FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Part 2

with Tom Elliff | February 11, 2011
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"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…" Join us today when Tom and Jeannie Elliff share a countdown of questions that they use to understand each other better and keep their marriage humming.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…" Join us today when Tom and Jeannie Elliff share a countdown of questions that they use to understand each other better and keep their marriage humming.

  • 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.

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”

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Part 2

With Tom Elliff
February 11, 2011
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Bob: When a husband man sits down to talk with his wife and asks her probing questions and then pays close attention to her answers, Pastor Tom Elliff says that husband is loving his wife in a profound way. 

Tom: Sometimes we say men love with their bodies and women love with their ears.  It's the words, and I was unaware, even when I was asking her these questions, of what an impact this was going to have on her and on our relationship, upon the intimacy that we share with each other.  Just to know that I cared about these answers seemed to mean a great deal to Jeannie.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, February 11th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll hear suggestions today from Tom Elliff on questions every husband ought to be asking his wife regularly.


And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition.

I can imagine there are some wives who are thinking if my husband came home and said, “I have a few questions I want to ask you,” she might get a little tense wondering what is about to come.  But there are ten good questions that if a husband asks them in the right way at the right time, these questions can really communicate to a wife that her husband loves her and cares about her and is committed to her being the woman that God wants her to be.

Dennis:  That's right, and it's ten questions every husband ought to ask his wife to find out how she's doing spiritually.

Bob:  And these questions come to us from our guest today, Tom Elliff, who is here with his wife, Jeannie.  And they have already unpacked for us five of the ten questions this week.

Dennis:  Tom, Jeannie, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.

Tom: Thanks, we're glad to be back, Dennis.

Bob:  For our listeners who don’t know Tom and Jeannie, Tom served for a years as a local church pastor.  He and Jeannie also served as missionaries in Zimbabwe, and Tom is a past President of the Southern Baptist Convention. 

What they have been sharing with us this week really goes back to your 30th anniversary, Jeannie, when you and Tom had gotten away to celebrate your anniversary.  On this particular morning Tom told you to leave your Bible and your scheduler, your planner, back in the room, and he wanted you to take a walk with him.  And then over breakfast he pulled out this list of ten questions, and as you said, when he started asking you these questions, you just beamed.

Jeannie:  The thing I felt was I was as awed by that experience as I was when he proposed.  It was the same kind of feeling, like, whoaaa.  This is wonderful.

Dennis:  Really? 

Bob: Let me review for our listeners the first five of the ten questions that Tom asked you that morning.  The first one was, "What can I do to cause you to feel more loved and cherished?"  And then, Tom, you asked her, "What could I do to illustrate the fact that I respect you, your ideas, your role as my wife.  How can I assure you that I hear you and understand what's on your heart? “

“What can I do to make you feel absolutely secure?"  She answered that one by saying, “You can put a security system in our home,” and the next thing that happened was the house burned down.  And then, "What can I do to ensure that you have confidence and joy in our future direction?"  That one prompted a lot of discussion.

Dennis:  It really did, and it pointed out the need that our wives have for their husbands to be leading and guiding them during every season of the marriage relationship.  I think a lot of men take this for granted as you move through those phases of becoming a parent and then the empty nest, and this is a time for men to step forward and to truly love their wives.

Bob: And, Tom, lots of men are leaders; they just don't necessarily communicate to their wives where we're going until you're on the trail.

Tom: I think that's right.  I think something that Jeannie has encouraged me to understand is the truth that sometimes we say – "Men love with their bodies and women love with their ears."  It's the words.  And I was unaware, even when I was asking her these questions, of what an impact this was going to have on her and on our relationship, and on the intimacy that we share with each other.  Just to know that I cared about these answers seemed to mean a great deal to Jeannie.

Dennis:  Was that why it was as strong of an experience or stronger than when he asked you to marry him?

Jeannie:  Right, because it was not just "Jeannie Thomas, I love you, will you marry me?"  It was "Jeannie Thomas Elliff, I've loved you for 30 years, and this has been wonderful, but I want to do more.  I want to do better."  And that was a wonderful experience.

Dennis:  Okay, question number six.

Tom: Question number six – what attribute would you most like for me to develop?  I wasn't really sure that I wanted to open myself up to some new disciplines.

Bob:  That's a risky question to ask.

Tom:  That was an extremely risky question to ask, and I was sorry I asked it after I – I think maybe we ought to just cut this down to nine questions.

Dennis:  Was this where you recently go the A- right here?

Tom: I think this is one of the ones where I got an A- as we were driving over here.  She said there were some disciplines in life that I know that you practice, but I would like to see you practicing them more avidly.  Part of that was this idea of coming back to our spending time in the morning together, having time for her before I left for work, where she knew she could have my undivided attention, and she was missing that. 

