Improving the Climate between Ourselves and Our Spouse
About the Guest
The climate of a marriage, just like the weather, can change at a moment's notice. Tim Muehlhoff coaches husbands on how to take a temperature reading of their marriage. Tim also explains why "calling a truce" and agreeing not to discuss something until later is sometimes the best choice.
Tim MuehlhoffTim Muehlhoff (PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) is a professor of communication at Biola University in La Mirada, California, where he teaches classes in family communication, interpersonal communication, persuasion, and gender. He is the author of I Beg to Differ and Marriage Forecasting, and the coauthor of The God Conversation, Authentic Communication, and Winsome Persuasion, which received a 2018 Christianity Today...more
The climate of a marriage, just like the weather, can change at a moment’s notice.
Improving the Climate between Ourselves and Our Spouse
Tim: We were having an argument, and I just wasn’t doing well attitude wise. I actually went off to speak at a Christian event. Coming back, I was actually excited to come back because I stopped at Kinko’s, gotten colored charts to show how Noreen was wrong. So, here I am coming back, and I walked in the door. She popped up, walked right toward me, hugged me, and gave me a kiss on the cheek.
I remember saying to her, “Why did you do that?” Her response was “Well, I was praying for you.” Ouch, right? Praying for me. The Holy Spirit said, “Listen, somebody needs to do something here. You guys are stuck. Somebody needs to do something. The reports we’re getting, it’s not going to be Tim, right? He’s at Kinko’s right now, okay?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, January 21st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Today were going to talk about what you can do to begin the process of getting unstuck in your communication in marriage.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today; thanks for joining us. I don’t even know if I even want to do today’s program. I mean—
Dennis: This has been too convicting.
Bob: We’ve been talking this week about my anniversary, how it didn’t go well, and how I’m going to try and make it all better.
Dennis: How you’re going to leave yourself—
Bob: Everybody’s piling up on the cell phone thing, alright?
Now you all leave me alone, I’ll manage this my own way, okay? It will be fine.
Dennis: We have with us Dr. Tim Muehlhoff. He is an expert on communication.
Bob: I love my cell phone.
Dennis: What would you say about—well, you’ve heard the dialogue. What do you think about Bob leaving his cell phone at home so he can have a nice evening to celebrate his anniversary.
Bob: Yes. What do you think about that?
Dennis: with Mary Ann? What do you think?
Bob: I want to know what you think.
Dennis: What do you think, Tim? Have you ever left yours at home, Tim?
Bob: Dr. Tim, the marriage meteorologist.
Dennis: You’re not talking, Tim.
Bob: What do you think about that?
Tim: I’m sorry, I was texting.
Bob: There you go. See. Absolutely.
Man after my own heart.
Dennis: Tim is a professor of communication at Biola University. He has written a book called Marriage Forecasting. He is married to Noreen, and they have almost three teenagers which means they have communication challenges.
Bob: Which they are happy to confess as they speak at our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. They are one of the couples who speak at these events that we host all around the country.
Of course, this week and next week we’re offering FamilyLife Today listeners a special opportunity to sign up for one of those getaways. When you register, you pay the regular price, and your spouse comes at no additional cost. It is a buy one get one free offer. It is good this week and next week only. You’ve got to identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener.
If you want to attend one of the upcoming getaways, go online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Get all the information you need. You can register online. As you’re filling out the registration form, type my name—type “BOB” in the key code box on the online registration form.
Or call 1-800-FL-Today, register over the phone, and just mention that you’re a FamilyLife Today listener or say Bob said I should call that there is a special offer going on. We’ll get you registered. Buy one get one free. The offer is good this week and next week. It is good for FamilyLife Today listeners. We hope to hear from you and hope you’ll attend one of these upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaways.
We spend time at the getaway talking about communication and coaching couples on how they can do a better job of listening to one another and expressing themselves to one another.
Tim, I think one of the issues that a lot of couples face in communication is you begin a conversation, and it doesn’t go well. You don’t get things resolved. You still need to have the conversation, but now you’re afraid to jump back in and try to have the conversation again because it didn’t go well last time. How would you coach a husband in that situation to proceed and to reengage on a subject that—it just didn’t turn out so well the last time you tried to talk about it?
Tim: I advocate in certain situations that, of course, the first thing you do is take a temperature reading in the marriage. One of the crucial chapters teaches people how to do that. Find out exactly what the climate is as best as possible. There’s three elements of how do you take a reading.
First, there’s a series of questions you ask. You take the temperature reading. How do I feel about my climate? Second, you ask these questions; but you stop, and you think, “How would my spouse answer these questions?” We call that perspective taking.
