Gary Chapman: And as you become more and more like Christ and your spouse becomes more and more like Christ, you discover the marriage you always wanted – a loving, supportive, caring relationship.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That’s Dr. Gary Chapman and you’ll hear more from him today on Focus on the Family about how to love your spouse even when you don’t feel like it. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: Dr. Chapman is no stranger to us here at Focus on the Family. We love having him on the program, and I know you’ve been encouraged by him in some ways over the years, too. Today, he’s going to zero in on some specific scenarios, giving us a picture of desperation within marriage, and how to work through it to come out stronger on the other side. Some of you might be living in that spot. Marriage is a wonderful gift from God. All of us, at one point or another, dream of the perfect marriage. And then we realize no marriage is perfect. Maybe you’ve come to find your spouse isn’t who you thought they were. And maybe sometimes, you feel hopeless or stuck. If you find yourself in that position, I want you to know there is hope for strengthening your marriage. And today’s program will help you realize that.
John: And Jim, as you said, Dr. Chapman will certainly give us that encouragement. He is very well known for his best-selling Five Love Languages series. He has served as senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina for, I think, well over 40 years. And today, we’re talking about his book, Loving Your Spouse When You Feel Like Walking Away.
Jim: Dr. Gary Chapman, welcome back to Focus on the Family.
Gary: Well, thank you, Jim. It’s good to be with you again.
Jim: I love it when you’re here. You’ve – man, you’ve done so much and written so much. And I love the way God interweaves experience. How many – your best estimate – how many couples have you counseled with over the years?
Gary: Oh, Jim.
Jim: I know it’s a hard question.
Gary: I have no idea.
Jim: But come on, give me a…
Gary: I really have no idea.
Jim: …Pie in the sky – thousands, probably?
Gary: I would – yeah, it would be thousands. But I would hate to guess.
Jim: And the point of that is through all of that, you gain experience. As a counselor, as a person interested in other people’s situations, you learn as you’re teaching.
Gary: Absolutely, Jim. You know, there are many times I remember through the years when I would sit there and listen to this couple. And I would just shoot up a prayer to God and say, “Oh, God, I have no idea where to go with this.”
Jim: So even you?
Gary: “Please give me…”
Jim: Okay, good.
Gary: “…Please give me wisdom.”
Jim: That makes me feel a lot better because that’s a natural prayer for the person who doesn’t have all the answers.
Jim: And that’s what we love about you, Gary, is just your ability to know, hey, this is from the Lord. This is God’s stuff, when we talk about marriage and difficulty in marriage. Let’s start. You’ve written this great book, Loving Your Spouse When You Feel Like Walking Away. The bigger narrative here for me is the fact that so many Christian marriages are breaking down.
Jim: It grieves my heart because we’re to be the witness in the world about how to do it well. And I can confess too, I mean, Jean and I don’t always get along. This is called the human condition. There are times when mostly I’m saying or doing something that’s really irritating. But um, that is human relationship. But we can do much better, as the Christian community, can’t we?
Gary: I think so, Jim, because we have outside help.
Jim: That’s it.
Gary: You know, by nature all of us are selfish. We want our way, you know?
Jim: We’re born that way, aren’t we?
Gary: And it’s only as God changes the heart and gives us the picture of Jesus, who said, “I didn’t come to be served. I came to serve.” And when we get that idea and our heart gets changed and we’re asking, “How can I serve you? How can I help you?” Marriages are on the way up…
Gary: …When we have that attitude.
Jim: You know, so often we use Christian language. And I’m mindful there are some listeners that may not know the Lord. But they’re tuning in for some good advice. And we appreciate that. But we talk about the sanctification process. And all that means is, how do we draw closer to God’s character? How do we reflect more of God’s character the older we get so that we’re more like him?
Jim: When you look at that in that context and you look at marriage, I’ve come to that conclusion that the bottom line of marriage is to make us more like Jesus through becoming more selfless.
Jim: And it’s really hard.
Gary: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, it’s not natural.
Jim: It is unnatural.
Gary: Yeah. You know, Jim, when my – when my marriage turned around, it was when I finally said to God, “I don’t know what else to do. This is not getting any better, and I don’t know what to do.” And as soon as I said that, there came to my mind that visual image of Jesus on His knees, washing the feet of His disciples.
