Milan Yerkovich: Stress is really a gift because it sheds light on my weaknesses. It gives me a clearer picture of where I am on the inside. And it also helps me know where I need to grow, possibly. But the other thing it does is it offers an opportunity for intimacy
John Fuller: Now I wonder if you’ve ever considered that stress is, or can be, a good thing for your marriage. That’s Milan Yerkovich, and we’ll hear a lot more from him, and his wife, Kay, on today’s Best of 2019 Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I doubt most people see stress as a gift. I don’t think I do. If anything, we find it annoying and even overwhelming, at times. We want to do anything we can do to get away from it. But we also know stress is always there. It’s a part of everyday life. And it often seems more intense this time of year, as we approach Christmas.
Jim: What I find interesting about stress is its ability to change our personalities. And maybe you’re like me…pretty well…I think [of] myself as well-balanced (chuckle). Generally upbeat. Not easily upset by stuff. Even-keeled, Jean would say.
But then stress hits and boom – I’m like a different person. Things set me off a little bit more easily than normally.
Suddenly, little things are starting to bug me and I lose my patience more quickly. Does that sound like you? (Laughing)
John: It… uh… let’s see. I had somebody actually the other day say you’re always just so laid back. And I said obviously, you were not with me the other day as my wife and I were discussing a child.
Jim: Well, exactly.
John: It just happens
Jim: And I thought it was interesting that so many listeners told us this conversation was eye opening for them, so I’m glad we’re able to revisit this program today.
John: And it is one of our Best of 2019 broadcasts, as I said, and received the second highest of all the programs we offered this past year. You can see and listen to the entire collection at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
And Milan and Kay Yerkovich are counselors, radio hosts, speakers, authors. They’ve been here a number of times before and they have a passion to help you, as a husband or a wife, experience a stronger, healthier marriage. Milan is an ordained minister and pastoral counselor. Kay is a licensed marriage and family therapist. And they’re probably best-known for this “Love Style” concept that we’re about to hear about as they unpack it an apply it to stress in marriage.
Here now, Milan and Kay Yerkovich.
Jim: Well let’s get going. Um, you know, we talked about what might be normal stress. And then there’s some line, I don’t know if it’s a consistent line with all people. But what’s normal stress, and what is that line that crosses into unhealthy stress?
Milan: Well, it’s what you do with the stress. Uh, what God wants us to do is learn to take our stress into relationship for the help that we’re supposed to receive from one another. If we don’t take our stress into relational relief, we’ll take our stress into nonrelational forms of relief, which leads to addiction, obsessions, compulsions and all the things we do or – or as you have already (laughter) wonderfully illustrated (Laughter), we lash out at people, and we hurt people. Or we retreat, and we shut down. Or we become silent and noncommunicative. So, what happens is it’s either a relational or nonrelational response.
Jim: Yeah. Kay, define stress. Somebody might be saying, “I don’t know if that qualifies as stress.”
Kay Yerkovich: Well, I think, really, when you ask someone if they’re stressed, what they’re feeling, it’s always a difficult emotion. I’m annoyed. I’m anxious. I’m hurt. You’re dealing with a difficult emotion. And, really, our ability to deal with stress is kind of related to how our families taught us to deal with difficult emotions.
Kay: So, I think, for some people, they’re stressed, and they don’t even know it.
Kay: Ah, if you took the – you know, the measure of their blood pressure or their cortisol levels in their blood, which indicate stress, it’d would be very high even though they’ll tell you, “I’m not stressed.” And then other people feel a lot of stress over even what we might think small things.
Jim: And within marriage – let’s get specific with that – um, what are some of the stress factors in marriage?
Milan: Well, at some level, when we have challenges in the relationship or we don’t see things eye-to-eye, as Kay said – and I loved how you said that, Kay – these unpleasant feelings come up on the inside, just like you described, John. And all of a sudden, I’m more harsh. I’m more irritable. And these unpleasant feelings come out of nowhere. They come out of the depths of our soul.
