FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Part 1

with Tom Elliff | February 10, 2011
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Do you want to minister more effectively to your wife? On today's broadcast, pastor Tom Elliff, along with his wife Jeannie, shares 10 questions that revolutionized his marriage and brought them closer together.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Do you want to minister more effectively to your wife? On today's broadcast, pastor Tom Elliff, along with his wife Jeannie, shares 10 questions that revolutionized his marriage and brought them closer together.

  • 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.

Do you want to minister more effectively to your wife?

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Part 1

With Tom Elliff
February 10, 2011
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Bob:  When was the last time your marriage had a checkup?  Here's Pastor Tom Elliff.

Tom: Every year we try to take time to get away just alone.  We do this a couple of times a year.  Several years ago we were in Colorado staying in a beautiful lodge, and we were talking about our relationship and the fact that we've been married several years, and we were looking out across the future, we wanted to grow deeper in our intimacy with each other. 

We sat at a table where we could look at the mountains, and we ate Belgian waffles, and I said, "I want to ask you ten questions, but you must promise that you will answer them honestly.  Also let me just say that this is my time to ask you questions, not your time to ask me questions.  I want to hear your heart."

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, February 10th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll hear today from one husband about how he tries to live with his wife in an understanding way.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition.  You know, it did take us a while before we could pull all of this together. 

Early on when we had just started FamilyLife Today, we contacted as one of our guests Jim Elliff, who came on our program to talk about how parents can effectively communicate the message of the gospel to their children, and how to know whether your children have really made a genuine profession of faith in Christ. 

And then it was a little while later that we had Jim’s brother, Bill, join us as a guest.  He shared about his family’s history and how the whole family had ultimately been reconciled with his father after a period of a break, a separation.  But it took a little longer before we were able to fully complete the Elliff circle.

Dennis:  That’s right, at least on the male side, because there are three brothers and a sister.

Tom:  One sister.

Dennis:  And we don't have – and we haven't gotten her on the broadcast yet, but Tom and Jeannie Elliff join us on the broadcast.  Tom, Jeannie, welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Tom: Thank you, Dennis, we’re glad to be here – Bob.

Dennis:  Tom and Jeannie hail from Dell City, Oklahoma.  Tom is a former missionary to Zimbabwe and also was the President of the Southern Baptist Convention. 

The other day Tom and I were talking on the phone, and he shared with me something.  I said, "You've got to come over from Oklahoma City, and you've got to share that with our listeners, because we are committed to helping our listeners where it matters most, and that's winning in their relationships at home with their spouses. 

Tom, you shared with me that there are ten questions that you ask Jeannie that let you know how she's doing spiritually and that assist you as you are her spiritual leader, protector, the guide in assisting her to grow spiritually.  Now, how important are these ten questions we're about to go over here?

Tom: Well, I think they're incredibly important, Dennis.  As a matter of fact, in the car driving down here, I said, "Jeannie, we better go over these again just to make sure how we're doing," and she gave me an A-, I think, on one or two of them.

Jeannie:  That’s right.

Tom:  But I think they're tremendously important.

Bob: How did these ten questions all come about?

Tom: Every year we try to take time to get away just alone.  We do this a couple of times a year, and several years ago we were in Colorado, staying in a beautiful lodge which some friends of ours made available to us up in Dillon, and we were talking about our relationship and the fact that, you know, we've been married several years, and we were looking out across the future, we wanted to grow deeper in our intimacy with each other. 

So the next morning I said, "Jeannie, come on with me,” and hand in hand we walked up to our favorite –

Jeannie:  Honey, you wouldn't let me bring anything.  I couldn't bring my Bible, my planner, I couldn't bring anything, and I was puzzled.  I thought, "Where are we" – we walked up the hill to have breakfast.

Tom: That's right, she was scared.

Jeannie:  I thought, "What's happening here?"

Dennis:  You were wondering where he was taking you?

Jeannie:  That's right.

Tom: Well, my wife, without her Bible or planner, you know, that is like being without the basic essentials.  Shoes, maybe yes – but planner?  No.  So she said, "What in the world is goin' on?" 

