Choosing What NOT to Say
by Carol Kuykendall
My daughter got her hair cut a few weeks before her due date, from long to stylishly short. She was still trying to get used to her new look and feeling self-conscious when we ran into one of her friends while walking through the mall.
“Oh no!” the friend wailed, touching my daughter’s hair. “I don’t like it!” Then, as if to rationalize her words, she quickly added, “You know me. I’m a Truth-Teller!”
As we walked away, my daughter told me she could have done without the truth that day.
That Truth-Telling encounter has been a sort of blessing for me. It’s made me more aware of that critical moment in a conversation when I’m faced with a choice: Do I say what I’m thinking? Or do I zip it? I’ve decided that what I DON’T say is often more important than what I DO say, especially when it comes to the meaningful relationships in my life.
I keep hearing that “telling it like it is” and “being real” is good for our relationships. Reality TV and Twittering the truth add to our reverence for authenticity. But here’s what I know about myself: If I say everything I think, I can slay the people in my path. And just because I think something doesn’t make it true.
My marriage gives me my greatest opportunity to live out this awareness. In 40-plus years of living life together, my husband, Lynn, and I know almost everything about each other. I can finish his sentences. Predict most of his choices. I can also choose to forget or remember every not-so-good choice he’s ever made. In an argument, I could get the last word in with a perfect zinger. So I have a powerful choice. I can choose what to say – or what NOT to say.
When making a choice about what NOT to say, we need to ask ourselves: Is it helpful – or hurtful – to the person or relationship? What about the timing and tone of the words? A comment about a spouse’s appearance is hurtful when he can’t do anything about it and will only make him self-conscious the rest of the evening. But had we not left the house yet, the comment could have been helpful.
As for the tone, my husband tells me that he doesn’t like me to use my “teacher voice.” I get defensive when he says that, but it also makes me smile because I know exactly what he means.
I came across a plaque one of our children made years ago in a Sunday school class. It’s titled the Family Policy Verse: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29
I think that means choosing what NOT to say is sometimes more important than what I DO say. And that choice leads to better relationships.
Carol Kuykendall is a Consulting Editor for MOMSense magazine and the author of Five Simple Ways to Grow a Great Family available at MOPShop.org.