Marriage: I’d Say It Differently Now

How many of us have said something to our spouse that we wish we could take back? I’m raising my hand, and I see a lot of other hands up out there!

In my recent post, Blogging About Sex: I’d Say It Differently Now, I talked about how much I’ve learned from the time I began blogging and how I’d rephrase some things differently now. I received a lot of encouragement, and I genuinely appreciate that. But let’s talk about how my takeaway applies to marriage!

Words matter.

Perhaps you also grew up hearing the chant, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” What a load of hooey!

Nearly everyone can recall a time when someone’s words wounded them deeply. You may have ended up playing a direct insult or offhand comment in your mind for years, wishing the words didn’t affect you so much, yet reliving that emotional pain again and again.

Unfortunately, sometimes we say something to our spouse that causes a deep wound. Maybe it’s a direct insult intended in that moment to hurt, or maybe it’s an offhand comment we didn’t realize would cause pain. But whether from malice or carelessness, we can inflict personal and relational damage with how we talk about, to, and with our spouse.

"Whether from malice or carelessness, we can inflict personal and relational damage with how we talk about, to, and with our spouse." Click To Tweet

Through the years, I’ve heard stories from spouses who were hurt by their mate’s words. Some examples:

  • “That woman/man over there is really hot.” … and the spouse feels less-than.
  • You owe me sex.” … and the spouse feels used.
  • “I watch porn because you won’t have sex with me.” … and the spouse feels betrayed, blamed, and helpless.
  • “I’m not interested in sex.” … and the spouse feels rejected, hearing “I’m not interested in you/us.”
  • “You need to get over it.” … and a victim of sexual trauma feels devalued.
  • “If you loved me, you’d ___.” … and the spouse feels love is conditioned on their mate’s needs without consideration of their own needs.

Some of these statements are flat-out wrong, and others are poor wording of legitimate concerns. But they all do injury to the other and to the relationship, making it harder to maintain or improve the marriage.

To watch over mouth and tongue is to keep out of trouble.

Proverbs 21:23 (NRSV)

An object lesson I taught.

Years ago when I was teaching children’s Bible classes, I used an object lesson that I found among our resources to demonstrate the power of words. Each student got a tube of toothpaste, and I asked them to squeeze all of the toothpaste out. (This is a fun activity for a young child, likely told to only squeeze out a pea-sized amount on their toothbrush.)

After students excitedly squished out all the toothpaste they could possibly manage, I asked them to put the toothpaste back in. Of course, they can’t. It won’t go back. We compared our words to that toothpaste: we can wipe up the paste, apologize for the mess, but we can’t get all of it back.

Now, don’t worry—we had many lessons about redemption, forgiveness, and grace as well! But there is some truth to how our words, as much as we wish they didn’t, hang in the air, leave a mark, haunt a loved one.

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 12:18 (NIV)

Oh, the things I said.

In the worst part of my marriage, I muttered awful things about my husband under my breath. Mind you, I was also seeking answers, praying about our marriage, and hoping God would save us. But my words? Yeah, not great. They displayed my frustration, my resentment, and yes, my hurt.

Now and then, I said things aloud to my husband I deeply regret. And those words made it that more difficult for him to believe my love for him, to be vulnerable with me, and to work through our conflict in positive, productive ways. On one hand, I said I wanted a better marriage, but on the other, I hurt my spouse with my words about him.

If I could go back and express my concerns, my hurt, my desires differently…

Now Spock said some not-great stuff to me too, but (1) this isn’t his confession, it’s mine; (2) I don’t hold any of that against him, because he was hurting too; and (3) I’m only telling you so nobody thinks you get a pass for your ugly words because your spouse said some too. At the time, I may have thought, “Well, my hubby has it coming,” but I’m 100% sure God was not impressed with that rationalization.

If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself.

James 1:26

NOTE: Some spouses use words that are not merely harsh or hurtful, but constitute a pattern of abuse. Are You in an Abusive or Destructive Marriage? and/or When to Walk Away by Gary Thomas. And if you need help, please get it.

Have your words hurt your spouse?

Sometimes I get an email from a spouse complaining at length about their mate. They not only describe their mate’s actions and their own feelings, but rather disparage their “beloved” with negative adjectives, accusations, threats, etc. Even when there is really good reason for that level of upset, I suspect nothing will turn around for them. Whether they’ve said such words aloud to their spouse or not, those words are doing damage to their marriage.

When you cultivate that level of resentment toward someone, it shows up in how you talk to and treat them. It may only be the tone or facial expressions or lack of communication, but it’s there. And when you hit that tipping point that it comes out at your spouse, the words can do damage that are hard to overcome.

What you have in your heart overflows in your words.

