Communicate In Code by John Burke (HTKARI30D)

At Gateway Church in Austin, we kicked off our new series, How To Kill A Relationship in 30 Days (HTKARI30D).

Having healthy relationships is a pretty common goal, but achieving that goal can be a real challenge. Why is that? Why is it so tough to have happy relationships and to make those relationships last? One of the most predictive indicators for how a relationship will go relies on communication. Do you listen? Do you feel understood? Is your communication with those around you improving or killing your relationships?

According to the Prepare and Enrich assessment which has helped 3,000,000 couples from different backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities, here are the 5 Relationship Killers:

  1. Communicate in Code (message notes and message video from North Campus)
  2. Get Your Way Always (message notes and message video from Gateway South)
  3. Dwell on What’s Wrong (message notes and message video from Gateway South)
  4. Don’t Commit (message notes and message video from Gateway South)
  5. Avoid Conflict (message notes and message video from Gateway South)

Gateway South messages can be heard via the SoundCloud app or go to

Next Steps

These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.



How To Kill A Relationship in 30 Days – Communication In Code from Gateway Church on Vimeo.


We’re starting a 5 weeks series How to Kill a Relationship in 30 Days and today we’re talking about Communicating in Code as one of the top ways to kill a relationship.

We’re in a fall season to Love Everyone Life by Life, which has to start with those closest to you. If you’re married or hope to be, this series will greatly help you make love last a lifetime if you apply it. If you’re single, this will still help you become a person that can make relationships last, whether marriage, or friendships, or working relationships.

These 5 weeks are based on research from the Prepare/Enrich marriage assessment used by over 3 million couples and over 100,000 counselors and pastors to help couples prepare for marriage that lasts, or enrich their marriage if already married.

At Gateway, our SoulMates premarital counseling uses this assessment. Most people want to have a marriage or relationship that lasts, but our culture does not train us to be people who can make that dream a reality.

Prepare/Enrich studied 21,000 couples to determine what differentiates happy, healthy marriages from troubled, conflicted ones. It was validated with 3 million couples across ethnicities and cultures. We’re talking about the top 5 issues that kill marriages or any relationship, and how to avoid those traps and put practices in place that lead us to be truly loving people with lasting relationships.

The top Relationship Killer has to do with Communication–or lack thereof, but…

“Communication was the area found to be most predictive of happily married couples and the issue was whether partners agree that they are satisfied with how they talk to each other.” – Prepare/Enrich

The fastest way to kill a relationship is through bad communication.

Game playing, communicating in code, assuming the other person can read your mind or emotions, being fast to speak and slow to listen, quick to get angry or defensive: These kill a relationship faster than anything.

But as that song reminds us. You must, “Say what you mean.” Don’t communicate in code expecting your partner will decode your intent without you having to explain it.

But what is it exactly you mean to say?

How do we learn to communicate so we understand what each other means to say?

I’m convinced you can’t, unless you realize: “This person I love speaks a foreign language.”

So many times in relationships – we mean to communicate one thing, but it’s like we’re communicating in different languages – ever noticed that?

This happens in marriage, dating, work, everywhere. All of us are different. We come from different family cultures, different forms of communication, different ways of expressing love. We might as well be speaking different languages. In fact, if you came with someone today, why don’t you just turn to them and say, “That’s your problem…you speak a foreign language.”

Actually—that’s not their problem—it’s your problem—if you want love to last, you MUST learn a foreign language. Every expert seems to agree: Other-Centered Communication is the most important skill for any lasting relationship—marriage, work, parenting. That’s why a Gallup Poll concluded:

“In an era of increasingly fragile marriages, a couple’s ability to communicate is the single most important contributor to a stable and satisfying marriage.” – Gallup

This makes sense because every other problem must flow through the pipeline of communication—so it’s key.

The Prepare Enrich research found three of the top 10 predictors of successful, happy marriages were couples who said:

  • “I am satisfied with how we talk to each other.”
  • “My partner understands how I feel.”
  • “My partner is a good listener.”

Other-Centered Communication is LOVE.

t’s a powerful predictor of long-term relational success, and a predictor of who gets promoted faster at work because people feel understood and want to follow their lead.

So I want to give you a simple formula for Other-Centered Communication: L.O.V.E.

  • Listen
  • Open Up
  • Validate
  • Express


Other-centered communication starts with Listening.