We sat at a table where we could look at the mountains, and we ate Belgian waffles, and I said, "I want to ask you ten questions, but you must promise that you will answer them honestly and, also, let me just say that this is my time to ask you questions, not your time to ask me questions.  I want to hear your heart.  That's what I was after – her heart.

Dennis:   Okay, before you go further on the story – what did you think at that point, Jeannie?

Jeannie:  Well, the first thing that crossed my mind, I was tremendously honored that he wanted to know what I felt, and I was just almost blown away.  It was wonderful.  Already I was excited.

Bob: Are these questions that had come to you in the night, and you'd gotten up and written 'em down?  How did it all come about?

Tom: Over a period of time, Bob.  They really had come to me, sometimes when I was praying, sometimes after a discussion with Jeannie.  There were issues I could hear in her tone of voice or in our conversations, which were of concern to her, and I felt like I really had not heard all she had to say about these issues.

Dennis:  Have these ten questions changed over the years, or is this the original ten you asked straight out of the chute?

Tom: These are the original ten questions right out of the chute.

Dennis:  Wow.

Bob: You know, Dennis, here's a man who is a student of his wife.  Most of us, as guys, are going so fast at whatever objective we've got in front of us that we're not even sensitive to the changes that are going on in our wife's life.

Dennis:  Yes, we have basically one question – are you doin' okay?

Bob: That's right.

Dennis:  We don't stop to ask the piercing questions that can truly tell us how her heart is.  I found it instructive as I talked with Tom over the phone, that he developed these questions, really, based upon listening to his wife over a number of years.  Now, you've been married how long when you developed this list?

Tom: Oh, my goodness, honey, how long have we been married now?

Jeannie:  Well, it's been about five or six years ago that you asked these questions, so it would have been around 30 years.

Dennis:  Okay, we've got to get to these questions.

Bob: Yes, the list of ten.  I've got my pencil out, my paper ready, is it okay for me to plagiarize questions? 

Tom: I'm not going to start with number ten and build back up to one.  We'll just go right through them.

Bob: Okay.

Tom: Question number one – what could I do to cause you to feel more loved?  You think, "Oh, I know what I want you to do – whisk me away to some romantic hideaway, you know."  I guess I better just go ahead and tell 'em what you said.  She said –

Dennis:  No, let's let her tell us what she said.

Jeannie:  Well, I don't remember all of 'em.  He remembers it better than I do.

Tom: Well, you know, I had all these romantic visions in my head.  She said, "You know, I really would like it, when we're in public, for you always to pull my chair out for me." 

"Wow", I thought, "That's not a romantic hideaway.  This is not where we're headed here.  This is something else for me to do."

Bob: You guys speak different love languages, don’t you?

Tom: Well, you know, that's the truth.  This is a wake-up call to me.  I've considered myself a fairly polite person, but we had been in some huge crowds in recent weeks, you know, surrounding that time.  I'd been pulled away with one group, and she'd be pulled away with another group.  And we'd get back together, and we'd be racing off to another meeting. 

I think I’d let some of my comportment slip a little bit, and she said, you know, "I want to know that you know I am here in the midst of all these other people," I think this is what she was saying.  Isn't that right?

Jeannie:  Exactly right.

Tom: I want to know that you know that I'm here.

Bob:  Jeannie, you had to feel safe and secure to be able to even – I mean, that doesn't sound very threatening, but a lot of husbands would hear something like that from their wives, and they'd start to get defensive, and they'd start to go, "Well, now, wait, you know," – and they'd back pedal.

Jeannie:  Right, but I knew from the beginning of this experience that we shared there in that restaurant that this was a serious thing to him.  He was going to really listen to me.  I knew this was not, "Honey, listen to me."  "Huh?"  This was a real occasion that was different.

Dennis:  Okay, well, that's question number one.  Number two?

Tom: So no romantic hideaway, just a chair, okay.  Well, boy –

Bob:  You threw the list away at that time, right?

