Kotodama: The Spirit — And Power — Of Language

We all know that words have power. We encourage children to speak kindly because words can hurt and we use words to comfort and uplift people in our lives. In Japanese culture, specifically Shintoism, though, the power of language holds a special place. Expressed through the word “kotodama,” a combination of the words for “word” and “spirit,” kotodama suggests that language has a living spirit. In some cases, the right use of language can even bring about changes in the material world.

So what does this traditional belief have to do with your relationship? Whether or not you adhere to or believe in the principles of kotodama, the fact is that our words shape our reality and this is particularly true in intimate relationships. What we say — or don’t say — to our partners determines the health of our relationships.

Words Connect Us

One of the most obvious examples of how language works in our relationships is the marriage ceremony. No matter the tradition, wedding ceremonies include a variety of commitments that express a couple’s hopes for their relationship. For example, most Christian vows include a commitment to remain together through illness and financial difficulty, while a traditional Hindu ceremony includes the Seven Steps, which include caring for the health of the family, raising children together, and growing in knowledge and happiness.

If you’re married, take some time to reexamine your wedding vows. What did you say to each other? What did you promise? You might even consider creating a visual reminder of those vows. How can you live into those promises every day? And for those who aren’t married, consider what your hopes are for your relationship. What do you expect from your partner and what have you committed to them in your relationship. Sometimes we find we haven’t articulated these hopes and desires, and that may be holding our relationships back.

Language And Responsibility

The importance of language in our relationships extends far beyond marriage vows, of course. In fact, one of the most powerful ways that words function in our relationships is in their ability to take responsibility for our actions, including mistakes. Many people struggle to make sincere apologies believing that saying “I’m sorry” might make them look weak. Instead, they will shift responsibility around — you may have caught yourself doing this when you feel embarrassed or insecure. In reality, apologizing demonstrates that you know you did harm, that you intend to amend your actions in the future, and that you appreciate that your partner has come to the table to engage with you and to repair the relationship.

Say More With Emi

We remember when someone hurts us with words, as well as when someone pays us a powerful compliment. Those moments stick in our minds and can influence our future actions, particularly when such interactions occur in our closest relationships. It raises the question, can we increase the number and depth of the positive moments with our partners?

If you want to embrace the spirit of kotodama, Emi can help you say more — and say more meaningful things. Sign up for our Kotodama Challenge and learn new ways to talk to your partner. Through our simple prompts, you’ll have opportunities to focus on what makes your partnership special. Let the power of language change your life. We can help you grow together in less than a minute a day.