And that’s why we have people learn to identify them, Kay, which – you asked a question earlier. How would they know how to identify stress? If you use a soul word list and ask, “What am I feeling right now?” – you get the list of words that Kay just said. And then my spouse has to feel that. And she has to somehow – that is a conflict that I bring in, if we don’t know each other’s stress response and how to help each other there.
Jim: And let’s post those, uh, at the website. If…
John: The soul word list? Yeah.
Jim: It was created by you, if you’re OK with that.
Milan: Of course.
Jim: And that way, people can go look at it and begin to – to use that. It’s very effective. Jean and I have started to use that as well.
Jim: In that context of marriage, though, let me ask you this. Why – as human beings, why do these things that we know will stress us – why do we go to the attack mode then? Why – you know, if somebody – if we’re feeling stress and our wife says something, which we take is negative – bang! – then we fire right back, perhaps. I know this is a general question. But I’m just trying to – for the listener, trying to define the mechanism for them. You know, when they’re…
Milan: Excellent. That’s a great point.
Jim: …They’re walking along, and all of a sudden, there’s a little exchange of words, and all of a sudden now, you’re ready to fire back.
Kay: Well, I think that’s such a common thing that we do in marriage because – and like you said, when we’re at work or church, we do our best to put our best foot forward. But at home, our stressed self is going to be more evident. And I think, you know, to help people understand that that stress response is different for – some people do lash out.
Some people shut down. Some people go out the back door as quick as they can.
Milan: Some people sleep.
Kay: Some people sleep. You know, I know there was a period in our marriage. Really, for the first 15 years, Milan cleaned when he was stressed. And I had no idea that he was cleaning because he was anxious inside.
Jim: But let me ask you. Is – are those exchanges always rooted in stress?
Kay: Well, yes. They are.
Jim: Huh, interesting.
Milan: Bad feelings.
Kay: They’re rooted in dealing with difficult emotions. And the things that really just pop our …
Jim: Anger button.
Kay: …Our anger button… (Laughter)… just get us going, are often triggers. And triggers are something that – where a spouse is stepping on a childhood wound.
So, you know, we don’t often realize that some of our reactivity, whether it’s to fight or flee or freeze, is really occurring when, as you interface with someone in the present, they’re actually recreating or reliving a childhood experience.
Kay: And so, you’re going back to your coping mechanisms that you had as a child. And they’re often not great.
Milan: So, it’s dredging up history, jamming it into the present, which turbo-charges the reaction.
Jim: And I want to make sure – again, because someone listening might say, “Well, this is great. Milan, of course, is an ordained minister. And Kay’s a family therapist. And I get all that. It sounds like psychology here.”
But let’s talk about Jesus. I think you use Matthew 26 as an example because, uh – and we’re going to move into some of these other stress definitions and the love styles and how stress plays into that. But let’s put the spiritual application — I guess the goal, in many ways. Where was Jesus stressed? I guess the question would be, was he ever stressed? And how did he deal with it?
Milan: Well, when you put on your WWJD bracelet (Laughter), what did Jesus do when he was stressed? You look at Matthew 26. It was the night before he was going to die on the cross.
Milan: It was a miserable preparation that he had to go through. And he knew he was going to be judged and beaten and hung on a cross. But the night before he – it says in Matthew 26, “And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, which were James and John, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.” So, he had a stress response. This was his stress response. He was sorrowful and troubled. If you think what he would have looked like, he was uncertain, making noise. He was walking. He was pacing. He was breathing heavily. I’m sure, as Kay, you said earlier, his physiological responses – his heart rate was probably up. Adrenaline is flowing. And instead of being silent, he said to his disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful even to the point of death.”
Milan: Come watch and pray with me. And what he did was he revealed what was going
on the inside of him. He didn’t just act in his stress response and let them guess what was happening. He said, “My soul is distressed to the point of death.”
