FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Speak Softly or Not at All

with Ann Wilson, Dave Wilson | September 8, 2016
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Dave and Ann Wilson relive the details of a particular story of conflict from their marriage. They explain how they resolved it, and how it brought them closer to one another.

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  • VIDEO - Dave and Ann Wilson -Chemistry 101: When Your Marriage Blows Up

  • 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.

Dave and Ann Wilson relive the details of a particular story of conflict from their marriage. They explain how they resolved it, and how it brought them closer to one another.

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Speak Softly or Not at All

With Ann Wilson, Dave Wilson
September 08, 2016
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Bob: One of the reasons that there is often conflict in marriage is that husbands and wives turn from being cheerleaders and become critics. Here’s Ann Wilson.

Ann: [Quoting Dave]


Ladies, I don’t know if you realize how important you are and the role that you play in our lives, as men. Women have so much influence.

He said:

When I was little, my mom would constantly be telling me, “Good job, David; good job!” She was my cheerleader. When I got into school, I was good in sports; and so I had coaches and teachers saying, “Good job, David; good job, Dave!” They were cheering for me. Played college football—so on Saturdays, I had fans cheering for me.

And then I meet Ann. She’s like, “Of all of the men in the world, I choose you, Dave Wilson!” and she is cheering for me, and it is awesome!

And then we get married. We walk in the door; and all we hear from you, wives, is: “Booooo! Booooo!’”


Bob: [Chuckling] This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, September 8th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. So, what can we do to reverse the trend and stop being so critical of one another in marriage? We’re going to spend time thinking about that today with Dave and Ann Wilson. Stay tuned.

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

Dennis: I don’t play well to “boos”; do you Bob?

Bob: [Chuckling] I wondered if Barbara’s ever gone, “Booooo! Boooo!” when you’ve come home.

Dennis: No. [Laughter] No; but—

Bob: But there are times—

Dennis: —there have been those moments when it felt like—yes.

Bob: Well, we’re spending some time this week talking about the reality of conflict in marriage, because all marriages have conflict. You and I had the opportunity to hear a couple of friends of ours, Dave and Ann Wilson, speak on this subject at an event not long ago.


It was a great reminder for us / great instruction for us on how we can love one another and resolve conflict rather than letting it take our marriage in the wrong direction.

Dennis: I was seated with Barbara on the front row. I thought: “Man, they are on message. They are delivering the goods for where people live, because we just don’t live in these ivory towers where everything works out perfectly every day.”

In fact, that’s one of the things people enjoy most about FamilyLife Today. We don’t paint life—you know—with air-brush photography or digitally removing all the warts and mistakes. We let it be what it is—life is real / it comes at us every day. Ann and Dave equipped us to better handle the major issues that we have conflicts over.

Bob: Dave Wilson is one of the pastors at Kensington Community Church in suburban Detroit.


He’s the chaplain for the Detroit Lions. He and Ann have spoken for a couple of decades now at the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways that we host all across the country.

In fact, we’re going to be kicking off our fall season of Weekend to Remember getaways, here in a couple of weeks. We wanted to let listeners know: “If you sign up this week or next week to attend an upcoming getaway, we have a special offer for you. You pay for yourself at the regular rate, and your spouse comes free.” It’s the best offer we make all year long, but it’s only good through the end of next week. If you’ve thought about attending a getaway—spending a weekend together—relaxing, enjoying each other, and just being together, focused on your marriage—

Dennis: It’s time. I had a friend who confessed to me that he and his wife just attended the Weekend to Remember. I said: “Oh, great! How long has it been since you’d been to one?” And he grimaced and looked and said, “About 21 years.”

Bob: So you think the tune-up needs to happen a little more regularly than that?

Dennis: I told him—I said, “If you were running a business that gave tune-ups to cars, and I told you I tuned up my car every 21 years, you’d laugh at me!”


He did; and he said: “You know, I’m really ashamed that we haven’t. In fact, we enjoyed it so much we’re going to invite our adult children to go with us—the ones who are married—and take them to the Weekend to Remember with us next time.”

Bob: Well—and in fact, if you’d like to sign someone up for a Weekend to Remember, now is the time to do it; because you can pay for one registration at the regular rate, and the second registration is free.

Dennis: And the buy one/get one free is the best offer we have all year long.

Bob: Yes. You can register online at, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY if you have any questions. We hope you’ll join us at one of these upcoming conferences.

Now, let’s hear Part Two of a message from Dave and Ann Wilson as they dive right into the middle of providing help for us on how to resolve conflict in marriage.

[Recorded message]

Dave: Alright; let’s get real practical. We’re going to five “S’s” of conflict resolution.


