Be aware that your words are a very good indication of what is going on in your heart — and your spouse knows it. If a husband pledges Love and a wife pledges Respect, but they speak words that feel unloving and disrespectful, they simply plant seeds of doubt about what is really in their hearts. For example, if Sarah is talking with me about something and I reply with an absentminded “Uh-huh” as my attention wanders to the television screen or the newspaper, she might easily start to feel unloved.
Or imagine if we get into a discussion where we disagree and I finally become exasperated and say, “You just don’t seem to get it, and I am baffled by the dozen or so unconnected things you just said that had no bottom line. I don’t think I will ever understand you,” she would feel more than just a bit unloved. She would start questioning if I really do love her in my heart because my words are telling a different story. She might try to laugh it off, saying men could never understand women anyway, but while she might be laughing on the outside, something else could be going on within. As Scripture observes, “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain” (Proverbs 14:13).
It is not hard to see why a wife can feel insecure. She feels strongly that if her husband loves her in his heart, he will communicate that love. This does not necessarily mean that a husband must shower his wife with romantic poetry daily. But she expects him to somehow, sometime tell her of his love if it is in his heart.
Men also need assurance. If I try to share how satisfying it was to have helped someone who came to me with a problem and Sarah answers with a mere “Um-hmmmmmm. That’s great, honey. What do you want for dinner tonight?” I could begin thinking she does not value my work all that much.
Or if I invite Sarah to just sit and relax with me for a while to watch the pair of Canada geese that come every year to take possession of the small marsh behind our home, but she says, “You know I have things to do right now, and I really don’t have time to watch some geese,” I could easily deduce that being with me is not a big value for her and that what energizes me does not show up on her radar screen as very important.
And if Sarah kept saying things like “You go ahead and watch the evening news. I need to call some friends,” it would be a small jump for me to wonder if she really wanted to be with me because I am her good friend, and from there it would be just another small jump to wondering if she really respected me in her heart.
The point is that husbands can also feel insecure if they do not hear words coming from their wives that say in many subtle or not-so-subtle ways “I respect you.” Any man knows that if his wife respects him in her heart, she will communicate that respect. This does not mean that a wife must compose songs of admiration and sing them to him at sunrise and sunset. But at some time, in some simple way, the message will come through if respect is truly in her heart.
Right about here you may be saying, “Wait a minute, Emerson. Just because I slip up and use careless words doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t have love or respect in my heart. Give me a break. I can’t speak perfectly all the time. I can’t always say just the right thing every moment of the day.” That’s a good point, and Sarah and I would both agree that neither of us speaks perfectly all of the time. As James says, “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man” (James 3:2). James was well aware that we do stumble, and he warns “the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do” (James 3:5 NLT). For this very reason, Sarah and I realize that if we are interested in living out Love and Respect, we must do all we can to measure our words more carefully. We cannot talk perfectly, but we can ask God to help us talk less imperfectly!
Scripture clearly advises us to use our mouths to speak more wisely. Just two examples:
“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.”
Used by permission. Adapted from Cracking the Communication Code by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Copyright 2007).