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Managing Emotions in Your Marriage (Part 2 of 2)

Original Air Date 05/08/2013

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Author Lysa TerKeurst, along with her husband Art, tackle the underlying expectations and strong emotions that accompany conflict in marriage, and provide listeners with practical tools for navigating disagreements. (Part 2 of 2)

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Episode Transcript



Mrs. Lysa TerKeurst: We have renamed our arguments and fights to "growth opportunities." (Laughter) That's what we have. And we have a lot of growth opportunities, because we both came into the marriage as very strong-willed, determined people and very strong opinions, very capable and yet, so different in how we approach life.

End of Recap

John Fuller: Well,perhaps like Lysa TerKeurst, you have a lot of "growth opportunities" in your marriage. Lysa is back with us again on "Focus on the Family, along with her husband, Art. And your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.

Jim Daly: John, I loved our conversation last time. It was humorous, but also it showed some real transparency by Lysa and Art. I can't imagine. Lysa's such a powerful communicator and Art, he just has that dry wit and it's a great combination. Communication in marriage and how we handle those growth opportunities without having our emotions spiral out of control is so important and so hard to do. Here at Focus on the Family, we want to help you in your marriage. We have so many great resources for you, including our Focus marriage assessment tool. I think it's almost 200,000 people who have gone on and done that.

John: And a lot of 'em are finding it to be so helpful.

Jim: Absolutely, so you can go online and you can find that at our website. It is a great tool to find out where you're at.

John: You'll find the assessment and the first part of this conversation, which really sets the stage for today at Now Lysa, as you said, Jim, is a popular speaker and she's an author. She heads up Proverbs 31 Ministries. Art is a Chick-fil-A owner/operator. And together, they've been married for over two decades. Let's go ahead and hear the second part of that conversation on today's "Focus on the Family."


Jim: In your book, Unglued, you talk about those conflict personalities. Let's refresh our listeners with that, this idea of the explosive personality type and the stuffer and hopefully, we can all find ourselves in your description.

Lysa: Yeah, so, there [are] four different reactions that I identified in Unglued. And here's the complicated thing. We shift our reactions based on who we're having a reaction with.

Jim: Yeah, we're not one thing.

Lysa: That's right. So, I'll have a different reaction with a friend than I will with my mom. Or I'll have a different reaction with my kids than I will with my pastor. So, you know, we shift reactions based on who we're reacting with.

But the four reaction types are first, the exploder who blames others. If you wouldn't have done this, I wouldn't feel this way. But because you did this, I'm justified in feeling angry. And so, I'm the exploder who blames others. It's someone else's fault.

Then there's the exploder who shames themselves. I'll react with great passion and feel so justified in my anger in the moment and then later, I reflect on how I acted and I know that doesn't fit with who I am and how I want to be. And I start heaping shame on myself and feeling like, why am I that way? I don't know that it's possible I can ever change, the exploder who shames themselves.

Then there [are] stuffers. You know, the exploders are pushing. When conflict arise[s], the exploders are pushing those feelings that bubble to the surface, they're pushing them out and creating external chaos.

Jim: A wave.

Lysa: Yes, a wave of external chaos. The stuffers on the other hand, when conflict arises and feelings always accompany conflict, when those feelings bubble to the surface and conflict comes, the stuffers are pushing all those feelings downward, inside of them and creating chaos internally.

So, there's the stuffer that builds barriers and that's the person that says, "I'm fine." And you know that they're not fine. They're just pretending that everything's okay, because either they don't want to address the conflict or they don't know how to. And so, they pretend everything's fine when it's really not fine and really, they're holding onto a whole lot of bitterness inside and putting up barriers and creating distance in their relationships. Then there's the stuffer that collects retaliation rocks.

Jim: That doesn't sound very good.

Lysa: I know. The stuffer (Laughter) that collects retaliation rocks. We're the ones that stuff the chaos in the moment and we think we're kind of processing this in a healthy way, like this feels Christian to do this. But in reality, we know that we're being a stuffer who collects retaliation rocks, if instead of just processing the issue at hand, we're collecting proof that we're gonna use against that other person later. So, we act fine in the moment, but all the while, we're collecting proof and the stuffer who collects retaliation rocks thinks, "I'll get you back. That's okay."

Jim: I'm gonna throw that rock at you.

Lysa: I'll get you back one day.

Jim: Now in marriage, play this out. How would you describe the two of you? Art, who are you in that regard?

Art TerKeurst: Yeah, I think within the marriage, with those that I love and that are really closest to me, I am the stuffer. And I'm a stuffer who usually builds barriers. So, I'll just kinda take it in, take it in, shoulder it, shoulder it, shoulder it. But then, there will be the smallest of things that may occur and it'll all come tumbling down.

Jim: Now in your relationship with Lysa, is that true?

Art: It's the same with Lysa. I am typically a stuffer.

Jim: So, does that make you at times, the isolated husband? I would think many men fit that category.

Art: Uh-hm.

Jim: It's probably the 80-20 rule.

Art: Uh-hm.

Jim: And what we do is, we just "veg" out. We start working late. We don't come home at the same time. We get involved in sports or distraction.

Art: Yeah, yeah

Jim: Okay.

Art: "The distractions" is a great way of sayin' it, because I think what happens is, is that if you don't feel the fulfillment within the relationship and the truth be known, because you're stuffing it and building the barriers, you're not pursuing the relationship the way that you should. You're not communicating the way that you should. So, what you're gonna do is, you're gonna fill the void with other activity.

Jim: How do you counterbalance that then? What do you do intentionally to say, "Okay, I'm a stuffer that internalizes these things and terminates the relationship," in a marriage what are you going to say, okay, I'm not gonna go in that direction 'cause it's unhealthy, perhaps even ungodly?

Art: Right.

Jim: What do you do to say, okay?

Art: Real simply for us, one of the things that we'll do is, we have a[n] on-the-books commitment to go out and have a date night and it's typically Sunday night and it's typically when we will go and usually it's over dinner, so that we can have a platform of conversation. And it'll oftentimes include, because of our active lifestyles, our organizational tool, Day Runner, whatever it may be and it may start with something as simple as, "Hey, Lys, what do you have goin' on this week? And how can I be of support?"

And it will open the dialogue to maybe discuss the activity.It'll create a chance for me to be there to support, which Lysa embraces and needs. And it will also allow us to begin to dialogue about some of those unmet needs.

Jim: Now if she's done something to make you withdraw during the week and you get to your dinner, do you kind of bring that up and say [something]?-

Art: No, no, no, there [have] been times where there's somethin' happenin' 30 minutes before the dinner (Laughter), you know.

Jim: It's always that way, isn't it?

Art: And I'm like, I don't want to go out to dinner. I mean, I just don't feel like goin' out to dinner. I mean, we're in the midst of this chaos, in the midst of this situation where I don't really want to be with you right (Chuckling) now. I don't want to go sit over a dinner table.

But what we found is because of the commitment over time, that we realize, that's gonna happen. And if it's a dead set type of commitment, then you're gonna, even when situations like that occur, you're gonna push through. And inevitably, when we have pushed through, it has always benefitted the marriage.

Jim: Okay.

Art: And we've been able to make it happen.

Jim: Yeah, Lysa, how about your type. What type are you in your marriage relationship with Art?

Lysa: Well, first, I do want to answer that question (Laughter), because I have to say, let me just tell you what usually plays out, too, since he's a stuffer that builds barriers, he just gets real cold. And every dialogue, it becomes more of like a business conversation.

Jim: And you can feel that.

Art: Uh-hm.

Lysa: And it's like, who's getting the kids? I am. Okay, so, are we, you know, are we gonna go to church together or you know, do we need to divvy up, 'cause we've got five kids and some are serving at the 9 o'clock service. Some are serving at the 11 o'clock ser[vice]. You know. And everything gets very schedule driven and there's not a lot of warm fuzzies flowing back and forth.

And so, usually I will start to say, "I'm feeling so distant from you right now. Like, there is definitely something going on and you're not communicating with me." So, that stuffer that builds barriers, things just start to feel real cold and real businesslike.