Actually, we call it “five plus one”—there are really six. The plus one “S”—the last one—is the most important. We’re going to save it for last, but it is the most important. You can’t do any of the others without number six.

The first one is this—you want to resolve conflict?—these aren’t in order / these are just five principle steps you have to put in there. The first one is: “Shut up!” [Laughter] They’re all two-word sentences / whatever you want to call them—they start with the letter “S.”

Shut up and Listen: Most of us do not listen well in a conflict. We’re only thinking about what I feel / what I think. I’m selfish in nature—I want her to know my point. I listen to her only enough to know where she’s wrong and I can prove her wrong: “I can’t wait until she stops talking. I’ll cut her off.” We don’t listen.

Often, when I say, “Listen,” it isn’t just, “Listen to what they’re saying,”—listen to what’s underneath what they are saying: “What’s really in their heart? What’s really the problem?” It probably isn’t just what they’re saying or the presenting problem; there’s something layered underneath there, and you have to listen for it.


Ann: I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but you can really listen sometimes with your eyes. When somebody walks in the door—you can see that with your kids or your spouse—and you can see that they’re irritated / you can see that something’s wrong. I think that it’s so important for us to go into the deeper issue of what’s wrong; because when you’re at that point, anything will set you off—so to find out and ask those questions.

Dave will come home, and he won’t yell; but he’ll be quiet, or he’ll just be a little bit on edge. I can take that personally; or I can say: “What’s going on?”—like: “What happened today?”

Dave: Yes; and listen. James 1—I know a lot of you know this passage—but he wrote this: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this. Everyone should be”—what? —“quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry.”

Often, we live the opposite of that—we’re quick to anger, quick to speak, slow to listen. He says, “Be quick to listen.” Two ears / one mouth—listen twice as much as you talk: “What’s going on here?” Engage. Look her in the eyes / look him in the eyes—put down the phone, turn off the TV, shut out the world.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Say: “Okay; you matter. You matter so much / nothing else matters.


“What are you really trying to say?” And you listen, with asking God—literally, pray and asking God, “What is really the issue here?”

Years ago, I was at church, preaching on a Sunday morning. At that time, we met in a high school; and we were in between services. I was sort of at the front door of this high school where people are coming in for church, and it was just about time to go in. I’m welcoming people as they come in.

There was a parking spot—right by the front door—that just opened up. I saw Ann whip into that parking spot and jump out of the car with two of our sons—we have three sons—two of them. They come walking up to the front of the church, and they’re smiling. They’re all happy they got this amazing parking spot.

Ann: It was awesome! I had teenagers; so we were late—

Dave: Are you blaming? Did you hear that? She blamed the teenagers.

Ann: —and there’s never a spot right by the front door. So I’m like: “Thank you, Jesus! This is my spot!” I pull in / I see Dave—like: “Hey! You look like you’re happy today.” He leans over to me—

Dave: She walked in; and I go, “You move that car now.”

Ann: I said, very politely, “No.”


Dave: I’m like, “Yes; you are!”

Ann: “I’m not moving the car.”

Dave: “You move the car now.” And at the same time, I’m like: “Hey, welcome to Kensington! How are you doing? [Laughter] Good to have you here!”

I’m like, “Move the car!” And she’s like, “No!” I’m like, “Austin, move the car!”

Ann: And I stand in front of my son; and I say—just like this—“No. He’s not moving the car!” This is happening in front of church. [Laughter] Just like—can you believe it?—“Oh, that’s the pastor and his wife!”

Dave: Yes.

Ann: “No. I’m not moving it.”

Dave: I mean, we couldn’t even resolve—I had to go preach. I’m like, “You have to move it. You have to move it now.” I go into church.

Ann: So I sit in the back of the church, my arms crossed. I sit there and I think, “I can’t stand the pastor of this church!” [Laughter]

Dave: So I’m up there, preaching; and I can see her. She’s literally back there, like this; and I’m like, “Wait till I get home!” [Laughter] You know, every time I looked at her I gave her that [look]—you know.

So I get home later. You know, when you have those conflicts that are still going—I mean, I step in the door; and I’m like: “I cannot believe you parked right by the front door! What were you thinking?!”

Well, here’s what you don’t know; because you’re looking at me like: “What’s your problem, dude? Seriously, what is your problem?”


Here’s my side of the story; okay?

