Katharine Hill: Sometimes it’s not just the amount of time but it’s what we do with it that’s important. And certainly, in marriage, we’ve got those little moments when we can connect over everyday things. But it’s good sometimes just to make time, to put time in the diary. It sounds a bit prosaic. It sounds a bit – bit sort of structured. But sometimes we just have to do it.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That’s Katherine Hill describing some of the simple and very practical things you can do to have a great marriage! And it’s something we all want, and it really isn’t all that hard either. You will hear more insights from Katherine today on Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus President, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I think it’s unfortunate that in the Christian community we sometimes communicate the WRONG message about marriage. We tend to focus on the challenges and struggles that husbands and wives are going to face, and how to overcome them. It’s all well-meaning, of course. We want to help couples — young couples especially — understand that great marriages don’t happen by accident. You can’t coast by on autopilot. You have to work on your relationship with your spouse. You must choose to love and sacrifice for each other on a daily basis. That’s how a strong marriage is built. But what’s often missing from our messaging is how wonderful and glorious marriage can be. That’s God’s design. He intended for you to experience joy and intimacy, and a bonding together that’s unlike any other relationship you’ll experience on this earth.
John: And that really is a beautiful thing when you get to that point in your relationship. We want to share that kind of good news with you today, and we’re talking to couples who are in a good place — not struggling and thinking all is lost. If you are going through a crisis reach out to us, we have a lot of resources here.
Jim: That’s right, John. We have many other broadcasts where we deal with the more serious problems and painful situation that husbands and wives experience. We hope you’ll contact us if you’re going through something like that. We’re here to help you. But today, we’ve got more of an upbeat message. I was in Scotland just a month ago with some Focus friends, and we invited Katharine Hill to record a conversation about her book, If You Forget Everything Else, Remember This: Tips and Reminders for a Happy Marriage.
John: And Jim I was really sad I couldn’t make that trip and join you for the interview.
We should mention that Katharine is a colleague of sorts. She’s the UK director for Care for the Family, which is kind of a sister ministry to Focus on the Family, located in Newport, South Wales.
Katharine speaks and writes extensively on family, marriage, and parenting topics. And here’s how you began your conversation with her on today’s Focus on the Family . . .
Jim: Katharine, welcome to “Focus on the Family.”
Katharine: It is so good to be here.
Jim: Before we start the conversation, describe some of the challenges you were seeing in your law practice, uh, and now you’re doing family ministry. I don’t know if that’s good training or not so good training being a past lawyer.
Katharine: It was good training, Jim. I think because I specialized in family law, so I saw firsthand I think the heartbreak of when family life hasn’t turned out as people hoped it would. And so, I think that gave me the passion to want to try and work and to help couples build strong relationships where possible.
Jim: Now, your husband, Richard, is also an attorney, so I can only imagine – who wins the arguments when you’re talking?
Katharine: I do, always. (Laughter)
Jim: I love it. You’re well-trained, right?
Katharine: (Laughter) Well-trained, no, we do – yes, when we were first – when we were first going out, when we were first married, we would often get into that sort of sparring with words. He’s probably quicker than I am, if I’m really honest at that.
Jim: Oh, that’s so sweet of you to say. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s sweet of you to say.
Katharine: It probably is true, but…
Jim: OK, describe your wedding day to Richard and the unexpected weather, which you have kind of used as an analogy to marriage.
Katharine: So, we got married. And on the wedding day, we woke up, and I remember seeing – remember looking through the curtains and seeing this tiny little bit of blue sky right through the window and being really excited because we had been – like every bride, I had been praying for a sunny day. And then I drew the curtains back, and there were loads of gray clouds. And then throughout the day, we had every bit of British weather imaginable.
Jim: So, did it rain on your reception?
Katharine: Uh, didn’t rain on the reception. It rained when we were in the church. But then a rainbow came through the stained-glass window…
Jim: Oh, that’s nice.
