You Can Change Your Tone

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There's no such thing as a perfect marriage, but God wants to help you and your spouse love each other with your words and the tone of your voice.

At the end of the day, your tone, my tone should be extraordinarily loving toward our spouses. Why? Because, again, as Christians this is how we are supposed to respond to Christ’s incredible love for us. If you are not a Christian, I promise you that there is no better way to draw your spouse to you than having an extraordinarily loving tone.

Now tone is important for all areas of your marriage: how you reconnect at the end of the day, when you are talking to your kids, when you are talking about the calendar, when you are talking about money. But for the sake of making this application extremely doable, I want to focus on just one specific area of your marriage when it comes to tone: conflict. I’ve chosen conflict, because conflict can be one of the most destructive things in a marriage when it is not handled well.

And here is why it is so important for us to be aware of our tones during times of conflict—this is very important, so don’t miss this—because tone is usually the culprit. Most of the time, the issue you’re fighting about isn’t the culprit; your tone is the culprit. Many couples will admit they have damaging fights about stupid things. Married people say all the time, “We fight about the dumbest things.” I know that can be true for my wife and me. We recently had an argument over the stupidest thing. I had taken our two youngest kids to the grocery store, and she had taken our oldest to football practice.

Now, before you women get too impressed and say to your husband, “You never go to the grocery store, much less take two kids,” you should know that this was a really rare thing. It was so rare that I didn’t know that the new grocery store she was sending me to only took cash or debit cards. After the hour it took me to gather the relatively short list of items, it was time for me to check out. After ringing up all the items, I ran my credit card through the machine. The clerk said, “Oh, I’m sorry sir, we don’t take credit cards; we only take debit cards or cash.”

“Oh,” I said. “Let me go and look in the car to see if I have either.”

I walked outside and looked in my car. I had neither. So, in my panic, I called Nancie, and my tone was not good. She did not appreciate my tone, and she let me know it. I said, “I can’t believe I am standing here at the grocery store with two kids, and you are frustrated with me, because I don’t have a debit card.” We said a few other things that I will keep to myself. Let’s just say we both had to apologize profusely later that evening.

But here’s the point. It wasn’t the issue that caused the fight. The culprit of the fight was not that I forgot the debit card. The culprit of our fight was tone—primarily mine. My tone was not loving with my bride whom I love so much. Almost everyone can struggle with tone, but especially during times of conflict. In fact, for many of us, during times of conflict, that is when our tones can be the worst. We can be the opposite of the words we are encouraged to be in those verses.

Instead of a tone of compassion, we can have a tone of cold-heartedness.

Instead of a tone of kindness, we can have a tone of hard-heartedness.

Instead of a tone of humility, we can have a tone of arrogance.

Instead of a tone of gentleness, we can have a tone of harshness.

Instead of a tone of patience, we can have a tone of impatience.

Instead of being forgiving, we can so easily hold grudges.

Let me ask you a question: Which of these do you tend to throw out the window most quickly when you and your spouse are experiencing conflict? Is it compassion? Is it kindness? Is it humility? Is it gentleness? Is it patience? Is it forgiveness? You see, almost all couples struggle with conflict; it’s how they deal with it that makes the difference. And I would say, their tones are the biggest part of that difference. Here is the really good news. We really can change our tones to be extraordinarily loving.

There is a really practical way for us to do that, and here it is: When you are experiencing tension in your marriage, ask yourself this question: What’s my tone when things are going wrong? Again, What’s my tone when things are going wrong? The next time you feel frustrated or a conflict starts between the two of you, notice your outward appearance. How are you standing? Are your arms crossed? Are you being condescending? Are you being sarcastic? Are you too loud? Have you withdrawn? Or maybe you just stormed out of the room?

Now for you advanced students, I want to challenge you to take this thing a step further. But first I must warn you—this could be a dangerous question and could start a huge fight. At the same time, it could be one of the most important things you ever do for your marriage. Are you ready? Okay, here goes. At some point this week, ask your spouse this question—it’s the same question—What’s my tone when things are going wrong?

You can do this. You can change your tone. How do I know? Because I changed mine, and my wife would say she changed hers. When we hit our fifth year of marriage, my tone was not good. Nancie would agree.

But some wise people spoke life into us by lovingly saying, “KNOCK IT OFF.” We took those words to heart, and we did indeed knock it off. In fact, I would wish our marriage on any couple, not because we are perfect, but because we have made some small changes with things like tone, and it has made a BIG difference. The reason I do what I do is that I believe small things, like changing your tone, can make a huge difference in your marriage, too. My wife and I say all the time, “We’re the big people. We get to choose to be nice.” You get to choose to have an extraordinarily loving tone with your spouse.

Here is what I know about most of you—you want your marriage to be great. So don’t let small moments of frustration rob you of what you want for your marriage big picture. Make sure your tone is extraordinarily loving, not just for your marriage, but as a response to God’s extraordinary love for you. I pray that God blesses your marriage. Remember, you can do this. The best news is, God wants to help you.

This article excerpted from What's Your Tone? by Ted Lowe.

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