"Doug is just as tired of my biting tongue as I am," Karen said.

"I can get pretty sarcastic and angry, too," Doug replied, "and we’re both tired of our bickering."

"Good," I said. "Being tired of how things are going is a great place for God to work in our lives. We have to get to the point where we are at our wits end—then God can step in."

We spent the rest of our session exploring the roots of their anger and biting tongues. We discussed how their anger and sharp words had caused tremendous pain in their marriage, to the point where they had nearly separated several times. It had scared both of them, and they wanted to learn new tools.

One of the tools I shared was "speaking from your most vulnerable self." This requires slowing down the process and exploring what other feelings could be shared rather than anger—which so often is hurtful. We discussed how anger is a secondary emotion, and how we need to look beneath the surface and learn to share other more vulnerable emotions that lay below the surface.

We discussed common underlying feelings known as GIFT:

• Guilt: anger often covers feelings of unexpressed guilt.

• Inferiority: anger often covers feelings of insecurity or inferiority.

• Fear: this is often an emotion that is difficult to express, but can be powerful when expressed appropriately.

• Trauma: conflicts often reawaken previous trauma in your life, creating hypersensitivity to an issue.

Karen and Doug seemed relieved to hear that their problems were normal and could be remedied. They agreed to slow things down when they became defensive, to guard their tongues and to look deeply to see if there were other, more vulnerable emotions needing expression. They agreed to take time outs when needed. It would take work, but they agreed to take these new insights home to practice.

Are you using an untamed tongue in your marriage? Have you said things you regret later? Consider taming your tongue. Recognize and own your primary feelings, practice some of the tools in this article, and allow God to heal problems without anger and harsh words. You’ll be glad you did.

Editor's note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to him at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
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This article was adapted from  Nine Critical Mistakes Most Couples Make (Harvest House Publishers, 2005).

Dr. David B. Hawkins is a Visiting Professor at International Christian University and specializes in interpersonal relationship counseling as well as domestic violence and emotional abuse in relationships. He has been a frequent guest on Moody Radio Mid-day Connection, Focus on the Family, and At Home Live. You can visit his website at www.YourRelationshipDoctor.com.