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Before you say anything, picture the words you want to say to your husband or wife coming out of your mouth–and then sticking them on a nearby wall. How do they sound in-transit? What do they look like once you see them stuck there?
Most of us need to pause once in a while and dip the paintbrush of life into a can of gentleness and kindness and spread them over our choice of words, tone of voice, and attitude.
When we live with someone we can often get snarky, grumpy, complaining, whiny… or ungrateful, ornery, and critical. THEY really should shape up and do better!
The Baha’i teachings, which emphasize love and unity, have some excellent advice for anyone who has the urge to speak critically to their partner:
Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation. As to its influence, this is conditional upon refinement which in turn is dependent upon hearts which are detached and pure. As to its moderation, this hath to be combined with tact and wisdom as prescribed in the Holy Scriptures and Tablets.
Every word is endowed with a spirit, therefore the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible. …It behoveth a prudent man of wisdom to speak with utmost leniency and forbearance so that the sweetness of his words may induce everyone to attain that which befitteth man’s station. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 172-173.
Marriage requires a large application of empathy, compassion, and acceptance. We can encourage each other with affirming and influencing words to make new or different choices. But when we use the more negative and condemning words, our spouse can often become much less likely to want to change, or make changes that work long-term. If he or she slaps on a coat of shiny green paint in resentment and anger, we might like the color for a brief while, but it will be hard to live with over time.
Have you ever tried to take back words you’ve said in haste, anger or negativity? Sometimes a scraper, sandpaper, or dynamite can’t remove their substance or the resulting hurt. Sometimes attempts to fix the problem just leave a big hole in the wall.
Ever notice that you usually have a little voice inside your head (or heart) that says, “Don’t open your mouth and say anything.” You might hear your mother’s voice alongside it saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” Still, the words come out. Maybe it will help if you picture the words floating around in a paint can in a swirl of love. By the time you stir them up and pick up your paintbrush, they might come out as kind and caring words instead of harsh ones.
The Baha’i teachings offer wonderful, spiritual advice along these lines, like this short admonition:
One of the best ways to increase the loving feelings in your spouse’s heart involves seeing them doing something good and letting them know how much you appreciate it. When you can be specific, the affirmation works even better. When you also put in positive words about their character, your marriage just might look more like a successful remodeling project (I call this using “Character Quality Language”). Here are some examples:
“Honey, you did such an excellent job of hanging the new door. I really appreciate that we now have privacy when we need it.”
“It was very thoughtful and caring of you to drop lunch off at the office for me. I needed to eat well before my meeting, and I just forgot it sitting on the counter.”
“You really rock! It is helping the whole vacation go better because you persevered through getting all these great deals.”
“I noticed how gentle you were with our son when he made a mistake yesterday. Thank you.”
Talking this way may feel a bit awkward or uncomfortable at first… like when you move a piece of furniture to a new location, and you keep going to sit in the old place. When you practice a bit, though, you’ll see that successfully remodeling your marriage can go much deeper than just a coat of paint.
Marriage strengthening through an online course “Creating a Fortress for Well-Being and Salvation” is available through the Wilmette Institute for couples in the early years of marriage. Read more information on the course’s webpage. The discount code is BT20. It will give people a 20% discount when they pay.