Dr. Gary Chapman: When you focus on the negative and you say negative things and critical things to your spouse, there’s something inside of them that wants to run from you, just get away from you. So, this whole thing of looking for the positive and choosing to think about the positive it in itself has a way of moving you back toward spring and summer.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: That’s Dr. Gary Chapman and he’s describing one way that you can positively impact your marriage and you’ll hear more from him on today’s “Focus on the Family” with your host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, last time we had a great discussion about the cyclical nature of marriage and how our marriage transitions from winter, spring, summer and fall and we find ourselves in any one of those four seasons at any time in our marriage.
And Gary Chapman, our guest has done a beautiful job like he always does, just capturing complex human relationship ideas and then putting them into more bite-size formats. And we are gonna talk with Gary today to talk about what season your marriage is in and how to get to a good place.
John: And let me just say here at the start, if you’re struggling in your relationship, we do have counselors here on staff, caring Christians who can have an initial discussion with you about where you’re at. It may be that you’re doin’ pretty well. You just want a resource and Dr. Chapman’s book, The 4 Seasons of Marriage is a great tool. We’ve got out counseling team and resources like this book available to you when you call 800-A-FAMILY; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: You know, so often people will say, you know, I’m praying for Focus on the Family. We’re supporting you. What else can we do to engage the ministry of Focus? I’ll tell you. One of the great things you can do is right here in this area of marriage. Be in tune with your neighbors. Be in tune with your friends at church. What may be on the outside may not be the whole story. So, keep your ear to the ground and if you’re in that good place, join us in ministry. Turn people toward Focus on the Family to help them in their marriage. Let ’em know you know of great resources where people can plug in.
And you know what? I don’t believe we’ll disappoint your good advice to your friends. I think if they come through the doorway here, we will do everything we can to help them in their marriage journey. So, have that confidence and it’s a great way to help people in their life and with that, Gary, let me say, welcome back to “Focus on the Family.”
Gary: Well, thank you. Good to be back again.
Jim: You must experience that where friends are saying, “Gary, I’ve got a buddy you need to meet and straighten out.” (Laughter)
Gary: Oh, yeah.
Jim: Does that happen to you?
Gary: Oh, yes and sometimes it really is a buddy. And sometimes it’s them. (Laughter) They’re talkin’ about themselves, you know.
Jim: “I’ve got a friend.”
Gary: I’ve got a friend, yes. And all of us have friends and sometimes it’s easier to try to get an answer for a friend than it is to reveal that this is where I am, you know, in my relationship. But it’s okay. Wherever people start, at least it’s a step.
Jim: You know, and last time and if you didn’t hear it, you gotta get the download or go to the website and listen. We talked about three of the seasons, winter, spring and summer. And what I’d like to do if you could, just give us that recap on those three and then, we’re gonna talk about fall and move into some strategies to help couples get to a good place.
Gary: Well, winter is cold and bitter and harsh, okay. It’s not a good place to be in your marriage.
Jim: We know what’s that’s like in Colorado.
Gary: I’m sure you do. (Laughter) And we have winters in North Carolina, as well, where I live. And then spring, of course, is an exciting time. You’re anticipating things. You almost always start off in spring and life is going to be wonderful. You’ve got great plans and things you’re gonna do together. You have visions of really a happy marriage.
And then summer is, you have a happy marriage. I mean, things are really going well. You’re solving conflicts. You’ve accepted some things that you used to be irritated about. You’re enjoying discussing life with each other. You’re reading books together. You’re growing spiritually together. Summer’s a good place.
And then the fall, which is the one that we will focus on here, things look good on the outside, but really inside there’s a lot of apprehension, some fearfulness, maybe even sadness–things that just don’t feel quite right in the relationship. No one else sees them yet, but we may feel unappreciated in a fall marriage, not verbalizing it. We’re uncertain about where things are going and we also kinda tend to start blaming our spouse. They’re not doing what they should be doing.
Jim: In fact, you talk about the No. 1 cause of fall marriages is neglect.
Jim: Describe that. Neglect can be so many different things.
Jim: How do we neglect each other in the marriage?
