Kay Yerkovich: 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 Yerkovich: Some people sleep.
Jim Daly: Right.
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.
John Fuller: That’s Kay Yerkovich describing some of the common and unique ways that tension can manifest itself within the relationship you have with your spouse. Kay and her husband Milan are back with us today on Focus on the Family, and your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.
Jim: John, we had a great conversation last time with Milan and Kay talking about stress in marriage. And if you’ve had no stress in marriage, please write us a letter. Contact us.
John: Yeah, we’d like to know your secret on that one!
Jim: Because I think we all – even the Yerkoviches, especially in the early part of their marriage, the first 15 years was very stressful. And, uh, but they looked and studied the word to find ways to resolve this. And I am so grateful for those many years of pain that they had to go through, so that they can help us today better understand what we’re feeling. And they’ve lived it, and that’s what makes their testimony so powerful in what they have learned.
And I’m sure many of you – like me, like you, John – we have moments when we’re stressed out, and we don’t even know why those triggers are occurring. And today we’re going to talk about how to identify them and how to move forward. And if you missed the broadcast yesterday, uh, get a copy of it because that sets the kind of the groundwork for what we’re gonna talk about today.
John: Yeah, download the app so you can listen on the go, or call us for a CD. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY. And online you can find additional resources at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Now, we mentioned last time that the Yerkoviches are marriage and family counselors, and they’ve written a number of books about the love style concept. And they have an in-depth video series that really is the basis for this conversation. It’s called Turning Stress Into Opportunities For Emotional Connection.
Jim: That sounds like a challenge (laughter), but we’re gonna learn how to do it. Milan and Kay, welcome back to Focus.
Kay: Thank you.
Milan: Thank you so much.
Jim: It is good to have you. And I’m telling you, folks, Milan and Kay have really lived it. And Jean and I are learning so much from you in going through your resources. It’s fantastic. So, thank you for what you’ve done. Thank you for living through difficult times so that you can now live in a much more God-centered time in your marriage. Just briefly describe that first 15 years and the last 35 that you’ve had together.
Kay: Well, I would say in the first 15 years we didn’t know how to describe our inner self. We didn’t have a vocabulary for feelings. Um, we – neither of us really had memories of comfort growing up, so we really didn’t know how to take our stress into relationship. So, we ignored a lot.
Kay: Uh, we swept a lot under the rug. Um, we really had very little ability to even resolve conflict because we didn’t really have good modeling of that either.
Jim: So, it just simmered. And I’m saying that cause so many of us live there.
Kay: Oh, yeah. It simmered. And of course, when things simmer long enough, they – you know, the pan goes dry, and the smoke starts smoking, and, you know, you have to do something, or you’re going to just stay in this painful place.
I would say, you know, we learned how to emotionally connect, which has made such a difference. We’ve developed a vocabulary for feelings. And we still have stress. Stress is just a part of living in this world, but we know how to manage it now. We know how to take it to each other. We know how to ask for comfort. We know how to resolve a conflict of the stresses between us. And those are just skills we did not have in the first 15 years.
Jim: And I so appreciate that background because it paints the picture of your experience, what you have brought to bear on this, on human relationship.
And in fact, Milan, you really stress this point of relationship in the materials that you’ve created. That it’s all about relationship. That God, in our stressful times, wants us to move toward relationship. It feels counter-intuitive to do that. We tend to want to isolate because we’re in pain.
Milan: It does. You know, the reason we picked this title, John and Jim, Taking Stress and Moving It Toward Emotional Intimacy is because if you think of the alternative, of taking stress as we naturally tend to do, it’ll turn into conflict and destruction. We hurt each other. We harm each other. We bite and devour one another. We’re bitter toward one another. All the things that God’s word tells us not to be. So, we took those natural tendencies, and we said, what was God’s plan and pattern? And it was to basically learn to come to one another to receive comfort from each other because the Bible commands us to do that.