I'd call about mid-afternoon, "Well, what's goin' on?"  "Well, you know, I had this meeting and I was counseling this person."  "Oh, I didn't know that."  Well, I could have if I had asked, but she had gone without my prayers that morning because I didn't know what she was facing.

Dennis:  I think about all the miscommunication that Barbara and I have had and continue to have as we raise two teenagers who are still in our home.  I'm thinking back to a conversation about one of our daughters who wanted to go to a concert, an approved concert, on Saturday evening, and Barbara had kind of leaned toward letting our daughter go to that concert.  And I hadn't heard anything about it, and it was going to be my weekend home with my daughters, and now, all of a sudden, my daughters are going to go to work all day, and then after they go to work they go to the concert. 

And, really, the reason for the miscommunication around this was because we have been so busy running to and fro so much, we hadn't had what you're talking about – a time to sit down and anticipate the question and deal with it and really present a unified answer.  And when a teenager senses there's a division –

Tom: – oh, they go for the jugular –

Dennis:  – in the ranks –

Tom: – the weak spot,

Dennis:  – and it sometimes can cause a problem in the marriage because one person is feeling like the other person has left them out of the process.

Well, this next question turns this question that you asked her about you, and you are now asking her about how she can improve.

Tom: What attribute would you like me to help you develop in yourself?  And she told me, and I was sobered by it.  As we talked together a little bit about it she said, “There are some disciplines in my own life that I really want to develop.  I don't need a lecture about it, nor do I need to be told what I look like if I don't participate in it.  I just want you to encourage me any way you can.”

Bob:  Jeannie, that was a very bold thing to share with a Baptist pastor – what attributes you'd like to see developed, because he'll come back with three points and a poem.

Jeannie:  That's right, exactly right.


Bob:  Do you remember what those attributes were?

Jeannie:  I know a lot of them had to do with my own self-esteem.  I grew up in a home that was not particularly encouraging, and the Lord has done wonderful things in my life in the years since then, but I know a lot of them had to do with –

Tom: Let me mention one.  She said, "I love to teach."  But she said, "I don't think I'm as good a teacher as I ought to be."  Did you know that over the last several years she has, through reading and experience and through thousands of hours of teaching, has become an incredible communicator to women.  I remember distinctly her saying, you know, "I just want to be able to say what's in my heart when I stand before those ladies." 

Dennis:  You know, I think what Tom's giving us here is a great illustration of 1 Peter, chapter 3, verse 7 – "You husbands likewise live with your wives in an understanding way as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman, and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life so that your prayers may not be hindered."  And what you're actually giving us, Tom, through these ten questions, are practical ways that a man can live with his wife in an understanding way, because if he asks the question, she answers it, and he listens.

Tom:  He's accountable.

Dennis:  He's accountable.  He's going to hear.  He's going to be able to encourage her in something she's maybe wanted to do but maybe doesn't have the confidence.  I kind of heard a little bit of a need there for you to become a cheerleader of her as a teacher, and I see you nodding.  He became your cheerleader at that point.

Jeannie:  Right.  Exactly, and through that, and we have always communicated on Saturday evenings before the Sunday morning sermon, but since that time, we really listen to each other.  He tells me these points of his sermon, and we discuss them, and he values what I have to say.

Tom: And you do the same thing about your lessons.  Well, just yesterday, we were talking about a lesson that she's teaching in 1 Corinthians, and she just had some incredible insights into this passage of Scripture, and so, cheerleader of a sort, yes, I think that's exactly right, but even more than that it was a matter of saying, "I believe what you're doing is important." 

Let me just say this – she had a weekly Bible study that she was teaching at that time, and I had the habit of saying, "Hey, I'm going to be going to speak over here in," you know, such and such a town and "Why don't you just fly over there with me, and let's just spend the night, and we'll have a good time."  She said, "Well, I've got to teach my Bible study."  I said, "Oh, listen; get somebody else to teach that.  We'll run over there." 

She was wanting me to say this – "Look, this is important to me.  Teaching this Bible lesson to these ladies is really important to me, and you're acting like, 'Hey, that's nothing.  Just come on with me, we'll go do the big stuff, and all you're wanting me to do is just go along for the ride.  So I want to know that you really think my teaching is important."  And, boy, I mean, it has really helped me.

Dennis:  Now we're talking about accountability.

Tom: Right. 

Dennis:  I mean, because if you're pulling her away from her Bible study on a regular basis –

Tom: – and I was.  Or at least I was asking.  She was pretty adamant about it.


Bob: All right, you talked about attributes that each of you could develop or help one another develop.  What was question eight?

