When our son, Brent (now the President of MarriageToday) was five years old, he asked me one evening during dinner the meaning of a vulgar word he’d heard a friend use. It was the word you don’t want to hear come out of your child’s mouth.
Inwardly, I was shocked. Karen certainly was. But I kept my cool and told Brent, in terms he could understand, that it was a word the devil made up to try to make a very beautiful thing look dirty.
I gave him a very general definition of sex and told him God created it as an expression of love between a husband and wife. Brent accepted my explanation, and that was that.
A successful family is a place where children—and spouses—can talk about anything. It is a safe place to ask questions or to share one’s heart. It is marked by consistent love, sincere concern, and should be a sanctuary where everyone can open up in honesty.
The truth is, I wanted my kids to come to me for answers, not to their friends. I don’t want them to learn about sex on TV or from movies. God has entrusted our children into our hands, and it is our job to teach them about the world and disciple them about the things of God.
Just as a healthy family is a place where children know they can ask any question, a healthy marriage must be one where husband and wife can speak with candor as well.
Early in our marriage, Karen would share with me and I would respond with idiotic statements like, “Karen, that’s dumb. You’re just an emotional female. You need to get a grasp on things.”How hurtful of me! With those kinds of insensitive statements, I shamed her and forced her to withdraw from me. I made sharing feel unsafe. Eventually God convicted me of this and I repented to Karen. Today, she knows that everything in her life is important to me, and we have cultivated an atmosphere of openness.
Dysfunctional families seldom allow such an atmosphere. Certain subjects are never discussed. Feelings are suppressed. Secrets are kept. Hurts stay hidden.
But a successful family says, “We’ll deal openly with our anger, our pain, our questions, and our needs. You can express yourself without being judged, attacked, or condemned.”
How do you build an environment of safe and open sharing? First, you must get rid of any distractions that prohibit meaningful conversation. When someone wants to talk to you, put down your phone or iPad. Turn off the TV. Give them your undivided attention.
Second, you must slow down. Many parents and spouses are simply too busy these days. The average father in America spends little time in meaningful dialogue with his children. The numbers are only slightly better for husbands and wives.
Don’t let this be true of your marriage and family. Resolve now to be approachable. Be open. Be honest and allow others to be honest with you. By doing so, you will provide a safe place and a loving atmosphere. And that’s when the words will begin to flow.