Gary: And I heard God say to me, “That’s the problem in your marriage. You don’t have that attitude towards your wife.” Hit me like a ton of bricks because my attitude in the early years was, “Look, woman. I know how to have a good marriage. If you’ll listen to me, we’ll have one.” You know?
Gary: And I blamed her.
Jim: Well, and there’s the difference between the person that realizes, “I’m on the wrong path,” and then the person I sometimes can be, which – I know it. But I still act that way sometimes…
Jim: …Which is really irritating.
Gary: And that’s where apology becomes…
Gary: …Extremely important.
Jim: We know it, and we can’t do it. Well, let’s get into it ‘cause there’s so much wonderful content. And to those listening, this is going to be some tough stuff. We’re going to cover great material this time and next time. And it – it’s going to be, you know, good material but also some tough topics like adultery and pornography and some of those really hard issues that we need to think through. But let’s start with the overarching narrative here. You mention a term, “reality living,” in your book. What do you mean by reality living, and how does it apply?
Gary: Well, you know, Jim, what I’m trying to do in this book – because as you said, we’re dealing with heavy-duty issues…
Gary: …In this book – not just little things but huge things in a marriage. And I find that so many times, uh, we have a mindset in those kind of marriages that, “This is not going to work. It’s gone on too long. They’re not going to change” – you know, those kind of things.
Jim: Well, is that a coping mechanism for some people, to say, “Okay, there’s not much changing here; it won’t change.”
Gary: I think – I think it’s a way of giving us an out…
Gary: …In our own minds that since it is so bad and it’s gone on so long, then I – I can get out of here with grace, you know, and dignity. And I’m not saying that all marriages can be saved. You know, don’t – don’t hear me saying that. But I do believe that many, many people give up in those difficult marriages which, if they had a different perspective on things – which I’m calling reality living – they could be an influencer. It is true we can’t change our spouse. We can’t make them change. But we can influence them. And we do, every single day – either negatively or positively. And so I’m trying to talk about if you take the right approach to things, which I’m calling reality – and we can look into those elements…
Jim: We’re going to.
Gary: …Then you’re far more likely to have a positive influence on your spouse. And then they change because you’ve influenced them.
Jim: Right. Reality living – maybe another way of saying that is knowing the truth, right?
Gary: It is.
Jim: That is what you’re saying?
Gary: It is, yeah.
Jim: Know what’s true about you. Know what’s true about your spouse.
Jim: Well, let’s get into some of those myths that you mention in the book. What truths must we cling to as we’re relating to our spouses? What are those things?
Gary: Well, I think we have to, first of all, acknowledge these common myths. And we don’t often perceive them as myths. But they are. One is that my environment determines my state of mind, or my spouse determines my well-being. You know, so if I have an alcoholic husband, then I’m going to have a miserable life.
Jim: What’s the difference between determine and reality? I mean, it’s real that they’re an alcoholic in that moment.
Gary: That – that influences us. But it doesn’t determine…
Gary: …Whether I’m going to have a positive life or a negative life.
Jim: That’s in you.
Gary: That’s in me. I determine that, you know? And a second one is that people cannot change. And that’s a very common perception. It’s a myth that people cannot change. Look at biographies, and you will find people lived terrible lives for 30 years. And then they met God, and their life was totally changed. You know, Saint Augustine is an example of that.
Gary: Lived an awful life – and yet, he became one of the saints in the church, you know?
Jim: Right. But there’re – you know, it’s early in the discussion, Gary. But I’m thinking of that woman screaming back right now at us saying, “But you don’t know my husband!”
Gary: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: So speak to her.
Gary: Yeah, and that’s the common perception, that my situation is a different situation. That some marriages…
Jim: Or the worst.
Gary: Yeah, that some situations are hopeless, and mine is one of them. And I’m empathetic with that. I understand how you can feel that way when something has gone on for a long, long time. But chances are if you look back over that long, long time, your response has been basically the same through all these years.
Gary: Their – and their lifestyle’s been basically the same. So it’s not working. What – your influence is not being a positive influence. So if we can find a way to have a positive influence, there’s a greater opportunity that there will be change.
