Why it’s Worth it to Hold Your Tongue

There you are again. You’ve found yourself in the same circle of female friends, and the conversation has turned to the same topic it always does when this particular group gets together:

“He left the kids’ bath towels on the floor again.”

“Yep. Happens in my house all the time. I just can’t get him to clean up after himself!”

“Well, at least your husband helps out with bath time! Mine would never dream of doing such a thing!”

You’re at a crossroads. You know you have plenty of anecdotes to chip in to the complaint fest, but something is holding you back.

Something like respect.

You recall the conversation that you and your husband had shortly after you tied the knot, and you’re determined to keep your side of the bargain.

So you hold your tongue.

Does this sound familiar?

In a situation like the one described above, it doesn’t take much fuel to start a fire of complaints, especially when your company is adding more fuel with each supporting comment. Sadly, gossip and complaining are sparks of flame that spread like wildfire.

As James writes, “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:5b-6).

The old elementary school adage remains a mantra worth applying:

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Yet it can be so hard to hold one’s tongue.  It is much easier to join in the verbal bashing when your friends get going – but consider the testimony that is being made when you choose to zip your lips instead:

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life …” —Philippians 2:14-16a

The way we speak about our husband or wife is overheard in numerous contexts each day. Consider how easy it is to paint your spouse in a negative light in front of your parents, your children and your friends.

In front of your parents
It’s 6:45 and the kids were hungry an hour ago, but you told them that you wanted to wait for daddy to get home from work so you could all eat together. But he’s still not home. The phone rings in the midst of the chaos of fussing cries and you make the mistake of picking it up. It’s your mom.

In the pressure, you crack. “No, he’s still not home. He told me he was only working till five today. I can’t stand it when he does this.”

What is your mom’s response going to be? Of course she wants to look out for her little girl. So the seed of grudgery is planted. That’s all it takes – one poorly timed phone conversation, one hint of displeasure in her daugther’s voice, and Mr. Son-in-Law’s offense has been scribbled in the bad books with a permanent Sharpie.

In front of your kids
Mothers can do a great deal to set the temperature in the household, and fathers as well. What you say about your spouse and the tone in which you say it will likely set the stage for your children’s attitudes about their other parent.

Consider the scene described above.  Daddy is late coming home from work … again. You are inwardly irked, but you have a choice to make. You could either express your irritation in front of your kids through your audible sighs and frequent, perturbed glances at the clock. Or you could make every effort to elevate your spouse at a time like this. You could say to your kids, “Your dad works so hard for us. I’m so proud to be married to such a hard-working man, and I am so grateful for all that he does for our family.”

Same scenario, two completely different reactions. Which is more biblical? As wives, we are to respect our husbands. One way of doing so is by demonstrating that respect to our children, so they, too, will cultivate the same due respect in their hearts for their fathers.

In front of your friends
Sometimes it’s even possible to offend your spouse in his or her presence, without doing so intentionally. In those instances, the offended party should verbalize his or her hurt feelings so the spouse who is in the wrong can be aware of his or her fault. If addressed calmly and sincerely, the situation can be remedied peacefully, and future embarrassments can be avoided.

Making a pact
If you haven’t done so already, make a pact with your spouse. Promise them that you won’t say anything negative about them in front of anyone else. If you have a beef, take it up with your spouse in private. And if you slip – no, when your tongue slips – tell your spouse. Confess your fault, repent, and seek forgiveness.


Kate Motaung is the author of A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging (2018), A Start-Up Guide for Online Christian Writers, and Letters to Grief. She is the host of Five Minute Friday, an online community that encourages and equips Christian writers, and owner of Refine Services, a company that offers writing, editing, and digital marketing services. Kate blogs at Heading Home and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@katemotaung).

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