Almost every single one of our fights stems from two words….
“You never answer when I call you…”
“You never clean the dishes…”
“You never take the trash out…”
“You never listen…”
“You’re never home…”
“You never want to have sex…”
What about this word…
“You always interrupt me…”
“You always make plans without telling me…”
“You always leave your clothes everywhere…”“You always doubt me…”
“You always doubt me…”
“You’re always on your phone…”
“You’re always working…”
So what is it about these statements that makes them sting like a sunburn in a hot tub?
It’s those words, always and never.
Let’s be real… these words are usually spoken out of disappointment, frustration, annoyance, bitterness, or anger. They are spoken to get a point across, usually when it has not been the first time the point has been made. These words are seldom used to encourage, affirm, and praise your spouse, so why do we use them?
Because we let our strongest desire (making a point) override our deepest desire (a thriving marriage that is Beating50percent).
“You always,” and “you never” statements, are usually the tipping point of an escalated issue. They prevent communication regarding that issue from productively progressing. Instead, these words promote defensiveness, retaliation, and chaos in any relationship, but especially in marriage.
We were told during our premarital counseling to “eliminate always and never” from our vocabulary. To scratch them out of our marital diction. At the time, we nodded in agreeance. Check. That seemed like a sensible thing to do to prevent dispute. But we quickly discovered it was far more easily said than done.
Even though we knew that we shouldn’t uses these words, we still found ourselves beginning sentences with, “you always…” or, “you never…”
Enjoy this irony, but it just never ends well…
Words like always, never, just, only everyone and no one , are “absolute words.” They are fuel on the fire for fighting. I learned this at a young age because my mom used to completely debunked any argument or retaliation I made against her that began with these words; never, always, anyone or no one. I would often tell her, “but everyone is doing this…” or “you never let me….” She tuned me out immediately because my statements were exaggerated and inaccurate.
Think about a time when your spouse has said these words to you…you probably felt hurt, betrayed, defensive or maybe you completely tuned them out. Now think about a time when you said these words to your spouse… they probably felt the same way…
If you’re reading this blog, chances are your heart is to love, serve, encourage, and praise your spouse, to have a thriving marriage, a marriage that is Beating50percent (that is your deepest desire). If that is your heart, then you probably didn’t intended to make your husband or wife feel hurt, betrayed, or offended… but in the moment, it was more important to put those intentions aside to make your point. (your strongest desire) And yet, you actually end up deflating your point. Typically, the statement becomes worthless at best, or harmful and damaging to your spouse at worst.
Alright, so maybe you really do feel like your wife always leaves her make-up and hair in the sink…. Or that she never wants to have sex with you…Maybe you really do think your husband is ALWAYS looking at his phone when you’re talking to him… And that he NEVER does the dishes…. But using absolutes to get your point across will not solve the issue, and more often than not, it could escalate the issue.
Recently, I was talking to my about the “never” and “always” statements and she described these words, “never” and “always,” as universal qualifiers. The truth is, we rarely always or never do or don’t do the things we are being accused of doing or not doing. These words are definitive, but often inaccurate. Using definitive words concerning someone else’s actions or behavior, is a destructive habit.
The definition of always is; at all times, on all occasions.
The definition of the word never is; at no time in the past or future; on no occasion; not ever.
We use these words to make our point, but usually, our point is completely disregarded the second we say, “you always…” or, “you never…”
If you complain to your wife that she is always doing something that bothers you, she’s probably thinking, “Really!? Like without ceasing, nonstop, on no exceptions, always?” And when you tell your husband that he never does something, he is probably thinking, “Really?! Never in my entire life, at any point in our marriage?!”
All hope of effective communication is lost at that point. Both the accused and the accuser, are not seeking to resolve.
So why do we say these words, if we know that the proclamations that follow them are ineffective, harmful, damaging, and nonproductive?
When our husbands or wives neglect to respect a certain need or request, we tend to feel ignored or disregarded. But sometimes, that need or request was not make known in the first place. The expectation was unclear. As it is with any relationship, when you feel neglected or your expectations are not met, the natural reaction is to make a cutting remark, raise your voice, or resort to absolutes like never and always. What you are really saying with a never/always statement is that your spouse did or did not do something that you expected him or her to do. But your spouse cannot read your mind….as much as you wish they could, you can’t lash out them for not possessing this skill. You have to communicate your expectations.
Let’s call the person using always and never statements, the accuser. And then let’s call the person receiving these always and never proclamations, the accused. Always and never statements usually make the accuser feel better about themselves in the moment, while unloading all of their frustration, negative emotion, and anger on the accused. The accused desperately wants to retaliate or retreat, and neither the accused or accuser is in a place where they can productively communicate.
Always and never conversations always facilitate defensiveness, and never promote resolve. See what I did there?;)
Jeremy and I really struggle with this in our own marriage. Even though we advocate against these words, we mess up all the time. We are also both stubborn, argumentative, and resilient, so that doesn’t help either… In the moment, we let proving a point become more important than resolving an issue.
Our intent is to eliminate always and never from our marriage vocabulary, but the reality is, we slip up…
We needed some advice on how to combat the situations where one of us makes a, “you always…” or, “you never…” statement.