One of the most important skills you can have is to stop and say, “What is my spouse thinking about these issues?”
Then, lastly, have a climate conversation with your spouse. Sit down and say, “How do you think our climate is actually doing. That can be very beneficial to find out how the actual climate is.
Once that’s happening and you determine that the climate isn’t very good. Bob, you said you can tell sometimes right off the bat this climate isn’t going well. That conversation about finances, intimacy, it didn’t go well. Then, I suggest you actually call a truce.
A truce is deciding not to bring up issues in the marriage that you know cause conflict or even just deciding I’m not going to have or participate in conflict in the foreseeable future. It takes two people to have conflict in the marriage. I’m choosing for a period of time not to engage in conflict, and I will overlook an offense for the foreseeable future as I purposely try to strengthen my marriage.
So, I will focus on acknowledging my spouse and working on expectations that I know my spouse has of me. I will work on strengthening the commitment, and I will work on both aspects of trust. I’m to become a more trustworthy person, and I’m going to work on strengthening my relational trust with my spouse. I purposely work on those areas.
In the book, I dedicate four chapters on how to do that. Then, when I think the climate is strong enough, I will begin to systematically address those issues with my spouse and see how it goes. If it doesn’t go well, I’ll pull back a little bit and continue to work on the climate.
Bob: As you describe this, the first thing I thought about was Caleb Holt in the movie Fireproof. A lot of our listeners saw Fireproof. He and his wife were in this downward communication spiral, there was conflict going on, and he stopped at one point. I was thinking a truce is something that you have with both parties.
In this case, it wasn’t a two party truce. She was kind of continuing with her own negative stuff, but he said I’m going to call a personal truce. He started doing exactly what you are talking about. Not doing these behaviors, I’m going to start doing these behaviors. Started living that out. It began to thaw some things in their relationship.
Tim: What you do during a truce is you abstain from engaging in these activities and conflict; but in the mean time, you are seeking to build up a climate so that you can have productive conversations in the future. I often say to a couple, “What’s the alternative?” The alternative is to give in, have the conflict, the climate will surely decrease become more negative; thus, insuring that future conversations will be even less productive, even more negative.
Bob: I’ve heard you at our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways talk about the whole idea of giving someone a blessing instead of an insult. When we are locked up in marital conflict, this principle of choosing to bless rather than to engage is huge, isn’t it?
Tim: It is incredibly important. At the precise moment, when your spouse doesn’t deserve it is when you need to bless them rather than curse them. This is where we need to be biblical Christians. I think sometimes we intellectually believe in the Holy Spirit, but we don’t practically live that out.
The Book of Romans is incredibly important. Paul says, “I want you to bless those who curse you.” Then, he gives his rational why you should do that. His reasoning is that as you bless those who curse you, you will be heaping burning coals upon that person’s head. The burning coals represent the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. So, understand what Paul’s saying, as you bless the person who is cursing you, the Holy Spirit will use your actions to convict that person and actually get through to that person.
In the book, I share a very powerful instance of that. Again, we were having an argument, me and Noreen. I just wasn’t doing well attitude wise. I remember one of those nights saying good night to the kids and mumbling good night to Noreen. I actually went off to speak at a Christian event, and I think the event honestly was something like how to love people in the power of the Holy Spirit. I mean, it was thoroughly convicting, but I did it. I spoke.
Coming back, I was actually excited to come back because I had stopped at Kinko’s, gotten colored charts to show how Noreen was wrong.
So, here I am coming back. I remember now opening the door. The kids were in bed now. I walked in the door, and there was Noreen sitting in this seat. I walked in. She popped up, walked right towards me, and gave me a kiss on the cheek.
I remember saying to her, “Why did you do that?” Her response was “Well, I was praying for you.” Ouch, right? Praying for me. The Holy Spirit said, “Listen, somebody needs to do something here. You guys are stuck. Somebody needs to do something. The reports we’re getting, it is not going to be Tim, right? He’s at Kinko’s right now, okay.”
Dennis: And he just went and spoke about love—
Dennis: and wasn’t convicted himself to do anything any different.
Tim: That wasn’t by the way a magic bullet. It really wasn’t. We sat down and had a pretty intense two hour conversation, but the tone of it had changed because she chose to call a truce in her heart and approach me with love and respect. That was really a powerful moment.
See these truces are really important. Because what she did, she stopped the negative spiral from going deeper. Second, she laid the ground work for positive spiral. Because when she initiated to me with love, I could respond because she had already done the hard lifting. That is why Paul says speak the truth in love. The love part made me hear the truth part.
