Focus on the Family Broadcast

Improve Your Marriage Through Healthy Conflict

Improve Your Marriage Through Healthy Conflict

How you handle conflict can make or break any relationship, especially a marriage. Family coaches Dave and Ann Wilson offer a clear, biblical plan to help you engage in constructive conflict, to prevent resentment from damaging your marriage.
Original Air Date: October 20, 2023

Dave Wilson: But one of the best things you do… you can do in a conflict is ask God. Pray.

Ann Wilson: Yeah.

Dave: Ask God for wisdom. Ask God to let you hear.

John Fuller: Today on Focus on the Family, we’ll share insights about how you can improve almost any relationship by learning how to handle conflict well. Your host is Focus President and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: Well, I don’t know about you, but I can get a bit carried away with a heated discussion.

John: I may have seen it once or twice.

Jim: (laughs) Otherwise known as argument. Especially with my wife, Jean. I do, uh, tend to get a little competitive, and when you’re competitive you wanna win that argument. There’s nothing better. And all the guys just said, “Are you serious? That’s a losing strategy.”

John: But I feel it.

Jim: Yeah. And, uh, you know, the good thing is to be actively listening to her side of things, affirming her observations. Those are the wise husband moves. And I think I’ve gotten better over the years, but maybe we should ask her.

John: Well, we have Jean-

Jim: (laughs)

John: … on the line actually, so we’ll find out-

Jim: No, no. We can keep moving here.

John: … we’ll find out what she thinks.

Jim: (laughs) Let’s just keep moving-

John: Okay.

Jim: … and call it a day. Today’s guests, Dave and Ann Wilson, have some great ideas to share on how to handle conflict in a positive way. Uh, Dave and Ann are speakers, authors, church founders, and the hosts of Family Life Today Radio. They’ve been married for over 40 years and have three grown sons and four grandchildren.

John: And today’s content is really a fast-paced, lively presentation. It was recorded several years ago at a Biola University chapel service, uh, there in Southern California. Here now, Dave and Ann Wilson on Focus on the Family.

Dave: Probably the most important thing you need to know when you are in a relationship, whether it’s marriage, dating, uh, teammates-

Ann: Friendship.

Dave: Anything.

Ann: Yeah.

Dave: Any relationship. Is how to resolve conflict. Here’s what I know about conflict: we never have conflict, but you guys do.

Ann: (laughing)

Dave: And so, we decided to talk to you about it.

Ann: A- And here’s the thing, what did Jesus say? They’ll know you by what? How you love each other, right?

Dave: Unity.

Ann: Unity. And so, what happens is, if there… if- Satan’s strategy is to always cause division. And I- we’re passionate about this, ’cause it drives us crazy that you go to school all these years to learn a profession, but how many years have you spent learning how to have great relationships? How to love each other? Most of us, and when we do this, most people say, “I’ve never heard anything on how to have great relationships with friends, peers, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend.” And so, we’re passionate about, like, we should learn this stuff so that Satan doesn’t get a foothold into our relationships.

Dave: So we’re gonna take the next 27 minutes. We’re gonna fly. Because the last time we talked about this was on a- a love boat. We actually spoke on a marriage cruise. 3,000 couples on this boat for six days, talking about marriage. We called it the Love Boat, ’cause it was all these couples with us there. And we talked about how to resolve conflict.

So here’s what we’re gonna do. It applies to marriage obviously, but it applies to every relationship. So here’s first thing. If you’re taking notes, you’re gonna write in your notepad or whatever you’re gonna do, the first thing you need to know, there’s basically four styles, or patterns, when it comes to conflict. And you fit in one of these. You may do several, but you probably fit in one of these. Write them down real quick.

First one is this: some people wanna win the conflict. I call it winner. Conflict happens, they’re good at, they can debate. They usually bring out, you know, fingerprint evidence and iPhoto shots and evidence and they win. They’re really good.