Tom: Oh, yeah, you know, I had the motel reservations made, you know – chairs are easy.  All right, number two, what could I do to cause you to feel more respected?  And, by the way, let me just go ahead and ask number three with that – what could I do to cause you to feel more understood?  And her answer was, you know, "Let me know you are really listening to me when I'm speaking." 

Jeannie is not a talker in the sense of chattering away all the time, and I think during that period of time in our life, like I say, I had grown tremendously busy, and I had started doing something which she didn't particularly appreciate, and I don't think I would, either, if I'd seen it in her.

She would be talking, and I would say, "Mm-hm, yeah," and sometimes she'd say, "Did you really hear what I was just saying?"  I would have to confess to her, "Excuse me, can you say that again?"  She wanted to know that I was listening to her, I respected her opinion, and I really understood what she was saying.

Dennis:  It happened last night.  I was opening the mail, Barbara was talking, and I was trying to do both at the same time, and I succeeded in opening the mail but failed on the other part.

Tom: You know, Dennis, when our children were all at home growing up, we did two or three things that I think really helped us.  Perhaps at this time of our lives, with all of our kids gone, we have slipped a little bit in this. 

One thing we did, we always had breakfast, just always, at 7:00 in the morning, to give a little anchor for our family and, of course, with our schedule sometimes, the evening times we're not so easy to get ahold of.

Secondly, Jeannie and I would get up early, early in the morning to have our own time with the Lord.  I mean, separately.  But we met every morning at 6:00 – from 6 until 6:30, and at that time I knew that I had her undivided attention.  She knew that she had my undivided attention, our children all knew that we were discussing the issues that they had asked us to discuss. 

We didn't have any formal agenda.  We just talked, and then we prayed, after which I'd go get dressed for work and she would go get breakfast for us, and I think this was her heart cry.  She was saying, "I know the kids are gone, but that doesn't mean that we don't need to keep on meeting, keep on talking, and knowing that at the beginning of the day we have each other's undivided attention.

Bob: Boy, husbands have got to let their wives know that they're listening, that they care.  I've been in the same situation.  On the phone with my wife, distracted by something else, and in the middle of the conversation, she'll just go, "Well, goodbye."  And I'll go, "What, what?" 

She says, "If you want to talk, we'll talk."  And it's a mild rebuke to remind me, "If you're here to talk to me, let's talk.  If you're distracted by other things, find a time when you are interested in me and call me back."

Tom: Yeah, or the new one is this – "Do I ride to church with you or are you going to be on your cell phone all the time?"

Bob: Hoooooo-hooo-hooo-hooo.

Dennis:  Hello. 

Tom: I'm sorry about this, guys.

Dennis:  Well, or listening to voice mail?  I mean, I've had to put it aside and not do it.  Barbara sees it as a competitor for our relationship.  Now, there may be a man who is listening right now, Jeannie, who just needs to hear from another woman why this thing of listening and seeking to understand her is so important.

Jeannie:  Well, of course, I think there has to be a balance.  I think I have to understand him, also.  I know he has pressures and needs, and I need to be wise about my conversation with him.  I don't need to just chatter on about whatever – things that he really might not be interested in.  But it is wonderful, it is absolutely wonderful, when you realize he looks right at you and says, "Oh, I understand.  Oh, that was hard, wasn't it?"  He really sees what's happening in your life, and that's a wonderful experience.

Dennis:  Well, question number four.

Tom: What could I do to cause you to feel more secure?  I was really surprised at her answer.  I thought she might talk in terms of our relationship, but I think Jeannie has always felt very secure in our relationship. 

She said, "You're traveling a lot these days.  And she said, "I want an alarm system on the house."  It was not time for me to give her the lecture, "Unless the Lord keep the house, the watchman waketh but in vain."  She wanted an alarm system for the house. 

So, you know, our dog had died, you know, life begins when the kids go away to school and the dog dies – and so the dog had died, and the kids were away at school, and she said, "I'm at home, and no one is there.  I want an alarm system."  By the way, within the week we had the alarm system installed, and after a few false starts, she knew that it was set.  By the way, it is the alarm system that failed to notify the fire department when our house burned down, but that's okay.  She still felt secure, and –

Jeannie:  I wasn't there.  I was secure someplace else.

