Jim Daly: Dr. Chapman, for the person who’s in the midst of separation or on the brink of divorce, perhaps only in their heart, you never know, what is one piece of advice you’d give them to implement today, to reverse that course?
Gary Chapman: Jim, I think one of the first things I would say is, that I’m empathetic with the pain that brings you to the place where you feel like there’s no hope. You know, I think some are condemning of people who are at that point, maybe because they’ve never been there. But I know in my own marriage in the early years, what it feels like, that it’s not gonna work out, that we … we shouldn’t have gotten married, that we made a big mistake in the first place. And so, I’m very empathetic with that person.
At the same time, I would say to that person, you know, “I’ve been working with couples at this juncture for over 35 years now. And I’ve seen many people, including my own marriage, who have come from that point of desperation to have the marriage they really wanted when they got married.” There is hope and I often to say to them in my office, “I can understand that you have no hope for your marriage. I can see that. I can feel that. But I have hope for your marriage. So, why don’t you go on my hope for a while and let’s just see what can happen?”
Gary: So, that … that’s the basic approach, because they have to make a fundamental decision. Am I willing to work on the marriage? I never ask people, “Do you want to work on the marriage?” because that’s a desire. You know, that’s an emotion. And they don’t want to work on the marriage many of ‘em. They don’t have the energy to work on the marriage.
Gary: So, I don’t ever ask, “Do you want to work on the marriage?” I ask, “Will you work on the marriage?”
Jim: Action oriented.
Gary: Yeah, yeah, will you? Are you willing to work with me or work with any other counselor? You know, are you willing to work on the marriage? Because if you’re willing, then there’s real hope.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Well, if you’re willing, then you’ll find that kind of hope and encouragement from Dr. Gary Chapman on today’s Focus on the Family radio program, hosted by our president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and uh … this really is a program, Jim, that should throw out a lifeline in some respect to couples who think it’s over. It’s done.
Jim: John, it’s a good way to put it, because there are many, many couples in the Christian community and outside the Christian community that need perspective. And that’s what we want to provide today and it is really good to have certainly, one of my favorite guests here at Focus on the Family, Dr. Gary Chapman with us.
Before we do a formal introduction though, you know, here at Focus on the Family, this is our core mission, to strengthen marriages. When you look at it, when we look at the issues that we face here, that people are writing in about, of the top five, three of the top five are about marriage–infidelity of marriage, finances in the marriage, things that are breaking down, the conflict in marriage. That’s No. 1, believe it or not, just simple conflict in our marriage.
Jim: So, it’s happening and for us to stick our head in the sand and think that Christians don’t deal with these issues is wrong and we want to supply people the tools to do better. And I think the Lord is honored by that and I hope you feel that. Um … you know, good communication is an attribute to our love in Christ and His love for us. So that’s what we want to hit today. In fact, I want to share from a recent caller – we’ll call her “Mrs. G” – who called to tell us that she had reached a point where her bags were packed. Think of that, Gary.
Jim: Her bags were packed and she was waiting for the right time to leave her marriage of 32 years.
Jim: Um… You think you’re over the hump after seven years, or 10 years? No. This woman – 32 years into her marriage is thinkin’ “I’m gonna leave.” Uh… she continued to say that her husband travels extensively and called his wife from the road to ask her to listen to a Focus on the Family broadcast that he had just heard. Uh… “Mr. G” told her that as he listened he realized the message was describing him.
Jim: Uh… the Lord touched his heart and showed him that he has been prioritizing many other things in life at the expense of his own marriage. “Mrs. G” said that she could feel a change in her husband, which is what you…
Jim: …were saying, Gary, as he was talking to her, which is an answer to years of prayer and she was so excited about the possibility that their relationship would be better and be healed and wanted to let us know the impact of the program. So, Gary, I’m saying all this to say people are listening that are desperate. They need help. They need that lifeline, John, that you just mentioned.
John: Uh-hm and we didn’t give that formal introduction yet. Dr. Gary Chapman is a best-selling author, a speaker. He’s a pastor and he’s director of Marriage and Family Life consultants. And he’s written many, many books. He’s been on this program a number of times and Jim, it was his second book that really forms the basis for our conversation today. It’s been retitled and it’s called One More Try.
Jim: And Gary, welcome back to Focus on the Family.
Gary: Thank you, Jim. Good to be with you again.
