my life and that professor sent us to marriage counseling. And I bet ninety percent of it was learning to communicate. We didn’t know how to resolve anger and we didn’t know how to communicate.

Well, you know what? There’s a lot of issues that if you can’t get the love traveling on the highway of communication, you’re dead. And the frustration boils over, especially if you really love God and you want to get through and you want to express this to your mate but you just keep getting knocked down. Pretty soon, the blame starts.

Let’s talk about the communication process. We’re going to learn what it is and how it works.

Understanding the communication process. The definition is the meeting of meanings. Write the word “meanings.” Communication is not talking. It’s when the meaning, what’s in your heart, what do you really mean somehow goes across this highway into the heart and to the mind of your mate. Norman Wright says, “Communication is the privilege of exchanging vulnerabilities.”

By the way, the word “vulnerable” it means “open to woundedness.” See, great communication is always risky and often painful before it gets good.

Norman Wright also says, “Communication is the process of sharing yourself verbally and nonverbally in such a way that the other person,” listen, “can both accept and understand what you are saying.”

So if you say it in a way where they can’t accept it or they can’t understand it, you don’t communicate. You can say, “I said the right words. I wrote it down. This is the way it is.” If they can’t hear it, you didn’t communicate.

And a lot of times, we do things, unintentionally, completely unintentionally that shut down the communication process.

Many of us think, especially us as men, we think communication, “Look, that’s what I said. I said, I love you. Okay? Look. I love you. You don’t get it? What’s the deal? I love you! Hey, I said it once. I said it twice. You know, well…I love you, okay? Get over it.”

Now, what do my words say? Someone could have put that in a transcript and said, “Oh my. Chip’s such a wonderful husband. He just said six times in a row, ‘I love you.’” Except that wasn’t my tone of voice, was it?

Notice on your notes the complete message. Words alone are about seven percent. Tone of voice, thirty-eight percent. Facial expression, gestures, posture, the nonverbal, fifty-five percent.

And by the way, that’s sometimes, as men, we get really frustrated because we we’re really trying.

But they can read behind. And some of you guys can do it too. You know, it’s kind of like, “Yeah let’s, yeah, we need the deep talk. Uh, yeah, go ahead hon, what whatever. Just tell me. I really want to hear. [Yawn] Yeah, yeah, communication. Kids. Yeah, let’s go, no, I’m listening, I’m listening.” Right?

You see, your body, your presence, your face, your tone of voice, your eyes. All of that is how we communicate with one another.

And if we think I said the right thing or I even meant the right thing and if you think you got through, you may not at all.

And then notice, it’s a skill. It’s the highway on which love travels. It is a skill. It can be learned. But most of us did not grow up with models where people communicated clearly and well. And most of us don’t know how.

There’s five levels of communication, according to author John Powell, who wrote the book, Why I’m Afraid to Tell You Who I Am. He says, there’s the cliché, level one, safe, shallow “How are you?” “I’m fine.”

There’s level two, reporting facts. Refers to, basically, third person. “Have you heard about the weather today?” “No.” “I think it’s going to rain.”

There’s level three, ideas or judgment. Risk begins here because there’s attachment of yourself with the facts. “So, what did you think of that message last week in church?” “What do you think about the current political situation?” “What do you think about what we need to do with our money?”

Do you see? Now what you say may cause a little conflict so it’s getting a little bit more dangerous.

Level four is feelings and emotions. Laying self on the line. “I feel hurt.” “I’m struggling.” “I’m depressed.” “I was really offended last night when we were with that couple and you brought that subject up that you never talked with me about that. I felt really damaged.”

Level five is open communication. Total honesty, mutual understanding, vulnerability. No holds barred.

Now, on the left side of your notes, at the very top where it says level one. I want you to write the word “safe” and put a box around it. And then at the very bottom where it says level five, I want you to write the word “dangerous.”

Because here’s what you need to understand. Shallow communication is very safe but it doesn’t lead to intimacy. Intimacy occurs at levels four and five.

It moves from safe to dangerous but deeply fulfilling along with deeply painful conversations happen at levels four and especially at level five.

And if you don’t understand, then you’ll start opening up and you’ll start sharing and then some hard things are going to come out and you’re going to get wounded and you’re going to get hurt, and instead of realizing, Oh, this is normal, this is like we’re at level four point five and I guess I need to be real sensitive to what the Spirit’s saying so that before it comes out of my mouth I really process it. And instead of striking back maybe I really need to listen carefully. There may be a nugget of truth into this.

See, if you don’t know it’s dangerous, then you’ll react, right? And pretty soon, you’ll close down.

And what I want to talk about, so how in the world do you move from level one down, progressively in different areas, to level five? Intimacy always occurs at levels four and five.

