John Fuller: Today on this best of 2021 episode of Focus on the Family we’ll be exploring different seasons in a marriage. Which season are you experiencing with your spouse?
Dramatic teaser: Ha, springtime. So fresh and exciting. It’s the season of love. And then, summer. Warm and sizzling, rising passions. Hot, hot, hot. Suddenly, there’s a chill in the air, the weather’s changing, leaves are falling, what’s happening to our love? Freezing, is our love gone forever?
John: Well, it’s our goal to help you navigate the different seasons and to grow stronger in your marriage as a result. And your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us, I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I remember when Jean and I fell in love. At first, I was going to try to do this life single. I thought that be the greatest commitment before the Lord. And then I met Jean and went, wow, I think she’s the one I may marry. (Laughs) And it was that quick. My speedometer went from zero to 120 pretty fast. And a lot of marriages start that way with lots of fun and excitement in the spring season moving right into summer. But like the weather, the relationship with your spouse will have its ups and downs, and sometimes your relationship may feel a little chilly or kind of mundane. The good news is your marriage doesn’t need to get stuck there. And like you said, John, we want to help people move through the different seasons and grow together as a couple.
John: Yeah. And a lot of our listeners resonated with this episode, making it one of our most popular programs of the year.
Jim: Right. One woman told us this: “it takes intentionality to keep a marriage strong. Me and my husband are learning to not always expect the other person to be the first to keep things new.” Another listener said, “Thank you for this broadcast. I’m not married yet, but I want to be one day, and this is valuable.” And that’s why Focus on the Family is here, folks, to help strengthen and support your marriage and connect you with solid experts like our guest today, Debra Fileta.
John: Debra is a counselor, author, podcast host, and blogger, and she’s written a number of books. The one we’ll hear about today is called Love in Every Season: Understanding the Four Stages of Every Healthy Relationship. And Jim, here’s how you began this Best of episode of Focus on the family.
Jim: Debra, welcome back to Focus.
Debra Fileta: Thank you. It’s so good to be back.
Jim: Yeah, thank you for coming all the way from Pennsylvania. That’s quite a trek.
Debra: It is, it is quite a trek, but it was worth it.
Jim: Especially you are a mother of a three-month-old.
Debra: I know.
Jim: You and your husband, John. That’s great news. Isn’t it? (Laughs).
Debra: This is our first time to leave him. And it was a little difficult. But once-
Debra: … you separate, you know you’re good to go. (Laughs).
Jim: And your other kids are 10, eight and five. Is that right?
Debra: 10, eight and five.
Jim: All right. So, they’re almost there. They’re kicking in to help with a little one. Right?
Debra: They are. I have three big helpers this time.
Jim: Oh, that’s great. Well, listen, before we get into the four seasons, I’m wondering how to John, and you meet and fall in love since I kind of poured my Jean story out. What’s your story?
Debra: Yeah. Well, we didn’t go from zero to 120 like you did.
Jim: (Laughs). Well, I wasn’t in the… I was thinking, “Okay, Lord, I’ll live my life single if that’s what you want me to do.” And then boom, I met Jean and went, “Okay, Lord, is this good?” (Laughs).
Debra: Yeah. You know, John and I met at a conference up in Boston. And we developed our friendship very quickly. And for me, it was a while until I knew that he was the person I wanted to marry.
Jim: Oh, so you had to simmer a little bit there?
Debra: I had to let it simmer, I had to watch the seasons go by. For him though, he had a feeling right away when he met me that, “I wanna marry this girl.” But what he says is he also had to let the seasons go by because seasons in a relationship reveal a lot.
Debra: You know, it’s not just about what you feel. It’s about what you see as time passes.
Jim: Well, obviously, that concept was beginning to bubble in you. Uh, you didn’t write the book right after being married.
Jim: But go ahead and define for us what the seasons of marriage are. I, I love the fact that God is so plainly seen.
