9 Ways Words Kill a Relationship

May 06, 2022

In a group I was leading once, a man held the floor for some time. He’d go off on tangents, change the subject and spend inordinate amounts of time on irrelevant details.

(I promise it wasn’t me this time.)

He couldn’t seem to get to the point. Other members were spacing out, dozing off or becoming restless. Just as I was about to speak to the man’s struggle with getting to the point, a woman in the group spoke up.

“Aaron, talk net, will ya?”

“Talking net” rather than “gross” means putting a net or boundary on how many words we use and how we use them — and that can be a struggle for many. How we use language can deeply affect the quality of our relationships. The words we use can be a source of both blessing and cursing. They can be a blessing when we empathize, identify, encourage, confront and exhort others. They can be a curse when we use them to do the following:

  • Hide from intimacy by talking nonstop
  • Dominate conversations to control others
  • Gossip
  • Make sarcastic remarks, expressing indirect hostility
  • Threaten someone, expressing direct hostility
  • Gain approval through flattery
  • Give the silent treatment (withholding words to punish someone)
  • Massage the truth in order to look better
  • Seduce or manipulate

Many people who have difficulty setting boundaries on themselves aren’t really aware of their problem. They are often genuinely surprised when a friend says to them, “Sometimes it seems like you interpret my commas as periods.” 

When someone can’t hold back, or set boundaries, on what comes from their lips, their words are in charge — not them. But they are still responsible for those words. Their words do not come from somewhere outside of them. Words are a product of our hearts. Saying, “I didn’t mean that,” is probably better translated as, “I didn’t want you to know I thought that about you.”