Milan: The word soul is a Greek word psuche, P-S-U-C-H-E. We get our word psychology from it. And it…
Milan: It is the word of the inner person. And I can’t read what’s going on in your soul. You have to tell me. That’s why Jesus proactively sought support from Peter, James and John. And he said, “Remain here with me. And pray and watch with me.”
And then it says in Hebrews that he cried with great, loud wailing and tears. And then it says in the gospels that he was so stressed that blood was commingling with his sweat.
Milan: And he was so stressed physiologically and emotionally. And he’s crying before the Lord. Is there another way that we can do this? And he said that three times.
And a lot of Christians think that this would be a weakness of faith to show emotion, uh, to be real to be transparent, to be vulnerable in front of other people. But Jesus modeled that horizontally with Peter, James and John and with the Heavenly Father. But where faith came in is where Jesus said, “Nevertheless, let thy will, not mine, to be done.” So, he allows – this is beautifully modeled that we see him highly stressed, with self-awareness – horizontal support of his three closest disciples Peter, James and John – vertical support with the Heavenly Father.
Milan: That’s how he managed his stress. It was relational.
Jim: And that’s the point I wanted to highlight…
Jim: …As you have in the material…
Jim: …That it’s – it is godly to take stress into a relational direction, not to shut down, not to isolate which, to me, would be evidence of the enemy of our soul…
Jim: …And his influence on us.
Jim: …To keep us separated, to be that lost sheep.
Milan: That’s right.
Jim: And, uh, you know that’s – but why then is it so difficult for us, created in his image? Why do we not go that direction? Why don’t we seek help? What pitfalls are there when you turn horizontally to Peter, James and John?
Kay: Well, there’s two difficulties there. One is your early training in terms of, what do you do with stress? What did your mom do when she was stressed? What was modeled?
Jim: These are learned things.
Kay: These are learned things. What did your dad do?
In my home, you know, no one was relational with stress. You just looked at Dad, knew, oh, he’s in a bad mood. Don’t go near him. Oh, mom’s really quiet. She must be stressed. But there was never any description nor were we asked as kids, “You don’t look so good today? What’s going on inside you?” So, hopefully, the beginning point is that we have self-awareness. We cannot ask for help if we don’t even know what’s going on inside. So that was one thing I had to do – was learn to describe my inner self.
Jim: And as I was reading the material, one of the things that (laughter) stressed me out a little – you said the parents are our first regulators of stress. And I thought, “Oh, poor Trent and Troy.”
Kay: (Laughter) Well…
Jim: But that is true.
Kay: It is. It is. And it’s like…
Jim: They learn from us. And that’s a burden, too, and a good one.
Kay: Well, it’s – you know, we do the best we can. But, you know, I say there’s no perfect parent. But we can be a growing parent. And we can model how to manage stress at any age to our kids and show them that we’re even growing in that.
John: So, what do we do about that? I mean, let’s say that I’m – I’m hearing this thinking, “OK. I have missed it. I haven’t helped my kids regulate at all.” What are – what are some beginning steps?
Milan: Well, I think for us one of the huge things that we started with was the soul words list, um, because we didn’t have great self-awareness. We weren’t teaching our kids to have great self-awareness. And we put that on the refrigerator. We put it on the table at dinner. And when we were talking about our days, we started to incorporate, “Well, how did that make you feel?” And while that sounds so simple, for us it was revolutionary because none of us had a vocabulary for feelings.
Milan: Well, the other thing we did was we confessed to our kids, or we would share. Another word for confess is to share publicly as Jesus did with the disciples.
Jim: Right. So that’s relational.
Milan: It’s relational. So, I would say to my kids, “You know what? I have had a hard day. I’m a bit impatient. Uh, I’m not doing real well. Please give me a little grace. And I just want you understand my behavior.”
Jim: That’s helpful.
Milan: Well, I tell you that to Kay. I tell that to my kids and to my fellow associates that I work with.
Kay: And that it’s not you.
Milan: It’s not you.
Milan: You’re not causing this.
Kay: That’s what the kid needs to understand…
Kay: …Is that they’re not causing it because that’s what they assume.
