Can You Solve the Riddle?

Updated: Oct 21, 2020

Riddle: What part of marriage seems really “easy” in some ways, but, truth be known, is one of the hardest things for husbands and wives to truly do well?

If you have been married for more than a few weeks, I think you will be able to solve the riddle above.

And here's the answer: Communicating as husband and wife!

But here's the dilemma: Talking is not difficult to do – in fact, talking is not hard for most folks. But if talking is easy to do, then why is effectively communicating so hard in marriage? Before I try to answer that, let me give you an illustration from my own marriage.

It was a Thursday after work. I was hustling to get home because I knew that my wife, Shawn, and I had a short window of time to connect before she was leaving to meet a girlfriend of hers for bible study. I was looking forward to having a few minutes to sit and talk before she had to leave.

As we sat down and began to talk, I mentioned that I had messaged our youngest son to tell him I could pick up a pizza for him on the way home, if he would let me know. He had not messaged me back so I just assumed that he was not in the mood for pizza. Shawn suggested that I talk to our son about his expectations related to my message about the pizza. I took her words as meaning that she thought I should talk to him right away and be willing to get the pizza if needed. The scene deteriorated quickly after this.

You see, I felt like she was prioritizing our son's needs over our time together as a couple. But rather than asking questions of my bride, I assumed I knew what she meant. So I angrily grabbed my keys and my jacket and began to head out the door to get the pizza. Shawn asked me where I was going, to which I responded something like, “To go get the pizza you told me to get!”

Wow! One minute, I am looking forward to a few minutes of talking and connecting together. And less than 5 minutes later, I am angrily heading out the door. How does this happen? Been there before?

Couples coming for counseling almost always mention communication as something they want to improve. But there is a “myth” related to communication that I often neglect to remember in situations like the one above. One that many of us never realize in relation to communicating with others. I'll let Greg and Gary Smalley tell you more below:

Do you want to know one particularly nasty myth that keeps many people from experiencing the tremendous benefits of effective communication? Somewhere along the way, they have come to believe that real communication occurs when they understand the other person's words. They equate effective communication with accurately parroting back the words and phrases they hear.

But, in fact, good communication is more than that. True communication usually does not occur until each partner understands the feelings that underlie the spoken words. People generally feel more understood, cared for, and connected when the communication first focuses on their emotions and feelings rather than merely on their words or thoughts.

Consider this the magic of effective communication. Our goal must go beyond understanding the spoken words to grasping the emotional nugget underlying the words. It's far more important to discover and address the emotions beneath the situation than to parrot the words we hear. Ask yourself, "What is the emotional impact of these words?" not merely, "What exact words did I just hear?"

Suppose your wife shares, "I hate my job. Everyone ignores me and I want to start looking for another one as soon as possible."

What did your wife mean? Consider carefully her two sentences. She used no "feeling" words but all "thinking" words. So if you reply, "So what you're saying is that you want to quit your job and start looking for another one very soon," you've completely missed the point. You've accurately reflected to her the words she just spoke, but you remain completely in the dark about her real concern — you remain in the "head" and we want you to move to the "heart."

But what if you listen for the emotions beneath the words by listening with your heart? What if you said, "Are you saying that you feel ignored by the boss and co-workers, that you don't matter?" Presto! This time, you've "got it." You listened beyond your wife's words to her heart, to her real concern. You've tapped into her emotional message — her fear of being ignored.

A lot of us (especially men) struggle with this skill. Men tend to think in a linear way: cut to the chase, get to the bottom line. We want to solve a problem and complete a task, not deal with emotions. We want to figure out how to "fix it." Without listening for and responding to the emotions, however, all of the problem solving in the world won't get us to the real problem.

Effective communication comes down to listening and speaking with your heart. When people feel understood emotionally, they feel cared for. This is very different from listening to someone from the head — that is, looking merely for the content of the person's words, without paying attention to the feelings. The goal of effective communication is to understand the emotional message of the speaker. You have to ask yourself, What is this person feeling?

It is one thing to hear these emotions and say, "Boy, I can really tell you are upset." But it is another thing to allow these emotions to penetrate your heart, to allow yourself to feel the pain or the sadness. The key is not merely to understand these feelings but also to allow the feelings to touch you. This is one of the primary ways that people feel cared for and loved. (1)

That is a great reminder for every husband and wife. To listen beyond the words to try to get to the heart behind the words.

It is no coincidence that Solomon shares in the Book of Proverbs, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” (20:5) If we are to truly want to understand more than mere words, we must draw out the heart of our spouse. Here are 3 ways I would suggest to become more consistent in this important area:

  • Pray: Ask the Lord to give you patience – the patience to move beyond words and take the time to get to the emotions behind the words. I do not naturally want to do this. This is something supernatural that the Lord can do in me and in my marriage.

  • Humble Yourself: One of my biggest challenges in communication is really caring to hear my spouse's point of view. I must humble myself and really think of my spouse's needs as more important than my own. Take time to read Philippians 2:3-8 and Galatians 3:13-14.

  • Ask Good Questions: In my biblical counseling training, one of my Mentors has shared that asking good questions in counseling is more important than having good answers. That is because asking good questions forces people to begin to look at what drives them to do the things they do. Click here to read a great post from Michael Hyatt on this topic.

So the challenge for you and me is to learn to listen for the heart behind my spouse's words. I must put my problem-solving bent on hold. Those skills are valuable, but they are much more effective after I have taken the time to understand the emotions involved.

And to finish the “rest of the story” on the pizza argument I shared earlier, suffice to say, it didn't take long for me to realize how badly I had responded to my bride's comment and how my wrong assumptions had led me to sin in my anger. On the way to pick up the pizza, I called her and I humbly apologized for my angry response. Then we talked again later when she returned home from her bible study.

How I wish I would have responded in a Christ-like way to her in that moment. Next time you find yourself in a similar situation, please take a moment to stop, pray, humble yourself, and ask good questions. When we do this, by God's grace, we can not only avoid conflict and sinning against one another, but can actually grow in oneness and our understanding of our spouse.

Here is a final statement, again from the Smalleys: “Effective communication makes room for people to feel what they are feeling, and to know that their feeling – the heart, the place where they are emotionally – is not only OK with me, it's welcome, and I am going to care about it” (1)

Source: (1) Adapted from Effective Communication with Your Teen by Greg and Gary Smalley. Link:

Adapted by Glen Solberg, Marriage Revolution, 2020. All Rights Reserved. If you have questions or suggestions, you can connect with us via our Contact Us page.

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