Think back on a time something completely inappropriate flew out of your mouth. In that moment, did you want to melt into the floor or find the nearest time machine?! We have all made statements we wish we could retract, and once you are married your, “Shoot, why did I say that?!” list will probably grow longer.
We are all guilty of slipping up once in a while, but the more we tame our tongues, the more blessed our relationships are in the long run. Sometimes, I feel justified in responding to Eric disrespectfully when I think his point of view is unreasonable; but, when I give into my impulse, it causes nothing but problems. I can express my displeasure without being a jerk. Sometimes I fail, but I can show him respect, even when I want to knock him to the ground with a flying tackle. ~smile~
When we give in to the temptation and hurl insults or bitter accusations, we not only hurt our partners, but we change their perspective of us – and of the relationship. Below are seven phrases I find especially dangerous. Try your best to avoid them even when you have reached the end of your tether.
“I’m done!” is only part of the sentence. The unspoken remainder is, “with you!” When a frustrated partner declares, “I’m done,” it is his or her way of saying, “I refuse to continue communicating with you. I am shutting you out and cutting off communication. If we were on the phone, I would slam it down.” In more intense situations, it can also mean, “I am completely done with this relationship. I want out!” It carries with it the underlying message, “I am quitting on you. I am not interested in trying to understand or reconcile with you anymore.”
This phrase is not only upsetting for the recipient; it negatively affects the speaker as well. When we proclaim, “I’m done!” repeatedly, we eventually believe it. Have you ever wondered how seemingly rock-solid relationships break down over time? Speaking foolishly to each other is one way couples crack, weaken, and erode. We tell ourselves lies, begin to believe the lies, and then carry out the lies. When love is new, couples feel a determination to make their relationships work – typically motivated by the hope young love births in our hearts. However, as the relationship grows comfortable, the newness fades, and so does much of the exhilarating optimism it once generated. Unless you guard your relationship and put in the hard work, it may become easier to cop a flippant, “I’m done” at your partner than to take the time and energy to work through the problem. The longer you hear yourself pronounce, “I’m done,” the easier it is to fathom actually being done and exiting the relationship.
A better option is, “I am overwhelmed right now and I need some time to think.”
It is Not that Hard / Why is this So Hard?
When something comes easily to us, it is difficult to understand why it does not come as easily to others. In relationships, it is not uncommon for one partner to throw out a, “Why is this so hard to understand?” At the time, it may seem like a legitimate question, but let’s back up a bit. Think back to when you were in the second grade. Can you remember a concept which was unclear to you? What if your teacher had looked at you with a crooked brow and then, with disgust in her voice, asked you, “Why is this so hard for you to understand?” Moments like this can stick in a child’s mind forever. I can recall my second-grade teacher criticizing the way I colored. Instead of starting in one section and working my way up, I was coloring all over the place. She approached my desk and in an annoyed tone of voice said, “You are supposed to color in sections. You should have learned how to do that in kindergarten.” She may as well have said, “Get a clue, idiot kid.” The message was clear, even though I didn’t have such eloquent words to describe it back then, being who I was was “bad.”
Just because we grow from short bodies into tall bodies does not mean our hearts become immune to criticism. “Why is this so hard?” is one of my most hated phrases because of the “You are an idiot” connotation. It questions the value of one person’s intelligence and creates a hierarchy in the relationship. No matter who you marry, he or she will be talented in ways you are not, and vice versa. To attempt to make him or her feel like less for failing to measure up to you in a specific area is unloving and will change your partner’s feelings towards you. If there is one expectation we all have of our significant others, it is that they deal gently with our hearts.
A better option is to (being gentle and not snarky), say, “Would you like me to explain it another way?”
You Always / You Never
Even though this is technically Relationship 101 material, I confess that I still hear always and never fly out of my mouth from time to time – and never to my benefit. Liars tell the truth sometimes and cheaters are occasionally trustworthy. Even the most heinous criminals slip up and do something “good” every once in a while. Accusing our loved ones of always mistreating us or never measuring up to our expectations is demoralizing and thoroughly unhelpful to the relationship. It is a statement of frustration, but it is inaccurate, and it evokes defensiveness in your partner. Rarely do such statements lead to calm and rational discussions.