Jim: Gary, let me start with the basic uh … premise. I mean, you get married. You walk down the aisle, especially again in the Christian community. You’re thinking, okay, this’ll all work out. My expectations will be met. He’ll love me. She’ll love me for who I am–
Jim: –and we’ll grow together and this is gonna be really fun. And then they wake up the next day. What happens in a marriage that is shutting down? What are the things that you see in 35 years of counseling? What are those trigger points that are predictable, that point a marriage in a direction toward destruction?
Gary: Well, the first thing that happens, Jim is they come down off the emotional high of being in love. That is a wonderful experience, incredible experience. You feel like you will be happy forever. You just know you’ve found the right person.
Jim: How long … I mean, they have research that shows that, that is true. And it lasts a year to two years; is that right?
Gary: Yeah, two years is the average and we come down off the high. And I normally say to people, let’s be thankful we come down off the high, because if we didn’t, you’d have to close down business, industry, church, education, because you can’t get anything done when you’re in love.
Jim: You can’t function.
Gary: You know … (Laughter), I mean you … it consumes your life. Uh … but we do come down off the high, but many people are not ready for that. I certainly was not ready for that. I didn’t know that, that was gonna happen in two years. And my wife and I had been dating for two years before we got married. So, pretty soon after the honeymoon, we came down off the high. But everyone comes down off the high and you lose those euphoric feelings and then the differences emerge.
Gary: And you realize that some of those things your friends told you about her before you got married are true. And some of those things they told you about him are true. And so, you see the differences. Uh … you have no plan for handling the differences, so you end up arguing with each other, because you know you’re right. And so, you explain it to her, you know, and tell her, you know. And then you explain it again. And before long you’re saying nasty, hurtful things to each other with loud voices. And before long you’re thinking, we made a serious mistake. We should not have gotten married. But then you know, if you’re a Christian, you’ll kinda hunker down and say, okay, well, we’ve gotta work on this. And couples can go on thinking they’re working on it when they’re really just enduring it.
Gary: And seven years down the road, 10 years down the road, 32 years down the road, you know, they just say, “I’ve had enough.”
Jim: Let me ask you about the signs. Uh … and let me comment on that, to your average, that you come down from that euphoria. I guess, what is the expectation of that average couple? Let’s talk in those terms. What should they be expecting when they get married? What should they be anticipating to help hedge against reality, against normal life?
Jim: Especially again for Christians and I think we often can have even loftier expectations, because we’re Christians and we know the Lord loves us and this should work out a certain way.
Jim: And sometimes it doesn’t after that euphoria is gone. Um … talk about that and then I want to ask you another question (Laughing). But I’ll ask you nothin’ but questions. (Laughter) But uh … talk about that for a moment.
Gary: Well, I think one thing is, they should anticipate it. They should realize this is going to happen. It doesn’t mean that we will lose all of the emotional feelings. If we learn to speak each other’s love language, we can keep the emotional love alive in the relationship. It won’t be the euphoric state, but it will be a deep sense of love, emotional love with each other. So, understanding that we can keep love alive by speakin’ the right love language.
And then secondly, if they have a plan for handling conflicts and most couples do not when they get married, because they don’t think they’re gonna have any conflicts–
Gary: –you know. But if they have a plan for handling conflicts and this is what I would suggest, that before you get married, either read a book or sit down with a counselor or somebody and talk about … talk to other married couples. How do you resolve conflicts? When you disagree with each other and you both feel strongly about it, how do you work your way through those things? And that involves empathetic listening, putting yourself in the shoes of the other person, trying to understand how they could think what they think and feel what they feel.
And then not condemning it, but acknowledging, that’s the way they think. That’s the way they feel. In their head, it makes sense. And then to say to them, “You know, honey, now that I hear you, that does make a lot of sense.”
Gary: ”Now let me share with you what I was feeling and thinking.” And then you affirm each other. You still differ, but you haven’t condemned the other person. You’ve affirmed them and then you’ve said, okay, we see it differently. How can we solve it?
Jim: Gary, let me ask you this question. I thought a lot about this, but when you look at it, why does our flesh run toward what is best for us? I mean, and what I mean by that, it might be that you know to speak with empathy to your mate. You know um … the right things that should be done. And yet, you know, sometimes there’s just these triggers and you respond with a harsh word.
Jim: Or you respond with a cutting comment. It’s like we’re feeding our flesh and why do we do that–
Jim: –when we know better?
Gary: Yeah, I think two things, Jim. I think one is, we are all by nature self-centered. Now that’s not all bad, because that means we feed ourselves. We get exercise. We take care of ourselves. But when that self-centeredness becomes selfishness, so that I view all of life in terms of what I’m getting out of this, my spouse is not meeting my needs, that’s where some of that comes from, is we’re … we’ve become selfish.
