Woman #1: Whenever I bring up anything serious, my spouse just wants to argue.
Man: Every time we talk, it just seems like we don’t know each other anymore.
Woman #2: It’s been months since we’ve had any kind of meaningful conversation.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Well, maybe you can relate to those comments, the pain and the distance. Uh, the truth is, every married couple faces trouble from time to time, and if you’re finding yourself in a dry or a cold season of marriage, there is hope for the future, and today on Focus on the Family, we’re gonna be offering that hope with our guest Debra Fileta, um, for those who are struggling. She’s gonna be addressing the ups and downs of marriage. I think it’ll be really informative for you. Uh, your host is Focus President and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, we had a great conversation with Debra last time about the spring and summer seasons of marriage, which are kind of the happier sides of it. Right? Spring, everything’s getting going and we’re coupling and, you know, it’s- it’s a fun time in the marital relationship. And, of course, summer, everything’s intense and hot, as Debra described. Emotions are high and things feel good. And, uh, today, we’re gonna get to some of the more difficult aspects of fall and winter and what that means in the season of marriage, and I’m looking forward to it because I think this- this area, particularly, this is where we learn and grow. This is where your tenacity and your sticktoitveness-
Jim: … is really important. You know, i- uh, we can’t live on emotions. We have to live on commitment, our commitment to Christ, first and foremost, and then our commitment to our spouse, and what that means to have a lifelong, loving relationship. It’s not always gonna be the same electricity. I’ve been married almost 35 years. I get that. How long have you been married?
John: Uh, 36 going on more than that.
Jim: Okay, we’ll you’re the pro, then. So…
John: Not really.
John: Just experienced. (laughs)
Jim: But the point is, this is what it’s about. Our marriages reflect the very character of God-
Jim: … walking this earth. He created us, male and female, and He encouraged us to leave our mothers and fathers and to cleave to one another and that the two shall become one flesh.
Jim: And it’s the very image of God on this earth.
John: And in preserving that marital relationship is one of the reasons that, uh, we’re so excited about the work being done at our Hope Restored marriage intensives, uh, Jim. We- we talk about that a lot here because it’s such an effective outreach to couples who are struggling.
Jim: It is, and, uh, it’s got an over 80% success rate, post two years, so it’s one of the best things, I think, for married couples to come together and really dig into what their triggers are and what is causing their pain in their relationship. And I want to encourage people to call us, get more information about that. Remember that Focus on the Family is just a treasure trove of resources for you in marriage and parenting. So, don’t hold back. Give us a call.
John: Yeah, and our number’s 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459, or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. We’d be happy to tell you more about Hope Restored and about the book that is the basis for our continued conversation with Debra Fileta. It’s called Love in Every Season: Understanding the Four Stages of Every Healthy Relationship.
Jim: Debra, welcome back to Focus.
Debra Fileta: It’s good to be here.
Jim: (laughs) I so appreciate our conversation last time, and- and for those that are joining, we always want to, uh, kinda give a quick recap. We discussed the spring and summer seasons of marriage. You want to give us that-
Jim: … quick recap for those who haven’t joined, and remember, you can download, uh, the app for your smartphone or come to the website and get that, uh, program.
Debra: Yeah, every relationship goes through four important stages, four important seasons, and it starts with the season of spring. Spring is when the emotions are high. Things are blossoming. Attraction is blooming-
Jim: I smile at that.
Jim: I love spring and summer. (laughs)
Debra: It’s a great season. It’s a season of growth and give and take. And then we move into the season of summer. Summer is the season of intimacy, when things get hot. You know, physical intimacy, spiritual intimacy, emotional intimacy. And then we move into the season of fall, which we’re gonna talk about today-
Jim: Well, let’s get into it. I mean, do- you describe fall as that season where all the colors come out-
Jim: … and things are known. (laughs)
Debra: Fall is when your true colors begin to shine through. All of a sudden, the green is gone, and there’s other colors that you didn’t know existed.
Debra: All of a sudden, you see your differences, and there’s challenges, and you face conflict. It- it really is the season of conflict, but also the season of communication because that’s how you get through the conflict, is by healthy communication.
Jim: You know, Debra, as a counselor, and I always wanna work this in, because, um, I can integrate my faith in Christ and helping people, uh, in the mental health area. This isn’t- if I break my femur, I go to an orthopedic surgeon to get it set and redone. When we have issues with mental health, um, the Christian community, we need to move toward, uh, helping repair those things that are causing conflict or causing pain. Right?