Tom: Question number eight – what achievement in my life would bring you greatest joy?  Over the past, I had the privilege of –

Dennis:  – now wait a second.  She's over there grinning.  Before you say anything, I want to hear what she's grinning about.

Jeannie:  Well, this was a wonderful opportunity for me to, once again, say something that I'd said many times before – "I believe my husband is a good communicator verbally, but he's also a good writer,” and I had begged him to get busy and write a book, and he listened.  This time he listened, and he did it.

Tom: I said, "Well, you know, what about the other three?"  She said, "Those don't count."

Bob:  The other three books you'd written?

Tom: Yeah.  I said, "What do you mean they don't count?"  She said, "Those are nice, but this is now.  That was then, and you know that you need to deliver this message on prayer.  That's where your heart is.  Write a book on prayer." 

"I said that I would do whatever would bring you great joy, if that will bring you great joy, I'll do it."  And the Lord just engineered the project, and I'm so grateful He did.

Dennis:  This is kind of an unusual question – what achievement in my life would bring you great joy?  Now some men would not understand why that would be important to ask your wife how something he is achieving would bring her great joy.

Tom: There's a little bit of background to that.  I had achieved some other things that didn't seem to really get my wife excited.  For instance, there were these huge African wildlife trophies hanging on the wall.  I'd say, "Aren't those great?"  She'd say "Mmmmm."  I thought, you know, if I go out and bag the big game, she's going to – that wasn't it and then some of these other athletic endeavors, or being this or that didn't seem to really turn her engine over. 

So I said, "What are you waiting for me to do?  What is it that would make you happy that I have done what God wanted me to do?"  That's what surfaced.

Jeannie:  Also, I see myself truly as Tom's helpmate.  To fulfill that job that I have, I feel like I need to encourage him to do the things in the area that God has gifted him, and this is one of the areas that I saw him failing in.  He needed to do this, and once it was done, he was tremendously proud of it, and I was, too.  I was very excited.

Tom: I was just proud to get it done.  But in the process of that, we both discovered that this is something that we really like doing, and we're headed in that direction again.  I mean, we really enjoyed the project.

Dennis:  You know, this is a great question, Tom, for you to ask your wife, because a woman's intuition into her man, if she's been a student over 30 years, as you have been, at that point she can put her man on the right track.  He's not going to be running after caped buffaloes somewhere in Africa.

Tom: Well, not exclusively.


Dennis:  And I'm a hunter, so this is hard for me to admit here.

Bob: Well, you know, Dennis, it feels a little self-serving to ask that question, you know – what great achievement could I accomplish that would bring you joy, but if a man and woman are one, if there is oneness in marriage, then what I accomplish, we accomplish.  And what brings you joy brings me joy, and in that context, now, it's not self-serving at all. 

It's a way to say how can we together move in a direction, where I'm utilizing what God has gifted me, you're utilizing how God has gifted you, and there's joy in that.

Dennis:  And you're pulling together as a team in the same direction.  Think about the number of couples who are pulling, but they're pulling apart rather than pulling together.  Okay, number nine –

Tom: Number nine – what would indicate to you that I really desire to be more Christlike?  I don't know how long we talked about this, but I know that my wife would love anything about me that was like Jesus.  So I wanted to know the areas of my life where I was not evidencing Christlikeness, and thus the question, what would indicate to you that I really want to be more like Jesus?

I discovered that when I spend time, for instance, in the Word of God on a regular basis, when we have our quiet time, and when we spend time together, all those other issues in our life seem to fall right in place, no problem whatsoever.  But if I don't spend that time, and she is aware that I'm not spending that time, that places a lot of what else I do in suspicion. 

I don't mean a suspicion that you're being dishonest, but "Did you really hear from God on this?  Is this really the direction we ought to take?  Are we really doing this in a wise manner?  Is this good stewardship of our energies or our resources?”  The questions that she wouldn't ask unless I asked her, but I know they're lurking around in her mind, unless she knows that I've been shut up to the Lord about this issue.

Dennis:  I see you nodding your head.

Jeannie:  One of the most beautiful pictures to me is to see Tom seated in his new comfortable chair and with the Word of God in his hands by the lamp, and that is a beautiful picture for a woman – to see a man humble himself and say to his God, "Show me the way, and I'll walk in it."  It gives me confidence in him.

Dennis:  And encourages you to follow.

Jeannie:  Right.

Dennis:   And that's how, again, two people walk together.  Okay, number ten.

Tom: Question number ten – what mutual goal would you like to see us accomplish?  And we had several that we talked about.  There are some things that we want to do, some places that we felt like we could plug in ministry-wise, some opportunities that had presented themselves to us that we felt like, "Well, now is not the time, but perhaps in the future God will make this possible for us."

