Tied Up In Knots

Is anger getting the better of your relationship? Practise these eight steps to loosen the bonds of marital stress


My wife has me figured out. She knows if she can get me angry just before guests arrive, I will clean the house.

Rather than verbalizing my feelings toward her, I channel my frustrations by reaching for the vacuum

cleaner or mop and pail. This tendency to act out my feelings is not unique to me. We all communicate

with our spouses in non-verbal ways.

Conflict in relationships is never easy. Rather than speaking the truth in love, as Paul instructs in Ephesians 4:15,

some of us opt for a "back door" route in an attempt to keep the peace. Some people use the deadly weapon of

silence, refusing to speak to their partner for hours, days, sometimes weeks at a time. Others slam kitchen

cupboards or treat objects carelessly. Body language and facial expressions also play a role in non-verbal

communication-that twitching jaw, dismissive hand gesture or pulsating vein in your neck can betray your true feelings.

When we do speak, our words often complicate matters. Unhealthy verbal communication includes sarcasm,

speaking through other people and hint-dropping. Some use guilt as a tactic to get what they want-"After all I've

done for you, you can't do this one, small thing for me." Others try to intimidate by getting loud, aggressive or threatening.

Some stonewall communication by pouting and groaning for all to hear but never verbalizing their true concerns.

None of these forms of communication leads to healthy relationships. As a matter of fact, they usually backfire.

When people pick up on the hint-dropping, manipulation and guilt-tripping, resentment grows and peace is short-lived.

An intimidator may get his or her way, but at a cost. In the aftermath of an argument, the combatants "walk around on

eggshells" and there is a greater reluctance to communicate authentically. The dramatic display of anger may be

worthy of an Academy Award, but the relationship can suffer lasting damage.

In The Feeling Good Handbook, author David Burns notes that for relationships to grow, two things are

required: the chance to express your feelings openly and to actively listen to the other person's point of view.

Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, calls these two properties of healthy communication truth-telling and truth-hearing.


The following are important steps for communicating with your partner:

1. Check Your Attitude

How do you tell the truth in love? The Apostle Paul writes: "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:6). The word "grace" speaks to me of the attitude of communication. We must approach others in humility rather than coming from a stance of superiority. God has extended his grace to us, and we must extend that same grace to others. Paul instructs us to "be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32).

Before we confront others, we must first confront ourselves with the knowledge that we, too, are imperfect creatures.

2. Identify the Issue

Once your attitude has been checked, identify the issue needing to be communicated. My habit of cleaning the house when I'm mad, for example, is simply my way of avoiding the real issue. When your anger rises, pause for a moment and get in touch with what is really pushing your buttons.

3. Choose an Appropriate Time

I'm not a night person. Late in the evening is not a good time for my wife to engage me about matters of the heart.

She comes to life after 11 p.m.-that's when I start to shut down. Timing is everything. Find a time where you are both able to give 100 percent of your attention to the conversation. The Bible notes, "There is a time for everything ... a time to be silent and a time to speak" (Ecclesiastes 1:1, 7).

4. Meet Face to Face

If possible, meet to discuss your issues face-to-face. Some people attempt to communicate sensitive relationship matters through e-mail, text messaging or telephone, but these devices don't convey emotion well. Face-to-face, you can gauge emotion by watching body language. If you see a facial expression that doesn't convince you the issue is resolved, ask for clarification.

5. Watch Your Language

Sometimes it is better to be silent than to use inappropriate words that leave others feeling misunderstood and minimized.

Although we may be trying to help the person, our words can sometimes leave them feeling worse about their situation.

During a recent stop at Dairy Queen, I picked up a Coffee News paper. In the famous quotes section I read

these words: "Some people speak from experience; others, from experience, don't speak."

My dad taught me this lesson. Soon after I got my driver's licence at age 16, I got into a car accident that was

entirely my fault. As it was only four blocks from my house, I ran to get my dad. He handled it so well. He dealt

with the other driver, brought me home and never said another word about the accident for the rest of his life. He

saw how shaken up I was and wisely concluded that I did not need a lecture.


6. Affirm the Relationship

Say something that expresses your feelings, but with the goal of reinforcing the relationship. For example, "I have a

concern that I feel is getting in the way of our relationship. I'd like to talk about it so we can clear it up and get back

to where we were."

