Author and blogger Brooke McGlothlin discusses the need for parents to pray Scripture over their sons, and offers advice on raising boys to be men of integrity, character and respect.
Les Parrott: We’re here to talk about conflict.
Leslie Parrott: Yes, we are.
Les: How do you fight a good fight? In fact, we might as well ask it. What do you guys fight about? Just holler it out. What do you fight about? Money. What else? Sex. Who said sex?
Les: Stand up, if you would.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Well, that’s really putting it right there, and I’m pretty sure that the person in the audience that said “sex” is never gonna say anything else again at another conference.
Jim Daly: Don’t stand up!
John: What a great example of the fun and the humor and the insights that Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott offer in their seminars and here on Focus on the Family today. You’re gonna be able to hear more from them. I’m John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim: John, you know, being able to “fight well,” or as we say in the Daly household, “disagreeing well,” is really the key to all relationships. Jean and I try to do that in our marriage. We don’t always succeed. I can say that honestly. We try to fight fair and disagree fair and make sure that when we get into a conflict, we have good tools to resolve it. And that’s what we want to talk about today, because a lot of couples struggle in this area – a lot of marriages do.
Let me be clear: We’re not talking about physical abuse or even verbal abuse. We’re talking about the normal things that married couples disagree about and how they can resolve that conflict.
John: Yeah and if you missed part one of this presentation from the Parrotts, please get in touch. We can send the entire message on CD, you can get an audio download or listen on the app. All the details at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or call 1-800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Well, let’s go ahead and begin with a quick recap from the Parrotts of the four bad types of conflict behavior, and then we’ll hear some ideas for better communication. Here now, Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott on Focus on the Family.
Leslie: There are four things – elements in our conflicts – in the way we fight, that if we have these, they are very destructive to our relationship.
Les: Dr. Gottman calls them The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, right?
Leslie: That’s a powerful picture.
Les: These are four things that kind of usher in doom…
Les: …for a marriage relationship.
Les: If you – if he sees these in a marriage, then that’s what he bases his prediction on.
Leslie: The first Horseman of the Apocalypse is criticism, just simply criticism. And it’s so easy to criticize. If I walk in the door and he says, “Where have you been? You always make us late!” That is a critical comment. Right there, that’s a destructive thing to your marriage.
Leslie: The second Horseman of the Apocalypse is the natural progression after you receive a criticism and it’s defensiveness. And you know, you just can feel yourself going into that reflexive, defensive response. Gottman said that always escalates an argument. It never helps bring resolve. Defensiveness is really lethal to a couple.
Les: And the third of these red flags is contempt.
Leslie: Contempt. Now, contempt is like criticism, but it’s deeper and even more injurious to the relationship. Contempt is now not when you’re just saying something like, “You always make us late.” But now, you’re engaging in what we would call “character assassination.” You’re assigning a negative motive to them.
Les: So, criticism, defensiveness, contempt. That leads to the fourth of these which is stonewalling. It’s just like you’re talking to a stone wall. And let me just tell you something, men tend to get to stonewalling quicker than women do. Now, also, women tend to…
Leslie: Right. More frequently tend to have a critical comment that they spark an argument with. You can kind of see how cyclical our fights can be sometimes as couples.
Les: Well, we want to help you kind of short circuit this whole thing. If this is what bad fights are made of, how do we spin out of this, you know, cycle? And we want to give you some new tools for doing that. And the first one’s real quick that has been…
Leslie: Very simple.
Les: …very helpful to us over the years. It’s what we call the XYZ formula.
Leslie: Right. It’s – and this is simple and yet, we feel very profound. When you’re in the heat of a conflict, you need something that your memory can grab onto that protects you from doing something that’s destructive to each other. And so, if you can remember this – this simple formula, the XYZ – in situation X, when you do Y, I feel Z.
Les: Right. The XYZ formula: in situation X, when you do Y, I feel Z. “When we’re driving down the road and you turn the radio station without asking me first, well, I feel like I don’t even matter to you, right?” Now that’s very different than saying, “Who made you king of the radio?” Right?