The- The second style is what I call yield. Some people call it lose, but I call it yield. They yield to the other person, because they think the relationship’s more important than this specific conflict. So sometimes they just yield to get, uh, you know, resolution.

The third one is withdraw.

Ann: And the withdrawer, what they do is they hate conflict, so they just wanna get away from it. They don’t wanna deal with it, they just wanna run away from it.

Dave: They may shut-

Ann: So they usually leave-

Dave: Yeah. They leave.

Ann: … or shut down emotionally.

Dave: And then the last one’s resolve. Some people… And this is where we’re gonna get to tonight. How do you get to resolution? ‘Cause everybody, you know this, everybody knows how to have conflict. Everybody. We do, you do, we all do. Let me tell you, less than 10% know how to resolve it. It’s scary. Less than 10% actually get to resolution. So what-

Ann: I- I was just gonna say, now just think, what are you? Like, this is really important to know. What’s your style? Okay? Have that in your head.

Dave: Yeah. And you guys don’t know us. You might’ve heard us this morning, some heard us yesterday in class. But take a guess what her style is? Anybody wanna guess from this morning? She’s a winner. She is really good. She likes ropes. “Sweet, let’s talk about this. Let’s go right now.” And she grew up in a family, that’s how they handled conflict. And it isn’t always your style is the same as your parents the way you solve, but often you sorta copy that. So, she was a winner. Of course we didn’t know any of this when we got married. We just got married. We love each other. This is gonna be awesome. And then we started learning this stuff. It’s like, “Oh my gosh, she’s a winner.”

Guess what I am. I’m a withdrawer. Now, you heard it. If you were at chapel this morning, you heard at the very end my story of my family. Two alcoholic parents, abuse, divorce, affairs; the whole thing, right? In my family, whenever there was conflict, it got ugly and it ended in divorce. So I grew up thinking, “Man, you avoid conflict at all costs.” You do not… It never works. You don’t talk it through.

So we get married and- and, you know, we’re missionaries. We go and staff with Cru and we’re raising our support back in our hometown. Ohio. Her p-… We’re living with her parents. They’re gone for, uh, an afternoon and we get in a fight in the house. Nobody’s there. The windows were open, nobody’s home, and I get up and start to leave the room. And I don’t even know this is what I do, but that’s what I did.

Ann: So we’re- we’re in this huge fight. So he just… I-

Dave: I just literally started to walk out of the room. I’m like, “I- I’m not gonna talk about this.”

Ann: And I’m amazed. Like… And, you guys, this is what I say to him. This is so bad. I say, “Where are you going? Come back here and fight me like a man, you chicken.”

Dave: (laughing)

Audience: (laughing)

Ann: Who says that, right?

Dave: And I’m halfway through the kitchen and I hear that and I literally took off. It was so-.

Ann: Our- Our windows are open, our neighbors are probably thinking, “Oh, that’s that young missionary couple-

Dave: (laughing)

Ann: … having a fight. That’s awesome.”

Dave: I was 22, she was 19. She follows me upstairs. I go upstairs.

Ann: He goes upstairs, he closes the bedroom door to get away from me. I open the door, I go and I sit right down beside him like, “We have to talk about this.”

Dave: I never forget. I was like, “What are you doing? What are you…” I mean, I- I was so uncomfortable. You know why? I- At that point I’m married now. I don’t know if I’d ever, ever entered into a conflict. I always withdrew. I always got in the car, drove away, broke up with the girlfriend, um, ended the relationship. I’m too good for this. I don’t need… That was my MO. And here we are married and she’s saying we gotta resolve this.

Now here- here’s the reason I avoided conflict. Not just my family. I had a presupposition that conflict is bad, you avoid it. Was I right? No. I’ve totally flipped that. Here’s what I will tell you: conflict is good. Now I’m not saying always. Like, “Hey, let’s go have a fight today.”

