Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Power of Kindness in Marriage

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Leslie Basham: In her research, Shaunti Feldhan has discovered a lot of men and women hear feedback differently.

Shaunti Feldhan: We as women, we don’t realize that when we say, “Oh, thanks for mowing the lawn, but you missed a spot,” it doesn’t quite bless. And we’re thinking, But I’m just trying to help.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of True Woman 201, for Thursday, August 31, 2017.

Today’s program was recorded on the road. You may notice it doesn’t sound like our home studio, but I hope you’ll focus on the truth of the conversation as Nancy gets us started.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, I’ve been so looking forward to having this conversation with Shaunti Feldhan and diving into her book, The Kindness Challenge.

So I’ve been alert to this, Shaunti, as I’ve been in the Scripture of the last few days. This morning in my quiet time, I came to this verse in Proverbs 21, verse 21: “Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor.”

Pursue—you have to pursue it. Righteousness and kindness—we’ll find life, righteousness and honor. It says to me this is something worth pursuing, that you’re going to be the beneficiary by pursuing kindness. And that’s exactly what you have found in your research that led to this book, The Kindness Challenge.

You will be a beneficiary in the relationship by pursuing kindness.

So let me back up and welcome you to Revive Our Hearts. Thank you for joining me in the studio for this conversation. It’s gone too quickly.

Shaunti: I’m delighted.

Nancy: I just want to review, because I hope many of our listeners are going to take this Kindness Challenge.

Shaunti: I hope so.

Nancy: I hope they’ll take advantage of a chance to get this book, which will give a lot more handles on how to do this. But, just remind us the three parts of The Kindness Challenge for those who are wanting to do that.

Shaunti: What you do is you pick one person that you want a better relationship with. It could be your spouse. You don’t even have to have a difficult relationship; you just might want to make it better. But if it is difficult, this will be a good starting point.

Maybe it’s your child, or your step-father, who you just want to strangle him—in Christian love, of course. Whoever you just have that relationship with, for thirty days, just do three things:

First, you say nothing negative to that person, either to them or about them to somebody else. I know your listeners are so familiar with this because of the Husband Encouragement Challenge you’ve been issuing for years.

Nancy: Listen, I’m really thankful for the reminder, though, and we talked yesterday about how to nix the negativity.

Shaunti: Yes. Exactly.

Nancy: That’s a very convicting thing, I think, for all of us to realize that we’re negative in ways we didn’t even see. So you’re helping us to see that and then to do something about it.

Shaunti: Yes. It’s really one of those things where you realize how much of that you were blind to. That was in there.

So that’s the first thing—to say nothing negative to them or about them.

The second thing, every day for thirty days, is to find one thing you can sincerely praise or affirm, and you tell them, and you tell somebody else. So you’re basically focusing not on what’s worthy of driving you crazy, but you’re focusing on what’s worthy of praise, “what’s excellent and lovely and beautiful and noble and worthy of praise.”

Nancy: This is such a biblical pattern.

Shaunti: Oh, yes.

Nancy: I’m thinking of Ephesians 4 that talks about those of us who are in Christ, there’s things we’re supposed to put off and things we’re supposed to put on in their place. So if you just put off the negativity, but you don’t replace it with proactive praise and encouragement, you’re missing part of the equation.

Shaunti: Exactly. The other thing you’re supposed to put on, and the other thing you do for thirty days, the third thing, is to do an action—take some action of generosity, of kindness, toward this person, something little—just a little day-to-day kind of thing.

Those are very simple steps for thirty days, and yet we found that 89% of relationships improved.

Nancy: And I would think that some of those relationships improved a lot.

Shaunti: A lot. Yes! There were some dramatic. We actually had 750-something people going through the study group on this over the last couple of years. We actually had a small subset of about, I want to say it was almost, two dozen couples who were going through this. One of them had had an affair.

There were some broken relationships involved in this process. Not everybody completed the 30-Day Kindness Challenge, but of those who did, there were some tremendous turn-arounds, mostly just because one person—because it was usually very one-sided. The other person didn’t even know they were doing this 30-Day Kindness Challenge.

Nancy: You don’t have to wait for your hard person, or your mate, or whoever to do this.

Shaunti: No. This was usually actually one-sided because they didn’t want the other person to discount what they were trying to do. “You’re only saying that because she told you to.” They often didn’t even tell the other person, and yet we saw that when it was this one-sided effort at kindness, over and over, unconditionally, undeserved, it really has the potential, it’s not certain, it’s not 100%, but 89% of the time it softens the other person’s heart.