Jim: If you just stop-
Debra: I agree.
Jim: … and look, seasons of life, how he is like our father, right? He is our father and unfortunately, he’s the father of a lot of teenagers. Meaning us.
Jim: People that rebel. But the point of it is, is that nature itself and God’s nature specifically, does show us the very nature and character of God. Right?
Debra: Right. Exactly. And just as a nature, we see four different seasons. We pass through four seasons, especially for those of us who live in places like Pennsylvania, we see every season and it looks so different. You see the beautiful colors of spring.
Debra: It’s a beautiful season. And then you move into the season of summer when things start to get hot, right? And you start shedding your layers because it’s warm, and you’re going to the beach and enjoying the heat of summer. And you go into the colors of fall, and the, the true colors of the trees start to shine through. And then all the way into the season of winter when things start to kind of cool off. And when you think about it, it is the perfect backdrop to relationships. As a licensed counselor, you know, in my practice, the analogy of the seasons was just so clear in the relationships that I worked with of people go from spring to summer, to fall and winter, all in one relationship and then they repeat. You know?
Jim: But, but in there too, and that’s the question I wanted to ask, is those seasons, you know, they… A, they’re not always chronological-
Debra: They’re not.
Jim: … and B, they don’t match, obviously. The tilt of the Earth, uh, in marriage.
Jim: But the point is they just describe how marriage flows.
Jim: But some seasons can be years in length, and maybe months, and maybe even a week or a day, I would assume.
Debra: Yeah. They don’t know… They don’t happen at the same time; they don’t look the same for each couple. But the beauty is that each season has the power to reveal something about your relationship, about you. Each season has the power to help you make or break your relationship, depending on how you choose to navigate that season. And that’s why they’re so important for us to recognize. If we’re not aware of them, we can’t take advantage of them.
Jim: Another aspect, and this is all groundwork, and we will get to the definition of the seasons and start to talk about them practically in marriage. But regardless of what season of marriage we’re in, it’s critical for us to identify unhealthy patterns of our own behavior. And in fact, you outline three personality types of people who, uh, give too much. What are they?
Debra: Well, before we get into that, I think it’s important to back up and explain that in the season of spring, one of the defining moments is growth. Spring is a season of growth.
Debra: You know, it’s a time in your relationship when things begin to grow and stretch and expand. But you can’t have growth without give and take, give and take, right? And that’s where some people get stuck. And these personalities really make you get stuck if you’re not careful, because we’ve got people on one side who give too much, and then we’ve got people on the other side who give too little. And if you’ve got one of those people in your relationship, or maybe both, it’s gonna inhibit how you grow.
Jim: And when you look at humanity though, I would think that that is the issue. I mean, the Lord is even instructing us to love our neighbor as ourselves. I think that kind of fits in that space of a person who because of how they grew up, or the, you know, the things that they learned. They either are givers or takers-
Jim: … another way to say that emotionally.
Jim: Uh, so, describe… Go ahead and describe those types again, so we fully understand that.
Debra: Yeah. You know, on one side of the spectrum, you have someone who gives too much. And I think before we can just simply say well stop giving too much. You know, that’s… It’s easy to say that “Well, just stop giving too much.” But you have to get to the root of why a person gives too much in order to help them stop giving too much.
Jim: What about, what about the person, the Christian who says, “Well, it’s godly to be on that side of the equation. I give even when it hurts to give.”
Debra: Right. I think some people misunderstand and they view selflessness as passivity. They kind of mistake that two. They, they’re being passive, but they actually think they’re being selfless. And you brought up the scripture just now, that says love your neighbor as you love yourself. I think Jesus could have said, love your neighbor more than you love yourself. Love your neighbor, but don’t love yourself.
Debra: But the command is clear. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. There’s an equality there. To me that represents an important give and take.
