What’s the Temperature in Your Home?
About the Guest
The dialogue between you and your spouse has just turned chilly. Now what? Tim Muehlhoff, associate professor of Communication at Biola, explains four important elements of communication that, if applied, will enhance a couple's ability to connect.
Tim MuehlhoffTim Muehlhoff (PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) is a professor of communication at Biola University in La Mirada, California, where he teaches classes in family communication, interpersonal communication, persuasion, and gender. He is the author of I Beg to Differ and Marriage Forecasting, and the coauthor of The God Conversation, Authentic Communication, and Winsome Persuasion, which received a 2018 Christianity Today...more
The dialogue between you and your spouse has just turned chilly.
What’s the Temperature in Your Home?
Bob: One of the things that clouds and colors our marital communication is the expectations that we bring into marriage, expectations that our spouse may not even be aware that we have. Here’s Dr. Tim Muehlhoff.
Tim: Expectations. All of us have them, huge expectations. One huge expectation for Noreen was finances. She just expected early in the marriage that I would do the finances, which was kind of crazy because I was a theater major! Noreen had calculus. I had mime classes! This was crazy! So early on I did the checkbook and Noreen would say “is it balanced?” and I would say “No, but I feel good about it.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, January 19th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Dr. Tim Muehlhoff joins us today to talk about what we do in marriage when our expectations don’t balance and when our communication is in a deficit.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition.
Before we talk about expectations and communication in marriage, we want to make sure we’re communicating clearly with our FamilyLife Today listeners about the special offer we are making to our FamilyLife Today listeners this week and next week.
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Dennis: You know, Bob, I’ve got a weather question for our guest today. So I’m going to introduce him right off the bat here.
Bob: Our marital meteorologist?
Dennis: That’s exactly right. Dr. Tim!
Bob: Dr. Tim, the marital meteorologist!
Dennis: That’s right. That laugh is the laugh of Dr. Tim Muehlhoff. Tim, welcome back.
Tim: Thank you.
Dennis: Now don’t you love that introduction?
Tim: It makes me nervous.
Dennis: It should. I’ve got a great question for you. Tim is a professor at Biola University. He has his communication… (I’m building this up for the question because my weather question is really in the sweet spot of all his education.) He has a PhD from North Carolina and has three sons and a wife of more than two decades and has written a book called Marriage Forecasting.
Here’s my question for you, Tim. What was the weather like in the Garden of Eden?
Tim: Perfect conditions. Well perfect conditions for God and from a communication climate, is what I’ll deal with…
Dennis: That’s right.
Tim: …it was perfect between God and Adam and Eve. Almost perfect conditions.
Tim: Until the fall.
Tim: …which ruptured virtually everything.
Dennis: So I’ve had a little time to think about my question. And it wasn’t meant to catch you off guard.
Bob: What it was meant for…I want to ask you a question and then I’ll answer it after you’ve taken a stand because I’ve had a chance to think about it. So Dennis, what is the right answer?
Dennis: I think, after the fall, I think it was a bit chilly.
Tim: Oh, after the fall…
Dennis: …after the fall. And I knew that Tim was going to answer it before the fall. But thinking about it from a marriage forecasting standpoint, what did they do after they sinned? They got clothing. They covered up. And since the beginning of, really, Genesis 3, we have been covering up from one another. It’s the result of the temperature between a man and a woman, which is what your book is all about.
I have to say here, just so the listener doesn’t think I’m trying to have a one-upmanship over Tim, I really believe this is the best book I have ever read on marital communication for couples today. Bob and I have talked about this on a number of occasions. We have been looking for a great book to recommend to our listeners that will really fill a tool chest, to be able to communication.
What you’ve done is you’ve compared our communication to a weather forecast between two couples. You start with a concept that there’s really three kinds of weather that couple experience in marriage. The reason I want you to tackle this is because I think all three are listening to our broadcast right now.
Tim: Yes, exactly. Some couples live in a chilly climate. They never connect. They’re always at odds with each other. That conflict hovers around them continually. It’s perpetual conflict.
Bob: And it’s interesting. You’ve seen the research done by John Gottman years ago where he brought video cameras in and watched how couples communicated with one another. We tend to think that if there’s marital discord it’s going to be loud and it’s going to be explosive. But he found that where there’s contempt, where there was these little digs… It’s that chilly climate where it doesn’t have to be loud but there’s just… You can tell. It’s about thirty degrees below where it ought to be in the home.
