Communication Habit #1: Always speak about your spouse in an honoring way
When I speak on relationships, I often explain the 30-Day Kindness Challenge—a simple, evidence-based process for improving any relationship (with a spouse, child, colleague, etc.). And in the process, I often see just how needed this particular habit actually is.
I first explain to the audience that part of the Challenge is to not say anything negative about the person with whom they want a better relationship. People usually nod in agreement. But when I clarify: “You don’t say anything negative either to that person or about that person to someone else,” a groan usually sweeps the room. Because the listeners realize just how often they share frustrations about this person with others.
By far the most dangerous example of this is when we “vent” about our spouse. Why? Well, there are several reasons, including the rather obvious one of giving those around you a negative view of the person you’re going to be married to for the rest of your life! But one of my readers captured a much more important reason in a recent post: “My marital advice is to never speak badly about your spouse to others. It’s not good for your heart. And your words, even if in venting or frustration, can become your thoughts and feelings.”
Read that last sentence again. Whatever you focus on and talk about with regard to your spouse will steer your feelings about your spouse. Either toward the positive—or the negative.
We have bought into a myth that “venting” a little steam is harmless—even helpful. But researchers, including Dr. Brad Bushman at Ohio State University, have discovered that far from making us feel better, a little bit of complaining actually activates an interconnected anger system in the brain. It increases angst. Instead of venting steam we are turning up the heat under the pot.
Now, this doesn’t mean we should pull back from seeking support and advice. In fact, being in fellowship with others we can talk to is crucial. But it does mean we have to be very honest with ourselves about the motivation behind those conversations: Is it to get encouraging advice that will support our marriage and ideally help us fall more in love with our spouse? Or is it for the guilty pleasure of rolling our eyes and saying, “you won’t believe what happened the other day”? The former is vital—while the latter will only hurt us and our marriage.
As one man wrote in, “My bit of wisdom is this: Honor your spouse in public. Esteem him or her. Years ago, my pastor told us: ‘My wife is not perfect. But you will never hear about that from me. Love covers a multitude of sins.’ We committed to each other that we would always honor each other with our words. And we have.”