At the start of a fight, pause: choose love.
Pause: choose love. Seems simple enough and yet how many times do we fail over and over again. Why is it that in the midst of an argument, this is especially hard to do?
“No human being can tame the tongue - a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:8.
I came across this verse in my bible study recently and it really hit me. I couldn’t help but think how relevant it is to our most intimate relationships. According to James, our inability to tame our tongue is part of our flawed nature. But this doesn’t let us off the hook! If anything, because our tongue is “full of deadly poison” and can be used to hurt our spouses, this should give us more of a reason to learn some tips to fight this struggle. This doesn’t mean to hold our feelings in either. So what are we to do whenever we have something important to say?
Christians believe that the most powerful tool we have to tame our tongue is to invoke the words of the Holy Spirit. Others have also found it helpful to take deep breaths or count to ten. What’s different about using these tools verses lashing out? The former are choices; the latter is a reaction, often driven by a cycle that many couples get caught up in. These reactionary cycles leave couples stuck in the same pattern they always get stuck in. They can look different for different couples - some fall into the trap of “I criticize and you angrily defend”; others align more with “you attack and I withdraw”. These are just a few examples and a very brief explanation of them, but what’s important to see is how they always leave partners feeling afterwards. The end result is usually the same - the poisonous words have been said and both partners feel hurt, angry, and uncared for. So how do we prevent this from happening? How do we tame our tongue?
Pause: choose love. When we allow ourselves to pause, we are able to CHOOSE how we respond. Pausing is hard, especially when these cycles are so engrained in our relationships. That’s what makes it a cycle - we fall victim to the same dance over and over again. For instance, if I feel blamed or criticized by my partner, without thinking, I go into defense mode. By working with our partner (and a marriage counselor if necessary), we can become aware of these cycles. Once we know they’re happening, we can call the cycle out in the moment (I.e., “I think we’re caught in one of those cycles again where I yell to get you to hear me and you feel attacked and have to defend yourself”). Calling out the cycle pauses it. It allows you to step out of it for a moment. You become the narrator in a sense, and not the actors in a play. This gives you a second to choose love instead of throwing poison on your lover. And when you choose love instead of poison, there’s a greater chance that your spouse will do the same.
Our words are powerful; they have the ability to kill our marriage or to nurture it. So when you find yourself upset and you want your partner so badly to understand why, remember, pause: choose love.