Enrich Your Family Life

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A small-town newspaper included the following classified ad in its Monday edition:

"FOR SALE: R. D. Jones has one sewing machine for sale. Phone 958 after 7 p.m. and ask for Mrs. Kelly who lives with him cheap."

On Tuesday: "NOTICE: We regret having erred in R.D. Jones' ad yesterday. It should have read: One sewing machine for sale. Cheap. Phone 958 and ask for Mrs. Kelly who lives with him after 7 p.m."

On Wednesday the ad was confused again. Finally, on Thursday the ad read: NOTICE: I, R.D. Jones, have no sewing machine for sale. I smashed it. Don't call 958 as the telephone has been taken out. I have not been carrying on with Mrs. Kelly. Until yesterday she was my housekeeper, but she quit."

Improve family communications

Faulty communications cause innumerable problems. This is especially true in the home. In fact, one of the first steps to improve family relationships is to improve family communications.

Family members need to talk meaningfully to each other every day, to show an interest in each other, to give constant understanding and approval, and to share and accept each other's feelings.

Communication ... involves not only talking but listening creatively.

Each member also needs to be given a say in family matters. When this is done, practical compromises-the oil for smooth family living-can be worked out.

Communication, of course, goes two ways. It involves not only talking but listening creatively; that is, listening to the real message behind the words.

Sometimes family members will say one thing when they mean another. For example, Dave asks June, his wife, if she'd like to go out for dinner. June is tired and doesn't want to go, but feels Dave might be hurt if she says no. So she agrees. Then she feels resentful because Dave didn't know how she was feeling. As a result, the dinner date was a flop.

If Dave is listening creatively, he may detect when June is saying yes but means no. However, it is important for all family members to say what they want and not leave others to guess.

Avoid inflammatory words

It is also important to avoid inflammatory words such as, "You never" or "You always." Such statements are rarely true. Put-downs also need to be avoided. They are thinly veiled expressions of hostility. It is much kinder to admit when you are feeling hurt or angry.

In his book, An Answer to Family Communications, H. Norman Wright tells of a study which compared happily married couples with unhappily married ones. The study showed that the happily married couples:

  1. Talked more to each other
  2. Conveyed the feeling that they understood what was being said to them
  3. Had a wider range of subjects available to them to talk about
  4. Preserved the communication channels and kept them open no matter what happened
  5. Showed more sensitivity to each other's feelings
  6. And made more use of nonverbal techniques of communication.

Spending more time together is equally important for strengthening family relationships. When couples are too busy for this, they are too busy. Families should consider whether a father or mother should refuse a promotion if it means less time at home or if parents should limit participation in activities to allow for family togetherness.

Conflicts also need to be faced and handled creatively

"When a married couple says they've never had a disagreement, they are lying, have poor memory, or one partner has been made a zero in the relationship," says Clark Hensley, director of the Mississippi Christian Action Commission.

Wherever people live together some conflict is inevitable. Differences and frustrations (including money management and sexual problems) need to be talked about and resolved. If they aren't, they will eventually be acted out through depression, ill health, or broken relationships.

Many reactions to conflict, however, are overreactions caused by unresolved conflicts from the past. For instance, if you had a "nagging" parent and your partner even appears to be "nagging," chances are your old feelings will be triggered and you will overreact.

When we overreact, the overreaction is always our problem. We need to accept responsibility for it and not blame others. Otherwise conflicts will remain unresolved.

To admit that one is overreacting is being mature. To blindly act out those feelings is immature. Instead, when your anxious emotions are triggered, don't deny these feelings but say to yourself, "How would I act in this situation if I weren't feeling so upset?" Then try to act accordingly and then verbalize your feelings without blaming the other person for them.

"When a married couple says they've never had a disagreement, they are lying, have poor memory, or one partner has been made a zero in the relationship."

If overreaction is a pattern of your behavior, do not hesitate to seek help from a competent pastor or counselor. To admit need for help is also a sign of maturity.

Forgiveness is another essential quality in healthy relationships

"Many marriages are gradually eroded and eventually destroyed because one person is unable to forgive," says Norman Wright. "A person who continually brings up something his spouse did or said in the past continues to punish the other person and erects a wall of coldness."1

As God forgives us when we confess our wrongs, we also need to forgive each other.2

Clear communications, doing things together, handling conflicts creatively, and forgiving each other are all vital for family harmony. However, the most important need is to put God at the center of your home. He can make a much better job of it than you can if you will daily commit your life to him and follow his divine order for the home.

Research has shown that families who are deeply committed to their Christian faith have a much better chance of having a happy marriage and home. A good way to start is by going to church this week as a family.

1. Family Life Today, Jan. 1980.    2. See Colossians 3:13.

Copyright 1999 by Dick Innes

2001 ACTS International. Used by permission.