Jim: Right, because they then, uh, feel guilty or what…
Jim: …Have I done to make dad or mom…
Kay: Or become the parent to the parent or…
Jim: …More upset. Yeah.
Milan: So, Jesus informed them proactively of his emotional state. And we do that and learn to do that as well. It was really hard because Adam and Eve. They were fearful. And they hid, and they blamed.
Jim: (laughing) Right.
Milan: And so that’s what we do. We’re a lot more like Adam and Eve than we are the image and likeness of God. They’re blended. And sanctification is moving from one end to the other.
John: This is Focus on the Family and our guests are Milan and Kay Yerkovich describing the impact of stress on your marriage, and the conversation is based in part on their book, How We Love. And uh, the Yerkovich’s have also provided us with an audio CD called Questions to Ask Yourself or Others When Stressed. Contact us about the book, the CD, and a copy of our entire conversation with Milan and Kay. The number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. Or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast for more.
Jim: Let’s quickly describe the love styles you’ve identified. We’ve waited a while to get into these, but I think this will give people context and hopefully they will see themselves in one of these categories. And these styles are learned in your family of origin. These are child development issues and can lead to addictive behavior so that’s what you describe so well. Let’s go through them for the sake of those listening who may not be familiar with the love styles.
Milan: Well, the secure attachment is Jesus. You know, we’re all supposed to be growing up to look more like Jesus Christ to – as Paul said, to a mature man to the measure of the stature of Christ. So, he was able to be honest, vulnerable, transparent, take his real inner self into relationship horizontally and vertically. That’s our growth goal – is to – is…
Jim: That’s No. 1.
Milan: That’s – that’s where we want to go. That’s the secure attachment.
Now, Kay was an avoider. As an avoider, she was distant. She was not connecting. She was – would isolate when she was stressed. She wouldn’t communicate when she was stressed. She didn’t have, really, the words to describe, nor did she ever think to bring those feelings into relationship. So, her stress response was to flee, was to get away from whatever was stressing her.
Milan: So, would you add to that, Kay?
Kay: Well, that’s what I learned to do as a kid.
Kay: It’s pretty much, figure it out on your own, and pull yourself up by the bootstraps, and we don’t talk about it.
Jim: Right, keep it all bottled up. Basically, hide it.
Kay: I didn’t even really realize I was bottling it up.
Kay: But when I really understood that avoider imprint, it was like, oh, yeah, I don’t know how to go to people.
Jim: In fact, you had a story about, uh, a boy in little league with his dad. Describe that, because I think that’s a great illustration of the avoider.
Milan: Oh. Well, I was walking up the stairs toward the baseball park, and I – this dad was following his son coming down the stairs. And, uh, the son was crying. And the father was ahead of him by quite a few paces, yelling back over his shoulder, “Stop crying, we’re going to go to the batting cages, and you’re not going to strike out next time.”
Milan: So, it was just this no empathy for what the child felt like striking out in front of, you know, several, you know, hundred people.
Jim: I could so relate with that pressure.
Milan: It was, I’ll fix it.
Milan: We’re going to fix it, and we’re going to stop this.
John: Now, there’s nothing wrong with the solution, though, right? I mean…
Milan: First of all, we say this – empathize today, and connect today, emotionally, and fix it tomorrow.
Milan: So, if a person is crying…
Milan: …You come along, you give him a hug, and you say, tell me what you’re feeling. You don’t try and fix it right then because they’re not ready to fix anything. Tomorrow we might talk about the batting cages.
Jim: Milan, moving from the avoider, which was Kay, into the pleaser, which was you – help us understand how stress – particularly how stress impacts a marriage with, uh, the pleaser attitude.
Milan: Well, now I smile when I want to. I smile by choice. I used to smile because, if I would smile and you would smile, then I would be OK with – I’d feel comfortable around you if you were smiling.
