An Interview with Dr. Gary Chapman, author of the best selling book, Covenant Marriage
Gary, please share with us the five levels of communication you outlined in your book “Covenant Marriage.”
The reason I deal so much with communication in this book is I really believe that if we’re going to flesh out a covenant marriage, we’ve got to learn to communicate, not only on a love language. So I talk about five levels:
One is the “hallway talk”, you know you’re walking down the hallway at work and you approach someone and you say, “Fine, how are you,” you know? You don’t even have to ask the question anymore, you just almost instinctively say, “Fine, how are you?” And the couples do that a lot as well, but it’s not a lot of substance.
Then there’s what I call “reporter talk”, where we just deal with the facts: “What time am I supposed to pick Johnny up today?” It’s just dealing with factual information. A lot of couples, this is where they live all the time.
Then there is the “intellectual” level, where you start talking about what you think. You’re giving your opinions of things. You’re not just talking about what you’ve read, but you’re talking about what you think about what you read, or what you saw on television.
Then there’s “emotional talk”, where we are getting to the feeling level, where we are saying to the other person, “You know I’m really disappointed that that happened.” Or “I’m feeling angry right now, because I feel like what you said is not true.” You’re actually sharing your emotions; and these may be positive emotions as well as negative emotions, but you’re talking on the emotional plane. And a lot of couples never get to this plane.
Then there’s what I call the top level: “loving, genuine, truth talk”. This is where a couple has learned how to respect each other’s ideas and feelings and allow each other the freedom to think what they think and to feel what they feel and to share them in an open way, without condemning their thoughts and their feelings, but rather seeking to understand them, so that both of us are really sharing the truth. But we’re sharing the truth in love.
Why is it important for couples to view their marriage as a covenant and not a contract? What’s the difference between the two?
I think there’s a vast difference. We have been so accustomed, in our society, to contracts. We sign a contract to lease a car, we sign a contract to rent an apartment, we sign a contract, on and on we go. These contracts are typically for a limited period of time and they’re always conditional, “I will if you will”. So contracts are always conditional and contracts are almost always motivated by the desire to get. Almost all of those are exactly the opposite of a covenant.
A covenant, for example, is initiated for the benefit of the other person. If you look at the Biblical covenants, on the human plane, Jonathan and David; Jonathan initiated a covenant with David for David’s benefit, because David was in trouble and needed help. Ruth initiated a covenant with Naomi for Naomi’s benefit. So covenants are initiated for the benefit of the other person.
Now obviously in a marriage, if it’s a high-level covenant marriage, we both come to it with the attitude, we’re seeking to make this covenant with each other for the other person’s benefit. Consequently, we both do reap the benefits. In a covenant marriage, we make unconditional promises.
Covenants are also built on the steadfast love. It’s love that endures.
The Bible says, for example, in Lamentations 3, that God’s love never fails. And that’s the covenant idea, that I’m committed to loving you, no matter what. And covenant also is seen as a permanent arrangement. It’s not the idea of, I’ll get married and if things don’t work out then I’ll start over. The covenant idea is I’m in this thing for a lifetime.
Gary, how is communication the first step for couples on the road to intimacy.
Well, I think the only way we ever develop any level of intimacy is by communication. You know we are individuals and the old saying “I can read her like a book”, is simply not true. In First Corinthians 2:11, Paul raises the question, “Who knows what’s going on in the mind of a man?” Answer: “Only the spirit of that man which is in him.” I sometimes paraphrase that to say, “Only you know you.” Now, you come to a marriage, you have two people who are individuals and you simply cannot read each other’s minds. So if we’re going to get close, we’re going to have to do a lot of self-revelation and we’re going to have to do a lot of listening, trying to understand each other.
That has to continue after you get married because we are changing every day. We’re having new experiences every day, new thoughts, new opinions, new ideas, new desires. And if we’re going to stay close in a marriage, communication is not only the first step, it has to accompany every step, in terms of building intimacy.
What sort of goals should we set in order to have a covenant marriage?
Our priorities have to do with what we think to be really important in life. And most Christian couples would say that their marriage and family relationships are really important for them.
If marriage and family are priorities, then how are we going to flesh that out? This is where goals come in. I think if we set for ourselves some goals that will help us demonstrate that we want to have good family relationships, we’re far more likely to get there. Setting goals simply help people take realistic steps toward accomplishing their priorities in life.
You believe that no husband and a wife will experience high levels of intimacy until they’re also experiencing oneness with God. Could you explain that?
Our relationship with God is fundamental to everything else. If I’m close to God and walking in fellowship with God and having a daily quiet time with God and listening to him speak to me and I’m responding to him and I’m reaching out for his help today, then when I come to relate to my wife, I’m going to treat her much differently than if I don’t have a relationship with God.
By nature we are all self-centered and “my way is the right way” and “my timing is the right timing” and so we come across that way to our spouse and because they feel the same way — because they also are self-centered — then we end up battling each other. And that’s what many marriages are — a battlefield.
But if I’m close to God, then God’s Spirit allows me to be a person of love, which is looking out for the other person’s interests. And when I’m filled with the spirit of God and I’m allowing his love to flow through me, I’m looking out to my wife and saying “What can I do to help you, how can I make your life easier, how can I be a better husband to you?” And that’s the attitude that’s going to foster growth in the marriage, but it grows out of my relationship with God.