When Jeff and I we were engaged we read a book together called His Needs Her Needs – How to Build An Affair Proof Marriage by W. Harley. It is a good marriage book, one that we have recommended and given to many others through the years. In it, the author describes a concept called a love bank. We each have one and our significant other is either putting in deposits or making withdrawals all the time by either meeting or ignoring each other’s most basic relational needs. The challenge of course, is that men and women have different needs we expect and want our spouse to meet. For example, a woman’s greatest need is for affection. A man’s greatest need is for…how shall we say, a very specific kind of affection. And over the years, if you or your spouse make more withdrawals than deposits, the both of you can become vulnerable to looking for someone else to meet your needs.
My purpose today is not to write a book review and I am not saying you should rush out and read this particular one. It only covers a specific perspective on what is an incredibly complex and multi-layered thing. It may speak to you at this point in your relationship or it may not. But
the experience of reading a book together did something very powerful for Jeff and I that has strongly benefitted our marriage over the years – and this is what I want to write about here. Early on, it gave us a common vocabulary with which to talk about and begin building our marriage.
Let me illustrate how important vocabulary can be. While living in Germany I developed a cavity that needed immediate attention, which meant a trip to my East German dentist. (The story is one of my favorites from my time overseas) The problem for me was that they don’t cover dental vocabulary in most language courses. So rather quickly, I had to learn how to say things like, “drill, cavity, root canal, ‘it hurts here’ and ‘Novocaine, please'”. Trust me, not having the right vocabulary at the dentist can be a very, very painful experience. Not having the right relational vocabulary for your marriage can be too.
One thing couples must do in order to not just survive but thrive in their marriage is to be able to talk. To be able to talk about and correctly name their problems. To be able to talk about their problems in such a way that both are able to find solutions. To be able to find solutions to their problems so that both come away from the conflict feeling more invested in and not wounded by their relationship. To be able to talk with one another about truly deep, important and potentially very intimate things and know the other person has heard and understood exactly what they said and meant.
Because marriage inevitably brings relational conflict. Sooner or later, people who live together are going to have to solve problems together. And the ability of a couple to safely and articulately work through whatever their issues are is a powerful predictor of marriage success. This means couples have got to learn to talk to each other. And it can be so much harder than you would think. Ask any couple married more than a few years and I’m sure they will confirm this.
One of the things I’ve seen over the years is how woefully ill-equipped many of us are with a good, mature-relationship vocabulary. Couples that can’t state clearly what they want and need from the other are heading for trouble sooner or later.
After 17 years of being together, Jeff and I are still figuring this out. In fact, we have a whole new set of things to talk about in this season of marriage that we didn’t early on, thus constantly stretching our relational vocabulary and communication skills. Improving a relationship is a never-ending process for those who want to do it well. But we do know what phrases and words ring in each other’s hearts, that communicate something clearly. We’ve got a common vocabulary. A common set of relational concepts. And we are able to recognize when we’ve been heard. Our ability to do this started with us reading a book together and talking about it.
So a recommendation to couples today would be to read good, well-written relationship books together. Ask your successfully married friends for recommendations. Don’t just read the latest book, but read a few that have passed the test of time. And use those books to introduce new ideas into your conversations; to increase relational and emotional vocabulary so that you have more things to talk about and more ways to do it.
Marriage book recommendations are now being accepted in the comments section!