It really changes you. It changes how you feel about the other person. So that negative stuff could still be there, but suddenly you see all this stuff that is worthy of praise that you just didn’t even see before.

Nancy: I’m thinking about Titus 3 and how this is such a picture of God’s love and His kindness toward us. It talks about, “We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (v. 3).

That’s a description of the person who’s without Christ. That’s who we were in our hearts.

But, verse 4, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not by works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (vv. 4–5).

Wow! We need that reminder a lot, not just time to time, but daily. We need to preach the gospel to ourselves and realize, “I did not deserve God to be kind to me.”

I was saved at the age of four, fifty-four years ago this past week, and you think, How much of that description could have fit me as a four-year-old? Well, Scripture says that’s who we were apart from Christ.

Shaunti: Yes, that’s who we were.

Nancy: But God sent His lovingkindness, His mercy, His tenderness, His grace toward me when I did not ask for it. I didn’t deserve it. He did it anyway. And that’s what is changing my life. Well then, as God’s people, how can we not extend that to others?

Shaunti: How can we not? You said something on the last program that it’s all about pride. It really is all about pride. How can we not? It’s because somehow we think we’re so much better. We would never say that out loud, and we don’t even speak that consciously.

But that’s what’s there, underneath the surface. It’s one of the things I found that we have to root out. If we’re truly going to become kind people, we have to get over the delusion that we already are kind people, because, I will tell you, as I was starting this research, I was thinking, But I already am kind.

Kindness is a value to me. I can guarantee every single person listening to this: Kindness is a value to you. You think you are kind. You think you’re loving. And you are, in some ways. And at the same time, you have no idea how often you are unkind and negative and not showing that praise and affirmation as much as you think you are.

Nancy: We don’t realize how others hear us or see us or how we come across to them. Then I think we just get in these patterns.

Sometimes we don’t have mirrors in our lives to show us. This is one of the things I’m loving about marriage. Now I have the gift of a husband who loves me dearly and wants me to be like Jesus. So when I’m coming across in a way that is not kind, he will gently, kindly be a mirror to me.

Shaunti: Good for him.

Nancy: I’m so thankful. I need that in my life.

Shaunti: I put on my analysist’s hat, and I think back to the studies I’ve done of how men think. There’s a lot of women listening who go, “My husband does the same thing, but he doesn’t do it gently or kindly.”

Nancy: Right. I get that.

Shaunti: And I get that, too. But here’s really what a lot of us as women, we often truly miss that when we’re seeing that anger, when we’re seeing the withdrawal, when we’re seeing that guy going, “Fine,” and walking away, often we don’t realize it has been triggered by something unkind that we have done without intending it.

Nancy: He may be reacting to something we didn’t even realize.

Shaunti: Yes. And, certainly, that we didn’t intend. Which is one reason that the second element that I know is sort of a bit deal for many of us women where we want to be affirming, it’s so critical for us to actually practice it, because otherwise, we just don’t do it as often as we think we do.

Nancy: So let’s talk about that. We talked in the last program about putting off the negativity.

Shaunti: Yes.

Nancy: But now you’re saying we need to practice the power of positive praise of affirmation and encouragement.

Shaunti: Yes.

Nancy: Good night. We all know, I think, how much it means to us to receive praise and affirmation and encouragement. We want that and sometimes we feel starved for that, but we aren’t as quick to see the need to give it to others.

Shaunti: Well, we kind of do see the need. We just don’t realize it stays trapped inside our heads.

Nancy: So we’re thinking it, but it’s not coming out of our mouths?

Shaunti: It’s not coming out of our mouths.

It’s actually really funny. When we did the surveys, we actually had some really interesting dynamics on the survey because the average person—there were 750 people or so in our group—and the average person when they started The 30-Day Kindness Challenge . . . We said, “Okay, this person we’re going to do this for, how often do you share praise and affirmation? How often do you do that?”

The average answer was, “Oh, maybe two, three times a day.” That was kind of the gut-level feeling that most of us have.

And then you actually start doing The Kindness Challenge, where you have to do it at least once a day, at least once, and you have to know that you did it. And everybody goes, “Oh my word! I’m not doing it two or three times a day. I’m doing this two to three times a week—maybe!” Because, so often, it stays trapped inside our heads. 

I’ll give you an example. This just happened on Friday night, much to my embarrassment.

