Rule Number Six: During potentially explosive conversations, keep an eye on the temper thermometer.

When you get tense or angry, take responsibility for your behavior.  Work hard to stay C.A.L.M by taking the following steps:

(Consider, Ask, Limit, Monitor)

Consider the potential for destructiveness before you speak during tense moments.  Remember the wrecks–the conversations that have ended destructively.  Consider how wasteful and distasteful those moments were, and how easily they could have been avoided.

Ask yourself critical questions that force you to think–to get your mind going before your words start flowing.[1]  Ask yourself any or all the following questions:

  • ●What am I trying to accomplish?
  • ●Is this going to be redemptive?
  • ●Am I, or is my partner, in the right mind right now?
  • ●How and when can I say this at a better time in a better way?
  • ●Is this comment or gesture going to help or hurt, build, or destroy?
  • ●Is the relationship able to bear the weight of this moment?

Limit your words.  The Bible teaches us to avoid arguments by turning off our mouths.

Monitor your body language and your spouse’s body language. See and feel both what is and what is not being said.[2]

Whatever happens, refuse to take up A.R.M.S (Anger, Rage, Malice, and Slander) in your own defense. Control yourself.  Your partner needs to feel secure before he or she can begin to confide in you.

Trust or security is necessary for constructive conversations and redemptive relationships. Your goal is to get your partner to feel safe enough to share what he or she truly feels no matter how painful and upsetting it may be for you to hear.  Your partner must feel that what he or she is going to say will really count for something.  If your spouse feels that there is no point in speaking to you, then no matter how you probe and prod, you will not get a meaningful response.  Never let anger be your motivation for speaking; and don’t open your mouth when your heart is closed.

Finally, here are some practical ways to avert catastrophic moments:

Avoid the 5 deadly D’s that lead to destructive conversations:

  • ●Dumping: Throwing all of your emotions onto your spouse.
  • ●Debating: Trying to win an argument instead of seeking mutual understanding
  • ●Denial: Refusing to accept any responsibility for your behavior
  • ●Deriding: Insulting your spouse
  • ●Defending yourself: Making excuses to justify your behavior

Common Sense: Know when to stop and let the steam out of the room.

When you feel that you can’t control your anger, or you feel that your spouse’s anger is becoming uncontrollable, give yourself emotional and physical space. Excuse yourself politely, and walk away to gather your thoughts and to pray.

When your partner gets tense, look for the the root to find the truth.

Conflicts are like weeds.  You can’t get rid of them until you find the root.  Don’t fight the effects; find the cause.  Don’t respond to angry words or gestures–those are just effects.  Try to find the reasons that led to those emotions.


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Rule Number Five: Encourage Dialogue by Learning to Listen

The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out. (Proverbs 20:5, NIV)

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath (James 1:19, KJV)


Love begins with listening.

Until you are willing to listen, no one will confide in you; so learn to listen with your heart and head.  The Bible emphasizes listening for the sake of understanding.  Solomon defines listening as the skill of drawing out a person’s true thoughts.  Try to understand what your spouse is thinking, feeling, and trying to communicate with his or her own words and actions.  Love listens.  Tell your spouse this: “I love you, so I want to try hard to understand your needs and desires.  I really want to know what’s important to you so that it can become as important to me.”

How to listen:

Give each other full and undivided attention.

Listening is more than hearing and trying to prepare a response.  Sometimes, we are too busy waiting for our turn to talk, or preparing a legal brief in our minds that will prove our points.  We need to give full and undivided attention to the ones we love.

Ask effective questions

Effective listening demands more than silent attention. It requires actively engaging others by asking questions for clarification.  “Just now when you said that…were you trying to say …?”  “I don’t mean to interrupt you, but I don’t think that I fully understood what you meant when you said…?” “Could you help me by repeating that just one more time?   “Okay, I think I am beginning to understand you: are you saying that…?”

Wait and meditate

Honor what you have heard by asking for time to think deeply about it.  Too often, we use listening as a technique, but our insincerity shows up quickly in our pre-packaged prescriptions.  We offer solutions without understanding the problems.  This is a terrible habit because it confirms that we were just practicing some phony listening technique.  What we must do, instead, is learn to meditate on the weight of our spouse’s words long enough to gain a true understanding of his/her deepest needs.

What prevents us from listening?

Pride, defensiveness, disrespect, and false assumptions clog our ears and prevent us from attending sincerely to our spouse’s words and feelings.  Don’t assume that you already “know” what someone is trying to say: this is dangerous. The human mind is wonderfully and frustratingly complex.  People are not always who we think they are, and they hide their true feelings from us when they recognize that we are just pretending to listen.

What prepares us to listen?

Humility is the key to listening: it closes our mouths and opens our hearts.

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Rule 4: When talking about sensitive issues, make sure that you start with a humble heart

Begin with questions that allow you to Ask, Seek, and Knock at the door of your spouse’s heart. Don’t begin with accusations and judgments voiced as rhetorical questions: “I wonder what’s wrong with you?” “How could you hurt me like that?” “What were you thinking?” “How could you not have known that?” Those questions kill any chance for dialogue. Instead, start potentially explosive conversations with words that express humility and sincere inquiry:

  • Can we talk about how you are feeling? I really want to listen to you. I know that sometimes I interrupt you to get my point across. But now I just want to listen to you, so that I can truly understand what you have been trying to say.
  • Can you help me understand why you…?
  • Can you help me understand what you meant what you said when you said…? 
  • I know that I can be wrong (and have been wrong) about the way I see things. So I need your help to know if I am understanding you. When you…, I felt… Is that what you meant…?
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