How to Predict the Forecast
About the Guest
You walk in the door and immediately sense something is wrong. You don't have to be a weatherman to read the climate of your home. As author Tim Muehlhoff defines it, commitment is the assumption of a future. Muehlhoff describes how communicating that commitment is the first step to a happy marriage and healthy communication.
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
You walk in the door and immediately sense something is wrong.
How to Predict the Forecast
Bob: Have you ever had anybody say to you, “You know, you can’t get in trouble by the things you don’t say.” Well, that’s not exactly entirely the case. Here is Dr. Tim Muehlhoff.
Tim: One morning I was sitting in bed, and my wife walked in with a breakfast tray—piping hot cup of coffee, a vase with a rose, and the morning paper with the sports page taken out and put on top. She walks right in and I was like, “Wow!” People say marriage is work. What is work about this?
I literally said, “What is all of this?” You know, and Noreen said, “How would you like your eggs?” and just turned around and kind of walked away. There was a card. She had put on lipstick and kissed the front of the card. I opened the card and it said, “Happy anniversary.” I thought to myself, “Uhh!”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, January 20th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey; and I'm Bob Lepine. Ever been there where you have been in trouble for something you should have said that you didn’t say? We are going to talk about that today.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. If any of our listeners have ever been to one of our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways where our guest, Dr. Tim Muehlhoff, and his wife Noreen have been speaking, you may have heard him share that story and share how it turned out. Let me just say if you have never been to a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway or if it has been a while since you have been to one of our getaways, we want to encourage you this week and next week to sign up and plan to attend a getaway this spring.
We are going to be hosting these in more than 50 cities all across the country this spring. There is one coming to a city near you. If you sign up this week or next week, you can attend at the regular price and your spouse comes with you for free. It is a buy one-get one free offer that we are making for FamilyLife Today listeners. It is good this week and next week only.
The way you qualify for it—either go online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Get more information about the getaway and go ahead and sign up online. As you are signing up on the online registration form, there is a key code box. You type my name in there—just type in “BOB.” It will automatically take care of the special offer we are making for FamilyLife today listeners—buy one-get one free.
Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. This is probably the easiest way to do it. Call 1-800-358-6329 (1-800-F as in “Family,” L as in “Life,” and then the word TODAY. Just mention that you would like to attend a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, and mention that you heard about it on FamilyLife Today and you know there is a special offer. It is all taken care of at that point.
Again, it is a buy one-get one free offer. It is good this week and next week. Actually, it ends up at the end of the month. You can get in touch with us. Again, it is a buy one-get one free offer. Call 1-800-FL-TODAY or register online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Dennis?
Dennis: I stayed at a place the other day—it is a friend’s house. I noticed that at the house they had this little gadget. It was a gadget that had today’s date; it had the time; it had the temperature inside and the temperature outside—by the way—to the tenth of a degree. It had the humidity inside and outside, and it had the forecast at the bottom. I am so thrilled that our guest on today’s broadcast has created a similar tool for marriages.
Bob: It is amazing. Aren’t we offering this at our FamilyLife TodayResource Center?
Dennis: Yes. It is going to be about $100,000 a piece
because who wouldn’t pay; am I right?
Tim: That is right.
Dennis: Dr. Tim Muehlhoff joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Tim is a professor at Biola University. He is also one of our speakers at our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. He has written a book called Marriage Forecasting. Explain what you mean when you talk about a climate in a marriage.
Tim: It is funny, Dennis, the first thing we do when we go anywhere is we do exactly what you did at your friend’s house. We check out the weather. “What is the weather going to be like today?” “Hey, honey, can you check the weather real quick?” It is amazing we don’t do that in our marriages.
Bob: So is there a way to diagnose quickly what the climate is like?
Tim: I dedicate a whole chapter to, “How do you take a marriage forecast?” By the way, there are two quick ways to check any weather. One, stick your head out the window. You can do that very quickly or use a sophisticated instrument, like at your friend’s house.
In the book, I offer two quick ways to do it. We are mentioning four elements of the communication climate: acknowledgement, expectations, commitment, and trust. You can ask four very simple questions to do a quick read of any marriage. One, “Do I feel acknowledged in my marriage?” Second, “Are my expectations being met?” Third, “Do I feel like my spouse is committed to me?” Then fourth, “Can I trust my spouse?” The answer to those four questions will give you a really rough marital readout of what is the climate of your marriage.
You can also take more time and be much more reflective on your marriage. In the book, I offer a whole chapter that will really allow you to think more deeply and get a better reading; but I think you can step back and ask those four very quick questions. You can get a rough reading of any kind of relationship—between you and your kids, you and your coworkers, and you and your spouse.