Les: That’s contempt. Get that subtle difference? Right. In situation X, when you do Y, I feel Z. So, that’s just a good way to kind of circumvent the criticism.
Leslie: A simple way to protect you from the critical comment which starts the whole thing rolling.
Les: And make a complaint…
Les: …rather than a criticism.
Les: Well, that’s one thing we want to toss out there. Shall we teach them the withholds?
Leslie: Yes. Let’s do it.
Les: We have another exercise we want to teach you that we’ve literally taught to thousands of couples. We get such a good response to this and it’s worked for us for at least the last decade of our own marriage and in lots of other couples’ lives. It’s called “Sharing withholds.” Every day, in every marriage, there is information that we withhold from one another, not because we’re being secretive…
Les: …or because we’re private or whatever.
Leslie: It’s just the pace of life and the way things go. I mean, we can, you know, be out to dinner with some friends and, you know, we’re all having a great time. He might say something, though, that kind of hurts my feelings. I’m not gonna bring it up, you know, with everyone. I’m gonna laugh. And then when we get home and it’s like midnight and I’m too tired to bring it up. Don’t want to talk about it. We go to bed. We’re up at 6 the next morning and life takes off and those things happen. You just have moments where you felt something and you just couldn’t – it just – you couldn’t get it in. You couldn’t share it and those becomes negative withholds.
Leslie: You know, just feelings that…
Les: And we have negative withholds, as well as positive. What happens, by the way, to – to negative withholds when you never express those? What happens to them? Yeah, that’s right. We bury those and they pop up. They have a high rate of resurrection.
Leslie: Yes they do.
Les: They will pop up through the surface. We’ll wonder, “Where did that come from?” Right? Well, we also have positive withholds, things that register in our minds and they somehow never get expressed. And so I see Leslie. She’s coming down the stairs and we’re headed to church and – and I’m thinking, “Oh, she has that new dress on. She looks great in that new dress” and I’m just ready to give her that compliment and then, I think, “Oh, where’s my Bible? Where’s that Sunday school lesson? Where are my car keys?” Or whatever it is. And I get sidetracked and I never do give her that verbal appreciation and – and compliment. She misses out on that because of the speed of life.
Leslie: And we do that all the time, both positive and negative withholds. Now, this exercise, sharing withholds, is so powerful in – in helping you cope with conflict in the marriage, because what it does is you’ve engaged in this and it really then takes the tension out of your daily life together as a couple.
Les: Absolutely. Here’s – here’s how this goes. One of us will just simply initiate this exercise by saying, “Would you like to share withholds?” The other person agrees. We both get out a piece of scratch paper and we write down three withholds that have happened within the last couple of days, the last 48 hours, three withholds. The way we do this is two of them need to be positive; one of them is negative. Two positive withholds, one negative withhold. Right? You all with me? So we each jot these down.
Now, I’ll tell you this, most of the time when Leslie says to me, “Hey, would you like to share withholds?” the first thing that happens in my mind is I go, “Um, yeah, but I don’t think I have any withholds.” We talk about everything. And then I get out my piece of scratch paper and about two minutes goes by, and then I’m all of a sudden realizing I have to limit myself to just three of them. Okay? It just takes a little while for the brain to kick in. In fact even think right now, “What’s a positive withhold that you have from your spouse?” Something that registered, but you didn’t express. Probably right away you’re not thinking of something, but in a little while it will sink in. Well, we both have these jotted down and then we take turns sharing them.
Leslie: Right. So it – it – you know, I’ll take my turn and I’ll start with a positive. “You know what? One of the things I wanted you to know. I was so – I was just so overwhelmed when I came down yesterday morning and the kitchen was clean and I couldn’t believe it, because I went to bed at midnight. It was a wreck, dishes everywhere. I was exhausted. I could not get it together. And so, I was dreading that and leaving town and the whole thing. So, I woke up, went in the kitchen; it was beautiful. And I wanted you to know how much that meant to me.”
Les: I respond – by the way, that never happened.
I was a little startled there. I knew she was sending me a message. That’s all.
