The first time I began to wrap my mind around the power of words to transform your marriage, I was sitting in front of our therapist. My wife was next to me, and we were trying to sort through some of the challenges we were facing. Suddenly, she mentioned something I said to her over a decade earlier—and she identified it as the origin of the problem. I was shocked. To me, what I’d said was a throwaway statement. But to her, it was a powerful, hurtful, rhetorical grenade that exploded in the midst of our otherwise happy marriage.
From that day on, I was determined to use my words more intentionally and positively. In marriage, it’s easy to get lazy with your words. But words are powerful. If your marriage is struggling, or even if it isn’t, you can transform your marriage by choosing your words carefully. Here are 5 statements that should become a regular part of your vocabulary.
1. This is what I hear you saying.
We’re constantly translating. Even when the other person is speaking the same language, we’re taking in body language, tone, and context and filtering it all through our own ideas and biases. Because of this, it’s easy to misunderstand each other, especially during a disagreement, when we’re often so focused on defending ourselves that we’re not really listening.
“This is what I hear you saying…” gives you a chance to make sure you’re both on the same page. It allows you to say back to her a summary of how you’re perceiving the conversation and gives her the chance to affirm that you heard her correctly or clarify any misunderstandings.
2. Tell me what you’re thinking and feeling.
We can get so consumed with our day-to-day responsibilities that we’re happy just to get through the day rather than do the hard work of connecting. But connecting is the key to longevity and health. And if we’re going to connect, we have to be willing to slow down and dig in.
A key question you can ask that will transform your marriage is simply, “What are you thinking and feeling?” Of course, if you’re going to ask this question, you need to be prepared to listen. And you need to be willing to take seriously what she says rather than dismiss or ignore it.Learning to ask for forgiveness has the power to transform your marriage.
3. Please forgive me.
Some things are easier to say than others. And while “sorry” is an important word, it’s often inadequate. “Sorry” keeps all the power with you. Sure, it acknowledges that you did something wrong, but it doesn’t create space for your wife to engage with you. Saying “I’m sorry” is one-sided.
That’s why learning to ask for forgiveness has the power to transform your marriage. Why? It empowers your wife to speak into the process. Asking for her forgiveness takes you out of the driver’s seat and gives her the power to say yes or no. While this certainly can draw out a disagreement, it’s much more likely to lead to reconciliation than just saying “I’m sorry.”
4. I love this about you.
As the years go by, you can become a bit numb to what you love about your wife and focus on the things that irritate you. What you once easily overlooked now moves front and center. This is normal, but it can also be deadly.
A simple practice that can transform your marriage is learning to articulate the things you love about her. This takes work. You need to pay attention and you need to be willing to speak up, even if it feels awkward. But choosing to call attention to what your wife does well and what you love about her not only builds her up but also takes your attention off of the negative and puts it on the things that are good.
5. I’m feeling…
While it can be a stereotype, it’s also often true that men struggle to talk about their feelings. We’re happy to discuss our thoughts on a subject, but not so much how we feel. Some of this is the result of cultural ideas of what it means to “be a man,” but it may also be that it wasn’t modeled well for us. Regardless of the reasons, talking about how you’re feeling is difficult for most guys. However, it’s also critical.
Author Brene Brown famously talks about vulnerability as the “birthplace of connection.” If this is true (and I believe it is), then our inability to talk about how we’re feeling creates a barrier to connecting deeply with our wives. If you want to transform your marriage, learn to initiate sharing with your wife how you are feeling, not just what you are thinking.
Share with her: Share this iMOM article with your wife and ask her to discuss it: 5 Fights Worth Picking in Your Marriage.
Sound off: What other statements have you found have the power to transform your marriage?
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What are some good things to say when someone is upset with you?”