By May Patterson, Crosswalk.com
Once our three children tried to “help our goldfish grow” by squirting lotion into her bowl. When we found “Strawberry” (the fish had an unlikely name) floating upside down in her (his?) bowl, the kids burst into tears.
They wailed as I scooped the fish out with a net and put it in a little box. Then I cleaned the filthy bowl, gave the kids a bath, and put them down for a nap. While they slept, I removed the slimy lotion they had applied to multiple bathroom surfaces and mopped the bathroom floor.
As I cleaned, I thought about crying, too . . . not for the fish, but for all the trouble it had caused.
Just then, my husband called and asked, “How’s it going?”
“Fine,” I said, shaking my head.
“Good. I’m meeting with a client all day, so I may be late for dinner. Can you save me plate?”
“Okay, sure,” I said as I rolled my eyes, thinking, Great, one more person I have to take care of.
The kids woke up irritable, so I suggested they draw pictures of the goldfish. One of the them used an indelible marker and it bled through the paper onto my dining room table. Even though this happened years ago, that big black spot of Sharpie ink is still there.
Later, we had an elaborate goldfish funeral. And the kids cried some more. Supper accidently burned during the funeral.
Afterwards, my husband breezed in, cheerful and upbeat. His meeting had gone well and his client had even taken him to the country club for lunch.
For chilled lobster.
Meanwhile, I was conducting goldfish funerals. Cleaning. Burning dinner. And trying to remove a spot that would never go away.
When he asked: “Where’s my dinner?”
I erupted, yelling: “Nobody appreciates all I do around here!”
Then I ranted about my frustration, exhaustion, and how he didn’t understand. I brought up some old issues from past disagreements and complained about him not cleaning out the garage, yet.
Not long after that argument, I happened to read Ephesians 4:15. Ouch. It was a verse I needed to apply, personally. (Don’t you just love those?) It says: “…speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ.”
I knew God wanted me to speak the truth in love, but how? After many years of trial and error, here’s what I’ve learned.
10 Ways to Speak the Truth in Love:
1. Speak the truth. Always. I should’ve told my husband how my day was going when he called.
Saying “I’m fine” when you’re not fine, isn’t speaking the truth.
2. Don’t yell. I used to think shouting was inevitable part of conflict, but it’s not. It’s a choice. I chose to yell at my husband that day, not because he’s hard of hearing, but because I believed it would relieve my frustration and make him understand. But of course, it didn’t. Here’s why: yelling is a sign of aggression and disrespect. It escalates anger and prevents understanding.
3. Stay on the subject. I used to let old hurts and frustrations creep into new conflicts. But this blocked communication, put my husband on the defensive, and reopened old wounds. When addressing a tough truth, limit the conversation to only that truth. Believe me, getting lost in the “weeds” of old arguments won’t solve the issue, it will only make it worse.
4. Choose your words carefully. Jesus said: “What you say flows from what is in your heart.” (Luke 6:45 NLT) So then, loving thoughts precede loving words. Pausing to think or even to say aloud: “my spouse is the most important person in my life,” helps you treat him or her that way. Harsh words, yelling, and cutting remarks don’t belong in a loving relationship.
5. Cheer, don’t jeer. Ridicule and sarcasm don’t aid communication; they prevent it (been there, done that). When you’re addressing a tough truth, praise can help. Here’s why: it communicates support. It’s like saying: I admire you. You’re capable of doing great things. I want to help you. Your spouse will receive the truth better when he or she feels supported.
6. Own each word. When I’m angry, it’s tempting to blame someone else for what I said. Maybe you can relate. Here’s the truth: no one forces you to say anything—your words are your choice. If you fail to speak in love, then own up to it. Apologize specifically, saying, “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m so sorry.” The dread of having to apologize for every unkind word will motivate you to speak in love.
7. Don’t frown or roll your eyes. Studies show that the human face is extremely expressive. It’s able to communicate multiple emotions without saying a word. Consider looking in a mirror as you talk on the phone. Do you frown, often? Do you roll your eyes? Expressions often speak louder than words, so learn to use your facial expressions to convey love.
8. Make peace a priority. When I unloaded on my husband, peace was not on my agenda—I wanted to yell at him because I’d had bad day. It’s no wonder a battle erupted. The Bible says, “Do your best to live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:8 CEV) So when you speak to your spouse, make keeping the peace a priority.
9. Don’t “should” your spouse. I’ve learned not to say “this is how you should feel” or “this is how you should act.” Here’s why: “shoulding” extends pressure. It makes assumptions about the listener. Nobody wants to be told how to feel or what to do. Instead, tell your spouse: “This is how I feel,” and then be prepared to listen.
10. Seek after God. He can help you. Once I started seeking for the Lord daily, my marriage started to change. My tone became softer and my words grew more positive. I can’t really explain it, but the love of God poured into my life (and my marriage). In fact, God helped me so much, I wrote an entire book on seeking Him. Here’s the truth: we’re not able to speak in love on our own. The more we meet with God, the more power we receive to love.
Speaking the truth in love isn’t easy—especially with your spouse. And if you have failed, you’re certainly not alone. But there is hope. God wants to help you love your spouse well, both in word and in deed. Draw closer to Him. Read His word daily. Use the ideas above. Spend a lot of time in prayer. The Lord can provide the grace, power, and wisdom you need to speak the truth in love, as He does.
May Patterson has been writing and teaching Bible study classes for years. Recently she released her first book, “Seeking a Familiar Face.” Now, she has just released its companion Bible study workbook. May trained in small group dynamics for over ten years with Bible Study Fellowship, serving as a leader for four years. She has written for various magazines including Focus on the Family, Upper Room Magazine and iBelieve, and is a sought-after public speaker. May is married to her dear friend, Mike, and they have three grown children. She loves to tell stories, laugh, and talk about the adventure of seeking God. Read more from May by visiting: http://www.maypatterson.com.
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