Just this year when we were on the island of Cyprus speaking with people – about 400, 500, 600 people who work solely in North Africa in countries where you really can't have mission work, per se.   You have to be involved in some other kind of aspect of business as well, and we were ministering to them, and we commented while we were there – "This is the fulfillment of one of those mutual goals that we have in our heart, a way to make our lives count together."

Bob:   And, Dennis, for a husband and wife to have those kinds of mutual goals, again, presses you toward oneness in marriage and away from the drift toward isolation.  You can have individual goals, that's not excluded, but you ought to have some goals together where both of you are partners in that endeavor.

Dennis:  And you're not going to have those mutual goals if you haven't talked, and you haven't truly been a part of hammering out a direction.  I think of how many couples go through the process of getting married, having children, and releasing those children, and they are not prepared for the empty nest.

Bob:  Of course that’s something that has been on your heart and more specifically on your wife Barbara’s heart for years.  She’s focused on women.  Both of you have just been saying, “There’s a lot of untapped potential in people who are in the empty nest years, who are rusting out instead of pressing ahead with kingdom priorities.”  Barbara wrote a book on it with her friend Susan Yates called Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest to encourage women to work through the issues they are going to face as they move into the empty nest years, but then to develop a plan, a strategy, for being ready to tackle life in this particular chapter or season of life.

Of course, we’ve got Barbara and Susan’s book on our website,, so if folks are interested they can go to the website and find out more and get a copy of that book, and get prepared.  Don’t wait until you’re in the empty nest years to get it.  Get a copy of the book and read it as you’re headed in that direction so you can be prepared for the empty nest years.

And then get some time together as a couple, whether you’re headed into the empty nest years or wherever you are in your marriage.  If you’re in the first five years of your marriage, get some time together as a couple where you get away and you ask one another the kinds of important questions that we’ve been talking about on the program this week.  This isn’t something that you wait until you’re at your 30th anniversary to pull out these questions, right?

Dennis:  And yet you're still doing it.  Now, how often on an annual basis?

Tom: Well, I don't know, we get away every year and spend two weeks together with our Bibles and our notebooks, and we talk and invariably these issues come up, and we just discuss them.  Where are we in relationship to these?

Dennis:  Yes.

Bob:  These are evergreen kinds of issues, and you’ve done us a service by putting the questions and some of your reflections on these questions and how couples ought to wrestle through them in book form.  We’ve got copies of the book that you wrote on Ten Questions Every Husband Ought to Ask His Wife at Least Once a Year, and then you wrote a similar book on questions that a wife ought to ask her husband. 

The books are in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center, and folks can find out more when they go online at  You can order copies of the books if you’d like.  Again, the website is  Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY; that’s 1-800-358-6329, to find out more about the books written by our guests today, Tom and Jeannie Elliff.  Again, the website:, or you can call toll-free 1-800-FL-TODAY.

As we wrap up today’s program, this is an exciting day for us here at FamilyLife.  In hundreds of cities all around the country tonight, The Art of Marriage video event is going to be taking place.  In fact, you can go to our website, and click on a link to The Art of Marriage and find out where this Friday night, Saturday video event is being held in a city near where you live. 

It’s also the kickoff weekend for our spring Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways.  I think we’ve got about six of those events happening this weekend, and then Weekend to Remember getaways happening throughout the spring, and I hope you’ll get more information and plan to attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.

And of course, Monday is Valentine’s Day, and I want to make sure you don’t forget that.  You know, what we’re committed to here at FamilyLife is trying to provide you with the kind of practical, solidly biblical help and hope that we all need for our marriage relationship to be all that God intends for it to be.  We want to thank those of you who support the ministry to make that happen. 

We could not do this without you in a very real sense; we are listener supported, and more than 65 percent of our annual revenue comes from donations from people like you.  So, if we didn’t have those funds, FamilyLife Today would not exist, and we appreciate those of you who do support the program.

This week, if you’re able to make a donation to help support us, we want to send you a thank you gift upon your request.  It’s a four-CD series, all about romance.  There’s a message from Dennis about how to keep the romantic spark burning when things are cloudy and overcast in your marriage relationship.  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. 

That four-CD set is our thank you gift this week when you help with a donation to support the ministry.  If you donate online at, just type the word “ROMANCE” in the online key code box, so we know to send you a copy of these CDs, or if you’re donating by phone, when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY, just ask for the romance CDs and we’ll send them to you.  Again, we appreciate your partnership with us.  Thanks for your support of this ministry.

We hope you have a great weekend.  Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday.  Chip Ingram is going to be here, and we’re going to talk about how we can recalibrate our lives to make sure that what we’re doing is what God would have us be doing.  So I hope you can tune in 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 Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.


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