Poisonous Putdowns in Marriage

Poisonous putdowns in marriage - DollarclubHave you been on the receiving end of poisonous putdowns from your spouse, through words that were thrown at you? Have YOU thrown verbal assaults at your spouse? Either way, this can hurt your marriage relationship. When you think about it:

“Hostile, poisonous putdowns act as cancerous cells that, if unchecked, erode the relationship over time.” (Cliff Notarius) 

It’s important to note:

“Words are like seeds. Once planted in your mate’s life, your words will bring forth flowers or weeds, health or disease, healing or poison. You carry a great responsibility for their use. As Proverbs 18:21 warns: ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue.’ Your words have the power to contaminate a positive self-image or to heal the spreading malignancy of a negative one.” (Dennis and Barbara Rainey, from their book, “Building Your Mate’s Self Esteem”)

When angry, poisonous putdowns are flung at the other spouse, the marriage relationship no longer feels safe.

“Putdowns are an expression of anger. Not only do you hurt your spouse, but being nasty ultimately boomerangs back toward you. …Ironically, when you resort to putting down your mate, you end up getting less of what you want out of the relationship because he or she pulls away.” (Dr. Haltzman, from his article, “Verbally Put Down My Spouse?”)

The Sinful Stronghold of Poisonous Putdowns

Relationship expert, Dr Gary Chapman addressed this topic in a past issue of Marriage Partnership Magazine. Dr Chapman writes:

Physical abuse in marriage is devastating. But verbal abuse —putdowns, blame, harsh or bitter words, profanity —can be just as destructive.

Verbal abuse uses words as grenades —designed to punish the other person, to place blame, or to justify actions. It’s a poisonous putdown that one spouse uses to make the other feel bad, appear wrong or inadequate.”

And is that ultimately what you want to do to your spouse?

Poisonous Putdowns Are Foolish and Deadly

Below are several scriptures that tell of the danger of poisonous words:

•  “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Proverbs 29:20)

•  “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. (Proverbs 29:11)

•  “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil. (Proverbs 15:28)

•  “The tongue has the power of life and death. (Proverbs 18:21)

•  “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.(Proverbs 13:3)

•  “The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the speech of the upright rescues them.(Proverbs 12:6)

There is no doubt that God’s word warns against abusive words. If God takes this issue seriously, so should we.

So, What Can Be Done?

Dr Chapman gives the following advice:

Confront lovingly.

“Marilyn and Jeff struggled with this issue. Jeff would make cutting, nasty remarks if he didn’t like what Marilyn was doing. She finally came to me for counseling.

“I encouraged Marilyn to confront Jeff lovingly. Later that night after the children were in bed, she told him, ‘I’ve been thinking about us. I remember how kind you were to me when we dated: your tender touch, your kind words, and the fun we had. Sometimes, though, I lose that vision when I’m hurt by your verbal attacks. I believe that gentle, loving man —the one I married —is the man you really want to be.’

Take time away.

“Two weeks later Jeff exploded again in harsh words to Marilyn. Since confrontation needs to be progressive, I encouraged Marilyn to up the ante.

“Marilyn had another conversation with Jeff: ‘I’ve made a decision. I’ve explained how deeply I’m hurt when you lash out at me with critical and demeaning words. It takes me days and sometimes weeks to get over the pain. I’ve decided that the next time you lose your temper and yell at me, I’ll take some time away from you in order to recover. I’m not abandoning you. Instead, I’m trying to take constructive action. I’m sharing this with you because I believe in you and want to improve our marriage.’

“‘Your leaving isn’t going to help,’ Jeff scoffed. ‘Perhaps not,’ Marilyn said. ‘But at least it’s a step in the right direction.’

“A week later when Jeff erupted, Marilyn packed up their children and spent three days with her mother. That’s when Jeff got serious about his destructive behavior. He sought counseling and started down the road to recovery. While not all spouses will respond as quickly as Jeff, most will face reality when confronted with tough love.


Don’t give in.

“We must never allow verbal abuse ‘to work’ for the abuser. Giving in encourages that negative behavior.

(For more of an explanation on this point, we encourage you to read the article, Why Doesn’t My Spouse Change? Functional Fixedness.)

Additional Advice

But on this same point of not giving in, Angie Lewis gives this advice (which applies whether it’s the husband who is throwing out poisonous putdowns or the wife—just change out the pronouns):

“You need to detach with love. How do you do that? Easy! Simply walk away when he becomes verbally abusive or when he begins to disrespect you. Do not take his verbal abuse. Let it slide right off your shoulders; let it go in one ear and out the other. I realize that no sane person can actually do this, but you are going to try and do it. And eventually it will make you feel better doing it. There is no other way. You can’t make your husband be nice to you. Only he has the power within himself to change himself.

“Why let his misery control how you feel? Walk away from it. And when he asks you why you are not getting angry back or why you are leaving the room, tell him that you are not going to talk to him when he is abusive. You have to take care of your own emotional and spiritual well-being. How can you do that when you are constantly getting trampled on? Rescue yourself from the abuse. The worst thing you can do is to get verbally abusive back.” (From the Christians in Recovery article, “My Husband Puts Me Down Constantly. What Should I Do?”)

This goes with the scripture:

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.(Proverbs 26:4-5)


If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

If You Are the One Who Throws Out Those Putdowns:

Accept Responsibility:

“When you lose it and say hurtful things, it’s human nature to blame someone else for ‘making me feel this way.’ You, and only you, are responsible for your actions, and your reactions in marriage. You’ve got the power to make your marriage spectacular, don’t permit yourself to make it anything less than that.” (Dr. Haltzman, from his article, “Verbally Put Down My Spouse?”)

You can find help with this issue in the ABUSE IN MARRIAGE topic, as well as the COMMUNICATION AND CONFLICT and the COMMUNICATION TOOLS topics.

Above all, remember God’s Word sets the standard for how we should conduct ourselves.

We’re told in Malachi 3:13-16:

You flood the LORD’S altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. And you ask, ‘Why?’ It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit, they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So, guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. ‘I hate divorce,’ says the LORD God of Israel, ‘and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence [or his wife] as well as with his garment,’ says the LORD Almighty. So, guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.

May we set standards in our homes and conduct —that we personally will not break faith.

Cindy and Steve Wright


To help you further, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below:

7 Essentials - Marriage book


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