Debra: And so why do people give too much? Well, there’s many different reasons. But sometimes, you know, because of how you were raised, your family of origin. Maybe you grew up in a family where you were kind of the one that was keeping the peace. And so, you grow up with chaos, and your job is to control the chaos. So, you become the rescuer. “I’m gonna save everybody, that’s my job, that’s my role.” And you take that role into your romantic relationships, you give too much because you’re rescuing people. And maybe you even engage in unhealthy relationships. Or maybe you’re a people pleaser. You grow up in a family or in experiences where you want everyone to be happy. You’re trying to control the emotional atmosphere and then, in your romantic relationships, you become someone that pleases people, or maybe you’re insecure. Maybe you grow up sort of feeling this insecurity underlying, and you get your value from the relationships that you engage in, so you become a person who goes into romantic relationships feeling insecure and feeling that you have to give and give and give and give in order to be loved.
Jim: Mm-hmm. And these things, sometimes we’re not even conscious of those triggers, those behaviors that are, uh, kind of putting us in that position of being a giver or a taker, or what have you, right?
Debra: Sometimes we don’t even notice that we’re doing it. We don’t know why that we’re doing it. And this is why, you know, I’m gonna toot the horn of counseling. Obviously, I’m a counselor, but I really believe that there is power in getting to the root of why we do what we do. I think a lot of times in our faith-based culture, we just wanna snip the weed.
Debra: This is unhealthy. Let’s just get this out of my life. We try to snip it and it grows back. Because we’re not getting to the root of why it’s there. We’re not getting to those, w- whether it be childhood wounds-
Jim: Yeah. What makes me behave like this?
Debra: … sins and struggles. What makes me behave like this?
Debra: And how do I change my behavior?
Jim: Which is part of why (laughs) I’m sure you wrote the book, right? You saw this pattern over and over again, in your practice. Let’s get to a practical story. There’s one in your book about a woman you counseled who struggled with trust issues. I think so many women, trust is a big deal. Um, and for women particularly, uh, that is perhaps even top of the list. She had the trust issues because of how her dad treated her mom, and I, I’m sure you can give us kind of the top level of what was going on there. And what developed into trust concerns for this patient of yours.
Debra: You’re right. When, when you work with somebody who has a past history of watching infidelity, or affairs in their parents’ marriage, that kind of becomes the baseline or norm for them. And that’s kind of where this woman was seeing unhealthy patterns in her parents’ relationship, starting to then affect her belief about men and relationships, and can they really be trusted. So, on the opposite end of the spectrum, she goes into her relationship giving too little, not giving too much, but giving too little because she’s afraid to trust.
Jim: She’s protecting herself.
Debra: She’s protecting her heart, she’s protecting-
Debra: … her emotions. No matter what this guy did to prove his trustworthiness, she was struggling with trust because of her past wounds and her past baggage.
Jim: What does a, what does a person do in that context? If you can… Hey, someone hearing this right now, “That is me, that’s what I do.” What are some things that she can do today that might help her in a better direction?
Debra: Ultimately, the more healed we are from our past wounds, the more we can thrive in our present. And when we’re struggling in the present many times it’s a sign that there’re some past wounds that need to be healed. And I think, as a counselor, I will tell people, the key is to differentiate the voices of my past, versus the voices of God and, and the present. Because sometimes our past speaks so much louder than the voice of God’s Spirit in our present. Those past things that we’ve experienced. And if we don’t get to the root and begin healing them, they’re gonna continue affecting our present.
John: Mm-hmm. Today on Focus on the Family, we’re talking with Debra Fileta. And she’s written this great book Love in Every Season. And we’ll get into more about the seasons here as we progress. But let me just say, uh, the book is available from us here at Focus on the Family, we’d love to send a copy to you get in touch, and we’ll tell you more. 800, the letter in the word FAMILY, or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Debra, let’s dive into spring, as the first of the season descriptions. You identify it as the season of attraction. I think that’s, you know, when everybody is coupling up, whether it’s the birds (laughs)-
Jim: … or the people. Uh, you’ve got a great story about when you and John, I think you were holding hands for the first time. Tell us about that.
