When you get married, you’re looking for the “magic words” that will propel you and your spouse into marital bliss. You’ve watched a lot of romantic comedies, and you’re waiting to hear “You had me at…” or “I’d die for you.” Instead, you hear “Why can’t you—“ and “You should have—.” Arguments spin out of control from what seem to be simple conversations, like who forgot to put gas in the car or who left milk on the counter.
The reality of married life is that we all settle into negative and positive communication. Both kinds of communication change a marriage, for either bad or good. Both can set you on a high-speed chase toward either disappointment or satisfaction.
Proverbs 12:18 warns, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Let’s look at some common negative and positive statements that have the power to bring healing to your marriage, instead of strife.
Negative Statements to Avoid:
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
1. “You always… /You never…”
While it may seem like your husband never puts down the toilet seat or your wife never gets ready on time, making “always” and “never” accusations puts your spouse in a defensive posture. It’s an attack, which means the person being attacked will go into fight/flight/or freeze mode because he/she feels threatened. And because the threats are emanating from a spousal relationship, hurt and distrust will be sown into the marriage. Be careful not to pigeonhole, over-exaggerate, or misinterpret your spouse’s actions. Nobody does the same thing all the time. Pointing out an annoyance with “always” or “never” creates a combative environment and will certainly not encourage changed behavior. An alternative action toward annoyances is to have honest conversation.
2. “If you _____________, I’ll divorce you.”
This statement is a threat and a signal that your commitment to the marriage is conditional. Your intention might be to draw boundaries or give a warning, but you’re really saying, “Measure up to my standards, or you will prove yourself unworthy of me.” That’s not a “til-death-do-us-part” promise or a covenant with God. When catastrophes happen in your marriage, seek wise counsel until the issues can be worked out. Divorce is a solution that could make your life more complicated, and not necessarily happier.
3. “We never should have gotten married.”
Many people, during rough patches of married life, wonder if they married the wrong person. Perhaps that’s why you take vows on your wedding day—to make sure you don’t jump ship in high waters. When you start to worry, focus instead on learning to become a better person and better partners to each other. Marriage is work for everyone. But believing that your spouse isn’t good enough for you or that you could do better sets you up to make the same mistake again with your next choice.
4. “I told you that you shouldn’t _________.”
Any version of “I told you so” passes blame and responsibility to the other person and claims superiority for oneself. It means you’re too proud to consider your contribution to the misunderstanding. That’s not exactly a friendly atmosphere for communication or problem-solving. If you retaliate or blame your spouse, you are showing disrespect, thus driving a bigger wedge between you.
5. “My mother was right about you.”
Similar to “I never should have married you,” this one adds another punch—shame—(i.e. my mother hates you, and we’ve talked about it a lot). Using relatives as ammunition against your spouse communicates a collective idea that your spouse will never amount to anything, and everybody knows it. Even if you resolve things between you, you’ve planted the seed that he/she will never please your family. You have taken a hack-saw to his/her self-image and a possible good relationship with your family.
Proverbs 16:24 promises, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”
1. “I will love you forever.”
Ephesians 6:23 explains how a husband and wife should love/respect each other: their relationship should mirror Jesus Christ and the church. Eternal, sacrificial love is not a feeling—it’s a decision. It requires sacrifice. That’s what loving forever is all about.
2. “I’m not leaving. You can’t push me away.”
Sometimes, when a person is in crisis, he/she begins using language like “You’d be better off without me,” “I’m no good for you,” “Why don’t you leave me?” These are cries for help; they are indications of emotional stress and insecurity. Rather than jumping down the rabbit hole with flattery, affirm your commitment to your spouse (the real fear) and take your spouse to see a counselor who can help peel away the layers of fear that can ruin your marriage.
3. “You’re my hero. You’re amazing.”
Stating your admiration for your spouse in reference to character is key to building a strong marital relationship. Beauty will fade, but integrity will gain strength and influence with encouragement. Look for ways to appreciate and admire your spouse for internal, not external, beauty. Praise will also make it harder to find fault and will create an environment of grace.
4. “How can I help?”
When our spouse is struggling through something, instead of solving the problem or telling him/her how to solve it, try asking how your spouse would like you to be involved. This will eliminate disappointment and confusion on both sides and give you a chance to problem-solve together. Your spouse may want to handle it alone; if so, have a conversation about why. (It might be due to insecurity or a fear of pleasing you.) Affirming your love and admiration can be the best help of all.
5. “I’m sorry for ____________; please forgive me.”
Admitting your faults, asking forgiveness, and asking your spouse how you can make it right covers the basics of a good apology. Unless you are willing to go through the complete forgiveness process with your spouse every time you have a disagreement, you might not completely resolve the offense. Then, the next time something similar happens, your spouse will seemingly over-react, and you will have a full-blown war on your hands, simply because a previous issue never really got settled. Learn to own your part of every disagreement. Be willing to apologize first.
Communication is not a mystery. But it is an important part of being happily married.
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6)