Dennis: Yes. You also speak in your book about what happens when couples—well, they get the climate kind of right at the moment. Then, they start pulling out all kinds of stuff out of the closet that needs Carbon-14 Dating methods. They start thinking they can plop all this stuff on the table and that their marriage can handle it. You really advise against taking a positive climate and using it, frankly, as a club to clean out the closet.
Tim: Yes. One of the negative things that can happen during a truce is as I’m building up the positive climate, I start to think, “Okay, when the climate is strong, I’m going to talk about this, this, this.” That is going to overwhelm a person. Studies in gender show us that a man really does get overwhelmed physically and emotionally and really will shut it down just emotionally for fear of overreacting.
Bob: The other thing that can happen during a truce is you forget to deal with the issue. It is like you call a cease fire, but you never get to the peace table and negotiate the peace. So, all you have is a cease fire, but nothing has ever been resolved.
Early in your marriage, I think you share about this in the book, you would kind of be one of these guys who once you got to truce you just ignored the issue—
Bob: and never get there. Noreen had to call you on it, didn’t she?
Tim: Oh, yes. I didn’t like conflict what so ever. So, I used the exit strategy in conflict. I would simply walk out of the room, wait an appropriate amount of time, walk back in, and literally pretend like nothing happened. Noreen would be like, “Whoa! What are you doing?!” I’d be like, “No, we’re fine. We’re really fine.” Noreen is like, “We’re really not. We need to talk about this.”
Yet, I didn’t want to. I wanted to sweep it under the rug. That is not a truce. A truce is deliberately setting aside conflict to work on the relationship so that you can deal with the root causes, Bob, exactly. That is causing the conflict to happen.
Dennis: Tim, all of these principles we’re talking about here are really built on an assumption that a person is growing in their own communication with God and they have a real relationship and honest communication with Him on a day in and day out basis.
Because if you don’t have a surrendered heart to Jesus Christ and submit to Him and His Word, then you are not likely going to have it with your spouse to be able to admit fault, ask for forgiveness, or even come up with a period of time where there can be peace and call a truce with one another.
Tim: That is really true. I really wrestled with how to close the book. I decided to close it with a quote not from a marriage counselor or a communication scholar. I decided to close it with a quote from C.S. Lewis. Lewis said, “Human beings can’t make one another really happy for long. You cannot love a fellow creature fully ‘til you love God.” I really agree with Lewis.
He is saying you can’t expect from your spouse what only you can get from God. So, the more you love God, surprisingly, the more you’re going to love your spouse. Why? You were created to experience perfect love, transcendent love; but because of sin, because of the Fall, there has been a rupture in that relationship. I still want that perfect love.
If I don’t have a relationship with God, I’m going to turn to my spouse and say, “Hey, you know what? I want perfect love from you. I want unconditional love from you.” There is no way your spouse can do that. So, Lewis is saying when I’ve learned to be fully loved by God, I can then turn and accept the imperfect love of my spouse.
Bob: First Peter 3 talks about how a husband needs to live with his wife in an understanding way. The interesting thing about that verse is what it says at the end. “So, that your prayers are not hindered.”
Bob: There is a correlation between how we’re doing on a horizontal level and how I’m doing in my relationship with God.
Dennis: Just add another verse to that to what you are talking about, Tim, 1John 4. Where it says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God. Whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” Honestly, I wonder how anyone in a marriage relationship can live with another imperfect being for a lifetime—
Dennis: And not know God. Because how can you give another person forgiveness, mercy, grace—how can you defer to them and submit your life to them if you don’t know the God who did that for you?
I was recently counseling a young couple who were considering marriage. One of the questions I had for the young man was “Tell me about your relationship with God. Do you know him? Are you walking with Him? Are you surrendered to Him?”
As a single guy, he was struggling with that. He really wasn’t sure if God existed, whether or not it applied to his life. In fact, what his real issue was, he was trying to decide, “Am I really going to take Christ at his word? If I do, I’m going to have to surrender to Him. If I surrender to Him, what is that going to mean for my life? And what will it mean for my relationships?
I wonder how many couples who if they ask those questions at the beginning of their relationship, prior to marriage, maybe their dating, or maybe when they are engaged would head off a lot of issues in terms of marital conflict and how they develop a real relationship with a real person later on in marriage.
Tim: I love the honesty of that young man. I think we need to have that same kind of honesty with God. In other words, to say God when I come to you, do I feel acknowledged by you? Now I know the word says you’ve listened to my prayers. Fine. Do I really feel that way? Sure, I know the Scriptures say that I can trust you, but do I feel like I can trust you?
Because you know what? It seems like I prayer for things, and nothing happens. I trusted you with the health of my child, and guess what? My child has a disease right now or an illness. Guess what? It has crippled my trust in You. It is great to get those things out in the open because we have to authentically go to God and do a climate reading with God to say, “I don’t feel like You are committed to me.”