We have our own little seminar going on up here right now. Thanks, Les. But if it had happened, I would respond with two words. Those two words are, yeah, “Thank you.” That’s all. I’m not gonna explain it or anything else. I just say, “Thank you.” And then, she would share a negative withhold.
Leslie: “You know, I have to tell you that I had fun with Kevin and Kathy last week when we went to dinner. But at one point, you know, we were laughing. I mean, I did laugh so hard, but you made that comment about me talking to my mom on the phone and how big the long-distance bill is. And I gotta tell you, you hurt my feelings because you know, I’m so worried about her. I live far away from her. I don’t feel like there’s much I can do except talk to her and – and I just got my feelings hurt and I wanted you to know that.”
Les: So in this exercise, I just simply respond to the negative withhold by saying, “Lighten up! I can’t believe you’d take it so seriously.”
Les: Every fiber in my body wants to respond that way, right? But in this exercise I response with two words and those two words are?
Audience: I’m sorry.
Les: No, not “I’m sorry,” because I may not be sorry yet, okay?
Les: Those two words are simply, “Thank you.” That’s all, right? I’m not gonna explain it. Not gonna – it’s not gonna be a coerced kind of apology.
Les: This is an exercise in sharing information, so I say, “Thank you.” All right, and then she would share another positive withhold and then it would be my turn to share my three withholds. And by the way, if you’re the second person to share your three withholds, one of the things we’ve discovered is that you need to stick with the three original withholds…
Les: …you wrote down. You’re way ahead of us. So – so we do this.
Les: And then here’s the caveat for this thing, for the next 30 minutes, the negative withholds are off limits. For the next 30 minutes, we don’t talk about those things. Now, what happens in 30 minutes time to the human system when we have that – we’ve received negative information, what happens after we’ve held onto it for about 30 minutes without responding to it? Yeah, that’s right. A little sanity begins to seep into that cortex of ours and – and we come to a place where we can respond rather than react. And most of the time, we don’t even come back to them.
Leslie: Honestly, that’s a surprise for me, that I feel so confident that he heard my feelings, that he knew me. We didn’t have to have a big argument about it. We didn’t have to process it for an hour. He knew my feelings and listened to me respectfully and I know that it impacted him. And so, the anxiety about it dissolves. That’s been the amazing thing about this. Now, there are times when issues are big enough and you do need to come back to those. And you know, after that time, when you’ve had the cooling-off period, you do that. Occasionally, it may be even a larger issue where you need more time and that’s okay.
Les: But that’s how that works. Does that make sense? Sharing withholds, is that something you can do? If we had more time, I’d have you share a positive withhold with each other right now. Maybe you can do that over lunch or something, but this exercise, if you’ll do this a couple times during the week. This is not something to do in the midst of conflict.
Les: You’re not having a fight and go, “Oh, let’s share withholds.” “Well, I thought we were just doing that,” right? No, this is a preventive exercise and it’ll keep those landmines at bay from your marriage.
John: You’re listening to Focus on the Family, and our guest speakers today, Les and Leslie Parrott. And in a few minutes, they’ll share a great story from the early days of their marriage before the advent of technology like GPS and Google Maps.
Now get the book by the Parrotts,, for a donation of any amount, when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY – 800-232-6459, or donate and request that book at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Let’s go ahead and return now to Les and Leslie Parrott.
Les: Well, we still haven’t really answered the question, “How is conflict the price we pay for a deeper level of intimacy?” Let me see if I can do this very quickly before we wrap things up. I – I think the answer is found in understanding how relationships work. Every relationship begins at a level that we might call “pseudo” relationship or false relationship. You know, it’s about that deep. There’s just not much to it. In – in pseudo relationship, it’s the kind of relationship we have with somebody, oh, you might see them in the church foyer you know? And you’d see him once in a while in the church foyer and it’s like – what’s your name?
Les: Mack. How’re you doing, Mack? It’s good to see you. Man, isn’t this a wonderful day? And I can’t believe that message. It was fabulous. Hey, how’s the golf game going? Still going well?
Mack: Oh, not bad.