I drove into the driveway, and Jeff had gotten home before me. He had been at some meetings, and he got sort of a desire—“Oh, I’m home early, so I’ll just mow the lawn, and I’ll put all the pine straw down, and I’ll do all that stuff that you do in the spring in Atlanta.” He was so excited because: A) He got to make the lawn look nice, and B) He’s like a little kid who’s wanting to make his mom happy. Most men, inside, they just want to please their wives.

Nancy: He’s wanting to please you.

Shaunti: Right. So I drive into the driveway at about 4:00 in the afternoon, and I think, Wow, that looks really nice! Doo-too-doo-too-doo (singing sound). I keep driving. I park the car. I go inside. And I start working—I started doing whatever it was I was doing.

And, literally, it’s 10:00 at night, we’re lying in bed, and Jeff says just out of the blue, “So, um, did you notice anything today?”

Nancy: Wow.

Shaunti: “What, Honey?”

“Did you notice anything?”

“Oh, my word! The lawn! It was beautiful. Thank you so much for spending hours in 90° weather, mowing the lawn, and putting down pine straw, and putting on weed killer, and all that stuff. Thank you so much for doing that.” But I thought, I noticed the fact that he’d done it. I just didn’t say it.

Nancy: Yes.

Shaunti: I will tell all the women listening to this: Ladies, this is one area where, if you do nothing else in your marriage, and I literally mean that, nothing else, if you will learn the power of two words, it has the power to transform your relationship with your husband. Those words are: Thank you.

If you will learn the power of two words, thank you, it has the power to transform your relationship with your husband. 

Nancy: Can I just stop and say our engineer who is helping us, our male engineer, is nodding his head vociferously. (Laughing) So we have a man’s testimony here!

Shaunti: Yes!

Nancy: This is a big deal. If my husband were sitting in the room, or Jeff, they would be doing the same thing.

Shaunti: They’d be nodding their heads. And here’s the reality. It’s so funny, because when we were doing the studies of men and the studies of women (this is my eighth big national study) . . . We’ve talked to a lot of people. We’ve surveyed a lot of people. And we found that, in general—now, not always, but in general—the worry and the question in our hearts is way more intense and different from that of men.

The question in our hearts is essentially, “Am I loveable? And am I worthy of being loved for who I am on the inside?”

Well, the question, the worry, in your husband’s heart or your son’s is a different worry normally. It’s not, “Am I worthy of being loved for who I am on the inside?” It’s, “Am I any good at what I do on the outside? Am I able? Am I adequate? Do I measure up?”

They’re looking to you, the most important woman in their life for the answer to that question. Now, obviously, we think, They should look to God. Well, yes. They do. But, guess what? God put you there in that relationship to help answer that question.

I was, like, “Okay, if my husband’s greatest need truly is to know that I think he does measure up, that I appreciate him, that I respect him, that I believe in him, what do I say?” Because, for me as a woman, I love to hear, “I love you.” I mean, that just lights me up because it speaks to that question.

So what do you say to your man? Well, I started by following Jeff around the house, going, “Oh, Honey, I respect you so much!” And after a while my poor husband was, like, “Okay, I know what you’re trying to do, and I appreciate it, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it.”

So I actually went on a bit of an obsessive quest to find out what it is . . .

Nancy: . . . that communicates that . . .

Shaunti: . . . that says the equivalent of, “I love you,” to your man—because I love to hear that. But what is it? And we finally found it.

We had done this study of the happiest marriages for an earlier book and what it is that the most happily married couples do differently. In that survey, we found that if you say, “Thank you,” in the little day-to-day things of life, here’s what it says: “Thank you for mowing the lawn and putting the pine straw down.” It says: “I noticed what you did on the outside, and it was good! And I appreciate it.”

Nancy: And, “I appreciate you!”

Shaunti: Yes! “And I appreciate you and what you do for me.”

We don’t realize, as women, we think of that as, in some way, like a minor thing. It’s nice, but it’s a minor thing because, for us, we really want to hear how much he adores us, and, “I’m so glad I married you!” We want him to come up to us, for no reason, at the kitchen sink and put his arm around us and say, “I’m so glad I married you. I love you so much.”

If he comes up to us and says, “Thanks for putting the dishes in the dishwasher.” It’s, like, nice, but it doesn’t speak to us.

It’s a shock for us to find out that if we come up to him at the kitchen sink and say, “Thanks so much for putting the dishes in the dishwasher,” for him, it’s like, (breathing-in sound). It’s oxygen! It speaks to every little particle of his being.

