Hurtful Words, Healing Words

Dr. David B. Hawkins, Director, The Marriage Recovery Center

Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family?  Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to [email protected].

Have you ever considered the fact that every word you say—every word—has the power to either hurt or heal?

You may think I exaggerate the power of words. A misspoken word here, a sarcastic quip there can hardly hurt a marriage, you think. When your mate makes a snide comment about the burnt toast at breakfast, it can't be held against you if you snipe back that he never seems to notice when his toast is made to perfection. Tit for tat can't do harm. Right? Think again.

Before you click to another, more comfortable page, hear me out.

Imagine gathering at your favorite coffee shop for a latte. It is filled with your favorite people, your best friends.

The room is filled with laughter and chatting. You join in, telling a joke or tow. While you don't take yourself or them too seriously, you also understand a very important truth: every word spoken has the power to hurt or heal, and can never be taken back. Knowing this, you're prepared with your best behavior.

Walking, biking or jogging with your friends, and later sitting over your hot drink, you never think of chiding your friends for their behavior. You never think of ridiculing them. You think twice, or even three times, before offering unsolicited advice. You're never sarcastic. You don't shoot passive-aggressive barbs. You know this thoughtless action destroys prized friendships.

You leave your friends feeling energized, excited and ready to face your day. Somewhere between this enlivening encounter and home to your mate, something changes. The rules change. Whereas with your friends you know you must follow certain protocol—practicing manners and gentle respect-- or be forever banned from The Circle, something changes on your way into your driveway.

Somewhere between the car and the door to your home, you become lax. You let down your guard. You slip into a lazy, disrespectful attitude, and a close inspection of the words you speak shows it.

If you're like millions of others, you hardly greet your mate when you enter the house. You throw your coat on the couch and grab something to soothe your jagged nerves. Maybe it's a drink, the evening paper, the controls to a computer game—anything. But, because of the great divide between you and your mate, you don't look to him/ her to offer soothing, understanding words.

Fairly quickly your mate says something that is slightly offensive, and the war of words begins. Not nice words. Not encouraging words. Not words that build up or build a bridge between the two of you. No, these are hurtful words.

"Why didn't you pick up something for dinner?"

"Can't you help with the kids?"

"You don't have to play on the computer again, do you?"

"You never accept anything I say?"

"Why are you always so critical of me?"

One stinging, critical phrase leads to a defensive, stinging retort. The fight is on. The fight actually never stopped. There was simply a break in the action. Going to work can sometimes feel like a reprieve from the verbal violence that occurs regularly in the home.

If this sounds familiar, don't feel alone. As I said, millions of other couples slip into this kind of derogatory, disrespectful language. Christian couples, praying couples, Bible-reading couples fall into this terrible pattern of interacting.

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