Words Can Never Hurt Me?

Posted: July 6, 2011 in Love and Marriage
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The low light of our Fourth of July trip to St. Louis was seeing and hearing a couple argue and fight at the zoo.  They were there with a little boy, presumably their son, and I first heard them using cross words while inside one of the exhibits.  It’s not unusual to have some frustrating moments when you take kids to a place like that, and it was an unusually hot day, so I didn’t think much of it.  Later, however, there they were again, walking down a main pathway really being ugly toward each other.

We see that kind of dynamic far too often, and I’m not sure why people don’t seem to realize how destructive it can be.  A study called the Enrich Couple Inventory looked at more than 21, 000 couples and found that the number one indicator of a lasting and happy marriage was the way they talked to each other.  Whoever said, “words can never hurt me,” must have lived in a bubble, because our words have the power both to build up and tear down.  The book of Proverbs takes it even further by saying, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”

My wife often makes the observation that couples will see their children grow up and leave to live their own lives. If the parents haven’t spoken well to each other and of each other, not only will their children not know how to love their future spouses, but the couples themselves may find that, once the kids leave, they don’t have anything left to their marriage.  The kids will eventually be out on their own and the marriage is what will still be there for couples who have kept that relationship strong.  I can’t tell you how many times I hear her say under her breath, “Keep talking to him (or her) like that and when those kids are gone, he will be too.”

Words of affirmation is one of the five love languages in Gary Chapman’s book.  We all make choices every day to use words that are kind, or words that are cruel.  We choose to be polite, or to be rude.  We choose to compliment or criticize.  And for some reason, it seems easier to say something negative than something positive.

In the past, I was guilty of pointing out things that my wife did wrong, or that I didn’t like, far more often than I told her things that would build her up.  I would also lose my temper and say things that cut her deeply at times.  Likewise, she would fail to tell me the positive things she felt about me, assuming that I knew, but she would say hurtful things when she was angry.  Obviously, we weren’t meeting each other’s needs for emotional love.

Society tries to let us off the hook by making it a joke to insult people. Television and movies are full of creative ways to cut people down, and when we get called out for doing it, the automatic excuse is, “I was just joking,” or, “I didn’t mean it.”  The problem is that it damages people, and when the person you’re damaging is your spouse, you’re ultimately hurting yourself.

I think people in stores and other public places are often shocked when they hear my wife and I talking to each other now.  We tease and play around, but are very careful to stay within the boundaries of having fun with each other.  Author Francine Rivers calls it, “the needle without the sting.”  You can only have that type of fun when you know each other well enough and have a high enough level of emotional intimacy.  Otherwise, there are bound to be hurt feelings and misunderstandings.

We have also learned the value of controlling our tongues.  Just today, when we were doing a stressful job at my sister’s house, I was tired, hungry, and frustrated.  I chose not to say anything rather than say something hurtful at one point.  In the past, I probably would have snapped at my wife and made her feel bad.  Once we got in the car, I told her I was sorry for being silent and explained why.  I thanked her for her help and support and she said kind things back to make me feel better.

Most importantly, we have learned that choosing to use words that heal, words that build, and words that affirm, costs us nothing, but gains us much.  Words of kindness and love are gifts that anyone can afford, and they come back to us.  If you don’t believe me, just try it out for a while.  Stop with the negative words to your spouse, and start consciously talking to him or her in a way that recognizes his or her worth.  I bet that before long, you’ll start getting the same in return.

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