Oh, My Word!

"Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me."

I can remember repeating that phrase as a child if someone said something to hurt my feelings.  It wasn't until I was grown that I realized how false the saying really is.  Words are powerful!  They can hurt, or they can bring healing to relationships.  It seems sometimes we use them like arrows when we are fighting, hoping to defend ourselves by throwing words that sting, wound, and eventually damage what we hold most dear. 

In the heat of the moment, when we feel hurt, angry, or dismissed during conflict with a loved one, it seems that the words just come pouring out as we react instead of responding.  It may be helpful to slow ourselves down, to calm and self-soothe and then go back to the conversation.  When we are overwhelmed with emotion it is difficult to think, express ourselves, and receive information from others.  Taking a break from conflict is not necessarily conflict avoidance if it is a temporary time-out to give our self the time we need to come back to the discussion with the best chance of expressing our needs and wants in a way that the message can be received. 

Blaming, accusing language has a tendency to shut down conversation instead of fostering resolution of an issue.  Be careful to express your concerns using "I" instead of 'You" statements.  For example, if you want to express your disappointment that your partner has to work late, instead of saying something like, "You work all the time- you never spend any time with me", 
a softer approach that more clearly communicates your feelings may be "I really miss spending time with you when you have to work late.  Could we plan some time together soon?"  The second "I" statement may draw your partner near instead of sparking a conflict. 

We all mess up and say things that we regret at times.  A heartfelt apology goes a long way to repairing the damage, but if the angry, hurtful words continue, over time the apologies ring empty.  An intentional effort to be mindful of how we talk to our loved ones is important, and can make a difference in the closeness you each feel. 

One book I recommend to couples for improving communication is The Power of Two by Susan Heitler. 

"Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble."  Yehuda Berg