Hurting Words, Healing Words

Growthtrac Marriagec Medic


My husband is sarcastic when angry. I must admit I can be hurtful back. I’m frightened about how resentful I’m getting and feel my love evaporating. What can we do to stop hurting each other?

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Few of us really take our words seriously. We naively believe we can spout angry words and think they innocently bounce to the ground like specks of dust. This is absolutely not the case.

Scripture offers many warnings about anger and the words we use when angry. The apostle James says our tongue is like “a small spark that sets a forest ablaze” (James 3:5). A sarcastic word here, a sharp tone there, and soon you have the makings of a real fight. Before long, the entire emotional climate in your  home is heading downward.

“I don’t think my husband realizes his words cut me to the bone,” a woman told me recently. “Then he goes on like nothing happened. Our marriage is falling apart word by word.”

Our words sting — and sometimes cause irreparable damage. I recently confronted a man who had been asked to leave his marriage because of angry, hurtful actions. He had this response:

“I knew I was hurting her,” he said sullenly. “But I figured she was hurting me in her own way, so my actions were justified. It takes two to tango. I assumed I wasn’t hurting her any worse than she was hurting me. But, I now see how wrong I was.”

This man, tragically, allowed himself to defend his use of hurtful words. Consider the following list and see if you see yourself in any of them:

* “She does the same thing to me, so I can’t be wrong.”
* “What I’m doing isn’t so bad.”
* “I didn’t really mean to hurt him/ her.”
* “I’m really a good person inside.”
* “At least I’m not hitting him/ her.”

Notice the rationalizations that allow a person to explain away egregious behavior.

Make no mistake about this: Hurtful words hurt! In fact, some say emotional abuse — yelling, insulting, threatening, belittling — is always a precursor to physical violence.

What can be done if you find hurtful words creeping into your marriage? Consider these action steps to rid your marriage of hurtful words and replace them with healing words.

Take responsibility for your speech. You cannot change what you do not own. In other words, someone will not change something for which he or she doesn’t feel conviction. Once convicted, you’re  more likely to listen carefully to how you speak to your mate. Scripture implores us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19).

Know that every word counts. We are impacted by every word spoken to us. If those words are uplifting and encouraging, we will be encouraged and uplifted. If the words are critical, we will be hurt and our self-esteem will be negatively impacted. Every word will either build us up or tear us down.

Replace hurting words with healing words. Having taken responsibility for your speech, choose to encourage your mate. Don’t wait for him to change how he speaks to you; you set the standard. Choose to speak life into your mate’s life.

Set a boundary on hurting words. Be firm in pointing out critical, hurting words and let your mate know the impact these words have on you. If his words are consistently critical and hurtful, let him know you will not tolerate this. In extreme cases you may need to pull away from your mate until his verbal treatment of you improves.

Ask to be spoken to with gentleness and kindness. Make it perfectly clear how you expect to be spoken to. Share with your mate something like this: “It would mean the world to me if you would compliment me on the meals I prepare and the way I look.” Perhaps you need to say, “I will respond much more positively if you speak gently to me.”

Catch your mate using healing words. Once your spouse begins to change how he speaks to you, catch him doing it right. Share with your husband how much you appreciate his positive, healing words. Notice when he makes even the slightest shift in the way he speaks to you. Positive encouragement is much more reinforcing than criticism.

In summary, know that your marriage will, in large part, be the sum total of the kind of words you use with each other. If you use hurtful words, you will experience disconnection. If you use healing words, you will enjoy intimacy. Choose carefully and responsibly.

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