superglue-mouth-shut

A few years ago, my husband and I attended a lovely marriage retreat in the Georgia mountains. Even after thirty-two years of marriage Steve and I like to get a way and make time to discuss life. The food was fabulous and the serene countryside setting offered tranquility. The comfy king-sized bed and thoughtfully packaged chocolates on the pillow made the travel worthwhile!

For the first time in 6 weeks I was grateful to have a broken ankle. It gave us the perfect excuse to bow out of the, “Learn-to-trust- your–spouse-by –bungee- jumping” exercise.

We took a nap.

But bliss was short lived. When the main sessions restarted the topic turned to, “How do you use words? Are you an encourager or a critical mate?”

I cringed.

My parents divorced when I was 8. It was horrible and left deep wounds and fears to my heart and soul.

As I grew into womanhood I learned how to effectively use words as an assault weapon to protect me from anyone who got too close. Sharp, critical comments worked well to keep people away from my traumatized and fragmented heart. I now know it’s a very common response for those who have experienced deep emotional pain.  The thought process is, “I’ll get you, before you get me,” tactic. The method is intimidatingly effective—and nauseating.

I view my critical tongue as my greatest flaw. I’ve worked hard to change. But I also know I haven’t managed a total victory.

So when it came time during the retreat to discuss whether I’m still critical, I hoped Steve would say I was doing better. But I could tell by his body language that wasn’t what he was going to say. He reluctantly shared that I still wound him with my words sometimes, and that it hurt.

Immediately, the dreaded self-flagellation began. Once again I heard that familiar little voice in my head that can’t wait to chant, “Laura, you will never overcome this. You are going to be a nitpicking nag the rest of your life. No matter how hard you try, or what method you use, you are a failure. Your husband would be better off married to someone else. You call yourself a Christian, what a joke.”

I could feel the failure causing me to emotionally sink. My first response was, “Just give up, Laura.” That was my normal thought pattern. Any victory I had over the years seemed to dissolve. My childhood induced self-hatred was back, like a beast lurking in the closet waiting to ambush my mind.

But then something different occurred. I choose to capture those discouraging thoughts, and hold onto them for a moment, instead of allowing them to run rampant. My mind started to shift and instead of allowing them to ignite the “Laura is a pitiful failure” flames, I chose to ask God to help me think. I thought of new ways that might work to improve. These are the fresh insights that emerged:

Opposite Observations

Often the things that my husband views as criticism I perceive as merely being helpful. This is rooted in the differences in our upbringing. I had to take into account that Steve and I were raised very differently. His stay-at-home mom didn’t raise her voice or become aggressive. I was raised in a home where it was normal on both sides of the family (Italian and Irish) to shout and speak brusquely. It’s important for a wife to realize that part of the problem might be what we asses as normal communication, our spouse may perceive as criticism.

Retrain the Brain

I recognized that before words come out of my mouth they first float through my brain. If I could tackle them there, before blurting them out—I could find resolution. This was no easy task for someone who as a child could talk, I mean BIG words, before she had any desire to walk. (My mother says I was so cute, and lazy, that everyone wanted to pick me up. And it was fine by me!) I had to ask God to help me learn to retrain my brain. The key is to pause, slow down, and think before speaking—what a concept! Now, I work hard to think before sending a verbal missile from the launching pad.

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 12:18

WHY, WHY, WHY?

A crucial step toward healing a mouthy mouth is to ponder—Why?  Have you ever wondered why you say the things you do? “What do I get out of this? What is my motive? Is it working?” Part of my progress included evaluating the why. I realized my big mouth was not taking me where I wanted to go. Although it might feel good in the moment, was I winning the battle but losing the war? I discovered it was vital to evalutate—Is it necessary to say that? Will it help to resolve the issue? Or do I merely want to attack?

Verbal Victory

It was crucial for me to remember the times when I have tamed my tongue. Those moments, that Steve knew nothing about, when something critical was about to spew out of my mouth and I asked the Holy Spirit to help me stop.  I’m so busy beating myself up over my verbal failures, that I often forget the things I’ve done right.

Although I have not fully mastered my tongue, I do deserve a bit of grace. I was raised a New York Italian, and came by it naturally. However, I am much better.

Let God teach you how to tame your tongue and effectively communicate.

Be in command of the words that leave your lips, instead of letting emotions dictate the lyrics. Weighing words carefully, can prevent future regret and shame.

That’s victory, Sister. And emancipation from the tyranny of the tongue.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved.