What happens when your spouse says hurtful things to you? In this article, we discuss the importance of using words to build rather than tear down.
Whoever said, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me’ lied. Let me clarify. As an axiom to help us not take things to heart and become strong in the face of adversity, it has its place. If, however, it is meant to be taken literally, it misses the mark. Words do hurt.
They leave deep wounds in the soul. Especially when your spouse says hurtful things to you.
Marriage is meant to be a reflection of heaven. As such, it is a safe place. A place where you can be flawed and imperfect, yet fully loved. When words are used to belittle, destroy, and hurt your spouse, marriage is more like hell than heaven.
How One Teacher Taught Her Class About The Power Of Words
One grade-school teacher understands the power of words. Her name is Rosie Dutton. She teachers her class how words can hurt each other. She uses an illustration with two apples.
Before class, she takes one of the apples and drops it on the floor several times, making sure it is bruised and soft on the inside. She does this without telling the children.
During class, she talks about how words can help each other or hurt each other. She has the children say negative things to the apple that has been dropped on the floor. They pass the apple around and say, ‘I don’t like you. You are ugly. You are not as good as the other apple.’
They also pass around the second apple (that has not been dropped on the floor) and say good things to it. ‘You are so good. You are a beautiful apple.’
After doing this, she cuts open both apples. She shows them how the good apple looks yummy and healthy. But the apple they said bad things to is bruised and mushy on the inside.
She draws home the point that both apples look similar on the outside. However, what was done to the one apple (dropping it) caused it to be bruised. The same thing happens to people when we hurt them with our words. You can read about Rosie’s classroom lesson here.When words are used to belittle, destroy, and hurt your spouse, marriage is more like hell than heaven. What To Do When Your Spouse Says Hurtful Things Click To Tweet
When your spouse says hurtful things, it can be difficult to find a healthy way to react. We’re not talking about playful banter, but rather when the tone of the conversation shifts from lighthearted and teasing to manipulative or downright cruel.
What we’re really asking is: when should you fight back? And what’s the best way to do so?
This post will answer these questions and give you strategies for staying emotionally calm in spite of unkind words.
Your First Reaction To Hurtful Words: How Should You Respond?
Your first reaction to your spouse’s unkind words is going to fall into one of three categories:
We’re going to talk first about the Physical/Emotionally Explosive Response because this is the most difficult for most of us.
Second, we’ll talk about the Rational Response, which is by far the most effective at getting your point across.
And third, we’ll discuss the Passive-Aggressive Response. This is a way to get your point across, but it almost always ends up in angry yelling.
Your first reaction may be to lash out physically (e.g., hit, kick) or emotionally (e.g., stomp away while exclaiming how hurt you are). This is because there’s something about being talked down to that makes you feel helpless and unable to control your emotions.
After all, if you’re being criticized or made fun of, it feels like you’re losing control of yourself.
When your first reaction is physical or emotional, you’re essentially feeding the fire by making it personal. You’re not just disagreeing with your spouse, you’re arguing with him or her. This kind of interaction is completely avoidable if you remember that you have the right to say whatever’s on your mind without being criticized, and he or she has the responsibility to respect your opinion.
Step back and remember that comments don’t have to be personal in order for you to be offended by them.
For example, “You hate me” might be a comment about his or her feelings, but it’s a direct insult attacking your character. You can respond without making it even more personal.
If your first reaction is to get emotional or angry about the insult, take a second to breathe and calm down. You may need a few minutes alone to let the adrenaline subside before you can speak.
Make a conscious effort to think about what your reaction should be. Use one of the strategies below, and respond rationally instead of emotionally. Here are our suggestions for how to respond:
If you don’t want to deal with the problem at all (e.g., your husband is watching TV while you’re cooking dinner), then avoid it by ignoring him or her until you’re ready to talk.
Tell your spouse that you’re upset and want to talk. It’s helpful to sit down in a place where you can’t be interrupted. Say what’s on your mind once without interruption, and then ask for a listening ear.
Pause before you respond so your spouse has a chance to think about what you’ve said. If he or she responds with another unkind remark, don’t interrupt him or her. Sit there quietly and let him or her have the floor for one minute (use a timer if necessary). Then repeat your original thought three times in response without adding any comments of your own (letting it just hang out there).
Use a short, calm phrase to sum up the issue (“You’re wrong” is not helpful). Your goal is to get your point across without getting distracted. The repetition of your point will make it clear to your spouse that you’re serious about standing by it.
When you’ve had enough of an issue and are ready to confront your spouse, don’t resort to passive-aggressive tactics (e.g., stonewalling, acting dumb, pretending like nothing’s wrong).
They won’t work for very long, and you’ll only end up arguing in circles with no resolution in sight.
For example, if your husband wants to go to the movies without you and you don’t want to go, raising these issues one at a time or avoiding them altogether won’t get you what you want. You need to express your feelings calmly and assertively about both issues. You could say something like this:
When dealing with hurtful words, remember that the words may be playful or cruel on the surface, but for most of us they are actually disrespectful attacks on our character. They cut deeply into our self-esteem, but we can rise above it by holding our head high and having respect for ourselves and each other.
Remember that respect is a two-way street and you have to give as well as receive it. Respect each other’s rights to disagree. Assume from the outset that your partner is sincere in his or her remarks, and accept them for what they are: opinions and feelings you don’t necessarily agree with.
