Gary Thomas: You need forgiveness. You need grace. You need fun. You need recreation. You need more time. To not do that is reckless. To not do that is to virtually guarantee that you’ll come to that point where we don’t really know each other anymore. We don’t even really like each other because we’re just doing these tasks, and they’re not fun.
John Fuller: You’ll hear more from Gary Thomas today on Focus on the Family about strengthening your relationship with your spouse. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us. I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, last time, Gary gave a powerful reminder what the primary role of marriage is. Some days you probably ask yourself, what is marriage all about? It is to become selfless and more like Christ. And, you know what? That’s really hard to do. But it is what God is calling us toward. He also encouraged us to pursue a godly obsession. That is a godly vision for what we should do in our marriages. So if your marriage is a bit stuck, or you need some tune up, I think today’s program is gonna be just what you need to help you cast that vision for your marriage. Remember, here at Focus on the Family, we want to see you thrive in your marriage relationship, and to be strengthened daily by the advice and the resources that we offer. That’s why we air this kind of program. So if you’re struggling in your marriage, I hope you call us. Don’t feel embarrassed – we’re here for you. We would love to give you advice and walk alongside you in your marriage.
John: Well, we certainly would. And we have a team of Christian counselors available. If you need to speak with one of them we’re a phone call away. It’s 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459.
Gary Thomas is an excellent author and speaker and we love interacting with him in the studio. And last time Gary shared insights from his book, A Lifelong Love: How to Have Lasting Friendship, Intimacy and Purpose in Your Marriage. Learn more about Gary and that book at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And now part two of our conversation with Gary Thomas.
Jim: Hey, Gary, welcome back to Focus on the Family.
Gary: Thanks. I always love being here, it’s starting to feel like home.
Jim: We left off last time wanting to talk about a monk’s marriage. (laughs) I was laughing last time, I’m laughing today. What is the analogy about a monk’s marriage that applies here?
Gary: Yeah. My wife and I were, were spoiled one year with some friends, they took us to France. And on that trip, we were touring a 12th century castle with a real live Duke there. A guy well into his 80s. He fell in love with Lisa, which is easy to do. Lisa’s fun, she’s the last born, she’s the extrovert. He wouldn’t normally do a tour, but he took us all over his place. And it was fun. He and his wife are arguing, he still wants a moat. His wife doesn’t want the mosquitoes. I mean, you just, you just-
Jim: And he’s 80?
Gary: Yeah, I know.
Gary: You see this delightful… You knew that she won that debate. They’re ne-, there’s never going to be a moat around that castle, as long as she lives. But we were up in the chapel, and then he just turns to Lisa and says, uh, “Would you like to see my ancestors?” Lisa’s like, “Sure.” He opens up this lid and they’re all these bones. (laughs)
Jim: Oh my goodness.
Gary: I know. And, and he got a laugh as, as Lisa jumped or whatnot. But-
Gary: … just being there, and we’re talking about the French Revolution. There was evidence on the castle of where it had been attacked during the French Revolution. Because I didn’t realize at the time how much absolute control a Duke had. A Duke could have somebody killed, and there was no recourse, there was no court to appeal to. If the Duke said you must die, or you must be a slave, or you must do that, the Du… And so people wanted to throw off that tyranny. They said that is too much power in the hands of one man. And that helped me understand a Psalm very differently. Psalm 146:3 says this, “Do not trust in princes, in mortal men in whom there is no salvation.” Now, we read that in the 21st century in a democracy and, well, why would I trust in a prince? I mean, they can raise my taxes, but we don’t think of it in the context when a prince literally could mean your life or your death.
And so when the Psalmist says don’t trust in that prince in that day, it was so radical because he had such enormous power. And I think when we apply that to marriage, what happens is that we give so much power to our spouse, we trust them for our happiness. We trust them to fulfill us. We trust them to serve us. And the scripture would say, don’t put that much trust in somebody who can disappoint you. In a mortal man or in a mortal woman. Your help, your salvation, comes from the Lord. Now, we know that but we said, well, not in marriage, not my emotions, not my fulfillment, not my happiness, that should come from my spouse. And so a monk’s marriage is the radical call that we recognize. We get our primary fulfillment from God. I love to read from other Christian traditions, and I love to read our brothers and sisters from the Eastern Orthodox Church. And one of their classical spiritual writings is called the Philokalia. I’m not sure if you pronounced that right.
Jim: I’ve got that sitting-
Gary: I- I- I’m-
Jim: … on my nightstand.
