The saying "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." just simply isn't true. Taming the tongue can be difficult, but the tongue has power to speak life or death in your marriage.
The Power of the Tongue
We must make no mistake about it: our tongue, though one of the smaller parts of our body, is one of the most powerful forces for good or evil in our marriage.
Indeed, the book of Proverbs teaches us that “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21a).
Consider that carefully: our tongue has the power to destroy or to give life; to curse or to bless; to tear down or to build up. And chances are the person that will feel that power most keenly – whether for evil or for good – is our spouse!
The Deadly Use of the Tongue
Just as one small spark may ignite an entire forest on fire, in the book of James we are taught that our tongue, which is one small part of our body, is similarly capable of wreaking much destruction:
“Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire ... It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire” (James 3:5b-6).
The destructive power of the tongue is confirmed by the book of Proverbs, which states that “reckless words pierce like a sword” (Proverbs 12:18a).
What this means in our marriages is that we are capable of using our tongue as a weapon of destruction, piercing our spouse with our words and cutting him or her down to the ground.
The Life-giving Use of the Tongue
But the tongue also has tremendous potential for good.
“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).
“The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life” (Proverbs 15:4a).
A tree of life! Few things are more encouraging to us than words of affirmation, especially from those closest to us like our spouse.
When my wife and I were first married, we had the privilege of spending time with other couples.
One thing that really stuck out to us about one of these couples was that they never missed an opportunity to praise the other in public. This was not done for show: you could tell that they were genuinely thankful for one another and that they were sincere in the things that they said about each other.
It was a wonderful model to us of using your tongues in marriage in the way that God intended: to build up, not to tear down; to bless, not to curse; to give life, not to destroy.
Having a Tongue of Life
At some point or another we have all said these words: “I wish I wouldn’t have said that.”
No one wants a tongue of death, especially towards the person that we have pledged our lives to in marriage. So how do we have tongues of life and blessing instead of tongues of death and destruction?
Here are some practical steps to consider.
Take time to really listen to your spouse
Let everyone be “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19).
The simple fact is that many of our most cutting words are spoken either because we have misunderstood our spouse and are responding in anger, or simply because we do not listen at all and respond in anger.
The problem is that we have been quick to speak and slow to listen. This is a fail-proof recipe for a tongue of death. It calls for repentance and sincere prayer for the Lord’s help to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.
Be thankful for your spouse
Having a thankful heart and attitude towards our spouse is one of the most effective means of having a tongue of life, for when we are thankful we will be quick to praise and to thank our spouse and build them up with our words.
Having a thankful heart, however, could mean an attitude shift on our part. What often happens in marriage is that we begin to take the positive aspects of our spouses for granted – you know, those aspects that made you want to marry him or her in the first place! – and focus instead upon the negative aspects.
Having a thankful heart will mean looking for the good in your spouse, focusing on the ways in which they are a blessing to you, and thanking them for it!
Pray for and actively seek out a wise couple
Find a couple who will model what it means to build your spouse up and encourage him or her.
“He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20).
My wife and I were greatly blessed by the time we spent with Greg and Kimberley early on in our marriage. We were “walking with the wise” and it began to rub off on us. If you do not have a good “marriage mentor” start praying for one today!