FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Improving Communication, Part 2

with Bob Lepine | July 29, 2011
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If you are struggling with communication in your marriage, the solution might be to work on your listening skills. Bob Lepine shares four tips for talking and listening effectively.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • If you are struggling with communication in your marriage, the solution might be to work on your listening skills. Bob Lepine shares four tips for talking and listening effectively.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave 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 church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

If you are struggling with communication in your marriage, the solution might be to work on your listening skills.

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Improving Communication, Part 2

With Bob Lepine
July 29, 2011
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Bob:  When couples talk about challenges they’re facing in their marriage, as it relates to communication, they’re usually talking about the fact that they don’t communicate; or that when they do communicate, things just come out all wrong.  One of the areas of communication that is often overlooked is the importance of being a better listener.


Well, I live too loud and I talk too much;

But somehow I don’t see it as such.

Seems like what I love the most is the sound of my own voice.

I bring my list and I say my piece;

I check you off but I’m incomplete.

Seems like what I’m missing most is the sound of your voice.


So why is it so hard for me to shut my mouth and let you speak?

Why do I feel the need to always keep on talking?

Well know I need to hear from you.

I know what I have got to do.

I found what I’ve been missing;

I’ve got to learn to listen.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, July 29th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.  Today we’re going to talk about how you can do a better job of listening in marriage and how you can do a better job of expressing yourself.  Stay with us.


A wise man hears before he speaks;

He knows he doesn’t know everything.

I wish that sounded more like me,  

But I have got so far to go.

Why is my first reaction to give my own opinion?

Like I could tell you something you don’t already know.


So why is it so hard for me to shut my mouth and let you speak?

Why do I feel the need to always keep on talking?

Well I know I need to hear from you.

I know what I have got to do.

I found what I’ve been missing.

I’ve got to learn to listen.

Listen, listen, yeah;

Listen, listen, yeah;

Listen, listen, yeah.


Bob:  And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition.  If you were coaching a newly-married couple on communication, any particular advice you’d give them? 


Dennis:  Yes.  I have a couple of theorems.  We really teach about communication at the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.  I don’t know that we cover these specific statements, but we’re all over this in what we teach couples who come to these conferences.

The first principle of communication is this:  “Communication is not what is said.”  You want to finish the rest of the sentence?

Bob:  Uh, it’s what is unsaid?

Dennis:  Nope.  It is what is heard.  “Communication is not what is said, it is what is heard.”

Bob:  Yes, that’s right.

Dennis:  Many times, in my relationship with Barbara, what I said and what she heard me say are two different things.

Bob:  Really?  That’s happened to you?

Dennis:  It’s happened to me.

Bob:  Yes.

Dennis:  It is like, “Wow!”  I mean, we’ve been married almost 39 years; and sometimes she can read my mind.  That’s the amazing thing—she finishes my sentences for me.  You know what I mean?

Bob:  Right.  Right.

Dennis:  But at other . . .

Bob:  Other times, yes.

Dennis:  I say something, and it’s not what she heard.  Alright.  Second theorem…

Bob:  Yes?

Dennis:  Of communication:  “All miscommunication is the result of differing assumptions.”

Bob:  I thought you were going to say, “All miscommunication is my fault.”  I thought that was where you were going with that.  (laughter)

Dennis:  You know, that one would be more accurate than mine; but you know, we have different assumptions that are made as we’re communicating.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed Barbara in terms of—I would start talking—and I was thinking she really understood what I was talking about and where I was taking her mentally and emotionally. 

It was like, “I’m going to another planet.”  You know?  She’s not making near the assumptions that I’m making, and so we miss each other.  As a result, you know what?  There’s hurt, there’s disappointment, and there’s unmet expectations.  You have to know how to resolve conflict; and importantly, you need to know how to communicate so you don’t create conflict.

Bob:  Well we unpacked this subject of communication at the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway because a lot of couples who are coming have gotten in some pretty bad habits when it comes to communication.  We want to encourage you to plan to attend one of these upcoming events when it comes to a city near where you live. We have worked out a special arrangement for FamilyLife Today listeners. 

If you sign up to attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway and you identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, either by typing my name--typing “BOB”—in the key code box on the online registration form at or by saying, “I listen to FamilyLife Today,”  when you call 1-800-FLTODAY to register for an upcoming event—If you do that and identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, you’ll save at least $100 per couple off the regular registration fee for one of these events. 

If we hear from you before the end of the month, we’re going to send you a thank-you gift for registering early.  That is the game Spouse-ology®, that’s designed to be played by couples together with other couples.  You learn a lot about one another.  It’s a lot of fun to play.  That’s a special gift we’ll send you if you go ahead and act now and register for the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. 


