When things get heated, be more kind.
All of us have seen that our words can be that “spark” that sets the whole forest on fire, as the Bible puts it. And I’m guessing that when you or I are at odds with a friend or colleague and having an intense “discussion,” we are usually very mindful of what we say. When things suddenly get heated, we try to be careful about how we phrase things, so we don’t start that fire unnecessarily. Right?
So let me ask the next question: when something happens with our spouse and things suddenly get heated, how many of us skip the “careful” step and go right into burning the forest down?
One woman told me that she snapped at her husband five times in a row within a one-hour span while they were disagreeing on some home renovations. (“Well, if you would have read the instructions, we wouldn’t have to do it over!”) And he finally looked at her and said, “If you were in the middle of a disagreement over a project at work, would you have said any of those things to your colleagues?”
Because we love our spouse, it is so easy to let our guard down. Which is good. That is as it should be. But unfortunately, all too often, our next step is that we take our spouse for granted. We take intimacy for license. We subconsciously think, “We’re married, we don’t have to be polite to each other.” It’s easy to fall into that way of thinking — but it’s poisonous to the relationship.
In research I have done with really happy couples, I’ve noticed something quite different: a high degree of kindness. Especially when they knew they might otherwise snap or snarl. One of the things that made them so happy was that they were especially careful of their spouse’s feelings.
They could be transparent, they could argue (or, as one wife put it, “We have intense marital fellowship”), and they certainly shared tough things that needed to be said… but that is also when they were purposeful about being kind in the words and tone of voice they used. They actively tried to not say things in a way that their mate would perceive as hurtful.
So what should you do the next time you are in the middle of “intense marital fellowship” and you find yourself about to say something that may be honest but is also likely to be hurtful? First, hold your tongue! Think about how you can communicate what you need to honestly, but with kindness and grace instead of bluntness and rancor.
Tell your wife what a great mom she is, before you tackle the fact that she let the kids go way over on their expensive data use again this month. When you’re tempted to growl at your husband because he forgot to pick up Johnny at practice and you had to skip your big meeting to go get him, make sure you also say how much you appreciate your husband’s efforts.
And don’t stop if your efforts are one-sided at first. Kindness is catching. While there is no guarantee, if you decide to be kind in the hard times, no matter what, you’ll probably see your spouse become convicted by their comparatively grouchy behavior. They will, in most cases, want to be kind, too.
Bottom line: The kinder you are, even in the tough things, the more your relationship will be a safe place, where you can be yourself. Because each spouse will be able to trust the other to be their kindest self.
Don't give up on your marriage. It is worth the effort and investment. If you feel like your marriage is struggling, or even failing, there is hope. There is healing.