Time for a Listening IQ Test:

1). When listening, I often am thinking most about…

A. Talking–what I’m going to say next

B. What’s wrong with what they’re saying

C. All I have left to do

D. Whether I understand what they mean to say

E. What I couldn’t hear them saying on Star Trek: Discovery

2). People I’m closest to would most likely say…

A. I talk more than I listen (You make Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern look like introverts)

B. I’m often defensive

C. I’m often distracted when listening

D. I listen pretty well

E. They really feel understood by me

Of course, if you never listen, you really don’t know what they would say because you never listen.
The Key: you don’t get to say if you listen well—they do because arguing with something that “I am listening! I can tell you everything you just said” when they don’t feel listened to is an oxymoron. (And if you don’t understand why arguing that you listen well is an oxymoron just cover up the “Oxy” part and read).

Now you would think that if you can hear, you can listen. Right? Wrong!

Hearing is passive, listening is active.

You may be hearing me speak but listening to something else in your head (we all do). That’s why the most difficult part of other-centered communication by far is listening.

James, the half-brother of Jesus gives this wisdom about Other-Centered communication:

My dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. – James 1:19

I’m convinced that most marriages would last and resolve most problems by simply doing this one thing: Listen. How many of us are quick to speak, slow to listen, and easily put on the defensive?

Learning to listen is not natural in a fallen world. It takes intentionality, and honestly God’s help. We’re all notoriously self-centered listeners.

That’s why Jesus said:

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. – Matthew 7:12

It sums up the law of love and the whole bible (Law and Prophets). We should treat that person the way you want to be treated. We all want others to patiently try to understand what we mean, not react, not jump to conclusions, not read in coded messages. We expect this, but most struggle to give it.

To listen actively, you must Pay Attention. Ever thought about that phrase—“pay attention”. If you pay money it costs you something. When you pay attention, you give your attention. It costs you something. If you assessed yourself as often distracted, thinking of all you have to do when others are talking then realize that paying attention is like a monetary investment in a relationship. That investment will pay dividends back to you in the future.

Daniel Goleman, an emotional Intelligence guru who studied what makes people successful in life writes:

“Listening is the single most important relational skill a person can develop. Asking astute questions, being open-minded and understanding, not interrupting, seeking suggestions all communicate to another person ‘they matter.'” – Daniel Goleman

Listening is the single most important skill you can develop for lasting relationships, for career success, to be a truly loving person.

People long to be listened to and understood.

I guarantee you will feel closer and more attracted to people you feel listen and understand you–much more than Big Talkers who love to be heard—am I right?

If you follow Jesus—Jesus listened. Jesus was asked 183 questions in the 4 Gospels (the 4 eyewitness accounts of his life), and He directly answered 3 yet He asked 306 questions. What if we were people who asked questions and Listened attentively to people more than we talked AT people? We’d love more like Jesus loved. So in every interaction, I want you to think “LOVE—Listen,

“Am I listening so this person feels understood?
They get to determine if I listen well.”

And then you’ll have your turn–you will get to determine if they listen well—it’s the only way to truly LOVE each other.

Open Up

Open Up to new interpretations.

Most couples with relational troubles feel their partner doesn’t listen. But why is it so hard to listen? Because we get Emotionally Triggered. We quickly determine what they mean—and we react emotionally. That’s where the O in LOVE conversations comes in: Open Up to new interpretations.

You have to realize that the goal of listening is understanding what they mean,
and often times what we first hear is not what they meant.

Sometimes, what we first hear is not what they meant!

Here’s the problem—we will talk more about this when talk about resolving conflict in a few weeks:

Do you know the average person thinks at 400 words-per-minute (wpms), but we speak at 100 wpms.

Maybe you know some people who speak at 400 wpms and thinks at 100 wpms. Maybe you’re often in conflict with them.

This means we think four times faster than we speak. So while someone is speaking 25% of their thoughts, we’re adding 75% more words and ideas than they’re able to say in that timeframe. And they add 75% more to what you just said. So we easily read things in and make up meaning.

That means instead of reacting to what you THINK you heard—you Open Up to other interpretations of what is meant.

Ask, “Do you mean to say…?”

Let them catch up to say what they mean.

Now, here’s the other challenge to why we don’t listen well. What you think they mean can trigger you emotionally—you immediately feel angry, defensive, hurt, misunderstood—when that happens we’re quick to speak, quick to anger—the opposite of what scripture says to do. So monitor what you’re feeling, but instead of Reacting—ask clarifying questions. Give them the chance to explain what they MEAN, not just what you think they mean.