Debra: Yeah. You know, spring is the season when affection is high emotions are, you know, really intense. That’s kind of how you define that season, usually in the beginning of a relationship. And so, that’s the importance of the season of spring. It’s the season of blossoming and blooming, of affection and emotion, and it’s the season of growth. It’s the season of planting good seeds-
Debra: … and uprooting weeds, the things that we don’t wanna see in our relationship. So, in nature and in relationships, the season of spring is really important.
Jim: Yeah, that’s a great description. You’ve identified something called the four laws of attraction. Explain what those are.
Debra: Attraction is multifaceted. I think when we think of the word attraction, we automatically assume it’s physical attraction. How attracted am I to someone but, you know, attraction is four layers. It’s not just one thing. There’s physical attraction, but there’s also personal attraction. How do our personalities mesh? There’s mental and emotional attraction. You know, when you… Can you talk about your feelings and ideas and opinions and have those conversations? And then there’s spiritual attraction, or you’re drawn to somebody because of the relationship with Jesus. And it was interesting when I did… When I wrote this book I, I surveyed singles to see what they thought was most important in, with regard to attraction. And overwhelmingly, a majority of them said it was spiritual attraction. But when you look at how we do relationships, that’s not always where we begin, we say spiritual attraction is the most important. But oftentimes, we get caught up on the physical attraction component. But we in marriage know that physical attraction is one of the only things that wanes as time passes. Because we get older, we have wrinkles, things start to sag.
Debra: But everything else increases when you’ve got strong spiritual attraction, mental emotional attraction, personal attraction. So really, that’s what we’ve gotta be fueling in our-
Debra: … marriage relationship.
Jim: And I think in human relationships, I think it’s fair to say that that physical attraction is kind of the gateway to the relationship. Usually, two people are seeing each other and you’re having thoughts of, “Wow, she’s really pretty, or he’s really handsome,” or whatever it might be. But it usually is in that category. And it’s a short, like you say, a short-lived thing, because then you’re moving to emotional connection, attractiveness that way, spiritual attractiveness. But sometimes we discount I think, in the Christian community particularly, we discount the purpose of physical attraction. And the world does it the other way. It lingers there, it stays on physical attraction and tries to build a relationship simply on physical attraction. And that’s, that’s a very flimsy part of the relationship laws, correct?
Debra: Yeah. You know, it is important to be physically attracted to somebody. But at the same time, uh, we’ve gotta keep it into proper perspective. I know plenty of people who are physically attracted to somebody and then they get to know them, and the physical attraction disappears.
Debra: You know, because the personality is just overwhelming. But then the opposite happens. When sometimes, maybe you don’t feel totally attracted to somebody, but then you see all of the other qualities and characteristics-
Debra: … and the attra… the physical attraction also increases. That’s why it’s important for us to understand that attraction is multifaceted. It is not just one thing. The definition of attraction is the desire to move towards somebody kind of like a magnet, you’re attracted to them. And when you have these components, it really keeps your relationship strong.
Jim: Mm-hmm. You know, one of the, uh, things that I observed certainly through the shelter-in-place in the pandemic that we’ve come through, Jean and I, um, we did almost accidentally rekindle the spiritual connection, because we began to get into a much better habit of praying together, reading the word together every morning, to which, uh, you know, we’ve been able to continue that. But it’s interesting how busyness and obligations and schedule and all those things take you away from the very things that allow you to do some of this intimacy work-
Jim: … in these four areas. So, what about the couple that feels like, you know, spiritually, they’re not connecting? What can they do differently?
Debra: You know, I think first and foremost, we have to take a good assessment of how we’re each doing spiritually standing alone. Because-
Jim: That’s not me giving my wife a score, or my wife giving me a score, or are you saying… You’re saying for yourself, how are you doing?
Debra: For yourself. You gotta stop and look at your own walk with the Lord.
Debra: Before you desire it in your marriage, you’ve gotta take inventory of how you’re doing standing alone, because spiritual intimacy doesn’t just happen. It’s the overflow of your heart for Christ working together. Your… The overflow of your heart, the overflow of your spouse’s heart, if you look at it kind of like a fountain, what’s overflowing from us, that’s what relational spiritual intimacy looks like. So, that’s where we have to begin. It’s not by nagging your spouse to do devotions with you more or nagging them to pray with you more but beginning to set that example in your own life and inviting them on that journey with you.
Jim: What about that frustration? Um, you know, I’ll just try to play the role of the, of the girlfriend. (Laughs). You know. Or the wife is saying, “I am there, but my husband just isn’t interested in spiritual things. He’s not responding to my nudges and my leanings.” Um, how can she I guess, get some peace in her life in that area, even if her husband isn’t there quite yet? I mean, do you simply go to the closet, do you nudge gently? You said nagging, nagging can be a very overt-
Jim: … operation. But what are some things to that, for that wife who, she’s there, she’s done the self-assessment. “I’m doing pretty well. I just wish my husband were there with me.”
Debra: I think sometimes in marriage, um, especially because we’ve been taught about our roles in marriage. I think oftentimes women feel that they’re not allowed to take the lead with spiritual conversations and spiritual intimacy. But I always encourage a woman, if you feel like you are strong in that area, then allow God to use you in that area. Take the lead in your relationship of moving your marriage to the Lord. So, pray out loud for your husband, ask him, “How can I be praying for you?” Maybe even suggest a time that you could sit down and pray. Um, suggest a time where you could sit down and read God’s word together. I think, sometimes in our hesitancy to lead the way, we become passive, and we don’t do anything spiritually speaking in our relationships. So, I say if you’re at a good place, um, take advantage of that. Invite your husband into the process. And most of the time, eventually, they will follow suit. So, I think it’s a beautiful thing. And if it’s something they’re unwilling to do, you continue bringing it before the Lord, you continue modeling it in your own personal life, and trust that the Lord is working, where you can’t work.
Jim: Exactly what scripture says to do actually. Uh, Debra, moving to summer, and we’re gonna cover, uh, spring we’ve covered, we’re gonna do summer, and then we’ll have you back next time, we’ll talk about the fall and winter. Uh, but moving to summer, you gave the example of how building emotional connection as a couple is like a spider web. This was really interesting to me. And you talked about the strength of the spider web. Why is that a good analogy for us?
Debra: Well, spider webs are something we see often in summer, and summer is the season when things get hot, right? Summer is that season of developing intimacy in a relationship and really having to work at that intimacy. And one of the key components is emotional intimacy. When you look at a spider’s web, there’re so many tiny little strings connecting it together. And that’s kind of how I view emotional intimacy in marriage. It’s not just one thing, it’s a bunch of tiny little strings. A spider’s web looks so fragile, but really, it is strong, it is stronger than the material used for a bulletproof vest.
Jim: That’s amazing when you say that.
Debra: That just goes to show you that little thread. And that’s kind of how I see emotional connection in marriage. It’s a bunch of tiny little strings, from physical connection to emotional connection to spiritual connection, things that you’re working on to continue connecting those strings to your spouse.
Jim: In fact, you tried to make an emotional connection with your husband, John, I thought this was extraordinary. I was giving you applause when I read this in the book. Describe what happened.
Debra: Well, when John and I were dating, he was doing some really, uh, intellectual research at Harvard Medical School. And to be frank, it was boring.
Debra: But because I was so in love with him, I decided, “I’m gonna read up on what he’s doing, I wanna learn. I want this to be another string of emotional connection that ties us together.” So, I read up on his research, and I remember talking to him about it one day, and he was shocked. He’s like, “You’ve really read my research! This is amazing.”
Debra: You know. But here’s the thing, that was in dating. And somewhere along the way, we stopped doing that.
Debra: And that’s where we have to be intentional about building those strings. Just the other day, John’s getting really into chess these days. He’s like really trying to train to. To get better at his chess game. And it’s not something I’m very interested in. But the other day, I asked him to kind of teach me how to play and help me get a little bit better, because I want to build the emotional strings in our relationship. And he does the same. There’s things that he’s absolutely not interested in by default, but he chooses to become interested in those things because he wants to build another string-
Debra: … that ties us together.
Jim: Uh, and you know what? John, here’s a heads up with my boys. You teach in chess, and then eventually they start beating you.
Debra: Very well.
Jim: That’s a very humbling experience.
Debra: And that is my plan.
Debra: I will eventually get good enough.
Jim: Especially (laughing) even tougher when your spouse beating you. Oh, no. But it’s fun. It’s good to see. You, you have a story about glassblowing. Again, another great illustration in this category. But, uh, you and John went to this glassblowing class. I, I don’t know if I would have the patience for that but tell us what happened.
Debra: You know, when we talk about building connection with your spouse, a big part of it is that spiritual connection. And this is where it came in. John and I went to a glassblowing class.
Debra: Um, something that he has always enjoyed and wanted to try. And it was amazing when they put the fire on the glass, it turns to putty. It’s 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. It just turns to putty, and you can shape it however you want. And it just reminded me in marriage, you know, when the Lord sometimes puts us in a, in a hard place or a place of fire, it’s because he’s shaping us and molding us and helping us to kind of fit our marriage to, to become better so that our relationship becomes better.
Jim: You know, maybe that’s a good place to end here on day one, Debra. Is this concept where when you’re stuck, w- what is something you can do? There’s so much suffering in silence, even in Christian marriages. If a person is hearing this today saying, “Okay, I think we’ve got some issues.” What can they do?
Debra: Well, like you said, the first step is to acknowledge it, you know, to say we’re struggling. I think, sometimes we’re afraid to acknowledge it. Nobody wants to come face to face with the fact that they’re struggling. So, they just keep pressing on.
Jim: Right. We just keep going.
Debra: Without stopping to really get help. And so, call those phone lines, get plugged in with a counselor, um, start getting the work of becoming healthy while standing alone, even if your spouse isn’t willing to join you. Because as you begin to change, it will begin to change the dynamic of the marriage as well.
John: Well, I do hope you’ll reach out for help from your church or from a counselor or from us here at Focus on the Family. We’ve got a lot of great resources for you, including a team of caring Christian counselors. And if your marriage is in a crisis mode, we’re going to direct you to Hope Restored our marriage intensives. You and your spouse can receive ongoing counseling during those several days, and you’ll discover new hope for your relationship.
Jim: And John, we also recommend that everyone get a copy of Debra’s great book Love in Every Season. And you know, we only covered spring and summer today, but next time we’ll get into those more difficult seasons of fall and winter. Debra’s book offers you solid bible-based advice and encouragement that you can trust. And I’d like to put a copy of this book into your hands when you send a gift of any amount to Focus on the Family today. Please stand with us with your prayers and financial support here at the end of the year. We’re counting on your partnership as we head into 2022. We only have a few days left with our matching gift opportunity. Some generous friends are willing to match your giving to Focus dollar for dollar right now. So, we really need to hear from you soon. Working together, we can give many more families godly hope for a better tomorrow.
John: We’d love to hear from you, and we so appreciate your generous support. Learn more about our counseling team and our Hope Restored marriage intensives and how you can get a copy of Debra’s book Love in Every Season. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459 or donate online and access those resources at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And make plans now to join us for part two of our conversation with Debra Fileta. On behalf of Jim Daly and the rest of the team, thanks for joining us today. I’m John Fuller inviting you back here as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.