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Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?

with David Thomas, Stephen James | August 21, 2007

Stephen James and David Thomas, Christian counselors and authors of the book "Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?," talk frankly to men about understanding and communicating better with their wives.

Stephen James and David Thomas, Christian counselors and authors of the book "Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?," talk frankly to men about understanding and communicating better with their wives.

Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?

With David Thomas, Stephen James
August 21, 2007
| Download Transcript PDF

 Gentlemen, if that happens, just run out of the room screaming.  Or pay attention to this advice from counselor and author David Thomas.

David: I don't think when women ask that question they are looking for information as much as confirmation, which leads us to what she's really asking, because, here's the thing – first of all, I don't think women ask that question because they don't know the answer.  I think they know the answer.  What they're really asking – and this is where the confirmation part comes in – to a man who loves them is "Do you see beauty in me?  Do you think I'm beautiful?"

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, August 21.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  The question your wife asks isn't always the real question.  Stay tuned.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  We've been doing this radio program now for 15 years, right?

Dennis: That's correct.

Bob: And over that period of time, I would guess I've asked thousands, maybe tens of thousands of questions.  I mean, we've had a lot of guests, I've asked a lot of questions.

Dennis: I've asked probably a couple of hundred.

Bob: Some of them have been very – oh, thank you very much.


 I let you get a question in every once in a while.

Dennis: Keith, is that true?  Have you been keeping track?  What is the total count for Bob?

Bob: Who's ahead in the question …

Dennis: And the total count for me, Keith?

Keith: Yeah.

Dennis: Yeah, I knew there would be a politically correct …

Bob: He's pretty smart.

Dennis: Answer on that.

Bob: I have asked, over time, some stupid questions, haven't I?

Dennis: One or two, maybe.

Bob: Do you think I've ever asked a risky question?

Dennis: Oh, absolutely.  You've put some people on the spot, big time, that's why a lot of our listeners listen in.

Bob: But I don't think I've ever asked some of the questions that are in the book that we're going to talk about today.

Dennis: Oh, no doubt about it.  Well, think about it …

Bob: Because these would be really risky and stupid questions.

Dennis: Think about it – what kind of authors – you would have to have a pair of incredibly risky authors who would do two things – number one, title their book, "Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?"

Bob: See, there's no good answer to that question.

Dennis: "A Man's Guide to the Loaded Questions Women Ask," and then there's a bomb that's about to go off on the front.

 The other thing that's risky is those guys not only wrote the book …

Bob: Yeah?

Dennis: They sent it to us.

Bob: Yeah?

Dennis: And they are appearing on this broadcast.

Bob: And they're married.

Dennis: They are!  Stephen James and David Thomas join us again on FamilyLife Today.  Stephen, David, welcome back to the broadcast.

Stephen: It's great to be here.

David: Thank you.

Dennis: You know, Stephen, you're a pastor.  You should know better.

Stephen: You would think, with the counsel of many is wisdom and I guess not.

Dennis: No doubt about it, and, David, you're a counselor.  You know how women think.  I mean, you titled this book this?

David: I was thinking, as you introduced us – risky or stupid.  I'm trying to play that out in my mind.

Bob: Risky, stupid, risky, stupid.

Dennis: Okay, Stephen's been married 11 years, David's been married 12.

Bob: And did any of the questions that show up in this book – were these actual questions asked by actual women with whom you share a home?

Stephen: I'm going to plead the 5th on that one, Bob.


Bob: Let me just read some of these questions, because guys have been asked these questions and have wondered not only what is she asking but how do I answer that?  All right?

Dennis: Well, let's start with the name of the book.

Bob: Yeah, "Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?"  Okay, when a wife says to her husband, "Do I look good in this dress?  Does this dress make me look fat?"  First of all, what is she really asking there?

David: That's important to think about.  She is really asking for something besides just the answer to that question.  Now, she's asking a question, "Does this dress make me look fat?"  First of all, I don't think when women ask that question they're looking for information as much as confirmation, which leads us to what's she really asking.  Because here's the thing, first of all, I don't think women ask that question because they don't know the answer.  I think they know the answer when they ask that question, or they wouldn't ask it in the first place.

