For the first time in six weeks, I was grateful to have a broken ankle. It gave my husband and me the perfect excuse to bow out of the Learn-to-trust-your–spouse-by–bungee-jumping exercise offered at the marriage event we were attending.
We took a nap instead.
The retreat food was fabulous and the king-sized bed comfy and romantic. The thoughtfully packaged chocolates on the pillow made the travel worthwhile! But bliss was short-lived. After dinner the conference discussion turned to, “How do you use words? Are you an encourager or a critical mate?”
Being raised in a family that perfected the art of razor-sharp tongue lashing, I came by the skill naturally. Some of my female family members are so adept at emasculating a man verbally that they could perform circumcisions. Unfortunately, I inherited the talent.
Being a wounded woman, I effectively used words as an assault weapon. I assumed quick-witted comments could protect me from further injury. It’s an I’ll get you before you get me tactic. The method is intimidatingly effective — and nauseating.
I view my critical tongue as my greatest flaw. I’ve worked hard to change.
I heard that familiar little voice: Laura, you will never overcome this. You are going to be a nitpicking nag the rest of your life.
When it came time to discuss whether I’m still critical, I hoped my husband, Steve, would say I was doing better. But I could tell by his body language that I wasn’t healed. He reluctantly nodded yes.
Immediately, I heard that familiar little voice in my head that can’t wait to chant: Laura, you will never overcome this. You are going to be a nitpicking nag the rest of your life. No matter how hard you try, or what method you use, you are a failure. Your husband would be better off married to someone else. You call yourself a Christian, what a joke.
I started to sink emotionally; my childhood-induced self-hatred was back. Then something different occurred. I choose to capture those thoughts instead of allowing them to run rampant. My mind started to shift. I began thinking about new ways to improve. These fresh insights emerged:
Often what my husband views as criticism I perceive as merely being helpful. This is rooted in the differences in our upbringing. I had to take into account Steve and I were raised very differently. His stay-at-home mom didn’t raise her voice or become aggressive. I was raised in a home where it was normal on both sides of the family (Italian and Irish) to shout and speak brusquely. It’s important to realize part of the problem might be that what we assess as normal communication, our spouse may perceive as criticism.
Retrain the Brain
I recognized that before words come out of my mouth they first float through my brain. If I could tackle them there, before blurting them out, I could find resolution. This was no easy task for someone who could talk (I mean BIG words) before she had any desire to walk. I had to ask God to help me learn to retrain my brain. The key is to think before speaking — what a concept! Now, I work hard to think before sending a verbal missile from the launching pad.
Ask Why, Why, Why?
Part of my progress included evaluating why I said what I said. I realized my big mouth was not taking me where I wanted to go. Although it might feel good in the moment, was I winning the battle but losing the war? The next time you are tempted to rant, think: Is it necessary to say that? Will it help to resolve the issue? Or do I merely want to attack?
Although I’ve not fully mastered my tongue, I’m much better. It is crucial for me to remember the times when I tamed my tongue — those moments Steve knew nothing about, when something critical was about to spew from my mouth and I asked the Holy Spirit to help me stop. I’m so busy beating myself up over my verbal failures that I forget the things I’ve done right.
I can hear women thinking, Laura, you want me to cower in a corner and become a wimp who never speaks her mind. I’m not going to be a doormat.
That’s inaccurate. What I am saying is to the contrary.
I’m encouraging women to become stronger. Let God teach you how to tame your tongue and effectively communicate. Be in command of the words that leave your lips, instead of letting emotions dictate the lyrics. Weighing words carefully can prevent future regret and shame.
Copyright © 2016 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved.