If twenty-one years of marriage has taught me anything, it’s taught me how to communicate with my man. In a nutshell, here’s what I’ve learned thus far:
1. Less is more. Long emails, long descriptions, details of any kind…not his deal. Most of what he hears, he hears in the first two minutes, so I need to choose my words wisely. And mostly, I must know when to stop talking.
2. Timing is everything. Bedtime is not the time to discuss deep feelings—or any feelings. When his head hits the pillow, he has an attention span of approximately three seconds, (long enough for me to say goodnight, pretty much.) Conversely, (and irritatingly) he loves discussing the details of the budget in the early morning hours, when I’m trying to get kids up and ready for school, before I’ve had morning coffee. (Grace. This is what I need to extend at times like this, and also what I learned in twenty-one years of marriage.)
3. Word choice matters. His primary Love Language is Words of Affirmation (His secondary Love Language is Buy Chips). Words, good and bad, go straight to his soul. If I want to tear my husband down and permanently damage my marriage, I can do so in a nano-second with my mouth.
4 It’s all about the tone. As a newlywed, Jon used to say to me, “It’s not what you are saying, it’s your TONE.” I was all like, “What tone???” Probably in the very tone he couldn’t stand. I couldn’t hear it. I was just talking the way I always talked. It took me years to understand what tone was unpleasing to him. I hear it now—and I agree that it’s unpleasing—but it’s still difficult for me to control my tone when I’m feeling angry/anxious/upset. I’m still working on this one.
While I’ve come so far in learning how to communicate with Jon, I have so very far to go. So, this month, I’m working on it, not just in marriage, but in all relationships.
It will take me longer than 30 days to tame this beast, for sure. But focusing on it for a whole month should help a little. Thankfully, Scripture has much to say about our words, and I’ve been dutifully gathering verses all month. I’m creating a Mouth Filter based on these verses.
Before I speak, I’m holding my words up to the following criteria:
Is it Loving?
I Corinthians 13:1
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
Lately, when I speak, especially to my children, I’m reminding myself how much I love them. It’s changing what I say and how I say it. It’s stopping me from harping on them simply because I’m irritated or have a preference. It’s causing me to speak up when it’s easier to let something slide. It’s clothing my tone with compassion and empathy.
(Maybe if I always let love be my motivation when I speak, the rest of this post would not be necessary/all this other stuff would happen naturally/I wouldn’t need a whole month to work on this discipline.)
Is It Encouraging and Full of Grace?
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
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.
Last year, I changed the way I interacted on social media. After a series of frustrating and anxiety-producing situations, I stopped engaging in controversial discussions. I stopped responding to hostile and rude people. I stopped leaving comments when I didn’t like a post. I deleted nasty and argumentative comments made by others, and also deleted all posts of mine that produced those comments. Instead, I started asking the question Does it Add Value? I want my words, online and off, to encourage.
If I’m Angry, Have I Paused and Chosen Wise Words?
The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer…
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
Oh man. This is so hard for me, because I’m, what you call, a quick-witted person. You say something and I’ve got at least five responses on the tip of my tongue, most of them cutting and sarcastic. One of them is usually funny. Sometimes it’s a song lyric. One of them inevitably slips out before I have a chance to catch it—I hate when it’s the cutting/sarcastic one! I’m working HARD on this, you guys. It has got to be my biggest challenge right now.
Is it Soft and Gentle?
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
So, if I’m not going to spout off something angry and/or sarcastic, this is a fantastic alternative, no? I’m noticing how quickly I can diffuse an argument by responding softly, gently and affirmingly. Is affirmingly even a word? If not, it should be.
Is it Peace-Seeking?
Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears. Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!” For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. …
Don’t we all have an opinion about that controversial thing? For me, and probably for most of you, social media has perpetuated the temptation to meddle in arguments. It’s so easy to type a few opinionated words and go my way. I don’t want to be that person. I want to learn to diffuse arguments, not fuel them. Remember when Mom used to say, “Mind your own business”? She was right.
Is it Truthful?
Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.
I’ve always been very black and white when it comes to lying: Truth=good/Lie=bad.
While I don’t ever come right out and lie about stuff, I am prone to exaggerate a little to make a point or to make someone laugh. I use hyperboles ALL THE TIME, and I make up numbers A MILLION TIMES A DAY.
What I say: I’ve been waiting FIVE HOURS for you!
Translation: I’ve been waiting about 15 minutes, but it feels much longer and I’m incredibly impatient. What took you so long?
What I say: She completely FREAKED OUT and refused to discuss it with me like a RATIONAL HUMAN BEING.
Translation: She was upset, ran upstairs and slammed her door, so it wasn’t a good time to talk.
What I say: It took me ALL DAY to clean this house and I’m COMPLETELY EXHAUSTED and CANNOT DO ONE MORE THING TONIGHT.
Translation: It took me ALL DAY to clean this house and I’m COMPLETELY EXHAUSTED and CANNOT DO ONE MORE THING TONIGHT.
I want to work on the exaggerations. It’s a little thing, but, really, is it a little thing? (Warning: Humor in ALL future blog posts may be SEVERELY compromised due to lack of hyperbole.)
Is it Without Slander, Envy or Ill-intent Toward Others?
With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor…
…whoever utters slander is a fool.
To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
It may be true, but if it’s ugly, I don’t need to say it. It doesn’t matter if it’s about my neighbor or my co-worker, the President of the United States or the celebrity that did that dumb thing. If we want to have a productive conversation, there are ways to discuss situations that honor both God and the person in question.
Sometimes I need to allow a kid to share bad things about a classmate so I can instruct him on how to respond or help protect that classmate from danger.
Sometimes it’s beneficial to examine qualifications and behaviors of public figures so we can make wise choices in politics or entertainment.
But it’s never okay to slander, make fun of or verbally destroy another person—even when we completely disagree with their lifestyle. (Unfortunately, this is so prevalent, even among God-fearing believers, I feel like most people can’t even see the difference.)
Is it Full of Wisdom and Justice?
The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice.
Oh, that my words would be full of wisdom and justice. This one only comes by the grace of God.
Is it Full of the Spirit?
I Corinthians 2:1-5
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. …
Really, this is what it comes down to: I want people to see the power of Christ in me.
Is it Too Much?
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
I could probably cut out about half of what I say and no one would notice a difference. It’s like getting rid of clutter, except in words. I have word clutter.
Is it Necessary?
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.
When in doubt, I need to remain silent. If nothing else, I can appear intelligent, right?
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.