Tom: Exactly.

Bob:  Well, but that’s what's at the root of all of this.  Your husband signed on to be your protector.  When he's not there you want to know what provisions he's made to be your protector, right?

Jeannie:  Right, exactly.

Dennis:  And 1 John, chapter 4, says, "Perfect love casts out all fear," and if our wives are afraid some something, then we need to tend to those matters that cause them to be afraid.

Tom:  Could I add something to that, Dennis?  I think it's also secure in the things that can invade the home by invitation – television programs –

Dennis:  – movies –

Tom: – I had a lady tell me one time, she said, "You know, when my husband watches TV, you know what I watch?  I watch my husband watch TV.  He sits there with the power bar in his hand and runs through the channels, and I wonder, ‘What's he looking for? And sometimes when I see what he's looking for, I don't feel secure.’"  And so security has a lot to do with a lot more than just an alarm system, but that was what Jeannie wanted, and I wanted to accommodate that.

Bob:  Well, there's physical security, there's emotional security, and there's spiritual security, and the wise husband is paying attention to all of those.

Tom: Exactly.   Well, question number five – what can I do to help you feel more confident in our future direction? 

It occurred to me that now with the children gone out of the home and all the things that we have on the plate before us, different opportunities, that we really had no sense of direction as a family.  We were just taking things as they came and doing whatever we felt like doing and going on down the road without being headed anywhere in particular, except just on a journey through life.

I felt like Jeannie has this sense that, "I want to know where we're headed?  I want to know – where are we going to be ten years from now?"  And it's not necessarily that we have to have this businessman's PERT chart out in front of us, but she was really interested in this, and I think we talked about this just about as much as anything we discussed.

Dennis:  Yes.  Last night we had dinner together, and Tom is such a resource, Bob, that I turned to him at one point and I said to him, "Tom, you're now in that phase – in the season of life, as a man, that you would be considered a patriarch.  What do you believe are the essential elements of being a patriarch?”  He said, "Excuse me."  And he left for a few moments, and came back, and he had three points, okay?

Bob: He's been preaching sermons too long.

Dennis:  He has.

Jeannie:  At least he didn't alliterate them.


Bob:  Give him time.

Jeannie:  That's right.

Dennis:  But, frankly, I believe he's got ten points here about how a man is the patriarch in caring for his family, and he's telling us here how a man does that by virtue of these ten questions.  He is, in essence, being your spiritual leader, your protector, and a visionary for where you're headed for the rest of your life.

Jeannie:  Right.

Tom: She wanted to know how we were going to relate to our children and grandchildren.  We talked about what we were going to do with that phase of our life when I might be something other than a pastor.  How are we going to plug into our children's lives, our grandchildren's lives?  Spiritually, what will we do?  How much time will we spend with them?  And those were questions she had about our future direction.

Bob: And, you know, Dennis, again, there's a wife's perspective.  A husband is oftentimes looking outward and saying what ministry opportunities are we going to be doing or what business opportunities, what advancement is there still, what significance is there still in life?  And a mom, a grandmother, is saying, "How are we going to stay relationally connected with our children and our grandchildren?"

Tom:  That was a big wake-up call for me, honestly.  Jeannie is so verbally oriented as a lady.  Guys I've found are more interested in impressions, you know, they say, "Well, I meant" – and ladies say, "But you said," "This is what you said," and, you know, a guy looks at a headline and says "There's an earthquake in Brazil," and just pops off, "I wonder what it would be like to live in Brazil?"  Well, he really doesn't care, you know.  In the meantime, his wife's heart stops, and she wonders, "Should I put this cup up here, or am I going to have to pack it?  Are we moving to Brazil?" 

And so she really had a lot to say about this future direction that we have, didn't you, Jeannie?

Jeannie:  Yes, I did, and another thing that crossed my mind just now, even though men sometimes have business plans, ministry plans outside the home, the thing that really, really means a lot to them is their family. 

