The Christian Broadcasting Network
Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

Co-authors of thirty books

Co-founder and co-director, Center for Relationship Development, 1991

Les is a professor of clinical psychology at Seattle Pacific University

Leslie is a marriage and family therapist at Seattle Pacific University

Newspaper/Magazine contributions: :USA Today, New York Times, L.A. Times, Chicago Tribune, Women’s Day, Family Circle, Brides, Men’s Health, Marriage Partnership, Psychology Today

Television appearances: Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, CNN Today, Home & Family Show, Fox News Channel

Center for Relationship Development
Seattle Pacific University
Seattle, WA 98119
Web Site
Visit to take the Love Talk Indicator, or purchase the Love Talk book and get the Love Talk Indicator as a bonus!

Love Talk

(Zondervan, 2004)

Marital Misunderstandings? Take it to the 'Love' Doctors

By Laura J. Bagby Producer – I used to quip to my friends in my best Louisiana Cajun-style accent, "Communica-tion is the solu-tion to the situa-tion," punctuating each word for emphasis. I mostly said it just to get a laugh or, at least, a good eye-roll.

All kidding aside, the concept is true, especially in our most intimate interpersonal relationships, like good friendships or long-lasting and happy marriages. And what better time than now to brush up on those skills?

But knowing that communication is key and truly doing it -- now that is the rub... and the reason for the plethora of advice on the subject.

Even couples who have been married for years still find themselves struggling to understand themselves and their spouses.

Take Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, for example. Les is a professor of clinical psychology, while Leslie is a marriage and family therapist. Between the two of them, they have years of experience and a wide base of knowledge as relationship experts. Plus, they have twenty years of wisdom as a married couple. Yet Les and Leslie admit that they, too, struggled to understand each other.

"Even though we knew all of the techniques and the bells and whistles, we still couldn't make it work in our own marriage, and we experienced that with other couples," notes Leslie. "We were really on a quest to crack the code for what it takes to have that amazing connection in marriage through communication."

That's when they decided to write their current book, Love Talk: Speak Each Other's Language Like You Never Have Before (Zondervan, 2004). In it, the Parrotts note the importance of understanding your and your spouse's emotional safety needs, or what they also term personal fear factors. (Don't worry: There is nothing in here about facing heights or eating worms. Leave that to reality TV!)

There are four emotional safety needs, and each person will usually fall into one of these categories, the Parrotts explain. The first need is gaining control of your time. Those who are most influenced by this concept consider time precious, hate wasting time. They often have an urgency about life and the decisions they make. A second emotional safety need is winning approval from others. Those with high approval needs fear doing or saying something that might offend. Instead of operating on facts, they operate based on feelings and can get their feelings hurt easily. The third safety need is maintaining loyalty. Those strong in this category believe that if you say that you are going to be there, that you will be there. They concentrate on commitment, consistency, and the stability of bonds that aren't to be broken. Devotion and predictability are highly valued. The fourth and final need is achieving quality standards. Those who believe in quality want to see things done right and done in the correct way. They play by the rule book and read the instruction manual and fear overlooking something vital. They make decisions cautiously and conservatively and are not as concerned about what other people think.

What authors Les and Leslie realized after researching for their Love Talk book was that they, as in the case of so many couples, had opposing safety needs. Les' main safety need is time. Wanting to be productive, Les tends to press on in conversations with Leslie, often moving forward to make a quick decision, while Leslie, whose main need is for approval, wants to check with everyone else first before making a final decision. While Les is an aggressive problem-solver, Leslie is a passive problem-solver. While Les is facts-oriented, Leslie is feelings-oriented. He is more apt to accept change; she is more loyal and slower to change. He is spontaneous; she is cautious. Without a strong understanding of the emotional safety needs, friction is the likely result, as Les reveals.

"I come off in our conversations like a jerk sometimes," he says, putting it bluntly. "I come off as abrupt and abrasive. With her need for approval, how is she [Leslie] reading that? She is taking it personally. I think that happens in a lot of marriages."

If emotional safety needs are a root of marital conflict, how can couples go about discovering where they stand so that they can truly understand their partner and thus reduce marital strain?

As Les says, "You can't sit in an armchair and think up your answer," so the Parrotts have created the Love Talk Indicator, an instrument that is taken online at It's a 10-minute test that asks four questions and gives results on a continuum to indicate both your and your spouse's talk styles:

  • How do you tackle problems? Do you tackle problems aggressively or passively?
  • How do you influence each other? Do you influence with facts or feelings?
  • How do you react to change? Do you react to change with resistance or acceptance?
  • How do you make decisions? Do you make decisions cautiously or spontaneously?

By seeing individual talk styles and the combined spousal talk styles, couples will be able to gauge the challenges in their communication style, to discover how best to influence their significant other, and to understand their own individual reactions to stress.

Those who fear making themselves vulnerable to attack or manipulation by taking this assessment can put their fears to rest. The intent is never to make the one feel good and the other feel bad or to force either individual to change.

"You don't have to be different than who you are," says Les. "Be who God designed you to be. You don't need to change. You don't need to be a different problem-solver. That is how you are hardwired. The point is to understand yourself -- that will explain why you do the things you do and how you come off to your partner -- and to understand your partner. If you both have that going back and forth, then you begin to speak love talk."

Once those safety needs are recognized, and couples can empathize with each other, they can each create a safe environment for their spouse to communicate. As a bonus, even if only one spouse applies this information to their marriage, marital satisfaction will be positively altered.

"Think of a relationship like a mobile that hangs from the ceiling and is sitting there in perfect rest," says Les. "What happens when you take one little piece of it and move it? The whole thing swings wildly until it finds its new resting place. The same thing happens in a relationship. If one person begins to bring a new dynamic into it, and to understand that person's safety need, all of a sudden, the relationship gets out of whack for a little while until that person realizes, oh, this is how we are relating. More often than not, the person who wasn't motivated at the beginning comes alongside and wants to understand, too."

There are times, the Parrotts are quick to point out, that silence is golden, meaning it is better not to have a conversation, not to talk about it.

As Les humorously points out, "This is probably one of the few communication books that tells you to stop talking. We have got a whole chapter on it!"

Often silence is needed, says Leslie, when couples find themselves in the same predictable conversation or when either partner is feeling particularly fragile. Creating space is optimal when things get overheated.

Beyond determining what is wrong in your relationship, the Parrotts also value finding out what is right. They term this 'talking from your strengths.'

"Most of us don't take inventory of our strengths in our relationship. We are always focused on the things that are irritating to us. So we have an exercise that will help a couple highlight what they do well and then affirm that. We sometimes call it the 'high-five experience,' " Les says.

So, what's the key to a great relationship? According to the Parrotts latest research, it is to know yourself, to know your partner, and to know the right time and the right way to communicate. And with a little help from these relationship experts, you are on your way to taking your marriage to a whole new level.

Check out their Web site

Purchase your copy of Love Talk.

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