Ann: (laughing)

Dave: I’m not saying that. But I’m saying, man, if you learn some things, even tonight, and we’re gonna fly really fast, um, and learn how to resolve conflict, you will get to a place in your relationships, romantic relationships, teammates, class mates, family-

Ann: Professors. Yeah.

Dave: … better than you’ve ever been in your life if you will do the… We call it at our church… Man, in our staff we say, “Let’s roll up the sleeves and go.” And that doesn’t mean fight, that means let’s roll up the sleeves and do the hard work. ‘Cause it’s hard work, really hard work, to resolve conflict.

Ann: Because I really a- always felt like when we get through that conflict, we’re better. Like, we know each other better. We’ve talked more and now we know each other so we become even better in our relationship. But you never saw it like that before.

Dave: No. And- And I do now. But I… And I’ll tell you this: this is the big truth of this whole thing. There’s one big idea. This is basically it: the health and future of your relationship is determined by how you handle conflict. And I actually think relationship and conflict rhyme, so you can remember it better. Right?

Ann: (laughs)

Dave: The health and future of relationship is how you handle conflict. Okay? So that’s- that’s how it works.

Audience: (laughing)

Dave: That’s how I preach. I always want it to rhyme. Um, but- but here’s the thing: some of you know the, uh, marriage, uh, writer. Uh, probably the-

Ann: Yeah.

Dave: … foremost expert in the country, John Gottman. He’s the guy that can spend 15 minutes with a couple and watch them fight and tell you if they’re gonna make it or not, and he’s 98% accurate. 15 minutes. He watches them try to resolve conflict and he says, “They’re gonna make it. They’re not gonna make it.” He’s true- right almost all the time.

The most important thing for the future and health of any relationship to have, marriage relationship, friendship, you name it, is how you handle conflict.

So here we gonna go. We’re gonna give you five S’s. They all start with the letter S and they’re two-word statements, five principles. I hope we can get actually all of them done. We’ll try our best, but here they are.

The first one you need to know. If you’re gonna resolve conflict, the first S is this: shut up.

Ann: (laughs)

Dave: Write it down. You’re thinking, “What else?” That’s it. Shut up.

Ann: (laughs)

Dave: What do I mean? Shut up and listen.

Ann: And you guys-

Dave: ‘Cause often in a conflict we don’t listen. Like what I’m doing right now. I’m not letting her talk. I’m talking, talking, talking.

Ann: (laughs)

Dave: And that’s what you do in a conflict. You talk, you talk. And when you’re talking, all you’re doing is you’re not even listening. You’re just like, “Would you shut up? You shut up?” And you try to jump in. It’s like, no, you gotta shut up. Don’t say a word. Focus in. Turn your phone off, turn the TV off. Look them in the eye and try to listen. For what? The real issue. ‘Cause the issue’s usually behind the problem they’re talking about. It may be that, but it’s probably something behind that. And if you don’t listen well, you won’t even catch it.

Ann: So you guys have heard James 1:19, but listen to it now. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this. Everyone should be quick to,” what? “Listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” What- What if we lived that out? Honestly. What if we lived it out that we were slow in getting angry, but we were quick to listen?

Dave: Two ears, one mouth. That should be the ratio. Literally. Should be. We should listen twice as much as we speak. Now, do we need to speak in conflict? Yeah, that’s the third S. Don’t write it down yet. We’re gonna get there. But the first thing we need to do is shut up. Close our mouth. Don’t try to make our point. Try and really listen. And by the way, a lot of listening is not just what they’re saying, it’s how they’re standing, their posture, their- their tone of voice; all that is communicating something beyond just the words.

Ann: Because here’s the truth. Like, because we’ve raised three sons and I’m married to Dave, I realize that a lot of times Dave would come home, he wouldn’t even tell me what he’s feeling. Like, if I was upset, I would be verbalizing it, or I would be crying. I’ve never come home and Dave’s-

Dave: (laughs)

Ann: … sitting on the couch like, “I had the worst day.” He just doesn’t do that. But he gets quiet, he gets like moody, or else he’s angry and snappy. So, I should be thinking not, “What is your problem? Why are you being a jerk?”