Dennis: They know they look good?

David: they know they look good, or they know they don't look good.  I think one of those two things, and I think what they're really asking, and this is where the confirmation part comes in to a man who loves them is "Do you see beauty in me?  Do you think I'm beautiful?"

Bob: And, Stephen, we joke about it – is there an answer you can give to that question that will allow you to stay in the home that evening?

Stephen: We really think there is, and I think it starts with the man recognizing what's behind the question – "Am I lovely?"  And if a man really loves the woman who is asking that question, he will come towards her with truth, with the idea of "I'm going to tell you the truth because, one, I'm not going to enable your shame, and I'm not going to lie to you."

 But the question is not "Am I fat?"  The question is "Do you think I'm beautiful," and so if he can begin to answer that question well, he's got a great chance of not sleeping on the couch and a really good chance of sleeping in the same bed.

Bob: So if she says, "Do I look fat in this?" or "How do you think I look in this?" and he looks, and he goes, "Well, it's not the most flattering dress on."

Dennis: That's probably not a good answer.

Bob: So what would you – let me ask Mr. FamilyLife Today here.  What would you say if Barbara said …

Dennis: You were the one that used the illustration with Mary Ann the other day.  She asked you about something she was wearing …

Bob: Yeah, I got in here …

Dennis:  I went home and told Barbara this illustration, and her response was interesting.  But you go ahead and tell the story.

Bob: I got in real trouble.  Mary Ann had brought home a skirt from Talbot's, okay?  And this is fairly standard for Mary Ann – she'll bring home something, and she'll keep it for a week or two deliberating in her mind, "Do I want to keep this skirt or not?" 

 Now, I'm the guy who, if I bring it home, it's bought, and I'm going to wear it maybe that same day but probably the next day, right?  But she brings it home, and she's thinking about it, and she's trying it on with different things, so I didn't even know she had this skirt at home.

 Well, she tries it on, and she says, "What do you think of this skirt?  I brought it home, I've had it here for a couple of weeks, I can't decide.  I would probably need to hem it up, because I think it's too long, and it sits up higher on the waist," and she's describing this, and I just started to – I just laughed, I couldn't help but laugh, which, by the way, was not a good thing to do.

Dennis: That's my first principle.

Bob: You have to fight that impulse.

Dennis: Do not laugh.

Bob: So I just – I chuckled, and she said, "What?"  And I said, "Well, honey," I said, "you've asked me this question about clothes many times" …

Dennis: How many years have you been married, Bob?

Bob: We've been married for 28 years – "You've asked me this question about clothes many times.  I have told you many times when I think something looks nice on you, and you take it back to the store."

Dennis: And so you left it at that, didn't you, Bob?

Bob: So I said …

Dennis: You went on?

Bob: Actually, I don't think I needed to say anything more after that.  I think the point was clear, and it was obvious that I had not made her a happy woman with my pretty obvious response to this.

 Now, we had a very good conversation that followed that, because I kind of unpacked this a little more, and she said – this was very interesting – she said, "If you tell me that something doesn't look good on me, I'm almost certainly going to take it back even if I think it looks okay.  If you say it does look good, I'm still going to make up my own mind about what I think."

 So I said, "So what you're really asking is not 'How does this look?' but 'do you think this looks bad?'  It doesn't matter whether I think it looks good, but if I think it looks bad, that's helpful data?"  She said, "Yes."  I said, "That's very helpful.  I can respond to that now much better," and I said, "Now, can I share that story, because we've just had a great FamilyLife Today illustration," and she said, "Yeah, I suppose so."

Dennis: And I talked to Barbara about this, and, you know, what our wives are looking for is they want us to engage with them around the subject of who they are and, yes, their beauty, but how they look, and they are, many times, not really looking for a critique of how they look.  They really are wanting us to engage and say, "You know, you've got some other things that look better," or "You tell me," and so Barbara brought in something that she had purchased, and she put it on, and I – you just told this illustration, Bob, and so she asked me, "What do you think?"  And I said, "Well, you know, you told me the other day that I'd bought a shirt that the blue just didn't look the best on me, and I just want you to know I think you have some other clothing that really is a lot snazzier on you than this particular outfit that you have on."

