Don't be a WENI - Christlike Communication

2014 Messages

John and Pam McGee discuss 4 common conflict resolution styles: Withdraw, Escalate, Negatively Interpret and Invalidate. In order to not be a "WENI", they encourage better ways to communicate during conflict as a means of maintaining and strengthening relationships.

John McGee, Pam McGeeSep 14, 2014James 4:1; 6-7a; Proverbs 18:2; Ephesians 4:15; Proverbs 29:11; 1 Corinthians 13:7; Matthew 5:22; Acts 13:34-35; James 4:6; Proverbs 18:2; Ephesians 4:15; Proverbs 29:13; Matthew 5:22


What effects have conflict had on your relationships? To complement the teaching on James 4 in our Walk the Line sermon series, John and Pam McGee show us four negative communication patterns and contrast them with four better ways to engage with others.

Key Takeaways

  • Oftentimes in conflict, we take good things and make them ultimate things.
  • God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6), and so do spouses.
  • The #1 predictor of divorce in marriages is the ability to resolve conflict.
  • There are four negative communication patterns discussed, and each has a “Better Way” associated with it: Withdrawal & Avoidance; Escalation; Negative Interpretation; Invalidation (WENI)
  • Withdrawal & Avoidance: Unwillingness to get in or stay with important discussions. Better Way: Address the issues and stay in the conversation.
  • Love and truth are not mutually exclusive; often the most loving thing you can do is tell someone the truth.
  • Escalation: Responding negatively toward each other, continuing to up the ante so that the conversation gets more and more hostile. Better Way: Call a time out.
  • Negative Interpretation: Believing that the motives of the other person are more negative than is really the case. Better Way: Believe the best, and when you can’t, ask for clarification.
  • Invalidation: Subtly or directly putting down the thoughts, feelings, or character of the other. Better Way: Remember that the goal of communication is not to win, but mutual understanding.
  • Jesus doesn’t take too kindly to putdowns (Matthew 5:22).
  • The way you communicate (or don’t communicate) will have a lot to do with how your spouse, kids, and friends are ready for eternity.

Discussing and Applying the Sermon

  • Which of the four negative communication patterns do you most identify with?
  • What steps can you and your spouse take to tackle any flaws in your communication so that you might understand each other better?
  • How are you preparing your spouse (or kids, family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers) for eternity?

John McGee: Today we are talking about communication. My name is John McGee. For the last 12 years, it has been my privilege to serve as director of marriage ministry here at Watermark. My team and I have been doing all we can to make disciples by preparing "nearlyweds," establishing newlyweds, and enriching and restoring all marriages. We have had an absolute blast.

This morning, Todd asked me just in light of where we've been in James 4 the last couple of weeks to talk about communication, which I think is a great place to talk about communication. How do James 4 and communication sync up? I'm glad you asked. I'll illustrate with a story.

This summer was kind of a culmination for our family. For the last, I don't know, two or three years, we had been sitting around the dinner table wondering what it would look like if we could go visit all the major league ballparks in America. We have a couple of boys who play ball, and the girls are halfway interested in baseball. We have four kids.

We have been thinking about this and dreaming about it. We bought books to talk about the different ballparks, and we pulled the trigger this summer. We went to nine major league ballparks. We started in Minneapolis. We went to Milwaukee, Chicago, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati and just had an amazing time.

I think there might be a couple of pictures up there of our family. That was us. I think that is Miller in Milwaukee. The kids love pictures. They love to take pictures, and Mom pulled off a coup when we were in Cincinnati and made them all wear mustaches, which is kind of their mascot's little symbol, I guess.

We had a great time. We had a great time! Me, as a dad, I can remember just being so excited about the build-up to that. My wife calls me Clark Griswold from the Vacation movies. Sometimes she'll tell me, "Just simmer down, Sparky." I just get really, really excited to have memories with my kids and take them to do fun things.

I remember our very first stop was Minneapolis. We had driven a whole day. Everybody was just abuzz. "We finally made it. This is happening!" All the details had been taken care of. Pam had taken credit card points, called friends in different cities, and got us tickets. I had so little to do with this whole trip. I had to get tickets in about three different places.

So it was all done. "We're here. It's finally happening." We're walking up to Target Field in Minneapolis, and I pull out my tickets. Everybody is fist pumping. There was just a bounce in our step. Clark Griswold was happy. I look down at my tickets, and I go… I'm looking at my tickets, looking at my watch. I showed the tickets to my wife. Dad, in all his infinite wisdom, had bought tickets for the day before. They were great seats! They just happened to be the day before.

In that moment, man, I remember being so frustrated. One of my kids had the audacity to pop off. He goes, "Well, this is just great. We drove a thousand miles up here. We don't even have a ticket. This is going to be a great trip." Clark Griswold turned into the Incredible Hulk like that. I'm happy to say that child lived through that moment.

