“You’re mean!”

With three young daughters sharing tight quarters in our home, those two words bounce down the hallways far more often than I would like to admit. So, my husband and I recently banned the phrase and replaced it with an important reminder: “A single unkind action does not make your sister an unkind person. You must speak only what you know to be true.”

The reminder is a tough but important one, and we soon realized how much our marriage could benefit from the same kind of verbal overhaul. Too often the heat of conflict can inject our conversations with such inflammatory words as “always” and “never”—words that convey our frustrations but certainly not the truth.

These infractions may seem trivial, or at least run of the mill when it comes to marriage, but if we are committed to creating a home environment where the inhabitants desire to know God’s truth, we must take captive every threat of dishonesty that would creep inside our borders—even those that are unintended or perhaps even socially acceptable.

Think about it for a minute. How many popular sitcoms can you name that employ marital conflict as comedic relief? Arguments between spouses are backed by a laugh track, even when the words being volleyed back and forth are exaggerated, untruthful, and downright hurtful. Often the storyline is propelled even further when the husband and wife berate and criticize each other to their friends.

The sad reality is, popular culture doesn’t care whether or not our marriages succeed, let alone whether or not they glorify God. But if we desire these outcomes, we must train ourselves to speak only what we know, no matter how fiercely our emotions try to influence us.

What does this look like on a practical level? For starters, sit down with your spouse and identify those areas where you are prone to drift from absolute truth and then practice keeping a steady course. For example, I tend to view circumstances disproportionately when I am feeling stressed or overwhelmed (e.g., “You always forget about this” or “You never consider my feelings”). I have to practice alternate phrases such as “When you do this, it makes me feel …” so that my responses under stress will be only those that I know to be true. On the other hand, my husband hates conflict, so he tends to acquiesce for the sake of peace. He’ll mutter, “You’re right,” even when we both know he doesn’t truly feel that way. Once we identified these areas of weakness (and ultimately, dishonesty), we were able to adjust our responses accordingly.

On the flip side, consider what encouraging truths your spouse needs to hear and commit to speaking them regularly—regardless of your feelings. “I love you,” “I’m proud of you,” and “You are a blessing to me” are words we should aim to speak daily, not just when our emotions line up.

As Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” The battle for absolutely honesty—even in the midst of conflict—is one that must be fought tirelessly. But let us not grow weary! For speaking what we know rather than what we feel is a powerful practice that will impact not only our marriages but also our entire families.

And that’s the truth.