Les: Oh, that’s great. Hey, it’s good to see you, all right. You take it – you’re the man. Mack, you are the man. You take care, all right?
Les: You know, Mack and I, we do that every so often in the church foyer. We happen to see each other. If you thought, you know, if somebody asked you, “Hey, are Mack and Les friends?” You’d say, “Yeah. I think they might even golf together. I’m not sure, but I know they’re friends. I’ve seen ‘em talking together. But that’s all we ever do. Just an inch deep. You know, that’s pseudo relationship.
Now, if Mack and I got into an automobile and we drove from California to Washington, D.C., starting this afternoon, you think that relationship might get to a different level? Yeah, you bet. Eventually it would get to the second level that we call – and put your seat belts on – the second level of relationships is called chaos, chaos. What happens in chaos? Well, this is where you start to get real and that’s what creates the chaos, when you start to get genuine.
And it’s like, “Hey, Mack, man, it’s good to see you. How’re you doing, Brother? Wasn’t that a good message and I can’t get over this weather. It’s been fabulous, hasn’t it? And hey, how’s the golf game? I wanted to ask you about your golf game. You know, I was at the café the other day. I saw John there. He said, ‘Oh, yeah, Mack and I, we just got back from playing 18.’ I thought, ‘Well, that’s strange,’ ‘cause you keep saying, ‘Yeah, well, I’m gonna invite you. Next time we go, we’re going to invite you.’ I know you got my phone number. I’ve given it to you 23 times and yet, you haven’t invited me.”
“And – and I’m just not sure what this is all about. Now, you got that smirk on your face. I really don’t understand what’s going on with you? Well, I used to think you were the man. You are no longer the man.”
Les: And Mack’s going, “Yikes, back off. All right, you can come golf, okay?” You know, and what’s he gonna do the next time he sees me in the church foyer? That’s right. Yeah. “Come on, kids; here comes Les. Let’s get out of here. He’s crazy.” Well, that’s chaos. A lot of times we stay in chaos a long time. But if we have the maturity, we can move to the third stage of relationship, which is emptiness, emptiness. And we’re not talking about an existential void here. We’re talking about the capacity to empty yourself of your need to change another person, even your spouse. The capacity – everybody in this room and – and around the country listening in on this seminar today has to empty themselves of their need to change another person. That’s a tough thing to do, isn’t it?
Yeah, it’s a tough thing to do. It goes against everything within us. If you’re like most people, if you’re like me, you walk around this planet going, “If people were more like Les Parrott, this would be a great planet to live on,” right? If people out here on the street would just drive more like me, this would be a great freeway to be on, right? If people on this church board would just see things the way I see it. If this person I’m married to would just do things the way I want them done, you know?
We could really have – I remember Leslie and I first got married. We’re in our tiny little kitchen. We’re making a salad together. I don’t know why. We just thought that’s probably something married couples do. And – and so, we’re making a salad together and I looked at Leslie and she’s cutting carrots. And Leslie’s left-handed. I can’t begin to tell you how she was holding that carrot and that knife. I just…
Les: And uh, I said, “Les, what are you – what are you doing?” And she said, “I’m cutting carrots.” I said, “Well, that’s not the way you cut.” And I taught her the right way to cut carrots.
Les: I left the room. I came back in a few minutes and she was back to her way of cutting carrots. I said, “Les, what you doing?” “Oh, yeah, yeah. I forgot.” So she goes back to my way of cutting carrots. A week later, I come into the kitchen. She’s cutting carrots by herself. How do you think she’s cutting them?
Audience: Her way.
Les: Yeah. “Les, how many times do we gotta cover this ground?
And – well, we’ve been married for 16 years. How do you think she cuts carrots today? Here’s the goofy part. I was in our kitchen. We were having – I was answering mail and stuff on the phone and sitting at this little island we have. And Leslie was making a salad, 16 years into our marriage. I looked across the way and all of a sudden it dawns on me. There she is cutting carrots the exact same way she’s cut ‘em ever since we’ve been married, right? Never cut her fingers amazingly, but she’s still cutting those carrots that same way. And here’s the funny part. I would have been disappointed if she was cutting ‘em any other way. For some reason, I just like that about her. “That’s the way my Leslie cuts carrots. I like that.” I must have somewhere along the line, emptied myself and said, “Hey, I’m gonna married to a crazy carrot-cutting fool the rest of my days. I better get used to it.”