Man, I was really, really angry. I'd be tempted to think the anger came from the fact that I didn't have tickets. I mean, that's kind of what the presenting problem was, but in reality, it was something much deeper. I had this desire to have this incredible opportunity and incredible experience with my family, and that was being threatened. Here I was just kind of reacting. I was being a little bit chippy with Pam, being a little bit chippy with my kids, and just wasn't generally a pleasant person.

This is exactly what James 4:1 says. That's why we're talking about this in light of James 4. It says, "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?" In that moment, I had this desire. It wasn't a bad desire. I just had a desire to really provide for my kids, have this great memory, like all these little Facebook kind of moments. Right? I'm not the only one. It was being threatened, and I reacted poorly to that.

What happens so oftentimes in conflict is we take a desire… Sometimes it's selfish. It could be we covet something we don't have. There's some sin in that. Sometimes it can just be good things that we make ultimate things. We think if we don't have those things we won't be happy, so then we begin to lash out.

We have these desires. They become demands. Then we judge those we're around, and then we punish those who are around. It started with a good desire that became an ultimate desire and a demand. Then when other people were somehow not involved or helping me get the thing I wanted, then I began to punish them.

The rest of the story was we just walked up… It was pretty tense. I mean, the kids were going, "Are we getting in? We just drove a thousand miles. Are we going to get to see any baseball?" The Rangers were playing. We were excited. That was back when we thought it was going to be a good season. Remember those days? Good times. Yep.

I walk up, and I just tell the lady at the ticket booth, "We drove a thousand miles for this baseball game, and I am an idiot. Can you help me?" I slid my tickets under there. I didn't buy them from the box office. I bought them off of a discount site, which she wasn't really excited about. But at the end of the deal, just because I just said, "I have no leg to stand on. I'm just from Texas, and I'm stupid. Please help me," she did. She swapped us out seats, which ended up being in the shade. We had a great time.

When we sat down, I just had to tell my kids, "Hey, guys. I am really sorry I reacted that way. I'm really sorry." We just kind of patched things up and put everything back together. Was there more conflict? You bet. Man…4,100 miles in a Suburban? That's a little Petri dish for conflict. I have a lot of material this morning from which to draw.

That humility is exactly what James 4:6 talks about. James 4:6: "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Do you know what I've learned in marriage ministry? It's that God opposes the proud, and so do spouses. Right? God gives grace to the humble, and so do spouses.

When we blow it before God, when the idols in our heart get big and we lash out, we're supposed to humble ourselves before God. There is grace. More oftentimes than not in our marriages and our relationships at work, at home, or with friends and family, if we would just humble ourselves we'd get grace. We'd get grace!

We're going to keep talking about communication here this morning. I can't think about doing this with any other person than my bride of 19 years, Pam. She is going to come up and join me.

Pam McGee: All right. Good morning.

John: You can clap!

Pam: Thank you.

John: Your time just got upgraded. Okay? Lucky you. Let me just come back to this really quickly and say we're going to give you some techniques and some skills, which have proven incredibly helpful to us, to others, but don't miss that the number one thing you need in all of this is Jesus. Right? It's Jesus.

We have these desires in our heart. We don't know how to handle them. We lash out. They come out of us (these selfish desires). They wage war within our souls. We lash out. We fight. We quarrel. The answer to that is Christ, but the way we handle that has a lot to do with the way we move toward oneness in our marriages or in any other relationship. That's why we want to give you this stuff. But do not miss the fact that the most important thing in your marriage is your love for Christ.

If I could give you one thing, I'd give you love for Christ. If you had five minutes more, I'd give you communication skills. This is a really big deal. In fact, the number one predictor of divorce in marriage is the inability to resolve conflict. If you can't resolve conflict you're not going to make it. Okay? The predictive nature of this is actually so strong that they have done these studies where they've hooked electrodes up to couples, and they've measured heart rate, blood pressure, and things like that. They will just videotape them, and they'll watch the videotapes.

They can tell just purely by the way the couple communicates whether these guys will be married between four and six years from now with almost 90 percent accuracy. Can you believe that? With almost 90 percent accuracy, just watching this couple communicate they can tell you, "They'll make it. They'll make it. They'll make it. They won't. They won't. They will. They won't." It's based purely on the way they communicate. Communication is a huge deal in marriage and in any relationship.

Pam: Yeah. Just from the research and those statistics, you can see communication is a big deal. We would also say it's a big deal to us because of what it's done for us personally in our marriage and the marriages and the relationships of people we love. We would say probably 10 or 12 years ago, we had a good marriage. We didn't fight. We didn't yell and scream at each other, but there was this 5 percent of things we didn't talk about.

There were just these few topics that we would go around and around, and we'd never really get to the heart of the issue. We were missing out on oneness. As we started reading and studying about this and (just out of the necessity of John's job) teaching it to others, we thought we should implement this in our own marriage. It just really brought us to a place where we could talk about everything.

John: Occupational hazards.

Pam: Exactly. Yeah.

