We all occasionally say things that we regret. Some of the time, these slips of the tongue do not come back to bite us. Sometimes, however, if we slip too often, we may find that this has an unfortunate (and potentially lasting) effect on our most important relationships.
An example is when our worst slips ups or hurtful remarks are directed at our spouse, who eventually becomes so tired of it that he threatens some change to our marriage, like a potential break or separation. Someone might explain: “I will admit that I can be hot-headed sometimes. Before I even know it, something will come out of my mouth before I can stop it. Most of my friends know this about me, so most of them just ignore it when I slip. But my husband can not ignore it. And now he’s saying that he is thinking about a separation because he almost feels as if I verbally abuse him. I will admit that when we fight, I often end up saying things that I deeply regret. And my husband is wounded by what I say. Sometimes, I apologize later and he seems to accept it. But now I realize he wasn’t just brushing it off, since now he’s saying that we should probably separate. It bothers me that he says I’m verbally abusive because that’s obviously taking it too far. I will say things like I wish he was stronger in terms of his convictions and I question some of the choices that he makes. I tell him that I don’t understand his thought process. But it’s not as if I call him stupid or say other derogatory things. He says that he does not want for any future kids that we would have to be on the receiving end of my anger. I don’t think that this would be a problem. But even when he said that, I became angry and had to check myself. I don’t want to lose my marriage. But sometimes, things just come out of my mouth. How do I stop?”
Some Suggestions: There are a couple of things that you can try. In my case, the thing that I found most effective for this was to attempt to feel some empathy and to pause. I found that I was most likely to say hurtful things either just before we separated or during the separation. At times, I would get really frustrated with the distance between us and what I perceived was my husband’s part in that. And yes, there were times when I used terms like “selfish,” “childish,” and, I must admit, even “stupid.” After a while, I realized that I was digging a deeper hole for myself at a time when I was already separated and in a pretty deep hole. I did not want a divorce. But at the rate I was going, this was a very real possibility. So I decided I needed to stop with the mean and negative talk.
But it was very difficult. Often, my words were a knee jerk reaction. I would feel the frustration, and out came the words. Then, one day someone suggested that I picture the words as weapons and imagine my husband being physically wounded by those weapons. It was also suggested the I picture my husband as a vulnerable little boy. And the reason for this is that a counselor told me that much of my husband’s behaviors came from wounds that occurred in childhood. So, whenever I would get angry, I would picture words as weapons barreling toward my husband as a helpless and scared little boy. And to my surprise, this worked right away.
I believe that the reason that it works is that it forces you to see your spouse as vulnerable when your defenses are up and when you are most prone to have tunnel vision. It also helps to take a deep breath or two while you are envisioning your spouse as wounded. This slight pause combined with the imagery will often be enough to give you the time to stop and redirect yourself. So much of these remarks come before we can stop ourselves. So we have to train ourselves to pause.
Setting A More Positive Tone: I don’t think that it hurts to share your intentions with your spouse to see if you can discourage a separation. I’m proof that a separation does not always mean a divorce. But a separation can be difficult on many levels and it’s better to avoid it if you can. So you might try: “honey, I want to apologize again for some of the things that I have said in the heat of the moment. I deeply regret them and I intend to stop. I have a plan to stop which I think will work, but if I need to, I will go to counseling and get some help to ensure that I stop. I am very serious about our marriage and I’m certain that I would never hurt any future children in any way. I understand why you would doubt my claims, but I hope that if you give me a very short window of time to show you, I can prove to you that I have the ability to stop saying things that I will regret.”