Jim: So, they’re giving you cueing…
Milan: They’re giving me cues that I would actually precipitate with a smile to see if they would smile back so I’d be OK. But what was it like with me, Kay, as the anxious person? What did I do when I was stressed?
Kay: Well, pleasers often chase you around when they’re stressed to make sure you’re OK because if you’re OK, they’re OK.
So, they’re always pursuing with nice, kind gestures to keep anger from happening, to keep everything harmonious. Um, but they lack the ability to really dive into hard subjects. And many pleasers don’t even know they’re anxious. They are so used to that chronic feeling of worry and anxiety that they don’t even describe themselves as anxious…
Kay: …Until we really help them define that word. And then they come back and say, oh, I’m anxious every day, all the time.
Milan: So, the avoider would flee. I would freeze.
Kay: Especially if there was conflict
Milan: So, flight, freeze. If there was conflict, I would freeze. And then I – because I was fear-based, I would start trying to do something to appease.
Jim: Clean the house (laughter).
Milan: So, I started cleaning. I would stay in from playing to just monitor the situation…
Kay: When he was a kid, yeah.
Milan: …In the house, as a kid.
Jim: Yeah. And these – I mean, what’s so powerful, these are things that you learn.
Jim: And then you bring that – what we so often call baggage, right?
Jim: When people get married, they bring their baggage into the relationship. This is the baggage stuff we’re talking about.
Kay: Yes, it is.
Jim: This is the behavior that really, uh, makes the other scratch their head a little…
Jim: …And say, where did you learn that? Why are you behaving like that?
Let’s also cover the, uh, vacillator, controller, victim. So hit those characteristics as well.
Kay: OK. The vacillator is the protester. Um, they protest, well, lack of ideal. They like things to be ideal because if it’s ideal, then they don’t have to feel any difficult emotions, and the ones they feel the most – they have strong feelings inside, and they can pretty well describe them to you. But they’re usually around themes of disappointment, abandonment, you let them down, you didn’t see them, you didn’t say the right thing, you didn’t say it the right way.
Jim: So, the vacillator is expressing this to those around them?
Kay: Yes, yes.
Kay: So, they kind of go from all good to all bad. So, if they’re in a good mood and their ideal is being met, they can be so much fun and lovely to be around and, um, wonderful, um company. But if something disappoints them, they can flip moods really quickly. So, avoiders flee, pleasers freeze, vacillators protest. And they’re protesting the lack of ideal.
Milan: And their stress response is that they ruminate. So, when they are stressed, they ruminate on what just happened, and they feel bad about that, and they think, what just happened back there? Why did that happen? Why did that person say that? Why did that person not look at me? Why did this person give that person a hug and ignore me when I walked by? Why, why, why, why, why? And so, they ruminate. And so that is their stress response, and then they lash out because they’re upset with whoever spoiled the situation.
Kay: It really is a release of anxiety.
Milan: It is. And tension.
Kay: And tension. And a vacillator will tell you, I feel better after I vent.
Kay: But no one else feels better.
Jim: There’s a – yeah, a field of disaster around them.
Kay: Right. And they don’t really realize they’re dumping a lot of anxiety in that vent.
Milan: Yeah. So, the controller – you asked about the controller, which is a chaotic, disorganized home, is a home where there is fright without solutions. There is often neglect. There’s often substance abuse. And the child is victimized by the inadequacy of the parent.
Jim: This is perhaps the most dangerous environment.
Milan: It is very, very dangerous.
Kay: Chaotic, very difficult.
Milan: And children die here in this kind of a home. They literally do. Or they are taken from this home into foster care because Child Protective Services get involved.
But this child is not regulated by the parents; they’re dysregulated by the parents. So, when they’re agitated, they – I had a man in my office one day who said, when I was 14, my dad handed me a bottle of wine and said, here, this will help take all the bad feelings away. Fourteen-year-old kid, the dad handed him that because that’s all the dad knew how to do to manage the distress that was felt in the home.
Jim: That’s what he did, obviously.
Milan: That’s what he did.