Again, make sure you identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener.  Either type my name, “BOB,” into the key code box on the online registration form at or call 1-800-FLTODAY and say, “I listen to FamilyLife Today, and we want to go to the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.  We want the special group offer for FamilyLife Today listeners.”  You’ll save at least $100 per couple off the regular registration fee.

Dennis:  After you sign up, I’d encourage you to start thinking and praying about another couple you could bring or join you in being able to bring them to the Weekend to Remember.

Bob:  Great idea.

Dennis:  You may be ministering to a couple who may have some challenges in their marriage that they need to work on.  That’s what today’s message is going to be on FamilyLife Toda®y.  It’s a message by Bob Lepine at a recent Weekend to Remember marriage getaway on the art of communication.  Let’s listen to Bob Lepine.

Bob:  (recorded message)  Good communication is talking well and listening well.  Let’s talk about the first principle there, “Listening Well;” because in some cases, this is where the whole thing breaks down.  We’re just not good listeners.  I’m going to give you four tips from Scripture on listening well—four tips on listening well. 

Here’s the first one:  When you are listening to another person, you need to give that person “Focused Attention”—“Focused Attention.”  I heard a story about a little girl who was talking to her daddy one day at the breakfast table.  Her daddy was reading the paper, and she was talking to her daddy about stuff. 

You know how this is, guys.  Your daughter is talking about stuff that’s just—I mean it’s just her world.  She’s talking about something she saw on TV, or about this princess, or some story she’s making up.  You’re kind of not there; and you go, “Mm hmm.  Yes.  That—mm hmm.” 

This little girl got frustrated with her daddy.  She quit talking, she got off her stool, she went over, she grabbed him by the cheeks, and she said, “Listen with your face.”

Now, you need to know—all of us need to know—that if we’re going to be good listeners, we have to give “Focused Attention.” 

I’ve been on the phone with Mary Ann from a place like this, where we’re getting caught up on what’s going on.  In the middle of the conversation she’ll say, “So what else are you doing?”  The TV is on mute—So she can’t hear it in the background, right?—   because I don’t want that dead giveaway; but still she knows.   She goes, “Are you watching something?”  She can tell over the phone line that I’m not giving her focused attention.  I’m off somewhere else. 

To be a good listener, we have to give one another focused attention.  That is tip

Number One.  In fact, Proverbs 7:24 says this, “Listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth.”—Solomon talking to his son.  If you have a teenage boy, you find yourself saying, “Son, listen to me.  Be attentive to the words of my mouth.”  We need to do that with one another—“Focused Attention”—that is Number One.

Number Two: “Listen with Acceptance and Understanding.”  That means that rather than what I was doing with Mary Ann back at the beginning of our marriage, where I was listening to her point and trying to figure out how I can show her that she’s wrong, I need to be listening with an attitude of accepting what she’s saying and trying to understand where she’s coming from. 

My role as a listener is not to always be thinking about challenging what my spouse is saying; but to be thinking, “What’s she really trying to say?  Can I better understand the point?”  Proverbs 24:3 says, “By wisdom a house is built; by understanding it is established.”  You want to listen with an attitude of understanding.

Third thing:  You need to ask “Clarifying Questions” or make “Summarizing Statements.”  As you’re listening—I have heard Gary Smalley talk about this.  He talks about “drive-through communication” or “drive-through talking.”  Have any of you ever heard him say this?  You know, how when you go to the drive-through now, they have the screen up so that when you give your order they will say, “Would you look at the screen please, and tell us if your order is correct?” 

Now, how often do they have it wrong?  Twenty-five, 30, maybe 50 percent of the time they’ve gotten it wrong.  Why?  Because the person who is taking your order is filling drinks and doing other things.  You’ve seen them on the other side.  They’re walking around the restaurant with their little headset on, right?  They’re not giving you focused attention, so they’re getting it wrong on the screen.  Well, the reason they put those screens up in those fast food places is because customers were getting mad driving away, saying, “I asked for no pickles, and they put pickles on this thing.”

Gary Smalley used to talk about “drive-through communication.”  He’d say, “When you’re listening to somebody, when the person is all done saying whatever they need to say, what you say is, ‘Can I tell you what I think I just heard?’”  You’re feeding back to the other person, “Here’s what I think I just heard.  Can I try and summarize what I think I just heard?” or, “Can I ask you a question about something that you just said?”  This is a good listening technique—it’s that “Clarifying Questions” or “Summarizing Statements.”

Then the fourth thing is:  You need to focus on “What’s Being Said,” and not necessarily on the way it’s being said.  Now sometimes you do need to read between the lines, right?  But what you need to focus on is, not absorbing the emotion, but trying to understand what’s going on in the situation, not trying to get sideways because emotionally you’re off base with one another.  You are paying attention and trying to listen with an understanding heart.

