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How Your Differences Strengthen Your Marriage

Original Air Date 05/06/2013

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Family physician Dr. Walt Larimore and his wife, Barb, discuss how God designed the unique differences between men and women for our benefit, and how understanding and appreciating those differences can improve your marriage.

Episode Transcript

Opening:

Excerpt:

Barbara: I like black coffee.

Chuck: Sugar and cream.

Barbara: I don’t mind sour things.

Chuck: I have the world’s biggest sweet tooth.

Barb: I’m a saver.

Chuck: I’m a spender.

Barb: I’m a planner.

Chuck: I’m impulsive.

Barb: When I’m lost, I’ll ask directions quickly.

Chuck: Asking directions is a sign of weakness. (Laughter)

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: If you ever feel like that couple, married and in love with each other, but there are some really significant differences between you, this is the “Focus on the Family” broadcast for you. We’re gonna be exploring how those differences can actually strengthen your relationship and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, I’d venture to say that God purposely designed the differences that we face in our marriages. It’s not to frustrate us, everybody, but to allow husbands and wives to complement each other and we don’t celebrate that often enough.

John: That what? We don’t celebrate the frustration getting ‘us?

Jim: The differences (Laughter), you know that completing factor. I think it’s an amazing fingerprint of God on our spirits, on our souls, the fact that we’re drawn to what we don’t possess. If we’re extroverts, typically you’re drawn to an introvert and vice versa. I don’t know how He works the milk chocolate, dark chocolate into that (Laughter), but I mean, it’s amazing. Jean and I on those key things are just so different and we need to have a lighter touch, not be so frustrated with it, but to celebrate it.

John: Well, you’re a different person now than you were when you first met Jean.

Jim: It’s amazing. Jean has really, I would say in the right way, has rounded off some of my rough edges and I think that’s part of it. It makes you more like Christ. Isn’t that the goal; to be more selfless, to be less self-centered and less focused on yourself and more focused on those around you, hopefully, your spouse, No. 1. And today we’re gonna talk about that and all those fun things in the differences in your marriage and to understand how we use those differences to build a stronger marriage. We’re returning to a program featuring two great friends of the ministry--Dr. Walt and Barb Larimore.

John: And it makes sense to do so as we continue to celebrate our 40th anniversary. And so, it seems a real natural fit to revisit this program with the Larimore’s. When we recorded this, we had some of our Focus Leadership Institute students in the audience. These are college students that came to the ministry and spent summers with us. You’re gonna hear their reactions, as well in this conversation. Walt and Barb Larimore now on “Focus on the Family.”

Body:

Jim: Walt and Barb, you guys were here in the 2000s. You spent time here. You were the official physician in residence here at Focus on the Family, Walt. And we so appreciated that service. And in that, it’s a great place to start when we talk about, you know, the brain chemistry. Your book, His Brain, Her Brain highlights those differences and those distinctions. For so long the culture has been telling us we’re all the same, you know. Biologically there’s no difference. There is, isn’t there?

Walt Larimore: Well, there’s no question about it. One of the leading feminists in our country had a situation where she decided as a single mom to adopt a child and she adopted a little boy. And she decided she was gonna raise him in a gender-neutral, peaceful green home, which she did.

But when he got up to about 2 1/2, 3 years of age, one day she made him a peanut butter sandwich. And he chewed it in the shape of a gun and shot her several times with it.

Jim: Oh.

Walt: And she said in a very honest editorial, she said, “The only people who believe little boys and little girls come out the same are people who are childless.” (Laughter)

Jim: Oh, it’s probably true.

Walt: Because we do see the differences not only from birth, but in the womb.

Jim: Well, let’s start from the beginning. I think it’s a great place to start. When you’re in your mother’s womb, Walt, you’re the physician, what is happening chemically to the little boy and the little girl that is different? Something happens even there.

Walt: On, no question. In fact, from conception through oh, the first six or eight weeks, the little unborn baby is much more female than male, irrespective of whether it’s gonna be a little boy or a little girl. And then there’s a surge of hormones that occurs, about six or eight weeks. In the little boy, it’s a surge of testosterone. In the little girl, it’s a surge of estrogen. And that testosterone surge has a dramatic effect.