But some of you might be having this thought. Well, wait a minute. You know, I’ve tried that before and you’re right. There is a lot of pain. I was really open before.

And we’ve done some of that and, you know what? If you’re going to ask me to go there again, I’m not going to do it. Because it hurt too badly.

And what I want to suggest is that you need some rules. You need some principles from God to build that highway of communication so you can go there without getting hurt. All right?

So with that, let me give you five principles, I believe, that will transform communication in your home. If you’ll open your Bibles to Ephesians chapter 4. The context is really exciting because you know, the first three chapters are about all these wonderful great things that God has done. You’re a new person in Christ.

Then chapter 4 opens up, “Now walk in a manner worthy of your calling.” In other words, how do you live out this new, supernatural life? The Spirit of God has taken up residence in you.

You’ve been taken out of the kingdom of darkness. You’ve been pulled into the kingdom of light.

Your sins are gone. You have peace. The Spirit lives in you. You’re a part of a new family called the Church. You are going to be transformed. He says, how does it work?

And in the first seventeen verses, he begins to explain about who you are in Christ and how your mind needs to be transformed.

And this supernatural thing called the Church, it’s called a community where He gives apostles and prophets and evangelists and teachers so to equip the saints to do the work in the ministry until everyone is mature. And the idea is, where we, all the fullness. We become more and more like Jesus.

And then after he lays all that out, he picks it up and he says, okay, now, let me target about five specific areas about how this practically works out in your relationships.

How do you live out this new, supernatural life, the Spirit of God in you, you’re born again. You’re a Christian. How does it work in relationships? And he gives five very simple principles.

Principle number one, you pick it up in verse 15 but he develops it in verse 25. And it’s simply put: be honest. Write those two words down. Speak the truth in love. This is the key to communication.

It is easy to speak the truth. “You gained a lot of weight lately. What’s the problem?” But I’m not sure that’s going to bring about good communication. Or you don’t ever mention areas that are of pain or a problem.

“Oh, you’re wonderful. I’m wonderful. You’re wonderful. I’m wonderful. No, you. No you’re more wonderful. No, no, no, no, no. You’re wonderful but I’m more wonderful.”

And you just take all that junk and you don’t face it and you push it down. Speaking the truth isn’t hard. Speaking in love isn’t hard. Speaking the truth in love requires tremendous Spirit-directed capacity.

Notice what he says in verse 15. “But speaking the truth in love,” notice what happens. “We are to grow up into all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ. Finish, then, with lying and tell your neighbor the truth.” Well, your mate is a neighbor. “We are not separate units but intimately related to one another in Christ.”

It means that we stop pretending. It means we don’t lie. And it means that in a very calculated, wise, God-ordained way, we begin to move into levels four and five and we start talking honestly about areas that are of conflict. Areas that are hard. Areas where you’re dissatisfied. Areas where you feel wounded.

But you speak the truth in a way where the other person can hear it because it’s couched in: “I’m not down on you. This is not payback.” And I’m going to give you some specific skills toward the end about how to do this, okay?

But what do you’ve got to do? We’ve got to be honest. You don’t grow unless we’re honest with one another.

One of the little applications I would give you, write in your notes: make direct requests. One of the things we do is we think our mates can read our minds. And so the car is a quarter low on empty and your husband drives your car and it comes back all the way on empty.

And you’re frustrated and everything and so what we go to is, “You know, I can’t believe he’s so inconsiderate. Why does he leave my car that way?”

Well I got news for you, if he’s anything like me, I don’t know where my car is, heaven knows I know what yours is.

Here’s the skill. Make direct requests.

Second. You didn’t know this much was in the Bible, did you? Be angry. Deal with anger appropriately.

Notice what it says. “If you’re angry, be sure that it’s not out of wounded pride or a bad temper. Never go to bed angry. Don’t give the devil that sort of foothold.”

That’s a Phillips translation of Ephesians 4:26 and 27. The literal translation is “be angry.” It’s a command. It’s an imperative. Yet, do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Anger is the most destructive emotion in any marriage relationship.

Anger is – the distance between your expectations and your experience is anger. The difference between what you thought was going to happen and what you’re currently experiencing creates anger.

Now, sometimes it’s justified and sometimes it’s not. It just, they just tick you off a little bit and it’s because you’re selfish.

But he says, “Be angry.” If you don’t deal with that anger and if you push it down. You know, some researchers say as much as ninety percent of all depression is rooted in unresolved anger. Well, I can tell you, it will cause your stomach to do this.

But here’s what’s worse. What’s this verse say? We don’t think about the Spirit world and Jesus came to – what? To give life. The enemy came to destroy. And to steal. And to kill.

What’s this verse say? Be angry yet don’t sin. Don’t let the enemy get a foothold. When you go to bed mad, when you have unresolved anger, when you push it down, you’re inviting demonic spirits to begin to divide.