John: Yeah. That's right.

Pam: We could bring it to our own marriage. We would say now communication is one of the healthiest parts of our marriage. We still have to go back and remind ourselves of some of the basics of this stuff, but it's a really good place. Not only that, but our relationship with our kids as we're teaching them to interact with each other, just to help them see their kind of negative patterns and a better way to handle that…

Then this will apply to everybody: our relationships with our friends. If you're walking deeply in community and authenticity with somebody, there will be conflict. Just as our friends in Community Group, just in the body here, or just friends in our neighborhood, as we have had common language and common skills, it's just moved those relationships so much further toward oneness. So personally, it's a big deal to us.

John: Yeah. That's good. Let me start out and just say we're marriage people. That's what we do most of the time, so most of this will kind of track toward marriage, but this is a message for everybody. If you're single and want to be married, listen up. If you're single and want to stay single, listen up. If you have kids, if you're in the workplace, you have relationships. There's nobody in this congregation today who doesn't need to hear this message, okay?

It resonated with us when we heard it. One of the first books we picked up was by a guy named Scott Stanley. It's called A Lasting Promise. He has become a dear friend to us. It resonated with us. We have all of our newlyweds read it. We teach it in our pre-married classes. It's even in our Community Group books. When you start your group, you'll see these four destructive patterns.

As we start, I want to let you know the goal of communication is a mutual understanding. The goal of communication is a mutual understanding! We think oftentimes the goal is to be right, to be validated, or to win an argument. That's not why we communicate. We communicate so we can both understand each other.

Proverbs 18:2 says, "A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion." Fools only talk. Fools talk. Wise people listen, and they understand. Fools talk. Wise listen, and they understand. In all of this, the goal of communication is not to be right, not to be heard. It's to make sure you both understand each other.

What we're going to do is go through four different ways we do this poorly, generally. These have been around awhile. Many of you guys have heard these. It will be a really good refresher for you. We're going to give you four of these categories, and here's the deal. You're going to be really tempted to think about the person you're sitting next to. I'm going to give you a category, and you're going to go, "That's exactly what you do. I didn't know what to call it. Now I do."

You'll take notes, and you'll circle stuff to make sure they got it. What I really want to encourage you to do is think about yourself. Guys especially, let me be honest. We can't multitask that well, so let's think about us. If you have any brain space, any calories left, that's fine. Think about her, but you think about you, what you do, how this shows up in your relationships, and what you could do to make it better. The very first one of these is…

1._ Withdrawal and avoidance_. That is the unwillingness to get in or stay with important discussions. It can be as obvious as kind of leaving the room. That would be a very obvious way. You're in a conversation, and I just say, "Do you know what? I'm out of here." That would be withdrawal. Another way would be just kind of to shut down in the middle of a conversation. Pam and I are talking, and I just don't want to have the conversation. So I just shut down, say, "Fine. Whatever." I will not engage with her. That's a form of withdrawal.

Then avoidance is when you know there's that thing you need to address, and you don't. You just go, "Clearly this is an issue for us. This is something we need to address. This is something we need to talk about. This is something we need to get wisdom on, and I don't want to go there." That is what avoidance looks like.

Pam: Yeah, so the way withdrawal plays out in our house is when there's a decision to be made or something I want to talk about with John, and I'll just kind of keep coming at him. I'm a little bit of an aggressor sometimes, might even been known to nag. I'll just come at him with this, "Hey, we have to get this. We have to get this talked about. Come on. Come on. Come on." He will just finally say, "Hey, whatever I have to say to get you off my back, yes, whatever just so we can end this." That is withdrawing from the heart of the situation.

John: Yeah. It's like, "What is the magic phrase I need to say?" You know? "Kick-off is coming. We have to fix this. I'll say it, whatever you want."

Pam: Whatever. Yep.

John: Sometimes I know there are some things Pam wants to talk about I'll find myself avoiding. Another one is when she comes to me, and she says, "Hey, John, we need to talk about something." Normally we've been married long enough I know what it is she wants to talk about. If this thing is like a train track, I know where she wants to end. I'll just kind of throw the tracks so we don't end up at the place she wants to.

All these things she has wanted to talk about that I've never been interested in (like, you know, holiday plans, lawns, and decorations), suddenly I'm interested, and it's like, "Hey, let's talk about this. Talk about this. Talk about this. Talk about this" so we don't end up at the place she wants to talk about. All of those are forms of withdrawal and forms of avoidance. We didn't say this first hour. It's not even in our notes, but I would just tell you if you're sitting next to a withdrawer, part of the thing could be when and how you choose to approach them.

Pam: Yep.

John: I would walk in. I have my bag. I have my keys, cell phone. She would say, "Here are 50 things we have to decide." I would just kind of buckle to my knees. "Give me a second. Hey, I will engage. Let me put my stuff down." She has learned to just kind of choose when, and that's been really, really helpful. So just a bonus.