For example, it makes his little developing bones much harder. So, little boys [are] born with harder bones than a little girl. And there’s one bone that is the hardest in him as he develops and it’s his head. (Laughter) He’s literally ...

Jim: This is just too good to be true.

Walt: It’s literally born hard-headed (Laughter) and then another thing that the testosterone does is, that it makes his muscles more active. And then in the brain, there’s a dramatic effect where the testosterone literally dissolves, Jim the connection between the left brain and right brain. It’s got abig long name. It’s called the corpus callosum.But that dissolving of the corpus callosum, 30 to 50 percent of it’s gone in a little boy; makes him when he grows up much more focused, much more segmented. We like to talk about his brain being like a chest of drawers. And he’s got a box for everything, but he can only operate in one box at a time.

Because her connection’s been preserved, she did not have that testosterone. She can multitask much, much better than he can.

Jim: So, she just has one big drawer (Laughter) and everything’s in there.

Walt: Well, it’s all [connected].-

John: It’s connected.

Jim: I’m in trouble now. Jean’s gonna get me for that one. (Laughter)-

Barb Larimore: All connected.

Walt: And that has wonderful advantages, but it does make you different. One of the most wonderful ones we learned about was what I like to call “the nothing box,” that guys literally have a box that they can go into in their brain and their brain does nothing.

Jim: It’s a great place.

Walt: Barb for years would ask me, “What are you thinkin’ about?” And I would say ...

Barb: He would say, “Nothing.” (Laughter) And I would think, well, let’s see, what have I done to make him want to avoid a conversation with me?

John: (Chuckling) Oh, yes.

Barb: You know, and you start gettin’ in that little [negative] thinking, which is totally unproductive.

Jim: So, really you’re over-thinking it.

Barb: Yes, and I thought he was just lyin’ to me and tryin’ to put me off.

Walt: So, there [are] these researchers in Pennsylvania, a male-female team. And they were part of the research community that was finding out through functional brain scans, functional CT-Scans and functional MRI’s, that there are these amazing differences between boys and girls, men and women. So, one of the experiments they did, this was hilarious, they brought in a bunch of young college women, volunteers. And they injected the dye that would show up in their brains into what area of the brain was active. And they said, “Think about nothing.” And they say, “One, two three, nothing.”

And then they would turn on the machine and it would go, nng, nng, nng, nng., the right brain, the left brain, the forebrain, the deep brain--

Jim: All firing.

Walt: --nng, nng, nng, nng, thinkin’ about nothing. And they thought, well, that’s interesting. And then they brought in the boys. So, the first boy got in the machine. They did the injection and the female who was the lead of the team said, “Okay, I want you to think about nothing.” And she went in and she told the technician, she said, “Turn on the monitor.” And he said, “It is on.” (Laughter) And there was nothing.

John: Nothing.

Jim: Literally nothing.

Walt: Literally nothing and so, Barb used to [say], “What are you thinkin’ about?” I’d say, “Nothing.” She thought, “You lyin’ dog.” (Chuckling) But that can become a very divisive thing if she doesn’t know I have that nothing box. And now Jim, the research is showing the average woman, not even the great woman, but the average woman can hear and independently process seven different audio signals at one time. So, she can be talking on the phone, listening to “Focus on the Family” on the radio, listening to the TV in the other room, listening to one child in another room, another child in another room and the husband in the garage and she’s processing it all at one time without problems.

Jim: That sounds exhausting just thinkin’ about that. (Laughing)

John: Yeah, I’m thinking of going to the garage (Laughter).

Walt: Now his brain, the average guy, not the exceptional guy, the average guy can listen to and process one audio input at a time. If you don’t know that, that could be very destructive. A number of years ago, we were driving to the airport. And so, we were listening to the radio. And Barb started to talk to me about something and I turned the radio off. And she said ...

Barb: You really don’t have to do that. (Laughter)

Walt: And for her brain, I didn’t, ‘cause she could listen to the radio and talk.

Jim: Right.