How do we, and how do you, prevent the situation from turning into something worse than it needs to be?
We sought counsel from other married couples, and mentors, (as well as made some conclusions from our own experience) to come up with five practical ways to eliminate never and always from our marriage vocabulary, and to combat those words when we inevitably slip up. We are all human…
5 ways to prevent always and never statements (or prevent them from escalating):
- Navigator’s Council – For us, we have found that the most productive way to eliminate never and always statements, is through what we call, “Navigator’s Council.” If you have been following for any length of time you probably know what this is because we talk about it all the time. But if not, you can read all about our Navigator’s Council >>here<< and watch a short video clip of us talking about it in an interview >>here<<. Essentially, we ask each other the same six questions every Sunday, and record our answers in a journal. It is a way to cultivate consistent communication on important matters each week. As we’ve reflected on old entries, we smile at what this mere journal has prevented us from, and the standard it has held us to. The hour that we set aside on Sundays to create time and space for the discipline of communication has been crucial. Without this discipline of communication, we are left to assume. Navigator’s Council doesn’t leave room for assumptions, it turns knowing more into loving more. It manages expectations. If you snarl at your husband, “You never do the dishes,” but you never tell him that you expect him to do the dishes a couple times a week… you are unjustified in your complaint. One of the questions that we ask each other during Navigator’s Council is, “What is one thing I can do for you this week?” I have found this question in particular, helpful in preventing “never” and “always” statements because it gives both of us a chance to express a need, desire or expectation from our spouse. For example, if I answered this question by saying, “Hey Jer, I would really appreciate it if you did the dishes a few times after dinner this week.” That request made my expectation clear to Jeremy, therefore killing off the potential for never and always proclamations.
- Stop and hold hands before it escalates. When one of you says always or never, make a pact that you will immediately stop the conversation. You know… that point in the fight where it is about to go bad… stop right there, sit down, and hold hands. Yes, quite possibly the last thing you want to do at that moment… but it is so worth fighting your flesh on this one. It’s really hard to be mad at each other and make never/always statements when you’re holding hands. It just is! Try it. Ok so once you are holding hands, the accused should ask the accuser what is that is making them feel the need to make a never/always proclamation. Then the accuser needs to be willing to discuss the root of the issue. Honesty is key here. We have found that these discussions usually dig up an unclear expectation that was not met, and therefore resulted in disappointment, anger, frustration or hurt.
- Responding > reacting – Always and never statements are usually reactions to something said, an action, or lack of action. When we communicate in a reactive manner with our spouse, it’s a breeding ground for fighting, hurt, and grudges. Learning the art of responding is a challenge. One that I have yet to master… Jeremy is much better at this than me. Maybe it’s a female thing, or maybe the stubborn redheadness in me just likes to put up a fight. I always catch myself reacting (negatively) to something Jeremy did or did not do, instead of responding to it by communicating with grace and love.
- Put yourself in their shoes – We have to be willing to listen objectively without defensiveness. When your husband or wife makes an always or never statement, it is no excuse for you to retaliate, or make one in return. Instead, be willing to humbly put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself why they might be lashing out with such absolute and definitive statements. Even if they are completely inaccurate… there is a deeper issue going on that needs to be resolved. Going back to the classic dishes example, if your wife snarls, “You never do the dishes,” think about why she might have this complaint in the first place. Usually, it is coming from feeling unappreciated, overworked, undervalued, or unloved. If you are the one that made the never/always statement, put yourself in your spouse’s shoes. The proclamation you just made about them is demeaning and probably exaggerated. Chances are, (whether intended or not) they are feeling like a stupid, idiot, screw up, who can’t get anything right. Putting yourself in your spouse’s shoes will facilitate communication that leads to a resolution.
- Remember you’re on the same team – If you are on the same team, that should really turn “you always…” and “you never” statements, into “we always…” and “we never…” statements. Think about it in the context of a basketball team. Let’s say one player misses the shot, the rest of the team isn’t going to turn to that player and say, “jeez you always miss that shot!” Even if they do always miss the shot… making a never/always statement in this context would not help to build up, encourage, or support the team. In fact, it would probably make the team weaker, by discouraging one of it’s members. That’s what you are doing to your spouse when you accuse them with never or always proclamation. The alternative for the basketball analogy would be, “hey man don’t worry about it, you’ll get it next time!” In marriage it would be something like, “Hey babe I got the dishes tonight, can you get them tomorrow though? I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed with housework lately.” That’s good sportsmanship and great teamwork.
** Most of this article is referring to annoyances, frustrations, and daily issues, that aren’t infringing on the covenant of marriage, they are simply not allowing it to thrive to it’s fullest potential. If you are struggling with feeling like your spouse always or never does something that is damaging to the health and/or protection of your marriage covenant or your own (walking in sin), I would urge you to pray fervently that God would change their heart. He’s much better at changing hearts than you are, and it’s not your job to change your spouse’s heart (although you might inevitably), it’s God’s job. However, I will add, God might change your heart first. Are you willing?
Read a related article >>here<<