Gary: I think it’s failing to connect on a regular basis. We’re involved in so many other things. You know, it may be work. It may be children. It may be church. It may be good things in the community. We’re involved in good things, but we’re not connecting with each other. We’re not sharing those things with each other. We’re neglecting the primary relationship in the family and that’s the relationship between the husband and the wife.
Jim: Gary, you counsel thousands of couples and I’m sure this is probably coming from 999 of ’em. “Dr. Chapman, I mean, life is busy. Do you notice?”
Jim: “And I’m busy and the wife is saying, ‘I’m quite busy, too. We’ve got three kids in their teens.”
Jim: So, that, is it an excuse or is it a legitimate issue of life that, I’m so busy, it’s No. 4 or 5 or 12 on my list to connect with my spouse. That’s like the last thing I can get to.
Gary: Yeah and if that’s our attitude, we’re too busy.You know, God would not have ordained marriage and that marriages produce children and thus families, if there wasn’t time to do it all. There has to be time to raise children and have a healthy marriage and have a job, because God also ordained work.
There has to be time to do it and if we don’t have time to keep the marriage relationships growing, then we need to look at our lives and there are some things we maybe are doing that we don’t need to be doing. We’re neglecting the most important to do something that seems important.
Jim: Now you can take a very drastic change in your life to correct that. What are you suggesting? If my vocation is really consuming me, it’s 80 hours a week and yeah, I don’t really have time to spend on my marriage and she knows I love her, ’cause I told her that when we got married, but she’s not gonna get a lot more out of me. So, what do you say to that guy?
Gary: I think there is a time to assess. In fact, there should be many times in a marriage to assess where we are and if we continue on the path we’re now on, where are we gonna be in five years or 10 years? And I think there are times to make drastic changes and many couples have made those changes.
You know, I know couples where one of them, for example a father has decided to be a stay-at-home, you know, caretaker for the children, because the mother’s got a job. She’s making three times what he’s making.
Gary: So, they just together agree, this will work and we can have a family, you know. And it may be the other way around. A mother may decide, I’m gonna be a stay-at-home mom for a season in my life. Maybe you have a vocation that you really, really love, but you’re gonna choose to stay at home for a season and then later on you can pick back up your vocation. So, some of those big decisions can be made.
But many times, it’s more the smaller decisions. It’s looking for time and making time to stay connected to each other.
Jim: That’s the easier pathway.
Jim: I was gonna ask you with those couples, when you see them two, three years down the road, are they in, a majority of them, maybe 80, 90 percent, are they in a better place and they were grateful for making the tough choices they made?
Gary: They are because they’re enjoying life together. They’ve made time to enjoy life together. And if you don’t make time to enjoy life and you spend all the time making money and doing this, that and the other thing, it’s gone before you know it. You know, the kids are gone and now, we don’t have a life together.
Jim: One of the strategies you encourage in your book to get to a better season in your marriage is to identify past failures. That can be hard. I mean, we don’t like lookin’ in the closet saying, “Yeah, that was wrong.”
Jim: What’s the importance of that?
Gary: We don’t like looking back. We would hope that time would just erase the effects of our failures, but time does not erase the effects. You know, the Scriptures are very clear. If we confess our sins, God is ready to forgive our sins. Same principles applies in human marriages, human relationships.
If we are willing to acknowledge that I failed you in this, in this and this, most of the time, our spouse is willing to forgive us. But the very fact that we bring it up and say, “I’ve been thinking about us. I’ve been reflecting on our lives and I realize that I failed you in some really significant ways and you kinda spell them out and ask for forgiveness. And even if it’s deep hurt and been there a long time, your spouse may not immediately forgive you, but they walk away thinking in their mind, wow, never thought I’d hear this.
Gary: You know, and three days later they may well come back and say, “I’ve been thinkin’ about what you said the other night and I realized I haven’t been the perfect spouse either.” And maybe they share some things. And then you forgive each other. It’s a huge step in moving forward, to recognize and deal with past failures.
John: I don’t think I would be speaking out of turn. When we came up to this part of the conversation, I immediately thought of a past failure in our relationship. And I won’t go into details, but I said something very, very hurtful to Dena. This was many, many years ago. And I think we’ve resolved that, but I’m not sure. Maybe we haven’t.
John: So, when that one pops into my mind, should I let that maybe be a little prompt from God to go back to her to say, “Do you remember that time?” ‘Cause I don’t want to go there, right?
