“What’s your best marriage advice?”
is a question we often get. Our go to answer, in short, is to refrain from using the words “always” and “never” toward each other. Why? It’s hyperbole!
The definition for hyperbole is: exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally. Believe it or not, we use hyperbole in everyday conversation…
“I slept like a rock last night.”
“These high heels are killing me.”
“You’re as light as a feather.”
“I’m drowning in paperwork.”
“There are a million things to do!”
“I’m running around like a chicken with its head cut off.”
“That cost me an arm and a leg.”
Those examples may not be bad sayings in and of themselves. However, the problem with exaggerated statements or claims is that it calls attention to the degree of force that you are choosing to put on the expression instead of the substance of the argument that you are making. When you add in the words “always” or “never”, especially in a marriage relationship, that hyperbole exceeds all the other burdens you are communicating. As the self-contradicting adage says,
“Always and never statements are always false and never true.”
So when you look at your spouse (probably frustrated) and say things like,“You ALWAYS make us late” or “You NEVER put the toilet seat down,” their focus will automatically focus on the hyperbole used instead of what really needs to be heard. When used like this, the words “always” and “never” turn very accusatory no matter the tone used to say them.
Always means: at ALL times; on ALL occasions. As confidently as we are that the sun will ALWAYS rise in the east, we could guarantee that your wife has not slipped up on the time in every single expectation in life. But instead of hearing an area that she might need to work on (or better yet, you asking her how you can help her improve), the attack was felt by the choice of using one exaggerated word.
Never means: on NO occasion; not ever. Although it might SEEM like your husband NEVER puts the toilet seat down, this worse than reality claim actually sets him up for failure in the future. Interestingly, the word “never” also means: at no time in the past or future. So again, using this hyperbole allows your spouse to focus on the negativity of the statement and takes away all hope of change.
Instead of hyperbole in marriage, we encourage couples to use communication skills that are less condescending. Take away the accusations of THEM by simply expressing the way it makes YOU feel. An illustration of this would be a truthful (not exaggerated) statement such as: “When you do ________, it makes me feel _________.”
Going back to our “You ALWAYS make us late” or “You NEVER put the toilet seat down” examples, it might look more like “When you aren’t conscious of the time we need to leave, it makes me feel like you are being disrespectful to me and my desire to not be late” or “When you leave the toilet seat up, it makes me feel like you don’t care about me and I want to be on your mind.” Rephrasing statements and refraining from hyperbole claims could be the catalyst you need in your marriage right now, and that is why it is our best marriage advice … no hyperbole about it!
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