Bob: Yeah?  Did you really use the word "snazzier," with her?

Dennis: I don't know if I used that word …

Bob: Okay, I'm just checking.

Dennis: But, you know, it was interesting.  It's just a sensitive area when your wife asks you how she looks, she's wanting you to tread off into that territory very carefully and to tenderly deal with her.

 Let's talk about another one of these questions – let's talk …

Bob: Dangerous – every one of these is a trap.

Dennis: Yeah.  "Do you notice anything different about the house?"  Or another one would be, "Have you noticed anything different about my hair?"

David: Again, behind every one of these questions is a deeper soul question a woman is asking, and we believe behind that question, "Do you notice something different about the house?"  A woman is asking "Do you think I'm creative?  Do you notice how I mark creation with beauty?"  Which is a reflection right back to Genesis 2 and 3, where we subdue and rule and fill and multiply, and there's this idea that we are made to steward creation and enhance it as we go along.

 That tends to be a feminine process, and so when she asks the question, "Do you notice anything different about the house?"  She is wanting men to confirm and speak into the idea of "Yes, I notice your creative power, and it moves me."

Dennis: I'll tell you what my wants to know, and I have a feeling it's true of any wife who would ask this question – she's wanting to know, "Am I appreciated?"  I mean, yes, it is the creative – like you're talking about, because she has fixed it up and done some things, but she's just wanting to know do I appreciate her in her efforts?

Bob: And I think with Mary Ann she's wanting to know, "Are you engaged in what I'm engaged in?  Are you looking at life like I'm looking at life?  Are we really one in this whole thing?"

David: Is it important?  Is it important enough to you that you would notice, that you would be engaged in my world and what I love and found time to create beauty.

Bob: Now, here is one – this is – when a wife says to her husband, "Do you see that woman over there?  Do you think she's pretty?"

 Okay, at that point, my suggestion is just say, "Oh, my cell phone just rang, I've got to take a call."

Dennis: You're a coward, Bob.

Bob: What is going on there?

Stephen: I really believe when a woman asks that question, she's asking, "Do you notice me?"  It's not as much a comparison between her and the other person, it's "Do I still captivate you enough?  Do I still hold your gaze?  Do you still find me interesting?  Is there enough going on between the two of us that you will stay with me?"  It's a question about abandonment and contentment and companionship more than I think anything else.

Dennis: I think it's also an issue of comparison. We live in a comparison-rich culture where I think women are encouraged to constantly walk into a room, see how other women are dressed, see who is there, see who might be turning heads, and, unfortunately, compare themselves unfavorably with someone else.

Stephen: A friend at work told me about – we were writing this book, I asked her to read it, and she said, "You know, women don't dress for other men."  I said, "What do you mean?"  She said, "Your wife dresses for other women," and I think it speaks right to that, Dennis, that women are more concerned about how they stand up with other women than necessarily about what a man sees in them sometimes.

Bob: David, what is a wife asking when she just looks at you and says, "What are you thinking about?  What are you thinking about?"  And you go, "I wasn't really thinking about anything," or "I was thinking about the game last night" or, you know, how do you answer that in a way that understands her?

David: I think, with that one, almost always a woman is asking underneath that, "Are you thinking about me?  Are you interested in us?"  You know, the old song, "Do I Cross Your Mind?"  And I stepped right into this one, big time.  In fact, on my honeymoon, I had only been married less than 24 hours, and my wife and I were on our way to our honeymoon.  We'd flown in, picked up a convertible, we were driving, it was a beautiful, perfect sunny day.  I remember looking over, and her hair was blowing in the wind, I was smiling, and she looked at me and asked, "What are you thinking about?" 

 Now, a wise man would have immediately said, "About you, about spending the rest of our lives together," something …

Bob: "How great it is to be married and how excited I am, yeah.

David: Sure, and I started to answer otherwise – caught myself about halfway into the answer and said something like, "You know what?  I am thinking about stuff that we could do together in our future," and I started elaborating on that, and …

Bob: You started backtracking is what you were doing.

