Some couples behave as if they were married by the Secretary of War rather than the Justice of the Peace. James gives us God's formula for handling marital confrontations: "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath" (James 1:19). Truer words cannot be spoken in a single sentence than James's admonition. Let's think about his words in detail.

Tune In

When James says "be swift to hear," he's telling us to tune in. All good communication, whether in marriage or in any other relationship, begins with listening. Psychologists say we catch only about 20 percent of what we hear, which is why good listening consists of more than hearing.

Watching your spouse's nonverbal communication is an important part of "hearing" what he or she is saying. And tuning in to your spouse's thoughts and feelings is loving him or her with your ears and your eyes.

Tone Down

James 3:5-6 says, "Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell."

Some people shred and claw with their mouths. As the above Scripture so plainly states, the tongue can be like a vicious beast. James also says, "The tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison" (James 3:8).

The Judge
Judges blame and condemn their partners. This is wrong! We should never condemn our mates. In fact, it's probably a bad idea to start any sentence in an argument with the word "you". Try beginning this way if you feel tempted to be the judge: "I feel this way" or "I think this" or "It seems to me" or "I need."

The Professor

Professors like to talk down to their spouses. They like to pretend that they are superior. Their marriages are full of put downs and belittling. "Hey, that's stupid," professors say. "If you had an ounce of brains, you'd know that's not right." Or, "You can't understand — you're not a woman." Constant belittling attacks your partner's sense of self worth.

The Psychologist
Spouses who constantly analyze their mate's motives play the game of the psychologist. The problem with this game is that nobody knows all the motives of other people. Paul said, "But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but He that judgeth me is the Lord" (1 Corinthians 4:3-4).

The Historian

Historians correct all the details of their partners' speech. My family and I were having supper one night. We began discussing our son building a house in Florida. Our daughter, Janice, said, "How far is Steve's house from his old house?"

"About a block," said Joyce, my wife.

"About two blocks," I said.

"Well…I don't think so," Joyce said.

"Well, about a block and a half, then," I said.

"Who cares?" Janice said.

Exactly right — who cares? Yet here I was, doing exactly what I knew was wrong. Another way some people play historian is to resurrect something that happened long ago if we feel we're losing the argument.

The Dictator

Dictators use force in their marriages. Perhaps it's verbal force: "I will not allow that in my house!" or "I demand that you...” Some use physical force. Men who strike their wives are the lowest of the low. And sometimes women are physically stronger and beat their husbands. Others may be a dictator by being passive and withholding affection, acting as a martyr, or pouting.

The Critic

Critics condemn and criticize their partners. But perhaps even worse, they compare. Likewise, don't compare your spouse with your mother or father. The critic's game is a destructive game. Don't get into it. And especially, never criticize factors over which your spouse has no control — like his or her parents or physical traits.

The Preacher

This is perhaps the most insidious game of all. Preachers take a holier than thou attitude. They assume that they are their spouse's conscience. They try to be the Holy Spirit to their spouse. They use the Bible as a club, beating on their spouse's conscience with the Word of God. You'll find that encouraging someone is different from ontificating.