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!
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
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)
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:
- Confession. Admit your sin of careless or malicious words, both to God (1 John 1:9) and to your beloved.
- Apology. Apologize for the hurt you caused (see Two Words That Could Change the Course of Sex in Your Marriage).
- Atonement. Correct the record, explaining to your mate what you really believe instead of what you said.
- Repentance. Create an action plan for how you will change your attitude and words.
- Accountability. Ask your spouse to let you know when your words have hurt them, so that you’re more aware of when you cross a line.
- Restoration. Rebuild the relationship with better words.
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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