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WORDS (AND OTHER ADVICE FOR MARRIAGES)

October 16, 2011

On my 28th Wedding Anniversary, I feel compelled to share some things I have learned over the years in my marriage.  We will start out with a light-hearted list of words that women say that don’t mean what they seem to commonly mean (or at least what men think they mean):

  1. FINE: This is the word women use to end an argument when they are right, and you need to shut up.

  2. Five Minutes: If she is getting dressed, this means half an hour.  Five Minutes is only five minutes if you have just been given five more minutes to watch the game before helping around the house.

  3. Nothing: This is the calm before the storm.  This means something, and you should be on your toes.  Arguments that begin with nothing usually end in fine (see #1).

  4. Go Ahead: This is a dare, not permission.  Don’t Do It!

  5. Loud Sigh: This is not actually a word but a non-verbal statement often misunderstood by men.  A loud sigh means she thinks you are an idiot and wonders why she is wasting her time standing here and arguing with you about nothing. (Refer back to #3 for the meaning of nothing.)

  6. That’s Okay: This is one of the most dangerous statements a women can make to a man. “That’s okay” means she wants to think long and hard before deciding how and when you will pay for your mistake.

  7. Thanks: A woman is thanking you – do not question or faint.  Just say you’re welcome.

  8. Whatever: Is a women’s way of saying … YOU!”

  9. Don’t worry about it, I got it: Another dangerous statement, meaning this is something that a woman has told a man to do several times, but is now doing it herself.  This will later result in a man asking “what’s wrong”.  For the woman’s response refer to #3.

Words mean something — they have power. 


Words can move us in a direction we may not have gone otherwise.  They can motivate us or destroy us.  Words can make or ruin our day in a moment.  Words can bring life, yes, but words can literally bring death also.  Words reveal who we are and how we think or feel about a plethora of issues — saying much more that they actually say.  Words can deceive and bring hope.  Words are spirits and carry with them power to raise up or tear down.  Words make and break marriages:

 

In order to uncover the processes that destroy unions, marital researchers study couples over the course of years, and even decades, and retrace the star-crossed steps of those who have split up back to their wedding day.  What they are discovering is unsettling.  None of the factors one would guess might predict a couple’s durability actually does: not how in love a newlywed couple say they are; how much affection they exchange; how much they fight or what they fight about.  In fact, couples who will endure and those who won’t look remarkably similar in the early days.

 

Yet when psychologists Cliff Notarius of Catholic University and Howard Markman of the University of Denver studied newlyweds over the first decade of marriage, they found a very subtle but telling difference at the beginning of the relationships.  Among couples who would ultimately stay together, 5 out of every 100 comments made about each other were put downs. Among couples who would later split, 10 of every 100 comments were insults.  That gap magnified over the following decade, until couples heading downhill were flinging five times as many cruel and invalidating comments at each other as happy couples.  “Hostile put downs act as cancerous cells that, if unchecked, erode the relationship over time,” says Notarius, who with Markman co-authored the new book We Can Work It Out.  “In the end, relentless unremitting negativity takes control and the couple can’t get through a week without major blowups.”

 

Scripture is filled with advice and warnings about the use of words…

 

"A man’s stomach shall be satisfied from the fruit of his mouth; From the produce of his lips he shall be filled.  Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” ~Proverbs 18:20-21

 

I have counselled many marriages throughout the years and much of the issues marriages face are rooted in the “words” they speak to each other.  Each couple has of course identified their own problems that are causing the marriage to fail and they are certain they have identified the ‘culprit’.  They want to make it about respect, authority and order in the home; about money and flirting and the children… but all of those are simply a symptom of a breakdown caused first by how they speak to each other!  I sit them down and have them act out an exercise with me.  I give them each a tube of travel-sized toothpaste and have them empty the tubes onto a cardboard square — squirting every last bit of toothpaste out of the tubes until there is nothing left.  Then as they sit there holding the empty tubes in their hands, staring at each other, I instruct them to put the toothpaste back into the tubes and not to spare a drop. It is almost comical, if it weren’t so pathetic, to watch husband and wife try to get the toothpaste back into the tube.  Therein lies the issue: It is easy to empty your mouth of words in a moment of anger or frustration, aiming those words carefully like arrows at the target, purposefully hurting your spouse, the love of your life, with the words you are hurling with reckless abandon in a moment of impassioned discourse.  But once you empty it all out on the table, like toothpaste, it is impossible to put it back in.  You cannot take back the words you have spoken once they have already left your mouth.

 

Listening to a radio broadcast some years ago in London, a group of friends all the sudden began receiving a desperate distress call for NASA in Houston.  Surprised and alert, they began to write down everything they heard.  To their dismay this went on for a couple minutes, and then disappeared as quickly as it began.  They immediately called NASA and after several minutes of red tape, they were able to talk with someone who actually took great interest in what they had heard.  They gave him the message, he took their number, they parted ways. Several months later, NASA realized what had happened.

  • It was a genuine distress call to NASA from outer space.

  • It originated from one of our own vessels, in the early ‘70s.

  • It spun around in space, because sound waves never go away, it just happened to return at that frequency at that particular time, then disappeared, perhaps to be heard later in generations to come.

This is the power of words…they can never be retrieved.


The words we speak have tremendous power to build or to destroy.  Many relationships fail because of words – spoken and sometimes woven in wit and subtlety, unspoken but intended. Once words are released from our lips, it is impossible to take them back.  Apologies work on some levels and are a positive step towards redemption and reconciliation, but at the end of the day, the damage is already done and the scars remain.