John: I caused such pain, I’d like—
John: –to keep the door closed on that one.
John: Is there value to going back just to make sure?
Gary: I think if you have a question, it would be worth your while to say to her, “We were discussing this today and this popped back in my mind. I just want to make sure that that’s all clear.” And she may well say, “Honey, it’s clear. I don’t know why you even thought about it.” Or she may say, “You know, it does bother me once in a while, too.”
John: I imagine there are a lot of guys though, thinkin’, I’m not wantin’ to go there (Laughter), right?
Jim: Well, and the big question is, what if you’re rationalizing that your failures are far less than your spouses? (Laughter) And then you’re keepin’ score.
Gary: And we excuse ourselves when that’s the case.
Jim: Right, yeah, you’ve got 40 failures; I’ve got 20.
Jim: So, until I get up near you, I’m not sayin’ a word. That’s not healthy though.
Gary: No, no. The real problem is you. You know, you’re 95 [percent] and we hear this a lot. A wife says to her husband, “Can we go for counseling?” And he says, “I don’t have any problems. You’re the one that has the problems. You want to go for counseling, you go for counseling.” So, he’s not willing to So, yeah, that’s never a healthy approach.
Jim: Gary, you talk about a three-step process for working through those past failures that we’re alluding to. Give us an example of how you’ve walked a couple through the process in your counseling, if you can.
Gary: One is to ask God, just take an hour away and sit down alone with God and ask God to bring back to your mind all the places where you failed your spouse in the past.
Jim: And just write them down.
Gary: And just write them down. And God’ll do that, because God wants us to deal with our failures. Then you go to your spouse and you tell them. “You know, I sat down with God the other day and I asked Him to tell me where I have failed you in the past and He gave me a pretty good list. And if you’ve got a few minutes, I’d like to share these with you, either now or later and see if you could forgive me.” Wow, your spouse is listening and chances are they’ll make time to let you read the list.
Jim: That right there is probably worth the two days of listening to this program. I mean, I think that could make a dramatic difference in your marriage. Man, try that and then let us know the difference it made in your marriage a week or the next day. I would love to hear from you if that piece of advice right there made a difference for you. Wow, Gary, that’s powerful.
Gary: And if your spouse happens to say, once you read the list, “I’d like to forgive you, but I don’t know if I can,” give ’em time. Just say—
Jim: Don’t press.
Gary: –I don’t want to pressure you for forgiveness, but I hope that you can eventually find it in your heart to forgive me, because you deserve more and I want to be what you deserve.” And let it ride. I can tell you, there’s a good chance now you start being kind and changin’ your behavior, that they’re gonna forgive you and they come back and confess their own failures.
Jim: Gary, as you described that, the word that jumps into my mind like a neon sign is “humility” and vulnerability. And again, what is it in us as human beings that, that’s so hard a place to get it? That vulnerability to be able to do that, which I mean, I think a lot of people are exhaling going, “Ah, if we could only do that it would be different.”
Jim: Why can we not get there? What is it in us that we don’t want to be that vulnerable? We’d rather sit in the muck of our marriage than do that.
Gary: I think it’s the work of the enemy in our hearts and in our minds. He doesn’t want us to confess our failures. He doesn’t want us to experience forgiveness and anything he can do to keep us from getting there, he will.
I think also we are self-centered. We are prideful and yes, it’s hard to acknowledge your failures, especially in a close relationship like marriage. But when we do, we’re free. You know, even if they don’t forgive you, you feel better because you laid it on the table.
And it’s so biblical. You know, I mean, God doesn’t just forgive everybody; He forgives people who confess their sins. And that principle is true here. We don’t just expect our spouse just to forget all this stuff. But if we confess it, then they can forgive and now we’ve got the wall torn down. Now we can begin building our marriage or rebuilding our marriage.
John: Those [are] some practical strategies to dealing with difficulties in your marriage. We’re talking about The 4 Seasons of Marriage. It’s written by Dr. Gary Chapman and he’s our guest today on “Focus on the Family.” If you’d like to learn more about what he’s talking about, if what we’ve offered are some helpful tips and some advice that you can put to heart, call us. We’re here and we’d love to be able to help you learn more about this resource and others. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY or stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Gary, you’ve touched on those three key components of identifying your failures and confessing those to your spouse and then seeking forgiveness. Those are all biblical approaches to human relationships, particularly in marriage. Let me ask you another part of the strategy that caught my attention. That is to have a winning attitude toward your spouse and I mean, so many wives and husbands are going, “Yeah, but you don’t know my spouse.” (Laughter) What is it to have the winning attitude and where does that come from?