If people are arguing because of hurtful comments, they don’t know how to talk with each other like adults.
Briefly, it is this: You recognize that, as you grow older, you are no longer the child who could be scolded and punished for your disobedience to rules that have been made for your protection. You have come of age; you are now a “working” partner in the family business.
The Impact of Negative Words: How Words Destroy Your Relationship
Now that we’ve discussed the proper way to respond, let’s talk about how negative words – criticism, harshness, and anger – can destroy trust in your marriage.
This video is the Top 10 quotes on the power of words. I especially like #7.
Courtesy of Prabakaran Thirumalai
Remember that words have power. They can be used to destroy, as well as to create. You don’t have to be a psychologist or a counselor to know that people tend to repeat the experiences that they’ve had in their youth; over and over again, because they didn’t learn how to deal with them…
…And many of us were taught by our parents (or other authority figures) how not to deal with our feelings rather than how to deal with them. We then took this negative lesson into adult relationships, and the result is unhealthy communication patterns we took years to develop.
The Negative Impact of Criticism, Harshness, and Anger
Here are some ideas on how negative words affect your relationship. They tear down the structure of trust and respect that can hold a marriage together. If you don’t think that’s true, think back to the last time you were upset about something your partner said to you or didn’t say to you, and ask yourself if the argument brought you closer or drove you apart.
When you criticize, you blame. And when you blame, it feels like you’re putting the other person on trial. The tendency is that they will feel they have to defend themselves and thus, your argument is just beginning. This approach fosters an atmosphere of guilt, shame, and defensiveness (which are nonproductive in any interaction.)
In addition, when you criticize your partner his or her immediate thought is: “What’s wrong with me?” When he or she turns the question around on themselves this way, a self-defeating attitude takes over.
“Am I really that bad? Am I a total failure? If my partner thinks so then maybe it’s true. Maybe I should just give up.” This inner dialogue can become so powerful it leads to depression and loss of self-esteem. How can love survive in a relationship where this is going on? It can’t.
Criticism Engenders a Sense of Defeat and Apathy
When you criticize, your partner gets the message that you don’t love them because they aren’t good enough as they are. In fact, criticism is a form of rejection or abandonment. When your partner feels rejected, he or she will love less and care less about the relationship as well as his or her feelings.
Criticism creates an “I’ll show them” attitude that breeds resentment and anger in your partner. It is a way of retaliating and getting back at you for your unpleasant attitude. It is also a way of saying, “You have defeated me.”
When your partner feels defeated and inadequate, they lose the ability to love passionately. Their life force, their desire to change old patterns and move forward fades away into apathy.
Criticism kills love in your relationship because it makes your partner feel unlovable. If they feel unlovable, they don’t have much reason to love you or stay in the relationship if they can’t get love from you. Love needs to be reciprocated in order for it to survive and flourish; otherwise, it dies out.
Criticism also engenders a feeling of betrayal in your partner because we are all naturally sensitive to criticism and feel a sense of being attacked. When this happens our first instinct is to defend and fight back.
…Then we try harder, do better, and end up feeling overwhelmingly inadequate. The goal was to make your partner like you more; instead, you’ve become even more unlikable. The result is a deepening sense of betrayal and disappointment with your spouse and yourself. You’ve been in a downward spiral ever since the criticism began.
Criticizing is a way of pulling away from your partner instead of helping you to feel closer and more secure. When you criticize, you’re proving that you can’t be trusted. If you can’t be trusted, why should your partner want to get close to you? Why didn’t he or she listen and do what you wanted in the first place?
Harshness Says ‘Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter’
Harshness is a way of punishing your partner for being the way he or she is. When one person punishes another for not being perfect it says “I don’t love who and what you are,” not “I wish for more perfection. “
Harshness is a weapon that can be used by a parent, a partner or anyone in authority over you. If he or she is critical and belittling, it’s a form of child abuse.
In addition, when the tables are turned and you take on the role of harsh critic it says “I don’t love who and what you are.” And once again, it makes your partner feel inadequate and unlovable. If you are harsh with each other, the love between you is in big danger of dying.
Anger: The Ultimate Form of Resentment
It’s important to distinguish ‘healthy anger’ from unhealthy anger. Anger is a common emotion, but it becomes deadly when it is based on a lack of respect and honor. If you are angry because you despise someone,
The most powerful way to hurt someone emotionally is to be angry with him or her. A person who is angry doesn’t see their partner as a human being. They see their partner as “the enemy.”
When anger takes over, all dignity is gone and it’s impossible to have a civil conversation. Angry people make irrational statements and negative assumptions because they are projecting blame instead of accepting responsibility for their own feelings and actions.
Where To Find Help
Are you ready to shift out of your negative communication pattern? You don’t have to figure out how to communicate and have a loving relationship by yourself. There are many good books, articles, and other resources on how to do this.
Final Thoughts on Hurtful Words
When your spouse says hurtful things you have a decision to make about how you will respond. We outlined three possible responses, plus explored how negative words break trust in marriage.
Criticism, harshness, and anger erode the foundations of a healthy relationship. There are tools that can help you reclaim your marriage and work toward building a solid foundation of trust.
Recap of what was covered:
- Your First Reaction To Hurtful Words: How Should You Respond?
- The Impact of Negative Words: How Words Destroy Your Relationship
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