Pam: Yeah, yeah. For each of these as you're thinking about yourself, we want to give you a better way. If you resonate with something we're saying ("Hey, that's me. I withdraw and avoid"), we want to give you a better way as you feel that coming on. For this one, if you're a withdrawer and avoider, the better way is to address the issues and stay in the conversation. It's that simple. Just address the issues and stay in the conversation.

You see communication as vital and as important enough that you need push through even when it's hard, even when everything in you wants to run away. Push through to stay in the conversation and get to a better end. Be able maybe to articulate why, "It's hard for me to stay in this situation, but this relationship (my spouse, my friend, my kid) is important enough that I'm going to push through."

Then conversely, if you're sitting next to a withdrawer, just like John said, what is it about you that might make it hard? What was it about me that my timing was bad, my tone was off? What is it about me that might make it hard, it makes John want to run away? So just humbly (going back to James) owning that.

John: That's good. That's good! Ephesians 4:15 is a great verse for this. You guys know it. We are to speak the truth in love. Somehow we've created this false dichotomy between love and truth. In reality, most of the time they are the same thing. It's the most loving thing you can do to tell somebody the truth.

Now how you do it can be loving or unloving. There's a difference there, but we need to see it as the most loving thing we can do to either speak the truth or address issues and not just simply to run away. We think because there's not conflict, that's loving. In reality, the issues don't go away, and they get worse. The smoke turns into fire. It's not loving to not address smoke. So don't withdraw.

Pam: Right. The next negative pattern (just be thinking about yourself) is…

2._ Escalation_. Escalation is responding negatively toward each other, just continuing to up the ante so the conversation gets more and more hostile. As you can probably imagine, it often could look like yelling and screaming, throwing things. It could even turn violent, or it could look a little more subtle. At our house, we don't yell too often, but we get really good at sarcastic little sideways comments. "Hey, I'm going to get the last word in for this." That's a way to escalate.

Another way if you're sitting there and you have kids (just thinking about it as a mom or dad), especially when they're little, it's pretty easy to escalate and just to go into that. That was really me. When our kids were little, we had four, and chaos and disobedience abounded. There were times when I would yell. I would raise my voice in anger, and I would escalate with my kids.

Even now as they're preteens and teenagers, just kind of jumping into the drama with them. Instead of being the adult and being more mature, I'll just jump right in to teenage drama with them. All that is escalation.

John: Yeah. That could be taken a lot of different ways. By "jumping in to teenage drama," you mean just giving it back to them.

Pam: Yes. Oh yeah.

John: We're not watching movies or anything like that. Right. Okay, good. Go.

Pam: Last week, my son did something, and I did it right back to him. So yes, I escalated.

John: Have you ever had that conversation like, "How did we get here? What are we even fighting about?" That's what escalation looks like. Somebody was five minutes late, and now you're all hot and bothered. "You're five minutes late. Do you know what? You're always late now that I think about it. You're so irresponsible. I can't believe I married you. I hate your mom." Right?

Pam: Hey, my mom is here today.

John: She is.

Pam: She is! Yeah.

John: She was in first service.

Pam: He really loves you. He loves you.

John: That was funny.

Pam: Yes. Yes! She did. She was in first service, and we had to make sure she knew.

John: Lunch will be a good time.

Pam: Yes.

John: Yeah. Good.

Pam: He does love you, Mom.

John: I'll remind her of some of this stuff here. That's an example, right? That's an example. Like, "What? You hate my mom? I was five minutes late! How did we get here?" It's like climbing a ladder. Maybe I say something, and I hop up on the ladder. Pam has a choice. Is she going to hop up there on the next rung with me? Is she going to volley one back? If she does, am I going to take one more step?

You guys know when two people get at the top of the ladder, it's a pretty precarious place, and something bad will happen. The best way to keep that from happening is to never, ever get on the ladder. Don't let it get to that place so you don't escalate and cause hurt or cause damage. Escalation causes hurt and causes damage.

The sick truth is there's part of us, because we're so sinful, that if I unload on you, there's a little part of me that will feel better. "I feel a little bit better. I just made you feel worse. I feel better." But I'll forget it. I'll go on. By lunch, I've forgotten what I said. You'll remember that for a really long time. I might feel a little bit better. You will feel much worse for much longer. If you're trying to be one in your marriage, you just lost. Even though you feel like you won incrementally, you lost as a couple. So watch out. Watch out for this escalation.

It could look like raising your voice. It could look like yelling. It could look like kind of upping the stakes with some of the things you're threatening or just simply having to have the last word if you're that person. "I can't let you have the last word. I will. No matter what you say, last word. Last word. Last word." There's a good chance you're an escalator.

Pam: Yeah, so the better way for this is really practical, and it's just to call a timeout. Just somebody call a timeout. Proverbs 29:11 says fools give vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm to the situation. When you feel the emotions rising, the blood pressure rising, just step up and say, "Time out. Time out! This is not where we want to go. I want to have the humility we're talking about. I want our relationship to move toward oneness."