Jim: Now, that’s good. So you have the environment determines my state of mind as a myth. People cannot change. And what’s another one?
Gary: Another one is that in a really troubled marriage, I say to myself, “I only have two options. I can stay here and be miserable the rest of my life.” And a lot of Christians will take this approach. “I married them. I’m gonna stick in here.”
Jim: “It’s my duty.”
Gary: “And I’m gonna – it’s my duty. And I’m gonna be miserable the rest of my life.” That’s one option. The other option is, “I can get out of this and hope that I’ll find happiness somewhere else down the line.” And that those are my only two options. And that’s a myth. There’s a third option. And that’s what this book is all about. And that is, “I can choose, with the help of God and the guidance of what other people have learned, I can be a positive influence in this marriage. And I can create a different atmosphere in this marriage, which may eventually lead to my spouse changing their behavior.”
Jim: And in a moment, we’re going to get into those different descriptions, you know, the unfaithful spouse, some of the other things that cause marriages to break. But in that context, you really have to break the habit of what – what you want out of this marriage, right?
Jim: That’s hard to do, Gary.
Gary: Well, all of us want to be happy in a marriage. You know, that – we get married. We think we’re going to be happy. We were happy when we got married because we were in love.
Gary: But as you know, we come down off that in-high experience after about two years. And our differences emerge because we’re human. And humans think differently. And humans feel differently. And so we get into an argumentative state. And then it kind of goes downhill from there. But the kind of things we’re talking about in this book, as you mentioned earlier, are really heavy, heavy-duty situations. So I think the first aspect of reality living is that I am responsible for my own attitude.
Jim: So these are the truths of what’s real?
Gary: Yeah, these are the things we try to apply…
Gary: …In each of these situations, you know, whether it’s a workaholic husband or husband that won’t work or whatever – is that, “I’m responsible for my attitude in this. And I can be negative, which is my natural response. And I can be critical of them for the behavior that they have. Or I can choose to have a positive attitude and look for something good in their behavior that I can affirm.”
Jim: Let’s talk about the other person’s needs. I mean, in that respect, your spouse’s needs – sometimes you can get so embattled and so weary and so bitter, I guess is the right word, that we can’t even see through the fog to understand what our horrible spouse needs. I mean, I’m saying that for the right reasons.
Jim: Are those needs excuses for bad behavior on our part? Or how – how do we look at that?
Gary: I don’t think they’re excuses, though they can be. But I think if we can understand that behind all of our behavior, there are emotional needs that are driving that behavior – you know, we see this in the physical world. You know, if I’m sitting there with my wife, and I – we’re talking, and then I get up and go in the kitchen and get a drink of water, a physical need stimulating my behavior. I was thirsty, and I went to get water. We see that in the physical world.
Gary: Same thing is true in the emotional world. So if I can think about, “What are the needs behind my behavior and the needs behind my spouse’s behavior,” I can understand the behavior better. Now, it doesn’t excuse bad behavior, but it helps me understand bad behavior. So for example, let’s say that, uh, one of the emotional needs we have is the need to feel loved. And, you know, this is a theme that I have spent a lot…
Jim: Absolutely, yeah.
Gary: …Of my life with, with The Five Love Languages. But if a husband doesn’t feel loved – and let’s say he’s a workaholic. So he’s not home much. And every time he comes home, his wife criticizes him because he’s – doesn’t come home.
Gary: Well, if words of affirmation is his love language and she’s giving him condemning words…
Gary: …She’s making the situation worse. He wants to stay at work because there, he gets words of affirmation. People are affirming him at work. But at home, he – all he gets is criticism. So if you understand that his motivation for staying at work more may well be that he’s feeling love there and not feeling loved at home, now you at least understand what’s behind the behavior.
Jim: But in that context, that’s the irrational nature of us as human beings because we can even understand that. We know he’s getting that affirmation. And it might even be irritating us because they don’t know the man I’m married to. And you start building up, again, this irrational behavior where you’re actually piling on rather than being that positive influence.
Jim: How do you break that – almost, like, a habit…
Jim: …Where it just comes naturally to pile on. And you don’t even know you’re doing the damage or reinforcing it.
