Speaking Life to Our Spouses
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Dave and Ann WilsonDave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus churc...more
Our tongues have so much power to build up or tear down. Dave and Ann Wilson remind us that one of the most important things in a marriage is choosing to speak life to our spouses.
Speaking Life to Our Spouses
Ann: What do you wish you would have known before our wedding day?
Dave: —about marriage?
Dave: The first thought is that we wouldn’t be as intimate, like every day. [Laughter] That’s the first thing that came to my mind!
Dave: Actually, honestly, that it would be/there would be times I would be so frustrated, and marriage was so hard.
Ann: And you didn’t expect that?
Ann: I would say, “I wish I had known my feelings come and go—that that’s normal—and that’s okay.”
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife—
Dave: Well, you know, the fun thing is: today, we get to talk about marriage. It’s our passion, to be able to—
Ann: It is our passion, because we’ve both been frustrated that we were never taught these things. We were never taught God’s Word about why we get married. We have all the schooling and training, for years, of how to have a vocation; but how many years did you have learning how to be a husband?
Dave: I went to a Weekend to Remember® conference, and that was it.
Ann: That was great, though.
Dave: It was awesome; and I actually thought, “It can’t be anything like what they say.” It was exactly like what FamilyLife teaches—and now we now teach—so let’s talk about marriage. We get to help people and say, “Okay; here are some things I wish I had known.”
The first thing is this: As you think about marriage, it’s awesome!
Ann: It is awesome,—
Dave: It’s wonderful!
Dave: It’s incredible, and it’s really difficult.
Dave: I mean, I remember going to New York City with you. We drove from Michigan for this vacation—never really had spent any time in Manhattan—went to Broadway shows. I mean, I remember the food was great. Making love was great. I don’t see you smiling; you don’t think any of that was true? [Laughter]
Ann: I just/like, “Really? Is this where we’re going?” [Laughter]
Dave: It was great!
Ann: You’re right; everything was amazing.
Dave: Then we have moments in our marriage that were really, really hard—
Dave: —like the day we drove to see Cody play football at Northern Illinois; and on the way back to the airport, you called me a jerk.
Ann: Well, and here is the thing—you were mean and short with me all day—and we had to do a marriage message at church the next day.
Dave: —the next morning.
Ann: I was so upset that I looked at you—and I know we are never supposed to do this—you’re supposed to say, “I feel really frustrated”; but it didn’t come out like that that day. I said, “You have been the biggest jerk this entire day.” [Laughter]
Dave: Yes, it was a great moment in our marriage. And then, when we got up to speak the next morning, we were still in a fight.
Dave: I’ll tell you what: here is what we want to talk about today—it sort of relates to that story—and it’s this truth: “Every couple has a power in their marriage. This isn’t just marriage; this is in any family or church/any relationship. There is a power in our hands for good or for evil, and it’s extremely powerful. It’s a weapon that we carry, and no one seems to talk about it that often.”
Ann: We had no idea how important this would be.
Dave: I’m going to read you a verse in Proverbs 18, and you will see this power is powerful. Proverbs 18; Solomon wrote this: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” I mean, it’s amazing. You break this verse down: you’ve got—our words/the tongue—our words have power. Power means the ability to change for good or bad. Whenever we speak, it has the power of life, which is to build up, to encourage, to affirm; and it has the power of death, which is to tear down, to discourage, to critique.
Then it says, “Those who love it will eat its fruit.” In other words, those who understand the power that they have in their words/in their tongue will benefit. They’ll be very, very careful about how they use their words.
Ann: It’s interesting—I remember asking our kids; I think they were in high school/middle school when I asked them this question of—“What kind of words do we most often speak in our house? Are they words of life, or are they words of death?”
Dave: That, by the way, that’s a great question to ask your kids.
Ann: I’m telling you—all of our kids had a different answer—it was super convicting to me, because they weren’t all positive.
Dave: They said, “My dad’s words were life,”—
Ann: Probably. [Laughter]
Dave: —“and Mom’s [words] were death.” [Laughter] No, they didn’t say that at all; it’s a mixture.
Ann: Yes; I’ve really had to learn this over the years, because we all grow up in different homes. We just throw out words: we can be flippant with our words; we can accuse one another; we can call each other names. I was not careful with my words when we got married. I feel like I really hurt you—I continually nagged you; I was continually critiquing you—I didn’t call you names.
Ann: But I think my words were death to you so often. [Laughter]
Dave: We all do that at different times. I remember, though, you learned/we both learned the power of life words: they encourage; they build up; they’re a magnet—people want to be around people who speak life—people run away from people who speak death.