A good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart. An evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.

Luke 6:45 (CSB)

What now?

Maybe your marriage or sex life isn’t going as well as it should because of what you said to or about your spouse. What now? Is it all like toothpaste out of the tube, impossible to recover?

Yes, and no. That is, you cannot take back what was already said.

But while I can recall hurtful words Spock and I said to each other back then, those memories have no current pain attached to them. I’m sad for that couple we were, but so much good has happened since then that’s it’s okay. We’re okay.

Your path to redemption, forgiveness, and grace begin with you. Here are some of the steps you may need to take:

Fools mock at making reparation, but there is goodwill among the upright.

Proverbs 14:9 (CSB)

Saying it differently, saying it better.

Relationship guru John Gottman, author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, talks about the “magic ratio.” In his research, he discovered that a stable and happy marriages has at least five positive interactions for every one negative interaction during conflict.

You can address the wounds you intentionally or unintentionally caused with healing words, but you’ll need to have five or more positives for every hurt you caused.

This happened in my own marriage—replacing the harsh words we spoke with loving ones. Over time, the scales tipped, and both trust and vulnerability with one another became easier. Whatever was said in the past got smoothed over by the love and security we felt in the present.

I’m not suggesting that you sweep problems under the carpet. By no means!

That’s why I titled this post “I’d say it differently now.” Because our marriage still had problems that needed to be addressed, but the way we spoke about our problems and one another mattered far more than I understood at the time.

"The way we spoke about our problems and one another mattered far more than I understood at the time." Click To Tweet

We can make our marriage, our sex life, and even our relationship to God better or worse by the words we choose. Let’s choose wisely.

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

Proverbs 16:24 (NIV)

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6 thoughts on “Marriage: I’d Say It Differently Now”

  1. This is wonderful! Thank you.

    I got into such a negative pattern of thinking about my husband and my marriage because of his behaviour (not abusive, just sometimes selfish and unthinking) and it started to come out of my mouth to the point that I knew I was hurting him and making him feel less than. I couldn’t see a way out but then started to concentrate on the good stuff and comment on that and think about ‘whatever is good, noble, honourable, lovely…..’ (from Colossians, I think, and the difference it has made!!

    I feel so much more positive about him. He feels and knows how much I love him. We’re not there yet but headed in the right direction.

    Thank you for this reminder today.

    1. Wonderful, Vicki! I find it to be something I have to continually remind myself. Even though I’m much better, I still backslide at times. #WorkInProgress

  2. Personally, I would be thrilled if my wife told me that I owe her sex, especially if she has a big smile on her face. Grin.

    A serious comment, though … I am convinced it is important to watch how we talk about our spouses to others. When we complain, it is typically to those who are going to support our complaints and are likely to make us feel that even a valid issue is worse than it is. A comment of “my wife said such and such, making me upset” can boil into “she always does this and will never change” when taking to friends who do not have the capacity to encourage you to seek a positive outlook, such as suggesting it wasn’t what she intended, she had other things going on that impacted her words, or that she may have a valid point that needs to be discussed. I make it a point to only discuss such things with one person who will absolutely call me out, and on very rare occasions. I have enough faults of my own.

    1. Very true. HOW we talk about our spouse to others matters a lot!

      Also, choosing who you share with makes a big difference. I have a couple of very close friends with whom I’ve shared some frustrating moments in my marriage, but they will call me out when I’m wrong about the issue or my tone. As Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Faithful friends who encourage you to change for the better are far better than those who make you feel good in the moment by encouraging bad behavior.

  3. J,

    Words do matter, especially to our spouses, but of course to others.

    Your scripture references are powerful. There is no middle ground as God doesn’t want me to be lukewarm. So in reality is life defined by either love or hate?

    In Revelation 3:15 “I know what you are doing. You are not cold or hot. I wish you were one or the other”

    From your post, kindness can be a lifestyle enhanced by how we think which can be exposed by the words out of my mouth or by my actions. It either exposes a more of a loving heart or a hateful one. I don’t know how many times my mind was numb (lukewarm) like I didn’t have a soul, not loving or hating or not pursuing God when circumstances were difficult or not so difficult and not being more thankful.

    I want my words to be soothing to my own spouse’s ears, no matter the circumstances.

    I also don’t want my words or testimony towards others to be defined as hateful.

    When a couple is emotionally connected and getting inside one another’s mind, sometimes words don’t always need to be exchanged, like at night and falling asleep in one another’s arms.

    Sometimes when you write something this good, finding the right words to comment on, may not do it justice.

    1. You did justice from my perspective. And yeah, it’s the Word of God itself that does the heavy lifting here (as usual). Thanks for your comment!

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