I suppose that a lot of people learn to talk from their mom. Hours of standing in front of a little one’s face, slowly and intentionally repeating words is all deemed worth it when the child repeats back that one precious word, “Mama.” Over time their vocabulary is built and soon words are turned into phrases and phrases become sentences. For some children it may seem that once they have begun to speak, they are never going to stop and although the litany of words may exhaust them, their mother must still be pleased with their progress. Endless hours of being asked “why?” can’t take away the joy of hearing the chatter of their child.
I don’t remember learning to talk, but I suppose it is my mom who taught me as well. She was, after all, the person I spent the most time with at a young age, except for maybe my sister. And although my sister may have taught me some words, I would guess that it was my mother’s hard work that got me talking. But learning to talk wasn’t the most important speech lesson my mom gave me. Instead, it was learning when to speak. As most adults are well aware, this is the harder lesson. Talking, after all, is fairly commonplace. Knowing when to hold back words, isn’t.
My mom had a simple phrase to educate us on when our words didn’t need to be shared. “If it’s not nice nor necessary, don’t say it.” Many times she would repeat the phrase back to us as she could tell that we were tempted to say something that didn’t satisfy the criteria. It’s a good harbinger even today. Her words have often come back to me as I contemplated my speech.
However, my mom not only taught us this phrase, she lived it out. One of the ways she demonstrated this was in in her marriage. My mom made it a practice, and taught us as well, that there was never really a good reason to disparage your spouse in public. It didn’t matter how frustrated you were, how much they deserved it, or how “justified” you were in your own eyes, your words about your loved ones should build them up. There were no exceptions for “best friends” or “people in your small group” – there wasn’t a special dispensation to share with them. Your words should encourage and edify your spouse – even if they aren’t there to hear them.
Many people may wonder about this. How in the world would you ever get advice about your marriage? The easy answer is that if you are honestly seeking help for your marriage, you seek wisdom and advice on how you can improve it. It doesn’t mean that you are the only one who shares culpability for the hard times, but in almost everything, it “takes two to tango.” If you aren’t the one causing the issue, you are at least the one responding to it. Often times our response is what takes something minor and turns it into a major concern. Therefore, we would be wise to focus our advice-seeking on how we could respond better. If we are seeking help for our spouse’s issues, then they should be there, and they should be the one sharing them. It is, after all, not our job to conform our loved one into the image that we’ve created, but it is God’s purpose to transform them into the image of Him.
And our words should reflect this. Our words should be focused on building our loved one up, celebrating how God is at work in their lives. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have to have hard conversations about our marriage, but those conversations should be with our spouse, not our close friends. Our talk with others should be focused on that which is nice and necessary. And as my mama taught me, if it doesn’t meet that criteria, it probably doesn’t need to be said.
(A quick note – there are some extreme circumstances where there is legitimate danger to someone and they might need to seek outside help regardless of their spouse’s willingness. This would fall under the “necessary” category. In these cases, the legal authorities or the church authorities may need to intervene and if you are in one of these circumstances, please get this help. However if you aren’t, we would be wise to not use the exception to create the rule. If it isn’t a matter for the legal or church authorities, then we would be wise to not discuss it with others, except our spouse.)