Better options are, “When you (behavior), it makes me feel (emotion).” Or, “It would mean a lot to me if you would (behavior).”
How Does it Feel to Want?
Oh, my sweet friends, this is one of my “favorites.” In response to one person saying what they want, have you ever heard the retort, “People in Hell want ice water too.”? These two sentences have the same meaning: I do not care what you want. Your desires have no value to me. Even said in jest, these six words – how does it feel to want? – can evoke powerful anger.
After hearing a man use this phrase on his wife, I tried it out on my friend to see how she would take it. Maybe I was just too sensitive? I asked her to tell me something she genuinely wanted. She obliged me, and after she had shared her lifelong dream, I said, “How does it feel to want?” She did not choke, but it completely knocked the wind out of her sails. Even though she knew I was experimenting on her, I could hear the offense in her voice when she responded to me. It is a powerful phrase that creates a powerful backlash – even if the damage goes undetected for years.
As adults, most of us do not expect to get everything we want in life; but, even when our wishes seem outlandish, having a flippant, disrespectful, contemptible phrase thrown in our faces cracks our hearts wide open and pours vinegar on our relationships’ intimacy.
Better options are, “How can I support you as you work towards your goal?” Or, “I am afraid that will not work out, and here is why.”
Do Not Embarrass Me / You Embarrass Me
As subtle as the difference sounds, “You embarrassed me” is not the same as “You embarrass me.” Confronting your significant other when he or she says or does something to embarrass you is understandable. If Eric told a humiliating story about me to a large group at a party, I would surely take him aside and tell him how much it bothered me. But, to say, “You embarrass me” carries an ongoing connotation. It is as if you are saying, “As a way of life – in your looks, personality, and/or pursuits – you are an embarrassment to me.” Such phrases are devastating, especially coming from someone you deeply care about. We all long to be accepted and we desire our significant others and spouses to be proud of us – and, proud to be with us.
Years ago, a man I was dating invited me to an event. Seeing as how I am the blue jean queen, he felt compelled to ask me to dress up a bit. He could have said, “This is a formal occasion, so please dress up a bit;” but, instead, he insisted, “Wear a dress, because you are a reflection of me.” Friends, I wore a dress to appease him, but my heart did not wear a smile and I resented feeling like an accessory to further his social ambitions.
If the person you are dating is an embarrassment to you, check your heart. Determine if your feelings come from a place of personal insecurity or if his or her behaviors are legitimately inappropriate and incompatible with your personality, lifestyle, and worldview. Regardless of the reason, however, if you continue to feel embarrassed by your boyfriend or girlfriend, be fair and do not marry him or her. None of us want to feel like a letdown to our spouses. Somebody will appreciate this person. If you know it is not going to be you, set your significant other free as gently, but cleanly, as possible. And, “you embarrass me” should never be part of the breakup speech.
Examples of some better options are: (respectfully) “I am sensitive about this area, so I would greatly appreciate it if you would not talk about it in front of others.” Or “Since the event is formal, it would mean a lot to me if you dressed up a bit. That blue and black dress looks amazing on you.”
That Makes No Sense!
In context, this phrase would be in response to something your sweetheart just told you. Another variation of the above phrase is, “Well, that’s stupid.” Even if the words coming out of your sweetheart’s mouth seem too ridiculous to comprehend, have enough respect for him or her to comment gracefully. Maybe your significant other’s thoughts and feelings do not make sense to you, but they make sense to him or her. Perhaps he is hungry and that is affecting his judgment. Maybe she is tired and that is disturbing her rational thought. There could be any number of reasons for his or her logic, but declaring it as senseless will damage your bond. Even if you do not agree with the premise, show your boyfriend or girlfriend respect – simply because he or she is your VIP.
A better option is, “Help me understand your point of view.”
