Mark Merrill:I love to say that more marriages might survive if people remembered that better often comes after worse. We married for better or worse.And when we walk through those worse times together, those difficulties and challenges together, and come out the other side and the Lord is shining brighter through us, there’s no greater experience in the world than that.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Well, that’s Mark Merrill. And he and his wife Susan join us today on Focus on the Family. And your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us. I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I’m so excited to have Mark and Susan with us today at Focus on the Family. They are good friends who share the same heart and passion as we do here for marriage, for parenting. And I kind of like to say, they’re bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. And that is our goal today, together, to help strengthen you in your marriage. We’re going to talk about that. These will be wonderful ideas to help you better understand your spouse, and especially if you’re having some communication difficulty.
This isn’t the deep stuff if you’re suffering through really traumatic things in your marriage. That’ll be a different program. Today, it’s for those of us who are kind of just feeling like, I’m not on the top of my game when it comes to my marriage. For us guys, that we’re not concentrating on developing our relationship with our wives the way we should be. And maybe for you, wives, you’re thinking OK, I’ve maybe slacked off a bit loving my husband the way he needs to be loved. This is the program for you.
John: It is. And let me just tuck in a mention that we do have counselors here if you are struggling. And we’re a phone call away - 800-A-FAMILY.
Jim: Well, Markand Susan are the founders of Family First, which is on mission to provide parenting and marriage and relational truth to help you love your family well. And they’re speakers and bloggers, and they’ve got a companion set of books that they’ve put out. One isLists to Love by for Busy Wives. And, of course, the companion isLists to Love by for Busy Husbands... And they’ve been married for 28 years. Is that right?
Susan Merrill: Yes.
John: And five children.
Jim: ...That’s proof in the pudding.
Jim: And five children...
Susan: Five children.
Jim: ... (Laughter) That’s definitely proof in the pudding.
Jim: Hey, welcome to both of you. Thanks for...
Susan: Thank you.
Jim: ...Being here.
Susan: Thank you for...
Mark: We are...
Susan: ...Having us.
Mark: We’re grateful. Thank you for having us.
Jim: Hey - um - before we get going, I love this kind of day because this is the tuneup. You know, this is where we can just talk with a light heart in many ways about what’s happening and hopefully be a bit playful with it. Um, in that regard, how did you guys meet? I mean, what - how did God...
Jim: ...Bring you guys together? Let’s go right to it.
Mark: Well, well, Jim, we have different stories, but I’m gonna...
Susan: We do.
Mark: I’m gonna give the executive summary today.
Mark: Mine’s too long.
Jim: OK, good.
Mark: And - uh - the executive summary is we - I was actually in law school, and Susan was an undergrad at University of Florida.
Jim: Susan, you were pursuing a - a legal guy (laughter)?
Mark: Can you believe it?
Susan: No, I wasn’t pursuing him.
Jim: A lawyer.
Susan: Now, that’s where the story might vary.
Mark: I practiced for a while. I’m a recovering attorney now, always recovering. But we met - actually, I remember seeing her, ultimately, at the sorority house. And I thought, boy, that girl is cute. She was doing this barbershop quartet number.
Mark: And I just looked at her, and I said, I need to know who she is. She just looks wholesome and cute and wonderful. And so that’s where it all started. But, you know - and so, after we met, what really was attractive, for me, to Susan was that she was just lively. She had so much character and so much excitement. She was spontaneous and creative. And they say that before marriage, opposites attract. And after marriage is opposites attack. What was appealing was now annoying and...
Mark: And you know how many couples just went yup, yup, yup.
Mark: And one of the things that was really interesting is I had this expectation, and I thought Susan would be organized. I thought she would be disciplined, all the things that I was. And I - I expected her to be more like me. And so those early years in our marriage, I became somewhat critical of her because I wanted her to be more like me. .And so she started to become more like me. And guess what? I didn’t like it. I was real - it was really bothering me that she was becoming more like me.
Jim: That’s pretty interesting.
Mark: And so I - the - I had to have a confrontation. And the biggest confrontation I had to have wasn’t with Susan - it was with myself.
Mark: I needed to change the way - I think I needed to change our expectations for our marriage.
