Communication

Are Your Words Off-Limits, Unhelpful, or Wise?

Is it me or is marriage is just another word for “endlessly learning to communicate”? Agreed, there is so much more to marriage than communication, but how many marital issues would be erased or solved if we just learned to communicate healthier? As a husband and wife team, it’s important to establish healthy communication ground rules.

Consider what this verse can (and should) mean for your marriage:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Ephesians 4:29

The most critical component of healthy communication is perseverance. Both you and your spouse should never quit; talk through every conflict until you reach the other side. The biggest temptation when facing tough communication is to run—to bail out and avoid the issue. This may feel better in the moment, but if you do that often enough, the waste builds up and poisons your entire marriage.

One Thing is Non-Negotiable…

Thus, a good first ground rule for healthy communication is this: no matter what, resolve to persevere and talk through everything. Of course, perseverance requires grit and determination, but if you both have a unified understanding of what healthy communication looks like, pushing through the process is much (much) easier. Otherwise, unhealthy communication habits will only leave you feeling exhausted, beat up, and defeated.

It’s impossible to address everything everyone should or shouldn’t say in every possible situation. The Bible doesn’t even do as much—at least not explicitly. God calls us to use wisdom, to speak in love, as today’s verse instructs, and to let “no corrupting talk come out of [our] mouths.” God’s Word may not deal with every possible argument you will face in marriage, but it deals with the heart. Jesus knows that if he has our hearts, he has our tongues. Additionally, Jesus gives us the power and counsel of the Holy Spirit to help us act with wisdom, even in the middle of a heated argument.

The 3 Communication Categories

In light of how God has equipped us—with His Word and the Holy Spirit—it’s most helpful to speak generally about marital communication and apply discernment and wisdom from there. When creating communication ground rules, I recommend using three categories for what you say and how you say it: off-limits, unhelpful and unproductive, and wise. Let’s explore.

1. Off-limits

Some words and phrases will never help your marriage, so they fall into the off-limits category. This includes name-calling, insults, demeaning or abusive language and tones, and expressing ideas aimed solely at destroying your marriage. If you can’t say it in love, it shouldn’t be said. Examples of toxic ideas are using the threat of divorce, phrases like “I should have married so-and-so,” and “I knew marrying you was a mistake.” Specifically defining off-limits vocabulary creates agreement about what’s fair before an argument erupts.

2. Unhelpful and Unproductive

This kind of communication isn’t necessarily malicious, but it doesn’t produce fruit or kindle love between you and your spouse. A big one for us is the flippant use of absolutes. “You always” and “You never” statements are rarely accurate or helpful. They’re lazy.

Other dismissive language also falls into this category. Saying “Whatever” under your breath before leaving the room is an apt example of passive, dismissive, unhelpful language. It does nothing to move you toward reconciliation, which is God’s mandate for healthy conflict resolution.

3. Wise

Finally, wisdom compels us to act in ways that are life-giving and marriage preserving. Many arguments between Selena and me could have been avoided or handled productively if only we’d had them at a wise time and in the appropriate place.

For example, late at night when you’re both exhausted is probably not the best time to get into the nuances of how sexually frustrated you are in your marriage. Letting loose at the in-laws’ house isn’t the best place to finally express to your spouse how and why they drive you crazy. Create boundaries around when and where you’ll engage in tough conversations, and learn to be okay with tabling them until an ideal opportunity presents itself.

My Challenge to You

Pursue your spouse by protecting your marriage from unhealthy communication. Choose wise words. Establish healthy boundaries around what, how, and when you speak to one another. Words are powerful, and no one’s words are more powerful in your marriage than those you say to each other.

Question:

Do you find it hard to control what you say when you’re frustrated, tired, or angry?
How can you create boundaries to protect your marriage during those times?

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