I think God looks at that and says I’m really glad you got that out in the open. I know you’ve felt like this for a very long time. It is about time we actually had a dialogue about this because this is ultimately going to help our climate now that we’re having this authentic, honest conversation.
So, the climate reading at the end of the book between you and God is incredibly important if it is an honest reading of where you’re really at with God. You can bring your spouse in on that to say I think I discovered I’m not as close with God as I thought I was.
Dennis: And to that point, if you are the spouse, don’t overreact. You really have to give people freedom at those points of doubt to do just how you responded. Like what you said, I’m glad you shared that. I’m glad you brought that out—
Dennis: That is right. Out in the open.
Bob: Well, you talked with a couple at one of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. He was pretty honest with you about the condition of their marriage. A lot of it had to do with their openness toward to what God was trying to do, right?
Tim: Yes. They were a mess. I walked up very casually and said cliché wise, “How are you doing?” That is when I noticed she was crying. He said, “We’re not doing well. I don’t think we’re going to make it.” Unfortunately, the elevator doors opened, and there was just a sea of people. Honestly, I did not see them again until the end of the conference.
I walked up, and there was a couple laughing, kissing each other. I just kind of walked by, and I noticed it was the same couple. So, I walked up. They saw me. They started laughing. I said, “Care to elaborate.”
Dennis: “How are you doing now?”
Tim: Yes. It was interesting to make a long conversation short is they had acknowledged each other for the first time in a really long time and brought God into the equation. They had confessed some things to each other and decided that God had not been a part of their relationship, and He needed to.
Now, what encourages me about that I think acknowledgement really can do that. It can be a shot to the communication climate. It can be jarring to look at a person and say, “I know I have not been the kind of husband I should be.” That’s acknowledging a lot for a wife to hear that or a wife to say, “I think I’ve put the kids above you, and I’m sorry I did that.”
That alone the book of Proverbs says, “Life and death is in the power of the tongue.” I think that is imparting some life into that relationship. In the course of one weekend—now I’m not saying that couple is out of the woods that would be naïve.
Tim: That communication climate just went from being hurricane weather to I think the hurricane just went out; and we have a shot here of keeping this positive communication spiral going. They are going to have to do some really hard work to keep that positive spiral going, but they had a shot of stopping it and turning it around in a course of one weekend. I think couples can be encouraged that with God’s power it is possible to do that.
Dennis: As you were sharing that story, it reminded me of a billboard. It was, I think, hosted by some church. It had at the top “Loved the wedding. Invite me to the marriage. Signed God.”
I think a lot of couples who go to the Weekend to Remember don’t really understand how God fits into a marriage relationship until they get there and they see how the Bible really is relevant around how two imperfect beings love one another for a lifetime, how they raise a family, and how they leave a legacy that is purposeful and meaningful.
Bob: Of course, this week we are encouraging our FamilyLife Today listeners to register for one of the upcoming FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. We’ve got more than fifty of them happening around the country this spring.
If you register this week or next week and identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, when you pay the regular register registration fee to attend, your spouse comes free. So, it is a buy one get one free opportunity for couples. Real opportunity to have a great weekend getaway together as a couple and to spend time enjoying each other, to communicate, to just focus in on being intentional, purposeful about caring for your marriage and your relationship with one another.
You can register online at FamilyLifeToday.com. When you do that, you have to let us know that you are a FamilyLife Today listener. So, the way you do that as you are filling out your registration form, when you come to the key code box on the online registration form, type in my name “BOB.” They’ll know that you are a FamilyLife Today listener. You will automatically be able to take advantage of that buy one get one free offer.
Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329. We can answer any questions you have about the Weekend to Remember. We can get you registered over the phone. Again, just mention that you heard about a special offer on the radio or mention my name, and you’ll qualify for the special buy one get one free opportunity for listeners. This offer is good this week and next week. So, let us hear from you. Make plans to attend one of these FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaways.
Don’t forget when you contact us to get more information about Tim Muehlhoff’s book Marriage Forecasting: Changing the Climate of Your Relationship, One Conversation at a Time. That is available when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to request a copy at 1-800, F as in “family”, L as in “life”, and then the word “TODAY”.
With that, we’ve got to wrap things up for today. Hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. I hope you can join us back on Monday when Tim and Joy Downs are going to be here.
We’re going to talk about difference in marriage and how we can work to resolve some of those common differences that happen between couples. They’ve written a book called One of Us Must be Crazy… and I’m Pretty Sure It’s You. We’ll talk about. We’ll talk about the issue of differences beginning on Monday.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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