Katharine: …Caused my mother-in-law to cry. (Laughter) That was very lovely. But then it was windy and sunny for the reception. And then when we left, it snowed.
Jim: Now (laughter)…
Katharine: So, I was wearing – I was wearing a little thin cotton suit, and it was very cold.
Jim: I don’t mean to be cheeky here, but you sure your mother-in-law was crying because of the rainbow (laughter)?
Katharine: She was! (laughter).
Jim: I just thought you might want to check that with her, but, no, that’s good!
Um, all right, you – in the book, you stress paying attention to the little things, which, for me, as a husband – and we’re, you know, with a lot of guys and their wives in this room – stressing the little things can be exhausting. And, you know, it can be tough, and we tend to avoid stressing the little things. So, what do you mean by stressing the little things? And how do we encourage each other to do that?
Katharine: Well, so often, I think when we are speaking at Care for the Family on the subject of marriage, it seems so simple. It seems that we’re just talking about the little things, how we talk to each other, paying attention to each other, what it really looks like to cherish each other. But those are the things that, if we do pay attention to them, those are the things that really fuel a marriage.
Jim: So, when you’re talking to couples, what do you hear from both wives and husbands in this area of trying to pay attention to the little things? When do they do it well? And where does it fall apart?
Katharine: So often, I think in marriage, we end up taking each other for granted. It’s easy in those first few years when we’re madly in love, but then routine sets in, and we slip into something we often call parallel living. And that happened to us in our marriage. So, I was at home at that stage with our four children, and Richard, my husband, was building his office. And our two worlds were very, very different. So, mine was all about the school run and the lost hamster and the reading books and all the things of family life. And his was about building an office and the bottom line of the accounts and all the things that go to towards office life. And we literally stopped paying attention and being interested in each other’s worlds and began to drift apart and do that – did that parallel living.
Jim: And part of that is you – you kind of reacquainted each other with your hobbies, I mean, which I found really interesting, especially the hobby that Richard had and your willingness to embrace it. Explain, for both of you, what your hobbies are and then how you each decided, “OK, even though it drives me crazy, I’ll do this.”
Katharine: Well, so often in the early years of marriage, it’s easy to be interested in what the other person is interested in. And so, it’s really good, if you hit tough times, to go back and remember what those things were. So, I would love going to nice coffee shops. I’d like going to nice art galleries. Richard didn’t really know a painting if he saw one, (Laughter) didn’t really like coffee. But he would make the effort, and I actually thought he was interested in those things.
But then, on the other foot, he was building a kit car at the time when we were first going out.
Jim: Now we’re talking!
Katharine: And I spent lots of weekends – he was living in Birmingham, which is about an hour away from where I lived, and so on every weekend, I would drive up there. And all Saturday would be spent either traipsing around these cold scrap yards looking at these bits of metal that went into the engine cluster. And it smelled horrible, and it was cold…
Jim: (Laughter) You’re convincing me.
Katharine: But I pretended I loved it. And actually, I just loved it because I wanted to be with him. So, we tried to remember, what were those things? Thankfully, he didn’t then go and build another kit car. But we tried to be interested in each other’s worlds. And I think that’s a good lesson.
OK, let me ask you, are you still doing that today? How long – how many years have you been married?
Katharine: We have been married 34 years.
Jim: OK, we’ve been married 32. So, are you – are you doing that still? Do you get interested in what he’s doing, even though it drives you crazy?
Katharine: We try to. But so often we get it wrong. But when we get it wrong now, I think we know what we have to do, and we have to try and remember. But I think the busyness of life just creeps in. Our kids have left home now. And I think that’s very often what can happen, is we’ve just been talking about them and the arrangements …
Jim: Oh yeah.
Katharine: …And who’s taking who to football. And suddenly, they’re not there. And we look at each other and think, “What are we going to be talking about?”
Jim: Well, and it’s really important that you continue to develop your relationship. I mean, in the U.S. at least, the fastest-growing divorce rate is amongst empty nesters because typically, the wife, the mom, says, you know, “I don’t know you anymore.”
Katharine: That’s exactly…
Jim: And that’s what you’re saying; don’t be caught in that trap.
I love a quote from your book. You said, “One of the greatest gifts you can give your spouse is to be that person in their lives who will ask (06:33) how they’re doing …” and then wait to hear the answer.” That’s – I’m not good at that. Let me just put it that way.
Katharine: I think one thing we’re all bad at is interrupting. I think the average person listens for something like 17 seconds before interrupting.
Jim: That long? (Laughter).
Katharine: Well, maybe not that long. I think I’m probably more like five. (Laughter) But what we – what I do, anyway, I’m trying to construct my reply, I’m trying to think of something to say back and not really, really listening to what they’re saying.
Jim: OK, we gotta get into this because this is a total gender thing. So, with Jean and I, I call it interactive listening. You know, so she’s telling me something that is really important to her, and I’ll begin to clarify things, right? I think that’s interactive. I’m engaging. It drives her crazy. So why is that? I’m saying, “No, you know, what color was it? How was” – would you not interrupt me?
Katharine: Well, there’s interrupting like that because probably, she was going to say something different, maybe. And also, I think a common thing, certainly in our marriage, is Richard, my husband, wants to fix the problem.
Jim: That’s very common.
Katharine: And actually, all I want to do is talk about it, so…
Jim: What does that sound like, you know, he wants to fix the problem? Give me that dialogue.
Katharine: So I’ll come in, and I’ll say, “There was this really difficult situation at work today. And this person did X, and this other person said Y, and I don’t really know, you know, what – what can I do about it?”
Jim: “Oh, you should go to X and tell them this.” Is that what he says (laughter)?
Katharine: Well, exactly. He will. He’ll give me some advice, and that’s OK. But then the next night, I’ll say the same thing again and he’ll say, “But I thought I told you what to do.” And actually, I didn’t need telling what to do. Um, I just wanted him to listen.
Jim: So, is he doing better at that?
Katharine: He’s pretty good.
Jim: Oh, that’s good! All right. Um, you believe married couples can learn from Winston Churchill. That’s pretty good. Now, you’re British, of course. Winston Churchill is a hero of both the U.S. and Britain. Why should we listen to Winston Churchill on the issue of marriage?
Katharine: Well, during the war, when he must have been super, super busy, um, he was often away. And there are a series of letters that you can still see today that he wrote to his wife, Clementine, just keeping in contact, telling her about the little things that he’d been doing, talking about his feelings, telling her that, um, that he loved her. And that was all in the context of his role at the time in terms of the…
Jim: Think of that. I mean, we think we’re busy. We’re not trying to save the world. He was. And yet, he took time to write a – write many letters. How many letters did he write?
Katharine: Well, I think there’s loads and loads. And you can see them I think in one of the – maybe the British Museum or somewhere. Lots of them – lots of them are there. And they had little pet names for each other as well. That was very sweet. And he’d do little drawings. But just the effort – today, we can do that more easily. We can send a text message. We can keep in contact more easily. But he would get the pen out and actually write these letters.
Jim: OK. You mention that active listening in that kind of dialogue between a husband and wife involves eye contact. Gosh, I’m just confessing all my weaknesses. I’m not sure I do that very well either. So why is that important? Do I really have to look?
Katharine: Well, I was at a party with somebody recently. And I was wearing, um, quite a nice scarf, and I thought that they were looking at that. And then we were chatting. And then I realized they were not looking at my scarf. They were actually looking at someone more interesting over my left shoulder.
Jim: (Laughter) Oh, no!
Katharine: And I think all of us have been in that situation where we’ve not been listened to. And it makes us feel that we’re not valued. It makes us feel that we’re not important. And so, listening with your eyes gives that person that huge sense of value and love and care.
And so if we can do that – and it is hard because there’s often more interesting things maybe to be looking at! (Laughter) Maybe, you know, you’re reading an article in the paper or something…
Katharine: …But actually, just giving that eye contact gives…
Jim: I’ll work on that.
Kathrine: …Sends an incredible message of support.
Jim: OK, I’m going to work on that one.
John: Sounds like good advice for your marriage, or for any interaction you have with others. This is Focus on the Family, with Jim Daly and our guest is Katharine Hill, she’s written a very practical book called If You Forget Everything Else, Remember This: Tips and Reminders for a Happy Marriage.
We’ve got the book and also an audio copy of this conversation at our website — focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or call 800 – the letter “A” and the word – FAMILY.
Here’s more from Katharine Hill on today’s episode of Focus on the Family …
Jim: Katharine, you use STOP as an acronym for us to remember four key things. So how does it work? What does STOP stand for?
Katharine: Well, we often use this when we’re talking to new parents because when someone’s just had a little baby, the whole marriage relationship changes. And this is a really good one for any couple to remember, not just new parents. And so, S, S stands for scoring points. (Laughter) So these are four things that we shouldn’t do.
Jim: OK, don’t score points.
Katharine: Don’t score points. So that’s like, they say, “You did that,” and you say, “Well, you did that,” “Well, you did that,” and then up it goes, and the whole thing escalates.
Jim: Let’s just take a little poll. We’re in front of, you know, 16, 17 couples. How many people in here understand the scoring point mechanism in marriage? Oh, and how many people are liars? (Laughter) OK, let me see, about – about a third of the group put their hand up. Thank you for being honest. All right. What’s the next one?
Katharine: T is thinking the worst. So that’s when maybe your husband brings you a beautiful bunch of flowers, and you think, “Oh, what’s he done wrong?” – rather than just saying, “How lovely,” or whatever the issue is. But you – you go to the worst. You kind of catastrophize. You go to the worst possible scenario every time.
Jim: Oh, how many wives agree with that statement? All right. Not – wow, really? That’s good!
One of the things in that particular space that I think is difficult – and again, I want to see the heads nodding or disagreeing with me on this. But when it comes to ruminating, I think this is, in a gender context, it really is a female thing. And Jean will do this with me, where it kind of goes to the worst possible scenario, right? And I didn’t intend for that. So how do we clarify that? What kind of – what mechanism do we use to not trigger each other?
Katharine: Well, there’s a really good little phrase to use, which is, “What do you really mean?”
Jim: (Laughter) That’s good.
Katharine: So really asking what’s behind the issue, not just taking it at face value.
Jim: So, don’t go right to the concern of – or the – what feels like threat…
Jim: …What are you really covering up here?
Katharine: Well, or just saying – just really, I think – I think believing the best, believing the best about …
Jim: That’s good.
Katharine: …About them.
Jim: So, we’ve covered S and T, but we need to cover O and P. So, what does O and P stand for?
Katharine: So, O is opting out. So that’s when someone withdraws, when they don’t engage with the discussion or argument and they just bury everything and try and push it under the carpet.
Jim: Now, some people might think that’s a good coping skill. Speak to that person that is justifying that.
Katharine: So that’s not a good coping skill because the other person doesn’t – sometimes doesn’t even know, um, that there’s an issue. And it’s much better to get things out into the open, to be able to say why we’re upset, if we are, and then together to be able to deal with it.
Jim: That’s O. What about P?
Katharine: So, P is for put down, putting down. So, it’s when you make the other person, um, feel inferior. And it could be verbally, could be by calling them names, making it a bit personal. But also, it could just be by body language, so raising your eyes, putting your hands on your hips, sighing, that sort of thing. And none of those things are a good way to resolve conflicts. So, scoring points, thinking the worst, opting out and putting down.
Jim: All right. Um, I’ve always believed that compromise is a good thing. It’s a good strategy for avoiding conflict in marriage. I mean, that’s what it’s about. Even the Scripture says, to husbands particularly, “Lay your life down for your wife.” That’s the ultimate compromise. Why are you cautious about compromise?
Katharine: I think compromise is a really good tool, and it can get us out of some difficult situations. But ultimately, what can happen is one or the other is the one who always ends up giving in. And you end up with not the best.
And so, what we talk about instead is finding the third way, so finding something that is a bit of him and a bit of you and finding a different solution that you’re both really happy with.
Jim: OK, so for the men who are thinking, you know, it’s good to win, it’s good to give directions, good to lead, but in that context, um, how do we lay that down to say it’s not about winning; it’s not a zero-sum game?
Katharine: Well, I think sometimes, we can say it’s worth, uh, losing the argument just for the sake of the relationship, for the sake of the marriage. But the best advice is to remember you’re on the same side, so this isn’t about one of you pitching against the other. But this is about being on the same side, and then putting the issue out in front of you and trying to work at it together. It sounds easy to say like this. But actually, in practice, it is more difficult, but that’s a really good thing to have in mind.
Jim: Katharine, let’s use a positive example. You talk about the third way. So, what’s an example of accomplishing this in the third way?
Katharine: Well, I have a colleague that we work with at Care for the Family, and he has a great example of this with his wife. So, they were decorating their house. Now, lots of couples wouldn’t think decorating was a big deal. But he really does. And he – he cares a lot about what the house is like, and so does she. But they have completely different styles. So, she likes everything to be floral and roses and vines and creepers and billions of cushions. (Laughter) And he is much more chic, minimal, black, white, chrome, those kinds of things.
Jim: Sounds like a marriage made in heaven.
Katharine: Well, they tried decorating, and there was a big argument. (Laughter) And then she said, “Honey, you can do – I will let you do the first room.” So, he thought, “My wife is an angel. I will.” And it was the spare room. So, he decorated the spare room in his style – black, white, chrome, minimal. And then he realized that he had been outmaneuvered because she then said, “Well, as you’ve done the spare room, it’s only fair that I do our bedroom.”
And so, he talks about this bedroom now that is pink and floral and fluffy and cushions. And he’s very funny, he said, “I was lying in bed and didn’t know whether to go to sleep or do the pruning.” (Laughter) Anyway, they – they carried on like this, decorating their home your way, my way, your way, my way until they found that this house had an odd number of rooms.
And so, they didn’t know what to do. And they decided to try and combine both of their styles. And he said, “Having done that” – and it took work, and it was hard, and they had to tussle it out – “But it is now the best room in the house.” And in fact, they’ve gone back and decorated the rest of the house, and they call it floral minimalism.
Jim: (Laughter) And so it worked for them.
Katharine: It worked for them. But you can apply that to everything. You can apply that to how you bring up your children. You can apply that to your recreation time together. You can apply it to how you spend your money. All different issues, apply that third way.
Jim: You know, one of the – one of the things – and I’m sure both you and Richard as attorneys have seen this – the choices people make in marriage, the way they either build each other up or tear each other down. First of all, why do we lean – some of us – will lean toward sarcasm or tearing one another down? It’s part of – especially for men – it’s part of the way we communicate. And we think it’s fun, but sometimes it’s not so fun for our spouses. So, you know, in that context, how do we become more mindful and better with our hearts?
Katharine: Well, I think words are really, really powerful. In the Book of Proverbs, it says that our words have the power of life and death. And we can literally be speaking life into our spouse by the words that we speak.
Katharine: But I think people don’t often realize that. And for some people, words are more impactful than others. For me words, are very impactful, um, Richard, less so. And he is quick and quite witty with his words. And there was one time – it was my birthday, and we had been out to a restaurant with another couple. And they arrived with a gift and with a card. And this card, they had written all down one side really lovely things about me, completely over the top, but it made me feel a million dollars…
Jim: Oh yeah!
Katharine: …I picked it up and I read it. And then he leant over the table, and he picked it up, and he said, “Guys, it’s only Katharine.” And at that moment, my little birthday balloon popped, and it wasn’t such a fun evening anymore. And he had thought it was just a fun – a fun comment. Um, I should preface it to say that he – he often says really great things about me in public (Laughter) so this wasn’t what he – but – but nevertheless, it was really hurtful.