Dave: (laughs)

Ann: I should be thinking, “What happened and what’s the underlying issue? Why are you acting like that?”

Dave: So, to tell you a quick story, wa- I was preaching at our church, I don’t know, years ago. Uh, I know how long ago, ’cause our, uh… two sons with you. I’m standing outside our church. Um, it’s right before our last service. We do multiple services on weekends. I see Ann pull up and there’s a parking spot right by the front door. She whips into it real quick. She’s late. She and two of our sons get out. Austin was, what, 16, Cody mean… that means he’s 14. They come running up and, uh, they’re all excited ’cause they got a really good parking spot by the front door.

Ann: Well yeah. Because here’s the… here’s what happened. So, I’m late ’cause our kids are teenagers and we’re late, so I pull in-

Dave: She’s blaming the kids. You hear that? Do you notice that?

Ann: (laughs)

Dave: Are you listening?

Ann: Everybody’s there and I see this spot right by the front door. I’m like, “Thank you, Jesus, for my spot.” So I pull in, I see Dave. Like, “Hey, you’re out here. It’s sunny. You’re greeting any- everybody.”

Dave: (laughs)

Ann: And he looks at me. He’s smiling. “Oh hey, how you doing, everybody?” And then he whispers in my ear, like yelling at me, “Go-

Dave: Whisper yelling. That’s what you just said.

Ann: It wa-… It was like, “Go move the car right now.”

Dave: I said, “Move the car now.” And she’s like, “I’m not moving a car.” (laughing)

Ann: I said no.

Dave: And I-

Ann: I said, “God gave me that spot.”

Dave: I said-

Ann: “I’m not moving it.”

Dave: I’m like, “God did not give you that spot.” I go, “Austin, here. Move the car.” And Austin’s like, “No, I’m not moving a car.”

Ann: I stood in front of Austin like this.

Dave: And I’m-

Ann: “No! No, Austin. Don’t move the car.”

Dave: I’m- I’m literally in front of the church going, “Hey, how you doing. Welcome to church. Go move the car!”

Ann: (laughing)

Dave: It was like, “What are you doing?” And then I’m like, “I gotta go in and preach. You get that car moved,” and I took off. And I go in and I’m up there preaching. I can see her sitting in the back.

Ann: Oh, and I’m sitting in the back like this. Like, “I can’t stand the pastor of this church.” (laughing)

Audience: (laughing)

Dave: (laughing) And I can tell she’s thinking that. Every time I- my head went that way, I’m like, you know, giving her the look. Like, “This isn’t finished.” You know?

Ann: (laughing)

Dave: And, uh, so I get home later. Now, here’s what you don’t know yet. Right? Your- You’re probably thinking, “What’s the deal, dude? Why are you asking her to move the car?” Okay, I’m gonna give you my side of the story, right?

Ann: It’s no good.

Dave: It’s good.

Ann: (laughing)

Dave: It’s the truth. And I… And the- this was the reality. We started our church 25 years ago, so we’re the founders, right? And when you’re the founders of a church, you get to set the values. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but one of our core values to this day, 26 years later, is we leave the best parking spots in the church for the unchurched that aren’t there. We leave them. We- Our members literally, we have… Raise your right hand. I’m gonna park across the street. I’m gonna park in the background. There’s no Pastor Wilson spot by the front door. I- I’m not saying churches can’t do that. We just don’t. Those spots are left for the people-

Ann: But-

Dave: … that we are trying to reach.

Ann: … they were already there.

Dave: They were not there.

Ann: They were already there. I was late, and so they were already inside.

Dave: So my wife, the pastor’s wife, take the best spot! I’m like, “No! You’ve gotta move the car.” Okay, everybody with me? Nobody’s with me.

Ann: Look, the guys are. The guys are. Look at… Some of them are. Yeah.

Dave: Yeah, okay. Okay. I got one.

