Milan Yerkovich: Stress is really a gift, if you will because it sheds light on my weaknesses. It gives me a clear 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: Hm. Well, what do you think? Does that statement, that stress is good, resonate with you? Milan and Kay Yerkovich are here on Focus on the Family to help us understand what causes stress and how we can really benefit from it. I’m John Fuller. And your host his Focus president and author Jim Daly.
Jim: John, I have a certain, uh, understanding that most people don’t see stress as a benefit (laughter). Uh, it comes from my own life. (LAUGHTER) I don’t see stress as a benefit. Usually, stress stresses me out. (Laughter) That’s how it goes.
And I think, like most people, I feel like I’m pretty middle of the road and things don’t tend to toss me too far. But there are days I’ll come home and, you know, I’ve had a tough day here at the office or something. And I – I probably don’t speak as kindly as I would like to Jean. Or maybe the boys do something that set me off a certain way.
If that’s you, uh, I think today’s message is going to be for us. (Laughter) And so I’m hopeful that we can help with the aid of the Yerkoviches — bring this to light, embrace it, talk about it in the context of Jesus and who he was and how he dealt with it and then move forward in our relationship with Christ and in our relationship with those around us.
John: Yeah. I’m looking forward to the conversation, especially as we look at stress in marriage. There are times, Jim, I go home, and I just think, “Why can I be so nice to everybody there at work or at church or wherever I am? But here at home, I – it just blows up some… (Laughter) For some reason, it comes out.”
Jim: That is very open. Boy, John, that’s a very nice thing.
John: Well, I’m hoping we can fix that so I can go home tonight and be nice. (LAUGHTER)
Jim: Fix it in a day.
John: Yeah. Sure.
Jim: Well, with that, here are the fixers, Milan and Kay Yerkovich! (Laughter)
Jim: Welcome back to Focus.
Milan: Well, we’re…
Kay: Thank you – good to be here.
Milan: …Very happy to be with you.
John: The Yerkoviches are counselors and radio hosts, speakers and authors. They’ve been here before at Focus. They have a passion for helping you, as a husband or wife, as a couple, to experience stronger, healthier marriage. Milan is an ordained minister and pastoral counselor. And Kay is a licensed marriage and family therapist. They’re probably best known for this love style concept. And we’re going to unpack that and see how it applies to stress in marriage today.
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: Well, I think, really, when you ask someone if they’re stressed, what they’re feeling, it’s always a difficult emotion. Um, 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 – our…
Milan: Anger button.
Kay: …Our anger button… (Laughter).
Kay: …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 – 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: So 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: So 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.” Our guests today 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 Yerkovichs 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. I mean, we’ve waited a while here. But I think it gives people context and, uh – and hopefully people 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 would is Jesus. Now 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 freeze – where they 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? Um, 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.
Milan: 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.
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.
Milan: 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: That sounds great.
Jim: And then, John, there are so many resources for folks here at Focus on the Family. Let me turn to you. If you are struggling in your relationships, and you’re not even sure – this may have irritated you today because it’s poked you in a place that’s very sensitive, and you’re saying, that’s me; that’s me; that’s why I react that way – you need to call us. You’re not going to be shamed. Uh, we have been in this for 40 years now, and I don’t think we’ve heard a question we haven’t already heard.
Jim: You might be the first, but don’t worry, even if you’re the first with a really hard question, we’re gonna help you tackle that together.
Jim: That’s what Focus is about. We want you to be healthy in your relationships, starting with your marriage because so much flows from there.
Jim: So contact us. Don’t, uh, be reserved about it. We have, again, so many resources like, uh, Milan and Kay’s resources to help you get through what you’re struggling with. 25:40
John: Yeah. And in fact, uh, they’ve recorded an extra message for us, and uh, that’s gonna be on CD. It’s called Questions to Ask Yourself or Others When Stressed. So we’ve got a bundle of that and the book. And the entire conversation here on this broadcast with them, and we’ll send that complimentary bundle and resources to you as our thank you gift when you join our support team. Please make a generous donation today of any amount, and we’ll say thanks by sending that bundle to you. Just call 800-232-6459. 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. Or, donate online at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.26:19
Jim: John, there’s two other things I wanna mention specifically. One is the marriage assessment which people can come and take. It’ll give you an idea of where things are at….
John: Yeah, that’s free, it takes just a few minutes.
Jim: …one of our resources. And then also, if you’re in the last knot of that rope, and you’re thinking of divorce perhaps. We have something for you called Hope Restored. And it’s a four-day marriage intensive, with a post-two-year 80-percent success rate. The couples are doing better and happier after two years of doing this four-day intensive. It’s tough, but it takes you right to the places that Milan and Kay are talking about. And the team in Branson and Michigan, where we have our two locations, do such a wonderful job helping to restore the healthy aspects of relationships. So I’d encourage you to contact us for that.
Closing Voice Track:
John: Yeah, and learn more about Hope Restored and our free marriage assessment at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or, call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. And coming up next time, more from the Yerkoviches about working through stress in your marriage.
Kay: What is your spouse’s stress response? – because when you see it or in one of your kids, you can say, “You know, you’re doing the thing you always do when you’re not OK? So let’s sit down.” That’s awareness.