The words always and never seem innocent in and of themselves. It’s easy to say things like: “Oh yes, I’ve always loved going to the movies.” Or, “I never have enjoyed mushrooms.” However, the words always and never can have devastating effects when tossed like a flame-lit grenade in the heat of an argument.
You always say things like that to me.
You never listen anymore.
I’m always cleaning up after you.
You never have cared.
A simple conversation between a husband and wife can quickly spiral into a war zone with assertions of always and never. Perhaps you’ve experienced the escalade of emotion that invades with an always or never comment.
Unfortunately, I can speak on both sides of the aisle with this topic. I’ve thrown those always and never grenades, one right after the other, like firecrackers. I’ve also felt the explosion of fury when an always or never comment was made about me. It gives credibility to the best marriage advice I have ever received: leave always and never out of your marriage.
Always and never are all or nothing words. When used in a negative context they leave no room for grace or growth or optimism, but instead act as a reprimand. They don’t advocate, they diminish, contradicting the command in Scripture to “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).
The words always and never also imply one hundred percent consistency, and I can’t remember the last time I was one hundred percent consistent at anything. Only God, who is steadfast and faithful, is one hundred percent consistent.
Always and Never Are Unnecessary Embellishments
It’s easy to slip in an always or never when we’re mad or disappointed and trying to make a point. But in marriage, we’re taking the lazy way out when we make an always or never comment. Like the time I told my husband that we never go on dates anymore, instead of just explaining that I was tired and needed a break. Or the time I told him we never do anything fun together, instead of admitting I was jealous of a friend’s recent getaway with her husband.
Stacey, is it really true that we never go on dates? No, it wasn’t true, and I was being unfair. All I did was put my husband on the defensive by using the word never. Yet with a little rephrasing—I wish we could go on more dates. I feel like we don’t go on dates like we used to—the conversation is able to continue. But toss in an always or never embellishment to make your point heard, and it’s like throwing gasoline on a fire.
I notice this with my kids as well. The moment one of them accuses the other of always misplacing the TV remote or never sharing their toys—it’s an all-out war. When I hear them say it, I immediately ask them to stop and consider if their words are actually true. And if not, I have them rephrase the statement so it’s true. Sometimes I can’t find the TV remote. I like it when you share your toys with me.
Always and Never Will Not Accomplish What We Hope
Always and never comments are the most popular when we’re frustrated. We tend to say them when we feel like we aren’t being heard. You never listen to me anymore. But as soon as we assert that our husbands always do this or never do that, we will not be heard as we hope. Instead, we’ll spend the remainder of our conversations defending our accusations, while our husbands focus their attention on correcting our manipulative claims.
Things do not get better when we make always or never claims—they get worse. Communication is not accomplished with an always or never statement but confusion certainly is—Why would you say such a thing? How can you say that about me?—leading us to wonder, Where did things go wrong and how did we end up here? Truly, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21), and “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life” (Prov. 13:3).
Only a Sovereign God Can Pronounce Always or Never
It’s God alone who can use the words always or never and mean it in truth. He alone is permanent, steadfast, sovereign, and faithful—unchanging in all His ways.
Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:20)
Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession. (2 Cor. 2:14)
Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Heb. 7:25)
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. (Lam. 3:22)
When reserved for God, the words always and never become like stones we can stand on in this unpredictable world. But when spoken in grievance over a spouse or loved one or child or coworker, always and never become like stones in the hand of an angry crowd.
Praise the Lord that He is gracious with us, “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever” (Ps. 103:8–9). What a great use of the word always. God’s pattern is grace and forgiveness for those who belong to Him, but what is our pattern with those who belong to us?
We like to go above and beyond when we talk with strangers, in hopes of gaining their appreciation, but when it comes to relationships that are important to us, sometimes we settle for carelessness. But our goal as believers is to emulate God’s kindness, whether we know the person or not.
The Extra Effort Is Worth It
Conversations in marriage are not easy. I get that. At times, it may seem easier to walk across choppy water than to share truthful feelings with your husband. Yet without communication a marriage will not thrive. It’s just as harmful to stuff down how we feel as it is to spew accusations.
The best advice I can offer is to pray. Ask God to give you the right words when conversations need to take place. Words that are truthful and respectful. Words that are wrapped with grace and love and patience instead of slander and manipulation. God can’t wait to answer those kinds of prayers.
And when the temptation mounts to throw in a malicious always or never comment, take a deep breath and rephrase your words into a statement that doesn’t put you or your husband or loved one on the defensive. A statement that allows the conversation to continue.
It takes effort to watch over our words, but in marriage it’s worth it. As you seek to honor your husband with truthful statements, start by setting aside the words always and never. Lock them up and throw away the key! At first it might be hard, but keep in mind, the LORD is always with you and will never forsake you (Heb. 13:5). And that’s the kind of always and never we can get behind.