When Words Become Weapons
“There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword.”—PROVERBS 12:18.
“WITHIN weeks after the wedding, it started,” says Elaine.* “Unkind remarks, belittling comments, and efforts to put me down. I was no match for my husband. His quick mind and quick tongue could twist and distort everything I said.”
Throughout her marriage Elaine has been subjected to an insidious type of assault that leaves no scars and elicits little sympathy. Sadly, her situation has not improved with the passing of time. “We have been married now for more than 12 years,” she says. “There is not a day that passes without his being critical and sarcastic toward me, using harsh, vulgar speech.”
The Bible is not exaggerating when it says that the tongue can be “an unruly injurious thing, . . . full of death-dealing poison.” (James 3:8; compare Psalm 140:3.) This is especially true in marriage. “Whoever said ‘sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me’ was dead wrong,” says a wife named Lisa.—Proverbs 15:4.
Husbands can also be the target of verbal aggression. “Do you know what it’s like to live with a woman who is constantly calling you a liar, a stupid idiot or worse?” asks Mike, whose four-year marriage to Tracy is heading toward divorce. “I can’t repeat in polite company the things she says to me. That’s why I can’t talk to her and why I stay at work so late. It’s a lot safer than coming home.”—Proverbs 27:15.
With good reason, the apostle Paul admonished Christians: “Let . . . screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you.” (Ephesians 4:31) But what is “abusive speech”? Paul distinguishes it from “screaming” (Greek, krau·geʹ), which denotes simply raising the voice. “Abusive speech” (Greek, bla·sphe·miʹa) refers more to the content of the message. If it is tyrannical, malicious, demeaning, or insulting, then it is abusive speech—whether it comes out in a shout or in a whisper.
The Wounds of Words
A pattern of harsh speech can weaken a marriage, just as ocean waves can erode solid rock. “The more intense and prolonged,” writes Dr. Daniel Goleman, “the greater the danger. . . . Habitual criticism and contempt or disgust are danger signs because they indicate that a husband or wife has made a silent judgment for the worse about their partner.” As affection breaks down, husband and wife become, as one book puts it, “married legally, but not emotionally.” In time, they may no longer be married at all.
Railing speech, however, can affect more than the marriage itself. A Bible proverb states: “Because of the pain of the heart there is a stricken spirit.” (Proverbs 15:13) The stress that results from a constant barrage of hurtful words can take a heavy toll on one’s health. For example, a study conducted by the University of Washington (U.S.A.) revealed that a woman who suffers constant reviling may be more prone to colds, bladder problems, yeast infections, and gastrointestinal disorders.
Many wives who have endured both verbal and physical battering remark that words can hurt more than fists. “The bruises from his slaps would eventually heal and go away,” says Beverly, “but I’ll never never forget the awful things he said about the way I look, the way I cook, how I take care of the kids.” Julia feels much the same way. “I know it sounds nuts,” she says, “but I’d rather he hit me and get it over with than play these mind games for hours.”
But why do some people attack and berate the one whom they professed to love? The following article addresses this question.
Some names in this series of articles have been changed.
[Blurb on page 4]
“I’d rather he hit me and get it over with than play these mind games for hours”
[Blurb on page 4]
“Do you know what it’s like to live with a woman who is constantly calling you a liar, a stupid idiot or worse?”