Todd, our pastor, has a great quote. He said if there's a contest, it's not to see who can hold out the longest but who can race under the control of the Spirit first. Who can say, "This relationship with my child, with my friend, with my spouse, is important enough to say, 'Let's step back. Let's come back when cooler heads and cooler hearts prevail. Let's have coffee in the morning. Friend, let me get some time in the Word, and I'll meet you for dinner later tonight'"?

You come back to a place where you can understand each other. The goal of communication is to understand. Just a quick word, if you're a withdrawer, this cannot be a tactic to say, "Okay, time out. Time out. We're not going to address this." If you're the one who calls the timeout, put it on yourself to say, "Let's revisit this. It's a big enough deal to me."

John: Yeah, that's really good. Yeah. Guys, who has ever been glad that they just went off on somebody? The next day, who has ever been glad? Who has ever been glad you got something in your Inbox that hacked you off, and bam! hit send? When was that ever a good idea? Or one of those texts that scrolls and scrolls and scrolls and scrolls. We're never glad we did that.

This week, one of our kids… We had had it beyond here with him. There was a grade that wasn't good that week. There was some conflict with the siblings. There was some conflict then with us. He needed a ride somewhere last weekend. "Hey, Dad, will you take me?" "Sure." I was so angry. I had figured out it was about 20 minutes door-to-door. I looked it up on my Google Maps, and I figured out how long it would take once we got on the highway to get to the house.

I began to kind of list out eight points in my head that I was going to make and unload on this kid. I was going to let him have it, put him in his place, because he needed to be put in his place and see just what a… Well, anyway. This is church. You can't always say what you think. I had worked this out.

I'll tell you how sick and twisted I was. I had worked it out where I'd come in and drop him off. I was like, "He probably won't even say thank you." I was going to roll down the window and go, "Oh yeah, and by the way, you're welcome" for him. That's where I was. I hop on the highway. I'm getting ready for the first point.

Here it comes, and the Spirit of God just gets me. "That's not what the fruit of the Spirit is. If you're controlled by the Spirit, you will be loving. You will be kind. You will be patient. You're about to do something that is everything but that. You be controlled by God in this moment." There was chitchat, there was a little prayer, and I dropped him off.

I came back two hours later, open up the door. He walks in. The first thing out of his mouth was, "Hey, Dad, I am really, really sorry. Will you forgive me? When I get home, I need to ask Mom's forgiveness as well because I did not handle today well. It was me. I'm really, really sorry."

There is no way I would have gotten that response from my kid had I unloaded on him. Absolutely no way! Now I would have felt a little bit better, but we wouldn't have gotten to the place God wanted us to get. I mean, all of us listen in but moms and dads specifically. I'd ask you, how are you doing with this one? When your kids disappoint, frustrate, disobey, or are disrespectful to you, how do you do with this one?

It's going to impact the way they either communicate or don't communicate with us. I can tell you for a fact because they're human, there are going to be some times when they need your help. They've made a mistake, the bottom is falling out, or they have just flat-out wrecked their lives. If all you've done is escalated when they tell you bad news or when they fail, they're not calling you.

If there was grace and there was love (there was truth and wise counsel mixed in there, but they knew when they called home they would get grace), you'll be the very first person they call. It's just a good question to ask. "Would they call me first or would they go, 'Shoot! At some point, I have to call my mom or my dad, but not yet'?"

Whether we escalate or not is going to have a lot to do with the state of our relationship with our kids and our spouse now and also, I think, in the future. Sometimes it's just good to know, I think, by and large, this will play out in a little more subtle way called this: pursuer and withdrawer.

What will happen is somebody pursues the conversation in conflict. Somebody withdraws. A lot of times, it's the gals. They will pursue, and she'll say, "You don't love me. You won't talk to me." The guy says, "You don't love me. You won't quit talking to me." You have to figure out a way. Sometimes an escalator and a withdrawer will be together in the same relationship, and it's not just relegated to the humankind. It also apparently happens in the animal kingdom as well.

Pam: Look.

John: Isn't that good?

Pam: He looks so beaten down, doesn't he?

John: He is beat down.

Pam: Poor thing. Yep.

John: All right.

Pam: All right. So the next one. We have withdrawal and avoidance, escalation. Then the third negative pattern is…

3._ Negative interpretation_.

John: This is when someone believes the motives of the other person are more negative than is really the case. You believe the motives of this person are negative, oftentimes more so than is really actually the case.

Pam: Yeah, so this was my ditch. When we started reading about these, I was like, "Oh, that's what I've been doing. That's why I'm hurt or get my feelings hurt or angry. I've been negatively interpreting what John or what my friends say." It often plays out, I've learned and I've seen with my friends, in areas where we're insecure.