And if we say, “I love you so much. I’m so glad I married you,” he’s, like, “Thanks, that’s nice.”

Nancy: That’s interesting.

Shaunti: It’s just fascinating! Because of that, we just don’t do it enough. We don’t know what speaks to that heart.

Nancy: I will say that one of the really sweet things in our, very new still, marriage, and I hope we never get over it, is that both of us are very intentional about saying thank you for little, everyday things. And I do hope we don’t forget it. I’m grateful for this reminder.

Things that the other does regularly or frequently—my husband thanks me, virtually every day, for making the bed. I thank him for taking out the trash. I thank him for unloading the dishwasher, for loading the dishwasher. For little things. It’s not like a big huge deal, but I never want to get to where we don’t notice or think about those things.

My husband loves anticipating something I’m going to. He wants to do it before I ask for it or before I see that it needs to be done. Nothing makes him happier than to anticipate and then to find out that I noticed it, that I saw it, that I appreciated it, that I appreciated it. He’s not doing it to be noticed, but it means a lot when I say, “Honey, thank you so much for getting to that.”

Shaunti: Well, it’s interesting that you say he’s not doing it to be noticed because I bet, if he’s like most men, there is some of that in there.

It’s interesting. I had a man, actually, I’ve had several men use this exact analogy, which is fascinating from back in the day. They said, “You know, we’re all those little boys inside who, when you were in kindergarten and first grade, and you’d make an ashtray for your mom, back in the day.” (Younger people are going, “What?” No really, in craft class, we’d make an ashtray. Today they probably make vases or pen holders or something. But back in the day it was an ashtray.)

These men said—and these are big, tough, strong, confident men—and they said, “Back when I was in first grade, I would be just so eager to come home with my ashtray to give it to my mom because I wanted to hear that, ‘Oh, that’s amazing! Look what you did!’ and, of course, it’s completely befuddled. It’s all wonky on one side, and the tape doesn’t work. But inside I’m still that little boy who’s handing to the most important woman in my life, who now, it’s my wife, this thing that I’ve done. And I really want her to appreciate and go, ‘Look what you did!’ as opposed to, ‘Oh, look what you did, but it’s all wonky on one side.’ Like, ‘You didn’t really quite do that right.’”

We as women don’t realize that when we say, “Oh, thanks for mowing the lawn, but you missed a spot.”

Nancy: It’s not blessed.

Shaunti: It doesn’t quite bless. And we’re thinking, But I’m just trying to help.

I guarantee there are women listening to this in shock, going, “What?” It’s for us, as a woman—and again, this is most, not all—but for most women, that really wouldn’t bother. “What? I missed a spot? Oh, thanks. I’ll go get that.”

As opposed to, for a guy, you don’t realize that what you’re doing is you’re actually saying—you’re not intending this—but you’re actually saying, “Oh, what you did on the outside, it wasn’t good enough. You failed.”

Nancy: Ouch!

Shaunti: We would never intend to send a painful message. We have no idea that’s what we’re doing. A lot of the guys, when I would say, “Okay, what do I do instead? Because, what happens if he did miss a spot?”

Nancy: You’ll tell us the answer to this question?

Shaunti: Actually, most of the men, it really comes down to, several of them said, “The next-day rule. Apply the next-day rule.”

There’s two pieces to the next-day rule, which is: Is that thing that they missed, that they didn’t do correctly, they put the dishes in wrong in the dishwasher, whatever it is, is that thing important enough the next day, going to be important enough the next day that it’s worth hurting their feelings today?

Nancy: Does it really matter?

Shaunti: Right. If it’s worth hurting their feelings today, then, okay. So be it. Just know that you’re hurting their feelings, as opposed to being completely clueless about the fact that you’re doing that.

But then the second thing is, if it’s at all possible, the second piece of the next-day rule is: If it’s at all possible, say it the next day. Let them enjoy their triumph of whatever it is they wanted to do to please you. Just appreciate it, instead of sort of subtly saying, “You failed,” which we don’t realize we’re doing. Just appreciate it that day.

Then the next day, say, “Oh, you know what? Let me show you something.” I’ve realized I have to do this with my son. He’s learning. He’s an eighth grader. He doesn’t do everything perfectly, but it makes a huge difference when I say, “Thanks for putting the dishes in the dishwasher. I really appreciate it.” And I say nothing about the fact that he stacked them on top of each other, and they’re not going to get cleaned properly.

