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Using Word Pictures to Improve Communication Skills With Your Spouse

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A biblical tool called “emotional word pictures” can help you improve your communication skills with your spouse. Learn to use this emotional language of love that Jesus modeled for us.

Do you ever feel like you’re just saying the same thing over and over to your spouse — only at different volume levels? If you’re serious about connecting well with your spouse, then I’m with you. It’s frustrating to be close to someone physically but so far away from really having your words hit home in that person’s heart.

Let me start by sharing something that I believe will get a “head nod” from you: When something is really important to us, most of us don’t just want our spouse to change. We want our spouse to want to change. But in reality, that change of heart doesn’t come naturally after our conversations. In fact, it can seem like we’re speaking a language with our spouse that they cognitively understand, but somehow that language doesn’t communicate with them how deeply we feel about something (our emotional attachment). Hence the need to repeat, get lathered up and repeat our words again. And that’s why you need something more than just words at times. You need a biblical tool we call “emotional word pictures.”

How a “word picture” can change negative pictures

To understand this concept (before I ask you to create and apply it) let’s think about a very insecure woman. This person is someone who grew up in an extremely dysfunctional stepparent family, maybe one where Dad passed away or abandoned the family years before. This insecure woman has had stepbrothers who emotionally made her life misery. Her home was filled with anger and unhealthy emotion. Think about someone who received negative picture after negative picture of who she is and who she would become.

Now imagine you’re the one who is trying to communicate to this insecure woman. You tell her, “I love you. I wouldn’t choose anyone else. You don’t have to stay focused on those negative pictures. You have great worth and a special future.”

Try using everyday words of praise and encouragement with very insecure people and watch your words bounce right off them. They hear you, but the everyday words mean nothing to them. Picture the look your insecure junior high daughter gives you when you say to her, “You look great in that dress!” and she swats away your words of praise with, “You have to say that … you’re my Mom (or Dad).” That’s the look you’ll get.

But what if you did what the undisputed wisest person on the planet at the time (Solomon) did with his bride early in his life and their marriage? By the way, this is the same insecure woman we’ve been talking about above.

Solomon’s bride is so insecure, coming from a home full of anger and a lack of attachment, that she literally says to Solomon as he stares at her, “Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has looked upon me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept!” (Song of Solomon 1:6)

Translated into today’s language this means, “Quit looking at me that way! How in the world can you love me? You come from such a great family — your father was King David! I don’t even know my father. You’ve been surrounded with people who love you. I grew up with so much anger, I don’t even have a dowry or a cent of my own to bring into this marriage. I’ve had to work for my brothers and have nothing to bring of my own.”

No wonder she wants him to turn his eyes away! She’s broke, from a tough background and feels like she’s not in the same league as he is. Yet Solomon (walking wisely and well with the Lord at this time of his life) does something that changes how she looks at herself. And that change positively alters her life.

Solomon gives her, some 40 times in this short, eight-chapter book, a better picture of herself than the one’s she’s gotten from her past. He shares a “word picture” with her. In so doing, he moves his words past her defenses and from her head right to her heart and emotions.

In modern-day words, he says to her, “You know how Pharaoh could pick as his own the finest horse in all the land? As I look everywhere, I’d choose you as a wife over anyone else, every time.”

“You know how, as a shepherdess, you’ve seen flocks of black-haired goats stream down like dark waves from the mountainside where you live? That’s how beautiful your hair looks to me as it falls down around you.”

“You know how comforting and secure it is to look up and see the Tower of David standing tall? That’s how you look in the way you carry yourself. With such security and grace.”

Forty times he uses a “picture” to combat all those angry words and negative pictures his bride grew up with. The words she’s heard so often sought to define her as broken, worthless, lacking a special future. But he keeps using a word picture to convey the point he wants to get across — that she’s chosen above all others, that she’s beautiful to him and full of grace and strength, despite all the challenges she had faced.

And guess what? She “got the picture.” We know that because later in this book she describes herself — but not as broken or shameful. She says of herself, “I am the Rose of Sharon. The Lilly of the Valley.” Wow! What a paradigm shift. She moved from “Don’t even look at me” to “Put me on display!” This happened because his words of praise, through a word picture, made it past her defenses and right into her heart.

As you know, Jesus also used word pictures (parables, stories, illustrations) to constantly move His words past the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ defenses. They didn’t believe or even want to hear what Jesus said. But those pictures pierced their hearts as well.

This brings us back to your wanting to get that point across to your spouse. We’ve seen how praise can break through defenses to put a new picture in someone’s heart. So let’s start there.

How you can craft a “word picture” conversation

What is one character trait about your spouse that you really appreciate? Don’t choose a physical trait, but a character trait. For example, “he’s a hard worker,” or “he carves out time to really try and connect with the kids,” or “she follows through on the details, such as balancing the checkbook, that’s hard for me to do.”

Now think about a word picture that links with or illustrates that trait. If you can, try using something familiar or important to your spouse. Let’s say your spouse is a sports fan. You could say, “You know how that coach who you like gives so much of himself to his team and players? And how his players love him so much? I want you to know you’re like Coach Roy when it comes to our family. We have all become better people because you do such a good job of encouraging all of us.”

Here’s another example: “You know that picture on the wall of all of us? You’re like that wall that holds up the picture. You do such a great job of making everything around here so safe and secure — you’re like a master builder who did a good job on our house.”

But I need my spouse to change, you might think. What good does it do to just praise him? I understand. But before you seek to change your spouse, try to give your husband or wife praise and respect for something done well. Solomon praised his wife almost 40 times, and she praised him over 24 times! Let’s look at that issue or challenge that’s bothering you and see how a word picture can super-charge your communication. It can help you say the same thing in a very different, and most “sticky” and understandable way.

For example, a woman recently told me about a word picture she shared with her husband. He was unhappy with his job, but he was also a “golden retriever” personality and loyal to his company. (To learn more about personalities in your family, see The Two Sides of Love). His company was making some very bad decisions, and he just couldn’t ignore them anymore. Yet every time she tried to talk to him about it, he’d change the subject or say it wasn’t a good time to talk.

Finally, she gave up on saying the same words: “We need to talk!” Here’s the word picture she gave him.

“Honey, can I talk to you about something? I had a talk with a girlfriend today. She’s over 35 and really wants to get married. But the guys she’s been dating just aren’t interested in a healthy relationship. She really wants to be linked with someone who’s godly and wants to do things right. But then I looked down at her hand and saw that she was wearing a wedding ring! I asked her, ‘Are you married?’ And she said, ‘No, you know I’m not.’ So I told her, ‘So what strong Christian guy is going to be interested in you if you’re walking around wearing a wedding ring?’ “

After she shared this story with her husband, the woman just waited. And predictably, her husband said, “So you told me that story… why?”

“Because,” she said, “that’s actually a story about you. What outstanding, high-integrity company is going to be interested in you if you’re wearing a wedding ring? You need to let them know you’re available.” And from there, they had the best and most significant talk about his future they’d ever had. The word picture about a ring opened his eyes and heart to a deeper level of emotional conversation than they’d had before.

You don’t have to be an expert in creating word pictures. They’re all around you. (For more help and to see dozens of examples, read The Language of Love, which is all about finally being understood and heard by someone). Things can change when we can get past everyday words and tap into that emotional language of love Jesus and the wisest of communicators modeled for us.

May you have the wisdom of Solomon as you live out the way Jesus communicated — by using a word picture to help people understand with their heart.

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