Dr.Tom’s article

Dr. Tom wrote the following article for World of Gospel, a Christian magazine:

Four Shocking Words

What is the difference between reacting and responding? When we think of reacting we think of tempers flaring, and of harsh words being spoken. Responding, on the other hand, seems gentler and more reasonable. When we respond, we are reaching out in an agreeable way to reinforce the other’s request, or interest.   But with many couples, tempers flare and voices rise in anger and frustration. Then they begin to use inflammatory phrases like “you never,” and “you always,” and before long, voices and tempers have escalated until the accusations become unreasonable and illogical. In counseling sessions, I find that arguments are often based on misunderstanding and miscommunication.


I have a shocking assignment that I give to arguing clients, which I call “learning to listen, and seeking to understand”. All this is done at an agreed-to time where an issue is dealt with—not just on the run.   The assignment consists of the practical application of one spouse sharing an issue without interruption (the “talker”), while the other spouse is the “listener” (without interrupting, no matter how defensive he/she feels).  The listener then says what they understand the talker has shared, finishing their response with, “did I get that right, and is there anything else you want to add?”  If the listener hasn’t understood, then the talker will try to further explain.  Again, the listener says what he/she thought they heard.  If the talker is satisfied that the listener understands what he/she meant, then, The FOUR SHOCKING WORDS are asked by the listener: “How can I help?”  This takes the listener from self-defense to looking out for the other.  It takes the talker by surprise that the listener is not defending himself/herself, but actually trying to understand.


The Bible has much to say about the power of words: that they can destroy or heal. In Proverbs we have many references to the power of words. For example: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). Solomon spoke of many types of words, from kind, gentle and wise to corrupt, hasty and angry. One of the proverbs which comes to mind is, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).


Jesus said, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37). How many times could we have averted a “blow-up” if we had not returned angry words for angry words? Self-control, a “fruit of the Spirit,” is an essential ingredient in our lives that is produced as we yield to the Holy Spirit, substituting helpful words for angry words.


Arkansas Christian Counseling of Fort Smith: Hope and Healing from a Christian Perspective.     Dr. Tom MacMahon, Licensed Professional Counselor, and marriage coach.    Call for an appointment with Dr.Tom to explore counseling or marriage coaching–no commitment to continue. For information or appointment, call Carolyn:  479 883-5492

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