Tim: It’s a negative communication spiral that is continually slowly spiraling down and down and it’s devastating after a while.
Dennis: But there are two other kinds?
Tim: The other one would be that it’s partly cloudy. “We’re fine in the marriage so long as we avoid certain topics. So we’re fine so long as we don’t’ talk about finances. We’re fine so long as we don’t talk about sexual intimacy. We’re fine so long as we don’t talk about the in-laws.”
So I have found that couples will really shrink their relationships down to a handful of topics that we can actually talk about. “We can’t really talk about us anymore so let’s talk about the kids. Let’s talk about their schedules. Let’s talk about what we need to do for their education.” Sadly, that cloud hovers over the relationship.
Bob: So I presume there’s a sunny relationship somewhere around the corner here, right?
Tim: Right. There are couples who do really well. The sun is out. It’s like Southern California. Now they do well for one or two reasons. They do well, one, because they have good communication skills. They address it. They may be read a book on marriage very once in a while. They maybe attend a marriage conference every once in a while. Or they’re fairly attentive to issues.
Or it’s perpetually sunny because they’re allowing things to build up. Issues are coming and building up. They’re not addressing them. They really are being swept underneath the carpet. Now that’s kind of scary because eventually these issues will come to the forefront. So some people have perpetually sunny relationships because all of these issues are happening but they are choosing, for whatever reason, not really to talk about it. So it is sunny but eventually they’re going to hit some pretty turbulent climates later on in the marriage.
Dennis: All of these marriages you’re talking about are really the climate, what we’re talking about here, kind of the weather of a marriage relationship, and how we communicate really determines what kind of weather we experience. Your book is really built around helping people change the weather. If they are partly cloudy or they do live in a sunny marriage where they’re sweeping things under the rug, there really is hope for change in that situation, right?
Tim: Yes, there really is. And hope comes in the form of understanding what makes up a communication climate. Four areas make up a communication climate. One we’ve talked about and that is acknowledgement. And again, communication theorists believe this is the single most important one, that I simply acknowledge you.
Williams James, a philosopher, said that he could think of the worst punishment imaginable and that would be that you would go out into a community and no one acknowledges you. If you’ve gone church shopping you know what this is like. You walk into a church, you go through the church service, and no one says hello to you. No one even notices that you visited. You walk out and you just feel horrible because no one said “hi.”
Dennis: You know, I don’t think I’ve even admitted this on the broadcast. Bob, you can tell me. But one of the things that really makes me angry is when I’m stonewalled. When someone ignores me. That’s what you’re talking about.
Bob: Probably the worst year of my life was my freshman year in college. I went from being kind of well-known in my high school and I was president of my senior class and had friends. It was great. My senior year, I look back on lots of fond memories.
Well, I got to the college campus and I would walk around the campus and nobody knew me and I didn’t know them. Nobody was stopping me and waving and saying “hi.” The sense of loneliness and isolation that I felt was really… I look back on it and I’ve warned my kids as I’ve sent them off to college…”this is a struggle. Unless you’ll go out and initiate it, it’s not going to come to you.” But I kept expecting that folks would go “Hey, did you hear Bob Lepine has come to the college? ” We need to go over and welcome him.”
Dennis: And you’re one of ten thousand people.
Bob: It’s one thing if that’s on a college campus and you can kind of look around and say “this makes sense.” If you’re in a marriage and you feel isolated and you feel alone and you feel unacknowledged, boy, that’s a deep kind of loneliness.
Tim: I’ve never forget a course review I had for one of my classes I taught. A student said on the written part, “It made my semester when Dr. Muehlhoff called on me by name and said good point.” That was it, “called on me by name.” After the student said something apparently I just simply said “Oh hey, good point.”
Dennis: You just acknowledged him.
Tim: So that made my student’s semester, that somebody that they cared about, their professor, acknowledged them and then validated his or her opinion.
Dennis: Okay, let’s apply that in marriage then. Give me some practical ways a husband can apply that and for a wife to her husband.