________ Would Never Treat _________ This Way!
Examples of this: “Justin would never treat Tracy this way!” or “Laura would never speak to Dylan so disrespectfully!” My husband often says, the road of comparison always leads to disappointment. Mentally or verbally comparing your sweetheart to someone else does not empower you; instead, it disheartens you. There will always be someone who is better at your desired attribute than your significant other. There will always be someone who loves his wife more or respects her husband more – or, in the specific way you are desiring. Making such comparisons creates defensiveness and discouragement in your partner, and it opens your heart up to bitterness – especially if you believe you deserve (or, have a right to) what you are not getting (e.g., understanding, affection, attention, priority, etc.).
Even more hurtful than comparing your boyfriend or girlfriend to another random person is comparing him or her to one of your exes. “Ted never spoke to me so harshly!” “Jennifer always supported my career!” Though these phrases are thrown out in moments of intense pain, frustration, and anger, they are incredibly damaging; and, if you think you are incapable of making such comments, be on guard anyway. There was a time I thought I could never treat my spouse this way, but I proved myself wrong. Marriage has a way of cracking you wide open, if you are not careful.
A better option is, “It deeply hurts me when you disregard my feelings.”
Though this is not a verbal statement, it says plenty. Eye-rolling is where I shine. (I am so practiced at it that I usually do not realize I am doing it until Eric points it out to me.) How do you feel when someone rolls their eyes at you? Do you want to give him or her hugs and kisses? Probably not. Do you want to punch him or her in the face (or, at least, say something mean in return)? Perhaps so! A roll of the eyes is the non-verbal equivalent to “You are stupid,” or, “You are so annoying.”
According to my mother, eye-rolling has been a favorite of mine since my early years. Though I am not sure when or where I picked it up, it has been difficult for me to shake the habit. Sometimes when I roll my eyes, I am thinking, “Oh shoot, I forgot about that,” but what comes across to Eric is, “I am irritated and disgusted with you.” After a while, those rolling eyes get to a person as Eric has so kindly reminded me over the years. ~smile~
A warm smile is always a better option than an eye-roll. ~smile~
In Anger, our Tongues Betray Us
Our tongues tell our secrets. What comes out of our mouths is a window into our hearts.
“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45, ESV, emphasis mine).
“And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:6-9, ESV, emphasis mine).
“From the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach is satisfied; he is satisfied by the yield of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:20-21, ESV, emphasis mine).
Our circumstances do not cause us to speak harshly to our friends, family, neighbors, and sweethearts. If I decided to yell hateful words at Eric, it would not be because of something he did. It would be due to the sludge – e.g., unforgiveness, unconfessed sin, faulty beliefs – in my heart. When we harbor negativity and believe the junk the world throws at us, it is a matter of time before that debris comes spewing forth. All the phrases above come out of our mouths as a result of what is already in our hearts.
Spouses do not yell, “I’m done!” in anger and slam the door because of what their partners did or said in that moment. That response is a result of what is happening internally. When we shake a can of soda violently and then open it, what happens? Soda spray comes out, right? The shaking and releasing did not create the soda; it only exposed the soda. When we say hurtful, unhelpful, damaging phrases, we cannot place the blame on other people no matter how deeply they have wounded us. We are responsible for our words and our words can either build each other up or tear each other down.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29, ESV).
Our Words Have Power. We Can Break Hearts or Mend Them.
We have a great ability to hurt those who have professed to love us and when they harden their hearts towards us, they struggle to give and receive love. We must take the task of taming our tongues seriously for the emotional health of those we claim to love. Whether we realize it or not, how we speak to our loved ones shows up on their faces. Those who regularly hear kind and uplifting messages have a more serene countenance than those who live in a verbal war zone.
“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24, ESV).
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18, ESV).
As a future spouse, and parent, you will have numerous responsibilities, and protecting your loved ones’ hearts will be among the most sacred of your duties. So, here is our challenge to you: when you become someone’s husband or wife, make it your personal mission to speak sweet, healing words to your forever love. You can leave a legacy of kindness and positivity which will bless your marriage, your children, and future generations.
What would you most love to change about how you speak to your significant other?