Starting The Conversation Bob Dylan recently released a CD of cover tunes from the 40s and 50s—many were originally sung by Frank Sinatra. In a recent interview, Bob was asked what he thought of Sinatra and he said, “Frank had the ability to get inside of the song in a conversational way. Frank sang to you, not at you.” You know, I thought what Bob said was true. When you listen to him sing, it’s as if he is conversing with you about something, whether it was his view of life or the ups and downs of his love life. The “getting inside the song in a conversational way” is what is often lost over time in a marriage relationship.
Like the dating relationship, marriage usually starts out as a conversation. You cherish every thought your spouse has, and because you do, you are intent on listening intimately. The capacity to understand each other is at its highest in those early days. But routine and friction soon wear the edges off romance like water over river stones. Now the concern is not on hearing but on being heard. The shift in the conversation leads to erecting walls to hide behind, rather than antennas to dial in a better signal. Soon quarrels and other opportunistic forces begin to drive a wedge in the relationship.
But not too many people reflect on why they’re quarreling—or what changed in the conversation they began. There may be some obvious things like the emergence of an unpleasant character trait in a spouse that gets routinely criticized by the other. Yet the critique is not always met with a willingness to change, which is a necessity for a fruitful relationship. So what does it take to get inside the song again?
Dialog or Monolog? Love in marriage grows through mutual understanding—the dialog, or conversation. Love is stunted through a lack of mutual understanding, which is seen as the monolog—or one-way conversation. One or both parties want to be heard, but no one is listening. Perhaps one party does get it and the other doesn't. Have you ever heard your spouse telling a story but you weren’t listening, and you had to find a clever way to reply to show you were listening? Our natural tendency is to be preoccupied with our own thoughts. If we don’t consciously break through that self-centered barrier, we effectively shut communication down and bigger problems arise.
So if the love of your life shares a thought or desire it should never be taken as insignificant. Because behind it all is a heart where that thought or desire lives. If what is important or meaningful to them gets shrugged off, he or she will think you don’t care about them.
Enlarging Each Others' Relational Vocabulary If you’ve lost that loving two-way conversation where you’re talking at your spouse rather than to them and with them, how do you get it back? We’ve seen in our marriage that problems have a way of resolving themselves when we transfer our mind and affections to the other person. That means, a purposeful movement to fulfill the other person in every way—as we said in our vows—rather than seeking fulfillment for ourselves.
Our new book, “The Music of Marriage” goes into detail about this kind of fulfillment. When we decide to see life through another’s eyes, instead of our own, we step inside the immense beauty of another’s world. This world expands the small confines of our own and adds to our relational vocabulary. A new appreciation for the gifts, the uniqueness, and the contribution your spouse makes to your life emerges. That doesn’t mean you’ve solved all your problems; but you’ve gone half the distance toward solving them. Once thoughtful, loving communication is established, you can resolve any issue and accept each other for who you both are.
William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet said, “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.”
A Never Ending Conversation Within Christian marriage, you have the added dimension of the lordship of Christ—who makes you one in marriage—bringing even greater significance and scope to your unity. To get to the point where we see the complete dimension of being ‘one’ with our spouse as we are one in Christ takes an ongoing understanding of both. This is why it takes a lifetime to develop a never-ending conversation.
Bob and Evy Smith Authors of The Music of Marriage