Words That Break

When I was a teenager I used to dream of falling in love at first sight. It seemed so romantic, so wonderful. For many years I waited for it to happen, but it never did.

Perhaps with the right person you can fall in love quite quickly, but maybe it is not entirely possible to fall for someone in the first moment you lay eyes on them. Or is it?

Lately, I have spoken to a few people who claim that it happened to them. For real. There was a kind of knowing, a sudden familiarity that didn’t fade away once they got to know the person they fell for.

They were convinced love at first sight is a true phenomenon.

So that got me thinking that if people can fall in love so quickly, at first sight, in fact, can the opposite also be true? Can you fall out of love as quickly as you fall into it?

My friend, Gina, says you can. So does Lois at work. Two women who have recently ended long-term relationships.

It wasn’t his string of women, his ill-considered investments or even his shocking temper that shut down Gina’s love for her husband. Lois didn’t fall out of love with her partner because of his excessive drinking and partying.

Words were the culprit.

Words uttered without thought or care. Spoken irresponsibly, sometimes maliciously. Spat out like bullets.

Words. They are weak when they stand alone, but when they build up over time they turn, twist and writhe like knives in wounds.

Lois had an alcoholic father. When her partner started drinking heavily she gave up drinking herself, even though she just had the odd glass of wine. She found she couldn’t stomach alcohol. Her partner started accusing her of being too straight, too boring, too much like his mother, that she had been much more fun when she’d had a drink or two.

Gina’s husband called her everything under the sun. She brushed off most of it except for the comments made that living with her was a chore, that spending the day with her was too tedious to bear.

Both Gina and Lois could take the fighting, the abuse, being called bitches and whores, the mean, nasty, heat of the moment stuff, but they couldn’t take being referred to as boring. It was the final straw.

It suggested a deep vein of intolerance or indifference to who they really were as people. And that was what flicked the love switch from on to off.

I loved him one minute, then didn’t the next, Gina said. I didn’t even hate him. I just didn’t care anymore.

Words are powerful things. They can make us or break us.

And the words that break are often the ones we least expect.

19 thoughts on “Words That Break

  1. I remember a teacher I had when I was about 10. She taught the class that old saw, “Sticks and stones my break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

    Words leave the deepest scars, and no matter how many times someone says they’re sorry, and no matter how much you want to believe them, the pain remains. Even kind words, spoken in certain ways can become weapons of pain.

    Writers know this impact of words, we rely on it to move our readers’ hands to keep turning the pages. Words have power, and it doesn’t matter if they are spoken or written.


  2. First -I remember I was in a mud hut. It was dark, by that time few people had electricity in our village. I sat to the side in the shadows. It was a party and I was new and wasn’t up to socialising just yet. The door opened and in walked a man. And I swear to god, in that instant I knew I would marry him. That was me the woman who never dreamt of weddings and babies or any of that package. Here we are close to 20 years later.I hope it doesn’t end one day as quickly.

    Karen is right. Words hurt far more than sticks or stones even big ones. Can’t we remember hurtful things from years ago, even decades?


  3. It took me about five minutes to fall in love with my husband. After 13 years, I don’t think it would take me five minutes to fall out of love with him. And, yes, words are important… in those 13 years we have *never* called each other a name. We fight and say hurtful things, but we never curse or call each other names. It’s the unspoken rule in our marriage, I guess.


  4. I knew from the minute I saw my husband (not spoke to him) that he was a really important person for me, I didnt love him immediately, but I knew.
    I admire Gina and Lois for their strength for sticking around for as long as they did. I dont think you can fall out of love overnight, there’s so much usually tied in with ‘long term love’ that will make you doubt a decision.
    I do think you can come to your senses and find the courage where there has been none before and it appears to be a huge revelation when actually there has been a long build up.


