The Power of Words

communication marriage mental health parenting personal growth relationships Apr 11, 2023
The Power of Words

Most couples who come for marriage counseling initially report experiencing very low levels of marital satisfaction. One couple I worked with told me at their first session that they had already planned to divorce, but thought they owed it to their children to try counseling.  

The couple admitted that the majority of their conversations were filled with sarcasm, criticism, and other negative forms of communication and neither one could stand the hurt and anger any longer.  

I suggested a challenge: Refrain from all negative comments and interactions for two weeks. The plan was that if they started to argue or fight, one or both needed to call a time, respectfully step out of the conflict, and focus on cooling down emotionally.   

Two weeks later both reported they had reduced their negative comments and conflict by at least 75 percent. They were pleased with the change – especially for their children – but they didn’t really feel any differently about each other. I wasn’t surprised. After all, one could hardly expect the loving feelings to return after just two weeks; but the relational environment was being prepared for improvement. 

Over the next few months, I encouraged the couple to continue resisting negative comments and destructive arguments, and to also consciously begin increasing positive interactions by expressing constructive and loving words in the form of compliments and affirmation several times per day. 

By the end of four months the couple’s level of marital satisfaction went from a two and a three on a 10-point scale to solid eights. It wasn’t that they had resolved all of their disagreements because they didn’t. Nor did they eliminate all of their annoying behaviors or acquire all new positive behaviors. But they had come from the brink of divorce to actually enjoying being together! This set the stage for them to have respectful conversations about the issues in their marriage. 

The key for this couple – and for most couples – is that they learned how to plug the gaping holes in their emotional tanks by significantly decreasing the negativity and consciously refueling with life-giving words of encouragement and affirmation. 

When a person’s emotional tank is depleted, they are genuinely in pain, which makes it extremely difficult to demonstrate love and respect by accepting the differences and extending grace and forgiveness to another person – especially if that person is the one draining the tank.  

If you are in pain due to an empty emotional tank and your level of conflict or isolation is increasing, I challenge you to begin plugging the hole today by eliminating negativity from your communication. Next, give your partner a sincere compliment or genuine expression of appreciation three to four times per day. If you take this challenge, I can guarantee that in time you will both begin to feel more energized and committed once again to nurturing your marriage. 

Remember, there is tremendous power in your words – power to fill and energize as well as power to drain and deplete. Would you rather be married to someone with an empty tank who is angry, irritable, and quick to criticize you, or someone with a full tank, who can handle life with a good attitude and appreciate you? You have the power in your words, starting right now. Which kind of marriage will you choose? 

Live, Work and Relate Well! 

Dr. Todd   

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