What would my husband wish that I knew about my words? He tells me: ‘When you talk like that it pushes me away from you!’ ‘When you speak like that I feel wounded and like barbs are being thrown at me!’ ‘Can you love me in the way you speak?’ I regret the many times I haven’t listened carefully to his woundedness and have continued to bludgeon an issue with my strong demands. Yes, I have a way with words. How I use this gift can either edify or bring low. Which will I choose?
Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools. Ecclesiastes 7:9
In defense I say things like, ‘I feel strongly about this. I’m just passionate. I’m not angry, just frustrated.’ Sure. Tell that to his heart, as it withers under that harsh passion. Oh, me and my temper – communicating in haste and fury. Not wise. I need the Holy Spirit to whisper calm to me in those moments. To rise up in my spirit and infuse extra-strength self-control. To know when it is wise to speak and how to direct my words. Do you need His help too? Don’t we all?
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1
Somewhere along the way we learned that when we hit bumps in the road as we communicate that it is helpful to reach out and hold hands. To continue the discussion with hands clasped. It is just a physical reminder that we are joined – that the wounds of my words are ultimately a wounding to myself and our union. Agree with your spouse that you will willingly extend your hand in the midst of any argument – see how your words soften as a result.
Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone. Proverbs 25:15
It is a challenging thing to ask myself, mid-fury and steam rising from my flared nostrils: ‘How will your words bring healing? How will you show love in this moment?’ It is easy to love when he shows up with a dozen roses. It is easy to be soft and agreeable when he cleans up the toddler puke so you don’t have to. It is easy to temper your frustrations and change your tone when you notice he quietly swept the kitchen floor.
But in the heat of anger when you’re about to erupt!? This is the time when your love for your spouse will be most challenged and called upon to demonstrate the mettle of your valor. You will have numerous opportunities to step up to the plate of grace and heap on some love – when you are most angry and frustrated. Are you ready to take on the challenge?
I have spoken here mostly about the things we say that wound – how the words and tone can be so damaging to our relationships. There is one other area of communication I want to address: the things we don’t say. It is actually considered a part of verbal abuse when a spouse shuts down and ceases communicating with his or her spouse. Yes, you read that right. Not speaking to your spouse is a form of abuse.
By refusing to answer questions, or refusing to engage in a much needed conversation – pleasant or otherwise – you are breaking your marriage vows to be fully committed to your spouse. It is a form of disengaging in the relationship and is deeply harmful to your relationship. It should never be considered an option to withdraw from verbal communication with your spouse. I’m not talking about a cooling-off period – which has a stated end. I’m talking about ongoing stone-walling and unwillingness to answer your spouse. These are danger signs and you should seek help immediately if you face this in your marriage.
That said, I want to lay out a challenge to you that in your next heated discussion you do the following:
- Take a deep breath before answering. During that breath ask God for wisdom.
- Speak with as much calm as you can humanly muster. If you can’t muster much, ask God to provide some for you!
- Reach out to your spouse physically. This may mean holding hands, moving to his side to be closer, putting your arm around her or…
- Pray, ‘I love this man/woman. Now Lord, let me show it in my words!’
- Post somewhere in plain view: ‘In All your ways (and words!) acknowledge God.’ This was a great reminder to me for many years.
- Try listening. It really does amazing things for communicating!
- Pray together if you are both willing. Honestly tell God your frustrations. He hears. He knows. He answers.