Another factor is, one of the reasons we [be]come defensive when our spouse says certain things, is because they have struck at our self-esteem. All of us have a sense of self-worth and we should have, because we’re made in the image of God. We’re extremely valuable.
But when the spouse … when my spouse says somethin’ to me that strikes at my self-esteem, it makes me feel like they’re putting me down, that my idea is no good, I get defensive. It just happens. It’s an emotional response to that. I want to fight. Or else I clam up and want to run, depending on my personality.
Jim: Let me ask you – on the opposite side of that, the spouse that’s doing it. Um … what are they deriving from that? They think they’re winning something, but they’re not. They’re isolating themselves. But what motivates that person to win the argument, win the debate? And they walk away feeling good, but their spouse is crushed.
Gary: Yeah. What I say to people is, if you win an argument, your spouse lost. It’s no fun to live with a loser.
Gary: So, why would you create one? Arguments lead nowhere by downhill. Understanding, communication, dialogue with each other leads to solutions. If you spend your time lookin’ for a solution, there … there’s a solution to all conflicts. If you spend your time lookin’ for the solution, rather than tryin’ to win the argument, you’ll find a solution. And every time you find a solution—something you both can live with—you grow closer together.
Every time you win an argument or you walk away, they acquiesce, but they still know that they’re right and you’re wrong. You sweep it under the rug and you get enough of these things swept under the rug, that’s where you get the feeling, I shouldn’t have gotten married. Never gonna work out. Too many differences. Too many conflicts. Can’t solve anything. Never gonna be any better. And we go downhill in our thinking.
Jim: Well, let’s play the tape fast forward. Uh… people are at all stages who are listening. Maybe some marriages are very healthy. I hope so; I think so. Uh … there are some marriages that are teetering. They’re probably in the quietness of their heart thinking, I’m not sure of what our future will be. And then some marriages where one of the spouses is shutting down and they’re thinking of divorce. And they’re hearing us right now. Talk about why separation is a good step, rather than divorce obviously. And what happens in that separation time?
Gary: Yeah. Well, I think first of all, Jim, it’s important to acknowledge that separation can be a positive step, because many Christians think, you know, if I separate, that’s terrible, that’s awful. But sometimes there’s such a crisis in a marriage and maybe there’s been physical abuse or verbal abuse over a long period of time, living with an alcoholic, is … all sorts of situations that bring you to a crisis.
But separation can be an act of love. And what you’re saying is, I love you too much to sit here and let you destroy yourself and destroy me and hurt the kids. I’m gonna move in with my mom. I’m not abandoning you. I’m not even courting divorce. I’m just saying to you, I can’t be a part of what’s happening here. And if you will go and get some counseling and deal with this issue, I am willing to reengage with you at any juncture and we can get marriage counseling and our marriage can become what we had hoped we would have when we got married. When you take that approach, it’s a positive approach. It is an act of love, not an act of abandonment.
Jim: Gary, I can only imagine that a spouse that’s in that situation doesn’t know where the trigger is though. When do I do that? And it would seem to me that they’d always be saying, “Well, if this happens, then I’ll do that.” And that thing doesn’t happen. Or if tomorrow he doesn’t do better, then I’ll take that next dramatic step. How does the … let’s just speak on behalf of the woman. How does she know when she needs to have that kind of direct confrontation–
Jim: –with her spouse?
Gary: I would say typically, don’t go to that length, don’t go to the separation step without spending time with a counselor, a pastor, an older mature trusted friend, somebody that can help you assess that. Don’t make that decision on your own. Because once you make that decision, you’re gonna need somebody that you can process your emotions with afterward. So, don’t make that step alone.
I think this is where it’s really, really important that you have somebody walking with you through that process, because that’s the ultimate step, is to decide to do that. There’s a lot of things [sic] you can do before that, but when you get to that point, it can be a positive thing.
Now let me be very honest. The majority of people who move to separation, do not do it as an act of love. They do it as a step of survival.
Gary: I’m getting outta of here before I get killed or before I just have a nervous breakdown. And I understand that, but it would be far better if they can see it as an act of love, that they’re not abandoning the marriage. They’re not even saying, I’m gonna divorce this person. But what they are saying is, I’m gonna try to do something that can be redemptive here. And often the step of separation can be the trigger that causes the other person to say, I am about to lose something and I am gonna get help.
Jim: Well, and I think it’s important for us to say, we’re not supporting separation.
