People talking

Words can hurt!

Right now, think of something someone said to you that still hurts. Perhaps a parent who sighs, “Why did I ever have another kid?” Or a teacher who declares, “You’re just too stupid to teach!” Or a spouse who yells, “I don’t love you anymore!” Sometimes the wounds caused by such words are never completely healed. Apologies help, but the effects cannot always be completely undone.

It takes real emotional and spiritual maturity to pause before speaking, and to consistently use our words for good and not for ill. (See James 1:26, 3:5)

Husbands and wives have a unique power to build each other up or tear each other down. Much of that power resides in your words. Speaking harshly to your spouse is one of the most destructive things you can do to your marriage.

But what do you do when you’re upset, frustrated, or downright angry at something your spouse has said or done? Those times will most certainly come in every marriage. Imagine the last conflict you and your spouse had. Imagine the moment just before you said the first hurtful thing. Now imagine pausing just long enough to think – however briefly – about what you are about to say.

Al and I have those moments just like every couple does. Perhaps I completely mess up a clip we are producing for the radio program and it has to be redone. Or I forget to let him know when I’ve safely arrived at the hospital. Of course he puts the dishes in the dishwasher the “wrong” way. And some days he doesn’t get the “to do” list finished.

Thoughts affect words. The thoughts you think when your spouse frustrates you can dramatically affect what comes out of your mouth. Here are some questions to think about in the moment before you speak harshly:

  1. Is this something my spouse can control? Some days my husband’s back pain is just so bad he can’t get done everything he wants to. I have had to learn many new skills in doing our radio program and still need to do some things over and over. Sometimes something is just an accident, and truly no harm was meant. It’s possible that your spouse truly could not do things differently.
  2. Are they tired or hungry? It’s surprising what a difference a meal or a decent night’s sleep will make in someone’s attitude. That doesn’t excuse bad behavior, but a little grace here is in order.
  3. Does it really matter? Having an affair, totaling the car, getting arrested for drunk driving – those things might be a big deal. Keep things in perspective! Forgetting which type of cereal to get at the store, or loading the dishwasher differently than you do – definitely NOT worth risking your marriage over.
  4. How can I help? Your offer of encouragement, time, or help may completely change your spouse’s ability to deal with whatever is causing them stress. Al coaches me when necessary for our radio production. I do certain tasks his back pain prevents him from doing. You’re a team: come along side your spouse rather than fighting against them.
  5. Is NOW the time to speak? There are some circumstances in which your spouse’s words or actions do need to be confronted. Choose the time and place wisely. If the emotions or environment is not conducive to your spouse hearing you plan a later time to discuss the issues.

Remember that magic moment just before you say the first hurtful thing to your spouse? In that moment run through these questions in your mind. What comes out of your mouth next may be much more helpful.

Your turn: Do you find yourself saying hurtful things you later regret? Have you found any helpful ways to keep from doing so? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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