Tim: Sure, in a disagreement. We’re talking about finances. I just disagree with my wife. But in the midst of the disagreement I stop and I look at her and I say “okay, Noreen, you’ve given me a lot to think about and I have to say you’ve made a good point. That was a good point.”
Dennis: You’re not saying everything you’re thinking…
Tim: And that was a good point. I might disagree with a bunch of it but what you just said right there, that was a good point and I need to think about that. Instead of saying “okay, let me give you five reasons I disagree with what you’re saying,” which would be my temptation having been on the debate team in college.
Tim: And, by the way, walk into a house at the end of a crazy day, acknowledge stuff that my wife has done. There have been times in our marriage where we have felt tension and I can trace all of that tension back to the feeling of feeling unappreciated. So Noreen and I read in a book somewhere “don’t let a day go by without publicly appreciating your spouse.”
So in those times when we have felt that tension, that climate, start to decrease, Noreen and I have made an agreement that we will not let the day end without affirming each other verbally. Noreen and I have incorporated that even with our kids as well. I’ll see something that one of my kids is doing and I’ll say “Thanks for doing that. Thank you for doing that.”
Dennis: Last night Barbara and I went out for dinner and she did something that she does a lot. She just said “I want to thank you for the meal tonight.” Now a part of her love language is going out to dinner. She doesn’t have to cook. But she didn’t have to say thanks. I mean we share that today in terms of earning the money to be able to go out to eat. But she just expresses an appreciation at that point for something I’ve done for her.
Let’s move on to the second component of how you change the climate in your marriage. What is it?
Tim: Expectations. Huge. What expectations did you bring into the marriage? All of us have them, huge expectations. One huge expectation for Noreen was finances. Her dad was a traveling businessman and she just expected early in the marriage that I would do the finances which was kind of crazy because, as I mentioned before, I was a theater major! Noreen had calculus. I had mime classes! This was crazy. So early on I did the checkbook. And Noreen would say “Is it balanced?” and I would say, “No, but I feel good about it!?”
Dennis: You skill also showed up in your response to when the van broke down early in your marriage.
Tim: The van broke down and Noreen looked at me. Her dad was a Mr. Fix-It type of guy. Just insane. He was MacGyver! Her dad could build a bomb out of rope. It was ludicrous. So the van wouldn’t start. Noreen looked at me and said “Honey, the van won’t start.” And I said “Bummer…”
Bob: What do you want me to do?
Tim: What do you want me to do? So I walked outside…
Dennis: “Let’s go fix it!”
Tim: So I walked outside, popped the hood, and stood there. I had mime classes! Maybe I could fix an imaginary van in a wind tunnel. I had mime classes!
So these expectations that we bring in to a marriage, what do we do with those expectations? Let me suggest two things we do.
One, I think we need to lower our expectations. Sue Johnson, a psychologist, says “We live in a community of two.” In our crazy transitional world we don’t live in communities anymore. Our community is me and my spouse and the pressure we put on our spouse is what her grandmother used to get from her community, Sue Johnson says. I really think that’s true. We expect, I think, too much of our spouse, to meet all of our emotional needs, physical needs.
I think as followers of Christ we have the body of Christ. We have to be part of a collection of New Testament believers that takes the pressure off. We belong to what we call a homebuilders group. This marriage group, we meet each other’s needs and that takes the pressure off of Noreen to meet all of my emotional needs. And I ought to have a walk with God in which He is meeting deep spiritual needs that I don’t look at my spouse and say “You need to meet my need for unconditional love.”
Dennis: One of the things that’s a problem in our culture, that you mention in your book, is that we go to movies that increase our expectations, especially around the idea of romantic love.
Tim: Yes. In research coming out of London, they took a look at fifty of the top American romance movies… You’ve Got Mail…
Dennis: Sleepless in Seattle…
Tim: Sleepless in Seattle. The Notebook… and movies like that, and they said it fosters unrealistic expectations. One of them being that your spouse ought to intuitively know what your needs are without you having to express them, which is kind of crazy.
Removing the need for communication. And they actually said at the end that they feel like American romance movies have spoiled romance for American’s by placing too big of expectations on what romance can actually provide for the average American. I find that very interesting.