Ann: Oh!  Uh-huh! [Laughter]

Dave: Here’s my side of the story. Twenty-five years ago, two buddies and I started our church; alright? So, when you start a church, you set the core values. One of our core values, which still is a foundational value of our church, is we give the best parking spots to the un-churched people. When you join our church, you put up your right hand and say: “I will take the worst parking spot. I’ll park across the street / I’ll park in the back of the lot.” Staff are not even allowed to park on the parking lot.

So, my wifethe pastor’s wife—takes the best spot in the church! I’m like: “Ooh! What are you doing?! That was sin! That was sin!” [Laughter] That was!

Ann: No; they were already there! I was late—they were already in there!

Dave: Whatever.

Ann: That was my spot from Jesus! [Laughter]

Dave: That was not from Jesus! No way. That was from the other guy. [Laughter] Anyway, when I got home, I was like, “Oh my!”


So we’re going at it. We don’t yell much, but we got a little escalated.

It was so funny—my 14-year-old, Cody—

Ann: —at that time.

Dave: —now, he’s on our staff / he preached last night for me at church. He’s 14—he’s sitting there—and we’re in the middle of this thing. I was at the table, he’s at the other table, and Ann’s standing there. He goes like this—in the break in the action—he goes, “Hey Dad, don’t you Mom travel around the country and teach couples how to resolve conflict?” [Laughter] I’m like, “Yes.” He goes, “Why don’t you maybe show me?”

I’m like: “You sit there! You watch! You will see that I’m right—watch this!” [Laughter] Boom! We go at it.

Ann: So I get so hot / I’m so mad that I have to leave—like I didn’t want the drama. I need space / I need to breathe. But the bad thing is—I should have been praying; and instead, I’m building my case. Have you ever done that?—like you start: “Oh / oh! This is what I’m going to say.”

So, now, it’s like I have this new ammunition. I come downstairs and I’m like: “Alright; here’s the deal.


“I go to church every single week by myself. I bring, when the boys are little, by themselves—we’re there, all night, without you / by ourselves. I do the cooking / I do everything around here—I clean, I do the wash, I mow the grass, I do the cars, I clean the cars. I snowboard / I wigboard—just to be with the guys. So it’s one time! If there’s a parking spot in the front, I should get to park there, one time!” [Laughter]

Dave: Don’t you clap!

Anne: Yes! Yes! [Laughter] Whooo! [Applause]

Dave: Hey guys; do I get any help here?

Audience: Amen!

Dave: Like, “He just said, ‘No.’” [Laughter]

Ann: Oh, look; they think you’ve lost.

Dave: I have lost. [Laughter] I lost now, and I lost then too. I was just like—I mean, when she did that—she’s standing over there—I’m not kidding—Cody gives me this look, like, “Dad, dude, you are toast!” you know? [Laughter] So, what was really interesting is—when she went upstairs and didn’t pray, I did pray. [Laughter]


Anne: Oh!

Dave: While she was gone—here’s what happened. She sort of stormed out of the kitchen and went upstairs. Initially, I was like: “Yes! You should get out of here, because you don’t belong to even be in this room!” So I was sitting like this.

While I was feeling that, I look over and there’s Cody. [Laughter] He’s 14 years old, and he gave me this look. The look was like, “Really?” You know, that’s how men communicate, women—they don’t say anything; it’s just a look. And that little look was like, “Really, Dad?” He’s watching this thing. Everything in that look was like: “Could you model for me what a man of God does in conflict? Could you model for me how to resolve…” He didn’t say anything—all that was there [in the look].

So I prayed. I was still mad / I’m like: “God, You have to soften my heart. Maybe I’m missing something / maybe I just need to shut up and listen and see what’s really there.” So then she comes down and she says that. When she said that—I was totally tuned-in; and I said this—I said, “Let me ask you something.”


Ann: Which was great, right there, that he wanted to ask me something—totally diffused all of my anger—because he was going deep into the issue.

Dave: So I said, “Do you feel like Kensington”—that’s the name of our church—“do you feel like Kensington’s more important to me than you are?” That’s what she did [nod].

Anne: Yes.

Dave: And right then, I’m like, “That’s the issue.” It was never about a parking spot / it was about priority. I know the thing that makes Ann feel loved—is she’s number one in my life, second to God. I say—I’m the guy, standing in church, “God first, my family and my wife second, church/ministry third.” I was not living it; and she, just with a shake of her head—I was like, “Oh my.”

I’ll tell you—ten years earlier, I would have defended myself / told her: “You’re feeling the wrong thing. You are priority, and here’s why; and it’s on the calendar.”


I’ve realized—I’ve realized, over years—and I’m just saying this / I hope you’ve realized it—whatever your spouse feels is what is real for her or him. That’s what you have to deal with. It’s stupid for me to go, “You shouldn’t feel that, and you’re wrong.” I had to go: “Oh my! You’re right! What do I need to do so that you feel like a priority? Because honey, you are my top priority. What am I doing to make you feel like that?”