Ann: All right. We’re not done yet.

Dave: I got one!

Ann: You keep going. Okay.

Dave: All right. So I get home after preaching, right? And- And sometimes conflicts are going for hours. That doesn’t always happen.

Ann: We couldn’t resolve it then.

Dave: Yeah, we could- So I walk in the door. I mean, I’m not kidding. I walk in the door after that last service. I walk in. The second I see her in the kitchen I’m like, “I cannot believe you parked there! What are you thinking?” So we start yelling at each other.

Ann: And-

Dave: We don’t yell often-

Ann: Yeah.

Dave: … but we were yelling then.

Ann: We- Like we- we speak around the country on this stuff, so we-

Dave: We’re experts.

Ann: … we know the skills, but we didn’t care at that point.

Dave: (laughs)

Ann: We’re just yelling at each other. And so, I’m like, “Oh my gosh. I can’t believe you’re so angry about it.”

Dave: And by the way, neither one of us are listening.

Ann: (laughs) At all.

Dave: Or shutting up. The very first principle. I’m telling you. And so, it gets so bad that my son Cody… He’s now on our staff, okay? So he’s 25, married. He was 14 then.

Ann: Yeah.

Dave: He’s sitting at the end of the kitchen table, I’m at the other end, we’re going at it and Cody goes like this. He goes, “Hey dad, don’t you and mom, like, speak around the country on how to, like, resolve conflict?” I go, “Yeah.” He goes, “Could you maybe show me? You know, maybe, yeah, you could do it? This-

Audience: (laughing)

Ann: (laughing)

Dave: … This isn’t looking real good.” And I remember going, “You sit right there, young man. This- You watch this whole thing.”

Ann: (laughing)

Dave: And so I go at it and she actually leaves and goes upstairs.

Ann: I was so mad.

Dave: And I was like, “Yeah, you should. You know you’re wrong. Go upstairs.”

Audience: (laughing)

Dave: So-

Ann: And I end up going upstairs. It’s-

Dave: (laughs)

Ann: Have you ever… Do you do this? Like, the fight’s going on and you’re building your case in your head.

Dave: (laughs)

Ann: Do you know what I mean? Like, you’re going through, like, “This is what I’m saying and this is why I’m so right.” So I come downstairs. Like, I am… I come down. It’s like, “All right. Here it is.” So he’s sitting and I’m like, “H- Here’s the truth: I do everything around here. I go to church by myself all the time. You’re here speaking, you’re here speaking, and you’re doing this. I’m here at home mowing the grass and I’m fixing the cars and I’m changing the oil. I snowboard and I wakeboard just to be with the guys. And I’m cleaning and I’m doing your laundry. And if one time there’s a spot that Jesus gives me, I should get to park there!”

Dave: (laughing)

Ann: Right? Yes, girls!

Dave: Hey! Why!

Ann: Whoo! (laughs)

Audience: (laughing; applause)

Dave: There’s guys actually clapping too.

Ann: (laughs)

Dave: Men. We’re together here, men.

Ann: (laughs)

Dave: They’re like, “You- You’re toast, dude.”

Ann: (laughs)

Dave: I mean, I’m sitting there. Not kidding. She says this little speech, you know, right by- by the door, and Cody again looks at me right at the end of this thing. He gave me the look just like you guys. He’s like, “Dad, dude. You lost this one.”

Ann: (laughing)

Dave: I mean, it was like, “Look at what she said.”

Now, here’s what happened. Here’s the amazing thing that I didn’t tell you yet. When she went upstairs, I was initially like, “Yes. You- You know, we can’t even talk right now.” But she was upstairs for like 15 minutes.

Ann: Mm-hmm. Building my case.