We’re supposed to comfort, encourage, pray for, confess, bear one another’s burdens and love one another. Well, I can’t do that, Jim, if I’m isolating. To your point, if I isolate, she won’t have any way of doing those things for me.
Our first influence was, we were made in the image and likeness of God. That was the first major influence and imprint that God puts upon us. That we’re made in His image and likeness. And then Adam and Eve came along, and they altered that. And all of a sudden, now we are image-bearers, but we also have the genetic history and lineage of Adam and Eve.
Milan: So, we tend to do what they did, and that is the whole point of why we need to be saved. That’s the whole point of why we need to bring ourselves into relationship with God and one another, so we can heal from that.
Jim: Yeah. In fact, in the material, you talk about Hebrews 4:14 and kind of the example that Jesus gives us there. What happens?
Kay: Right. Well, he says that he’s – that the throne of God is a safe place to come and to bring our stress and our needs to him. And, you know, that – it’s even a great model for a parent. You know, are we a safe place where kids can bring their emotions and their needs and be honest with what they’re going through?
Jim: Or a spouse.
Kay: Or a spouse.
Jim: Wow. That sounds – even when I say it, it sounds more dangerous. Isn’t that interesting?
Kay: Well, and this is another point that I think is important to make is that all that we’re talking about – to bring anything into relationship requires risk, and it requires vulnerability.
Kay: And, uh, you know, that is – it’s uncomfortable because we don’t quite know how someone is going to respond. And it took us a while to get comfortable. There were a lot of uncomfortable interchanges before we learned and developed skills to make it more comfortable.
But even looking back to our families of origin, there is an atmosphere or a level of vulnerability, or lack thereof, in the home you grew up in. And the more vulnerable your home, the safer it was to be open and express your hurt or your feelings, the easier it’s going to be as an adult to go to people.
Jim: You also use the phrase that you picked out of Scripture – the one another, how often Scripture talks about one another. Describe what you learned from that phraseology that the Scripture uses – one another. Do you have some examples?
Milan: I do. We realize that here we are married, and yet we couldn’t take the commands of Scripture to one another, which was to be – speak the truth and love to one another. We didn’t know how to do that. Listen to one another. We didn’t know how to listen well. You know, the Bible says be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. Well, we had that all backwards.
Jim: (Laughter) That’s so true.
Milan: And we had to work so hard to learn to become good listeners. Then we had to learn to comfort one another for whatever they were feeling. Because we’re told in first – in 2 Corinthians 1 to comfort one another. Well, these are commands of Scripture.
Kay: And they’re the hardest in marriage because that’s where we build up resentment. That’s where we have hurts that may not be resolved, and yet that’s the most important place that we that we could practice the one anothers.
Jim: Right. Well, in fact, the phrase that, you know, nobody knows you like your spouse.
Kay: That’s exactly right.
Jim: That is, we don’t say nobody knows you like your friend (laughter).
Kay: But, you know, it’s interesting, Jim, as much as that’s true, when we ask a couple, what is your spouse’s stress response, they kind of look at us like, what are you talking about? Well, what do you – what do they do when they’re stressed? What do you observe about them? What do you see in their behavior and their voice tones? And it’s different for everybody. Some people go sleep, some people get angry, some people huff and puff, some people withdraw and retreat.
I think, you know, when you can really study your family, study your spouse, your kids – what do they do when they’re stressed? Because that’s the time we want to move toward them, to find out what’s going on inside. They’re obviously not OK.
Jim: Yeah and let me ask you that specifically because I don’t know if it’s intentional, but I think we’re just not observant. I mean, I can think of that for myself with Jean. You know, do I know her triggers and those things as well as I should? Probably not.
Jim: But it’s almost like it’s because I’m just not tuned into the frequency. Does that make sense?
Kay: Well, we automatically, when we sense those things, we’re like, “Uh-oh. Stay away, or pick a fight or” – you know? But don’t know how to…
Jim: Run for cover.
Kay: We don’t…
Milan: Run for cover – yeah. (Laughter).
Kay: Yeah, exactly.
