You Can Be Right, but Wrong at the Top of Your Voice

You Can Be Right, but Wrong at the Top of Your Voice

Have you ever been so intent on getting your point across (and proving you are right!) that your voice rose to a feverish pitch when “discussing” an issue with your loved one? Our tones, facial expressions and attitude can close the other off far and above the content.

Sarah and I have certainly been guilty of this and before we know it we’re on the Crazy Cycle. As a result, we introduced a phrase into our marriage: “You can be right, but wrong at the top of your voice.”

The right tone of voice and the right expression on your face is crucial to effective communication. This is a problem for men and women, but for different reasons. I have counseled many couples where the wife complains that the husband comes across as harsh and unloving. From her pink perspective, he is frowning with disapproval or sounding stern, even angry. According to his blue point of view, he is simply making his point firmly and accurately. He needs to put on his wife’s pink sunglasses and pink hearing aids and see how he really looks and sounds to her. A guy can be oblivious to the damaging effects of his angry glare. This can feel abusive to a wife. Though he can glare at his buddy in a way that angrily declares, “Back off and drop it,” and his buddy will not break down and cry, God has not designed a wife or daughter to be looked at with such a glare. She is not wrong for her hurt feelings, just different from a male.

I have talked with many wives who would like to tell their husbands, “Please turn down the volume. And, please, more than anything else realize how I feel when you speak to me harshly or look at me with an angry glare. Few things hurt me so badly. More than anything, I want to talk things through with you, but when you scowl and growl, like I’ve done something wrong or really dumb, I want to shut down or just scream.”

At the same time I have had many wives tell me they know they are guilty of a negative tone of voice and a sour look on their faces. They don’t necessarily sound harsh; theirs is more a tone of contempt, often accompanied by a rolling of the eyes. The pink wife who is guilty of this kind of behavior needs to put on her husband’s blue sunglasses and blue hearing aids so she can realize how disrespectfully she is coming across to him. Many women think they are saying what needs to be said; they even think they are doing a good job of saying it respectfully. But they don’t see or hear what their husband sees and hears.

I tell wives this: “After your next ‘lively’ discussion with your husband where you think you have respectfully said what needed to be said, go into the bathroom, shut the door, and re-enact your part. Try to use the same tone of voice, body movements, hand gestures, and facial expressions you used when talking to him.” I have had many wives tell me they tried this and what a stunning revelation it was.

Did these wives intend to communicate disdain earlier? Rarely. The point here is not to suggest these men or women are mean-spirited. But Scripture reminds us of how important it is for us to take time to listen and speak carefully. From James 1:19 comes advice no husband or wife can overlook: “Know this, my beloved brothers: Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (ESV).”

This verse has positively impacted my marriage. It is as if the Lord is tapping me on the shoulder, saying in that inaudible but very clear way, “Listen first, Emerson. Be as quick to listen as you are to speak. In fact, listen first a lot more often. And keep your temper. Be slow to get angry because what you think Sarah might have said or done isn’t as bad as your first impulse might tell you.”

This can be applied to all communication - including with our children and co-workers. We must make attitude adjustments and break old habits. Difficult, yes, but it can be done if you truly want to make these changes.

Are you teachable on this subject? Are you willing to allow God to gently lead you as you acknowledge this may be a serious problem? Are you guilty of being right, but wrong at the top of your voice?

Dr. Emerson

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

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