Les: Emptiness, it’s a remarkable…
Leslie: It is.
Leslie: You know, and I’ve got to just tell you that it is an amazing thing when you’re on the receiving end of that gift from your spouse. In fact, you know, every marriage – I’m pretty sure every marriage like us has ongoing issues. And one of the things we’ve struggled with for all 16 years of our marriage is this expectation when we’re on the road, you know, when – when Les is driving, that, you know, I might help with the maps and kind of be a navigator in the front seat. Now, when we got…
Les: It’s because I grew up in a home where Mom always did the navigating. She did the maps, just like a loving wife should do.
Leslie: Now I got to tell you, I was unprepared for this in marriage, because in my family, my dad did all the maps. I mean, I truly, I think maps were my dad’s hobby, you know, and – and he didn’t want us to do any mapping, because he did not trust us to fold them back up after we had looked at them, you know. So, I’m just, I mean, I don’t know anything about a map.
Les: We were in downtown Seattle, and we – we were lost. It was dark. It was rainy. I – I could not find this restaurant. We were meeting another couple for the first time and I said to Leslie, I said, “You’ve got to help me.” And she gets out this map and I know she’s working on it so hard. She’s pouring over it for five minutes. She said, “Les, I’ve looked all over this map.” She said, “This street does not exist in downtown Seattle.” I looked over at her. The upper right hand corner of the map said Spokane, Washington.
Leslie: So, here’s the thing. You know, for all of our married life, you know, when you’re lost and late, it’s a point of tension. And I’m never helpful in these moments and it’s always been disappointing to Les. Well, this time, for whatever reason, he was just in that place. And – and he just – you know, I looked up. He starts laughing. Finally, he is laughing so hard when he sees that I’m looking at the wrong city’s map, that his shoulders are shaking. He has to pull over on the side of the road, ‘cause he’s laughing too hard to drive. And we just start laughing together and even though we’re late and it’s dark and you know, it’s raining, we have this moment. And I have got to tell you, I have never felt so good in my life. It’s like, when you’re with someone who knows your faults and has decided you’re okay exactly that way, it creates that feeling of safety. It is the safest place on earth to be in a relationship in that place.
Les: That’s emptiness. And emptiness leads to the final stage of relationship which is genuine relationship. And friend, this is where you just go, “Ah.” You can be who you are and it doesn’t matter. That’s what we all long for. That’s that “longing for belonging” we have in our – the soul of our marriage that we all desire. And – and when you arrive there, do you have – we have friends we’ll go out with. And we come back at the end of the evening and I’ll go, “Did you have a good time?” She’ll, “Yeah, it was okay.” “Yeah,” I said, “I don’t know if they understood my sense of humor. And then I tripped up those stairs. I know they think I’m a klutz you know.” And you start to – then we have another group of friends we can go out with. It doesn’t matter what happens all evening, we’re gonna have a good time.
Les: You know? If I fall flat on my face, they just go, “Oh, yeah, that’s Les. He falls a lot; pick him up.”
Les: That’s genuine relationship. It’s no longer pseudo relationship. You’ve journeyed through a little bit of chaos to get there and now, all of a sudden, “Ah,” just like sitting in a big fat leather easy chair, you just want to stay there. “Ah, this is comfortable,” right?
And that’s our prayer for you, that you would enjoy the depth of genuine relationship in your marriage and realize that many times conflict – chaos is the price you pay in order to get there and enjoy that experience. We know you’re already there. Many of you are enjoying that, but it’s sometimes helpful to remember, conflict is the price of – “If it’s possible, as far as it depends on you, try, do what you can to live a peace with one another.”
Les: Thanks, folks. Great to be with you.
John: And what a great note of encouragement. And with that, we come to the end of today’s Focus on the Family presentation from bestselling authors and marriage experts Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott.
