I have sat with many couples in crisis. My own marriage experienced a crisis several years ago. There have been successful healing of relationships and some that didn’t make it. Through these experiences some patterns have emerged. From those patterns I have found two words that are powerfully destructive between a husband and wife when used in disagreement and frustration.
There are many cruel things we can say to one another. Lots of names we can call another person that are hurtful. When couples say these things and call each other names, it hurts, and it can be difficult to overcome. However, these two words are so destructive because of what they indicate in the one saying them as much as what they do to the one hearing them.
The two words are – ALWAYS and NEVER.
Now, there is a flipside. These two words do have a positive aspect as well that can be restorative and healthy. I’ll get to that in a moment.
When said from one to another in an argument these words tear down so much. When one spouse looks at the other and says, “You always (fill in the blank),” or “You never (fill in the blank),” what they are really saying is that the other spouse doesn’t measure up. It is a statement of harsh accusation.
Not just accusation, but it also communicates that the one speaking has no belief that the other person can change. It is an accusation without hope which is judgment. It is the same thing as the judge declaring the verdict. A final decision.
When the speaker keeps saying “always” and “never” over and over they not only are removing hope from the other, they are removing their own hope as well. The more we speak something, the more we believe it.
Not only do these words demean, accuse, and destroy hope, they aren’t true. I have yet to find a situation where one spouse always does something or never does. These two words are lies. I know when the speaker says them, they feel true, but they rarely are if ever.
As I am working through issues with couples, one of the first ground rules we set is that the words “never” and “always” are off-limits. At least, they are off-limits in arguments or discussions about behavior and feelings.
The flip side of these two words that can restore and be healthy happens when the couple stops fighting against one another and starts fighting on the same side for the marriage. Then these words have value in statements such as:
- We will work to never mistrust one another’s motive again.
- We will always strive toward understanding of the other.
- We will try to never sweep things under the rug and not deal with issues immediately and respectfully.
- We will endeavor always consider the other before self.
- We will never call each other names, degrade, demean, of insult one another.
You get the idea.
“Always” and “never” will kill a marriage as long as the couple finds themselves on opposite sides of the table in opposition. “Always” and “never” can bring health and resolve when the couple finds themselves on the same side of the table working together to fight for the marriage.