But the next day, because he’s going to do that over and over and over again, so it has to get corrected. So I’ll say, “Oh, Buddy, before you start that, let me show you something. See how the jets of the water go this way? So, if you stack them this way, it will clean both of them, not just one of those cups.”

“Oh. Okay. Thanks, Mom.”

Nancy: Then you haven’t wounded him in the process.

Shaunti: Yes, and without realizing it.

I can also guarantee there are some women listening to this who are rolling their eyes and thinking, Oh, please. Get over it, guys. Like, you’re so over-sensitive.

I would just encourage, if that’s you, because it used to be me—very much me—and I would respond that way, “Oh, please. Okay, I’ll pat your ego. Fine.” I hate to say it, but that’s what I was thinking.

Really realize, if it’s true that God made us different, it shouldn’t surprise us that we have different insecurities. That means, by definition, different things will hurt the other person than would hurt you. Recognize it’s a legitimate hurt. This is the way God has created us. You have an opportunity to build up instead of tear down.

Nancy: And that’s the way of love. To say, “That person is not like me, and that’s okay.”

Shaunti: Yes.

Nancy: I know we have some listening who have experienced deep betrayal, especially in a marriage relationship, and they’re thinking, I don’t know how I can praise this person, express respect, admiration, appreciation. I have been so wounded.

Shaunti: Yes. It’s interesting—the examples that I hear—and, again, there were a couple dozen people in this study group who had had the worst betrayal, that their spouse had cheated on them. It’s interesting that some of the examples we heard from those individuals were so powerful because, first of all, as I think we said before, these were people who had decided to make a one-sided effort to do The 30-Day Kindness Challenge.

They had been the ones hurt. They had been hurt, but they did not want to let it be the end of the story.

Nancy: They were returning good for evil.

Shaunti: Exactly. They knew that they had a chance to do what God had asked them to do whether or not the other person responded at all, but they could stand before the Lord and say, “I know that I did what You asked me to do.”

It’s interesting that in those situations, there’s nothing about that person that deserves your kindness, but like we said earlier, we don’t deserve the kindness of Jesus in all the mistakes we’ve made.

And the encouragement for those people is that when you’ve been so hurt—yes, don’t say that’s an illegitimate hurt. It’s legitimate. That’s there. But I can almost guarantee you—almost guarantee—there are some wonderful, good, lovely, excellent, and worthy of praise things that are there also.

I’m thinking of one woman that I was talking to who, her husband had a pornography addiction. It was one of those cases where I think he knew in the back of his mind he was hurting his wife, but he just denied, denied, denied, “It’s my issue. I’m dealing with it. You shouldn’t be hurt by it.”

It’s a common issue. I’ve studied that even. She was, like, “Okay. He doesn’t get this. It’s incredibly painful, but I’m going to do what I can do.”

That thing had basically taken over their marriage because that was all she could focus on, her understandable hurt. She started to do The 30-Day Kindness Challenge. She started to see, “You know what? There is all this other stuff. He’s an amazing father. He comes home from work, and I am tired from (she has a medical condition herself). I’m tired, and he takes the boys out in the yard and he shows them how to hit with the bat, or he shows them how to do this, or he plays hoops, or he just sits on the couch and plays video games with them, or whatever.”

And instead of saying, “Well, I wish he’d be in here helping with the dinner instead of playing video games,” she goes, “He’s investing time with his boys.”

She started to turn it around and see, this one thing, it was a pretty big thing, but it didn’t need to define them. So that’s what she started focusing on.

Then she realized—and it wasn’t even thirty days. I think in her case, it’s pretty common for the study group, it was actually within about two weeks. She started to see this massive difference in their relationship because she wasn’t letting that one thing define them. She was seeing all this other stuff that really was worthy of praise. It wasn’t new. It was there all along.

Leslie: That’s Shaunti Feldhahn reminding you that your spouse may have far more positive qualities than you realize. She’s been talking with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, host of Revive Our Hearts.

And you can help more conversations like this to keep coming your way when you support the ministry financially. When you donate any amount, we’d like to say “thanks” by sending you Shaunti’s book, The Kindness Challenge.

When you read it, you’ll identify patterns of negative, unkind words, and Shaunti will show you how to flip that around and focus on kindness. She’ll walk you through a 30-day challenge like we heard her describe on today’s program.

Ask for the book, The Kindness Challenge, when you call 1–800–569–5959, or visit

Tomorrow, Shaunti will be back to show us how to use our words with generosity. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.