Almost everyone has probably heard or read the nursery rhyme that makes the brave but naïve claim “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” And almost everyone who has outgrown the nursery knows that words can indeed hurt. As I deal with thousands of married couples every year, I see and hear that words cannot only hurt; they can destroy a relationship.
Sarah and I can also testify words have the power to hurt. Careless words, unloving words, disrespectful words, words spoken in anger or defensiveness – in the early years of our marriage we experienced them all even though we were very much in love and had committed ourselves to a life of Christian ministry together.
Even after husbands and wives get the idea of how Love and Respect can change their relationship for the better, the battle has just begun, as Sarah and I well know. Discovering the Love and Respect Connection is one thing; living it out is another. Practicing Love and Respect takes work, lots of work. And much of that work has to do with how we use our mouths. In marriage, the mouth matters a great deal. But even more important is the heart because what is in my heart will come out of my mouth. As Jesus said, your mouth speaks from that which fills your heart (see Luke 6:45).
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.
In Ephesians 4 and 5, Paul makes several points about how Christians are to use their mouths. We are to stop falsehood and speak truth (4:25). We are to stop unwholesome words and speak words that edify (4:29). We are to stop the clamor and the slander and be kind and forgiving (4:31-32), thankful (5:4), and filled with the Spirit (5:18-19).
Although Paul is writing to all Christians, later in Ephesians 5:22-33 he goes on to talk specifically to husbands and wives. I am sure Paul knew that if anyone needed to apply what he has just said about how to use the mouth, it was married couples!
Ask yourself this question: “Can I expect my spouse to have confidence that I have love or respect in my heart if I speak untruthful, unwholesome, unforgiving, unthankful, or unscriptural words?"
Obviously, the answer is no, but by the same token we can ask another question: “What might happen in my marriage if my words are truthful, wholesome, forgiving, thankful, and scriptural?”
Will you evaluate the words you speak to your spouse this week? Will you evaluate what is in your heart? Remember – in marriage, the mouth matters and our mouth reveals what is in our heart!
This is the third week in a series Emerson is doing on the Love and Respect Connection (learning to communicate with Love and Respect, excerpts from his book, The Language of Love and Respect). If you’ve missed the first two weeks, go check them out! Next week Emerson will share how our male and female differences affect our communication.