Jim: You know, to help the listener, you know, they’re probably connecting somewhat, but give us an example of that critical spirit that you had, the control that you were exerting that was frustrating her. But you’re trying to be the good wife...
Jim: ...Be the right spouse. So you’re changing...
Jim: ...As you said in the opening. You were changing who you were, Susan, to meet Mark’s needs. People can identify...
Jim: ...With that. But...
Jim: But that created frustration, right?
Susan: I could give examples early in the marriage, especially because we got married and literally, two weeks short of a year later, had our first child. So you went from a couple who was out there doing law and banking, and this and that, and going, going, going. And all of a sudden, I’m a stay-at-home mom.
And so where I was like, whoa, this is going to be so much fun. And we’re going to play, and we had another one right after that. And we are playing, and I’m doing manipulatives. And we’re creating. And it’s a hot mess - a fun hot mess. Great for me because I’m thinking - and great for my girls because they are exploring, and I was very much into child development. And I’m a researcher.
Jim: You were the super mom. I can see it right now.
Susan: Oh, we are just having so much fun...
Susan: ...And enjoying every minute. Like, I did not have a struggle making that transition. I loved being a creative mom. But Mark would come home. And it - and, you know, dinner probably wouldn’t be ready. And I’d be so excited, like, look what we made today and...
Jim: Look at this mess...
Jim: ...I - we made today.
Mark: ...Volcanoes, and so we’d...
Mark: ...Eat on the patio.
Susan: And I’m like...
Susan: ...Pulling him into it, going come join us. This is so awesome. And he’s more like, OK, wha - wha - this is too much chaos for me.
Jim: OK, now most guys can identify with that. We won’t admit it. It’s politically incorrect. But did you ever come home and say, what have you been doing all day...
Mark: Oh, yeah.
Jim: ...look at this place...
Mark: And my - and maybe I didn’t say that...
Mark: ...With my words because I was trained by my...
Jim: Oh, you were smart enough.
Mark: ...Focus on the Family training and all the radio shows...
Mark: ...I’ve listened to back in the ‘80s. But it was something that I thought in my mind, like, you know, I’ve been working so hard all day. And really, I don’t have, you know, great expectations. But I’d like some dinner, and I want some organization...
Mark: ...And, you know, basically, everybody come greet me at the door and oh, worthy father, you are home.
Mark: And it just doesn’t work like that. And really, I really started squashing Susan’s spirit there. And that fun-loving, creative, wonderful, wonderful woman, I was snuffing it out. And so that’s where I really had to come to grips with this and really seek her forgiveness and just say, Lord - just to cry out - I’ve been so wrong in this. I want you to be you. And so eventually - it took some time, but she came around. And here we have my...
Jim: Twenty-Eight years.
Mark: ...Wonderful wife...
Mark: ...Of 28 years.
Jim: Now, that’s fantastic. But, you know, a lot of people, they may not have come to that realization that I’m squelching or crushing my spouse, no matter what the direction - male to female or vice versa. How does a person begin to get that awareness?
Susan: I would say, for me, I finally found the words to say, when you come home, or when we interact, I feel like there is a flavor of the week - an ice cream flavor of the week - that I need to be. Every week, you’re working on me in some area. And you’re saying, OK, this week, can you do the laundry this week? Or this week, when I come, can dah, dah, dah. And I am a pleaser. And what robbed my joy in our marriage and in our family was that I couldn’t please in every way every week.
Susan: And that was debilitating to you...
Susan: It was debilitating.
Jim: ...I’m sure, depressing.
Susan: Yes. And - and so I - I said to that, I have to understand - what is the big win for you? If I could just do...
Susan: ...Three things for you, what would it be? And I will try to meet those three. And then you have to let me - um - you know, just be the person I am.
Jim: That, right there, is powerful - just the three things. Can you help me? Man, that is - I’m thinking I need to do that with Jean.
Mark: What really...
Jim: What are three things I can do?
Mark: What really resonated with me was not ‘you never do this, you always do this, I don’t like when you do this’. It was her expressing her feelings to me and says here’s how it makes me feel. And then she gave me this wonderful word-picture - this flavor of the week - that there’s always something that you’re critical of. There - you’re never satisfied with anything. And I was looking for my happiness and my satisfaction in Susan rather than in the one who created Susan and I, the Lord.
