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Men, tongues, words and wounds

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By R.J. Palmer

In my (albeit feeble) defense, I had just come from undergoing a medical test done under sedation, which may or may not have loosened my tongue. Or maybe it was because I hadn’t eaten in 24 hours and hunger affected my brain.
Whatever the reason, I said something that embarrassed my husband.
We had stopped at a local restaurant for a burger. I ordered the thickest, beefiest, cheesiest burger on the menu, plus fries, and my husband ordered a veggie burger and a salad.
Before the waiter left the table I blurted, “That’s what girls order!”
I don’t remember anything else of the meal except how good that burger tasted, nor did I remember what I had said until later at home when my husband told me how embarrassed he had been.
“You were still spacey from the anesthesia, so I’ll just forget about it,” he said. “But any other time I’d be really upset.”
He may or may not have used other words, but that was the message — I had embarrassed him.
Any other time, I’d like to think that I would never say anything that would embarrass him. But truthfully, I don’t know if I can say never.
Sure, I could rationalize it and say I was just trying to be funny. Besides, what I said wasn’t all that offensive, at least not to me. Maybe my husband was being overly sensitive. However, that’s not the point.
The point is, I embarrassed my husband.
While researching for my book, “When He Doesn’t Believe,” I learned a lot about what makes men tick. One of the things that has stuck with me is how men greatly fear being embarrassed or thought inadequate.
The quickest way to shut a man down is to let him think he’s not measuring up, that he’s less or not enough. A man constantly measures himself next to the “other guy” — like the waiter taking our order.
Brothers measure themselves against each other, sons against their fathers. They’re always asking themselves, “How am I doing?”
Just as a woman’s deepest need is to know she’s cherished, a man needs to know he’s OK — as a father, a provider, a husband, a lover, a man. At his core, a man yearns to be a hero to his family, strong in the eyes of other men, strong in his own eyes.
John Gray, author of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” wrote that women generally don’t know how critical and unloving they sound to the men in their lives. For example, when we offer unsolicited advice or try to “help” men, Gray says it’s the same as saying, “I don’t trust your judgment or your capabilities; I think you’re incompetent.”
Likewise, my “ordering like a girl” comment, especially in front of another man, was emasculating to my husband. It was as if I said, “You’re not a real man because you didn’t order beef.”
When my husband brought up what I had said, I felt terrible and apologized profusely. We blamed it on the sedation, but as I said, I can’t be sure that I wouldn’t have said it anyway. Sometimes I don’t think before I speak.
New Testament writer James says, “By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell (James 3:6, The Message).
Yikes!
I need a tongue-ectomy. But my tongue isn’t the real problem. Jesus said what comes out of my mouth is what’s in my heart, and that horrifies me. I might be able to tame my tongue, but I’ll never be able to tame my heart.
How grateful I am that Jesus can tame my heart, and as I continue to learn of him and learn more about what makes men tick, I’m certain that I’ll have plenty of opportunities to use my words to build my husband up, not tear him down.
Plus, next time I’m under sedation, I think when I’m done I’ll just have a bowl of soup.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria — I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at (352) 564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.