"I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."
Robert McCloskey, the popular writer and illustrator of several children's books from the past century, is often credited with stating, "I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant." By revealing miscommunication as a persistent problem within marriages, McCloskey's words indirectly offer some of the best marriage advice a couple could receive: take the time to clearly understand what your spouse is communicating. While it may seem a little discouraging, this quote should actually spiritually motivate you to improve your marriage.
Misunderstandings happen when what one partner hears is not what the other partner intended. These miscommunications can easily contribute toward conflict and, left unchecked, will eventually lead toward relational breakdown. Henry Winkler understood this perhaps better than anyone when he said that: "Assumptions are the termites of relationships."
Assumptions cause many such misunderstandings. During a conversation, one partner might assume he or she knows what the other is saying without really listening. When that happens, the partner begins to operate on a false understanding of what the other was trying to communicate, which can lead to frustration, anger, and bitterness. If the misunderstanding is not corrected, the assumption could poison the relationship.
Such assumptions can emerge outside of conversations, too. If a wife arrives home late one evening, for example, the husband may jump to conclusions about where she has been. He could concoct all sorts of scenarios, ranging from shopping sprees to infidelity. In reality, however, perhaps a traffic jam, phone call, or out-of-service elevator caused the delay. Assumptions like this are usually easy to address and clear up. When left to fester, however, simple misunderstandings can lead to serious relational problems.
The New Testament provides wisdom for overcoming and avoiding such misunderstandings. James wrote, "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (James 1:19, NIV). If each partner within a marriage would intentionally seek to understand before being understood, most conflicts could be avoided and countless marriages could be saved.
James' advice about being slow to speak and slow to become angry should also be taken to heart by Christian couples who are striving to become better partners for one another. Trying to get your two cents in before waiting to understand the other person is a sure-fire road to miscommunication, as is getting angry before you take the time to hear someone out.
In examining how we communicate, it should be noted that words constitute only a small percentage of our communication. Albert Mehrabian, a former researcher and current Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, has conducted extensive research in the area of communication. He has concluded that seven percent of our feelings is communicated through words, 38 percent is communicated through how we say those words, and 55 percent is conveyed through body language. Non-verbal communication accounts for more than half of what we communicate.
Rather than simply relying on words, then, a spouse should attempt to learn the other spouse's body language. While a husband or wife may not verbally express that something is wrong, for example, a refusal to make eye contact may indicate that a problem does exist. In such a case, the other spouse can press a little harder to determine what the issue is and seek to rectify it.
Communication is an art that successful marriages embrace. Though mastering it will require perseverance and sensitivity, the long-term benefits for the relationship are well worth any short-term costs.