Jim: But we all do it. I mean, that’s the thing. It’s not like…
Jim: …I don’t want to learn. It’s like I have a different reaction that I’m not even seemingly in control of.
Kay: Or aware of.
Milan: I had a couple in my office who, uh – when she was stressed, she would, uh, rip open a closet, tear everything out of the closet and rearrange it all. And a lot of us do this. We clean and structure and sort our physical environment as a way of managing our internal chaos and distress.
And I taught her husband how to recognize that when she starts ripping a closet apart or dumping drawers out on the floor to – instead of saying, “What are you doing?” or “That’s crazy” or “Can I help you?” – none of those. It’s, “You must be stressed right now. Sit down and tell me what’s stressing you before you finish that closet.” And he learned to engage by observing what her stress response was. And they began to have a closer more intimate relationship.
Jim: He did the opposite of what he probably felt like doing.
Milan: But that’s what God calls…
Milan: …Us to do. Everything that God calls us to do is counter-intuitive…
Milan: …To our fleshly nature.
Jim: You mentioned comfort so let’s go to something you call the comfort cycle. Uh, what is the comfort cycle? What are the elements of it?
Kay: There’s four points: Awareness. And then to engage. And then to find out more – listen and find out more. And then to resolve. Awareness is just what Milan was talking about. 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. Or it may be that I’m now aware that when I’m ripping drawers apart, I’m not OK. I could go to my husband and say the second step, to engage, which is, “You know, I realize I really want to clean right now. I think I need to do the comfort circle” – which just basically means I need someone to really hear me out and help me sort through what’s inside my soul.
Jim: Yeah. And so that’s engage. And then explore…
Kay: Explore is find out more. And the difference between the comfort circle and other forms of communication is when you are the listener, you stay the listener. It’s all about the person you’re listening to. Um, even if you disagree, you find out more and you keep listening. And we’ve got a list of questions that help couples learn to stay in that role that we’ll give you that you can provide as a download because we often find that people don’t know how to keep listening.
Kay: They don’t know how to really engage on that level.
Jim: All right. So, you have to seek awareness, engage, explore and then resolve. So, what does resolve look like?
Milan: So, again, all of these are biblical mandates. Uh, engage is to speak the truth and love each one of you with his neighbor. Uh, to listen and explore is be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.
Jim: (Laughter) I’m laughing because we do that so poorly.
Milan: I know that! (Laughter) And then to resolve is to ask the other person, to say, “Look. I can understand you have unpleasant feelings on the inside. And I can understand why you’re doing what you’re doing right now. But what would help you? How can I – what do you need right now?”
And that resolves it because the person is seen. They’re known. They have vented. They’ve told you what’s going on. And then they’re… create some closure – closure is comfort one another, uh, encourage one another.
And so, the resolution allows a person to pick from the things that would allow them to feel better which is we could help me analyze this, which a lot of people want to do right away. We don’t analyze or fix anything we listen first, empathize, fix tomorrow at some later date. But sometimes I would hold Kay if she was distressed. I would, you know, physically hold her.
Kay: I had to learn to allow that.
Jim: Yeah, because that did not come naturally.
Kay: Oh, not at all.
Kay: I mean, again, if you have a very affectionate family and, you know, they have their arms around you when you’re stressed then that’s normal. But, uh, that was very abnormal to me.
Kay: And so, learning to receive comfort, um, through physical touch and through holding and learning to just even cry in the presence of my husband was a challenge.
Kay: Uh, it took a few years to really feel comfortable.
Jim: Uh, the pain of that. Uh…
Milan: So physical touch I had to learn, as a male, was not a sexual physical touch. I had to learn to distinguish and refine the skill and the art and the emotional tolerance within myself to have physical touch and not have it be sexual. I had to learn to be nurturing.
Milan: And that is something that both of us had to learn to do, as well as to give it, as well as to receive it.