Jim: That’s a real-life scenario.
Katharine: So, well, we got home. And we sorted it out, as they say. But actually, it was such a lesson to us in how just what sounds like a fun, quick comment can actually be really hurtful – so I think being mindful of the power of our words.
Jim: So how – how did you bring that up with Richard when you got back home?
Katharine: I think he knew straight away (laughter).
Jim: OK, so you were giving the vibe that you weren’t happy.
Katharine: I was giving the vibe that I wasn’t happy…
Jim: So then, again, how do you enter into that conflict moment in a way that’s productive and not destructive?
Katharine: So, my natural way of dealing with conflict because of the way I was brought up – I was brought up in a home where I didn’t see conflict ever resolved. It was all pushed under the carpet. And I honestly thought that was the way to deal with it, and so I used to do that. I used to never – never deal with it properly. I would just sulk or hold a grudge.
And it was only when I understood that actually doing that is just as harmful to a relationship as somebody who says it as it is and who is a bit more sort of on the front foot, really, with how they are expressing their annoyance with their spouse, that neither of those are a good way of resolving it. And actually, it’s healthier to be able to get it out into the open.
Jim: You know, the Christian overlay to all this is some of us can believe that taking it or being quiet about it is actually spiritually good to do. But you’re saying it’s not.
Katharine: There’s lots of research about this, about what’s called the negativity threshold. It’s a bit of a mouthful. But what it means is that some people have a high and some people have a low negativity threshold. And if you have a high negativity threshold, it means you can take loads of stuff, and you just take it all on board, and you absorb it. But then one day, there will probably be an almighty explosion, whereas low negativity threshold means people deal with stuff quickly. And they don’t let it harbor. And I do think you’re right. I think that sometimes in the Christian community, um, that we can think that we’re doing a good thing by not reacting. But the healthy way is to put it out in front of us, not make it personal – lots of little tips on how not to do that – and then deal with it together.
Jim: Katherine this has been so good. We need to come back next time pick up the conversation and provide more insights on how to communicate in a healthy way in your marriage. Can we do that?
Katherine: We certainly can.
John: We hope you’ll make plans now to join us for part #2 of Jim’s conversation with Katharine Hill, talking about her book, If You Forget Everything Else, Remember This: Tips and Reminders for a Happy Marriage.
Jim: Katharine offers a lot of practical help and hope for couples. These are simple, yet important reminders about how to communicate better, offer grace and acceptance to your spouse, in a better way, and find common ground in your marriage. I can’t think of a better “how-to” resource — and it works for every situation, whether you’re engaged, a newlywed, or even if you’ve been married for 20 or 30 years like me. This book will benefit you!
I’ll admit that there some things I still need to learn about being a good husband, and I’m sure we could all use a “refresher course” now and then. So, contact us today about getting Katharine’s book. And if you sign up to make a monthly pledge, which really helps us, of any amount to Focus, we’ll say “thanks” by sending a complimentary copy out to you right away. Even a one-time gift will work. Anything you can do to stand with us in supporting and strengthening and saving marriages is greatly appreciated!
John: It really is. In addition to the book, we have an audio copy of our entire conversation with her will include next time’s broadcast as well.
Check out our free marriage assessment online. It really is easy and quickly gives you and your spouse a good overview of what’s working well and what you may want to look at, as far as opportunities to improve, some good talking points on that. Again, it’s the free marriage assessment and it’s available online.
Details about these resources and ways to donate at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or when you call – 800-232-6459. That’s 800 – the letter “A” and the word – FAMILY.
Coming up next time, more from Katharine Hill about making your marriage the best that it can be . . .!
Katherine: I think couples can just sit down and think and pray and say, “What is it in our marriage that we can do that is bigger than the sum of the two of us?”
End of Teaser