  5. KAREN:
    You are spot on with that one. One of my pet hates is when people say:’I didn’t mean it.’ Oh yes, you bloomin’ well did, otherwise you wouldn’t have said it.. It can be the most innocuous and seemingly unimportant comment that can stick in your mind for ages and can shape the way you view another person. Or how you think they view you. Words are weapons and some people use them very carelessly.

    Me too. I wish I hadn’t said certain things I blurted out in the past. But there they are floating around in the ether. One day I will master self-censorship!!

    What an incredible moment. I can’t see it ending quickly after all this time. I think that particularly in Gina’s case her falling out of love didn’t really happen as quickly as she thought. Her husband having such a low opinion of her was the final straw and she realised it wasn’t really love she was feeling anymore, just a weird sort of ownership to a man who was bent on hurting her.

    I have got some kind of perverse catalogue thing going on in my head where I remember verbatim the horrible things certain people have said. It’s not that I feel overly wounded by what people have said, it’s more that I’m surprised they said them. I need to rip that catalogue up. Stat!

    That is definitely the way it should be. After 18 years I don’t think I could fall out of love with my husband that quickly, either. Maybe after years of problems it’s different, though. It could be a self-preservation thing. Wishing you and your husband many more happy years together!!

    You have summed it up perfectly. That’s what it is. It feels like a moment of revelation when in fact, it is the result of a build up of emotion and you do come to your senses. It just seems quick.


  6. I submit there was more of a build up than these women realize. They just buried them deep until finally it flipped the switch – you can’t take that kind of verbal abuse and it not effect you. But wow – they really knew how to bury it deep.

    I am always at odds with my sweetheart over words – his family is very sarcastic and although they don’t mean to – they hurt one another constantly. Redbeard sometimes forgets and slips into that old habit and I have to remind him… even when he’d rather I didn’t. lol! But that’s what we usually fight over – WORDS! πŸ˜€


  7. I was 17, and I *thought* I’d fallen in love at first sight, and was over the moon when I saw her sitting with some friends who asked me to join them.

    Then, she opened her mouth … she had a high, whining voice and an ‘Estuary English’ accent … and used an ugly, racist word to describe my West Indian friend. I fell out of love really quickly!


  8. Flinging words can be emotional abuse that is just as detrimental as the physical. Besides love relationships in a marriage, think about kids who are constantly told “You’re stupid. Stop being so lazy.” The erosion of self-esteem often leads to that numbness you spoke of with your friend. I’m sorry for the wounds both of your friends have suffered and hope they will find the strength to move past them.

    All of us need to step back and evaluate our words, written or spoken, on a regular basis. Even if said unintentionally, the power of words leaves an indelible mark. Excellent post.


  9. Yes, people need to think before they speak. Things cannot be unsaid, you can’t unknow something or wipe it from your mind. I suspect we have all said hurtful things that we regret at some time or other, I know I have, but I think I mostly do have a safety valve and there is a line I do not cross, particularly with my children, whose confidence could so easily be destroyed by thoughtless unkind and unnecessary words.

    And you are right about your last statement. The thing that Al said to me that made me realise I could no longer live with him was not cruel really, it just showed that he had no idea how I felt nor was he prepared to make the effort to do so. At that moment I just knew that hanging around any longer would gobble up too much of me. But actually I think it was a good thing he said it, because it made me realise something I might have taken years to realise otherwise. So it’s a tricky one.


    Boy, oh, boy, did they bury it. I am surprised Gina put up with as much as she did. I would have snapped long before that.

    I can relate to what you are saying about Redbeard’s family. My family are a little guilty of that too. Sometimes they come out with some real zingers that make me cringe. It can be embarrassing but also hurtful.

    That has happened to me too. i thought I had fallen for a football player but he was the classic case of ‘all brawn and no brain.’ So disappointing!

    Negative words do lead to that sense of numbness. It’s a horrible feeling. I agree with you that it’s important to self-evaluate on a regular basis. We all might be kinder to one another if we did.

    It is complicated, for sure. I think when someone has no idea how you really feel an obstacle that is difficult to overcome develops. And I’m with you 100% on the safety valve. I’ve installed it over time because I do hate to hurt someone unintentionally. I hope that valve still works!