And so, that's where we have the choice. We can push through that resistance and address the hard stuff, knowing that it is possible to get to the other side. Or we can continue on that cold resistant type thing and where it will lead us to isolation.

I think every marriage is on a continuum between oneness and isolation. And we will drift back and forth. It's like, we won't get to a place where we're, "Oh, we've arrived at oneness." Well, no. Maybe we have some moments of oneness, but it's a floating thing. So,we have to make choices to push through the resistance pulling us toward isolation, so that we've gotta swim back toward that oneness. And that's what we're talking about.

Jim: And what's really important in that is, that in that isolation phase, that's where trouble happens.

Lysa: Oh, uh-hm.

Jim: That's where affairs occur. That's where he took an interest in me.

Lysa: Uh-hm.

Jim: He showed and said the things that I needed to hear.

Lysa: Uh-hm.

Jim: That's where that happens, isn't it?

Lysa: That's right. We usually go on our dates on Sunday nights. And so, sometimes you know, it never fails. Like 5:30, we're supposed to be leaving at 6 o'clock, 5:30 we have one of our growth opportunities. And we are both so mad, we don't even want to be together. But this is what I keep in my mind. If you keep talking, you'll keep connecting.

Jim: Hm.

Lysa: And if you keep connecting, you'll keep moving toward oneness, even as hard as it is. Keep talking, Lysa. Keep talking, because if you go off and you don't go on your date night this week, and then you don't go on your date night next week and then you don't go on your date night the next week, you are headin' toward that isolation. So, keep talking, which will allow you to keep connecting, which allows you to keep moving toward oneness instead of isolation.

So, my reaction type, sometimes I am the exploder who blames others. I am so good at blaming him (Laughter), I mean, I'm a good communicator. So, I can sure enough lay out a case on the table where I can truly, truly make him feel like it really is all his fault (Laughter). 'Cause in my brain, I think it is. (Laughter)

Jim: Well, it may be.

Lysa: (Laughter) But it can't always be.

Jim: Yeah, that's true.

Lysa: And so, I will sometimes be an exploder who blames others. But here's what I know and this is what I've learned. My husband wants to operate in the areas of his life where he feels successful. And if I constantly communicate to him, "You're not successful in our marriage," he won't want to live in that box very long.And so, that's my challenge when I'm becoming the exploder who blames others.

I can also be a stuffer who collects retaliation rocks. So, I'll swing the pendulum. Like, okay I'm not gonna be an exploder. I'm not gonna be an exploder, so a whoom! I swing the pendulum all the way over and I'll become a stuffer. And I'll think it's just more Christian to be a stuffer. I'm gonna not explode. I'm gonna not explode.

But then I find myself collecting proof that I'm gonna use against him later. And so, that's when I have to know before I come to him and start pummeling him with all these rocks of retaliation, because I'll hang on and be a stuffer for so long and then, I'm gonna explode about the littlest thing. And I'll unload upon him all my proof that I've collected of how wrong he is and how right I am.

So, before I do that, I have to ask myself this question: Lysa, are you tryin' to prove that you're right? Or are you tryin' to improve this relationship? Because you can't do both at the same time.

Jim: Well, and I think a fair question for all of us as Christian spouses, which is greater, being right or improving the relationships? That's the question.

Lysa: Uh-hm and in the moment, it feels better to be right, but in the long term, it feels better to keep the relationship.

Jim: That's well-said. John, how about you? Where do you think you land?

John: Oh, golly. (Laughter) I wasn't thinkin' about this.

Jim: (Laughing) I'm catchin' you off guard.

John: (Laughter) You are catching me off guard.

Jim: A little self-reflection here.

John: I think just hearing Art express the way that he would tend to react, yeah, I tend to kinda shut down, pull back. It's easier for me to just stuff it and walk away and not deal with it. My wife is a confronter. She'd rather just throw it out on the table, so I don't know if Dena is a stuffer or an exploder. But for myself, I tend to just get away from anything where I've messed up. And if there's conflict, I'd just as soon not deal with it right now, thank you very much.

Jim: (Laughing) Well, I'll step up, too, 'cause I think, Art, I think I'm the same way. I'm that stuffer who builds barriers.

Art: Uh-hm.

Jim: And I think Jean would agree with that and this is really good. It's good for us to simply be aware, isn't it?

Lysa: Absolutely,

Jim: Lysa and Art, have you ever thought about marriage and the way God designed it, that He brings these two people together, made in His image, male and female and they bring different personalities into this relationship. And you begin to rub each other the wrong way and you have to give yourself up for it. You have to be selfless. He's teachin' us something, isn't He?

Lysa: Uh-huh and I have so much to learn. You know, I think the things that Art has been able to show me, it's almost like a mirror that will reflect just how selfish I can be, you know. And at the same time though, it's also a mirror of, just how lovely I can be. And there's just this gentle balance of understanding that this marriage situation is an opportunity.

That's what it really is. It's an opportunity for me to see things about myself that need to become more Christ-like. And it's an opportunity for Art to see things about himself that need to become more Christ-like. And at the end of the day, it's a choice. And we've got to choose wisely. And just like we talked about a few minutes ago, you know, that continuum, oneness to isolation, that line between those two words is a choice. And where we are on that, it's a choice. And both of us need to be choosing wisely.

Jim: And what's obvious about all this spiritually speaking, is that the enemy of our soul wants to get us in isolation because he can mess with us there.

Lysa: Uh-hm.

Jim: He can tempt us there. He can do so much there. But when we're together in that oneness that you're describing, where we're communicating, we're learning to love and respect each other in a way that's powerful, it's so much more difficult for him to create mayhem in our lives, in our homes.

Art: Right.

Jim: Isn't it?

Art: Yeah.

Lysa: It is.

Art: It absolutely is and we've been studying in the book of Colossians and we're just actually looking over the verse[s], Colossians 2:6 and 7, talking about, "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught"--and then here's the key for me--"overflowing with thankfulness." So, the key of that for me, is the truth of, in my walk with the Lord, that I'm gonna be at my best when I am overflowing in that relationship.

Jim: Hm.

Art: And when I'm overflowing in that relationship, then I'm gonna be better prepared to be able to influence others and lead others and love others the way that Christ loves me. It's only through the overflow. And within my relationship with Lysa, if I know in advance that it is a choice and that, when we face some of these stumbling blocks or some of these challenges or some of these as Lysa referred to, "growth opportunities," the choice that needs to be made is to engage in the relationship. And as I engage in the relationship and as I put things in place, then we're gonna be able to overflow together and we're gonna be able to impact and love one another like we should, as well as, impact and love others that God brings in our path.

Jim: Well, which is the key, reaching out; touching people.

Art: Yeah, yeah.

Lysa, let me go back for a moment, 'cause the three of us guys sitting at the table here, we all resonated with the stuffer-avoider.

Lysa: Uh-hm.

Jim: It probably is an 80-20 thing, where a lot of men would fall into that category. And I would think for women, the stuffer that collects retaliation rocks maybe describes a lot of the way women feel.

Lysa: Uh-hm.

Jim: And I need to ask this question really for clarity and for hope. And maybe I'll ask the two of you to role play this out, because I think oftentimes it's hard to imagine keeping a list of the wrongs and then bringing that list out. Boy, that's a lot of energy. I don't have a filing drawer in my (Chuckling) brain for that. But it happens as human beings. Talk us through that . Maybe you can role play for us how do you avoid doing that? Because it's so easy to do. I've got this list of 20 things you have done in the last month that have really irritated me. How do we avoid that trap of setting ourselves up for that argument? What do you do to trigger yourself to say, "Art, I'm not gonna bring these things out?" And how do you truly let them go?

Lysa: Hm.

Jim: And not falsely say, "Oh, yeah, I've dealt with that."

Lysa: Uh-hm.

Jim: But you're still in your heart saying, "Art did that to me."

Lysa: Well, part of it is coming to terms with the reality that there are feelings that accompany each of those situations. And we've gotta be honest about those feelings. And so, maybe in a non-emotional time when conflict is not on the table, I bring it to Art and I say, "Hey, Honey, I want to process something with you. And I'm not bringing it up so that we'll have a growth opportunity right now or an argument or a fight. I'm bringing it up because I want to heal in this area. Remember when we had this incident and you said this? This is what I heard. Can we talk about it?"

And you see, when we bring those things up in a non-conflict time, we can address it in such a more logical way and really a more authentic way, because we don't have agendas on the table. He's not tryin' to prove somethin'. I'm not tryin' to prove somethin'. We're just bringing it up and addressing it and trying to find healing.

But when you bring it up in the heat of another argument, everything feels explosive. And so, everything's gonna be bigger than what it needs to be if you bring it up in a non-confrontational time.

Jim: I think another practical application, Lysa and you mention this in the book, is talk about one thing I could do differently to help.

Lysa: Uh-hm.

Jim: Jean and I had that experience just a while back, because we had talked about it. And I came home (Chuckling) in a point of vulnerability [and] said, "What's one thing I could do better?" It was a[n] "ah-ha" moment, 'cause Jean said, "Oh," just as quick as could be, like she'd been thinkin' about it for, you know, a week. And she said, "You're so spontaneous and I'm not. And so, when you come home and tell the boys, 'Hey, let's go to Disney World,' we haven't talked about it. That drives me nuts, because there [are] plans we gotta lay out. I gotta figure out what we're gonna do."

John: She's left to manage the mess that you just laid out.

Jim: And that really helped me, because I do tend to do that. I blow up the plan because I want to do somethin' different, something more fun. (Chuckling)

Lysa: Uh-hm. Yeah.

Jim: And it helps.

Lysa: Yeah, I think that's a great story. I tell a story in the book how my pastor and his wife, she was getting aggravated at the amount of time that he was staring down at his phone and just engaging in social media so much and it was just really starting to aggravate her. And so, she prayed, "Lord, will You show me the right timing to bring this up. I don't want to bring this up when this is gonna be a big explosive issue. I don't want to bring this us when he's in the middle of a stressful project at work, you know, Just Lord, will You show me the timing to bring this up."

And they were coming back from a trip and he slid a piece of paper over to her while they were sitting side by side on the plane. He said, "I want you to write down one thing I could do right now to improve our marriage." And she said, "It's the time." And so, she wrote down, "Hey, when we're together, like if we go on a date, if you could leave your phone in the car. Or when we go on a date, or even, like if we're spending time with the kids, just don't engage with the social media. Reserve your engagement for us."

And they were able to talk about it. But it was that question. And you brought it up, too. What's something I can do that could make our marriage better? What's just one thing I could improve on? And you know, the key to that and we've already talked about it, is if you want to have a marriage growing toward the oneness that we all desire for our marriages, you gotta keep talking, because when you keep talking, you keep communicating. And when you keep communicating, you keep moving toward oneness. And that's a great question. What's somethin' I can do, you know? And that's just great.

Jim: What's fascinating to me is how quickly that answer will be there, 'cause it's just under the surface.

Lysa: Oh, yeah, uh-hm.

Jim: It's not that your spouse is dwelling on it, but they've got some ideas.

Lysa: Uh-hm. (Laughter) Absolutely.

Jim: Hey, as we end, can I ask you to touch on this once again. When you were with us a few months back we talked about it, but I think it is one of the core issues, particularly for women, this idea of negative inside chatter.

Lysa: Uh-hm.

Jim: I like the way you describe that and I think again, because as we've talked about on "Focus on the Family," John, the brain chemistry for women, it's spaghetti. It's interconnected.

Lysa: Uh-hm.

Jim: Men are kinda more like the waffles, you know. We're compartmentalized, but women are constantly thinking.

Lysa: Uh-hm.

Jim: And you can walk away from a conversation with your spouse or an argument with your spouse or even a wonderful time with your spouse and you're still dwelling on it. If I would've done this a little differently. It's exhausting for a husband to hear that.

Lysa: Uh-hm.

Jim: I don't think we quite understand the way a female mind is working in that context. Describe it.

Lysa: Well, yeah, my mind works on overdrive. It's like it's always going. I'm always processing something. So, where it gets us in trouble in our marriage is, a lot of times I will have all these thoughts about something and I start assigning thoughts to Art as if Art said those things to me.

Jim: Hm.

