Last week we talked about our words and how our words can bring life or death to those around us. Communication, or talking to our spouse or family members, is not just about our words. Communication also involves the tone of our voice. You may have heard the phrase, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.” Has this ever come up in conversation? If we want to be successful in our communication, we need to make sure we’re not “tone deaf.”
You may find yourself impaired in the rhythm and music department. You still find yourself breaking out in dance or singing to a tune in the shower or in the car, even though you don’t quite dance to the beat or sing in the best key. This doesn’t mean that we don’t enjoy it. The funny thing is, it may take us a while to realize we wouldn’t qualify to be a contestant on So You Think You Can Dance or American Idol. Over the years, our kids or friends have assured us of this reality, and we can no longer live in denial that we are tone deaf. Can’t carry a tune. Can’t bust a move.
If you’re not careful with your communication tone in your marriage, you can quickly become “tone-deaf.” Even when the words we speak are true, and with love, sometimes these words are delivered with a negative tone, triggering a different reaction than if we had spoken in a positive tone. For example, you may have heard the statement, “We’re going to be late.” This may be a statement of fact, but where this simple statement can get ugly, hurtful, and trigger an-argument-waiting-to-happen is when it is spoken in a sneering or patronizing tone. These words of truth, “We’re going to be late” can blare in our partner’s ears, “We’re going to be late and it’s all your fault and you do this all the time and I’m tired of waiting for you and being late everywhere because you can’t get it together.” Five words of truth and twenty-nine words added because of the tone. Tone matters.
As you think about your communication patterns, remember that it’s not just about the words you speak, it’s also the tone you project in the words you speak. Negativity, sarcasm, whining, shaming, and insincerity are more about tone than words. Even if your spouse can barely hear the words you speak, they can absolutely feel and hear your tone, often causing a defensive reaction or response. So, how can we work on this?
Authors Jim Burns and Doug Fields give us four possible triggers that can possibly lead to a damaging tone in a conversation or situation. These common triggers can turn an unpleasant moment to a negative one with the way your words are delivered. Snap. Just like that. These four triggers are found in the letters H-A-L-T.
The apostle Paul tell us, “Your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit…So glorify God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20) According to experts, our body is linked to our spirit and our actions, and even our responses to others. We may not think of it often, but one of the first steps to a healthy relationship is in how we take care of our bodies. You know the term, “Hangry.” Hungry and angry. Yeah. That one. When people get hungry, they get grouchy and cranky. You may remember times when you and your spouse have had such crazy days and you both come home hungry – or even famished – causing your bodies and your attitudes to be on edge. When our tummy growls and we’re looking for a snack to tide us over until dinner, we’re usually more selfish and not as sensitive to our spouse’s needs. I know, it sounds weird that we’re talking about eating when talking about communication in marriage, but hunger can be the culprit in so many arguments. You may remember some unnecessary conflict when one or both of you felt run down or in need of some calories. It’s tough to pay attention, let alone adjust your tone, when your body and mind are muddled by hunger. Snickers used to have a funny slogan for their candy bar, “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” So true.
Anger is one of the most common causes for many poor responses. Anger is a normal emotion; it’s not bad. Anger gets ugly when it’s conveyed in a matter to hurt someone. In marriage, if anger is not mastered, then discontent, grudges, bitterness, and resentment can affect your relationship. When this occurs, the spoken tone can go south in a hurry. We are given such helpful instruction on how to control our anger in the Bible: “Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” (Ephesians 4:26) This isn’t telling you to never get angry. It instructs you to deal with your anger in a more positive manner, so it doesn’t fester and drag on for days. Our spouse’s little annoying quirks can turn into larger-than-life issues if anger is not dealt with right away. Anger and tone go hand-in-hand, and if you want to prevent yourself from being tone deaf, you’ve got to master the anger piece.
After you get married, there tend to be fewer times and opportunities for connection. This is when loneliness can creep in. Wives often want their husbands to talk more, hoping that the words will create moments of connection. There’s nothing like some belly laughing, fun times to bring a couple together, improving the tone in the process. When you’re feeling lonely, you don’t feel as connected, and when you don’t feel connected, the negative tone can roll in.
Oh, this is a biggie. Many couples have the desire to connect, but, seriously, they are just too tired. Jim Burns and Doug Fields say, “Exhaustion is one of the major causes of brokenness in relationships as well as poor tone quality.” (Burns & Fields, Getting Ready for Marriage, David D. Cook, 2014) If you find yourself a little rude, short, or abrupt in responses toward your fiancé or spouse, then you may be too distracted or too busy. If you come across as negative, impatient, or grouchy, you may be dangerously exhausted. This is when we’re reminded of some important and powerful words in our lives, “Yes” and “No.” When you say “no” to the extra clutter and busyness and “yes” to the things that are a priority in your life, you create a good and healthy attitude. I know you have so many things tugging on you in life, but not everything deserves a “yes” response. Be cognizant of your schedule to avoid a negative tone in your communication with your spouse.
A question every couple needs to ask each other often: “Do our schedules impact the tone between the two of us?” One man that had gone through a divorce reflected on his relationship and said, “We loved each other. As odd as that sounds, a lack of love wasn’t the problem. It was our out-of-control, runaway schedules that eventually dulled our relationship. When we were busy, stressed, and preoccupied, we began to treat each other terribly. We just had nothing left to give. We were making each other miserable, and we finally ended it.” (Burns & Fields, 2014) This marriage could have been saved had this man and his wife learned how to rearrange their schedules so they could slow down and connect. I encourage you, be mindful of this. I once heard, “If the enemy can’t turn you against God, he’s going to distract you and make you busy.” And he is waiting to attack marriages this way.
To Do This Week:
Pull out those calendars. Look at your schedules. Has your work schedule become a higher priority than your care for your spouse? Here’s how you can get a simple answer. Ask him. Ask her. Pray with your spouse, ask him/her to look at your calendars and schedules to point out things that could be affecting your relationship, things that you can say “no” to or maybe “not this season.” “No” is a complete sentence, friends. “No” is a powerful word.
Recognize the things that cause a negative attitude. It’s easy to bring tough work situations or hard days with the kids into our relationship. Spend some time talking through even the simple things that irk you. By addressing this early, it doesn’t allow the negativity and crankiness to fester and eventually come out in our words or body language.
Slow down and get some rest. I realize this is easier said than done. Do what you can to get plenty of sleep or even to allow yourselves periods of time to just be still and quiet, to breathe, to pray, to JUST. BE.
Content based on one of many fabulous resources: Getty Ready for Marriage by Jim Burns & Doug Fields. A great book for you dating, engaged, and married couples. Visit their website: HomeWord. Jim and Doug believe in STRONG MARRIAGES, CONFIDENT PARENTS, and EMPOWERED KIDS and have partnered together to strengthen and equip parents, couples, and families.