Walt: And I said, “No, I do have to do that.” Well, that used to cause division, anger. Now that we understand the brain difference, she realizes when I turn that off, I’m honoring her, not dishonoring her. So, it’s one of hundreds of examples we have in the book that couples can look at. And Jim, some of these male differences, female members of our audience will recognize that in themselves and some of the female differences, some of the guys will say [the same].

Jim: Right, these are general rules.

Walt: But as a general rule, we’re different when we marry and if we recognize those differences and understand ‘em, it actually strengthens us.

Jim: Barb, you’ve seen this play out very practically, because you like to mentor younger couples.

Barb: Uh-hm.

Jim: So, you probably have seen this. How have you seen it be destructive in those newlywed couples?

Barb: Well, newlyweds think that they have to spend every waking minute with each other. (Laughter) And you know, yes, you want to, because that oxytocin level in her brain is soaring very high and it’s a “feel good” chemical.But where you see all of this come together is when they start nitpicking at each other.

Jim: About the differences.

Barb: About their differences, because they’re spending so much time together.

Jim: Give us some examples, just so we can catch it.

Barb: Well, you know, she might be the “neatnik” of the two and he might leave his clothes from the time he comes in the door, from the door (Laughter) to the bathroom, to the bedroom to the den, you know.

Jim: Ouch, okay.

Barb: He doesn’t pick up after himself.

Jim: Does that hit you, John?

Barb: -- pick up after himself.

John: I’m not gonna go there, Jim.

Jim: Yeah, come on (Laughter) though, we need some real-life.I’ll go there then, ‘cause this is one of the things for (Chuckling) Jean and I, because I keep kinda tidy piles of the--

Barb:Piles.

Jim: --the shorts, just you know, the pants I wore one day and they’re not dirty. Now I’ve got a pile for that.

Barb: Yes.

Jim: So, and if it was the T-shirt I wore from 3 to 8 o’clock last night, you know, I can wear that one again. I’m actually thinking about laundry and all that.

Barb: Uh-hm.

Jim: So, I’ve got that pile. Then I’ve got those things, yeah, the shorts I wore on the weekend and I helped stain the outside of the house and they’re kinda dirty, but next time I stain, I can wear those again. These piles drive Jean nuts. Obviously she doesn’t know my categorizations. (Chuckling)

Barb: Right, right. And so, you know, you do get a person like Jean, who is very orderly and then, you come on the scene. (Laughter) And it--

Jim: Drives her crazy.

Barb: --really just rubs a lot of what’s going on in her psyche.

Jim: Well, you know, Barb, I’m actually pretty orderly on some things, like the toothpaste tube. But I have been married 26 years and that one is still (Chuckling) one that Jean and she won’t put the cap back on that thing for some reason. And she says, “Well, I’m just gonna turn around and use it in the morning.

Barb: Well, and you know the easy solution to that is to buy two tubes of toothpaste. (Laughter)

Jim: You know, I never thought of that (Laughter).

John: But you’ll see that one with the cap off. (Laughter)

Jim: But now we want to share (Laughter). But that’s probably more personality oriented than gender specific. Would that be fair?

Walt: Exactly, but another one would be odors. Women, their ability to discern odors and fragrances is almost 10 times greater than the average guy.

Barb: And it’s especially when they’re pregnant.

Program Note:

John: Well, you’re listening to our guests today on “Focus on the Family,” Dr. Walt Larimore, his wife, Barb. I’m John Fuller. Our host is Jim Daly and there is something that I could disclose at this point, I guess in the conversation, Jim.

End of Program Note

Jim: I think it’s time, John, whatever that might be. (Chuckling)

John: Well, I mean, so that this difference, that you lay out in the book, His Brain, Her Brain and communication, one of the frustrating things that we have is, Dena will look at me and just say, “Can’t you say something while we’re talking?” And I’m just thinking, no, I’m letting it play out here. You have a need to express and I’m not gonna try to direct or step in too soon. Is that me avoiding a fight or is that me just being a guy?

Walt: It’s you being a guy. In fact, we had to spend two chapters just talking about not only the communication differences between men and women, [but also] the processing differences between men and women. For example, it takes the average male with a certain stress, seven times longer to process that than it does the average female. And so, it’s critical to understand that difference.