Ann: I was on this mission—like first of all, the power doesn’t come from me just mustering up, because that lasts for about an hour—the power comes from the Holy Spirit living and abiding within us. I was praying, “Father God, one of the fruit of the Spirit that you talk about is self-control; so help me to control my words.” What I also realized was—it was beginning in my head—my words weren’t just coming out of nowhere. They were coming up from what I had already stored up in my head/in my thoughts about you; so then, they just flowed out. I was on this mission, like, “Lord, help me, first of all, just stop before I speak and think through what I’m about to say.”
You’ll remember this—and we’ve shared this before in our book, Vertical Marriage—you came home from a long day of preaching, and you had been with the Lions on the sideline; you were exhausted. You were complaining that you’d been getting critiqued about your message and preaching. You’re like, “Man, I’m getting all these critiques; and people seem to not like my preaching right now.” You were kind of going on.
I almost said this—it was right on the tip of my tongue—and I almost said, “Well, if you would just spend more time in the Word, your messages would probably be way better”; [Laughter] but I didn’t!
Dave: I never heard that.
Ann: I didn’t say that, which—think about this, you guys—what would that have been like if I had said that to you? You would have been devastated.
Dave: Yes; this was at 11 o’clock at night, by the way.
Ann: So I pray. As soon as you say that, I’m like, “Lord, should I say that?” The answer is “No, you should not say that.” Then my next question was, “Lord, should I say anything?” Even sometimes, it’s better to say nothing than something bad; so “Lord, should I say anything?”
This thought popped into my head; and I said to you, “Man, I can’t imagine what it’s like for you. You have the weight of thousands of people’s spiritual lives in your hand, and you feel responsible for so many of us. That’s a heavy burden to carry.”
Dave: Yes; I remember you saying that; and I remember I just pulled you close and said, “You are my life.”
Dave: Again, in that moment, I didn’t realize you were speaking words of life; but I do remember feeling like, “You’re my partner. You understand. You believe in me. You trust me.” Again, I’m look back at what Solomon said—“You spoke powerful words of life,”—that the only feeling I had in that moment was: “You’re my life. I can’t go through life without you.”
Ann: When you pulled me to yourself, and you just whispered that in my ear—“You are my life,”—I mean, I was teary that night; because I thought, “What if I would have said the other thing?!” That would have devastated you, and it would have created a chasm between us. So I thought, “Oh!” It made me realize, “I have so much power; I need to be careful and wield it carefully.”
Dave: And here is the amazing thing: what was the result?—the next day and the next week, I’m in the Word, studying to preach better; and you never said that; but because you spoke like, it was motivating to me to say, “You know, I want to step up and be better.” That’s what life words do: they motivate; they encourage; they lift up.
Here’s a truth for every couple—write this down—seriously, write this down—
Ann: If you are in your car—
Dave: —wherever—put it in your phone. This is just a simple truth: “Happy or healthy couples choose to speak life to their spouse,”—okay?—“Healthy or happy couples choose to speak life to their spouse.”
Now, I’ve got to tell you something. This idea of a healthy or happy couple comes from a book by Shaunti Feldhahn called The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages.
Ann: And we love Shaunti.
Dave: Oh, yes; she is great—she and her husband Jeff—and they studied marriages. They said, “We want to find the best of the best marriages and find out what habits they have.” By the way, you can get this book at FamilyLifeToday.com—The Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages—go get it right now; it’s fascinating. One of them is the power of the tongue and how couples that are really happy and healthy choose to speak life—not death—speak life to their spouse.
Again, I’m not saying, “Every second of every day is a life word”; but man, like Ann said, you’ve got to stop often and sort of zip your lip and say, “I’m not going to speak this death word; I’m going to speak life.” I really believe it comes out of Ephesians 4:29, where Paul wrote this—very interesting verse—he says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth.”
Ann: Okay—just that right there—like if we lived that out, it would change our homes!
Dave: Yes, it’s really interesting. The word, “unwholesome,” means rotting or spoiled fish. He is basically saying, “Don’t let any rotting or spoiled fish talk come out your mouths.” Then he says this: “But only what is helpful for building others up, according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen,” which is crazy. It’s like, “Don’t let foul, profane, worthless, vulgar words ever come out of your mouth.” Again, it’s a choice!
I can remember being in the Lions’ locker room; and I heard some foul, profane, vulgar words every day in that locker room from players and coaches. I remember one coach could barely get through a sentence without dropping profanity. Then you had some time with his wife—
Ann: Yes, I happened to be with his wife one day. She was awesome—and so was this coach/was awesome—we loved both of them. She was saying, “You know, I just feel so bad that some of these coaches/their language is so foul, and they are just using it in front of all these players all the time. I’m so glad that my husband doesn’t talk like that.”
Now, you had just come home and told me that he does. I didn’t say anything; but I thought, “Oh, that’s so interesting that he talks like that at work; but at home, he isn’t.”