 

"My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things.  If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.  Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body.  Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.  Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.  See how great a forest a little fire kindles!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity.  The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.  For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind.  But no man can tame the tongue.  It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.  With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God.  Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. ​ My brethren, these things ought not to be so.  Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?  Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs?  Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.” ~James 3:1-12

 

The tongue literally sets the course of nature on fire (Vs.6)!  What does that really mean?

  • COURSE – trochos (trokh-os’); a wheel, i.e. (figuratively) a circuit of physical effects:

  • NATURE – genesis (ghen’-es-is); generations, nature, life.

Adam Clarke Commentary says: “And sets on fire the wheel of life.”

 

Literally your words can set the course of nature, bring a course to bear, to life.  These words can begin taking you in a direction you may not have gone had it not been for the words that were spoken.  With the words you use, you can literally set your marriage on a different course, one that is inflamed by those words — a course that has a life of its own… to the positive or to the negative.  However unfortunate, it is almost always the negative.  In a moment of inflamed frustration, hopelessness setting fire to your heart, you scream out at your spouse, “I want a divorce!”  You don’t really want a divorce, it is not something you even thought about, planned or intended, but your spouse just makes you so angry, so frustrated you at a loss to control your tongue and so your spew it out there and for a moment it feels good.  Then?  Well then, you begin to realize after some time — that was never your heart — you were just upset and “venting”.  But, the words are out there.  The option has now been placed on the table and the jury can never really “strike this from the record.”  You apologize, you beg for forgiveness, you swear that was not what you meant, but you said it, it’s out there and your marriage may very well have just set a course for a new direction.  All because of some rash words.  It is possible to steer this ship right again, but that will take some time, effort and sincere repentance — a wholehearted effort to take divorce back off the table requires a lot of positives going right in that marriage… for a long time.  Trust takes a lot of time to build but can be broken down in one sentence.

 

"You are snared by the words of your mouth; you are taken by the words of your mouth.” ~Proverbs 6:2

 

Here are some hints to help you keep your words from steering its own course:

  • Never say the “D” (divorce) word.  This has worked in our marriage wonderfully.  We have had lots of problems, but because of this rule, we’ve never started the course of our marriage on that terminal velocity.

  • Never use absolutes… always and never.  This places an impossible burden on each other, overcoming “always” is difficult when the accusation goes like this, “you always act like that!” or “you never apologize when you are wrong.”

Women are security driven.  They are driven by the state of their relationship with their husband, a home for their children and the possibilities for the future — whether or not they will have a home for their family for years to come!  If they feel at home and secure and they feel their marriage is stable, they will be happy.  Therefore men should watch their words carefully.  Do not inflict injury with your mouth in this area of her life.  Don’t cut into things that affect her security with your words, things like, “I’ve had enough, I’m going to just leave.” or “I don’t want you anymore… I don’t love you.” and endless combinations of these reckless statements that eat into her very being.

 

Men are ego/achievement driven.  They get “their glory” from doing well at work, accomplishing their job with distinction, bringing home a paycheck and taking care of their family.  A man can be told by his boss that he is doing a great job and that will make him happy.  He needs to know he is succeeding in these important areas.  Even if he is not the best provider in the world, lacks some marketable skills, but works hard to bring home a salary at the end of the week… that works.  Women should never say things that are meant to kill his ego… things that drive him to feel he is worthless and a failure as a man.  Wives, it is very important to speak uplifting words to your husband as he leaves for work.  He will meditate on those words for the rest of the day.  He needs to know that you respect him and appreciate him for the work he is doing for the family. The words you speak to him that morning literally may determine whether he makes right or wrong decisions that particular day.

 

In your mind — your thoughts — may be giving you grief.  Your brain is screaming, ‘I’m going to fail this time!’  ‘This time I’m going under!  I can’t take one more setback!’  When your temper is flaring and so your insane lack of reason is devouring your body, your mind will lie to you and tell you, ‘you’re not going to make it this time!’  When the devil fiercely attacks your mind that is when you must allow the written Word of God to flow forth from your mouth.  You can literally speak life into your situations with the words you choose to use:

 

"Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath…” Ephesians 4:26

 

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” ~Proverbs 15:1

 

“Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.” ~Psalms 34:13

 

“He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.” ~Proverbs 13:3

 

“If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.” ~James 1:26

 

“For ‘He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit." ~1 Peter 3:10

 

“Who sharpen their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows — bitter words…” ~Psalms 64:3

 

“They sharpen their tongues like a serpent; The poison of asps is under their lips…” ~Psalms 140:3

 

And lastly on a lighter note, some things to remember:

  • Women:  Your original suspicion is correct.  He doesn’t have a clue what is wrong with you and he hasn’t gotten one of your ‘not so subtle’ hints… not one.  Speak plainly to him and in simple phrases that clearly express your feelings.  And, don’t fly off the handle when he does finally want to discuss what he is feeling, your adverse reaction just reiterates to him why he should keep all of his feelings to himself…

  • Men:  She just wants to talk to you about things; she is not looking for you to offer an immediate solution, then a complete conversation shutdown.  And understand this, she is never as impressed with your accomplishments as you are, (remember you are success driven) so don’t freak out and act like she doesn’t care about you because she doesn’t seem to care about what you accomplished that particular day — and seems bored with your word-day heroics.  Oh, one more thing: she will never truly express what she is really thinking until you are just about to fall asleep in bed at night… so, you must be attentive. 

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