Jim: John, I loved that last point that Les is making there, about having the kind of relationship with your spouse where they know all your flaws, but you know what? They still love you. And it hit me when I heard that. It’s similar to our relationship with Jesus, isn’t it? It’s the ultimate unconditional love. He still loves us, even though he knows our flaws and our sins. He’s still in our corner. And I think that’s why our hearts fill with joy when we have that kind of marriage where, even though our spouse sees all of our shortcomings, they still love and care about us. And I hope we, in our marriages, can express that back to our spouses. That’s convicting to me, because that’s the way it should work, but sometimes I fail at it.
John: Well, I appreciate that, Jim. Over the 30 plus years we’ve been married, Dena and I have had plenty of times to optimize our conflict management.
John: It really is a wonderful thing to be known and still loved, and I’ve shared that with my kids. There is a deep satisfaction in knowing that she is aware of my every fault and yet she still forgives me at the end of the day, and she overlooks those flaws that keep popping up. And I’m not a real easy person to live with sometimes. I can be very challenging, and she is still loving andand brings a real strength and resiliency to our family and to our relationship. And our kids get to see that. That long term marriage is something I wanna model well for them, even when we fail from time to time.
Jim: Well, you know, the flawless among us, “please step forward,” I guess is the best thing to say. It’s just like Jesus writing in the sand, right? We tend to think so highly of ourselves, we forget that we have annoying little habits and we certainly aren’t perfect. And that’s just, you know, human nature. And you know how they say, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”? I can remember a weekend that Jean and the boys went on a trip, and I was home alone. And I’ll tell you what, I don’t like that. I missed them.
John: Yeah, those are lonely moments. You just kind of hear every clock ticking, every silence in the house.
Jim: I am not a good loner person. You know, I travel quite a bit with my role at Focus, and I don’t do well being at home alone. I can say that. It’s not me. I like people around me. I’m that kind of extrovert. And I just missed them so much! I missed having Jean give me a hug and say, “How’d your day go?” Or having the boys beg me to come see what they’re doing. The house was just empty and quiet. It felt like I was, you know, missing the very essence of family. And man, it really motivated me call her and say, “Hey, I love you. When you coming home? Can you get back quicker?”
John: And? Did she say, “Yes, yes, Jim. I’ll drop everything and come home right now?”
Jim: I mean, I don’t recall. I can’t remember, really. It’s just so funny. If you’re thinking, “Wow, I wish my marriage was like that,” let me remind you: Focus on the Family is here to help you. We have time-tested resources that will give you helpful ideas. We have Counselors who can spend some time with you on the phone, and we also have our Hope Restored marriage intensives for couples who really need deep intervention. Over the past year, we have helped over 600-thousand couples strengthen their relationship, and yours could be next!
Here’s a note we got from Kim. She wrote: “A year ago my life changed forever. I found out my husband was having an affair with one of our close friends. My relationship with God was very close, but my husband was running away from Him as fast as he could. With the help and strength we received through God and your ministry, my husband’s life has turned around, and our marriage is getting better every day. Although I would never have chosen this journey, it is worth all the pain to see my husband loving God, me, and our children. God bless Focus on the Family!”
And let me just extend that to everyone who prays for us and who supports us financially, because she’s really writing that letter to you too.
John: It is awesome to see the Lord using this ministry in such a way. And as you said Jim, it’s not us. We’re just on the front lines. This is a team effort, and our listeners are a big part of it.
Jim: Well, they are and this is the essence of our together ministry – to help save marriages like Kim’s. And if you’d like to help other marriages, please donate and pray for us today. The best way to give is with a monthly pledge – that helps us to steady out the budget, and we can count on that group of people who are monthly pledgers. If you normally give to Focus on the Family at the end of the year, take that amount, divide it by 12, and make that your monthly pledge amount! We’d be so grateful for that evening out of the giving.
And if you can make that monthly pledge of any amount today, I’d like to send you a copy of the book the Parrotts wrote on dealing with conflict, called. And that will be our way of saying thank you. And if you can’t make a monthly commitment, w
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