I have a friend who lives in San Diego.  His name is Ron Jensen.  Ron had a friend call him one night.  He was going over to the friend’s house; and the friend called Ron and said, “Would you mind bringing some folding chairs with you tonight?  I think we’re going to have a few more people than we expected.”  Ron said, “No problem.”

That night, Ron’s driving over to the house.  He gets to the house, knocks on the front door, and his friend comes to the door and says, “Have you got the folding chairs?”  Ron says, “I forgot them.”  Ron’s friend says, “That figures,” and walked off.  Now, what’s Ron thinking?  Ron’s thinking, “I got to run home and get them.  What a jerk!  I mean, ‘Okay I forgot them, right?  You don’t have to act that way.’”

He didn’t say anything, and the night went on.  They didn’t have a chance to talk about it; but a day-and-a-half later, Ron says, “I need to call him and clear the air on this deal.”  He calls his friend; and he says, “You know, the other night you asked me to bring the stuff.  I didn’t.  I forgot.  When I got to the door and told you I’d forgotten, you said, ‘That figures.’”  He said, “That really—that really hurt me.” 

Ron’s friend said, “Oh, I’m sorry.”  He said, “Here’s what I meant by that.”  He said, “I had had a day where everything I had tried to line up had gone wrong.  I’d had an appointment cancel on me that morning; I had a guy who was supposed to meet me for lunch who was 30 minutes late; that afternoon, I had a deal fall through at the office.  When you showed up without the chairs, it was just like, ‘Well, that figures,’ given the kind of day I’d been having.”

Well, Ron felt very differently about what his friend had said once he got the explanation than beforehand.  It took some clarifying questions and a desire to really make things work to get that on the table and get it right.

Our four tips for you are:  to listen with “Focused Attention;” listen with “Acceptance and Understanding;” ask some “Clarifying Questions,” and then focus on “What’s Being Said” and not the way it’s being said.

Alright—real quick—I’ll give you five keys for better communication, for expressing yourself more clearly.  First, “Think Before You Speak.”  Think before you speak.  It’s often good just to pause for a minute before you say the first thing that pops into your mind.  Just ask the question, “Is that really the thing I want to say at this moment in time?”

Again, in the Scriptures, we see in James 1:19, “Every person is to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”  I think there’s a pattern here:  quick to listen, slow to speak.  Think before you speak.

No. 2 says, “You need to think about what you want to say, when you want to say it, and how you want to say it.”  If you’re thinking before you speak, then you need to be thinking, “What exactly do I want to say?”, “When do I want to say it?”, and, “What’s the best way to say it?” rather than, again, being impulsive or quick. 

How many of you have had those situations where you’ve said something to one another, and as soon as you said it, you wished you could “reel it back in”?  You knew that instant, “I blew that!  Shouldn’t have said it!  Didn’t mean it like that.”  You try to back it up, but you can’t. 

Once the words are out, they’re gone.  No getting them back.  You may have to do damage control for a long time on those.  Instead of just letting them fly, take some time.  In fact, do like Mary Ann did; and we’ve talked about this since then. 

Rather than getting up and walking out of the room, what Mary Ann would do to me today is—we’re in a conversation and it’s—there’s something heated or we’re missing each other.  She would just say, “I need some time to think about how I want to respond.  It might be ten minutes; it might be a day; but I just need some time.”

Alright, we’ll call a time-out on that and let her process it.  In fact, what she’ll often do, and what I’ve learned to do as well in important communication, is write out what it is I want to say because it gives me a chance to think through, “How exactly do I want to say this?”—especially if it is critical communication.

We live in an email world.  One of the dangers of a text-message/email world is communication is flying pretty fast.  The opportunity for misunderstanding is pretty high.  That’s why we need to be a little more careful, a little more deliberate.  Think about what you want to say, think about when you want to say it, and how you want to say it.

Then the third thing is:  “Not everything you’re feeling needs to be expressed.”  Sometimes silence is best.  You might write down here, Proverbs 10:19.  It says, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.”  Is that true?  Absolutely.  Not everything you are thinking needs to come out and be said.  Sometimes you just need to curb your tongue.

Fourth thing:  “You need to ask the other person to make sure you’re being understood.”  When you’ve said something, it’s always good to say, “Does that make sense? Do you understand what I’m trying to say?  Is this making sense to you?” just so there’s an opportunity for that communication to occur.

Then, the fifth thing is:  “You should speak in a way that encourages the other person.” Make it your goal to always make your communication building up the other person, encouraging.  That doesn’t mean you don’t tell the truth, but it means that your goal is never to tear down another person.  It is always to build up your spouse.

Listen to what the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 4, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth…”  No corrupting talk.  “…but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

We want to be better listeners.  We want to do a better job of thinking about what we want to say, when we want to say it, how we want to say it, not saying everything that comes to mind, and then speaking in a way that encourages. 

