Watch Your Self-Talk


Have you ever caught yourself talking to yourself? We all do it, of course. At times you will mutter something to yourself aloud. If someone hears you, you may sheepishly explain, “Oh, I was just thinking out loud.” But most of the time, self-talk is internal. It is the conscious thought process continually going on inside our heads.

Those who study language tell us that most people speak at the rate of 150 to 200 words per minute. In contrast, research indicates that self-talk can run at the rate of about 1,300 words per minute. On the basis of sheer volume alone, your self-talk has a powerful impact on your emotional and behavioral responses. So when it comes to marital conflict, hurt, and anger, you need to make sure your self-talk is positive and factual.

Any episode of self-talk begins with what we call a triggering event. It may be something a person says, an object we see, a scene we witness, a fragrance, a sound or any number of other stimuli. When the trigger occurs, our minds start racing at 1,300 words per minute trying to interpret what we have received. In other words, we begin a high-speed, internal monologue trying to make sense of the triggering event.

For example, LuAnn’s husband, Joel, walks into the house after work. Seeing the kids’ toys scattered throughout the house and lunch dishes still piled in the kitchen sink, Joel just shakes his head and mutters to his wife, “Well, you’ve had a productive day.” Then he leaves LuAnn standing in the kitchen as he goes to change out of his work clothes.

Immediately LuAnn self-talks her way through the episode: Joel doesn’t value all that I do for him and the kids. He has no idea how hard I work all day long. He thinks I should have been more productive today. He sees only what didn’t get done; he doesn’t notice what I have done. He thinks I should be able to keep the house spotless even though I’m outnumbered three to one by kids who work hard to mess it up.

This automatic thought process trips an emotional response based on how we interpret the event. It’s chain reaction, and it can all happen in a handful of heartbeats. LuAnn’s self-talk has left her angry with Joel for his insensitivity to her daily talks and his lack of appreciation for how hard she tries.         

However, an emotional response, such as anger, isn’t the end of the chain reaction. Your emotions will always give rise to some kind of behavioral response. You may cry, laugh, fight back, kick the dog, withdraw, overeat, drink too much, or whatever. Some people pull the covers over their heads and sleep for hours on end. Others fidget, pace, or drum their fingers.

LuAnn’s behavioral response is to “go on strike” for a few minutes. Instead of scurrying around picking up toys or starting to prepare dinner to please Joel, she goes into the family room and sits down with the kids, who are watching a video.

Our behavior results from an emotional response based on self-talk triggered by a specific event—or combination of events. Here’s what the chain reaction looks like:

But here’s the problem. Some of our emotional and behavioral responses are irrational because sometimes our self-talk—our perception of the triggering event—is inaccurate. For example, LuAnn misinterpreted Joel’s actions and comment about the house when he walked in. He wasn’t criticizing her; he was trying to acknowledge from the mess that his wife had had a hard day. But for LuAnn, something important got lost in the self-talk. Bottom line: At times your angry feelings and behavior may be a legitimate response to an event, but at other times they may be the inappropriate result of faulty self-talk.

One of the major ways to diffuse anger in your conflicts, therefore, is to control your self-talk. Here are four helpful steps to help you do that.

1. Acknowledge that self-talk happens in you. Everybody uses self-talk. You may not be aware that you are doing it, but you are.

2. Recognize when self-talk is happening. Look at the diagram again—the self-talk happens between the event and your response to it.

3. Challenge your self-talk to see if it is rational (supported by evidence) or irrational (not supported by evidence). Here are some questions to ask yourself.

o   What evidence exists to support my anger in this situation?

o   What past events might be contributing to how I’m feeling?

o   What might be my spouse’s viewpoint on this issue?

o   Do my spouse’s past actions match how I interpreted his or recent behavior, or do they suggest something different?

o   What are some alternative interpretations to this situation?

o   Have I unfairly judged my spouse by assuming I know what he or she is thinking?

After careful evaluation, you may realize that your interpretation of the situation really is the correct one and your feelings of anger are justified. But sometimes you will discover that your anger is irrational because you have been operating from false assumptions about the triggering event. As LuAnn thought about Joel’s comment, she wondered if she had misread his response. He had never criticized her before when the house was in disarray. Joel confirmed her evaluation when he walked into the family room after changing clothes and said, “Looks like everybody had a hard day today, including me. So I’m treating everyone to pizza. Who’s ready to go?”

4. Replace inaccurate self-talk with accurate self-talk. Whenever you discover that your anger is the result of a misperception of the triggering event, backtrack and talk yourself through the correct view of what happened. You’ll be surprised at how your anger evaporates. Even before LuAnn and Joel left for the restaurant, she had adjusted her self-talk: Joel was sounding a little down when he got home because he had a rough day at work. He wasn’t displeased with me; he was empathizing with me over my hard day. LuAnn, Joel, and the kids had a great evening together.

I love what the apostle Paul says in Romans 12:2, “ Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” Don’t give in to the automatic self-talk that races through your head. Challenge your thoughts. Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ (see 2 Corinthians 10:5).

Our self-talk is part of who we are. We need to understand those messages and challenge them so we control our anger instead of being controlled by it.


Addressing Cohabitation in the Church


We recently received a question from a pastor in Northeast Ohio on the topic of cohabitation and I (Gary) would like to share some thoughts in this post. For further insight on this issue, listen to our recent radio show where Barb and I dive deeper into this question. 