Jim: I mean, the ideal is to have a marriage that’s thriving and doing well. But we’re saying, sometimes that wake-up call—that’s how I would describe it; it’s a wake-up call—to say we’ve gotta do better. This isn’t healthy and this is the ring of the bell, so to speak. And there is a place for that. Um … tough love, we talk about it in the context of marriage often. It could be something where it’s a habit that you need to talk about, perhaps a bad habit, a sinful habit. And uh … the spouse is wanting to get the attention. That’s where you would deploy tough love.
Jim: Talk about the courage to do tough love though. It may not be separation, it just might be, how do you confront your … your mate in a way that’s loving, but tough?
Jim: And what’s the marshmallow type that isn’t that healthy?
Gary: Yeah, and I think, first of all, I always suggest tender love before tough love. That is, learn your spouse’s love language. Begin speaking that love language on a regular basis and in about two months into that, you say to them, “On a scale of zero to 10, how much love do you feel coming from me?” And if they give you an 8, 9 or 10, you know you’re getting through. If they give you something less than that, you say, “Well, what could I do to bring that up?”
Gary: Okay and so, you do that. But when you get to the 8, 9 or 10, then you can make a request of them and you say, “Honey, you know one thing that would really make me happy.” And you tell them something that’s been bugging you that you would like for them to change. And because they are now feeling loved by you, they’re far more likely to reciprocate and do that thing. Whereas, if you don’t give ‘em tender love and they don’t feel love coming from you, all they feel is condemnation, you’ve been nagging them about this thing now for three years and it’s the only thing you harp on, they’re not motivated to respond to you in love, because all they feel is condemnation from you. So, if you can stop the condemnation, just put it on hold. Just have a truce for six months and let’s try tender love, you’re far more likely to have a positive response from them.
Jim: Let’s talk about that marriage that quietly the wife is suffering. She’s not even sure if it’s worth saving. How does she evaluate that? How does that spouse, husband too, how does that spouse put some kind of a valuation to it, to say, okay, it’s worth the effort. Is it ever not worth the effort?
Gary: Well, I think bottom line, it’s always worth the effort. We will be better for having tried than simply giving up. And that’s why I say to people, you know, we can’t guarantee that if you do X, Y, and Z that your spouse will respond. What we can say is, these are the things that create a climate in which a marriage is most likely to be revived.
And one person almost always has to take the initiative. You … and if you’re the one that has some concern or you’re the one that’s thinkin’ of walking out, I would say you’re the one to take the initiative, because the other person’s showing no concern about the relationship. But if you take the concern and you begin to take some steps to create a different climate in the relationship, because it will not change as long as you have the climate you have now, which is adversarial. An adversarial climate will not lead to growth.
But a love climate leads to the possibility of growth. So, I suggest the tender love approach and periodically asking your spouse questions such as, “What could I do to make your life easier?” Or “What could I do to be a better husband?” or a better wife? And getting that feedback and working on those things.
And what happens in the mind of the other person is, they begin to think, hmm… they’re changing. I like this person. I like what’s happening here. And so, they respond to what you’re doing for them. It’s that kind of attitude that has the potential of turning a person around.
Jim: And it takes uh … discipline, when I hear you say that, I’m just again thinking of even my own experiences, the letters and e-mails that we receive here at Focus on the Family. So often um … again, it’s not the initial reaction that we have as human beings. We tend to want to react out of our flesh.
Jim: And we serve the purposes of the enemy of our souls when we do that. But what about the wife that’s sayin’, “I hear you, but right now I’m … I’m not feeling loving. I’m not even sure I like him.”
Jim: Where do they go?
Gary: What I would say is, first of all, we have to recognize that while there is an emotional aspect of love, love is basically a choice. It’s a choice to look out for the interest of the other person. It’s the choice to be willing to sacrifice for their benefit.
Gary: And because it is a choice and not simply an emotion, we can love a person that we don’t even like. And when you do, and particularly if you speak that love in the language that really communicates to them, you’re touching them at the deepest possible point, because you’re speaking love and you’re speaking in a language that they understand.
Jim: Well, and I appreciate the hope. I don’t … you know, we’re talkin’ about the desperate heart and the loneliness of that and the deception of it. And what you’re saying is, there is always hope as long as one of you is willing.
Jim: And when you begin to turn that and not react out of your flesh, because that spouse is treating you in a way that is demeaning or lacking that love, if you can find your source in Christ and in your relationship with God, it would allow you to weather that, so that you can get on a better track.
Jim: Talk about that experience as we end today. But I’m gonna ask you to stick with us so we can come back and continue the discussion. But let’s end with hope today. Talk about those examples in the couples that you have counseled over 35 years, where you even as the counselor thought, this one looks desperate, yet you saw God work a miracle.