Today I interview my good friend, Stephanie Bennett, about her new book Communicating Love.
I really like the title Communicating Love, what is the book about?
There has been much discussion for many years about the need for strong communication skills – some people say “communication is everything” - but there hasn’t been much understanding about how and why communication breakdown takes place. I have seen so much heartache and emotional pain in the world because of misunderstandings, lack of forgiveness, and general insecurity in relationship that I wanted to write something that would address these relational problems and really help people.
What kind of love-relationships does the book address?
Actually, all kinds of love are addressed. Married love, the love of a friend, love between siblings, the love of God – all of it! Communication is so important to the flourishing of all our relationships, but we often take it for granted. My approach is not so much to lay out the current research, but about the particular challenges in each of these types of love and how to address them in healthy, sane ways.
Is there a main premise in the book?
Well . . . yes, actually, there is. My basic premise is that people who break-up, divorce, or have a rift in their relationship don’t necessary stop loving or caring for the object of their affection. They often don’t even know how or why they ended a part from each other. In fact, in the case of divorce, many who get divorce don’t really want a divorce they just don’t see any other way out of their bad relationship. They have come to an impasse and get tired of the struggle.
The book intersects with a discussion of technology and culture. Can you share about the connections you’ve made between these subjects?
Certainly. Initially, the subtitle of the book read something like this: “Keeping Close in a 24/7 Media-saturated Society.” The publishers decided not to include the subtitle, but I’m sorry they left it out because it really explains the book. Today, we have more immediate access to those we love than we ever have had, but are we closer? Are the relationships we maintain truly stronger than those from just a generation ago? I mean, think of it: Have our cell phones, iPhones, email and social media really helped us to develop intimacy and maintain close, mutually-satisfying, life-giving relationships? Current research in this area of scholarship suggests that the answer is “no.” Our digital devices are extensions of ourselves and they are very convenient, but they often work to skew our meaning and water down the strength of our sentiments rather than help us express our feelings to one another.
Do you address relationships in the Body of Christ as well?
I do. Relationships in the Body of Christ are some of our most important ones, and whenever we get close with people there exists much room for disappointment, hurt, and offense. It’s important to make sure our relationships with sisters and brothers in Christ are founded “in Christ.” That’s the starting point. In fact, keeping them centered in Christ is the beginning, the end, and everything in between. When our digital devices keep us hurrying through conversations or keep us distracted from really hearing what each other is saying we set ourselves up for communication breakdown. Sometimes it has nothing to do with dropped calls on the cell or a poorly written email; other times our digital devices really do distract us more than help us focus on the relational necessities that keep us close.
What exactly do you mean by relational necessities? Can you give us some examples?
Sure. It is necessary to listen to those we love; I mean, to really listen; to listen with all our faculties, not just our ears. Listening involves more than having working auditory function. It’s more than just taking in information through our ears. To maintain closeness with others it is necessary to learn to listen through their nonverbal communication cues. And, of course, we must learn to listen with our heart. What is she really saying? What does he mean by that?
Another relational necessity is human presence. Time actually spent with the ones we love is more important than gifts, emails, cards or phone calls. A relationship can exist without actually being with one other all the time, but the intimacy very quickly slips away when we don’t take time to actually be with one another. Again, our cell phones and social media make it seem as if we are communicating all the time, but are we really “with” the other or are we multi-tasking while we’re trying to listen or form a response?
Everyone is so busy. It’s tough not to multi-task. I’m sure people don’t intend to multi-task their relationships.
Of course we don’t. In fact, many people feel supremely guiltily when they only give their partial attention to their friend, sister, or spouse, but they continue to do it until their basic mode of operation becomes giving continual partial attention, and that is my point in the book. No one who gets married intends on hurting, rejecting, or leaving their spouse, but it happens. A good friend never intends on causing offense or disappointment to their friend, but rifts happen all the time and people are left broken and hurting, lost – in a sense – relationally. I hate to see so many people leap-frogging from one person to another, bouncing over their messed-up relationship in hopes of starting fresh with another, only to find that the same problems occur over and over again. Communicating Love is a book intended to help preserve and protect the most important thing in all of our lives – our relationships.
How did the idea for this book come about? Was it part of your doctoral research?
Yes, it was, Frank, but long before I did my dissertation I was a student of relationship. In junior highschool I was intrigued by the complexity of relationships. Always thereafter I spent the bulk of my time trying to figure out what makes relationships tick. Then, in college I had a major breakthrough. It was there as I began to walk in faith that my understanding of relationships deepened. I began to experience friendships on a level much deeper than I ever knew. Because of the faith connection I experienced with brothers and sisters in Christ I became even more interested in the fabric of community and began to study the types of relationships that developed among early believers in Christ, in first century church life. My senior year I petitioned the board of directors at my college to let me study independently. I wanted to do an in-depth study of the book of Acts and a study of the New Testament concept of Love. They approved. Each “class” resulted in major growth for me. The Acts paper resulted in a 90 page paper and a determination to walk in the simplicity and beauty of koinonia – the shared life in Christ that the early believers experienced.
But what about your recent research. Did you do relationship work in your doctoral studies?
LOL! I sure did. Thanks for prodding. In my master’s degree program at Monmouth University I studied online relationship development and did my primary research in the study of relationships as they are influenced by new media; back then, of course, it was email. Then, in doctoral studies I used the social theory of French philosopher and theologian Jacques Ellul to inform my study of interpersonal communication in the digital age. So, . . . yeah. Much of what I wrote was drawn from about 14 years of formal research and many more than that from observation and life experience.
So where can people get this book?
It is available for purchase wherever books are sold, but the easiest is probably Amazon.com. People who want to buy it will have to put my name and the name of the book into the Amazon search engine because – as I have recently learned – there are other books with the same name! Folks can check out the Facebook page called communicating love, too. We’ve got a discussion forum going there that I check on every day. I’d be delighted to hear from any interested readers with questions, comments, or added insight.
Great. So, are you working on anything new?
Always. This summer I am working on a new project about the blurring of pop culture and the church. The working title is “Snap Crackle Pop Christianity: Discerning the Church in the Age of Entertainment.”
You teach a course of the same name don’t you?
Yes, I do. It’s one of my favorite classes to teach, and one of my favorite subjects. Just as the lines between entertainment and the nightly news have been blurring for years, so it is in the church. Entertainment and the Church – NOT perfect together. Ah, but that’s a different subject, Frank.