When we say I do we should also say, I won’t—I won’t use my words to hurt my spouse. Infidelity, addictions, and other major destructive behaviors can inflict mortal wounds on a marriage. But perhaps the greatest source of damage on relationships is the seemingly less harmful ones, particularly the cuts to the heart made through unkind speech.
Sharp words creep into a relationship gradually, then habitually. No one tries to win the heart of another this way, yet, when the relationship seems sure and becomes routine, critical words often show up.
It could be too little sleep or too much stress that shortens a fuse and begets angry words. Or irritation and disagreement often leads to venting. An apology and the resolve to take greater care in the future could set things right again. Yet, for many, the irritations and criticisms become common and malignant, slowly leaching away at the store of good feeling upon which undying love was pledged.
Interview with Fr. Gary Benz
In an interview with Fr. Gary Benz, Pastor of Queen of the Most Holy Rosary in Stanley, ND, he noted that in spite of marriage problems being blamed on a lack of communication, he frequently witnesses something else. “In our time, a staple of advice given to married couples is the need tocommunicate,” he said. “You have to talk to each other; you have to communicate daily.” However, he noted that often, the problem is not so much a lack of communication, but too much negative communication.
“Married couples, I find, do talk to each other, but they are saying thewrong things,” he said. “They put one another down; they constantly point out one another’s faults; they make selfish demands; they tell their spouse to be quiet; or they bombard their spouse with words of anger or disdain. Yes, technically, these are forms of communication, but they do little good within married life.”
According to Fr. Benz, communication in marriage should be rooted in love. “Saint Paul reminds Christians, including married couples, in his First Letter to the Corinthians that love is kind; it is not arrogant; it is not rude; it is not irritable; it is not resentful; etc.” He said that true communication in marriage is to communicate like Christ, who is love.
“Jesus’ words to us are always kind, loving, merciful, good, and gentle,” Fr. Benz said. “Couples must imitate this Christ-like way of communication. In doing so, they will have great peace and love within marriage and some day when their spouse passes from this life, they will live with no regrets.
Harsh Words Don’t Fix Problems
We don’t need surveys to tell us, or counseling to show us: negative comments evoke negative feelings while positive comments evoke positive feelings. Whatever the problem, verbal lashing out is not the solution. Nor does responding in kind when the other starts it make things better. A spouse is less likely to see the error in his or her ways when the partner lashes back. The end result is two people using anger rather than love as ammunition.
Using the mouth as a weapon is not always apparent. Women sharing complaints about their husbands often view their activity as mere entertainment among friends rather than the disrespect against the dignity of their husbands that it is. Or husbands, making fun of their wives for one reason or another may think it’s just being manly or poking fun.
Comparing, belittling, complaining, criticizing…the urges can emanate in part from family-of-origin modeling, but in the end, the words we chose are from our own mouths and thus our own responsibility. Are you speaking words of life into your marriage or slowly killing it? We can sow love or sow discontent with our words but either way, we will reap the harvest.