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Hot-Button Words

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In our current series on the Love and Respect Connection, we have addressed the importance of our spoken words – and how men and women perceive the same words differently. This week I want to talk about those hot-button words that can cause trouble in every relationship!

After living and teaching Love and Respect for over ten years, Sarah and I are constantly amazed at the power of words and how they are spoken. And it’s my educated guess that almost every couple has certain hot-button words or phrases that can cause trouble between them.

For example, when Sarah is quite concerned (irritated) about something I have done or said (again), she uses the expression “You always…” Whenever I hear “You always…,” I immediately lock up inside and think, “That’s not true. I don’t always [do or say whatever Sarah is accusing me of].” I am tempted to launch a counterattack on how wacky her claim that “I always…” sounds and avoid listening to what she is really trying to say.

Over the years, I have learned to tune in to what Sarah is trying to communicate when she accuses me of “You always…” In essence, she is trying to capture the intensity of her disgruntlement. She is saying, in effect, “You really frustrate me right now!” So, for the most part, I have accepted Sarah’s use of “You always…” for what it is, and I try not to let this hot-button expression distract me from her real point. I realize that Sarah doesn’t use these words to disrespect me. Ultimately she speaks this way to increase the understanding and love between us. She wants me to grasp the hurt in her heart; she does not want to create hurt in my heart.

For example, I sometimes find the back door has been left unlocked all night. When I ask Sarah if she had used the door and forgotten to lock it on the way to bed, she defensively replies, “You always blame me for the door being unlocked. It’s always my fault.” Since I know I don’t always blame her, the temptation for me is to get irritated and reply, “I do not ALWAYS blame you.” So instead of getting into a “No, I don’t”/“Yes, you do” exchange, I try to recognize that Sarah feels attacked – and all the more so if she had nothing to do with the door being unlocked. I am learning to get the facts straight rather than jump to conclusions and make accusations.

In fact, lately when finding the door unlocked, I ask Sarah about it in a much gentler way, and she is less likely to say, “You always blame me.” When spoken to gently, Sarah is much more likely to respond in the tone she used just this morning: “No, I’m pretty sure I didn’t leave the door unlocked. I had gone to bed, and you went out to the garage or something, remember?” And then, as usual, I recall that I am indeed the culprit, and I sheepishly apologize for even thinking she might have left the back door unlocked.

What are the hot-button words in your relationships? In my next post, I’ll own up to my words that have become “hot buttons” to Sarah. Will you join me in owning up to yours? Remember – ultimately, better communication is the goal!

Excerpts taken from The Language of Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs.

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

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