David: I started backtracking big time, and she bought in and said, "Like what?"  And I’m, like, "Well, like, I was thinking that we could backpack in Europe, we could kayak in the West, we could hike a part of the Appalachian Trail" and started listing these very typical guy things we'd love to do.

 And I said, "What would you love to do?"  And she immediately started to say things like, "I'd love to have breakfast in bed, and I'd love to read Jane Austen together," and do all this – none of which aligned with my list.

Dennis: The kayak in the West.

Bob: You know, you're talking to a guy who took his wife camping on their honeymoon, so …

Dennis: Yeah, I mean …

David: How'd that go?

Dennis: I didn't have a clue.  Well, it snowed on us, and we had to stay warm, so we zipped our …

Bob: … never mind.

Dennis: We zipped our bags together there.  Here's another one, and I don't know about this one.  Maybe there are women who ask this question, maybe they can write in and tell us that they've asked this question, but I just – here it is – "Am I like my mother?"  Now, really, are there women who ask that question?

Stephen: Don't you know that?  I think I do.  My wife and I were talking about me traveling this week and coming here to the show, and she was apprehensive about me being out of town, and when she has fear, she needs to be reassured.  And so she starts going through all the things that have to be taken care of while I’m gone, and I started getting bored with the list, as any good husband would, I guess, and she said, "I know what you're thinking."  And I said, "What?"  She said, "I'm just like my mother."  "I wasn't, but now that you think of it, you are."

[they all groan]

 Hey, I know, but as we talked about it, I think what my wife was looking for is the idea of in spite of what I bring into this relationship, in spite of the baggage I bring, will you still love me?  Do you still care for me?  Are you willing to stick by me through all of that?

Dennis: Uh-huh.

Bob: Okay, what about a wife who says to her husband, "You know, this year for our anniversary, you don't need to get me anything.  Christmas, you don't need to get me anything."

Stephen: That one drives me crazy.  It makes me crazy, one, because we, as men, we need a lot of instruction, we really do, and gifts are of great importance oftentimes to women, and I don't want to make a mess of that one.

 The other part of that is, I don't know about you all, but I'm very strategic with that.  In fact, in my family, growing up, like, you would supply others with a Christmas list of things that you wanted.  So we were sort of the opposite.  We took all the mystery out of it whatsoever, and my wife's not like it.

Bob: Here is my shopping list, go get it for me.

Stephen: Sure.

Dennis: She wants to be surprised?

Stephen: Sure, sure, she wants to be surprised, she wants to be remembered, and I think the part of saying, "You don't need to get me anything," and not giving me any instruction on what to get is …

Dennis: … is a reminder not to forget her.

Stephen: Not to forget me, and how well do you know me?  How well do you really know me?

Bob: Mary Ann and I are both practical people, and we've had these conversations with holidays coming up, and we're busy, and it's Valentine's Day or it's anniversary, and we go, "You know, what, let's just – we're not going to get each other anything because we're busy, and we just did this with the house," or something else like that.

 And we've had anniversaries go by where we didn't get each other anything, and we've kind of been okay with that.  And, all of a sudden, it dawned on me one year, "This isn't good."  Now, gifts are not her love language, that's not her primary thing, but I thought, "I'm not modeling well for my children.  I'm not taking advantage of an opportunity to express love even if it was something simple, I'm not affirming with that," and I just said to her, "The last time we looked at each other and said, 'Should we get each other' – I said, 'you know, I think we should.  I think we need to make the effort and even if – it doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive, but I just think we need to find a way that we can express our love to one another."

 I think it's a discipline at some level that can be healthy for a marriage.

Dennis: I think you're right, Bob, and, in fact, I want to ask you guys – both are counselors – if there is a young man right now listening who is married, maybe starting out his marriage together, and he's listened to us kind of rattle through a few of these questions or statements that women make, what should he do?  I'm not trying to give men a total equation here, but is there something kind of standard that a guy can do at this point to kind of clarify what she's saying?  Like, on this one, when she says, "You know, you don't have to give me anything for Christmas."

 And to do what Bob did, which is engage with his wife around the subject and say, "You know, I think we ought to talk about that.  What do you really mean by that?"