Gary: Yeah, and I think understanding this concept, however, is that my behavior, if I’m the one that’s being hurt at home, my behavior’s also motivated by, perhaps, a lack of love. I don’t feel loved. If he loved me, he’d be home spending time with me. He doesn’t spend time with me. So I’m feeling – I’m feeling unloved. So my anger, my lashing out at him is also growing out of an unmet need in my life.
Gary: So we’re – both have bad behavior. But it’s growing out of the same unmet need.
Gary: And if we can sit down and understand that and talk with each other about that and say, “You know, what can we do to change this? Because I really do love you. That’s why I’m out there working all that – I really love you.” And so if you understand what’s behind the behavior, you’re more likely to address it in a positive way and find a positive way to meet that need. And when the need is met, you may well see the behavior changes.
Jim: Boy, that’s so good. Dr. Gary Chapman, our guest today, Loving Your Spouse When You Feel Like Walking Away. And you’re there. I know you are listening. And you’re in that spot right now where you’re thinking, “I know I’ve made a commitment to Christ. And we started strong. And we’re a Christian couple. And – and, uh, but it just has fizzled out.” This is the resource for you. And we want you to have a copy of it. And I hope you will contact Focus on the Family to do just that.
Gary, you’re describing that workaholic spouse so well. But again, maybe the golden question is, when you’re being hurt, we keep a scoreboard. If you stop hurting me, then I’ll stop hurting you.
Jim: And we may not even know we’re expressing it that way. But the piling on that we’ve described is exactly that. How do you find the fortitude? What do you do in your relationship with the Lord to say, “Lord, give me the strength so I don’t slap back when he or she…”
Jim: “…Emotionally slaps me.”
Gary: Yeah, by nature I think we approach life – and consequently, we approach marriage – with a contract mentality.
Gary: “I’ll be kind to you if you’re kind to me. I’ll express love to you if you express love to me.” And when we do that, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. Marriage, to be a success, has to be motivated by love. And the source of love is God.
Gary: In fact, the scriptures say clearly, the love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. So as Christians, if we open our heart to God and say, “Lord, you know I’m married to this person. You know how they’re treating me. You know how I’m hurt. You know what I’m feeling. But I want to be an agent of loving them. So I’m opening my heart to you. Pour your love into my heart. I want to treat them the way Jesus treated people.” Remember, He loved us when we were unlovely.
Gary: So you’re married to an unlovely spouse. But God can help you love that spouse in a meaningful way, even though you do feel hurt and you have a lot of other emotions. Because, Jim, here’s one of the key issues. In our culture especially, we’re prone to live by our emotions.
Jim: Mmhmm, so true.
Gary: So if I’m angry, then I’m going to lash out, you know. And whatever emotion I have, it’s going to control my behavior. We don’t have to be controlled by emotions. We don’t deny them. We say, “Lord, I’m angry. I’m hurt.”
Gary: “But I want to do something positive.”
Gary: And you can do something positive even though you have negative feelings.
Jim: It’s so hard, Gary. What you’re describing is immaturity.
Jim: I mean it – really, if we all look in the mirror, we’re not there. And we’re lacking that maturity spiritually to understand how to do this better. Let’s move to another tough one. You – in the book, you talk about the depressed spouse.
Jim: When we look at the newspapers, there’s so many articles about anxiety and depression in the culture, how many people are needing medication to cope with that. Even in a culture that materially has so much, I think we lead the world in depression and anxiety.
Jim: I mean, it’s an amazing contradiction, I think, where we – we’re not in squalor. We have homes and food and all the basics. But yet, we’re depressed as a culture. What’s happening?
Gary: Well, Jim, I think obviously depression is a whole – a huge topic because there’s different kinds of depression. And I discuss that in the book. But the most troublesome kind of depression is that is physically based. The bal – the brain is out of balance. And this is the one that can be helped by medication.
Jim: So that’s a biochemical issue?
