Have you ever been on a call, had things calmed down, and then another officer shows up and “stirs the pot” all over again? Maybe you are the officer that gets things calm, or maybe you’re the one that shows up and pours fuel on the fire to get things going all over again. One thing is certain: our tone of voice, choice of words, and overall demeanor affect the outcome of those situations.
When I joined the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), a team for response to mental health crisis calls, I was trained to use verbal de-escalation techniques. Mostly everyone learned some form of “verbal judo” in the academy. Some officers may like a good fight, but I prefer to talk my way out of volatile situations.
Someone once told me that when we approach conflict (and officers do every day), we are carrying two buckets. One bucket contains water, and the other contains gasoline. We decide which bucket we will pour on the fire of conflict.
The point is that we have a choice as to how we will respond to any given situation. The words we choose, the tone of voice we use, and our overall objective matter in determining whether we have a positive or negative outcome.
The same goes for our marriages. I find it very interesting that King Solomon, identified in the Bible as perhaps the wisest person other than Jesus to ever have lived, talks in Proverbs 18 about the power of the tongue and the treasure of finding a spouse in consecutive verses.
“Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction. The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences. The man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the LORD.” (Proverbs 18:20-22 NLT)
Read what Dr. Su Vining, a subject matter expert with over 30 years of experience has to say about the power of words:
As an elementary school teacher for over 30 years, the use of nursery rhymes is a developmentally appropriate educational tool in early childhood years. However, there is one rhyme I never use as a teaching tool. You know it well. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I avoid the saying, because it is so untrue. All of us have had the experience of being wounded by words. As a strong marriage advocate and conference speaker, the audience to which I present can rest assured that I will never quote that rhyme as truth.
Words spoken carelessly, words spoken angrily, and words spoken thoughtfully; all contain power. In our marriage context, what can our words do? Although our words can do so many things, a highlighted list of their power reveals some of their potential.
Our words can wound; our words can heal.
Our words can comfort; our words can grieve.
Our words can inspire; our words can destroy.
Our words can build up; our words can tear down.
Our words can encourage; our words can discourage.
Our words can give insight; our words can confuse.
Our words can provide correction; our words can condemn.
As marriage partners, we may often underestimate the power of our words. Through the years, I have been amazed at how many couples harbor deep scars, disappointments, and bitterness, all caused by words. In addition to the pain our words may cause our marriage partner, our words often have an audience. Children hear our tone and words, imitating what they hear. Would you want your child to repeat what you said today?
Our words can set the tone for our homes and relationships. Calmly spoken words can promote a feeling of peace and a haven for calm. Angry words, carelessly spoken in unhealthy tones can depict a sense of chaos and tension.
So what can we do to ensure our words have positive impacts on our marriage and family?
First of all, we must recognize that our words have power.
Secondly, we can look for ways to affirm our partner. Each day, with deliberate intent, speak words of affirmation and edification. Our friends, David and Teresa Ferguson, ponder the events of each week to ascertain what events can be celebrated and what situations should be mourned. In doing so, they are assured that neither partner celebrates or mourns alone.
Thirdly, carefully choose words that are “acceptable in His sight.” If our words are acceptable to God the Father, then they will have a positive impact on those in our circle of influence.
Have my words been acceptable to God and uplifting to my spouse?
Have I been hurt by words from my parents, spouse, or others?
Have I allowed my work in law enforcement to affect the way I talk to my spouse or children?