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Communication key for all relationships

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It's a well-known principle that all relationships depend on good communication. Proper communication is foundational for marriages, for parent-child relationships, for co-worker and employer relationships, for community relationships, and for any kind of relationship. God reveals His desire to have a personal sort of relationship with every individual, and has taken steps to communicate with all of humanity throughout every age: "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son ..." (Hebrews 1:1,2).

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Ephesians 4 outlines several necessary elements of proper communication -- elements that are good for marriages, work, families, or even your neighbors. The National Association of Nouthetic Counseling notes that the overwhelming majority of broken relationships of any sort are due to disintegrated communication and has applied these four steps out of Ephesians 4 for a start in mending relationships:

1. Be honest. "Therefore, putting away lying, 'Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,' for we are members of one another" (Eph. 4:25). No matter how tempting it is to shape the truth to your own fitting or version, honesty is foundational in establishing trust and addressing problems. Even a little bit of deception destroys the trust that has taken weeks and months to build.

2. Keep current. "Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil" (Eph. 4:26,27). Note that anger itself is not sin, but we certainly tend to react sinfully when we are angry. You are probably familiar with the concept of "not going to be angry" taken from this passage - it's a reminder that problems are to be addressed and resolved in a timely manner, rather than piled up until there is a large, sour history. My father called this "muck-raking" when we were kids -- bringing up all the wrongs another brother would have dealt us today, yesterday, three years ago, etc. Today's problem will never get resolved by haranguing about last week's failures and hurts. Resolve issues immediately, then leave them resolved.

3. Attack the problem, not the person. "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers." (Eph. 4:29). The word "edification" means to build up, to encourage. Communication involving problems ought to be constructive in its goals, not destructive. Most arguments spiral quickly to personal attacks and false allegations involving traits or characteristics that simply aren't true or cannot be helped. Diagnose the real problem, then work together on that, with construction being the goal.

4. Act, don't react. "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you." (Eph. 4:31,32). Fight the impulse to react in hostility, even though that is the natural instinct. The model of forbearance is God's forgiveness extended to us through Jesus Christ. Instead, purposefully choose to extend kindness and forgiveness, even if the other party hasn't earned it. The model of forbearance is God's forgiveness extended to us through Jesus Christ.

Practicing these rules for communication may not change the other person immediately, but will go a long ways in reducing friction and building trust that is so important in long-term relationships, and has been aptly demonstrated in God's own relationship with us.

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