Bob: Is there a difference between commitment and trust? You talk about those as elements of a healthy climate for communication. I would think that there is“connectiveness;” but I guess there is a difference between being committed and trusting one another, right?
Tim: We have been talking about the four elements of communication climate—First is acknowledgement—being mindful of that other person. Comment on what they say and on what they do.
Second, we have been talking about expectations. Get those expectations on the table. Talk about them.
The third element is commitment. How committed do you feel that other person is to the overall general relationship? Very important in a culture of divorce where people are calling it quits all over the place that you sit down and you feel that a person is committed to this relationship. There are two important aspects to that.
First, John Gottman, one of the world’s greatest experts on marriage, says he can tell the strength of a marriage by hearing how a couple talks about the past—really interesting. He says, “When couples talk about the past, they either do one of two things.” One, they talk about the past with a sense of pride—a sense of almost nostalgia—or when they talk about the past, they always talk about it negatively.
I came across a very interesting story from Erma Bombeck. You know, she was married for 40 years. In talking about her marriage, she talked about the three wars that they had witnessed; she talked about the three miscarriages she had gone through; she talked about the 19 camping trips they had gone on. She said, “I stopped counting slammed doors at 3,009.” When you listen to her talk about those 40 years, you could hear the sense of pride as she talked about it. At the very end of this very interesting newspaper article, she said, “You know, my husband and I accomplished something that is very rare and very precious.” You could hear it in her voice.
Gary Thomas talks about something called sacred history. When you are together and you stay together, you develop a history that is literally sacred. Listening to people talk about their past, they just talk about the negative times. They just, “Wow, my husband did this and that failed,” and “This never happened,” and “This didn’t quite work out.” Gottman says, “I can tell you about the commitment of a couple in how they talk about the past--even the hard times that, ‘We stayed together.’”
Also, commitment is made up of present investments into the relationship. Are you investing into that relationship? This is where gender differences really come in I find. Women more often view investments as being verbal. You are investing in the relationship if, “We sit down and have a great conversation.” Noreen will say, “Honey, let’s grab a cup of coffee,” or “Let’s take the dog; and let’s go for a walk and let’s just talk.”
Men can tend to view investments as being side by side. “Let’s go off and do something together—invest in the marriage by us going off and doing something.” I’m a huge hockey fan—the Detroit Redwings—I just love them. Noreen will actually sit down and watch a game with me. Now, she could have lived a fulfilled life not know anything about Detroit Redwings hockey and why they throw an octopus on the ice every time we score a goal, but she will sit down with me and actually get excited when we score a goal and be bummed when our goalie gets hurt—and even know that he got hurt. That is arousing to me that she would know that!
Talk about hot sex now—that to me is, you know what I mean? To me, it is her being there as an activity-base. To be investing in it is part of the commitment process where we are not only reflecting on the past and celebrating that, but we are investing in the future.
Bob: This is interesting because when you first said commitment, I thought about the issue of permanence. I thought, “Commitment means, ‘I’m committed; I’m here. I am not going anywhere.’” Yet, we can be committed and here and not going anywhere and still be checked out and emotionally detached and isolated from one another.
Bob: When we are talking about committed to the relationship, you are not just talking about the pledge to go all the way to the finish line together, you are talking about being committed to that kind of regular investing.
Dennis: One of the things you write about in your book, Tim, that I really like, you said, “Commitment is the assumption of a future.”
Dennis: I really like that because if there can’t be the assumption that we are going to be together in the future, like Bob is talking about, it is hard for anything else to fall into place in the relationship.
Bob: So there really is an element of, “I am demonstrating the priority that this relationship has in my life and I am demonstrating my commitment that way.” There is also the element, “AND I am pledging that there will be a future.”
Tim: Oh, absolutely! I am pledging that there is going to be a future by investing in the present. I like what you said, Bob. Let’s be engaged in this commitment. It is not just saying, “I’m going to be here until ‘death do us part.’” I think that is important, but it is demonstrating that I am going to do that.
I say to couples all the time, “Every year that you are married, one: Think of the credibility you have in this culture that is known as the Divorce Culture. Your credibility with your kids, with your friends, with family members goes up and you have added one more year to your sacred history.”
Dennis: Tim, commitment is important in how we resolve conflicts. You and Noreen had an argument where she made a statement that got your attention.
Tim: We were having an argument. It was a fairly intense argument. In the midst of it, she stopped and she said, “Listen, we need to get this resolved or the next 30 years are going to be pretty miserable.” The subtext was huge! The subtext says, “Listen, I’m not going anywhere. So, if we don’t get this resolved, we are going to be pretty miserable people as we go year after year after year together.”