Dave: He chose.
Ann: So he’s choosing.
Dave: He is making a choice—
Dave: —which, again, shows we can choose how we speak—whether profanity, or slander, or gossip—or speaking life or death in our home. Again, happy or healthy couples/they make a choice: “I’m going to speak life.”
Now, here is the question: “So I never speak hard words or truth words?”
Ann: Yes, that would bother me right now. As a listener, I’m thinking, “Oh, okay; so I’m like Pollyanna?”—“You’re awesome,”—and you’re just saying that all the time—no! We do speak words of truth—but the key is the way we package them is really important—because we can deliver the same message in a way that can be received or rejected.
If—because I’ve done all of that—[Laughter]—I’ve come at you with like: “You need to do this,” and “You’re failing at this.” I’m one of those people: I want to say it right now, right here. To use self-control: “No, I’m going to wait a little bit. I’m going to pray. I’m not going to bombard you when you walk in the door.” All of those things are really important.
Dave: If the only thing that your spouse is hearing is death words or critique—and then you try to speak the truth in love, like Ephesians 4:15 says, “Speak the truth in love,”—they are probably not going to respond, because that’s all they hear. But if you are depositing life words—positive words, encouraging words, lifting-up words—a lot more than negative, many studies say it takes five positive words to counteract one negative.
Dave: So here is the thing: if you are depositing positive, life words, and then you have to speak the truth in love—a hard truth—are they are going to receive it better?
Dave: Yes, because they are feeling like you are bringing life most of the time; and then you speak a hard truth.
Ann: I like, too, what we said:
“We are getting rid of words that, one, demean.” Really, when you say a demeaning word—would be words that are saying, “You don’t really matter,”
—and then words that are degrading, and what you are saying by degrading words is: “You don’t really measure up,”
—and then disrespectful words; that’s communicating, “You aren’t worthy of my respect.” All of us are worthy because we are image-bearers of God.
Dave: Yes; when you go back to that verse, you speak words that are helpful. Paul said, “…for building others up, according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” I love the construction site words—it’s like a building—and you build/you construct to build things up. When you’re done with a conversation, or you walk out of the family room, what are they feeling?—are they feeling torn down?—or are they feeling built up?
Ann: Oh, see, this is good: to think that our words are a construction site. I’m thinking about that, first, like with our kids: “Are my words building something great in them?” I think about you: “Have my words been tearing things down, or are they building up that construction site?”
Dave: All you have got to say is—I don’t know what year it was—but you went from speaking death words to me quite often to speaking life. It wasn’t like I, all of a sudden, was an amazing, better husband. You just stopped critiquing—you stopped being my mom; you stopped complaining—I don’t know what happened. You started speaking life, and it motivated me to become the man you said I was that I wasn’t yet; but I wanted to be because you kept saying I was. I mean, you were saying: “You’re a good man,” “You are a good father,” “You are a good spiritual leader.”
I remember thinking, “No, I’m not. You’ve never said that before. You’ve always said sort of the opposite,”—but/and again, there it was—Proverbs 18:21: “Speak life.” You started speaking life, and it motivated me. I think it motivates everybody, not just me or just men; it motivates anybody when you believe in them and you speak life to them. They rise up to become the man or woman you’re saying they are with those words.
Ann: Well, it’s funny that you say that; because I’ve had so many women come up to me and say, “I really don’t see anything good in them to talk about.” They are really serious: “There is nothing good. I can’t find anything good.” I say, “But you married them, so you must have seen something that was great in them. Go back to that.”
The thing that I did was, first of all, I went before God in repentance, like: “Lord, You have given me Dave as this incredible gift, and all I’ve done with this gift is critique it, and tear it down, and tear You down.” My prayer was: “Lord, I repent of that. Give me new eyes; give me eyes to see the greatness that You put in Dave.” I started even journaling and writing down things that were great that I saw in you, and there are so many!
Dave: Oh, there is so many. [Laughter]
Ann: But for some reason, we point out the negative things to share instead of the great things that we see.
Dave: And you were thinking, by pointing that out, what?
Ann: What do you mean?
Dave: You were thinking, by pointing out the negative—
Ann: —that I’m going to change you!
Ann: I thought, “He is so motivated. I’m going to motivate you with all these negative things; you’ll think, ‘I don’t want to be like that. I want to be like this.’” Did it help?
Dave: No, it didn’t work. [Laughter] I mean, it really didn’t work. I mean, I remember—and again, this was 20-some years ago—I remember I didn’t want to come home.
Dave: It wasn’t always a conscious thought; but it was like, “Man, I’m at work. I’m at the office, and people are speaking life. They are saying I’m good at what I do.” I didn’t even realize it, but you want to be there; you want to be around people, who are patting you on the back and believing in you.