Ann: Oh, and I’m telling you—when somebody speaks like that to you, who wants to go deep / who’s asking questions—and I love that Dave prayed, because what is the Holy Spirit for us? He’s our Advocate, He’s our Comforter, and He gives us wisdom. So for Dave, he took me to a place where it diffused my anger, and I could totally hear him, and listen, and respond—then we went deep.

Dave: So, it was a pivotal moment, even in our marriage. It changed everything. And I will add this—she’s never, ever going to park in that parking spot again anyway; it doesn’t matter.

Ann: Maybe you don’t know. [Laughter]


Dave: I don’t even want to know. [Laughter]

Alright, so we said there are five “S’s”—six “S’s” really—that’s the first one: “Shut up!”

The second one we just modeled for you—it’s “Soft Answer,” or “Soft Words.” Somebody has to de-escalate—de-escalating conflict.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Obviously, we said it—it usually is the one who’s most mature. Well, who decides that? Well, when you de-escalate, you are showing that you are the most mature one. You’re saying, “We’re not going to escalate this thing anymore.”

When somebody de-escalates, it’s really hard to keep yelling / it’s really hard to keep fighting. It’s like—you can’t. It’s like you want them to engage. You look like an idiot; because you’re still yelling, and they’re going soft and gentle with their answer.

Ann: And even with that soft answer, I can’t tell you how important it is to not use words that wound your partner. When we curse, when we name-call, when we say, “You’re an idiot,”—all that does is escalate everything. All it does is—we take our words and we wound each other continually.


That hurts! So soft answers are answers that are—even the words, “What are you feeling?”—to say: “Like I’m really angry,” but not to go into, “because you’re so stupid!” We have to guard our tongue.

Dave: And we’ve done that.

Ann: James talks about that.

Dave: Yes. In Proverbs 15:1—I love this verse—he says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Ann: Yes; isn’t it true?

Dave: It’s so true. When somebody’s gentle in a volatile situation, it changes the entire culture. John Gottman, who I mentioned—this researcher—he says, “When I watch this couple for 15 minutes, here’s what I’m looking for.” He says, “If I see contempt, they’re in trouble.” There’s not a lot you can do for contempt. He says, “If I see contempt, I’m usually saying, ‘They’re not going to make it.’”

Here’s how he defines contempt—it’s the single best predictor of relationship breakdowns. He defines contempt as: “An attitude of superiority, speaking down to your partner through name-calling or direct insults.


“A critic diagnoses the problem as a defect in their spouse, and sees the relationship in terms of what is missing instead of focusing on the positive things about their spouse and their relationship.”

Ann: As I read that, I think, “You know, I am guilty of that in our marriage—not name-calling or direct insults—but this attitude of superiority.” I think we, as women, can sometimes be better relationally. We can see the problem / we usually know what the problem is. I think what I did to Dave was—I made him feel like he was clueless, and he didn’t know what was going on. I felt like: “I have it all together. If you could just get your act together, our marriage would be amazing.” What does that communicate to Dave? Who would want to be around that kind of person?

So we were speaking at our church. Our MOPS [Mothers of Pre-Schoolers] group said: “Hey, could you guys both come? Could we get a guy’s perspective so that Dave—we can hear what he has to say too?” I’m like, “That’s a great idea!”


Dave agreed to it. We’re talking / he’s starting to get into it. We didn’t even talk about what we were going to say—you were just going off-cuff—because he started getting into [Quoting Dave]:

 Ladies, I don’t know if you realize how important you are and the role that you play in our lives, as men. Women have so much influence.

He said,

When I was little, my mom would constantly be telling me, “Good job, David; good job!” She was my cheerleader. When I got into school, I was good in sports; and so I had coaches and teachers saying, “Good job, David; good job, Dave!” They were cheering for me. Played college football—so on Saturdays, I had fans cheering for me.

And then I meet Ann; and she’s like, “Of all the men in the world, I choose you, Dave Wilson!”; and she is cheering for me, and it is awesome!

And then we get married. We walk in the door, and all we hear from you, wives, is: “Booo! Booo!’


 [Laughter] Dave had never shared this with anybody—let alone me!


It was like, “What?!”

Dave: I was all into it. I’m over here; and as I’m standing, I’m like: “I’ve never said it like this before. This is really good!” I’m like, “Booo!” and I look; and she’s right there, and she’s like—I’m like, “Oh boy, I’m dead. [Laughter] I am dead!” She gives me this look, like, “What are you talking about?”