Each of you give yourselves , not one another, but give your marriage a communication’s score.  Scale of one to ten, how would you say communication is doing in your marriage—listening and expressing yourself to one another?  If it’s a ten, that means you’re doing great; if it’s a one, it means you need a lot of help.  You guys, write the number down before you tell each other what your numbers are.  Let’s see who’s on the same page.

I tell you to do that because a number of years ago at a Promise Keepers meeting, Coach Bill McCartney was sitting on the platform.  Howard Hendricks was speaking.  Dr. Hendricks said, “How would you rate your marriage on a scale of one to ten?  Every man come up with a number.”  Bill McCartney was sitting there; and he said, “You know, our marriage isn’t perfect; but it’s not bad.  I’d give us an eight.” 

Then, Howard Hendricks asked the next question.  He said, “What score would your wife give your marriage?” Bill McCartney had never stopped to think what his wife would think about their marriage.  He was just thinking, “What do I think about it?”  All of a sudden it dawned on him, “She wouldn’t give it an eight.  She’d give it a three or a four,” he thought. 

Then, Howard Hendricks said, “What would it take for your marriage to be at a ten?” 

Now, this is Bill McCartney, whose whole job is trying to be the national champion.  He’s a bit of a competitor.  He’s going, “That’s what I want.  I want a ten from both of us.”  He went home and he said to his wife, “Lyndi,” he said, “I’ve been blowing it.  I haven’t been paying attention.  How can we get this thing to a ten?”  It began a fresh work in their marriage.

In the area of communication, we hope that what you do tonight will spark a little helpful, healthy communication, following the principles we’ve talked about here, and help you figure out, “How can we make it go to the next level?”

(End of recorded message)  Well, we have been listening to Part Two of a message on marital communication from a recent FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.  I think listeners can hear—we try to offer some very practical, specific help on how you can do a better job of listening to one another and how you can do a better job of expressing yourself to one another.  If you’re not communicating, it’s pretty hard to make anything else work in marriage, right?

Dennis:  Yes.  Communication is more than just saying, “I love you.”  I’ll never forget—at one conference, I talked to a couple.  I really sensed that one of the big problems in their marriage was that the wife didn’t feel like her husband needed her.  I gave him the assignment of a practical project of expressing to his wife the many ways that he needed his wife, specifically.

I think it was a painful exercise for that guy because he wasn’t used to getting tangible and getting specific.  I think you mentioned something earlier about that—about not being specific with Mary Ann.  I think we, as men, can generalize things.  Our wives do need to hear how much we appreciate them; how much we do love them; and yes, how much we need them.

Maybe, that’s a good application for today’s broadcast to just take home to your marriage.  Maybe, over dinner tonight or perhaps before the sun sets tomorrow, maybe just write out and jot out three ways that you need your wife or you need your husband.  Then, share it with one another, either at breakfast or over dinner.  Express your feelings to one another in a tangible way.

That’s what we try to do at the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.

Bob:  Keep in mind:  We have been encouraging you to sign up for one of our upcoming fall getaways.  We’ve been encouraging you to identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener because, when you do, you will save at least $100 per couple off the regular registration fee, just for listening to FamilyLife Today and letting us know that when you sign up.

Go online at  You can find out when a getaway is going to be happening in a city near where you live, or maybe there’s a weekend that works for you and you want to go ahead and travel to another city for this getaway.  That’s what a lot of couples do, and they find that’s a great weekend away for them as a couple; or you can simply call 1-800-FLTODAY.  We can answer any questions you have about dates and locations. 

Once you’re ready to sign up, though, make sure you either type my name, type “BOB” in the key code box in the online registration form; or, if you’re registering over the phone, just mention that you’re a FamilyLife Today listener.  Just say “Bob sent me,” or tell them you want the group rate for radio listeners.  You will save at least $100 per couple off the regular registration fee.  That’s the lowest price we make available throughout the year.

If we hear from you before this weekend is over, we’ll send along as a thank-you gift for registering early the Spouse-ology® game for couples.  It’s an interactive game for couples to play with other couples to get to know one another better.  It’s a lot of fun, and it’s our way of saying, “Thanks for getting signed up early.” 

Of course, when you identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, you’ll save at least $100 per couple off the regular registration fee.  Sign up online at, or give us a call at 1-800-FLTODAY.  We hope to see you this fall at one of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways.

With that, we’ve got to wrap things up for today.  Hope you have a great weekend.  Hope you and your family are able to worship together in church this weekend. 

I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to talk about what moms and dads can do to help their sons and daughters make the transition from high school into college.  How do you get your son or daughter ready for that transition?  We’ll talk about it Monday; hope you can be here for that.

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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