Ann: That’s so depressing; that’s awful [her critiquing Dave]. [Laughter]
Dave: Then I go home and be—[Laughter]—I mean, it wasn’t that I was literally in the car, like, “Oh, no, I’ve got to go home. She’s going to yell at me”; but your spirit is lifted up in one place and torn down in another. Guess where you are going to spend time?—you’re going to go where people believe in you and build you up.
Ann: And you weren’t as bad with your words toward me as much as your non-verbals.
Dave: Oh great! Here, now, let’s talk about me. [Laughter]
Ann: But it was the rolling of the eyes; it was the tone of voice/the harshness. I remember saying to you one time, “You know I’m not dumb; I’m not stupid. You don’t have to talk to me like I know nothing.” Do you remember that conversation? Well, that happened a lot, actually.
Dave: Honestly, posture, looks, rolling of eyes are death words. You may not be using any actual words; but you’re—
Ann: —death actions.
Dave: —communicating death. And the opposite is true, too, when you leave, and look and speak words of life, again, it builds up. We were both doing it [death words/actions].
Dave: You were using more words than I was; but we were both sort of communicating death. Again, 20-some years ago, that flipped. Again, it wasn’t because we were an amazing husband and wife now. It was like, “No, we’re going to choose to see the best—
Dave: —“and speak the best out.” It changed our marriage. I think it changed the aroma or environment of our home; because we were going to do that, not just with each other, but then to the boys as well.
Ann: Oh, yes; because when we changed that with our sons, they had the same response/like, “I want to be home, because my parents are going to see the greatness in me.”
It’s not that we weren’t critiquing; it’s not that we weren’t speaking truth to one another or to our kids—I really want you to hear us on this—that we really did have some really hard talks; but they really were more bathed in prayer.
I think the reason it started to shift, mainly, is because we both came before God—
Ann: —we got on our knees/we prayed, like, “Lord, I can’t change this in and of myself. I need Your Spirit.”
Dave: It was a repentance that: “I’ve been doing this wrong, and You can see the result.” Our hope was always to build a home that’s a magnet:—
Dave: —that our spouse would want to run home to, that our kids would want to run home to, that they’d want to bring their friends to. A lot of that is in the power of the tongue.
Dave: It’s that powerful.
Ann: I love Proverbs 15:4; it says: “A gentle tongue is a tree of life,”—think about that; that’s like those life and death words—“but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” That’s kind of interesting, right there, that it breaks the spirit. Then, we’ve used this verse so many times—in Proverbs 15:1—“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Those are some good ones.
Dave: Yes, and I would just say the application is simple: guard your tongue; realize how powerful your words are in your family/in your marriage. I’m telling you—if you are listening today, and you’re like, “Man, I’ve been speaking death,”—I would say: “Get on your knees, and repent and say, ‘God, You’ve got to help me,’”—because here is the final thought: “Your words are an overflow of your heart.” Jesus said your words are connected to your heart.
You can’t change your words by saying, “I’m just going to change my words or my tongue.” You have to say, “God, You’ve got to change my heart; if You don’t transform my heart, it won’t have any effect; but if You do, yes, I will begin to speak out of my heart life words,”—see her/see him the way God sees them—and begin to speak life to your spouse/to your kids. I’m telling you: it will change the entire climate of your marriage and of your home. That power is in your hands.
I challenge you today: “Get on your knees and ask God to change your heart. As He changes your heart, He will change your words.”
Bob: That’s a great reminder today from Dave and Ann Wilson that we are: “To let no corrupting talk come out of our mouths,”—that’s what Ephesians 4 says—“only such as is good for building up as fits the occasion and that gives grace to all who hear.” There is power in your speech/power in the tongue: destructive power or constructive power. As Dave just said, it’s up to us to decide how that power is going to be used.
This is one of the themes that Dave and Ann address in their book, Vertical Marriage, and the companion video series. Both the book and the video series are available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to order a copy of either the book or the video series. The video series is great for small group interaction. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also request these resources by calling us at 1-800-FL-TODAY; that’s 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Let me say a quick word today on behalf of all of us to those of you who have made today’s program possible. Most of you know FamilyLife Today is listener-supported. For those of you, who are regular listeners but have never supported this ministry, we need to take a minute and say, “Thanks,” to your friends, who have made this program possible for us today, those of you who donate to support the ongoing work of FamilyLife Today.
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We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow when Dave and Ann will continue talking about how important our words are and how negative things we hear and negative things we say can leave wounds/leave scars on our soul. It’s so important that we guard our tongues. We’ll hear more about that tomorrow.
We want to thank our entire broadcast production team today. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. Join us back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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