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Great communication is more than an illusion

Remember the days before Amazon revolutionized package delivery? Back then, to get a package required putting aside everything else you were supposed to be doing, standing by the mailbox at the end of your driveway and praying that your mail carrier would be there at the usual time. Or else you got the dreaded note saying to pick up your package at the post office. That was like taking a “quick” trip to the DMV. (If you don’t remember those days, just be grateful, OK?)

In the mid-2000s, I took a mission trip to Japan, performing 14 magic shows in 12 days. This was the longest I’d been away from my family. I knew my wife, Kimberly, was already exhausted from taking care of three young children while running the administrative side of our ministry.

I don’t always get things right in our marriage, but I was intentional about communicating my love and appreciation for her by focusing on three things: clarity, timing and tempo. These elements are crucial when I’m performing magic shows . . . but they’re also important in any marriage!

Before I left, I went to our local UPS Store with 12 little gifts and asked if they could put one in our in-store mailbox each day. They very generously offered, “We’ll do better than that; we’ll deliver them to your wife’s doorstep each day.”

Kimberly loved it! She had no idea how these gifts were arriving, but she called them “a tiny rainbow in the storm.”

The clarity of my message to her was easily understood, and the gifts were timed to arrive while she was dropping off our two oldest at school. As for the tempo, each gift was a daily surprise that brought her joy and reminded her how much I love her.

As an illusionist, I’ve learned a thing or two about the importance of communicating with these three elements in mind. I’ve performed sleight of hand for millions of people all over the world. I’ve even fooled two of the most knowledgeable magicians on the hit TV show “Penn & Teller: Fool Us.” To do this, I’ve spent thousands of hours scripting material to perfect the clarity, timing and tempo of my act to create the most astonishing experience for my audience.

Similarly, applying these same script elements to a marriage relationship also takes work. Together, a husband and wife can learn to move past their old patterns of communication. They can work to replace poor habits with updated scripts that bring clarity to their conversations, are timed to meet each other’s needs, and are more concerned with the tempo than the outcome.

Communication clarity

If a magician’s intent is unclear, the illusion fails. The same is true in marriage: Confusing communication and murky goals will take a toll on both spouses. But if you clearly express your intentions and follow through, you’ll build trust with each other. By making clear what you want and how you’re going to get there, you’ll significantly increase your ability to “make magic” in your marriage. My love notes included with each gift clearly conveyed my appreciation and thankfulness to my wife.

Increased clarity makes us into better communicators. Yet if you clearly tell your spouse one thing but do another, you’ll create confusion. And you’ll miss out on an opportunity to build trust.

Clarity influences the outcome of almost every conversation. Asking questions helps. Questions like, “Just to be clear, are you saying . . . ?” or “I’m not sure exactly what you mean; could you help me understand?” When you’re both clear about what you’re saying, you’re better able to arrive at a good outcome.

Clarity builds trust.

Communication timing

If a magician’s big reveal happens at the wrong time, the illusion fails. Likewise,

I chose the timing of when my packages would arrive. I knew the most difficult part of my wife’s day was getting the kids dressed, fed and out the house each morning. So the timing of the gifts mattered.

What we say (clarity) and when we say it (timing) increase our ability to be heard and understood. Proverbs 25:11 reminds us, “Like apples of gold in settings of silver, Is a word spoken at the proper time” (NASB).

My wife was lamenting the layer of dust on everything in our home. The next day, while Kimberly was out, a wonderful idea came into my head. I could use a leaf blower on all that dust. Now, I don’t know if you have ever turned on a 75-mph leaf blower inside your home, but it’s, well, amazing!

The first place I pointed my new weapon was under the stove. I did blow out the dust. But a playing card and a swirl of other toys emerged from their shelter.

The power was exhilarating, and I felt like the king of my castle! I “dusted” everything imaginable. Ten minutes later, I turned off the blower to survey my work. While I had vanquished the dust, it also looked like a hurricane had blown through our house. Imagine how I felt when I heard my wife’s car pull up. How does one explain a great idea gone wrong?

If your husband has just dropped dinner on the floor and is yelling at the mashed potatoes, it might be the wrong time to tell him he has an anger problem. If your wife has a habit of stepping on the gas and there’s a police officer behind her, it might be the wrong time to lecture her about her driving.

Finding the right time to address issues can influence the outcome for the better. In fact, even a small change in timing can make a big difference toward creating healthy communication.

Timing influences understanding.

Communication tempo

If a magic trick is weakened because of the speed at which it’s performed, the illusion fails. To keep my connection with my wife strong even while traveling, my little gifts arrived at a tempo of one per day. Thus, the gifts became something Kimberly could count on. Counting on each other is also crucial in marriage.

One of the phrases my wife and I use to change the tempo of our conversations is: “This is important to me.” If we’re having a heated discussion and the other person doesn’t seem to recognize its importance, one of us will say, “This is important to me.” This literally stops the other person in his or her tracks. Because we try to limit our use of the phrase, it’s a game changer when it comes up.

This phrase gives us the ability to slow down the tempo, especially amid a heated conversation. It also helps us avoid saying things we might regret.

The right tempo leads to better paced, more effective communication.

Echoing James’ words to first-century believers, tempo in life (and in marriage) involves being “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). In other words, tempo is the rhythm of communication.

Just as magic tricks need clarity, timing and tempo, so does your marriage. The daily surprise gifts for my wife were a tangible way that I—with the help of my secret team—communicated with clarity, timing and tempo that I loved, cherished and appreciated her. Consider how you’re currently doing in these areas and adjust where necessary. Trust me. You don’t have to be a magician to make this happen. You just need to be willing to do what it takes to have a great marriage.


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