Out of necessity with a family of six, I cook. I have to so we can all survive. I'm fine, but let's just say Food Network is not asking for my demo video. I'm not that great, but I do feed the kids. If I'm negatively interpreting, when John comes home and says, "What's for dinner?" I hear, "Okay, I just drove by Papa John's. I can be back there in two minutes. We can get a couple of pizzas. It will be much better than last night."

Or, "How were the kids today?" If I had a rough day and I'm negatively interpreting, I hear, "Do I need to hurry home so all four of our kids are still alive?" That plays out often (negative interpretation).

John: Yeah. So if you find yourself kind of getting defensive at questions… Pam was talking about something where you're insecure. That's one you want to watch out for. Also, if you're not in a good place. Pam and I are in a good place. "Where have you been?" is clearly an attack. If we're for each other, everything is great. "Where have you been?" is, "Hey, tell me where you've been? I want to rejoice in that." It's the same question just taken differently.

If you find yourself being defensive, you find yourself getting kind of your feelings hurt or just kind of always wondering, "Is there a hidden message in there?" that could be kind of your ditch. It could be that you are a negative interpreter. What's crazy is it doesn't even have to be verbal. It could be nonverbal little looks. Sometimes those are the most powerful.

One time several years ago we moved into our house. I had taken several days off work, and I mean, I was really serving my wife and my kids. I'd wake up early. I'd work around the house, unpack stuff, hang stuff, build stuff. Then the kids would get up, and I'd feed them and play with them. Then they would go down at night, and I'd keep working, keep working, keep working.

I was feeling just pretty good about myself. I mean, I'm thinking Pam is going, "This is husband of the year material." At any moment, Oprah is going to walk in here with her film crew and do a piece on me, just how amazing of a guy, husband, and dad I am. She walks in one night, and I'm hanging blinds. Why I thought I could hang blinds is still a mystery, but I'm hanging these things. I can't quite get it. I got the screwdriver, and I remember I'm in there. I think I've just about got it right.

Pam walks in. She doesn't even say anything. She just walks in the room. She goes, "Huh." I remember I'm holding my screwdriver on my bed, and I just whip around and just steam. "She is criticizing my work!" She walks over to this little closet right next to it, and she opens it up. She goes, "Whoa!" She looks up and down, and there's just stuff everywhere. That was the closet that had become the place where we put all of the stuff we didn't know where to go with. You know? Have you ever had that closet when you move in? "Just put it in there."

She goes, "Oh shoot," and she walks out. "I forgot something." I remember standing there with my little screwdriver, just going, "You have got to be kidding me. She came in here, and she criticized what I was doing on these blinds. Does she not know how hard I'm working? Then she had the audacity to come over here, open that closet, and tell me I've been lazy and hadn't put that stuff away. I cannot believe that. She can hang her own blinds. She can unpack her own stuff." I'm thinking all this. "I'll go to work. I'll go send emails. Good luck! Good luck with that."

Somewhere between there and the shower and bed… I mean, I know this stuff. I know what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to ask her if that's actually what she meant. I just said, "Hey, babe. What did you think of the blinds?" She said, "You know, I thought they looked pretty good." I said, "Well, what about that closet?" She goes, "Man, that thing is a disaster, clearly. We'll get to it. It's just not a big deal."

I just had to say, "Will you forgive me because I thought you were criticizing what I had done and calling me lazy (and a whole other list of junior high interpretations I had working on there)?" We missed out on two hours of oneness. Now the good news was it was only two hours. To my shame, it went that far. I should have just asked her.

How many of us in our relationships there's been something that happened or something that didn't happen that we were sure was a negative shot? There was something negative that was intended there. We never asked. We just assumed, and we've been reacting to it all these times. Negative interpretation is a really big deal. Believe the best, and if you can't, ask for clarification.

Pam: Yeah, so that's the better way just right there. Believe the best, and when you can't, ask for clarification. First Corinthians 13:7 says, "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things…" So in our relationships with people we love, if we believe they're fundamentally for us, they're on our team, they're on our side, we want to believe the best.

Then there will be times (because we're sinners) that we just can't. "Oh, I'm just not sure what he meant, so I'm going to ask. I'm going to humbly say, 'Hey, I want to believe the best, but I don't think that's what you meant.'" If you're that person (so if you really are trying to say something), that's where the humility can come in for you.

If John is trying to say, "Dinner was really bad last night," just say, "Okay, Babe. Yeah, let's try some new recipes" or just something like that. Just be humble on both sides. Believe the best, and ask for clarification if you can't.

John: That's good. The next one is…

4._ Invalidation. That is a subtle or direct putdown of the thoughts, feelings, or character of the other person. Jesus said it this way in Matthew 5:22: "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool [raca_ in some translations] !' will be liable to the hell of fire."

Simply stated, Jesus does not take too kindly to putdowns. This is where I really excelled early on in our marriage. Pam would bring something to me on some issues… On most issues we were talking pretty well, but there was kind of this 5 percent. She'd bring something up, and because I couldn't be wrong in the situation, I would do or say whatever it was to make sure she left going, "I lost," and I won.

