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“I Told You So!” and Other Words that Kill Relationships

I tend to be a cautious person. I was raised, hearing “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care”. I was a Boy Scout and our motto was “Be Prepared”.

My wife Susan and I have been married 45 years. There are things I occasionally see her doing that I “know” just are not going to turn out well. And as her husband, of course, I can’t just keep my mouth shut. That would be irresponsible! What kind of husband would I be, not to warn her?


We had a situation like that just a few weeks ago. I was upset because I thought she was not being as cautious as she could be to keep from getting poison ivy. In my mind, the results were both predictable and preventable.

As I walked away from that conversation, it dawned on me that there was something else that was predictable and preventable – my response!

I’ve developed a terrible habit over the years – the “I told you so” habit. Rather than letting a person to whom I’ve given my advice simply learn from their mistakes, I’ve felt compelled to remind them that I told you so. If I’m really honest with myself, I don’t always say it to be helpful to them. I do it to show them how much wiser I am than they are. And next time, if they were smart, they’d listen to me.

So, God impressed on me that day to make a pre-decision regarding my wife. If, and when she got poison ivy, I would not say, “I told you so.” No, “I told you so” looks. Nothing, but empathy and understanding.

I don’t tell you this story to impress you with my spirituality or discipline. Like most husbands, I’ve won “jerk of the month” many times. I’m telling the story because almost all of us have developed some bad habits like mine, that wound those we’re supposed to love. If you can’t think of any, just ask your spouse or adult children, if you have the courage.

Pre-decisions that heal

1. Take some time in the next 24 hours to ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of hurtful words, disapproving looks or un-Christ-like reactions to other people’s foolish choices that have become habitual for you.

  1. You’re not wearing that are you?

  2. How could you be so stupid?

  3. Haven’t I told you a thousand times that…?

  4. How many times do I have to tell you?

  5. You’ll never amount to anything if…!

  6. You’re just like your mother! (or father)

2. Ask the Holy Spirit for alternative words or an alternative reaction that would be more Christ-like. Perhaps your pre-decision will be to say nothing at all, particularly when you don’t have to personally bear the consequences of someone else’s choices, except perhaps for a little embarrassment or inconvenience.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19

I quoted a good family counselor in The 10-Second Rule, who said “If nothing changes – nothing changes.” Meaning, if you don’t do anything different, you can’t expect a different outcome.

 So, how has “I told you so,” worked for you? Does your spouse or child respect you more for it? Has “you’re not wearing that?”, or “I’ve told you a thousand times”, endeared you to them?

If nothing changes – then nothing changes!

by Clare De Graaf

Question:  What pre-decision is the Holy Spirit impressing you to make, even as you read this blog?

Following Jesus in Real Life

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