Sticks and Stones and Broken Marriage Bones: The Power of Words in Expatriate Marriages

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones,
but words will never harm me’. March, 1862, British Digest

I’d taunting sing this when a kid said mean words to me at the British boarding school I attended as a TCK in Malaysia. We all did. Somehow we thought it’d build a shield of protection around us. It did no such thing. I quickly learned that words can really, really hurt.

Words possess incredible power:

Our words can wound, or heal; comfort, or grieve; inspire, or intimidate.
They can build up, or tear down; clarify, or confuse; affirm, or discourage.
Words can give courage, or condemn; develop, or destroy; calm, or cause chaos.
create connection, or control.

Any frustration, overwhelm or hurt in marriage tempts us to wage war on our spouse. Sometimes it’s intended. Other times, due to a hurt frame of mind, words escape before we realize their impact. And sometimes we’re just careless or angry. In expatriate marriages, with the added strain of negative emotions through relocations and the sense of aloneness and helplessness during stressful and challenging times, keeping our words kind and loving can be difficult. Dennis and Barbara Rainey in Building Your Mate’s Self Esteem, say that words have “the power to contaminate a positive self-image or heal the spreading malignancy of a negative one.” [Read more…]