Milan: Because these homes are filled with addictions, and they’re also filled with dysregulated emotions and behaviors. So, if you came from this home, you might become a controller, and controllers get very stressed when things are not predictable to them.
Milan: If they can’t tell you what’s going to happen right now, they get very agitated, and they want to put things back into a place where they can manage it. And then they protest just like the, uh, vacillator, but they’re not protesting a lack of ideal, they’re protesting a lack of conformity.
Milan: And then they will be very angry at people until they step back in line. The victims, uh, simply lose a voice. They often dissociate. They often disconnect from the stressful events. And they become very passive and very complacent. And so that is their stress response, is to simply check out.
Jim: The phrase – and we’re right at the end here, but I want to capture this because, again, I’m thinking of – in terms of conversations that we have as, um, normal course of things. When we describe a young woman who always chooses the bad guy, is that typically – and I know this is fraught with danger – but is that typically a person that may come from a victim background, where she’s making those kind of choices? She’s seeking out someone who is harsh?
Kay: Yes. Well, it’s not a conscious thing.
Jim: Right. Right, exactly.
Kay: But victims do learn to tolerate the intolerable, and the intolerable is normal to them.
Jim: It’s comforting in an odd way.
Kay: It’s – I wouldn’t say it’s comforting, but it’s…
Milan: It’s predictable.
Kay: It’s predictable. And when they go to marry, you know, the victim is going to be attracted to someone who is going to take charge and be just like the parent that was in charge in their family. And most often, in these chaotic homes, there’s a very dominant parent and a very passive parent.
Kay: And so, they will replicate that model in their marriage.
Jim: Well, you guys, we have really cracked it open. I mean, this is the start – I think we’ve done a good job on the first day to paint the picture for the listeners. Let’s come back next time and delve a little more into the marriage application of this, how those combinations work. Things that people can do to make the observation of where they’re at, and then what steps they can take to begin to grow in Christ. Can we do that?
Kay: Sounds great.
John: That’s how we concluded part one of this Best of 2019 Focus on the Family broadcast with Milan and Kay Yerkovich.
Jim: John, as I said at the beginning, it’s especially important to reflect on our stress responses at this time of year. The Christmas season has a way of bringing up some of that tension in family relationships.
And if this program has touched a sensitive place in your heart, please contact us here at Focus. We have caring Christian counselors, and we have Hope Restored, our marriage intensive effort. We are here for you and I want to make sure and I want to make sure you clearly hear that. Please, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
John: Yeah, you can schedule a time with one of our counselors or find out more about Hope Restored at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459.
Jim: And I want to offer you a special bundle of resources from Milan and Kay to help you deal with stress in your marriage. This bundle includes their book, How We Love, which outlines their love styles in much more detail, along with the CD with a special message from Milan and Kay called Questions To Ask Yourself Or Others When Stressed. Plus, we’ll include a CD of our entire two-day conversation with them.
John: Yeah, that’s quite a bundle. And for you donation of any amount to Focus on the Family we’ll be happy to send that on, either as a monthly sustainer or a one-time gift. If you can’t afford to commit right now, or to give right now, let us know. We’ll send that bundle to you anyway because we believe so strongly in this material. It will benefit you and we do trust that others will cover the cost for that.
Jim: Before we close, if your marriage is doing fine but you’d like to help hurting couples, let me extend a special invitation for you to join our team of financial supporters. Today, December 3rd, is “Giving Tuesday.” It’s a global day of giving celebrated each year on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving here in the U.S. So, if you’ve been thinking about giving, today is the perfect day.
Each year, during the holiday season, we hear from hundreds of couples who are struggling and asking for help. It’s only because of God’s provision, through your financial gifts, that we’re able to help meet these spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of those couples through various resources.
So, please – would you consider teaming up with Focus on the Family this “Giving Tuesday”?
John: You can find out more and make a donation by calling 800-A-FAMLY, or at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
And be sure to join us next time on this broadcast as we hear more from Milan and Kay about how you can connect emotionally with your spouse.
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.