And then you start playing in your mind and blame shifting. Man, I’ll tell you what, it is a serious thing to be able to say, “I feel angry. I don’t know how we need to resolve it but I feel angry about…”

One of the little tools and I feel bad giving this away because I paid my ninety dollars for twelve weeks but I’m giving it to you free. So I want you to write this down.

A skill here is what we call “I feel” messages. Our Christian counselor, you get on a 3x5 card, it was on our refrigerator for two years. “I feel blank when you blank.” Okay, you want me to go over that again slower? Okay.

I feel blank – hurt, angry, frustrated, lonely, when you blank – don’t come home on time, don’t call, are not affectionate or responsive. I feel blank when you blank.

See, what we tend to do is we use ought and should and never and always. “You should never do that. You always do that. You…” How do parents talk to children? Ought, should, never, always.

When you hear that from your mate, those are fighting words. You tell a man, “You never, you ought, you should.” His manhood is challenged. “You wanna, you wanna, hey, you think that’s it?”

And when you say that to a woman it’s like some, “You’re not my father.” Talking down to me and making me feel small. Well if you think she’s withdrawing now, you keep talking like that.

My wife and I bumped heads and we didn’t know how to resolve anger and that card was on here and I had one thing that drove her crazy.

She would make dinner and she is what we call a “dot” communicator. I’m a “dash” communicator. Dot communicators mean, when they say something, there’s a period at the end of it.

We’re going to eat at five thirty. Dot. It’s concrete. Not five thirty-one. Five thirty. And when you come in at twenty ‘til six – I’m a dash – five thirty. You say, hey, let’s meet at five thirty.

To me, that’s, “Aahhh, twenty after five, twenty to six, depending on traffic, depending on whatever else is happening. I’m sure you’ll understand. I understand. I’ll give you grace, you give me grace.” Okay, I’m a dash, I’m married to a dot. Yet another difference.

So it’s five thirty. And I come in, not at twenty ‘til. And I don’t call. And it’s now six o’clock and I’m thinking, you don’t understand. I’m working full time. I’m going to school full time.

Like, two afternoons, I can play pick-up basketball. When you play pick-up basketball, when you win, you stay on. Okay? Okay?
I won three games. I’m not going to leave when I’m still on. This is my one little fun. You know, I’m the skinny little white kid playing. I’m on. I’m going to, I can’t go home.

And so, I come home, like, thirty, forty minutes late. And I’ve had a great time playing basketball and then here we go again.

You ought, you should, you never. Here’s the cold supper. And, man, we fought about it. And then, so, we communicated as we did. She would shut down for two or three days. And I would try and make it up to her. And then I kept doing the same thing.

And I’ll never forget, I came home, typically late. And instead of she acting like my mother. And by the way, when your wife acts like your mother, just take it to the bank honey. We’re going to, BAM. You know? Right?

And so, she didn’t have her hands on her hips and there was candles. And it all, she goes, “Your food is in the oven. I’ll get it for you if you want to sit down.” “Uh-ooh.”

Doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo. [sings Twilight Zone theme]. You know? You know?

I don’t know what this counselor’s teaching her but it’s getting scary. And so she brings it and she sets it down and she said, “I want you to know, the kids and I had a good meal.” I said, “Oh.” You know, I’m thinking, ooh, gosh, I’m not sure how to handle this.

And so, I sat down and I started to eat and she just waited, calm, under control, clothed, in her right mind.

And I had all my defenses up and then I’ll never forget she looked at me and she said, “Chip? I feel like you don’t love me when I spend all day cooking a meal to express my love to you and you don’t show up and you don’t call.” Swwwohh. Ahhhhhhhhh! It was like, get up and fight like a real man! You know?

Eyes watering up. I feel like, see? Do you see where the attack has gone? It’s an “I feel” message. And pretty soon it was, “I feel frustrated, I feel confused, I feel lonely, I feel left out.”

And you can learn to begin to express anger with this little message that doesn’t attack the person.

And then I don’t know. Something happened. I just thought. Now, wait a second. I love to play ball. But I love my wife. If this makes her feel like I don’t love her. Hey guys, I got news for you. You know what? Get a brother over here in this chain link fence.

I said, “You know what? This is your lucky day. I’m on and this is my team and you get my spot. I’ve got to go. Okay? You can run.” And I got home. It got to be, I rarely ever was not on time.

Because as long as she was chiding me, as long as she was trying to get to change me, instead of opening her heart and telling me how she felt, then we were in a battle. When I realized I was wounding her. Well, I may not be sensitive but I’m not a jerk.

That is what isn’t it the kindness of the Lord that brings us to repentance? It was her kindness that transformed me, not her nagging.