One of the greatest challenges of marriage is how you speak to your spouse.
By Dave Boehi
I was out walking in my neighborhood this morning, and for the first five minutes I was lost in thought about a challenge I was facing. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I was in the dumps—wishing I didn’t have to deal with it at all. I felt tense and irritable.
I passed a man who was dragging some trash out to the end of his driveway, and I nodded hello. Then he made a simple comment that changed my day: “Beautiful morning for a walk, isn’t it?”
“Sure is,” I replied automatically. “It’s perfect.”
Then I looked around and thought, “This is a beautiful morning.” The temperature was a refreshing 65 degrees—not too hot or cold. No wind. It was quiet enough to hear birds chirping everywhere.
My mood totally changed, and I began rejoicing in the day God had given me. I didn’t come up with any solutions to the issue that troubled me, but I felt differently about it.
In fact, I’ve been in a positive mood ever since. And it all started when a complete stranger said something positive.
It reminded me of the power of our words. Using that power for good is one of the most critical challenges of married life.
The Bible often speaks of the power of the “tongue,” and the difficulty of controlling it. Look at James 3:5-10:
So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.”
Each day, you and your spouse decide how you will talk to each other. Will you build each other up with your words, or tear each other down? How will you speak to each other in public, and in private? What words will you use as you work through conflict?
In their book, Building Your Mate’s Self-Esteem, Dennis and Barbara Rainey say, “Words are like seeds. Once planted in your mate’s life, your words will bring forth flowers or weeds, health or disease, healing or poison. You carry a great responsibility for their use. As Proverbs 18:21 warns: ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue.’ Your words have the power to contaminate a positive self-image or to heal the spreading malignancy of a negative one.”
The Raineys describe one marriage that was damaged by a husband who failed to understand the power of his words:
We know of one husband, for example, who feels his wife needs to become more organized. She is people-oriented, known for her compassionate spirit, but she is not a natural housekeeper. In addition, she has her hands full taking care of their four children.
The husband writes up lists of tasks for her to complete and calls her several times a day to check on her progress and also to add to her list. If she falls behind, he hits her with a barrage of withering criticism. He often loses his temper when she fails to complete her tasks. Worse, when they visit friends’ homes, he asks, “Why can’t you keep our place as clean as this?”
What do you think has happened to this woman’s self-esteem over a decade of marriage? The person she loves most will not accept her for what she does best. She is loved by her friends, and could have a wonderful ministry helping others in need–if only her husband would set her free. His words of criticism and control have left deep wounds which may take years to heal.
I’ve got a challenge for you. What is something positive and encouraging that you could say to your spouse today? What words can you use to lift his or her spirit? What words of praise can you speak? How can you point each other to the truth of God’s Word and His promises?
If a stranger could lift my spirits with one offhand comment, think of the power your words could have in your home.
This article originally appeared in the May 19, 2008 issue of Marriage Memo, a weekly e-newsletter. To subscribe free to Marriage Memo and other FamilyLife e-newsletters, click here. For the Marriage Memo archives, click here.