Nonviolent Communication: An Effective Tool in Christian Marriage Counseling

“It is not just what you say, but how you say it that matters.” Do you agree with this statement? Is the way we phrase our wording as important as saying what we are trying to say, or even more so?

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you know there can be no doubt that this is true. If you are a Christian Counselor, you are certainly aware how important it is that we all express ourselves in a Christ-like way.

Consider what some are saying is the best approach to shifting the paradigm of Marriage and Family Therapy to a more effective and Biblical model.

Nonviolent Communication (also referred to as “Compassionate Communication”) has become such a powerful tool for marriage ministry in the Christian Community. If you have not heard about this centerpiece of our counseling practice, I think you will consider yourself very blessed to find out more.

The term, “Biblical Nonviolent Communication”, truly captures what is so great about this approach to God-centered marital mediation.

It is a philosophy of using everyday language in a compassionate way. It emphasizes simply speaking our observations, feelings, needs, and requests to let our thoughts be made known with clarity.

Furthermore, it emphasizes using empathy to properly receive what we hear from others. To put it as basic as possible, it is a way that connects between ourselves and others to make Bible-based compassionate giving more natural.

Although the originator of the Nonviolent Communication therapy model, Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg, was not a Christian, he put forth principally sound ideas that agree with what Jesus taught and demonstrated in Scripture.

Jesus’ perfect life showed us the need for speaking with kindness, and the many benefits of doing so, and Rosenberg explains some very key and simple ways to kindly communicate these things that are alive in us believers.

I grew up hearing, learning and memorizing the precious precepts of the word of God, but I often did not know how to implement uplifting speech into my own language.

Even when I did speak as the Savior taught, I was usually doing so under compulsion or a sense of duty, and not simply out of a desire to contribute to life. I was just checking a language box.

Of course, loving our neighbor is more so about seeking to enrich life, engage in life, and increase in abundant life than it is about fulfilling an obligation to others. We are better off when we do good unto others because we want to do good unto others. Biblically speaking, this is where the reward is found.

It ought to be this way because “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). This timeless principle applies to language, especially language within the marriage relationship.

We use NVC because we want to create peaceful structures of compassionate giving. When we stay within these constructs of godly speech we defeat the evil language of this world that deceives and appeals to our pride. Consider Apostle Paul’s statement to this effect:

“We cast down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God and bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”

2 Corinthians 10:5

The fallen “imaginations” of families, religious groups, governments, schools, cultures and every other social structure on earth train us to innately use life-alienating language every day. We are so brainwashed by them that it becomes nearly impossible to defeat them alone, but NVC aids us to bring them crashing down with the Holy Spirit’s power!

The evaluating, blaming and shaming, hypocrisy, demand energy, interruptions, guilt-tripping, bullying, insolence, and self-righteousness will fail by default when we determine to cast them down with the Lord’s compassionate speech.

We do not assault the violent language with harsh criticism (because that, in itself, is judgmental and violent language). Instead, we cast these words down by means of our godly dedication to using nonviolent words. As the Scripture says, “Do not be overcome with evil but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

What could be a better approach to healing a broken relationship or revitalizing a struggling marriage?

On a personal note, this is exactly what I struggled with for many years: I knew what the Bible taught about how we ought to talk to one another. I knew it stated clearly to speak with love, gentleness, patience and the rest of the Spirit’s fruit. I knew it taught the importance of peacefulness in the marriage relationship and loving your wife as Christ loves the Church – with a sacrificial love.

Now how, exactly, do I strive to such a high calling? It doesn’t just happen by itself, and even when the spirit is willing, the flesh is so weak. While prayer is certainly vital to living a sanctified life in this world, there is much required of us, as well.

Repeatedly in Scripture, God required his people to speak in a certain way with one another. NVC is a tool designed to help us connect with one another in that way, so that compassionate giving becomes more natural to us.

It isn’t a divinely inspired process, but its principles agree with God-breathed truth. As a conceptually Biblical approach, NVC helps us connect to the life energy of godliness and God-consciousness. It keeps us from evil, that we may not cause pain (cf. 1 Chron. 4:10).

NVC holds that every conflict may be peaceably avoided or resolved in a way that sees everyone’s needs getting met. It is not a method of compromise or negotiation, which are ideas foreign to God’s design for the marriage bond.

Instead, we selflessly pursue “the peaceable fruit of righteousness”, reaping the harvest of meeting needs in love, as submissive servants of one another (cf. Eph. 5:21; Heb. 12:11).

We do this with self-empathy. We do not burst out screaming and yelling without even understanding what is going on inside ourselves or knowing why we are angry, neither do we agree just for the sake of being agreeable. We do not just “go along to get along” with the wife/husband. We never separate our thoughts from what is alive in us!

How, then, can we become more in tune with our own feelings and needs? First of all, it is essential to develop a literacy and awareness of ourselves so that we may determine our status at any given moment.

What are we really feeling inside? Are our physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, sexual and all other needs being met in our present condition? If not, what kind of change may be requested to meet those needs?

No matter how ineffective my spouse may be at communication, NVC shows me how to truly listen to my own humanity in order to completely expose who I am, and then give of myself supernaturally. As Marshall put it, “like a child feeding a duck”. Likewise, truly listening for feelings and needs can draw out the naked truth of what is taking place within the heart of my spouse.

When I use NVC, I come to a realization of why I say hurtful things I don’t mean. I understand that I tell my spouse, “You are so selfish!”, simply because I love her and I want to spend more time with her. It should have come out as, “I love you, and I have a need to be with you more”, but this fallen world has separated me from my needs!

I have been trained since childhood to attack and accuse my wife when I have a need that is not being met. Thankfully, God has rebuked my mouth and used NVC to help me show the humility of speech that truly represents who I am inside. Though we all make mistakes in what we say from time to time, perfection is the goal we strive to achieve in Christ. As Apostle James put it,

“We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect..”

James 3:2a

Concluding Remarks:

Jesus taught us that he is “the bread of life” and, “the bread that comes down from heaven” (John 6:22-58). In order to truly experience Christ in our day-to-day lives, we must feast upon him.

Of course, Jesus was not instructing us in cannibalism. He meant that we must listen to what he has to say and take his words of “spirit and life” into our innermost being (v. 63).

We connect with the essence of who he is by hearing his statements and receiving their life-giving nourishment. The result of this spiritual act of listening is an adequate connection bringing deep, personal knowledge and relationship which continues for all eternity – both within ourselves and within him.

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”

John 6:56

Since we enjoy this magnificent inculcation of love from our Redeemer in heaven, we may certainly share with one another here on earth, as well. We may always feast upon each other’s joys and celebrations along with each other’s sorrows and pain.

We fully experience one another by a spiritual means of sharing. This is the “deep knowing” that our Creator wants for every marriage and friendship!

Let us allow NVC to be used as an effective instrument of applying Biblical truth to marriage and other relationships. Let us allow it to shape and enhance our counseling practices to the glory of God! – Michael A. Hildreth

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