And - um - so I had to come to a reality of, you know what? I got - I’ve got to really focus on what’s important here and what are those two or three things that are important to me. I shared those with her, and then I had to start letting go all these other things that were maybe a one, two or three and focus on the eight, nines and 10s. And so actually, we do that sometimes...
Susan: We do.
Mark: ...Together. We’ll say...
Susan: Is this a one to you?
Mark: ...Is that an eight, or is that a nine? What is that on a scale of 1 to 10?
Jim: That’s good communication.
Mark: How important? And so...
Mark: ...Now, not everything can be a 10. But now I do throw away those other things, like even now, the bathroom drawers are still pulled out and open. And I’m organized.
Susan: Stop telling...
Mark: I want everything in its place.
Susan: Stop telling my stuff.
Mark: But you know what?
Jim: I’m with ya!
Mark: I let it - I got to let it go. It’s not a - it’s not an...
Susan: It’s not a 10.
Mark: ...Eight, nine or 10. And so I’m just focused on two, three things.
John: Well, Mark and Susan Merrill are our guests today on Focus on the Family.Lists To Love By- there’s a copy for busy wives and a copy for busy husbands. Contact us. Stop by focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 1-800-A-FAMILY and you can get a copy. I’ve got to ask - so even if you have this kind of a conversation, you know, just three things and you make that mental reset, how long does it take before that becomes kind of a natural part of the rhythms of your marriage? Because there are expectations that, there, I said my three things, and now we’re all good, right?
Susan: So successful marriages do consistently what average marriages do occasionally. And that’s the trick. And that’s why the structure of these books are simple short chapters. So you can even peruse the table of contents and go, OK, these are the five topics that are really tough for us, so we’re just going to work on those til they become a habit. And that’s the point. We’re so crazy busy today, we’re not taking the time to develop those habits that love each other well.
Jim: Let’s get into some of those lists, some of your favorites. Uh, this is from your heart, and you’re speaking to those married couples, which you do at Family First so often.
Jim: So let’s start with your favorites, Mark. Where - where do you find yourself in - in this great list of lists?
Mark: Well, I have several favorites. And - but one of them is - three keys to unlock the door to intimacy in marriage, which is - I think is such an important one. And that’s what - people are really - they’re so lonely today. And you and I have talked about that, Jim, where people are lonely, and they’re lost, and they’re longing for something more and something better in their relationship. But they don’t know how to find it and where to find it.
And we know one thing that if they don’t have that foundation of trust - trusting the Lord, but also trusting one another - in that relationship, then they are not going to be traveling down a - a very smooth road in the future. There’s going to be a lot of bumps and a lot of potholes. So that trust issue is the key to intimacy.
Jim: Yeah. And when you talk about that loneliness, there’s been lots of articles appearing in various publications around the country right now about the loneliness in marriage. Why do you think that’s occurring? What’s - what’s happening in marriages today, generally, that create that loneliness?
Mark: I think part of that - and Susie (ph) might chime in on this as well - but in theLists To Love Bybooks we talk - it’s for busy husbands, and there’s one, also, for busy wives. And I think busyness leads to neglect. And there have - I can tell you that each and every one of us, this week, have spoken to somebody who said - you said, hey, how you doing, John? And they said, oh, I’m doing fine. I’m doing fine. I’m just crazy busy. Everyone - we almost where it is a badge of...
Mark: ...Honor. But it leads to neglecting our spouse, and we become the two proverbial ships that pass in the night. And then we start becoming lonely because we have no fellowship, just like if we’re not convening and spending time in prayer in - in God’s Word with the Father, we experience that loneliness without Him and the same in a marriage relationship. But we’re not really spending time and just sitting down and talking one on one.
Jim: So that’s one of the lists - talk one on one together.
Mark: Yes, yes...
Jim: And what would be...
Mark: ...No question about it.
Jim: ...Another example of how to close that loneliness gap?
Susan: I think loving well starts with empathy and time. And so one of, you know, the different things we talk about in all the lists is are you sharing time together? So if I am exhausted from working, and I come home, and Mark has had something deeply hurtful happen to him, and he starts talking about it, but I’ve got my to-do list on, I’m not going to empathize with him. I’m going to be like, OK, suck it up...