Gary: Well, it’s the opposite of having a negative attitude. The negative attitude is, you know, it’s never gonna be any better. It’s gone on too long; too much has happened. Nothing can ever be better. If you keep that attitude, nothing will be better. You will stay in a winter marriage.
But if you begin to think in terms of, there’s gotta be something good here in our relationship. And you start focusing on the positive view. You know, this is what Paul encouraged us to do in Philippians, chapter 4, when he said, you know, “If there’s anything good and holy and right,” and he listed a whole thing [list] of things, he said, “Think on these things. Think on the positive things. You start looking for positive things in your spouse and then you start verbalizing those things to them, look at them the way God looks at them.
Gary: Your spouse is somebody made in the image of God. They’re gifted by God. They have the ability to do things. And you start walkin’ down that road and you’ll begin to see some good things in your spouse. And then you verbalize it.
It may be simple things. It may be little things, but you begin to verbalize the positive things in the relationship. And when you verbalize the positive to your spouse, there’s something inside of them that wants to be better. Every time you commend them for something or point out something about them that you really like, they want to be better.
I remember when my kids were little. My wife would tell the children what a good father I was. And I knew sometimes she was goin’ way beyond reality. (Laughter) But every time she told them how good I was, it made me want to be as good as she said I was, you know?
And conversely, when you focus on the negative and you say negative things and critical things to your spouse, there’s something inside of them that wants to run from you—
Gary: –just get away from you. So, this whole thing of looking for the positive and choosing to think about the positive, it in itself has a way of moving you back toward spring and summer.
Jim: Well, and you’re touching on something I think’s critical and that is the kids and how you express your spouse’s gifts or issues and talk about that. Be positive with your kids about your spouse–
Jim: –about their mom or their dad.
Gary: Yeah, tell the kids in front of them, in front of your spouse, you know, what a good thing or something. Not all dads do what your dad did, you know. And also, behind their back, tell the kids when the father or husband’s or wife’s not there, tell your kids what a good mother they have and point out some of those three things, especially if your kids is being negative about something about—
Gary: –their father or mother, you say, “Honey, I know. I know that hurt you that dad didn’t come to your ball game, but let me tell you.” And you tell ’em two or three positive things about him.
Jim: That really works as a[n] antidote to the pain.
Gary: Absolutely and then you tell your husband, “Honey, he was really hurt that you didn’t come to his game, just information, you know.” Because you want him to pick up on these things.
Jim: Be aware.
John: And the power of these positive words and the positive attitude is not necessarily going to create instant change in a relationship, is it? I mean—
Gary: Not necessarily.
John: –because there’s been years of negative things going on.
Gary: Yeah, not necessarily quickly, but they do move you in the right direction. They begin to thaw the ice and they begin to move you back toward spring.
Jim: Gary, you talk about the Dead Sea people and the babbling brook people. (Laughter) I thought that was pretty funny. What in the world are you gettin’ at there? (Laughter)
Gary: I’m talkin’ about our personality when it comes to talking. Some of us are Dead Seas. You know, the Sea of Galilee flows south by way of the Jordan River into the Dead Sea. And the Dead Sea goes nowhere. That’s why we call it “the Dead Sea.”
Some of us have that kind of personality. We can receive thoughts, feelings, experiences throughout the day. We have a large reservoir where we store all of that and we’re perfectly happy not to talk. If you say to a Dead Sea, what’s wrong? Why aren’t you talking tonight? A Dead Sea will say, “Nothin’s wrong. What makes you think something’s wrong.”
It’s just that they can be content not to talk. Now the other personality type is what I call the “babbling brook.” And that’s the personality that whatever comes in the eye gate or the ear gate, comes out the mouth gate. And normally there’s not 60 seconds between the two. (Laughter)
In fact, if no one is at home, these people will call someone on the telephones. “You know what I just saw?” “You know what I just heard?” They have no reservoir and usually these two people marry each other. (Laughter)
John: Usually? (Laughter)
Gary: And the babbling brook will complain that her spouse doesn’t talk and often that spouse is a husband. He just won’t talk. I just have to keep askin’ him questions. He can sit down for a whole meal and not say a word about what happened today.