John: And I can share that stat with her, right?

Barb: That’s not gonna win any brownie points.

John: Oh, we’ll try.

Walt: Well, but even more important is for her to understand how, because her brain is designed to verbally process, her verbal centers, her hearing centers and her emotional processing centers are very highly connected. His emotional processing center isn’t connected to his verbal processing at all. It’s actually connected to [what is] called the spinothalamic tracts. It’s his activity tracts. When he is stressed, he either needs to get alone or he needs to go out and do something.

Jim: Chop wood.

Walt: Exactly.

Barb: Absolutely.

Walt: Go fishing, go for a run. When she’s stressed, she needs to talk and most typically, to someone who’s a female. She cannot process without that talking. In fact, the data shows that women prisoners who are put into solitary confinement are much more likely to die quickly than men in solitary confinement, ‘cause they cannot emotionally process without that.

Jim: Ah.

Walt: So, in our marriage, there was a situation a couple years ago where a local ministry had a bunch of staff in a van and the van wrecked and five or six of the staff were killed and a couple of others were in the hospital in the ICU. And when we heard that, my response to that was, I just needed some time to think about it, to pray about it, to process it. Barb called her best friend, Penny and we used to get mad about that. Like, why can’t she talk to me? Why does she have to talk to Penny? Or why does he go away? Why can’t he talk to me? Now we understand that. But even better are the ways that Barb has taught me to talk.

Jim: Hm.

Barb: You know, I started thinkin’ about his office situation in seeing patients, that if somebody wants to see him, they make an appointment. So, I thought one day, you know, I’m gonna try this. I made an appointment with Walt. I had him look me in the eye. The TV was not on. The radio was not on. There were no children around. And I just went to him and just said, “Walt, could I have a little of your time tonight?” So, I set an appointment. And then I told him I only needed 10 minutes, so that let him off the hook. He knew that I would not be talking forever and ever and ever.

Walt: You set a limit for me.

Barb: I did set a limit.

Walt: I mean, I thought I could tolerate 10. (Laughter)

Jim: I’m not goin’ there.

Barb: And then I gave him an agenda item.

Jim: Okay.

Barb: You know a patient will make an appointment for a specific need. So, I made the appointment and told him up front the time limit and what I needed to talk about. And you know what? He felt like a free man.

Jim: No, it works. Jean has done that for us. I mean, maybe she read His Brain, Her Brain. I’ll ask her tonight. She got it.

Walt: Women do this naturally. But when women are parenting a little boy, they’ll tell their little boy, “Look at me. Look at my eyes,” because they know he’s so distracted. With their little girls, they don’t have to do that, because she can multitask. And remember how we talked earlier about, he has his boxes? It’s very hard for him to transition from one box to another box. It takes a little time to do that.

Jim: He needs to close the one box.

Barb: Yeah, trying.

Walt: So, you’ll hear moms do this. They’ll say, “Jimmy, 30 minutes till bedtime.” “Twenty minutes till bedtime.” “Ten minutes till bedtime.” With their little girls, they tend not to do that, because it takes him time to get from that one box to another. And Barb, recognizing that difference said, if I’m down writing, [will do this].

Barb: Yeah, truth be told, I still have to practice that with him.

Walt: Yeah.

Barb: If I have dinner on the stove and almost ready to serve, I have to go downstairs and say, “Walt, 15 minutes till dinner. Do you think you can, you know, close it up, wrap it up?” And then I’ll go down five minutes later and then, “Five minutes till dinner where I’m serving, whether you’re there or not.” (Laughter) But the freeing thing is, in teaching him how to talk to me, training him in that process, is that I let him know up front whether I want him to fix it or if I want him to help me think through solutions.

Jim: So, you’re actually opening the box he needs to go to.

Barb: Yes.

Walt: He’s built to fix things. That’s part of how God designed him, to lead, to fix, to conquer, to conquest, to be in projects, to do. He’s not nearly as relational as she is. And so, for her to say, “Walt, I want to talk. You don’t need to fix it.” And then I don’t have to think about, how do I fix this? Because if I do and she doesn’t need that, that just angers her. That pushes her away. That doesn’t respond to her heart, which is what she needs me to do.

