Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In Marriage - Decode!

My husband sent a short email, “The conference has been cancelled.”

I quickly responded, “Thanks for letting me know. Now we’re free to go up north!”

I then deleted my husband’s message and accepted an invitation from friends that we’d been about to decline. The entire process took under two minutes. Kudos to me for my time management skills.

But my spirit wasn’t at peace. And that usually means that I missed the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit.

Scientists tell us that there is a fraction of a second between the receipt of a stimulus and our instinctive response. In the Christian life, we can capitalize on this short period of time to listen to the Holy Spirit and discern whether the response we’re about to give will honor Christ.

In the context of marriage, Love and Respect President Emerson Eggerichs describes this opportunity as “decoding.” Wives—who instinctively respond with love—should ask: Will what I’m about to say sound respectful to my husband? Husbands—whose instinctive responses are respectful—should ask whether the response they’re about to give is loving. Ephesians 5:33 (NIV) supports these recommendations: “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

As I reviewed my reply to my husband, I thought about the importance of decoding. Had I been respectful? My upbeat email opened by thanking my husband for sharing the schedule change. So, why did I have a lingering concern?

Then it dawned on me. My husband was supposed to speak at that conference. He adds value at work this way, but for reasons outside his control, the conference had been cancelled.

He sent me an email about his desire to work and achieve, a desire that God has placed deep within his soul.

A typical wife, I responded with an email about the importance of family.

While family matters to my husband, I realized I’d missed his heart. I didn’t initially perceive that he actually shared a setback at work, not an update about his schedule.

So, I emailed an apology that acknowledged my husband’s disappointment, as well as my admiration for his commitment to his job. He accepted my apology.

But it would’ve been so much better if my first response showed appreciation for my husband’s desire to work and achieve.

It would have been so much better if I had used the space between stimulus and response to decode.


RECOMMENDED RESOURCE: Love and Respect, Emerson Eggerichs (Integrity Publishers, 2004)


  1. Wouldn't it be so much easier if we all spoke the "same language?
    I often think about Emerson's illustration of "I have nothing to wear" when Brian and I aren't communicating well.
    How immportant it is to decode. Yes! To look for his heart, not focus on his words.
    Thanks for this, Marilyn.


  2. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Love and Respect materials, Karen refers to the conference’s opening illustration:

    He says, “I have nothing to wear.”
    She says, “I have nothing to wear.”

    Same words, but very different meanings.

    He means “I have nothing clean.”
    She means “I have nothing new.”

    What follows is a rich discussion of how failure to decode – to understand gender differences – can be the cause of misunderstanding between husband and wife.

    If you haven’t read the book, I encourage you to get a copy. If you prefer to work through materials in a small group setting, Trinity runs several L&R small groups each year.