Bob: You do wonder how many couples look at what is on the screen and then look at each and go “We’re not like that” and then the conclusion is that the problem must be us, rather than “If we had someone writing us a script and paying us a lot of money, maybe we could act that way.” So it is an unrealistic expectation that the culture sets for us. That’s an interesting point.
Tim: We can enjoy a romantic comedy and laugh at it. But know that that’s not reality. We know it’s not reality because often the actors and actresses who are playing these characters, in real life, are deeply struggling individuals who have marriages that in no way reflect what we see on the screen.
The second part about expectations is to get them out in the open. If you have an expectation it’s better to say “You know, I kind of had an expectation about tonight.”
One thing I share in the book is my favorite card that Noreen has ever purchased for me. It is an anniversary card and the card says when you read it: “Honey, here’s what I’m hoping for on our anniversary.” And it says “Hot sex now.” And it’s just glorious! It’s actually in literally glittery letters and it actually has a little puppy dog with his tail wagging!
Bob: And he’s grinning big!
Tim: Oh, he’s grinning. Then unfortunately this card opens and when you open the card you realize that “Hot sex now” is really just an acrostic.
Dennis: H-o-t s-e-x n-o-w…
Tim: Yeah. The “h” for hot is holding hands. The “o” is openly talking about our feelings. The “t” of hot is watching a ballet.
Bob: Wait, watching a ballet?
Tim: I know.
Dennis: They stretched that on the “t.”
Tim: Come on. By the way the dog is no longer wagging his tail. So you know, the “s” of sex is sharing our dreams. By the way, the “x” of sex is taking time to relax! So you can see what is happening, right. On our anniversary, dinner is going to end in sex. It has to. That just makes sense to a man.
And Noreen is thinking anniversary, “But Tim, we’re going to go for a long walk. We’re going to hold hands, and we’re going to think about all of our past anniversaries. We’re going to cuddle. We’re going to have flavored coffee. You’re going to give me a back rub. Probably you will have learned sentences in French.”
Dennis: By then it will be six o’clock in the morning.
Tim: Yeah, I’m ready for bed!
Tim: So better to get these expectations out on the table. But here’s the problem with expectations. I don’t feel like I have to articulate these. “Honey, I shouldn’t have to articulate sex. That’s just a given.”
Noreen would say “Well no, it’s not a given. And I shouldn’t have to articulate that we’re going to have intimate conversation over dinner on our anniversary, for crying out loud!” So we don’t articulate these expectations and then we get really frustrated. The climate starts to chill. And when we realize there’s really a good chance these expectations aren’t going to be fulfilled the climate starts to chill.
Dennis: You know, Tim, I think a lot of our listeners are going to want to see the card…
Bob: Yes, hand me the card.
Dennis: The card Noreen gave you for…
Bob: She paid $3.73 for this card. Three dollars and seventy-three cents to try to communicate to you what she wanted.
Dennis: Holding hands, watch the ballet. Yeah right.
Bob: Recalling how we met. Going the distance. Yeah, okay.
Dennis: But the point is acknowledging our spouse as a person and also clarifying expectations is really about how you create a relationship, an honest relationship that affirms the other person. And really tries to meet their needs.
Bob: Well, it’s about creating the kind of climate where you are communicating effectively that you value another person, that you are living your life in a way that honors your spouse, which is what we pledge to do when we first get married. And then we get distracted, whether it’s the world or the flesh or the devil, we wind up not keeping our love for our spouse in the place of priority where it needs t be.
I think your book, Tim, gives us an opportunity to reset the thermostat in our home and make the adjustments we need to make so that the marital climate can be a comfortable climate.
The book is called Marriage Forecasting, Changing the Climate of Your Relationship, One Conversation at a time. It’s by our guest, Dr. Tim Muehlhoff. You can order a copy when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. That’s 1-800-358-6329.
And then don’t forget that this week and next week, you have an opportunity as a couple to attend one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. If you sign up this week or next week, you can take advantage of a special buy one, get one free offer that we are making for FamilyLife Today listeners. When you register at the regular rate your spouse comes at no additional cost. Buy one, get one free.
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Now tomorrow we’re going to talk more about how we can strengthen our marital communication, how we can change the climate in our home by doing a better job of listening to one another and expressing ourselves to one another. Tim Muehlhoff will be with us again tomorrow. I hope you can be here as well.
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.
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