Jim: (Laughter) Right.
Susan: ...You know. And that’s what creates that loneliness then because, although I may, with my eyes and my face pretend to listen, I’m really not entering deeply. I’m thinking, does he know what I have to do?
Mark: And that’s why it’s so important, Jim and John, that - that too - when you’re lonely in marriage, I believe because that busyness is always there - um - you know, stealing - uh - your time like a thief to really make sure that we’re creating a - I call it a ‘stop-doing’ list. And that - we - how many things that we all four of us are doing that are bad things? Well, hopefully none.
Mark: But they’re - it’s a stop-doing list of good things that aren’t God’s best things. Oh - I always say only do what only God would have you do - only do what only God would have you do. What are the most important things that He would have us do in our marriage relationship, in our life, with our kids? And then create a stop-doing list of other things that may be good but may not be the best that God has for us.
Jim: What did that list look like? I get it. And I try to do that. What did the list look like for you when you started to take that inventory?
Mark: When I took the inventory, I saw that I was serving on some different committees. I was serving on some additional boards and I serve on one board today and that’s it - at Family First. And I took off all those other things that were wonderful things in good organizations and even things - get this - at church that may not be our highest and best use. Instead of doing 10 things at church, maybe there’s one thing that we should be focused in on.
Jim: Those are good points.
Susan: And I think for women, you know, don’t feel like you have to do everything for your kids. A - even in the home.
Jim: Say that again.
Susan: Don’t feel like you have to do - we really do so much today for our children. And then we also do so much that we feel everyone else wants us to do, like, your kids have to be in sports. They have to learn to play musical instruments. They have to do this, they - no, they don’t. Because at the end of the day - we have grown children now - we know this.
Jim: Give me the things to do about developing that intimacy. In fact, you refer to it - uh - kind of flirtatious - creative ways to flirt.
Susan: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: And so every guy’s ear just opened up right now, right?
Susan: Yeah, so...
Jim: So what were you getting at?
Mark: I want to hear these things.
Jim: Yeah, yeah, there you go (laughter).
Mark: Let’s do it.
Susan: Well, we have five kids. And when we adopted two and just went from three to five quickly because we adopted a 9 and a 12-year-old, my days went into overtime big time. And that’s where I hit my some things I need to say no to. But, Mark came to me to talk one day and said, you know, I miss my wife. And, you know, you’re the fun in our marriage. You’re the whatever. And I realized I just wasn’t giving him the look anymore. I wasn’t giving him the lip, the tease, the cute over the table in front of the kids going “Gross!” “Honey, you know, I want you.”
Jim: If you don’t hear your kids saying gross, there’s not...
Jim: ...Enough flirtation...
Susan: ...You’re not flirting.
Jim: ...Going on.
Susan: You’re not flirting.
Jim: That’s kind of fun though. But what...
Susan: It’s fun.
Jim: What crushes that desire, particularly for wives? Uh, and speak brutally honest, Susan.
Jim: What takes away from the desire to do that? It is so important.
Susan: Yeah. Exhaustion.
Susan: Again, we’re running on empty. And we forget why we started this journey. We forget that I was madly in love with you and what it felt like, and that at the end did this game with our kids, it’s going to be you and I again. And at the end of the day, is there not the highest calling for us is to love one another. It’s the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor. And I firmly believe that, in God’s eyes, my closest neighbor is my husband and my child, a close second, but my husband. So how I treat him first and foremost and the intimacy that we have that other couples can see in us and draws them to marriage, you know, how many more marriages would we have if the world could see, as believers, how in love we are and how we’re fulfilling that commandment?
Jim: Well, I appreciate that. You know, someone once described a woman’s heart like a rose. And we can tend to not water, as husbands, water that rose. And over time, it just shrivels up and dies - that emotion inside them to want to be flirtatious, to want to be- having the fun that they experienced when they were dating or when they were first married. So I got to turn to you, Mark, and say what do we do, as husbands, that we’re not watering our wives’ heart roses that cause them to no longer really notice who we are? And we, as guys, let’s face it, we want to be talked to in that way.