  11. The power of words if undeniable, of course. Yet one of the reasons why they have such a profound effect on us is because apart from their immediate denotation words often carry a huge emotional charge. This is not about downright insults. Sometimes certain expressions can trigger a strongly negative reaction simply because we make an unconscious association about something which was never implied by the speaker. I’m the kind of person who is often approached by others with their problems, so I bear witness to the fact that a lot of relationships suffer because of misinterpretation. But again, let me emphasize, I’m not talking about explicit rudeness here.


  12. Words can be more hurtful and more powerful than any more tangible weapon. We need to chose them wisely. I regret some that I’ve spoken along the way but they can never really be retrieved, can they? An apology only goes so far. I think the comments about “I just didn’t care anymore” speak volumes too. Just too tired, just too fed up, just so in need of a change…

    Good post Sel. Sad to read but so very true.

    Hugs, G


  13. I wholeheartedly agree with your two friends.

    Here’s one………..what happens when you fall in love at first sight, but then due to circumstances and long distances, life events and bad timing, there was no chance to pursue it to the fullest and was never consumated….. do those two people remain in that heightened feeling forever? And if they do, could it be that they will find one another again in another life?


  14. This is a great post, Sel… it has two parts to it that I can relate to very well. Falling out of love and love at first sight.

    I was the ‘frog in scalding water – where the frog doesn’t realise that the temperature is constantly rising until it’s too late and it gets cooked’.

    Without realising, it my self esteem, and my authority as a father, were constantly being eroded in minute pieces by my partner. Not only was this happening to me, but my children, without giving it conscious thought, adjusted their opinion of me to keep up with the erosion. Eventually I realised that the marriage was over.

    It’s took a bit of time to start getting my self esteem back, but thankfully the kids seem to be recovering their respect for me a lot quicker than I expected.

    Since then I’ve met Butch… and although it wasn’t love at first sight, it was certainly love at first contact.



  15. This was a powerful piece, Selma, and it certainly hit home with me, although I’d never thought about it that way before. I survived three very abusive long-term marriages before finally finding the man of my dreams who is in every way the opposite of what I had before. Thinking back to the hell of existance in those previous relationships, it is indeed true that what hurt the most, cut the deepest, and ultimately ended the marriages wasn’t the obvious, it was the words, the things said with cold callousness, the lack of caring, the lack of understanding, things said with the intention of conveying how little I actually meant to them. I’ve forgotten the physical confrontations, the issues with alcohol and drugs and infidelity, but I’ll never forget the things that were said to erode my self-confidence and my desire to live. Words are indeed very powerful we can use them to tear down or to build up. Your essay is something everyone needs to be educated one – what we say to other people MATTERS, often far more than we realize. Excellent Writing… thank you!


  16. SHIONA:
    I know exactly what you mean. You put it very well about the emotional charge. The impact often does come later. What an excellent comment!

    It is sad. I hate when people I know lose hope a little. Words can do such damage. The pen, or in this case the mouth, really is mightier than the sword!

    What an incredibly tantalising thought. I have to find out. Do they ever get over it? Do they ever experience the same thing with anyone else? Now you’ve got me thinking……

    I’m really sorry to hear your relationship with your children was affected. Glad to hear it’s improving. That makes me sad because I imagine you must be a great Dad. You’re certainly a great friend!

    I know in my own marriage that it’s the words that sting the most. Many other people have said the same thing. They can hurt us but they can also make us see the light. I really appreciate your feedback!


  17. My take on it?

    Yes, they remain in that state of love at first sight.

    And I hope in my next life my eyes meet his again. πŸ™‚

    btw, he’s an Aussie. πŸ™‚


  18. Hi DANA,
    You can’t just leave me hanging like that? Why didn’t you ever see him again? WOW. What a story. With an Aussie too. I sincerely hope that one day you get to see him again!


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