Ann: I had no idea. I got in the car; and I’m like, “What was that?” He’s like: “I don’t know. It just came out of my mouth.” [Laughter]

Dave: I was like, “God gave me that—that’s what that was.” [Laughter]

Ann: But honestly, this is part of speaking the truth in love. When Dave was saying that, that’s what happened to me. I thought—I felt like I was God’s gift him, because I was helping to fix him. [Laughter] And what does that communicate?—right? What does that communicate?

Dave: You got it, guys / they got it—it communicated: “Booo!”

Ann: Exactly!


Dave: Think about this—a guy who went to a 0-in-16 season with the Lions doesn’t want to hear anymore boos—trust me! [Laughter] I would come home, and that’s what it felt like.

Ann: So, for me, when Dave—I said, “Do you really think that I boo you?” We were talking softly—I said, “Tell me what you feel about that.” And he did.

Dave: It was really interesting. What I said was: “I know you love me. I honestly don’t think you like a lot of things about me. You’re always telling me I can do this better / I should have done this. I said, “So, honestly, that feels like boo!” I said, “Everywhere else, I get cheered. People are saying: ‘You are the man! Great job!’ I come home; and it’s like my own—the most important person in my world—is saying, ‘I’m not satisfied.’”

Here’s—we don’t have time to get into this; but if you’ve ever looked at God’s design of a man and woman—love and respect—a man longs to be respected; right? When he isn’t / when he’s disrespected, how does he respond?—


—one of two ways. Women, if you don’t know this, this is a symptom—say: “Okay; this is a symptom of disrespect—he will either explode in anger or withdraw / he will shut down.”

I did both; but typically, I just sort of withdrew. I’m like: “Okay; I’m not the guy you thought I was. I’m not measuring up. Well guess what? You’re not going to get anything!” I never said that—I just withdrew.

Ann: And the best thing that happened to us—and for you guys—don’t have a fight when you’re in a fight.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: When you’re angry, don’t get in a fight. For us, the reason I could hear Dave was because we weren’t fighting—we were listening.

Dave: It was gentle!

Ann: It was a gentle answer. It was talking. It was exactly—it was God speaking directly to me and convicting me, because it was sin.

Dave: And all I can say—and again, we don’t have time—but she changed. I mean, she heard me. I can tell you—a year in our marriage—it has changed ever since. She speaks life into me / she believes in me.


There’s not a day—I’m not kidding—not a day that doesn’t go by, she’ll say: “You are an incredible man—the way you lead, the way…”—just all these things. I look at her and I’m like, “I’m not that good.” [Laughter] It’s like she’s saying I’m better than I am.

But here’s what you need to know about men and about your sons—it’s true—men rise to what you believe they are. I started to become the man she says I was, even though I wasn’t!  It’s like: “Oh my! Your man longs for you to be his cheerleader—he does! That’s what he’s longing for. And trust me—I said this last year, and I mean it—if he came home, and you were wearing a cheerleader outfit, that’d be pretty cool too. [Laughter] But anyway—

Ann: He had to go there; didn’t he?

Dave: Right!

Ann: He couldn’t let—he had to go there!

Dave: Hey guys, you have to give me a high-five for that one. That was for you! [Laughter]

Ann: Oh my!

Dave: Alright; we’re done with that. [Laughter]


Dennis: No; we’re not / no; we’re not done with that. [Laughter]

Bob: Dave and Ann Wilson—Part Two of a message on resolving conflict in marriage.


Dennis: You know, where else, Bob, can you tune in on the radio and have the radio program tell you to “Shut up!” and tell you to “Give a soft answer”? I mean—huh? I mean, we’re giving you the straight scoop here and trying to help you make one of life’s most important commitments—a marriage and a family relationship—go the distance. The advice they gave is spot-on.

Bob: I mentioned that Dave and Ann speak together at our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways all across the country. We wanted to remind listeners: “This week and next week, you have the opportunity to sign up for a getaway and to save 50 percent off the regular registration fee—you pay for yourself at the regular rate / your spouse comes free.

It’s the best offer we make, because we really want to encourage you—to look now at your calendar and look online at—find out when a Weekend to Remember is going to be coming to a city near you. Block the weekend out, register, and join us! If you live in the Philadelphia area, I’m going to be up there in late November—come join us! 


But there are 40 events all across the country. Go online at, find out when a getaway is coming near where you live, and then call to register at 1-800-FL-TODAY or register online at

Now, we still have the conclusion to Dave and Ann Wilson’s message on resolving conflict. We’re going to hear that tomorrow.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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

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