Jim: Now Walt, I’m tryin’ to get this straight. Since we started, we said boys basically come out hard-headed and stinky. (Laughter) And we’re kinda adding on to that, but generally, we have to learn so many things. And it takes patience on the wife’s part to understand that.

Walt: Uh-hm.

Jim: Again, parenting,it applies, as well. And I see that everyday ‘cause of my two boys. They’re young and Jean has developed that vernacular, which is, “Ten minutes from now,” five minutes from now.

Barb: Uh-hm.

Jim: And it is interesting. Here’s the one thing that I’ve noticed though also in that environment in parenting particularly, when you’re parenting a boy. I think a mom can feel frustration because she sees it as disrespect, that the little boy is not responding. But he truly, in my opinion as I’ve observed it and being a boy, we’re not payin’ attention to you.

Barb: Uh-hm.

Jim: You know, you’re talkin’ to me, but my mind is thinking about super heroes. And you know what? If I go outside right now, I could play with [whatever], you know, you’re out there. And mom’s going, “Wah, wah.” I think that’s why Peanuts cartoons caught it pretty well with the adult voice in the cartoon always going, “Wah, wah, wah.” (Chuckling) That’s what boys hear.

Walt: And knowing this allows you to parent a little boy differently than you’re gonna parent a little girl, to know that he’s not doing that because he’s trying to anger you or he’s disrespecting you. When you understand how he was built and this isn’t evolutionary. This isn’t chance and time. This is God’s divine design and Scripture clearly indicates that God made male and female different and differently.

Jim: Right, and we should embrace that, understand it and then learn from it. I want to come to the defense of women, because I think again, for Jean with her brain wiring and a woman’s brain wiring, they’re already there. They’re (Sound of bzz, zzzt.) They’re all connected, integrated, one big drawer. And I think I can understand from that perspective how a little boy or her husband could frustrate her. Do you feel that way, Barb at times? It’s just frustrating, ‘cause Walt doesn’t get it.

Barb: Yeah, it is, but knowing these things that I know now, it helps me kind of approach what I want the end result to be from a little bit different angle. You know, like you said, my brain never turns off. And sometimes I find myself saying, well, I don’t have time for this, you know. You’re an adult. Let’s get it done. But still, it’s just the chemical concoctions in his brain that are making him respond to me the way he is responding.

Jim: Hm.

Barb: And it’s not giving me the end result. So, I have to think it through. I can either be frustrated and ticked off at him or I can approach it from a different angle.

Jim: And (Chuckling) that’s good. Walt, I want to ask you as a physician, ‘cause this one kicks around. You know, here at Focus on the Family, we get really difficult calls at times and we want those calls to come, but people that are experiencing depression, people that are having difficulty in their marriage because of these communication battles.

How do you as a Christian and a physician, much like Dr. Luke, I’m sure, bring your faith together? We’re chemically charged. You know, God uses these elements in this life to create our bodies and our brain. And we fire in certain ways. How do you reconcile that theologically, that when a person has biochemical depression, how do you sort that through as a physician and a Christian? Where is God in all of that?

Walt: Uh-hm, uh-hm. Well, Jim, it’s a fallen world. It’s not the world that was created. It’s not the Garden of Eden. And so, since the Fall, since we as humans chose to go our own way, things have changed.

So, one way I like with my depressed patients, because for decades in the Christian world, depression was considered the result of sin or sinfulness.

Jim: Right.

Walt: It wasn’t seen as a biological disorder. So, I would often have to explain to Christians who were suffering from chemical depression, that’s kinda like diabetes. In diabetes, the pancreas isn’t making as much insulin as it’s supposed to. Insulin brings the blood sugar down. So, if you don’t make as much insulin, the blood sugar goes up. [The] same thing can happen in the brain. If the brain’s not making enough say of serotonin, if that level’s low, then depression goes up.

Jim: Right.