Dave: And Cody’s eating and I’m sitting there. And so, here’s what I did. While she was gone I calmed down a little bit and I said this. I prayed just a quiet prayer and I said, “God, what am I missing? What am I not seeing? Help me to see what’s really going on.” So, when she comes down, right, I’m not even hot anymore. She comes down, she does this whole little thing, Cody gives me the look, and I say this. I go, “Let me ask you a question.” I said, “Do you feel like Kensington…” That’s our church. “Do you feel like Kensington is more important to me than you are?” And that’s all she did (shaking head).

Ann: Yeah.

Dave: She shook her head and I knew right then what the issue was. I finally listened.

John: This is Focus on the Family and today we’re featuring a message from Dave and Ann Wilson. And, uh, you can find more insight in their book called, Vertical Marriage. We have that and we’ll send that to you for a donation of any amount to the ministry of Focus on the Family today. We’ll also include a free audio download of the entire presentation with extra content. Donate and request those resources at Or call for details: 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.

Let’s return now to more from Dave and Ann Wilson.

Dave: But one of the best things you do… you can do in a conflict is ask God. Pray.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Ask God for wisdom. Ask God to let you hear. Um, I- I was not letting God in this thing until that moment. And I finally said, “Okay, God. I need your help. I need to see what’s really going on.” And right there it was.

So, I realized in one second this whole thing was never about a parking spot. It was about her not feeling cherished and a priority in my life.

Now, I said this yesterday at the marriage class, but years ago I would’ve argued with her that she shouldn’t feel that way. That’s an immature person not understanding how to resolve conflict. “What do you mean you feel like Kensington is more important? It’s…” That’s what I would’ve done. And I knew now if she feels like the church is more important than her, the church is more important than her. Whether I agree or not. It doesn’t matter. In my heart I was like, “There’s no way! Not even close, that Kensington is more important than you.” But she feels that way, so I didn’t even say, “There’s no way.” I just said, “Oh my gosh. I’m wrong.” Not “You’re wrong.” I’m wrong. Right?

Ann: Yeah.

Dave: And so, finally I shut up enough to hear, and now we can go somewhere.

Ann: Mm-hmm.

Dave: But by the way, she’s never parking there again. Okay? That’s just the way it is, right? Right, honey?

Ann: Maybe he doesn’t know.

Dave: (laughs) I don’t know.

Ann: (laughs)

Dave: But let me tell you something, and we- we’ve got five S’s to go. We just covered one, but that first one is-

Ann: Huge.

Dave: … so key. And we’re not saying they’re in any certain order. But if you never listen, you’ll never get to step two. And step two we just illustrated for you, is soft answer.

Ann: Mm-hmm.

Dave: If the first one is, uh, “Shut up and listen,” the second one’s “Soft answer.” What happened when she came down and she did her little deal? Did I yell back? No. I tenderly and quietly asked a question, “Do you feel like…?” And that tone changed the whole conversation.

Ann: Mm-hmm. Because Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” So if you’re escalating, it will continue to escalate. But if someone then goes down, the whole situation becomes calm.

Dave: Every time. Somebody escalates, the other one escalates. Somebody goes down… It is hard to yell at somebody that’s real gentle. You could do it, but you’re an idiot. (laughing) You really are. And everybody knows you are like, “Dude, what is up?” There’s a real problem there. But when somebody deescalates, it tends to deescalate the conflict. Not always, but usually it does.

I was… One time I pulled out of our subdivision, uh, to go to work and, uh, there was a car coming sorta quick. And I thought I had time and I pulled out, and as I did it I realized he was coming really fast and I cut him off. And so, I did the… I don’t know if this happens in California. It happens in Detroit. I’m like, “Uh-oh, I could be killed right now.” I look in the mirror and he was really upset. And there’s- it’s a one lane road, so he’s gonna be behind me for a couple miles before there’s a couple… So I keep looking up there and he’s just going off. It’s really cold, so all the windows are up, but I can read every word. And so finally, about two miles later, we get up to a light and I pull in this lane and I’m like, “Is he gonna pull up?” He pulls up right beside me. And I… You know, I’m like… You know, you do the thing. Should I even look? Right? I’m just-

Ann: (laughs)

Dave: I’m not gonna look. And I can see in my periphery…

Ann: (laughs)

Dave: I can see it, you know? And I’m like, “Okay, I- I gotta look.” ‘Cause, you know, he may be wanting to jump out of his car. So finally I turn and he is like this. Like, slobber on his-

Ann: (laughs)

Dave: And the windows are still up, but I- I just go like this. I go, “Sorry. My bad. Sorry.” You shoulda seen it. This guy’s like… “Oh, hey, no problem.”

