One of the biggest blessings I have experienced during my 2 years as a small town pastor has happened during my visits to the local nursing home. While there, I have met several married couples who have been together for decades longer than I have been alive. I have enjoyed watching couples eat together and spend time visiting. I am inspired by these folks and aspire to be together with my wife decades after we both said “I do.” To this end, I have been reading about the difference between couples who divorce and those who remain married for years. One of the interesting tidbits I came across in my reading was related to a decades-long study observing married couples. This study produced an interesting revelation regarding communication between spouses. Couples who exchanged insults or harsh words 5 out of every 100 verbal exchange tended to not divorce. If you increase the number of disparaging remarks to 10 out of every 100 exchanges, the likelihood of divorce increased dramatically. It hardly seems like a big deal, but careless words can take a toll on any relationship. Perhaps this is more so the case with marriage because husbands and wives make themselves vulnerable to each other as a part of their intimate relationship. In that setting, it doesn’t take much to wound each other significantly. The book of Proverbs makes a great comment on this matter: “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Poorly chosen words can injure us. For a spouse, this injury can result in a closing off of intimacy, and often more unpleasant words spoken in retaliation. In turn, this results in more injury, more closing off emotionally, and more harsh words. The snowball effect of a few careless words will have a dramatic impact. One of the biggest differences between married for life and divorced is how much insulting takes place, and the difference isn’t vast. One of the truly challenging issues related to harsh words is that these wounds are not always easily discerned. Hurt feelings related to careless words are often hidden from plain view. They are hidden in the heart and can continue to cause pain well after they have been spoken because they are remembered and replayed.
There are several basic steps that can be taken to overcome this sort of injury in a relationship. First, a real effort must be taken toward carefully choosing the words spoken in marriage. It doesn’t take a large reduction in unpleasant words as statistics bear out. Any effort will make an impact. Second, repairing the damage caused by previous negative exchanges begins with figuring out what injuries took place and apologizing. This isn’t easy because partners aren’t always willing to talk about injuries caused by words. It takes persistence and perseverance to brings these wounds into the open and repair them. This work may seem tedious, but a long and happy marriage is a more than adequate payoff for the effort.
I originally wrote this piece for the Mountaineer. It was originally published in 4/14.