Dennis: I like her statement because she is letting you know, “You know what, I will be there; but hey, Sweetheart, let’s figure it out now.”
Tim: I think that is great.
Dennis: “Let’s not relive this hundreds of times in the next 30 years.”
Bob: Let me go back, though, because I asked you if there was a difference between trust and commitment or if the two are intertwined. As I hear you describing commitment, there are some trust elements that are a part of the commitment; but really, trust does go a step farther, doesn’t it?
Tim: They are intertwined, but trust can be broken down into two very specific aspects that I think distance itself a little bit from commitment. When we talk about trust, people often just want to talk about relational trust; but I think that is rushing the discussion.
One key part of trust is what we call self-trust. In other words, “Of course I want my wife to trust me.” But I first have to ask the question, “Am I trustworthy?”
Plato had this great thing that he would do with his students. He would take a ring; and he would say, “This ring—What if I gave it to you and when you put it on, it made you invisible to everybody?” When you put it on, nobody would ever see what you do when you wear this ring.” Plato had the idea that most of us are good because we are afraid to get caught.
Plato said, “Okay, let’s take that off the table. Now when you put this ring on, you won’t get caught.” Now you can cheat on a test. Why? Because when you put the ring on, nobody will see you cheat on the test. So you put the ring on—Plato said, “Now I want you to notice things about yourself. What do you notice when the ring is on?” You say you don’t want to look at pornography—you are above that. But when you put the ring on, what do you do when no one can look at you and notice what you are watching?
Dennis: You actually had one of our conferees, our guests, at one of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways come up to you and express to you he was about to lose his marriage because of this issue.
Tim: Yes. He said, “My wife is going to leave. She is done with me.” As we were talking, she walked up. It was an odd experience. I said to her, “Your husband has told me that you are thinking about leaving.” She said, “Yes.” I said, “Why?” She said, “Well, my trust—it is gone. It is finished.” I said, “Why?” She said, “Because he was habitually looking at pornography and I just cannot trust him anymore.” I said to her, “Do you think he is done with it?” She said, “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
That is predicated on two things: One, he needs to take a long look in the mirror and ask the question, “Am I really done with this?” That is King David praying to God, “Search me, O God, and know my heart.” None of us are perfect, but all of us need to ask the question, “Before I ask my spouse to trust me, I need to ask the hard question, “Am I trustworthy?”
Bob: Your diagnosis here—you are helping us see to really ask that question, we have to ask, “What would we do with the ring on?”
Bob: Our trustworthiness is predicated upon who are we at the core—not just, “How do we manage our behavior in public?”
Tim: Yes, and manipulate our spouses into believing, “I am trustworthy,” when in fact, “I am not.”
Bob: So one aspect of trust is this sense of trustworthiness. What is the other aspect?
Tim: It is relational trust. It is going into a relationship saying, “I will do two things. One, I will protect your back. I will consistently put your needs above my needs. I will put your welfare above my welfare.” Very important!
Second, it is saying, “You can trust what I have to say. When I say something to you, you don’t always have to sit there and think, ‘Now, I just don’t know what to think. I don’t know if I can trust this person.’ I don’t know if you went on that business trip, can I trust what you did? I don’t know if I can trust you with finances. I don’t know if I can trust you with my self-disclosures—when I really intimately reveal issues about myself. What will you do with that information? Will you use that information against me in the heat of an argument?’”
Relational trust is really important. “As I reveal myself to you—that you are a person who will not use those things against me and attack me whenever it serves your purposes.” Those are very important issues.
Trust is important because psychologists will say, “If trust is lacking, then I become suspicious of every single thing you do.” We talked about acknowledgement. If I am seeking to acknowledge my spouse and she doesn’t trust me, she might be thinking, “Now, why are you acknowledging me right now? Is it because you want sexual intimacy tonight? Are you acknowledging me right now because you have done something bad and you are trying to butter me up because I know an apology is coming later?” If trust is lacking, every good thing I do is seen through a suspicious lens because, “I no longer trust you.”
Dennis: You have an illustration from your own marriage around breakfast in bed.
Dennis: For Noreen? Huh?
Tim: Yes. Every marriage has what we call implicit and explicit rules. Implicit rules are the rules you don’t necessarily talk about—they are just implicit. One morning, I was sitting in bed, and my wife walked in with a breakfast tray—piping hot cup of coffee, a vase with a rose, and the morning paper with the sports page taken out and put on top. She walks right in and I was like, “Wow!” People say marriage is work. What is work about this?
Dennis: You mean you don’t have this happen every day?