She'd say, "I think this is going on." I'd go, "No, that's not going on." Or she would say, "This is how I feel," and I'd say, "You shouldn't feel that way." Or she'd say, "I think this is what we should do," and I'd say, "No, that's not really what we should do because of this, this, this, and this." What would happen is Pam would just bring these to me. Sometimes she would bring to me a concern, and I would so twist the logic, she would go, "Do you know what? You're right. Shoot! I shouldn't even be talking about this."

If you can extract an apology when your spouse brings something to you as a concern, then you know you're a really good invalidator. I was like a gold medal invalidator. I thought everything was amazing. I was never wrong. I thought this marriage was great, and all the while, I was losing. I was losing because Pam wouldn't come to me with these issues. She would just go, "It's not worth it. It's not worth it! You would just invalidate me, so I am not even going to bring these up."

Pam: Yeah, so like John said, it could play out verbally. "I think you're wrong. That's not correct." It could also be a little more subtle. I remember when the kids were little, and John would come in and try to help change a diaper, fix dinner, get the baby food ready, or something like that. I would go and correct the way he was doing it. "Let me show you a better way. That's not the right way to do it."

Just that, he finally said, "It feels like what I'm trying to do to serve is not serving you. It's not helpful to you." For me, it was kind of undermining his desire to serve me in a really subtle way. It shows up in a lot of different ways. Even if you don't say, "You're wrong," it can still show up in ways. Just watch for that invalidation in your life.

John: Yeah! If you're the one who has to win, you're probably an invalidator. You have these little, subtle putdowns or jabs, or you want to kind of spar intellectually and use logic. Oftentimes you're an invalidator. A better way is just to sit, listen, and say, "Let me make sure I understand." Rather than trying to win, just say, "Is this what you're saying? Okay, I understand now." I might not agree with it. I might not agree with everything Pam says, but I have to make sure I understand where she is coming from.

The other one is just to kind of enter into her story emotionally and just see if I can feel what it is she is feeling. When Pam feels that I feel what she feels, she goes, "Man, this guy is listening. This guy is really striving to care, to understand." Can you articulate, and can you feel what they feel? If you have that empathy, you've gone a long way to do away with invalidation. Your spouse will really feel cared for.

Pam: Yeah, so the better way if you tend to be an invalidator is just to remember that goal John talked about. The goal of communication is not to win. It's mutual understanding. The goal is to understand your spouse. In the end, you may not agree. You may not even really see their perspective, but just for each other to know you understood, and you were seeking to just see what each other was feeling and understand each other.

That's the goal, and that will keep you from invalidating. That will move you really a long way down toward oneness in your marriage, also in your relationship with your kids, in your relationship with community. Just remembering that the goal of communication is understanding.

John: That's great.

Pam: All right. So if you take the four letters of these negative patterns (withdrawal and avoidance, escalation, negative interpretation, and invalidation), it spells WENI.

John: Right.

Pam: All right?

John: WENI.

Pam: That's right.

John: Right?

Pam: Yes.

John: Guys, when you communicate, don't be a WENI.

Pam: That's right!

John: Okay? It's just helpful to have those categories, because if Pam came to me and just said, "You are terrible at communication," I'd go, "Where do I even start with that?" I probably won't. If she says, "Do you know what? I think you invalidated me," well, that's something I can fix. That's something I can work on!

Having those categories both in our marriages, with our kids… We have our kids programmed, man. They know this stuff. They're marriage pastor kids. They know this stuff. There are occupational hazards with that. I guess if their dad was a dentist, they couldn't have candy. They have to talk about relationships a lot with Pam and me. Teach your kids this.

In your Community Groups, don't let this stuff show up. Right? Lock it down. You guys want to love each other and move toward each other. If some of this stuff is going on, it makes it really, really difficult.

Pam and I talked about that early on in our marriage sometimes we weren't even kind of talking. We were more having these Civil War musket battles. Pam is talking. I'm listening, but I'm not really like listening listening. I'm just listening for fodder. She starts talking, and I start loading. I go, "I have a great comeback. Oh, I know something that she's really insecure about. I'll load that one up. I remember two years ago. I'll bring that up. Are you done? Are you done talking?" Boom!

I would unload, and she wasn't listening to me. She was just looking for some more fodder. Right? "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Spouses oppose the proud, but they give grace to the humble. Put the muskets down. You're on the same team, man. You're on the same team! They're not your enemy. This is God's daughter. This is God's son. They deserve your best. You don't treat God's Son, God's daughter, that way.

In the marriage relationship, with your kids, anywhere else, you don't do that. You can do better. Just take these patterns, and try to figure out which one of these is you. You will go a long way to putting the muskets down and moving toward the kind of relationships God has for you if you'll own your part to get the log out of your own eye. Okay? Hey, thanks for being up here. Thank you.

Pam: Thank you. Thank you!

