Paul: Until recently, I figured it was fine for me to say whatever was on my mind as that meant I was being truthful and authentic with Stephanie. Then it dawned on me
It now occurs to me that I don’t need to voice my less than enthusiastic opinion about a meal Stephanie has prepared or an outfit she has chosen. NEITHER of these things really matter and my comments might create distance between us and possibly hurt her. There are other situations, however, that I believe I should mention in order to be open and honest with her like: talking about the way she handled a situation with our children or how long one of our in-laws is coming to visit. These things do create strong feelings and can affect the quality of our relationship. We need to talk about them.
Steph: I agree with Paul wholeheartedly. The words we use can either be life-giving to our relationship or life-draining. Just the other day, Paul was filling the ice cube tray from the water dispenser in the fridge. When I saw this I said, “What in the world?” as the water dribbled over the sides. What I was really saying was I would have done it differently - better actually. Paul looked at me and said, “I’ve got it.” I could tell from his tone that he did not appreciate my comment. My words caused a coolness to develop in our relationship. I realized later that even a few words spoken when I have an “I know best attitude” can be hurtful to Paul. I must be more mindful of the words I choose to say or simply choose not to say anything at all. Some dripping water certainly didn’t warrant a comment.
When I choose words of affirmation when Paul has handled a situation well or I let him know how much I value his perspective I can see by the expression on his face and in the softer tone of his voice that he is pleased. This lightens the mood in our home. Words that chastise, reproach, correct, criticize, or condescend do not belong in our relationship. And there is no place for sarcastic words between us – ever. Here a few examples of the types of words and phrases we strive to eliminate from our relationship vocabulary, “You always/never…”, “I wish you wouldn’t…”, “That’s not right,” “What were you thinking?” “Why would you say/do that?”
Paul: As for the words we DO choose, we look for ways to build each other up. These are simple and easy phrases like, “I appreciate…” “Thank you for…” “You’re so good at…” “I admire…” These are things we can say to each other on a DAILY basis. And when we DO need to discuss a point of contention or disagreement between us, we are intentional and conscious of the words we choose to broach the subject: “When you have a moment, I would like to discuss x with you.” “I think we have a different point of view on x and I would like the opportunity to understand your point of view more clearly.” “Perhaps this is a topic we agree needs further discussion between us.”
Being intentional about not using hurtful words and equally as intentional about using affirming words doesn’t mean we don’t express ourselves when there is an issue we need to discuss. Rather, it means we are intentional about the words we choose to broach the subject. It means the difference between draining the life out of our marriage or breathing life into it.