Monday, February 24, 2020

With These Words

With These Words, Rob Flood

Marriage books abound, indeed our own shelves are loaded with them. Yet, Rob Flood has made a valuable addition to the collection, with this focussed look at communication. He opens with an honest account of the hard early years of his own marriage, that started with a dreadful fight on their honeymoon. It took a concerted effort and lots of time, but he now reports 20 years later:
“Let me be clear: God saved our marriage; we did not. God grew our communication; the tools did not. We are very much still in process...We still have struggles with communication and find ourselves still stinging every now and then from past hurts. The difference is this: There is grace now. There is charity toward one another. There is the benefit of the doubt. There are follow-up questions before there are conclusions. There is not perfection, but there is health. This is all because of God’s grace working through our devotion to the Lordship of Christ and the application of basic communication tools.”
As he started, I appreciated the wise qualifying statement that more marriage books should probably have:
“The principles and truths contained in this book are useful for most couples. However, they are not intended to be a substitute for pastoral care, for the fellowship of the saints, nor for civil authorities when that is appropriate”
He has broken the book into three section, the first Truth for Communication, covers the biblical foundation over three shortish chapters. He outlines four principles for communication:

  1. We should speak so people encounter God.
  2. We should build up with our words not tears down
  3. We should speak in a way that fits the occasion.
  4. We should give grace to others through our words

“For example, there is no room in Christianity, let alone in marriage, for venting. Venting is for the benefit of the speaker. It spews without concern for how the words land or what impact the words have.”
He examines what it means to be a fool in this area, noting that any step away from God is the step of a fool.

  1. Fools do not seek understanding
  2. Fools rush to judgement
  3. Fools look for a fight
  4. Fools sow discord

I appreciated his observation that we can be fools with our tongues while still following God in our bible reading plan. Our wisdom in some areas can blind us to our foolishness in others.

Section 2: Tools for Communication is where it starts to get more practical. Flood introduces 5 tools, and fleshes them out in practical ways.

1. The tool of first response

He notes that “the course of a conflict is determined by the person who responds, not the one who initiates.” He also notes that rarely do we want to respond well, but we need to acknowledge that offences will happen, but escalating never helps and God is greater that the degree of offence..
“An eternal focus empowers you to respond to your husband or wife with mercy, kindness, humility, understanding, compassion, and patience. It acknowledges that the world neither rises nor falls on how each specific issue gets played out.” 
“Purposeful marital communication plays the long game. You’re going to be spending the rest of your lives together. A time will come when emotions are not quite as charged, when the stakes are not quite as high. As husbands or wives, our focus is on the long haul. As Christians, our focus is eternal. We willingly embrace the reality that we all are being sanctified and will be ever changing, as we are ever in need of change.”
2. The tool of prayer. He recommends prayer before an important conversation, but even more so, to stop and pray when things starts to get heated. I suspect this is one that will be the most challenging for many couples, especially those who do not pray regularly together. In order to combat that, he says: “The beginning of successful marital prayer is this: pray as a married couple. Just start praying.”

3. The tool of physical touch. The idea here is that you start a conversation actually touching. This will also be a challenging idea for some couples. It’s true that if you physically start to pull away from each, that is a sign that conversation is not going well. Indeed, many couples probably know that a disagreement is dealt with when you can touch:
“How will you know you’ve been reconciled and the unity of your relationship has been restored? It is often not in the moment one spouse extends forgiveness. That may be the most important part, but it is not the clearest way to know. You’ll know when you can affectionately touch again.
4. The tool of mirroring. This is the idea of reflective listening. I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of this (and neither is Gottman), but I know it can work well for some people.

5. The tool of proper timing. Flood notes that we usually manage this well at work, or in a delicate situation with a friend, or a neighbour, but we often do it poorly in marriage. We need to learn to negotiate the times of chaos, fatigue, charged emotion, vulnerability, and be purposeful in finding times for communication.
“The principle here is simple: words are intended for moments, and the skillful communicator learns how to bring words and moments together.”
Section 3: Working It Out puts it all together- so that couples can “learn how to move forward safely, successfully, and soundly in the will of God.” As he notes:
“Solutions in marriage are not “one size fits all.” While biblical instruction and biblical wisdom are intended for all people, what that looks like in the nitty-gritty of life will vary widely from one couple to another, from one home to another, from one church to another, from one culture to another, and from one era to another.”
He essentially returns to the truths of the gospel, and how we are called to live in light of that, challenging spouses to be forgiving and compassionate and have that define their marriage, despite the realities of sin that we each face:
“Your sinful motivations will creep through and corrupt your implementation of these communication tools. Your patience will run out, and you will strike back rather than forgive. Your weaknesses will be revealed as you feel strained by your efforts. This is true regardless of the way your spouse participates in this book or in your marriage.” 
“Your spouse has weaknesses. Your spouse has besetting sins. Those weaknesses and sins are going to overflow onto and into your life. You will respond; that much is certain. The question is how? Will you respond as someone who has never been reconciled to God, or will you respond as one who is chosen and dearly loved by God? Will we love as the rest of the world loves, or will we choose to love as Christ loves?”

There are insightful questions to work through at the end of each chapter, which will really help couples apply it and consider their own strengths and weaknesses. Couples who read it together will benefit greatly. Even one spouse who reads it and tries to apply it will find positive change can be enacted.

Overall, this is an excellent book, strongly grounding marriage communication in the truths of the gospel and how we are called to use our speech in ways that honour Christ.

I received an ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

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