John: This is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. Our guests today are Milan and Kay Yerkovich. And we’re so glad to have them as we talk about stress, particularly as it affects, uh, marriage. And I think most of us, who are married, have had some stressful moments. Get the resources. We’ve got, uh – Kay, you mentioned, uh, some questions to use in this comfort cycle conversation. Uh, we have an emotions words list, a soul list that we’ve posted, a special audio that Yerkoviches have done and more – uh, all of that at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or call 800 – the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: I like the idea of the cycle. What are things that disrupt that, um, in the relationship, the marital relationship? How do things go awry? Because some people may go to the website; they may look at that and say, “OK. We can do this.” And then they begin to engage. Step two – they’re trying to be aware. They begin to engage. And then what can go awry? (LAUGHTER)
Kay: Everything. In fact, it’s kind of funny. We had someone say, “Really, you should call this the discomfort circle.” (Laughter).
Jim: Oh, that’s good. No, I’m serious.
Kay: And we laughed.
Milan: That’s where it starts.
Kay: We said, ”You’re right.” It really – it started out as very uncomfortable…
Jim: (Laughter) That’s funny!
Kay: …Not comfortable. Um, but I think the whole idea of just conflict in a marriage and the ability – I mean, we get defensive. We don’t like what someone says, so we start to correct it. It’s actually very hard to stay in the listener role when you don’t like what you’re hearing.
Milan: If you fight or flight or freeze, you can’t do the comfort circle.
Milan: You have to learn to unthaw and begin to learn to listen, which means I have to regulate myself in order to be able to be a good listener.
Jim: Can I ask you on behalf of the listeners, can you just roleplay that for us? Just pick…
Jim: Just pick a topic. Give us the topic so we understand what you’re going through. And just exchange that. Maybe do it the way you should – the discomfort way… (LAUGHTER) The way you shouldn’t do it. And then do it the comfort way, the way that same dialogue should occur when it’s healthy. Could you do that?
Milan: Well, sure we can.
Milan: I got this thing in the mail called SilverSneakers, which means you can go to any gym and sign up for free. But, A, I don’t like to admit that I’m aging – B, that I…
Jim: (Laughter) I was going to say that it sounds like a little…
Milan: …B, that I need help and, C, I want to pay for it myself. I don’t want to walk in and et cetera, et cetera. So, when Kay showed me the SilverSneaker thing…
Kay: This is how the first round went.
Milan: This is how the first round went.
Kay: Hey, honey. Look. We got a SilverSneakers thing. We can get in the gym for free now. We don’t even have to pay. We can go to all of them. (LAUGHTER)
Milan: That is so needy. And – and – no. I don’t like that. Just no.
Kay: Are you serious with me right now? Like…
Milan: Yeah. I do not like what this is connoting.
Kay: You want to pay when it could be free?
Milan: I hate getting this stuff in the mail.
Kay: That’s just doesn’t make any sense at all.
Milan: It doesn’t matter. I’m going to pay 400 bucks and join the gym (Laughter) ’cause I don’t want to do this because it is somehow an admission of weakness.
Kay: Uh, boy, I – can’t believe it.
Milan: So that’s how…
Jim: OK. That’s good. Yeah.
Milan: So that – OK.
Kay: That was the first.
Milan: So that’s the first conversation, right? OK. Second…
Jim: How could this go differently?
Kay: OK. Here’s – here’s the second one.
Kay: You know, honey, when we were talking about SilverSneakers, I realize there’s a lot going on inside you. And I just kind of really reacted. And I didn’t really bother to stop and say, “What are you feeling about that?” I – can you pick a couple words off the soul words list that would help me understand, like, what’s going on in you when you think of joining something for free or getting older?
Milan: You know what? I was reactive, too. And I realize that I – the words would be weak and pathetic…
Kay: Oh, wow.
Milan: …Because I watch people in my family system growing up get weak and get weaker and weaker and more dependent and reliant on other people taking care of them. I just didn’t want to go to that place.
Kay: Well so, really, inside, it’s a fear of aging and just the – looking at those in your family that didn’t really handle aging very well.