John: In all of this, imagine a church… What's in it for us if we get this right? Jesus said in John 13:34-35, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

What if that was the thing this church was known for? What if we did marriage in a way that the world just said, "If you want to learn about marriage, you show up at Watermark, or you find somebody who goes there because those guys continually have the best marriages. I know they're the best parents. When I'm in a work environment with somebody from Watermark, they handle conflict well, and they love me"?

That should be our renown, right? I think we have an amazing opportunity to love this city. Did you know Dallas has the number one crime rate per capita in cities over a million? It's not somewhere else. It's right here. Do you want to know how to fix that? If I could pull one lever, I'd fix marriage. I'd fix relationships, and everything else would follow downstream if we got this right.

If you're preparing for marriage, we invite you to Merge. If you know somebody, we invite you to invite them. We'll have 800 couples come through Merge (which is our pre-married program) this year. There are 800! There are 13,000 marriages in Dallas County. That's 6 percent of those people are coming right here to our church. It's happening, guys. Our goal has been 10 percent. We need to account now for Tarrant County and Collin County.

If you're starting your marriage, we have Foundation Groups for you. You can come and begin to start your marriage with five other couples and a mentor couple and play offense before you play defense on your marriage. Don't wait for stuff to kind of stack up. Re|engage. Man, if you're struggling, if you're a one and you want to get to a two, or a seven and you want to get an eight, re|engage is a safe place we say to reconnect, reignite, or resurrect your marriage. Join us Wednesday nights at 6:30, or invite your friends, which increasingly you guys are doing.

Every single week, people show up with their friends, and they're saying, "There is hope for you. You need to know Christ. You need to know how to do relationships. I will walk with you and introduce you to some folks who I think can help you." We've had people from other faiths, which has been amazing. All kinds of other faiths. Muslims, Hindus, and several others have come because you've invited them here.

Even more than that, just the way you interact in the community. I hear stories all the time of marriage counseling going on at Starbucks because you guys are doing an amazing job. It should be our hallmark. Do you know what? I want to encourage you too. This re|engage program I'm talking about that we've developed here, many… I'm looking out, and I see all these gifted leaders who have been walking with us.

That is now in 62 other churches around the country. I wanted to just show that to you. I'm not bragging, but that's you. When we talk about buildings, when we talk about what could be, there is something else like re|engage that needs to happen here, but there's no space for it. I can't wait. I want you to be encouraged.

At, you can send anybody in the country to it, and they can think about getting re|engage in their place, or they can just plug in. You can tell your friend in Phoenix, "I care about you. I care about your marriage. I want you to go here to this church and go to re|engage." Practice this stuff. Live it out.

What's in it for you? Well, if you do all this stuff, you'll have a better marriage. You will! I guarantee you. In five minutes, I can give you this stuff. You will walk out having a better marriage. I've come to believe marriage is a whole lot more than just about having good times, about doing life with somebody you love. That is absolutely part of it.

I've got this growing sense in me recently that we are getting each other ready for eternity. Pam and I are going to be married about 50 years or so if our health holds up, and I hope that is a really good 50-year run. I hope we have a lot of fun. I pray we raise great kids, we love each other, and make some great memories. That would be really cool.

More than that, I am supposed to prepare Pam for eternity, because eternity is really, really, really long. This just in! How tragic would it be if I gave her an amazing 50 years but didn't prepare her well for eternity? I've had this image. I don't know what it's going to look like when we get there, but I've had this image of her and me there. For whatever reason, I have her going first. She is going up to meet God, because it will happen. We will all die. We will all face judgment.

Hebrews 9:27: "…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…" Pam is standing there. She has trusted in Christ by grace. She is going in, but what she has to offer, there are wide ranges on what could be. I've had this picture of her walking up, standing in line, looking at me over here, and going one of two ways. It's either, "I'm not ready. You were supposed to help me, and I'm not ready," or her looking over…

I don't know how… God is going to wipe away all of our tears. That's clear in Scripture. She has tears in her eyes because it's an amazing run we've had. She catches my eye and just goes, "Man, thank you. Thank you. You got me ready. You got me ready! I can't wait to cross over, and you helped me." Your friends, your kids, that's going to play out the same. That's going to play out the same!

The way you communicate or don't communicate is going to have a lot to do with how ready your spouse, your friends, your kids are. This is no game. You'll have a great marriage, but even beyond that, we can help get each other ready for eternity. This is a really, really big deal. Let me pray for us.

Father, would you help us humble ourselves before you? We have sinful desires which wage war within our souls. We need your help. Would you help us? Would you help us own our negative communication patterns? Would you help us love our spouses, our kids, our coworkers, our neighbors so your renown would increase, and people would know people who follow you love you, and they love others?

I pray that would be our reputation. I pray that would be our renown in this city. I pray we would have the courage to have the conversations we need to have today. Not next week, not next month, but today. In Christ's name we pray, amen.

Hey, you guys. Have a great week of worship. We'll see you next week.