I’ve been asked this question, and I suppose some might say the obvious answer is yes, and that’s often true. A pause can allow both spouses to collect their thoughts. It can be a useful tool to prevent further sinning in a conversation. If we’re not finding a solution, it can give us time to brainstorm other ideas. Those are all good uses of a conversational pause.
But we are sinners and certain dynamics in some marriages make this a more complicated question. A hypothetical Christian couple can do this. However, an actual Christian couple brings their conversational history into it, so they may not be able to do it.
Our sin is so deceptive. We can justify it at times as if it’s actually godliness. So we pause a conversation ostensibly to help us both get control of our emotions and keep from sinning against each other, but maybe it’s actually a way of exiting a difficult conversation when I’m not getting the agreement I want. So I’m claiming the pause is to edify, but it’s actually to control.
Let’s talk about some dangers first.
- You pause so that you can prove to be the better person.
It’s not your struggle; it’s hers. Beware of anything that puts you in the place of the superior person. Beware of how subtle pride can be. Pride is the sin we are most blind to (1 Cor 10:12; Rev 3:17).
- It could be a way of controlling the discussion and your spouse.
If you’re the one predominantly calling for the timeouts, it puts you in the driver’s seat. You are controlling if, when, and how you talk about difficult topics. You are a conversational dictator.
- It can be a way of preventing your spouse from disagreeing with you and/or speaking freely to you.
Any time the conversation gets too personal, or gets too close to your sin, you put a halt to it. You might claim that your spouse is getting upset and it’s for her good. It becomes a conversational weapon rather than a tool to edify.
If you honestly think through your motivations (maybe asking your spouse for her input), and these dangers don’t apply, then consider how best to institute a pause.
Guidelines for Pausing Conversations:
These are just practical tips. I hope they are a help.
- It’s understood to be an unusual activity. It cannot be a regular discussion tool.
If you cannot get through a difficult conversation with your spouse without pausing, then you probably need the assistance of a wise mentor, pastor, or biblical counselor. Habitually pulling this card will likely be seen as condescending or controlling. You’re ending conversations when you sense sin in your spouse. It’s very convenient because it also allows you to avoid difficult topics that might expose your heart (Mt 15:18; Mk 7:20-23).
- The process is described beforehand and agreed to by both.
For example, I will raise my hand when I think we might need to pause. The other person talking will stop and give me a chance to explain why I want a pause. If the non-pausing spouse has sinned, they will admit and ask forgiveness.
I’m not necessarily suggesting these; but you need some guidelines for how to pause.
- No pausing to avoid disagreement. That’s not a reason to pause.
Just because you don’t like the topic or it is an area of regular disagreement in your marriage, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about it. Those are the types of conversations that spiritually mature couples should be able to have.
- The person sinning ultimately calls the timeout. Not the person sinned against. And especially not the person presuming the other will sin before they’ve sinned.
If you are consistently pausing when you notice sin in your spouse, it will appear condescending and it probably is. It’s as if you are saying, “I have the discernment to see where you are headed; you don’t. I’m level-headed and you are emotional and headed towards anger.” So you cut her off before she sins. It’s better for the sinning spouse to call for a pause to avoid further sin.
- You have to be willing to have difficult conversations with heightened emotions. Your spouse must know that you will let her disagree.
I’m not saying that yelling and name calling are acceptable in a conversation with your spouse. They never are. I am saying that just because one or both of you is passionate/emotional is not a reason to stop talking. You’re different personalities. One of you might get more passionate, but passion alone doesn’t mean we are sinning in how we speak. Follow through as long as it is heading towards a solution.
We have to talk to solve problems. It’s not an option to sweep stuff under the rug. We cannot pretend problems don’t exist. And we must not use pausing a conversation to avoid difficult topics. A pause can be a helpful, occasional tool if we’re honestly trying to edify each other.