We will talk more in the Conflict week about Triggers, and how they work, flooding our minds with chemicals that cause a fight or flight reaction.

The key is acknowledging the statistical fact “I just added 75% of my thoughts to their words—maybe my interpretation is wrong.”

Usually when we get emotionally triggered, we’re having a conversation in our heads with voices from the past—parents, past relationships, past shame, blame, lies and then we react by speaking quickly and angrily or defensively. This then triggers the other person’s internal conversations. They react and speak quickly, angrily, defensively, and it flushes the whole conversation down the toilet bowl.

By the way, this is where a relationship with God comes in. God fully understands you, every thought and motive perfectly, and loves you anyway. Despite all your mistakes, miscommunications, even sins and character defects.

Jesus proved by His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead God’s love for you and me.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. – Ephesians 1:4

If we truly live in God’s Love, forgiveness, and grace—it frees us up to truly love like this. Too many Christians know God’s Word, but don’t experience it’s truth.

When triggered and feeling attacked or condemned or shamed—don’t react. Instead say:

“God, help me grow up spiritually. I AM fully loved, fully secure, I AM blameless in your eyes because of what Jesus did so I don’t have to be right, I don’t have to be understood, and I don’t have to defend myself. I can LOVE by Listening and Opening Up to ask questions and let them explain what they mean.”


Sometimes, one in the relationship wants to share about the problem in their life not have that problem solved.

We want to feel understood.

What really works is to paraphrase back what you think they’re meaning to say:

  • “Do you feel misunderstood? I know that really hurts when you feel misunderstood.”
  • “What did he say?”
  • “What can I do to help?”
  • “What do you most need from me?”

Ask questions, then paraphrase back what you think they need or are saying or asking. Though paraphrasing back feels awkward or contrived at times—it really works.

Another example may be a spouse that keeps coming home late and the other’s trying to express how that feels.


  • “Are you saying that when I don’t call before coming in late, you feel unimportant to me?”
  • “Yes”!

Validating what they mean tells them “You understand me.”

But they have to be the ones to say “Yes, I feel like you understand.”

Which means you keep Asking Questions, Opening Up to new meanings,

Validate by saying back what you think they mean until you ask “Do you feel like I understand you?”

And they say “Yes, I feel heard—I feel understood.” That’s the V in Love-Validate what was said.

Now here’s the thing that’s hard—you may finally understand what they’re saying—but feel it is ‘WRONG’, so you need to correct it right then and there.

Warning—see the flashing red lights? Don’t do it!

This is NOT the time to correct—not if you want to communicate with LOVE.

First seek to understand, then be understood.
Tell yourself, there’s plenty of time to express my opinion—I’ll get my turn.

Remember the words of Jesus

“Do to them what you want them to do for you.”

We all want to feel understood. If the other person says they feel understood by you then you’ve truly listened in their language.

So you’ve listened, and listened, and calmed your emotions to ask questions, and listened more, and tried to validate back what they’re saying, and you got it wrong, so you asked more questions, listened more, tried again to validate, then FINALLY—they feel understood. And NOW—it’s Your turn—KABOOM—that’s often what it sounds like when the listener gets his turn.

Instead “the “E” in LOVE conversations stands for Express Calmly.

Express Calmly

If you do all the right listening only to throw up emotionally or blow up in anger—it’s worthless.

Express Yourself:

1. Calmly and clearly.

Monitor your emotions. Expressing what you want to say needs be done calmly. We will talk about how to calm your emotions in the Conflict week.

2. Without accusation.

Do not use “You” but “I” statements.
Avoid “You always come home late. You never have the decent curtesy to let me know so I can plan.”

“You” statements trigger defensiveness.

Instead “I feel like I am unimportant to you when I don’t even get a call to let me know you’ll be late.”

This helps the person understand what’s going on inside without feeling attacked. This helps you connect.

3. Asking rather than demanding.

Express the change you’d like to see happen in a request rather than a demand.

  • “I’m asking if you’d take time to connect with me before watching TV.”
  • “I’m asking if you’ll put down your phone when talking to me, so I feel like you’re really listening.”

This respects the free will of another person. This is how God deals with us. It’s the only way LOVE works—respecting the free will of the other person.

So if we’re going to Love Everybody Life by Life—it’s gotta start with the relationships we deal with the most—by Listening, Opening Up, Validating, then Expressing Calmly, without accusation, asking for change.

Practice that this week.

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