Treat your partner with dignity, respect and kindness. Paul sums it up wonderfully in Ephesians 4:29: "Do not let

any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs,

that it may benefit those who listen."

Bruce Weinstein in Life Principles: Feeling Good By Doing Good, says, "The word ‘benefit' comes from

the Latin word bene, which means ‘good.' Whenever we benefit someone, we help them to flourish. Just as watering

a plant gives it one of the elements necessary for the plant to grow, our words can help nurture our relationships."


7. Communicate Using "I" Statements

Rather than directing your attack by using the word you-"You never do what I ask" or "You are always causing

problems"-try using "I" statements. These work well because they shift the emphasis off blaming (which can easily

result in defensiveness) to how the person feels about the behaviour.

An "I" statement would sound something like this: "When the kitchen is left in a mess, I feel taken advantage of

because I have to spend my time and energy cleaning up after you. I would appreciate it if you would commit to

putting the food away in the fridge and the dishes in the dishwasher."


8. Know Your Partner

People process things differently. Recognize the personality differences between you and your spouse. If you are an

introvert by nature, let the extrovert know that you are processing the information, so your lack of immediate response

is not misinterpreted as lack of concern. If you are an extrovert, let the introvert know that you are not nagging

or pressuring but just thinking out loud.



This brings us to the other side of healthy communication: truth-hearing. When it comes to truth-hearing, some

of us can relate to that classic scene at the end of the movie A Few Good Men when Jack Nicholson's character

shouts: "The truth? You can't handle the truth!"

Truth can be tough to take. And yet, when words are spoken to us in love, we can discover nuggets of wisdom

that move us toward personal and relational growth and maturity. Many Bible verses illustrate this truth:

"Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise. Those who disregard discipline despise
themselves, but those who heed correction gain understanding" (Proverbs 15:31-32).
"The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice" (Proverbs 12:15).
"He who answers before listening-that is his folly and shame" (Proverbs 18:13).
"Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because our anger does not produce the righteousness

that God desires" (James 1:19-20).

Listening not only makes someone feel valued, but in listening we may hear a life-giving truth that can lead us to another

level of personal and relational growth and maturity.

True, courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; and courage is what it takes to sit down and listen.

Now that I've caught on to my wife's house-cleaning ploy, I've decided to change my style of

communication. Rather than acting out my feelings, I am opting for a healthier method of communication. After all, it beats cleaning the house!

Tips for Good Listening

Get rid of distractions. Turn off the TV, computer or cellphone; put down your newspaper or book.
Listen without passing judgment. Be patient as thoughts and emotions are put into words. Watch for body
language and gestures that are also communicating.
Clear your mind. Guard against practising a response in your mind while the other person is talking.
Don't interrupt. Respect the other person's right to speak. Resist the urge to finish one another's sentences.
Ask for clarification if necessary.
Don't tell them how they should feel. Listen without providing a solution to fix the problem. Be open to seeing
the other person's point of view.
Refrain from giving pat answers or advice. Share your opinion only at the invitation of the other party.
Check for accuracy. During an appropriate break in the conversation, say, "I just want to make sure I am clear
about what you are saying. Are you saying ...?"
Avoid "communication killers." Labelling, humouring, teasing, sympathizing or changing the subject only aggravates
the situation.

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“The Armstrong’s have developed a very useful, practical tool for guiding couples toward marriage. I am finding the manual helpful in marriage counseling that I am doing with college students who are seeking to lay a strong Christian foundation for their lives together. I recommend this work to the pastoral counseling practitioner who wants solid assistance in being comprehensive and at the same time down to earth in working with engaged couples.”
- Dr. Jonathan Raymond, Ph.D. President, Trinity Western University, Langley, BC.

“As a pastor of the Christian & Missionary Alliance for some 34 years this resource comes as a refreshing and practical help for busy pastors. The way in which you have arranged the material is helpful and interactive. Couples of all ages including those who choose to remarry have indicated thanks for the hands on use of this manual. I would recommend its use by any counselor who wishes to furnish couples with good tools that help frame a good marriage. Today we need to offer couples Biblical help that they can take with them for life. This manual accomplishes that feature. Thanks for the gift of this good work. I will continue to use it here. In fact, our present Intern was one of the couples I walked through this material.”
- Pastor Ernest Gray, Nanaimo Alliance