Gary: Biochemical issue. Others are what we call situational depressions. You know, something has happened. My mother died, or my husband lost a job or something like that. And – and so I go into depression because of that deep loss. But that’s typically temporary, especially if we have someone we can talk that out with. But I think when – in a marriage, when the spouse has been depressed for a long time and they’re hardly able to function at all in the marriage or at least very minimally there, this is where it becomes a real problem in the marriage, uh, because you feel like, “I’ve done everything I can do. I’m washing the dishes. I’m cooking the meals. Uh, they’re in bed half the time. When they are up, they’re down. They’re negative.” I mean, let’s face it – that is a hard thing to cope with…
Gary: …When you’re in a marriage and – and your spouse is suffering from depression. And again, many times, we – the person will feel like, “Well, I’ve tried everything. You know, I’ve told them they need to go for counseling. I’ve told them they need to see the doctor. I’ve told them – they won’t do anything,” you know?
Gary: And sometimes, in that situation, the loving thing is that we bring together other members of the family – sometimes adult children and say, “Look, we – we got to sit down here and talk with mom. Or we got to sit here and talk with dad. And if they’re not willing, we’re gonna have to kind of force them to do something here,” you know? And it’s a loving act – that you’re kind of forcing them to go get some help from a medical doctor, from a counselor – anywhere to get it started. And that’s the loving act, but it has to go more than trying to talk them into it.
Gary: Because when you’re depressed, you don’t feel like getting up and going anywhere to do anything.
Gary: So we have to take that kind of action, I think, as an act of love.
Jim: You know, I want to go a little further in this ‘cause you have some very specific do’s and don’ts, which you’re describing, but let’s go a little further to help. Because it’s so common in marriage today where one of the spouses is dealing with depression, give us some more practical insights or a story where you can say these things, and certainly don’t say these other things.
Gary: Yeah, well, here – here are some things you shouldn’t say…
Jim: Right, okay.
Gary: …To a person who’s depressed.
Jim: Conviction time – here we go.
Gary: That you tell her or him, “You have nothing to be depressed about. I mean, look – look at everything around you here. I mean, you got everything you need.”
Jim: You’ve got a nice house. We have food, right.
Gary: Yeah, you don’t have any reason to be depressed.
Jim: Now, sometimes, Gary – sorry, I want to challenge some of this.
Jim: Sometimes, you’re feeling like that’s a reassurance. I mean, you’re reassuring them, but it’s not.
Gary: Yeah – but it’s not. It comes across…
Jim: It doesn’t…
Gary: It comes across as condemnation.
Jim: Yeah, wow.
Gary: You’re bad because you’re depressed.
Jim: See, that’s where I could miss it.
Gary: Yeah, and the other one is to say, “Now, come on, honey. You gotta snap out of this. Now, this has gone on long enough. You gotta snap out of this.” A depressed person cannot snap out of this.
Jim: Well, that’s really insensitive.
Gary: Yeah, so that’s really, again, another put down for them. Or here’s one that Christians often use – “Honey, this is a spiritual problem. You got to get right with God.”
Gary: Well, again, it’s condemnation. Now God’s against me, you know?
Gary: I’m depressed, and God’s against me for being depressed.
Jim: So this goes back to kind of that piling-on mentality, and we’re – we’re – what do we – on the side of the correction, what are we trying to accomplish with those statements? I mean, what are we really doing?
Gary: Well, I think our – our intentions are probably good. We’re really trying to talk them out of it, but you can’t talk a person out of depression. And so when we come across with those kind of words, it just makes things worse for them. It’s a greater burden on their heart when you come across with those kind of words.
Jim: So I wanna – you know, working, rightfully, the Lord into this, how does that spouse seek God to help their mate?
Gary: I think prayer, obviously, is one thing because no matter what the spouse is doing, we can always pray that God will bring something along that’s gonna impact them and make things different.
Gary: I think another, however, is to share scriptures…
Jim: With that spouse?
Gary: …With that person. You know, just to say, “You know, honey, this morning, I was reading here in, uh, the Psalms and here – here’s just a passage that I read.”