Stephen: There are several things, I think one thing a guy can do is recognize there's always more behind the question than what she's saying.  If it's a question, a loaded question like this that would tend to put a man on the defensive, for him to recognize that she's looking for something much bigger than a yup, nope, or maybe, or a passive answer, she's wanting her husband to engage her and fight through her issues – so for him to recognize that there is something bigger brewing in her soul than what she's asking is really important.

David: And I would say buy the book.  You can read about all our mistakes and keep yourself out of the doghouse.

Bob: There you go – a catalog from the authors of "Pitfalls to Avoid," traps you've stepped in that you can steer other men around, you know?

Dennis: Barbara and I were married in 1972, and I can, with great authority, say the advice you were just given is great advice, because if your wife makes a statement like this, it is usually not the issue, it's not really the question, it's not really the statement.  She is wanting to know if you care enough to go digging.  If you care enough to find out who she really is and what she's really about and what really is bothering her or what answer she really is looking for and, you know, as men, I think many times we kind of act like we should have married a car battery, where we could have gotten a guarantee, you know?

David: Something we can charge up and be on our way.

Dennis: Something that would be very simple, it would just be the same response every time, you know?

Bob: Your advice, and I think you're absolutely right – your advice to men is to get below the surface and to realize there is more here than there may appear.   That's what it means, in part, to live with our wives in an understanding way, which is what we're instructed to do in 1 Peter, chapter 3, and I think that the book that the two of you have written is very helpful for us in that regard. 

 It has the clever title, "Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?" and other landmine questions that a wife may ask her husband and how to respond to those.  We've got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center along with the book we've already talked about this week, which you wrote for wives to understand their husbands better, which is called "Yup.  Nope.  Maybe."  And if our listeners are interested, they can get copies of both of these books from our FamilyLife Resource Center.

 Here is what you need to do – go to our website, which is  In the center of the screen – actually, in kind of the lower right-hand side of the screen, you'll see a red button that says "Go," and if you click that button, it will take you to the area of the site where you can find more information about the books we've talked about today and other resources on communication that are available from us here at FamilyLife Today.

 Again, the two books we've talked about this week are "Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?" a guide for husbands to better understand how to communicate with their wives, and the book, "Yup. Nope. Maybe," a guide for wives to better understand their husbands' communication.

 You can order both of these from us online at or you can call 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can make the arrangements to have either or both of these books sent to you.

 Well, you know, we have learned that a lot of our listeners are up for a challenge this month.  We've had many of our listeners who have called in to participate in the August Challenge Fund, as we approach the end of our fiscal year.  We have invited our listeners not only to make a donation but to challenge other listeners to join with them in making a donation.  And a number of those listeners have responded to these challenges.

 For example, we received a donation from a parent of a teenager who said, "I want to challenge other parents of teens to call in and either match my donation or make a donation of their own," this particular parent of a teenager made a very generous $500 donation, and many of you have already responded to that challenge and made a donation of your own, and we appreciate your financial support.

 We are listener-supported here as a ministry, and so it's donations from folks like you that help keep this program on the air on this station and on other stations all across the country and especially as we approach the end of the fiscal year, it's important for us to hear from as many listeners as possible.

 So if you can make a donation today, if there's a challenge you want to respond to, you can either donate online at, or you can call 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and we appreciate you standing with us financially, and we appreciate your generous support.

 And we also appreciate the guys who have joined us on today's program, Stephen James and David Thomas.  You know, I think just tackling the subjects we've tackled this week takes a lot of courage from these guys.

Dennis: Anybody who would write a book like this, "Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?" a man's guide to loaded questions women ask – you guys are courageous to write it and then appear on the broadcast.  I hope you'll come back and join us again sometime.

Stephen: Thank you so much.

David: Thank you.

Bob: I want to invite our listeners to join us back tomorrow.  Michael O'Brien, the former lead singer of the group New Song is going to join us along with his wife, Heidi.  We're going to hear some of their story, and we're going to hear some of the new songs he has written for his wife, Heidi.

 Did you like that?  Oh, Kenny's not sure he likes that. 

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast team, including Kenny, who is, again, not sure that I should have said that.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today. 

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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