Today, my brother and sister-in-law celebrate their wedding anniversary. Below is a draft of the homily I gave on that beautiful day. It was based on a talk given to the Taunton Deanery a few months before.
It is frequently said that communication is the key to a good marriage. But, what does that mean, and how do you achieve good communication in your marriage and other relationships? Sociologists tell us that the to communicating better is by remembering the four "T's": TALK, TIME, TOUCH AND TRUST.
The first "T" is TALK. Of course, communication is about talking. But, if we were to look honestly at our lives and at our relationships, how often do we talk about the things that are most important? So often, married couples are concerned with working out the details of their busy lives - who will pick up the kids from school, what will we have for supper, what color do you want to paint the walls? While that "small talk" is necessary, how often do we talk about what is in the deepest part of our heart? How often do we talk about our dreams? How often do we talk about our faith and what we believe? Without that, we really don't come to know each other. We can even lose touch with ourselves. So talking, and especially talking about the most important issues in our lives, is the first "T".
The second "T" is TIME. Setting aside time to talk is easy when you're first married. But as kids - and bills - come along, there is less time to be alone together. And often, when the housework is all done and the kids are finally in bed, the last thing you feel like doing is having a deep conversation. But, making time to be alone, just the two of you, is as important as any other appointment you might set. Sometimes couples don't leave their children with a sitter because they are afraid that it's selfish, or they feel guilty about spending time away from them. But the truth is that spending time together is the best thing you can do for your children. They will only be as happy as you are. If there are unspoken tensions between you and you're feeling stressed, your children will pick up on it and start feeling insecure themselves. And often couples use their work and responsibility for their children as an excuse to not make time for each other so they can avoid their problems. Then, as their children need them less, they find that they have lost touch with each other. There's no lonelier feeling than finding out that you no longer know the man or woman you're sharing your life with. Jesus is our example here. The Bible tells us that he always made time to pray to His Father. Even though the crowd so often pressed in on Him seeking His wisdom or wanting to be healed, He always found a secluded place where He could spend time in touch with His Father. We are no different. We need to make time to pray, and we need to make time to talk. So making TIME for each other is the second "T" in forming a strong relationship.
The third "T" is TOUCH. Holding hands and rubbing your loved one's shoulders are ways of showing affection, ways of communicating that we love that person. Touch has the power to soothe and calm our loved ones. When a child falls down and hurts himself, what a difference it makes when his father or mother picks him up and rubs the "boo-boo". Jesus Himself used His touch to heal. The power of touching tells us that the intimacy between a man and a woman is something that goes beyond words. Words cannot always capture the deep emotional and spiritual bond that a man and woman forge over many years of life together. This third "T" teaches us that communication is not just about words, but about the gestures and expressions we use. Sometimes, by simply putting a hand on the other person's shoulder we communicate that we care about what he or she is saying. Other important gestures - other ways of touching - can be leaving a message when you know your spouse is having a tough day at work or emptying the dishwasher when the housework is piling up. And so the third "T", TOUCH, is an important tool for building a happy, affectionate marriage.
Our final "T" is, TRUST. Communication in a marriage or in any relationship should be a simple matter of telling the other person what we think and feel. But, it is rarely that simple. Why do we so often fail to be honest about what we are thinking or feeling? Isn't it because we don't trust the other person to take us seriously or to hear what we have to say without getting defensive? And, isn't it often the case that we don't even trust ourselves? We often fail to say what we're really thinking and feeling because we don't think we deserve to be thinking or feeling that way. And so, we hold it in and grow resentful. Building trust is essential for good communication. It takes the courage to express what we're thinking and feeling no matter how juvenile or selfish we think it sounds. And it takes the patience to listen to our spouses without getting defensive. This fourth "T", TRUST, is what really makes any open and honest communication possible.
Remembering the four "T's" - TALK, TIME, TOUCH and TRUST - is essential to building a strong marriage. The four "T's" strengthen communication so your marriage can be all that God intends it to be. And what God intends for your marriage and for your home is that it be a place where peace is lived and learned. By practicing open communication through the four "T's" you will experience the peace of God's presence in your home, and you will be more open to God and His work in your home as you root out divisiveness and resentments. Most importantly, you will be teaching your children how to communicate, and they will have stronger relationships later on in life because they will have learned it from you.
As you begin your lives together, may you be examples to your children, your family and to all of us of the power of TALK, TIME, TOUCH and TRUST and may your home be a true school of peace where God's love is alive and at work in the world.