mouth Photo by jdurham; courtesy of

When we say I do we should also say, I won’t—I won’t use my words to hurt my spouse. Infidelity, addictions, and other major destructive behaviors can inflict mortal wounds on a marriage. But perhaps the greatest source of damage on relationships is the seemingly less harmful ones, particularly the cuts to the heart made through unkind speech.

Sharp words creep into a relationship gradually, then habitually. No one tries to win the heart of another this way, yet, when the relationship seems sure and becomes routine, critical words often show up.

It could be too little sleep or too much stress that shortens a fuse and begets angry words. Or irritation and disagreement often leads to venting. An apology and the resolve to take greater care in the future could set things right again. Yet, for many, the irritations and criticisms become common and malignant, slowly leaching away at the store of good feelings upon which they had pledged their undying love.

Interview with Fr. Gary Benz

In an interview with Fr. Gary Benz, Pastor of Queen of the Most Holy Rosary church n Stanley, ND, he noted that in spite of marriage problems being blamed on a lack of communication, he witnesses something else. “In our time, a staple of advice given to married couples is the need to communicate,” he said. “You have to talk to each other; you have to communicate daily.” However, he noted that often, the problem is not so much a lack of communication, but too much negative communication.

“Married couples, I find, do talk to each other, but they are saying the wrong things,” he said. “They put one another down; they constantly point out one another's faults; they make selfish demands; they tell their spouse to be quiet; or they bombard their spouse with words of anger or disdain. Yes, technically, these are forms of communication, but they do little good within married life.”

According to Fr. Benz, communication in marriage should be rooted in love. “Saint Paul reminds Christians, including married couples, in his First Letter to the Corinthians that love is kind; it is not arrogant; it is not rude; it is not irritable; it is not resentful; etc.” He said that true communication in marriage is to communicate like Christ, who is love.

“Jesus' words to us are always kind, loving, merciful, good, and gentle,” Fr. Benz said. “Couples must imitate this Christ-like way of communication. In doing so, they will have great peace and love within marriage and some day when their spouse passes from this life, they will live with no regrets."

Harsh Words Don’t Fix Problems

We don’t need surveys to tell us, or counseling to show us: negative comments evoke negative feelings. Was there ever a time that someone’s harsh words expanded our feelings of love towards them? Did impatience or criticism ever make us happier in our marriage? Of course not. In return, we should consider that speaking unkindly or angrily at our spouse is a choice to weaken the relationship. Whatever the problem, verbal lashing out is not the solution. Nor does responding in kind when the other starts it, ever make things better. A spouse is less likely to see the error in their ways when their partner lashes back. Instead, the end result is two people hurling word bombs between them and anger rather than love being used as ammunition.

Using the mouth as a weapon is not always apparent. Women sharing complaints about their husbands often view their activity as mere entertainment among friends rather than disrespecting the dignity of their husbands. Or husbands, making fun of their wives for one reason or another may think it’s just being manly.

Comparing, belittling, complaining, criticizing…the urges can emanate in part from family-of-origin modeling, but in the end, the words we chose are from our own mouths and thus our own responsibility. We can sow love or sow discontent with our words but either way, we will reap the harvest.

Copyright 2015 Patti Maguire Armstrong
Image Credit: jdurham courtesy of morgue