Have you ever been at a party and heard people belittle their spouses? "You know how Howard is. He's so absent-minded, sometimes I think I should sew his key chain to his shirt." Or "Did Jenny tell you she's applying for that job as project manager? Like she has a chance!"
Often we rationalize such cutting remarks by saying, "I was only joking." But I don't buy that. An unkind remark always hurts; it always discourages—the opposite of what our mates need. Discouragement diminishes their sense of worth, defeats their hopes, and erodes their courage.
That's the word at the heart of encouragement—"courage." When we encourage our spouses, we stoke up their spirits and build their confidence, giving them courage to face difficult challenges. We're all confronted by negativism, evil influences, shrinking paychecks and growing bills, more work to get done in less time, and pressures that seem never to let up. As spouses, it's up to us to make sure the supply of encouragement meets the demand. But it seems that husbands and wives often do just the opposite.
When I hear someone make barbed remarks about his or her mate, it makes me think of a Learning Experience (otherwise known as a Major Argument) my husband, Dan, and I had many years ago. At work that afternoon, I had become embroiled in a heated difference of opinion with Ron, a co-worker, about how a project should be done. Without my knowledge, he had gone ahead and started the project. I felt that Ron had not only overstepped his role but plunged into my professional turf.1