An illustration of that is just a few weeks ago we got a letter from one of our son-in-laws that lives in Texas.  It was an incredible encouragement to Tom, and he called me from the church and read it to me and wept.  It was just wonderful, and his relationship with that son-in-law is so good, and that's what meant so much to him, is that relationship with that son-in-law.

Bob:  But oftentimes, Dennis, it takes a wife and a mom to pull us back there as men.

Dennis:  Well, I've just listened as Tom shared Jeannie's dreams about the future.  She was calling him back to those family anchors and say, "We're not done."  I think a lot of folks move into the empty nest, and they think their assignment is over.

Tom:  Yes, it's not over 'til it's over.

Dennis:  And it isn't over.  In fact, your role I think moves to another level of significance, and that's what Jeannie, in her wisdom, was calling you to as a couple and why it was so important to her as the nurturer and the mom of this clan of now 12 grandchildren and four children.

Tom:  And hopefully more on the way – grandchildren.  Last night –


Bob: – don't forget Abraham.

Tom: -- well, that's right.  I mentioned last night that I thought part of the role of patriarch was to make sure that you could always pray for your children, that you and your wife were always in a relationship so that you could instantly pray for your children. 

I think one of the ways that our utility increases with age, not decreases or diminishes, but right at the very last day we live that could be our most useful day is through our prayers, because prayers –  really – that's the work for our children, for our grandchildren, for ministries, period. 

A lot of people say, "Well, you know, I'm getting old, I guess I'm sort of useless.”  No, you have time to do the most important work if you can pray.  So we need to be doing that.

Bob:  Well, and I think that the question that you ask about what can I do to make you more secure about our future, for that to loop back around to prayer; as guys we want to engineer the future rather than to go to the one who’s the author of the future and to seek His wisdom and His direction, and to pour out our hearts to Him and to do it together as a couple. 

I know this has been central to your ministry and to your marriage over the years. So I’m not surprised that Jeannie, your response to the question about a more secure future would not make its way back to the issue of prayer.

But I think, Tom, your point is that as husbands we need to be finding out what can we do to help our wives feel more safe and secure about our leadership, about where we’re headed, about the vision that we have for where we’re going as a family.  Not that we just deliver it and our wives aren’t included, but how we include them in that process. 

And of course we’re not going to get to all ten of these questions on today’s program.  We’re going to have to pick up the other five questions tomorrow, but if our listeners are interested they can go to our website,  We’ve listed the ten questions there, but we also have available the books that the two of you have written on ­Ten Questions a Wife Can Ask Her Husband and Ten Questions a Husband Can Ask His Wife where you help flesh out what’s behind these questions.  I want to encourage our listeners to order a copy of these books from us.

Go to our website, for more information on Tom and Jeannie Elliff’s – what you guys call the “Ten Questions” books.  You’ll find them online at, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY for more information, 1-800- F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and we can arrange to have either or both of these books sent to you.

We want to take a minute before we’re done here today to say a quick word of thanks to those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, by either from time to time or on a regular basis donating to keep us on this station and on our network of stations all around the country.  FamilyLife Today is listener-supported.  We could not do what we do if it weren’t for folks like you who make that occasional donation.  So thanks for your support in the past. 

This month, if you are able to help support the ministry with a donation, we’d like to send you as a thank you gift a four-CD set that’s all about romance.  There’s a message here from Dennis on how to keep the spark alive in your marriage during seasons when life gets challenging.  And then there’s an extended conversation with Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus, the authors of a book called Intimate Issues: 21 Questions Women Ask Most Often about Intimacy in Marriage.  The four CDs are our gift to you when you help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today this month. 

If you’re making a donation online at, just type the word “ROMANCE” into the key code box, so we’ll know to send you these CDs.  Or, if you call 1-800-FLTODAY and make your donation over the phone, just ask for the romance CD set and we’ll send it out to you.  Again, thanks for your prayers for the ministry, thanks for listening, and thanks for whatever you’re able to do in helping to support the program and keep us on the air.

And let me encourage you to be back with us tomorrow when we’re going to hear more from Tom and Jeannie Elliff – five more questions that a husband ought to think about asking his wife on a regular basis.  Just good marital checkup kinds of questions.

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 tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

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