Lysa: And so, one time we were dialoguing about something with the kids and I said to him, "I know that you think I'm being overprotective and annoying." And he stopped me and he said, "Lysa, you don't know that I think you're being overprotective and annoying. Don't assign conversations to me that we've never had."

John: Hm.

Lysa: And [I] realized that was a conversation in my head. In my head, I was having that negative insight chatter. Your husband thinks you're being overprotective. Your husband things you're annoying. your husband thinks you talk too much. Your husband, your husband, your husband. And all these things that I started assigning myself that negative inside chatter, I started to assign things to Art that he never said and that he doesn't feel and that he doesn't believe.

And so, what I've learned is, to bring those things out and say, "Hey, Honey, I'm struggling with feeling this way. I'm struggling with feeling maybe you think I'm being overprotective. Maybe you think I'm being annoying."

John: Uh-hm.

Lysa: And then, I [said]. "But I don't want to assign that to you. So, if I am being that way and you do think that, let's talk about it. But if you don't, I need to hear you say, 'I don't think that about you.'"

Jim: Lysa, once again, I mean, those are some deep thoughts and wonderful thoughts. I so appreciate the fact that, you know, through your life experience and what you do to help women in your ministry, Proverbs 31, it's just wonderful. And Unglued is a book that I think husbands and wives should definitely get into and digest it and put it into practical use. It will help marriages be far better than they are today So, thank you for doin' that. Art, it's great to see ya and thanks for bein' with us. And keep flippin' those chicken sandwiches at Chick-fil-A.

Art: Yeah. Hurrah. (Laughter)

Jim: John and I love eatin' there.

John: Hey, we do.

Art: I appreciate you pullin' me out of the restaurant (Laughter) and I want to say to y'all, thank you, too for what you continue to do, as well as the Focus on the Familyteam and how you continue to keep the family at the forefront of what is important in today's society.

Lysa: Absolutely.

Art: And whether it be through marriage or whether it be through parenting, we just appreciate that you're willing to be at the front of the battle for us as families. So thank you for that.

Jim: Well, what we all do is for the cause of Christ, whether it's business or being that homemaker and that speaker or doin' what we do here at Focus on the Family, for Him is why we do it. So, God bless you guys.

Lysa: Thank you.

Art: Thank you so much.


John: We so appreciate our guests and their transparency and their hearts to see marriages strengthened through Christ.

Jim: Well, today's program illustrates what we want to do each and every day here at Focus and that is to bring you trusted advice that you can relate to and put into practice. If you're struggling in your marriage and you don't feel that closeness or that joy you once felt with your spouse, we have caring Christian counselors available on staff here to help youwork through whatever you may be facing.

John: And they're a phone call away. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or you can go online. We have a free online counseling referral tool at

Jim: May I add, if you've benefitted from this broadcast and perhaps others, would you make a donation today? We are listener supported and frankly, we need your help to continue our mission to save marriages. And according to the recent research that we conduct every year, last year alone we were able to say 130,000 marriages from separation and divorce. Make your donation today. Stand with us in this culture to say family matters and God's design for family matters.

John: You can contribute online and get a CD or instant download of this two-part conversation and your copy of Lysa's book, Unglued. The starting point is And today we'd like to say thank you for making a contribution of any amount by sending a copy of Lysa's book to you. It's our way of expressing our appreciation for the way you're helping us save marriages.

On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time. Tomorrow we're going to hear a powerful message about human trafficking and what you can do about it.


Mrs. Nita Belles: I like to use a story. We live in a[n] area where there are cougars and so, in the spring we have a warning how to respond to cougars, because if we don't respond that way, they will eat us. And that's the way we have to look at these predators for our children. We've got to protect our children from the predators so they're not trafficked.

End of Excerpt

John: I'm John Fuller and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to "Focus on the Family." We're gonna invite you back next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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Lysa TerKeurst

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Lysa TerKeurst is the president of Proverbs 31 Ministries and the co-host of her ministry's national daily radio program. She is also a public speaker and the author of more than a dozen books including Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl, What Happens When Women Walk in Faith and Am I Messing Up My Kids?  She and her husband, Art, have five children and reside in North Carolina.