Tim: No, I do not.
I do not. I literally said, “What is all of this?” And Noreen said, “How would you like your eggs?” and just turned around and kind of walked away. There was a card. She had put on lipstick and kissed the front of the card. I opened the card and it said, “Happy anniversary.” I thought to myself, “Uhh!”
I had totally forgotten it. I thought to myself, “I didn’t say, ‘What is all of this?’ did I?” Sure enough—there was dead silence from the kitchen.
Dennis: What kind of eggs did you get, by the way?
Tim: It did not matter.
It did not matter.
Bob: Oh, Buddy!
Tim: So that is trust. That is a trust issue.
Bob: Wait, wait. How is that a trust issue?
Tim: Because Noreen had trusted me that things like anniversaries, birthdays, celebrations—she trusted me that I would celebrate those things and cherish them. Why did she trust me? Because certainly, when we were courting, I had set up those expectations.
Bob: There were expectations. There was acknowledgement in the past. You had built some kind of an explicit sense of, “This is who I am.”
Tim: “This is who I am,” and early on in the marriage, it served me really well—certainly, in courtship—all of those things served me well. Now, I was in the midst of my career. Things were just popping—deadlines—I was doing my graduate work. Things were popping. It was off the radar.
Bob: As you were talking about these elements of trust, I was thinking about questions we can ask one another. “Is there anything I do that you look at and go, ‘I wonder if that is really true about him? Is that for real or is that a show?’” To ask one another those questions, I think, will help get to the heart of, “Do I feel like I can trust you? You can trust me.”
The other question is, “Is there any time you don’t feel safe with me? Is there any time when we are together that you wonder, ‘Has he got my back?’ or ‘I better act this way or something is going to happen,’ or ‘I better not say this or this would happen.’”
There are times in my marriage when I have thought, “If I said what I am really thinking right now, what would be the outcome—not because I would say something insulting; but if I peeled back the veneer and said, ‘Here is what I am really feeling right now,’ would Mary Ann go, ‘Really? That’s you?’” Would she move away; would she reject? These are the trust elements that determine whether or not we can have real communication.
Dennis: Bob, I think those questions are so good—we need to put them on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com and just let couples perhaps consider asking them of one another maybe tonight over dinner or, if it is not the right time, maybe it should be tomorrow or perhaps this weekend.
Bob: Yes. I can tell you what I have decided as a result of our conversation this week. I have decided and I have shared already this week about the stormy post-anniversary dinner. We are going to do a do-over on that.
Dennis: Hey, that is a great idea.
Bob: I am just going to say to Mary Ann, “Let’s go have...
Dennis: No really, I like that!
Bob: “Let’s go have another night and we will do a do-over.” I am going to acknowledge and nod and keep eye contact.
Dennis: You are going to leave your cell phone at home.
Bob: Well, I don’t know—let’s not go—come on!
The point we are trying to make here is that what we do and the things we say do communicate value. If we value one another—which is what we pledged to do—which is what God calls us to do—then we need to communicate that. We need to recognize that our actions and our words are going to communicate how much we value one another. That is the point.
That is the point you make in Marriage Forecasting which we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of Dr. Tim Muehlhoff’s book Marriage Forecasting: Changing the Climate of Your Relationship One Conversation at a Time or call toll-free 1-800-FL-TODAY (1-800-358-6329) 1-800-F as in “Family,” L as in “Life,” and then the word TODAY. Go online or give us a call to order a copy of Dr. Tim’s book.
You can also sign up for an upcoming FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. We are going to be hosting these events in more than 50 cities this spring all around the country. If you sign up this week or next week, and if you communicate with us that you are a FamilyLife Today listener, you will be able to take advantage of a special buy one-get one free opportunity for FamilyLife Today listeners. You pay regular price to attend and your spouse comes at no additional cost.
Take advantage of that offer this week and next week by either going to FamilyLifeToday.com—you can find out when a conference is coming to a city near you—get all the information you need online and then register online at FamilyLifeToday.com. When you come to the key code box on the online registration form, type my name, type “BOB,” in the key code box. That will qualify you for the buy one-get one free offer.
Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY (1-800-358-6329). Mention that you are a FamilyLife Today listener and that you heard about this special offer; or say, “Bob told me to call.” You can sign up over the phone and take advantage of the buy one-get one free opportunity. Let us hear from you. The deadline is the end of the month. Contact us either this week or next week and plan to attend an upcoming FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
Tomorrow we want to talk about how you re-engage in a conversation that didn’t go well the first time you tried to talk about it. Dr. Tim Muehlhoff is going to be with us again. Hope you can be back with us as well.
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 next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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