Milan: And it was also the inability to care for one’s self and the dependence upon others
Kay: Oh, that makes a lot more sense to me.
Jim: You know, the conversation even when you’re a listener – the second conversation sounds so much more relationally driven, much more intimate.
Milan: It is.
Jim: And that’s your point. That’s the whole point.
Milan: We have emotional intimacy right now.
Jim: Right. The rules – I think it’s important for people to understand these rules that you have touched on, Kay – the speaker’s – the rules for the speaker, rules for the listener. Let’s touch on those quickly. And then we’ve got time for just a couple more questions.
Milan: The rule for the speaker – that’s the one talking – is stick to one topic at a time. The average couple, once a person starts talking, puts a mound of issues onto the table…
Milan: …To the point that you can’t even see where the table is anymore. And then it is common for me to ask couples in my office after they get going for a while. And I love couples because I let them get going a little bit. And I’ll say, “Where did you start this conversation?” And they’ll say, “I don’t – I have no idea.” And I’ll say, “See that’s the point of sticking to one topic.” So that would be one major rule of the speaker. Stick to one topic. That’s why the one topic was SilverSneakers.
Milan: It didn’t switch to other issues. It stayed right on topic. And we disciplined ourselves to do that.
Jim: I could feel that.
Milan: Yeah. Kay, what about the listener?
Kay: Well, for the listener, I think the hardest thing is to just keep listening when you hear a feeling word that maybe is about you, you know? You make me feel invisible. Well, that doesn’t feel good. Uh, but to learn to stay in the listener role no matter what you’re hearing and repeat back for clarity what you’re hearing – and then to find out more means I ask an intelligent question that gives me more information – and that’s hard. That’s a learned skill. And so that’s why we – you know, we have the list of questions to help the listener be able to stay in that role.
Jim: Yeah. And you also talk about that four – the four steps of listening, which are really important. I think listen and summarize if the message is too long.
Jim: I could see that happening easily. So, am I hearing you correctly? And…
Kay: No, and that’s – some people kind of resist that because it’s like, “Oh, I’m just repeating what I heard. But if you really get into an emotional topic, you may not hear it correctly.
Kay: And you may say, “So this is what you’re saying.” And your spouse will say, “No. No. No. That’s not what I’m saying.”
Kay: And so just clarifying is very important.
Jim: I think, for me, one of the skills I have to continue to work on is I tend to complete the thought, you know? I see that as active engagement. And Jean sees it as interruption.
Jim: I’m trying to tell you.
Kay: Well, especially with an introvert.
Kay: Introverts process internally. And they get an interrupted a lot, and their sentences get finished. Um, and so if you’re – if you’re listening to an introvert, you have to be – take the time to let them process internally before they speak.
Jim: Man, uh, this, again, is so good. We have mentioned soul words a couple of times. And, again, that’s a list that you created. We posted on the website.
Jim: Jean and I are starting to use those as well. Uh, what are they? Give us an example of three or four of those.
Milan: Well, we – they are basically emotions and descriptors of emotions or words that describe emotions.
Because we’re made them in the image and likeness of God, God is an emotional God and a cognitive God. He’s both. And from Genesis to Revelation, He has every emotion in the book. And He tells us why he has the emotion, where it came from and what he’s going to do about it.
Milan: So, we then took a list of feeling words that, uh, we accumulated from various sources. And we began to look at it every time we had a conversation. And also, I started looking at it as a part of my devotional time with the Lord because I could pray and tell him what my real internal state was. So, uh, I feel sad today. I feel angry. I feel depressed. I feel anxious. I feel overwhelmed. I feel jealous. I feel envious. All these are our feelings. Uh, I feel insecure. I’m frightened. I’m scared. I feel tentative. These are all things that we feel. We just have never had words to identify them and to be able articulate them.
Jim: You know, man, this time flies so fast. And there’s so many questions still. But we can’t cover it all. And that’s why getting a hold of the resources is so critical.