Ann: (laughing)

Dave: That’s exactly… “Oh yeah. Yeah, it’s cool. We’re cool.” He drove off. Deescalate, right? I mean, I mean, it was a perfect example of what we’re talking about.

Ann: Yeah.

Dave: If you’re in a conflict, that’s gonna help. And here- here’s the thing: in a conflict, when it’s escalating, somebody has to deescalate. Here’s the question for you: who should make the first move? Somebody said the gentlemen. Here’s a great answer. And I think you’ve had the Eggerichs’ speak out here, haven’t you? Uh, Emers-… Anyway, they wrote a book called, Love and Respect. They said in this book, they said… Here’s the answer to that question. Who should make the first move in a conflict that needs to deescalate? How about this for an answer: he who is most mature make the first move. Boom. ‘Cause you know what you’re thinking. They should. You know, I’m right. They should. No, he says whoever’s most mature, make the first move.

Ann: Mm-hmm.

Dave: So, if you make the first move, that’s because you are actually being more mature than them and say, “You know, I can keep yelling, but I’m not gonna. We’ve gotta move this thing toward resolution and I will make the first move.” And it’s hard.

Ann: Mm-hmm.

Dave: Sometimes you don’t wanna make the first move-

Ann: Mm-hmm.

Dave: … but that’s really the- the second S, is just, um, uh… What was it? (laughs) I gotta check you out. Okay? First one was “Shut up,” second one was “Soft answer,” third one is “Speak truth.” Speak truth.

We talked about it a little bit already, but speak the truth in love. Speak the truth. The truth needs to be spoken. That’s often hard, but it needs to be packaged in a context of love.

Ann: And I think that’s what happens; we don’t package it. Because some of you are great… you’re totally good at speaking the truth. You’re all about speaking the truth. This is me. Like, I’m- I can speak the truth. I feel like it’s my gift to Dave when I speak the truth.

Dave: (laughs)

Ann: And some of you though, when it says speak the truth in love, some of you are so loving that you feel like you don’t wanna hurt this person, and so you won’t speak the truth. But sometimes the most loving thing you could do is speak the truth.

And so, what I used to do is I’d be like, “I’m gonna tell Dave everything.” So I would just say it. Instead, what I’ve realized now is I have to ask God first. Should I even say it? God, will this help our relationship? And then if I feel like I should, I need to package it in a way that Dave will receive it.

Dave: You know, it’s interesting. John Gottman, when he talks about speaking the truth, he- he uses a word that he looks for when he analyzes couples that are arguing. He says, “I look for contempt.” You know what contempt is? I’ll read to you his quote. He says, “Contempt is the single best predictor of relationship breakdowns. He defines contempt as “An attitude of superiority, speaking down to your- your friend through name calling or direct insults.” You know what contempt is? Arrogance. I’m better than you. You may not say it, you can feel it. And Gottman’s saying you can just smell it. It’s like, “Oh my gosh. There’s contempt here.” It isn’t just an argument. There’s contempt. And so, they’re speaking the truth, but they’re speaking it with arrogance, with contempt. And when you see that, it’s big trouble.

Okay, we gotta keep- keep flying. Um, how many we got? First one is shut-

Audience: Up.

Dave: Second one is soft-

Audience: Answers.

Dave: Third one, speak-

Audience: Truth.

Dave: Fourth one is… What is it? “Solve or sleep.”

