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Q/A Those Words Hurt

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

Q: What to do when your spouse says something mean or spiteful to you “in the heat of the moment.”

A: It is important to remember that there are really four people present with every couple. Two adults and two children. Children do not know how to articulate and resolve pain in their hearts, so they resort to childish tactics as a defense. When things become emotionally charged in a disagreement with your significant other, it is crucial to recognize who is in the room…the adults or the children.

When children get angry, they do ridiculous things to express their feelings and protect their heart. It is not uncommon for a child to name call, physically assault, or place blame on others to save face. We are all fully capable of responding to adversity from a childish perspective.

Most of the time, people do not mean what they blurt out in the heat of the moment. They are operating out of the “fight or flight” part of the brain. They are fighting to win, and their thoughts are not rational.

If you said a cruel and unnecessary thing to your spouse during an argument it will take more than an apology to turn things around. Words are powerful and can wound. Once spoken they cannot be unsaid.

Mending requires putting yourself in your loved one’s shoes and genuinely trying to understand how your words and actions made them feel. Verbally reflect to your partner what you hear them saying to let them know you hear their heart and care deeply about the injury. After you have done this, then say you are sorry and ask for forgiveness. Lastly, ask if there is anything you can do for them.

There is usually a grain of truth in words spoken in anger. Consider how you can communicate and resolve problems as an adult and not a child in the future. Adults seek to find solutions where both parties matter and both win. Good can come from the pain of saying something mean, if it will motivate you to learn the skills that healthy couples use to resolve conflict.

Patti Hatton, MA, LPC


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