Jim: You know, stroke my ego.
Jim: You love me because I’m super strong or super good-looking (laughter) or whatever...
Mark: I love that.
Jim: ...Whatever we think of ourselves.
Mark: Jim, Jim, let me kind of take us to a deeper level on this answer because I could give you some superficial answers. But here’s the bottom line is if we’re to love our children well, I have got to love Susan well - love her as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for to make her holy. And we know that, right? - as believers. Uh, but if I’m going to - how do I love Susan well? Well, the only way to love Susan well is to love God well because God is love. And we first loved because He loved us first, right? And so we are only able to love our spouses well if we love God well.
So ultimately, what I found creates the greatest intimacy, the greatest joy in our relationship that has even, just in the last year, has gone deeper for us, is just to be reading God’s Word together. She and I were reading the Psalms together in the morning. I mean, some people would say what? You did what? We’re reading the Psalms together and the joy of the Lord and what God is doing in our lives and then praying together with one another. And what greater way to create intimacy with one another than to be - have that intimacy with the Father together.
Susan: And if you’re not at that point, remember, we’re 28 years into it. And this is what we do. We study it. In the chapter, one of the lists is six things you must know about your husband. And obviously, there’s a counter chapter to six things you must know about your wife. But we give practical things like, what is their love language? What’s his biggest dream? What spells romance for him? Nail those simple things down.
And, you know, at the end of - every chapter’s only four pages. At the end, there’s questions to nail those down. And then go back and remember, you know, I just don’t feel close right now. Let me go back to what’s his love language, again? How can I create that?
Jim: Do you ever encounter fear that if I do that then I’m accountable to deliver? Do you know what I’m saying? In other words, it’s interesting. Sometimes, we don’t want to tread into those waters because now I’m aware of what the need of my spouse is.
Susan: I would say if that’s where you are, if that’s what you’re feeling right now, conquer it now because, you know, your highest calling in your marriage is to be one. And you can’t be one if you don’t intimately know them. And so you’re on a path then that I would be fearful, again, then, for your marriage.
Jim: Well, and I love that, and I support that 100 percent. I just - I’m thinking of folks who - uh - you know, might shy away from wanting to do the hard work.
Susan: Right. It’s hard...
Jim: And it’s better to...
Susan: ...And heart work.
Jim: ...Live superficial - it’s easier to live superficially.
Mark: It is. But then, we have a choice here. Live superficially, and then you’re never going through those challenges and difficulties together, or you can have that deeper relationship where you experience this great intimacy and this great joy with one another. And - uh - I love to say that more marriages might survive if people remembered that better often comes after worse.We married for better or worse.
And when we walk through those worse times together, those difficulties and challenges together, and come out the other side and the Lord is shining brighter through us - uh - there’s no greater experience in the world than that.
Jim: Well, that is so good, and I appreciate that. I want to end with another little section of the book where you talked about five powerful words for your marriage. Let me just touch on them, and you come back and fill in a bit. One was respectful words for each other, affirming words toward each other, caring words, encouraging words, appreciative words. I think that is so critical, and I love ending here because I think our tongue, as the Scripture says, carries a lot of weight and can either kill or lift up. And that’s probably going back to the rose analogy. Uh, we, as husbands, can often use our tongues to kill the spirit in our wives and vice versa.
Jim: Um, speak to those five.
Mark: Yeah,the tongue is the most powerful part of our body. I mean, James clearly tells us about that. And we really need to chain it, tame it and train it, as I like to say. And so words are extremely, extremely important. And I’m a wordsmith. And so those respectful words are important. Affirming words are important. I remember Truett Cathy, our friend...
Mark: ...Founder of Chick-Fil-A. Truett once said to me, Mark, how do you really know someone needs encouragement? I was like, I don’t know, Truett. How? He said, if they’re breathing.
Mark: Those affirming words, those words of encouragement, I think are some of the most important words that we can provide to our spouse and to our children because, you know what? - everybody needs encouragement, especially in today’s world. There’s so much going on. And we need to encourage one another.
Susan: And encouraging words is my love language. And, Mark, if you go back to the beginning of the segment, his critical spirit was exactly what the enemy was using...