Jim: Well, and the difficulty is, you don’t bring a bulldozer in to make the Dead Sea a babbling brook. What do you do though, to find some compromise?
Gary: Yeah, you’re never gonna change the basic tendency, but you can both learn to grow toward the middle. The Dead Sea can learn to speak more than he would or she would normally speak. The babbling brook can learn to slow the flow, ask more questions and become a better listener.
And I say to the babbling brook, don’t ever expect the other person to talk as much as you talk. But if you’ll ask questions, they may give short answers, so you ask another question just to follow up and don’t get annoyed. Just keep asking questions. And they will respond to questions. It’s easy for a Dead Sea. It’s easier if you ask me questions, because otherwise you just say, “I wish we’d talk more” and I’m thinking, “About what?
Jim: And why?
Gary: Yeah and why? What do you mean, talk more? But give me a question. I can respond to the question.
Jim: Developing that empathetic ear to listen, I mean, I think unfortunately in marriages, that’s where we lose our ability to do it so quickly. Maybe after year two or maybe month two, we tend to not stay in touch with that ear to listen to each other. How do we maintain that as a good healthy part of our relationship?
Gary: You know, I never heard the word “empathy” when I was growing up. It’s a psychological word, but really it’s simple. It means, putting yourself in the shoes of the other person and trying to look at the world through their eyes.
So, when they’re talking, what you’re tryin’ to do is look from their perspective. What are they saying? What are they thinking? What are they feeling? And you ask questions to clarify, to make sure you understand what they’re [saying]. “Honey is this what you’re saying? Sounds to me like you’re saying this.” Give ’em a chance to clarify. That’s empathetic listening. It’s really trying to look at their perspective.
Now if you do this, then a little ways into the listening, you can honestly say, “Honey, I think I hear what you’re saying.” And you tell them and they say, “Yeah, that’s what I’m saying.”
Jim: Do you find that one gender, I mean, we laugh about that. That sounds exhausting. I mean—
Jim: –guys will probably go, “That’s right, Jim; that sounds exhausting.” (Laughter) And we even laugh like that. Do women, do they tend to be better listeners than men?
Gary: You know, I don’t want to put men in a category, but I do think that at least the men I’ve encountered (Laughing) have more difficulty doing this than do their wives.
Jim: And then how do we get beyond the joke of that, that it’s exhausting.
Jim: How do we say, “Okay, it’s exhausting, but I’m gonna do it.” What kind of triggers do you use to say, “Okay, calm down, Jim.”
Jim: “Listen to what Jean is saying.”
Gary: If you have to set time limits, then you can set time limits. See, some guys say to me, “Dr. Chapman, I don’t want to get in a conversation with her at night, ’cause it’s gonna be three hours.”
Jim: And I’m exhausted.
Gary: And I’m exhausted already, you see. And the wife is just crying for more conversation. And I say to both of them, okay, let’s back off and let’s not try to cram it all into a three-hour period. Let’s give her 15 minutes each night. And if she knows there’s gonna be another 15-minute conversation tomorrow night, she can learn to accept that, because she knows it’s not gonna build up and become a three-hour conversation.
So, I think finding out what works for you as a couple, but we have to listen to each other. If we don’t listen, we will never understand each other.
Gary: But if you listen long enough, you can say, “Honey, I think I hear what you’re saying and here’s the other line: “And it makes a lot of sense.”
Jim: And it makes a lot of sense.
Gary: And it does. From their perspective, it always makes sense. And when you say that, you are no longer an enemy; you are a friend.
Gary: And then you can say, “Let me share my side, honey.”
Jim: Gary, this has been fantastic advice, both today and last time. Probably the last question I need to ask is a final word from you. Okay, you’ve identified the four seasons and I am livin’ in winter. I don’t know where my spouse is living, but I’m livin’ in winter, people that feel stuck in that place, what can they do when they get home today? What can they do to begin to change it, to find spring or summer or at least, fall?
Gary: Do something different from what you did last night.