Gary: You know, it’s just – and, uh, you read them a positive passage. Uh, so that never hurts to share positive passages from the word of God. Uh, but I think the other thing, and here – here are things that you really can do. First one I’ve already mentioned – that is, do everything possible to get them into counseling or to get them to a medical doctor…
Gary: …So that they can begin to get the – some treatment. So here are positive things you can say if they are in counseling. You tell them how glad you are that they’re getting counseling and how you really believe that God is gonna help them work through this, and that counselor’s gonna help them or the doctor’s gonna help them. And you’re really proud of them. The – you know it’s hard to get up and go to the doctor, get up and go to a counselor. You know how hard it is, but I – I’m so proud of you that you’re making that effort to do that.
Jim: So affirmation?
Gary: Affirmation of that, yeah. Let her know – or him know – that if they want to talk about what they’re feeling, you’re open to that. You’re ready to listen. They don’t have to talk. “You don’t have to tell me, honey. But if you want to talk and you want to share with me what you’re thinking and feeling, I’m always open to that.” And then you receive their feelings without condemnation whatever they share, whatever – whether they say, “I just feel hopeless.” And you say, “Honey, I guess I can understand how you’d feel that way. Why don’t you tell me more about it? What do you think brought you to feel that way?”
Jim: So that’s empathy?
Gary: Yeah, it’s empathy. You’re trying to enter into their feelings. And you’re affirming their feelings. Rather than saying, “You shouldn’t feel that way,” you’re saying, “I guess I can understand how you might feel that way.”
Jim: Gary, let me ask you before we, uh, end here today. We’re wrapping up, but for the spouse that is not the one with depression, how can they trigger themselves to be better at empathizing through their frustration? What can you do to grow your empathy so that you’re not condemning?
Gary: Well I think, Jim, it’s not easy because when you have lived with a depressed spouse for a long time, you really do feel like, “I’ve tried everything, and it’s just not getting any better.” But if you can understand that your behavior does have an impact on your spouse, either positively or negatively, and the kind of things we’ve discussed that you shouldn’t do have a negative impact. The kind of things we talk about in the book that you should do have a positive impact. And one of those things is recognizing there’s always a reason why people feel what they feel.
Gary: And if we will listen to their feelings and ask them, “Why do you think you feel that way? What do you think brought this about?” The more you listen to them, the more you’re helping them because a person who’s depressed needs to talk to somebody. And that’s the role of the counselor, but you can be a spouse who is a listener. And a listener is going to have a positive impact on a person who has depression.
Jim: And just to reemphasize this – that’s a skill set you need to grow.
Jim: You may not possess it, but you can possess it.
Gary: Yes, we can learn how to be listeners. By nature, many of us are talkers. We can talk and talk and talk…
Gary: …Until you want ought to be done, you know? But learning to listen can also be learned.
Jim: Yeah, Gary this has been so good. There’s more to cover, so let’s come back next time and talk about the controlling spouse. Uh, perhaps we can also talk about a very difficult topic, which is physical abuse. And then we’ll also discuss the issue of pornography and infidelity and those things that can absolutely destroy a marriage. Can we do it?
Jim: Terrific. Let me turn to you, the listener, if your marriage is struggling, and you need some help to get back on track, we have counselors available on staff to give you an initial consultation, and then refer you to someone in your local area. We have an extensive referral list. And for those of you who are in the situation where you feel like walking away from your spouse, call us for more information regarding our Hope Restored marriage intensives. Hope Restored has helped many couples work through challenging circumstances – even those who have signed divorce papers. God is working through these intensive sessions to change marriages and lives for the better. In fact, in a post two-year follow-up, four out of five couples report their marriages are stronger and more successful than ever before.
John: Yeah, it really is a remarkable program, and to schedule a consultation with one of our counselors, maybe to find out more about Hope Restored, call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Jim: And today’s program has highlighted why Focus on the Family exists. We want to strengthen families in every way possible. And we’re only able to come alongside couples who need our help because of your faithful support. So if you believe in this ministry, please make a donation today. And when you pledge a monthly gift of any amount, we’ll send you a copy of Loving Your Spouse When You Feel Like Walking Away by Dr. Chapman as our way of saying thank you. And if you can’t commit to that monthly contribution, we’ll send it to you for a one-time gift as well.
John: Yeah, make that donation, and get a copy of Dr. Chapman’s book and a CD or instant download of this conversation. Online you can do so at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back as we once again continue the conversation with Dr. Chapman and help you and your family thrive in Christ.