Jim: To crush you.
Susan: ...So you got to use - lift each other up
Jim: Well, what a great, great reminder. Mark and Susan, this has been really good. I hope people will resonate with this message and will connect and get a copy of your two books -Lists To Love By For Busy Husbandsand the sameFor Busy Wives. I mean, this is such good content. This is such good content. Let me ask you, how has Focus on the Family helped you in years past? You mentioned that briefly, but I love that story, so it helps us feel like we’ve actually done something.
Susan: You have.
Mark: Well, I can tell you, for us, for both of us starting even before we married in 1987 - and we were listening to the broadcast. And we were consuming the books and the resources from Focus on the Family. Then we got married in ‘89, continued to do that. Our children grew up on Adventures in Odyssey and - uh - that still - uh - my daughter was telling me the other day how that - she still remembers all the Bible verses and the stories that she learned from that. So it has not only impacted Susan and my life in a huge way but also our children, as they’ve learned to grow in the Lord because of the-- God working through the incredible work of you guys and Focus on the Family.
Susan: And another long story, but it is the impetus for starting our ministry.
Mark: Family First.
Susan: Focus on the Family.
Jim: Think of that investment. So you, the listeners, the supporters to the ministry, this is when you invest here. Man, think of the multiplying factor that you’ve had just in Mark and Susan’s life as they tapped into Focus on the Family; started their own Family First ministry right there in Florida. And it’s having great success. You do a radio spot for secular radio, and it’s heard by about five million people.
Jim: That is awesome.
Mark: All across the nation. So we’re reaching through that - an All Pro Dad program and iMOM. And so, yeah, that’s very encouraging. But I have to tell you what you guys are doing - what the Lord is doing through you at Focus on the Family is just amazing to me. And it’s so encouraging for Susan and I to see what God has done here through the years.
Jim: Well, and I appreciate that. But, man, be a part of this, as you listen. Uh, you know, in God’s economy, we’re all connected. I know so many wonderful supporters that, you know, get up, go to work every day, vocationally doing what they’re doing - maybe they’re an attorney, or in finance - I love finance people, by the way.
Jim: But the fact of the matter is you’re working hard, and you’re - uh - supporting your church, you’re supporting groups like Family First, like Focus on the Family. And I do believe together we are making a big impact on people and helping their marriages stay together and helping them do better - uh - for really the witness before people about who our Jesus is and who God is. And that’s what matters.
So if you can, give us a gift today. And our way of saying thank you will be to send you - uh - one of the books -Lists To Love By For Busy HusbandsorBusy Wives. And that will be our way of saying thank you.
John: And you can donate and find out more about the books and a CD or download of our conversation at focusonthefamily.com/radio, or call 1-800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Mark and Susan, again, thanks for being with us. Let me end with this- one phrase or one word for husbands, Mark, and the same for wives, Susan. What would you say, Mark? I’m struggling tonight. I haven’t had this kind of relationship with my spouse. I’ve blown it. I’ve crushed her. I haven’t watered the rose in her heart. What can I do tonight that’s going to be different around the dinner table?
Mark: The word that came to my mind initially was persevere. Marriage is hard work. It’s heart work, as well. And just press into God and watch him work through you and into your life. And then just love, love, love your wife well, even when she’s unlovable. And the same for the wives. Love your husband, even when he’s unlovable because that’s how Christ loved us. Love them with an unfailing love, like the unfailing love we receive from our Father.
Jim: Wow. That is well said. Susan, I don’t know if you can add to that, but...
Susan: Don’t be overwhelmed.
Jim: That’s good.
Susan: There are simple steps you can take to love well. And it will grow and grow and grow. Do not be discouraged.
Jim: Great advice. Thanks for being here.
Mark: We’re grateful
John: Well, we’re so glad to have had the Merrills on today and join us again next time. We’re going to be talking with Michael Anderson and Dr. Timothy Johanson about common mistakes that we parents make with our kids.
Michael Anderson: Threats are things that are vague, they tend not to have a lot of meat behind them, “you have to do this, or else”-- well, what does ‘or else’ mean?
End of Teaser
John: On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire Focus on the Family team, thanks for listening and be with us next timeas we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.