Communication: The Key to Better Relationships with your Spouse and Family
We’re excited to have Jim Burns as one of our NYWC speakers. This blog post is a great start to the conversations he’ll be navigating in his seminar: Balancing Ministry, Marriage, and Family. Check out more information HERE.
In ministry, keeping your family connected and healthy is often easier said than done.
If we’re not careful, the requirements of ministry can easily, although mistakenly, take top priority over our marriage and family. So, we have to be proactive when it comes to keeping our closest relationships as our top priority. Good communication with our spouse and family is key to keeping the main thing the main thing. When it comes down to it, the healthier the family, the more effective the communication. For those of us in ministry, one of the primary problems of a dysfunctional marriage or family is lack of quality communication.
Communication is behavior.
It’s an action word. It never stops. Communication is the means and not always only the goal. Communication is more about the interaction than the outcome. You can win the battle and lose the war in communication all the time.
When communication fails in marriages and families, it is usually not because of the content but rather the relationship. Most people involved in youth ministry are typically pretty good with communicating content. But when the frequency of communication in families dwindles to selected moments between preparation for your next Bible study or message and ministry events, the relationship with your family is going to suffer. I’ve counseled a lot of ministry leaders and their spouses and families over the years. Invariably, these people say, “Our number one problem is communication.”
Most of us didn’t grow up with very good role models for communication, and if we don’t learn helpful tools, we will continue the dysfunction and pass on poor communication skills to our children. Sadly, the ministry life is particularly vulnerable to this outcome. If our parents resorted to the “high-volume solution” with us, we will find ourselves doing the same thing when we are desperate, overworked, and exhausted.
Here are some communication strategies that I have found work to build healthy communication and relationships within marriage and families, and particularly with those of us striving to balance ministry, marriage, and family.
Listening is the language of love. Listening communicates value, significance, and worth. Good listening skills include:
- giving a person your undivided attention
- looking past the content of the words, taking notice of tone and body language
- maintaining an accepting and open attitude
- reflective and respectful questioning to help clarify your understanding
- appropriate verbal responses to what is being communicated (i.e. not giving a blank stare, but replying—even if it is something like “I’m not sure what I think about that.”)
Learn and use love languages.
Gary Chapman wrote an excellent book entitled The Five Love Languages which he has identified as:
- Words of affirmation
- Quality time
- Receiving gifts
- Acts of service
- Physical touch
Chapman says that most of us have a primary love language and perhaps a strong secondary love language that we prefer—although all of them can be important to good communication and relationship. Knowing, understanding, and using the love languages that your spouse and children prefer will help build strong family relationships.
Communicate honesty and integrity.
Don’t try to portray the illusion that you are perfect. You know better, as do your spouse and children. Believe it or not, owning up to your imperfections helps to improve communication. Admit your mistakes, apologize, and take the perfection pressure off. Admitting your mistakes clears the channels for real communication and removes barriers that may be building up. Admitting mistakes promotes sharing and oftentimes creates warmth and understanding.
Healthy communication takes time.
How much time are you giving your spouse and children? If your youth ministry involvement keeps you largely absent from your family (either physically or emotionally), communication suffers. All healthy relationships require good communication. Good communication requires your presence. If you are routinely away from home, find ways to stay connected with your spouse and kids. One of the blessings of technology is that we are not lacking for ways to stay connected. Use texting, phones, and video technologies (like FaceTime and Skype) to keep lines of communication open.
When it comes to staying connected with your own kids, I disagree with the parenting specialists who say that if you can’t give your kids a quantity of time, then give them quality time. I think your kids deserve both. I found that my finest discussions with my own children came during the quantity times, not the so-called quality times. I’d be driving one of the kids someplace and—bingo!—the conversation went to a very important topic. I just slowed the car down and got in as much time as possible.
Work through conflicts.
Conflict can either be a path to communication blockage and unloving behavior, or it can be a path to deeper communication, greater understanding, and loving behavior. When there is conflict with our spouse or children, our natural inclination is to get defensive and to cut off communication with the intent to protect ourselves. In the short term, it may be easier to handle conflict this way. However, there is a better way. The better way is to try our best to be non-defensive and open to learn. With this in mind we must assume responsibility for our own feelings, behaviors, and consequences. Working through the conflict takes greater emotional involvement, but it is the loving way to care for yourself as well as for your spouse and your kids.
Balancing your ministry, marriage, and family is no easy task. But with intentional and proactive steps, like working on good communication, it can be done. Your family will thank you for it in the long run! And don’t forget, you are role modeling what good relationships should look like to students who may not have great examples at home! Make sure the message you are sending to your kids is the message you want to send.
Jim Burns is the president of HomeWord and the executive director of the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University. Jim speaks to people around the world about how to have strong marriages, be confident parents, raise empowered kids, and become healthy leaders. He’s also the author of several books, including Confident Parenting, The Purity Code, Creating an Intimate Marriage, and Closer. Jim and his wife, Cathy, live Southern California and have three grown daughters.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.