Q. As a pastor, the issue of cohabitation before marriage is one I have come up against in counseling and officiating weddings within the church. I watched the clip from Marriage 101 on cohabitation and found it very helpful—is there any coaching or direction you can offer me for situations in which couples live together but are desiring to get married and are beginning to think through God’s will for their relationship?

A. Thank you very much for taking the time to write following your review of the Marriage 101 clip on cohabitation. First of all, here is what we know: God intends for marriage between a man and a woman to bring glory to Him. Marriage is His idea. Marriage is the foundation of our society and the first institution established—and we seem to have dumbed it down. As an advocate for marriage, I believe this breaks the heart of God.

That being said, we honor your desire to handle this issue in a way that glorifies God as we know it can be a difficult one as a pastor and mentor in the church. Here are some additional thoughts…

God is a God of order. In Genesis 2:24 we are instructed to leave, cleave, become one and THEN experience intimacy. It appears to me that so much of the confusion centers on stepping outside this order in life. When a cohabitating couple already has a child, the reality of the complication is even more profound. I have advised couples that when there is “an appearance of evil” or when they are experiencing conviction and contrition--if they are then desiring to please God by marrying, they need to ask how do we live until the time of the marriage? I have suggested that couples start with the conviction and contrition and seek forgiveness from God and from one another to assert that there is a true conviction of the Holy Spirit as they have addressed the issue with the pastor and/or counselor. Then I ask them to consider not sleeping with one another and engaging in sex, seeking and being granted forgiveness so that their children and others see that they are pursuing God’s heart and desire for their relationship. At times couples have chosen to move into another bedroom in the house and even explain to their kids that they have brought this issue before Jesus and that God is helping them live obediently.

I hope this helps. I know as an advocate for marriage, what God intended for us has been distorted and it doesn’t look like it is getting any clearer in the flesh, culture or enemy’s hands. It breaks my heart. So when I address this with a couple that are just doing what makes sense to them, helping them search and discover God’s Word, it is a joy to see them agree with God and make hard decisions. 


Getting Cozy With Coffee

Go to a coffeehouse or a café. Choose a place where you’re not likely to run into anyone you know (interruptions aren’t allowed). You can go for dinner, a couple of big cups of specialty coffee, or a dessert. Splurge a little. Don’t think about calories or how much that big cup of cappuccino is costing—just do it! Sit so that you can look at each other while you talk. Hold hands. This kind of setting is made for conversation, so use the time to go through the questions together.

Prep Steps

  • Get the date on the calendar.
  • Schedule a babysitter, if needed.
  • Decide on a location that will be cozy yet conducive to conversation. Make reservations if you think it’s necessary.

Answer these questions together on your date:

  • Are we making time to connect with each other daily? How can we improve that?
  • What was your day like today? What are the stresses you have been feeling in the past few months?
  • What burdens (emotional, spiritual, financial) do we have now that we didn’t have ten years ago? Five years ago? Last year? How can we adjust them together?
  • Am I a safe haven for you? In what ways can I make you feel safer sharing your thoughts with me?
  • What three things do I do for you that really make you feel like the man of my dreams? What would you like me to do?

Breaking the Habit of Sexual Addiction


In an age where the opportunity to view sexually explicit material is usually just a click away, guarding your heart from temptation that leads to sin is so very important. We would like to share just a few steps you can take toward breaking the habit of sexual addiction.

  1.  Be honest with yourself and acknowledge you have a problem.
  2. Tell a trustworthy person about your addiction. Then be accountable to that person.
  3. Dispose of all pornographic material you own. Don’t keep any of it.
  4. Internet pornography is an insidious threat. Don’t go there. Buy blocking software.
  5. Be patient, and resist feeling defeated each time you fail. Your addiction took time to develop; it will take time to overcome.
  6. Pray about your problem. Rely on God for deliverance and strength. God promises to make a difference in your life. Allow Him to give you the special strength you need to fight this battle and ultimately have the victory.


Excerpted from Dr. Gary and Barbara Rosberg, The Great Marriage Q&A Book, (Carol Stream, Ill., Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2006): 210.

Making Peace with the In-Laws


Let’s face it, conflict happens within a family—there is no perfect relationship, even if some families may seem like they have it all together from the outside. When you marry into a family, you don’t always click with your spouse’s loved ones, but you need to remember they are just that—the people your spouse loves—and their flesh and blood. We need to seek humility if conflict arises, and in so doing, honor our spouse and children and the bond they share with their parents or grandparents. Here are just a few quick thoughts and tips on making peace with your in-laws.

You might first go to an in-law one-on-one—after you’ve done a lot of praying, of course! Your mother or father-in-law needs to look into your eyes, hear the tone of your voice, and see your humility.

  • Explain why you feel hurt. Reach out.
  • Explain that you want to get along for the sake of your spouse and your kids.
  • Let the focus be on you. Take responsibility for the relationship.

Realize that you won’t be able to change your in-laws, no matter how much you may want to or how much they need to be changed. Of course, as you seek to live at peace with your in-laws, ask God for wisdom. In Romans 12:18 it says “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.”

  • You need boundaries so you don’t allow yourself to be walked on or torn apart in front of your kids.
  • You need to be clear, concise, and honest.
  • You may not be able to solve the situation, but you might at least be able to declare a truce that will allow your whole family to visit the grandparents. Life is short, and you don’t want regrets.

Excerpted from the Rosbergs’ book, The Great Marriage Q&A Book