Gary: But, but what I love is they raise other issues, because if you read it, as, as you’ve read it, Jim, they are obsessed with lust, not sexual lust, as I think of it, but the lust of praise.
The lust of being noticed. The lust of being appreciated. Most of us, as evangelicals, the tradition I grew up in, we don’t really think about that as a lust. Not on par with a lust for money, or gluttony, or a lust for sensual pleasure. And I thought how so many marriages when they’re in the pastoral office, he doesn’t notice me enough, she doesn’t give me enough affection. How each spouse has given so much power to the other spouse, and then resents it when they don’t get what they want.
Gary: And so a, a monk’s marriage recognizes that if I don’t have expectations about my spouse making me happy, or serving me or fulfilling me, now I can appreciate what she does give me instead of resent what she doesn’t. And here’s the classical transformation. A girlfriend gets a card from a boy who might become a boyfriend, she’s not sure. But he gives her a card, she thinks, how thoughtful! I mean, he gave me a card. She puts it up there, she, it makes her feel so happy. 10 years later, they’re married. It’s her birthday, he gives her a card.
Gary: And what does she say? “Seriously? I get a card? You know, I’ve stood behind you, you know, I’ve supported you the last three months, I, I bathe your kids, we, we do all that, and you give me a card?” I mean, the same gift at one point, because she wasn’t expecting it, thrilled her. And now, it’s a point of how much he really doesn’t care, how much he really doesn’t love her. And the only thing that has changed is her expectations. The gift was the same.
Jim: Well, and I wanna dig into this because you’re saying something in a different way that has been said, but we need to explore it more. And that is to have these needs met in your relationship with Jesus Christ. And that’s exactly what you’re saying, right?
Jim: And, and therefore, when you’re looking to your husband or to your wife to fulfill those needs that only the Lord can fulfill, purpose and all that, it will be wanting, and it’ll leave you perhaps even bitter-
Jim: … and upset and angry and, uh, make it practical.
Jim: Let’s think of the woman who is struggling. How does she turn that corner though, Gary? How does she say, “Okay, I have viewed my husband as mean-spirited. As not someone capable of meeting these needs emotionally for me, he hasn’t done it for 10 years.” How does she say, “Okay, I’m hearing what you’re saying. How do I now flip a switch and say, I’m going to seek God for that?” What steps can she take to make that happen?
Gary: Okay. I know, again, it sounds too spiritual, and too religious when I say this all comes back to worship. But let me put this in a different context, and I think it might bring some conviction. What is a Christian forced out of Iraq supposed to say when they’ve lost everything they’ve owned? And they’re fleeing their lives, they literally have nothing. They don’t know where the next meal is gonna come from their family. Everything they have has been taken away. What does the spouse say, whose partner has come down with Alzheimer’s, who most days doesn’t even recognizes them, who can’t get anything from their spouse? At those moments when life is so destitute, whether because of history or because of health, are we supposed to say that that marriage doesn’t mean much? But where faith is shown is when we have, I, I think, a biblical truth that one spouse told me, she talked about how frustrated she was in her husband. But this verse that lifted her up, “Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord.”
And she realized that’s absolute. If God is my Lord, I’m blessed. And I have to recognize that if everything else in my life goes wrong, if I’m destitute, if I’m hungry, if I’m terminally ill, I’m blessed, because God is my Lord. Now, I know that sounds like I’m avoiding the issue. It’s painful if you’re suddenly homeless because of political chaos in your country. It is painful if someone you’ve loved for 50 or 60 years doesn’t even remember your name. But you know what? That’s real life. And so if it’s a lesser degree that you have a spouse who for instance will fix things around the house but is never gonna have a serious emotional conversation with you. Or you have a wife that was, is happy to give you a backrub, but maybe doesn’t show quite the amount of affection you would like to have. I think it comes back to how do I cherish what I have, instead of focus on what I don’t? That’s what I think leads to joy.
Jim: Gary, in your book, A Lifelong Love, you talk about artificial intimacy. It, to me when I observe the culture, I feel like there’s a lot of artificial intimacy.
What defines artificial intimacy? And by default then, true intimacy?
Gary: Artificial intimacy begins with infatuation. Infatuation isn’t based on reality. You’re, you’re literally relating to someone that doesn’t exist. You’re giving them strengths they don’t have, you’re missing weaknesses that they really do have. But infatuation is so powerful, it binds the two of you together, but it’s not real. Love is based in understanding. The last thing infatuation is based on is understanding. Infatuation is based on fascination. So what happens is a couple is infatuated, that’s what’s binding them together. And we know about 12 to 18 months, that infatuation is gonna begin to fade, which is about the time a lot of couples will then start to plan a wedding.
Well, that’s something that keeps them together. It’s something that they talk about. I’ve known couples, that’s what they talk about for a year. It’s a 30-minute ceremony often, and a maybe two hour reception, but that keeps them going for a year, or making discussions or doing all of that. And then they go from planning the wedding to setting up a new home together. And again, that’s a little bit of artificial intimacy, where are we gonna put the garbage can? Left-hand side-
Gary: … of the sink or the right-hand side? Where’s our new coffee shop? What kind of pictures are we gonna put up? And then that starts to get old. But about that time, kids often come along. Oh, there’s a lot of intimacy there. You’re building kids together, you, you go to childbirth classes, you share the birth of your first child, you set up the nursery. And then you have the more issues of how do we raise toddlers? And now they’re teens, and, and how are we doing that? But the whole time, you’ve really been teammates, you haven’t been intimate soul partners. You’re not sharing, you’re doing these tasks.
And the problem that you see, and, and therapists will say this, that the empty nest divorce rate has gone through the roof now, because what happens is a couple hasn’t built intimacy, they’ve had shared tasks like teammates. And what a teammates do when the season is over? They go back to their own homes. And so this call in A Lifelong Love is to help couples build real intimacy. Instead of just sharing task, sharing hearts, sharing souls. So they have a lifelong love, not just a lifelong partnership, not just a lifelong teamsmanship, but really growing through those stages of life to be more invested each other, know each other better, more committed to each other and cherishing each other more.
Jim: What are the things a couple can do that you’re speaking to their heart right now, Gary. They are living that. They have the teams and then going, we don’t have intimacy. I long for that. But I also have a big to-do list, um, but I want that for my husband and me or vice versa. How do they take it a step or two in that direction? What do they need to do to say, tonight, it changes or tomorrow morning, it changes?
Gary: The good news for those couples who are frustrated to that point in the relationship is a good marriage isn’t something you find, it’s something you make. And you can remake it. What happens when you have artificial intimacy, people say, well, we’ve never built the relationship. And, and it’s not working. So we need to find someone else. And to these couples, I’d say, you know what? You don’t even really know what it’d be like to be truly married to each other. You’ve been teammates. Why don’t you try real marriage, an intermingling of souls, and see how that feels before you just divorce, becoming infatuated with someone else, marrying someone else, setting up a new home, and, and just going through a process? I’ve told couples because it- it’s almost a cliche to me now. Married maybe 13 to 17 years. They’re at that stage where they just realize, you know what, we just don’t really have anything together. And what I’m saying is you can build something together.
Jim: And more importantly, God’s heart is for you, as a couple. He has something for you-
Jim: … and wants you to discover that and to live that out, right?
Gary: Right. An intimate marriage requires an intentional pursuit of each other. Many couples would never think of being reckless with their money. You know, they’re saving up, they’re stacking dollar bill after a dollar bill. Now, that can be a responsible thing to do. But they’re being reckless with their relationship. They think their marriage can exist on an infatuation that was there 15 years ago while they never take time to date. They never take time to get away. They never take time to be together. They don’t build intimacy apart from their kids, keeping the house running, setting up a home, and I call that reckless with your relation- a relationship has to be fed.
Here’s the analogy I use at the, at the start of A Lifelong Love. Too many couples I find view marriage like you’re planting a tree. When you first plant a sapling, you stake it, you fertilize it, you water it, because you know it’s vulnerable. And it needs a lot of care and attention. After three or four or five years, that tree is solid, the roots are down, and it just finishes itself, it just grows. I don’t think that’s a picture of a marriage, I think marriage is more like building a brick house. And you build that thing brick by brick.
And if you stop at 80%, the house doesn’t finish itself. In fact, it’s going to deteriorate because you haven’t built the roof. A house needs to be maintained. And that’s what a relationship is like between a husband and a wife. You have to build it, you have to maintain it, you have to repair it. You need forgiveness, you need grace. You need fun, you need recreation, you need more times. To not do that is reckless. To not do that is to virtually guarantee that you’ll come to that point where we don’t really know each other anymore. We don’t even really like each other because we’re just doing these tasks. And they’re not fun.
Jim: You, you said a few things there that I’ve gleaned would be good next steps for a couple that find themselves in that rut, in that moment. To do a date night, to do things together, to have fun together, to take vacation together, apart from the kids. And a lot of moms, um, you know, that’s hard for them. They’re not separating properly and saying, okay, my sister can take the kids for that weekend. But these are things you need to invest in so that your marriage will survive.
Gary: I, I tweeted out one time, a 30-second kiss, a 30-minute talk and a 3-minute prayer, less than 34 minutes total, if you do that, you’ll go to bed, a much closer couple.
Jim: Say it again.
Gary: A 30-minute talk, a 30-second kiss and a 3-minute prayer. It’s not that much of an investment. If you just do that, though, on a daily basis, it’s amazing the intimacy that will begin to build. And so I think that’s a daily thing you can do. And then I think on a weekly basis, you need a couple hours alone together. And then I think on a yearly basis, you need some days away together. And again, no, some people say that’s not reasonable. It’s not financially possible. I would rather you be a little financially reckless by getting some days away, then being relationally reckless, because ultimately, I think your kids will be happier if your relationship of marriage is feeding the family, rather than the destruction of your marriage is destroying their childhood.
Gary: And no, I’m not saying to be completely reckless financially, but we’re so worried about how much this costs financially, we’re not asking how much this costs relationally. And so it is setting up priorities. But I think if you’re honest, you need about that 35 minute investment every day, you need a couple hours investment every week, and I think you need at least a few days of investment every year.
Jim: Gary, uh, couples are struggling. It could be a man or woman, they want to put something into action right now. You’ve hit them with the two by four, this is their moment-
Jim: … but they need to know what do I do next to make this a reality?
Gary: Couple things. Some will sound very practical, some will sound very spiritual, but you put them together, I think it’s a fairly decent recipe for relational intimacy in marriage. First thing is, if you wanna increase the level of intimacy, increase the level of honesty. We’ve got to stop with the secrets. We hold things back rather than recognizing that we’re fallen people who need to be saved by God’s grace and transformed by God’s grace, we hide from each other. And you can’t grow in intimacy with someone you’re, you’re hiding from. I had an episode when, uh, my son’s fiancé, was still his fiancé before she was his wife. We met ’em for dinner at a restaurant in Houston. I was coming from work, my wife was coming from home. It was in November, one of the few cold nights in (laughs) in, in Houston.
And my son and his soon to be wife was there. And then I was there. And Lisa came in late and then she scoots right up and just kind of grabbed my arm and squeezed in and, and ma… said, “Ooh, are you cold?” And Lisa said, “No, I haven’t seen him all day. I just, I just really miss him.” It was like, aww. And here’s the thing, I felt like a king because here’s my wife at the end of the day saying I can’t wait to get back together with Gary. If I was living a life of deception, I would feel threatened by that act rather than feeling that as an intimate act. I’d be thinking she loves me because she doesn’t know about X. She respects me because she hasn’t found out about Y or Z. So if I want that sense of how somebody who knows me best still likes me, I’ve got to increase my intimacy with her.
And one of the most healing things for me as a very insecure guy is that here’s a woman who knows me better than anyone else, knows my stuff, and she still loves me, and all of that would be lost if we were living a life of deception. So honesty, just be more honest with each other. That’s what keeps us from hiding from each other, we’re afraid that they’ll find out rather than they’ll accept us. The second thing, spiritually is what I call a blessing mentality. There, there are two things when you come to any argument, some will say, “How do I get my own way? Or how can I bless you?” And we know through Genesis that we are blessed to be a blessing as Abraham was blessed to be a blessing. If I take every attitude in marriage, how can I bless my wife through this? We disagree about this, what is the best way to bless her? Now, blessing doesn’t always mean giving in, blessing means what is the best thing for them in Christ?
That may mean standing up, but it means how do I bless them? There’s just something about always wanting to bless someone that changes every argument, that changes every decision, that I think creates a level of intimacy. Because when I’m more invested in someone, the more I value it. Just like if you pay for something with your own money, you take better care of it. And I think that’s how we sort of pay for our relationship, we have this blessing mentality. The third thing is what I call killing spiders. I don’t have a thing against spiders, but my wife hates them.
Gary: I, I think spiders can be a good thing. I’ve heard they eat some insects, that, that, that you kind of want to them but I knew when I married Lisa, she doesn’t want a spider, she doesn’t wanna wake up and see a spider. If I see a spider in our house, it’s dead. Because I’m committed to Lisa, I kill spiders.
Jim: You’re a warrior.
