The Fire of the "Untamed Tongue"
Dr. David Hawkins
The Relationship Doctor
I received a vivid lesson about fire and fuel one warm, summer
day. Lying on our backs in the tall grass behind my house with a couple
of buddies, stalks of dried grass hanging out of our mouths, we told
stories and enjoyed ourselves. Life couldn’t have been sweeter.
To ten-year olds, those stalks of grass were temptingly similar to
the forbidden cigarette and one of us wondered what it would be like
to “smoke” a few of those blades of grass. It all seemed
innocent enough. We gathered our “cigarettes” and proceeded
to light up. Suddenly, without warning, a spark caught in a bundle of
dried grass, and then another, until we were faced with an inferno beyond
Realizing the potential danger of the fire, we ran for the help of
my dad. Three screaming boys immediately caught his attention. We quickly
formed a “bucket brigade” and were able to douse the fire
and get on to the next important issue—explaining all of this
to my very angry father.
An innocent outing, an impulsive act, a furious outburst of potential
Fire is one of those elements that is either our friend, keeping us
warm and dry, or our foe, creating incomparable damage. Likewise, the
tongue can either encourage or destroy. As the Apostle James said, “With
the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men,
who have been made in God’s likeness.” (James 3: 9) James
goes on to say the tongue is like a spark that can set a mighty forest
Fire creates searing heat. Perhaps more destructively, however, is
the fact that fire consumes the oxygen needed to survive. Fire robs
us of life just as the tongue can set a deadly blaze in our marriages,
stealing vitality from our life.
A marriage can become tinder dry at times, ready for a spark to ignite
things. A season of dryness, or ongoing conflict, can set the stage
for an angry outburst of deadly proportions. Sharp words, issued without
caution, set the tone for a hostile and fiery outburst.
“But, I just can’t help it,” twenty-seven year old
Karen said recently. “I just get so mad that I say what’s
on the top of my mind. I know I can be extremely hurtful. We have called
each other the most horrible names, and are embarrassed about it. We
both have biting tongues, and know it.”
Karen and Doug, clients of mine, were newly married and already having
problems. I watched as Doug nodded his head to Karen’s rendition
of the problem. I asked them to explain more about their problem.
“My husband and I can’t seem to agree on anything. I mention
to him that I want more help around the house, and somehow we end up
in World War III. I hate it.”
“It’s true,” Doug said soberly. “We don’t
know how it happens, but when we fight, which feels like all the time,
it gets bad. We say things we would never say at other times, and we’ve
nearly called it quits because of it.”
“Well,” I said slowly. “I have a saying -- ‘If
it’s predictable, it’s preventable.”
“It certainly is predictable,” Karen said wryly. “The
preventable part is questionable.”
I could clearly see the pain Karen and Doug were in. They had hurt
each other deeply with, impetuous, ill-spoken words.
“It takes a lot of self-control to slow things down enough to
see what you two are doing so you can change the pattern.”
“Doug is just as tired of my biting tongue as I am,” Karen
“I can get pretty sarcastic and angry, too,” Doug replied,
“and we’re both tired of our bickering.”
“Good,” I said. “Being tired of how things are going
is a great place for God to work in our lives. We have to get to the
point where we are at our wits end—then God can step in. He loves
a humble heart. We’re not very teachable when we feel like we
have all the answers.”
We spent the rest of our session exploring the roots of their anger
and biting tongues. We discussed how their anger and sharp words had
caused tremendous pain in their marriage, to the point where they had
nearly separated several times. It had scared both of them, and they
wanted to learn new tools.
One of the tools I shared was “speaking from your most vulnerable
self.” This requires slowing down the process and exploring what
other feelings could be shared rather than anger -- which so often is
hurtful. We discussed how anger is a secondary emotion, and how we need
to look beneath the surface and learn to share other more vulnerable
emotions that lay below the surface.
We discussed common underlying feelings known as GIFT:
- Guilt: anger often covers feelings of unexpressed guilt.
- Inferiority: anger often covers feelings of insecurity or inferiority.
- Fear: this is often an emotion that is difficult to express, but
can be powerful when expressed appropriately.
- Trauma: conflicts often reawaken previous trauma in your life,
creating hypersensitivity to an issue.
We also talked about allowing one person to speak, and really listening
to the other. We discussed the importance of listening with an ear for
“the kernel of truth” in what their mate was saying. They
learned about the value of letting themselves be influenced by their
mate’s concerns, silencing the temptation to become defensive
and offering a quick rebuttal.
Karen and Doug seemed relieved to hear that their problems were normal
and could be remedied. They agreed to slow things down when they became
defensive, to guard their tongues and to look deeply to see if there
were other, more vulnerable emotions needing expression.
They agreed to take time outs when needed. It would take work, but
they agreed to take these new insights home to practice.
Are you using a “fiery,” untamed tongue in your marriage?
This is a critical mistake that will only lead to regret. Consider taming
your tongue. Recognize and own your primary feelings, practice some
of the tools in this article, and allow God to heal problems with anger
and harsh words. Let
me know how these tools worked for you.
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