Ann: (laughs)

Dave: Here’s what it is. Solve the conflict. And if you can’t, go to sleep and solve it tomorrow. Now, some people say, “No, no, no. That’s not biblical. The Bible says, ‘In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.’” Anybody know that one? Ephesians what? Ephesians 4:26. Write it down.

Ann: (laughs)

Dave: Go look it up. We were told when we got married that was a literal verse and it meant you can never go to sleep with a conflict in your marriage.

Ann: So we-

Dave: You have to resolve it before.

Ann: It would be three in the morning and Dave is like falling asleep. I go, “How can you fall asleep? This is so important!” Like, “You don’t even care about our relationship.”

Dave: And I’m like, “The sun went down hours ago.” You know?

Ann: (laughing)

Dave: I mean… And we really were mentored and told it’s literal. Can I just tell you, it’s not literal.

Ann: (laughs)

Dave: It’s a principle. I mean, if you start the conflict at 9:00 PM, the sun’s down, you got till tomorrow. Okay?

Ann: (laughs)

Dave: It- It’s not literal, but it is a principle that says solve it quickly. Don’t wait a week, don’t wait a month, don’t wait till-

Ann: Because-

Dave: … you know, next Christmas.

Ann: Because some of you are avoiders, so you’re like-

Dave: Yeah.

Ann: … “Oh yeah, we’ll solve it in a week,” and you hope it never comes up. So we usually say 24 hours. If you have a friend or a teacher or a boyfriend, girl, solve it within 24 hours.

Dave: Yeah. If you’re working on it, you can’t get the resolution, sometimes you just need to say, “Okay, let’s talk tomorrow morning at 10:00 Am, noon, whatever. And sometimes, especially for guys, we need more time to process. It’s not always true for men and women, but I do. Sometimes she’s like, “What are you thinking?” I’m like, “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

Ann: (laughs)

Dave: “How can you not know?” “I don’t know!”

Ann: (laughs)

Dave: You know? “Can we talk tomorrow?” And by tomorrow I’m like, “Oh, I do know. I really do know. This was what I was feeling,” and we can get somewhere. And sometimes we can resolve it before we go to bed, but many times we schedule the next day. And the best relationships resolve it the next day.

Ann: Yeah.

Dave: They don’t wait a week. They resolve it the next day. But if you can solve it right now, do it.

John: We’re gonna have to end this presentation right there from Dave and Ann Wilson, and our thanks to Biola University in La Mirada, California for allowing us to use this terrific message on Focus on the Family.

Jim: The Wilsons went on to talk about the importance of seeking forgiveness for past hurts and the ultimate importance of surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ. And we’ll include that great content on the free audio download that you’ll receive when you get a copy of their book, Vertical Marriage. And that’s from us right here at Focus on the Family. Uh, the book is a very honest look at the key secret that brought Dave and Ann back from the brink of divorce and enabled them to enjoy over 40 years of marriage.

And let me encourage you to make a monthly pledge to support Focus on the Family’s effort to strengthen and save marriages. Be part of the ministry. Uh, that’s the best way to help us even out the ups and downs of the budget throughout the year.

And if you can’t make a monthly commitment right now, we understand. We can send the book out for a one time donation of any amount.

John: Yeah. Call us and make a donation as you can, and request your copy of the book by the Wilsons, Vertical Marriage, and the audio download which has extra content. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or you can make your monthly pledge of any amount and request your copy, uh, at

Jim: And when you’re online with us, uh, do your marriage a favor and take our quick, free online assessment. You’ll discover the strengths and, yes, the weaknesses of your relationship. And then you’ll be directed to helpful articles for those weaker areas that you can work on. Over a million people have already taken the assessment and benefited from it, so come check it out today.

John: Yeah. Look for that marriage assessment when you stop by Next time a unique perspective on mental health.


Dr. Matthew Stanford: The church in a sense is the answer, in my mind, to mental health problems, because people are going there first. Uh, this is a divine opportunity that God’s given us and we have to be more aware.

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