Gary: I am. But see, every, every relationship has those spiders. Things that might not even be morally objectionable, but you have to kill out of respect and love and devotion for your spouse. If Lisa’s dad had been an alcoholic, he surely wasn’t, but if he had been, although I don’t have a moral issue thinking all alcohol use is wrong, I think I would just stay away. That would be a spider I would kill because she would have such painful memories of what alcohol had done to her family. I’d say, doesn’t matter whether this is right or wrong, this is threatening to her. I need to kill this. If we were on a second marriage, and her first husband had wrecked their marriage by ignoring her playing his video games, I’d just, you know what? I, I’m just not gonna go there, because every time I pick up a controller, my wife’s gonna think, oh, here we go again. Now I’m signed up for it.
It’s just better that I get rid of that. And part of building intimacy is sort of sanding, like you wanna join two things together, you have to send off the rough edges. I have to find out what are those rough edges that need to be rubbed off of me, so that my wife can be more intimate with me. And some of those might be legitimate things. But if I want to be more closely joined with my wife, I have to find out what spiders do I need to kill? And so I just say, have this conversation with your spouse. Use this analogy of spiders. What do I need to kill in my life that’s keeping you from feeling close to me? That’s keeping you from feeling connected to me? It might not be biblically prohibited, but just as a relational thing, it needs to be sanded off. And then fourth is the attitude of “I was born for this.” I love Proverbs 17:17 that says this, “A friend loves at all times. And a brother is born for adversity.” A friend loves at all times, a brother is born for adversity. That’s even more true in marriage. I’m called to love at all times. I’m to say when my wife is in adversity, I was born for this.
If she gets discouraged, if she gets sick, if she’s hurting, I was born for this. Instead of resenting it, I’m like a fireman. A fireman doesn’t resent it when there’s a call for a fire. It’s like their adrenaline rises. This is what I trained for. Not that they want there to be a fire because they don’t want destruction, but they’re saying-
John: But they’re ready.
Gary: … this is my job. This is when I come to life. And we talked about the prosecuting attorney. If we have the prosecuting attorney view when there’s a challenge we resent. “Oh, man, I have to step up for this.” If we have the defense attorney, our attitude is, “I was born for this.” This is why God called me to be married for this woman, to help her get through. And you know what? A lifetime of saying I was born for this, builds a lifetime of intimacy. He was there for me then. She was there for me then. You never forget that. And so the end goal then of relational intimacy is this. I am yours. In good times, in bad times, in poverty and wealth, in sickness and in health, I am yours in every way. Before my hobbies, before my family of origin that I left, before my vocations, before my kids, dad or mom, I am yours. And that’s the goal I think every married couple needs to strive for.
John: What a great conversation we’ve had with Gary Thomas the past couple of days here at Focus on the Family and we hope that he’s helped you get a new vision and purpose for your marriage.
Jim: And if your relationship, uh, needs some help, it’s okay, that’s not unusual. Uh, please give us a call and ask for resources or you can speak to one of our caring Christian counselors. You might ask as, well, if attending our Hope Restored would be a good fit for your situation. This is a marriage intensive for couples on the brink of separation or divorce, or some that even signed the papers already. Your marriage is worth the investment. And what they do there is usually a 4-day engagement. It goes about 10 hours a day. And it’s tough. But it accomplishes so much. Post 2-year survey show that over 80% of the couples that attend are doing better and still married. So it’s one of those things at Focus I’m really excited about.
John: Yeah, you can call us and we can tell you more about Hope Restored or you can ask to speak with one of our counselors. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
And of course, another step to take would be Gary’s book, A Lifelong Love. It’s a really powerful resource. And we’ve got that here. Each chapter has thought-provoking questions, and we’d be happy to send a copy of that to you.
Jim: And here at the close, let me just say thank you for your prayers and support of the ministry. When you donate to Focus on the Family, you’re allowing us to distribute this great content on radio stations and podcast providers, to families around the world. With the generosity of friends like you, we were able to help more than 440,000 couples build stronger marriages over the past 12 months. That’s awesome. And we really want to grow that outreach. That’s what it’s about.
If you’ve never donated or we haven’t heard from you in a while, can I encourage you to join or rejoin the marriage building team? A monthly pledge would be a great way to partner with us, or a one-time gift as well, whatever you can provide. And in response, we’ll send you a copy of Gary’s wonderful book, A Lifelong Love.
John: Donate today and request that book by Gary Thomas. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. Or you can donate and get Gary’s book at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Coming up tomorrow, a remarkable story. A former street kid in Uganda who has become a foster dad to needy children.
Peter Mutabazi: I know trauma in every shape, form that I knew I could be the best person to love on them and know where they come from, you know? He saw the best potential in me that I think foster kids need that as well. And I thought I’d be the best parent I can be.
John: On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.