4 Guardrails of Communication for a Healthy Marriage

On one of the most memorable road trips of our early marriage, Terrie and I were making the six-hour drive from our home in San Dimas, California, to her parents’ home in San Jose for a birthday party.

I was in Bible college, sleeping only a few hours each night, and always exhausted. We left San Dimas just after I got home from work at 1:00 am. I was still alert, so I drove while Terrie slept.

Halfway through our drive, Terrie woke up when she felt the car bouncing in an unfamiliar fashion and then heard tires on rumble strips. She sat up to see that we had just driven over the grass median on Interstate 5 and, still driving north, were entering the south-bound lanes. At full speed.

Obviously, we lived. And thankfully, we didn’t wreck. But that was only by the grace of God and Terrie’s quick response to wake me up.

Our memorable road trip parallels the communication of many marriages. Without some quick intervention, there is going to be a tragic wreck with terrible carnage.

The words we speak hold tremendous power. And their power is increased exponentially when we speak them to people we love. Proverbs 18:21 tells us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.”

Too often, Christian homes are no different than non-Christian homes in communication. Couples who wouldn’t think of physically abusing one another may hurt the other even more deeply with sarcastic or cutting words. Husbands demean their wives, and wives belittle their husbands. There’s yelling and screaming or silence and cutting off. But no one wins in this kind of environment—not the spouse who speaks angry words and not the spouse who clams up and refuses to speak.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of communication dysfunctions is not the harm that is happening, but the good that is being missed. God created us with a need for relational connection, and marriage is the pinnacle of fulfilling that need. But it requires that we communicate with one another in godly, positive, and kind ways. It requires that we purposefully drive both directions on the communication highway—listening and speaking into one another’s hearts.

Ephesians 4 teaches us how to have this kind of healthy, godly communication:

Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.—Ephesians 4:25–32

Notice from this passage four guardrails providing safety and access along the highway of marriage communication:

1. The Guardrail of Truth

Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.—Ephesians 4:25

Marriage is not a place for secrets. This means no hidden websites. No private texts or secret social media. No hidden checking accounts or credit cards. No blocking access to current accounts. No secret stashes of porn. No hidden relationships. Every part of either of your lives should be fully open to the other.

One of the best ways to promote transparency in marriage is to embrace accountability with one another. Some people feel threatened by accountability. They think it implies a lack of trust. Actually the opposite is true. When you choose accountability, you build trust.

Of course, There is more to truthfulness than what you don’t say; there is also what you do say. Ephesians 4:25 not only warns us not to lie, but it also instructs us to speak truth. Good communication is proactive communication where your spouse is the one person on earth with whom you can and do share anything and everything.

2. The Guardrail of Indignation

Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil.—Ephesians 4:26–27

What about when communication (or the lack of it) leads to an impasse in going forward together? No real relationships avoid conflict.

When you face a point of conflict that evokes anger, determine to stand together in your anger. That is, be angry together at the problem, not at each other. You are on the same team. Rather than pointing fingers at one another, jointly tackle the problem that is hurting or threatening your relationship.

Determine also that you will never go to bed angry with one another. Ever.

This doesn’t mean that you will always be able to develop an answer to problems before sleep. There have been a few times when Terrie or I had to simply reach for the other’s hand, reaffirm our commitment to solving the problem, and suggest giving it to the Lord until the morning. Even in those rare instances, praying together and committing to stand together against the problem diffuses the anger and draws our hearts closer to one another.

3. The Guardrail of Kindness

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth…—Ephesians 4:29

Amazingly, the basic courtesies we show strangers are sometimes absent in our dearest relationships, particularly marriage. You’ve heard the schoolyard rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It’s not true. Words do hurt. If you have been using your words to tear one another down, determine today to instead use your words to build one another up.

4. The Guardrail of Edification 

…but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.—Ephesians 4:29

For all the power our words have to wound and hurt one another, they also have tremendous power to build. In fact, to edify means “to build.” First Corinthians 8:1 tells us, “…charity edifieth”—it builds.

Every time we use our words to criticize, we are saying to our spouse, “I don’t love you.” But every time we speak words of encouragement and praise, we are communicating love in one of the most meaningful ways possible.

Encouraging words are so powerful that Ephesians 4:29 says they “minister grace unto the hearers.” You can, through the very words you speak, be a dispenser of grace to your spouse.

Keep Driving

When Terrie woke me up that day as we were traveling north on the southbound lanes of Interstate 5, I was shocked at what had happened, and I knew I had to think quickly.

I could have slammed on the brake and just sat there, worried that I would do something wrong. Had I done that, someone else surely would have crashed into us.

I also could have pulled to the nearest shoulder of the road, and waited for a tow truck to bring us to the other side. Had I done that, we wouldn’t have made progress in our journey.

Instead, I hit the gas and quickly turned the wheel right. We re-crossed the median—this time on purpose—and continued our journey.

As you work at communication in marriage, you will have times when you mess up. You’ll scrape the guardrails. Sometimes you’ll swerve into the ditch. You may end up traveling in the exact opposite direction you intended to go. But even when you struggle to go forward or when you mess up by overcorrecting, don’t just put your communication in park and quit trying. Don’t shut down or leave all the communicating to your spouse.

Communication is a two-lane highway, and it works best if you keep moving on it.

There may be some frustrations along the way, but it is the highway to happiness in your relationship. So keep driving.

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