Jim: But let’s speak to the process because, uh, we’re all going to process this differently. We’re all going to begin to want to apply this. What are some of those, uh, warning signs, you know, like on the side of the road? – uh, slippery when wet, right? (LAUGHTER) So what are those warning signs as we begin to use the comfort cycle, and we engage in meaningful communication? Where are the pitfalls?
Kay: Well, I think we are in a hurry. We think that once we hear a concept, we should just be able to apply it, and it should all make a big shift in our relationship. And I think what we see with couples we work with – and, certainly, in our own marriage – is everything took time.
Kay: There were a lot of mistakes along the way. There were a lot of frustrations. We just kept pushing because we knew we were doing what God was asking us to do. So, it’s being willing to push through the uncomfortableness of growth and to give it the time it takes to really make major shifts.
Jim: And what I hear you’re saying is stick to it. Don’t – don’t give up when you hit a pothole.
Kay: Right, because you will.
Milan: But that’s how we learned everything. You learn a sport. How many times do you have to repeat things, uh, if you’re good at it? You guys are fabulous interviewers because you’ve done it over and over and over…
Kay: Right. Right.
Milan: …And over again. You don’t have to – you know, you think. And you plan obviously. But it’s second nature to you now, which is what communication has begun to be for us.
So, it’s a matter of learning to, uh, be able to spot. If Kay starts to get dysregulated in the conversation or I do, we’ll say, “Time out. I’m not doing well right now. Let me catch my breath. Let me do some slow breathing and then give me five minutes to walk around the house. And then I’m gonna come back. And let me try and listen one more time.” So, we got very practical along those lines.
Kay: Yeah. Re-dos…
Kay: …Are a big part of growth.
Milan: And then we had to work on our tone because the Bible says speak the truth and love.
Jim: Yeah. That’s not an accidental comment.
Milan: No, it’s not. (LAUGHTER)
Jim: We treat it that way, don’t we?
Kay: Yeah. Yeah.
Jim: If you can.
Milan: Let… (LAUGHTER) Right. Or let your speech be, as it were, seasoned with salt that may give grace to those who hear. We can speak truthfully. But it can also be seasoned in such a way that it’s palatable to the other person.
Jim: That is so good – so good.
Milan: Had to learn to do all this – we didn’t know how. We learned all this.
Kay: And we weren’t counselors when we were learning this.
Milan: We learned all this at 40 years old, you know, and – around that time zone of our lives.
John: Well, it’s been a wonderful look back at this Best of 2019 Focus on the Family conversation with Milan and Kay Yerkovich.
Jim: Let me be clear – if you’re looking for a silver bullet to solve problems in your marriage, this is it. As Milan and Kay just said, this stuff doesn’t come naturally. We all have to learn to deal with stress in our marriage. In my opinion, the best place to start is by following Milan and Kay’s advice.
And we have a bundle of their resources that I want to make available to you. I want to send you Milan and Kay’s book, How We Love, which goes into so much more detail about healing from your childhood wounds, along with an exclusive CD called Questions To Ask Yourself Or Others When Stressed. Plus, and additional CD of this complete two-day broadcast. That bundle is yours for a gift of any amount to Focus today.
John: Contact us to get that package of resources. Our website is focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 800-232-6459. 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Jim: And as we close, I want to thank our generous donors who know that this is a critical time of year for us. We’re depending on your support to start 2020 strong, and to continue strengthening marriages, equipping parents, and sharing, most importantly, the good news of Jesus Christ.
And when you give today your support will go twice as far because of a matching gift from friends of the ministry. So, please. Contact us today and let me thank you in advance for giving the gift of family.
John: And again, you can donate at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
And be sure to join us next time on this broadcast. It’s another Best of 2019 episode, as Dr. Meg Meeker offers practical ways to help your daughter become a confident woman.
Dr. Meg Meeker: Sometimes he would tell me – but just his behavior showed me – that he believed I could be and do whatever I wanted in life. And that meant a huge amount to me.
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