As Christian Clifton searches for the right words in his marriage, he learns the way they can destroy and heal.
She sits silently in the other room, not even looking at me when I walk past. I make the same unnecessary trip to the restroom several times hoping to at least catch her eye. I said the wrong thing and now here we are.
There are no smiles, no loving glances filling the room right now. We promised to love each other forever, a task she is rather brave to take on—for I can be pretty unlovable—and now my own stupidity has made it a little harder. If only I would learn to keep my mouth shut.
I was poking fun at her for a movie she was watching; one joke was ok, two was fine, but I didn’t quite get the message when enough was enough. I went a step too far and ended up making her upset.
Throughout it all, we have both made a commitment to continually learn to love each other better, never ceasing in our desire for more wisdom about the other. Just like my formal education, there are times I get some extra praise for a job well done and there are moments of fear as the red ink makes my assignment bleed.
The moment above was recent and there’s a capital F right now that’s glaring at me menacingly. I had failed her, failed us. Instead of being a loving and respecting husband I was a childish fool who took a joke too far.
My wife and I have been married for over two years now. This might not seem like a lot to some but we have seen some miles in those two years. Our relationship has never been defined by extremely calm circumstances, even our friendship started within a crucible of character. It still feels like yesterday we when I was almost forgetting to say “I do” because I was lost in her eyes, and yet there are times when it’s easy to forget our marriage is still young.
My vows may have been recently uttered, but I have had some amazing opportunities to learn in these few years. One of the best lessons I have learned is that my words carry far more power than I ever expected.
I don’t often get my feathers ruffled by words, at least I try not to and so it is easy for me to forget the ability that words can have. My wife and I have senses of humor that aren’t always congruent and a joke to me can quickly become a knife to her. Cutting right to the bone in her weakest areas, my words can wreak havoc or they can be a force of healing and safety.
Saying the right thing at the right time can be a pretty great feeling, making someone feel better is always welcome in my heart. However I have learned that it isn’t always about having the perfect phrase for the moment. I now know that one of the most profound phrases that can be uttered in my marriage, or any marriage for that matter, is “I’m wrong”. In moments of pain caused by yours truly my wife might expect me to defend my actions, trying to make amends by reasoning out why she shouldn’t be so upset. I could easily turn in upon her and blame her—after all I was just joking. Instead, I have found that when I make a mistake it is far more beneficial to admit fault and hope forgiveness can follow. A few words uttered in humility can be far more valuable than the best defense in the world.
There have been plenty of times when the distress has nothing to do with me. Thankfully, I am not always the cause of my wife’s hurt or frustration. These moments bring another challenge that differs greatly than when I am at fault. I have a very delicate choice to make when these times come.
My natural reaction is to try and fix a situation that makes my wife upset. I want to say or do the right thing; I want to find a solution. With some of the circumstances of life this isn’t always possible.
I’ve learned something that feels counterintuitive: Often, the best possible action is one of inaction. Instead of trying to say the right thing and mumbling words that at best make no difference and at worst make the situation worse, there is a value to silence. Sometimes hurt just needs to be felt and frustration worked out without a sound from someone else. These times can be harder to determine but saying nothing when nothing is needed can be truly powerful.
However, there is a fine line to walk as silence applied inappropriately speaks volumes that I may never intend. If a desire for words is met with silence there can be unintentional meaning. A lack of voice can be perceived as saying plenty.
This is in no way a complaint about my wife, rather I write this to thank her. In learning to love her, I have become better equipped to love others as well. Learning what and when to speak is something that carries great power in any relationship.
Words, or the lack thereof, carry more power than I ever imagined. Used incorrectly, disaster may follow, but if used appropriately words grant healing and comfort. Do not neglect the power that exists within our vocabularies, use it wisely. Do not let ignorance destroy a relationship.
Make sure you are willing to say “I’m wrong” when you are, saving face is never worth more than your relationship. Be prepared to give condolence when it is necessary, you don’t have to have the answer but rather sitting quietly and being a shoulder can be more help than anything. However, don’t think that not speaking is an easy way out of an argument, your lack of words can say what you never intended. I hope there are those out there who will learn more quickly than I did and avoid some awkward moments in the future.