Walt: Chronic stress can lower serotonin. Certain types of diet can lower serotonin. Not having enough light can lower serotonin. So, there can be a variety of causes, including genetic causes. And so, I find in my patients that beginning to understand the brain’s design [is helpful]. It’s a little three-pound organ, but it uses 20 percent of the blood flow, 25 percent of the oxygen, 20 percent of the calories we take in. There are more connections in the brain per second than in all of the computers in Colorado in a minute. I mean, it’s this amazing organ.

Man was made one way and it’s really interesting, because the Hebrew word there, Jim isa word that’s used for the making of a pot or a container. It’s something that’s a little bit rough, a little bit practical, a little bit rural, but it’s designed to protect something.

When you look at the Hebrew word that describes the creation of a woman, it’s a completely different word. It’s a word that describes the creation of something very complex, very intricate, very precious, of great value.

And then you begin to see, at least for me when I understood those two words, that part of my design is to protect Barb, that she has great value. And that’s why Scripture in the New Testament tells me that it’s my responsibility to honor her, to cherish her, to nourish her. She’s built to respond to that.And she in Scripture is given the admonition to admire and to respect and to complement me and I respond to that.

Well, these differences and we have four chapters of these differences--he needs respect, she needs love; he needs conquest; she needs security--we talk about biologically where those come from, but biblically where they come from.

And Jim, the best picture I have in my mind is, that you take two pieces of wood, different species of wood, different grains, different strength, different purpose. But if their dovetails are perfectly cut, when those two pieces of wood are put together, say as a drawer, they now have a new function, a new purpose. They’re stronger together than they ever were apart. They’re still different, but they have this new function.

And this biblical design for his brain, her brain, for he and she, is that ifGod’s calling you to marriage, He’s calling you to be something together that you never can be apart. You’re still different, but you were made different and differently. Jim, it’s a great picture.

Jim: Ah, Dr. Walt Larimore, his wife, Barb Larimore, authors of the book, His Brain, Her Brain and I’m sure people will find it very helpful in their marriage communication and their newlywed steps. Thanks for bein’ with us.

Walt: Good to be with you guys.

John: Hm.

Barb: Good to be here.

Closing:

John: Well, such a great and insightful conversation with Dr. Walt and BarbLarimore and their book goes quite deeply into these differences between the male and female brain and it offers perspective and practical ways that you can help make those differences work for your marriage, not against it. And we’ll encourage you to get your copy today of that book at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459.

Now when you’re online to get that book, be sure you’ll look at all the other Focus on the Family resources at our online bookstore. And by the way, when you order videos and magazines and books from Focus on the Family’s website, you’re making sure that your money stays in ministry. You’re not just increasing profit for someone else and their stockholders. You’re helping this ministry reach out and encourage parents and couples and ultimately, to introduce people to Jesus Christ. So, please go to the website and get help for your family right there.

In fact, today, when you make a gift of any amount to support the work of Focus on the Family, as we reach around the world through websites and radio and so many other ways, we’re gonna send a copy of the Larimore’s book, His Brain, Her Brain to you. We want you to have it and we want to make sure that it helps you and so, please donate generously today and we’ll send a complimentary copy to you.

Well, join us next time as Dannah Gresh is with us. She’s going to encourage you as a mom to rely on God in your parenting journey.

Excerpt:

Mrs. Dannah Gresh: If we are paranoid, legalistic moms who do not take our fears to God in prayer, we don’t allow our children to face the Goliaths that God has determined that they will slay.

End of Excerpt

John: I’m John Fuller and on behalf of Focus president, Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. Join us again next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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Guest

Walt and Barb Larimore

View Bio

A nationally-recognized family physician practicing for more than 35 years, Dr. Walt Larimore spends much of his time seeing patients at Concentra Occupational Health and Urgent Care in Colorado Springs, Colo. He is an award-winning medical journalist and a best-selling author of numerous books. Formerly, Dr. Larimore served as Focus on the Family's Vice President of Medical Outreach as well as the ministry's Physician in Residence. Dr. Larimore and his wife, Barb, have co-authored a book, His Brain, Her Brain: How Divinely Designed Differences Can Strengthen Your Marriage. Learn more about Dr. Larimore by visiting his website, www.drwalt.com.