Debra: Right, and some of those things are not just what’s happening on the surface. Some of those w- things are wounds or triggers from our past. Um, I worked with a man once who was, you know, responding very intensely every time his wife asked him to do something, and at the end of the day, when- when we dug deeper in counseling, it’s because he grew up in a home where it was “my way or the highway,” and this conflict with his father, feeling like he wasn’t good enough, and any time his wife made him feel that feeling by suggesting-
Debra: … he do something differently, he would react-
Debra: … without really knowing why.
Jim: That’s very good advice right there in your marriage. If something feels a little- like, your response is so disproportionate to-
Jim: … my question. That usually is a flag. Right?
Debra: That’s a red flag for sure.
Jim: And let me mention conflict. Uh, I think you have a quote from Les Parrott who said “Conflict is the price we pay for a deeper level of intimacy.” You know what- what’s interesting, I think, in human relationship. First with our marriages, is we don’t see conflict that way, as an opportunity to grow. Conflict is something to avoid-
Jim: … potentially. Um, I like encouraging people to move toward conflict. I think we do learn a lot, and maybe conflict is too hard a word, but when you can put things on the table, so to speak, get things out of the darkness-
Jim: … where I think the enemy of our soul operates. He loves when you keep things in the dark-
Jim: … ’cause he can work his mischief in all that. But when you, as a- especially a- a marriage couple, can bring these things into the light and say, “I don’t know why I’m reacting this way, but it feels terrible when you say it to me that way.” What an awesome moment.
Debra: Right. Yeah, we shouldn’t fear conflict. We should embrace it because it really is the key to deeper intimacy, and- and it’s not conflict that’s the problem. It’s how we handle that conflict. I think some people are conflict avoiders because maybe in their past, conflict never brought, um, healing.
Debra: Conflict never led to a resolution, but that’s unhealthy conflict. So, instead of avoiding conflict altogether, we have to learn to navigate it in a health way.
Jim: What if you, um, describe it this way. A person- you know, again, a- let’s say a wife, and it can be a husband as well. I- I get that, but let’s just say a wife who feels like it- it costs me too much to raise- to get into conflict with my husband. So, you’re- you have this value proposition constantly. If I say this, then he responds with anger. Whatever it might be. How do you move to a place to have the courage to get that out there so it can begin to, uh, be dealt with?
Debra: Well, so many people think that they’re good at navigating conflict, but they’re actually not.
Debra: You know? And that’s kind of a problem.
Jim: I may be in that category. I don’t know.
Debra: It’s something that I see, even with women or men who say, “Well, when I tell my spouse something, this is their reaction.” But what we have control over is only what we have control over in ourselves.
Debra: We can’t control how they react. So, I- I really teach people things like “I” statements. I’m feeling hurt by this. You know, I need help in this area. I’m struggling, rather than you did this and you’re- you need to work on that, and even if you say it gently. You need to work on this. That’s not going to bring about the response that you want, but when you can learn to- to say what you need in a respectful way, things begin to change.
Jim: I like the “I” statement in that case. It’s rare to say we want “I” statements, but when you’re-
Jim: … struggling, an “I” statement is good. In fact, you- you have five conflict styles. So, let’s- let’s cover those real quick. What are the five conflict styles?
Debra: Well, it’s important to understand your style, your bent, when it comes to conflict. So, there’s the avoiders, the people who would prefer to run from conflict and not deal with it.
Debra: They just wanna get away. You know? And then, there’s the-
Jim: And- just in that regard, I mean, for the person who’s trying to self-diagnose here, wh- what’s that family of origin look like? What have you faced that makes you an avoider?
Debra: It could be different things for different people, but, you know, one- one example would be conflict that escalates to the point where it’s uncomfortable, emotions are high, people are loud, maybe even someone’s getting hurt, um, whether physically or emotionally. When you grow up in that environment, you better believe that your natural instinct is to run from conflict-
Jim: Run for cover.
Debra: … because it’s not safe.
Jim: Right. What’s the second one?
Debra: The second is the accommodators. They would rather take the blame. They’re kinda passive. It’s like, “Okay, okay. I’ll just deal with it,” you know, instead of being healthy, instead of assessing the roles of everyone involved. They’re just gonna accommodate as quickly as possible so that we can move on.
Jim: And why would you be that? What- what are the things that contribute to a person being, uh, that person?
Debra: Things that contribute to someone being an accommodator are maybe growing up in a family where your needs weren’t heard or met. You’re not used to kind of thinking of yourself. Um-
Jim: Kind of a middle child. (laughs)
Debra: It could be a birth order thing-
Debra: It could be there was chaos in the home, and so, that kind of took-
Debra: … all the attention. And you almost feel bad being assertive. You almost feel bad saying what you need. So, you kind of fall into this passive role, but like I always say, passivity is not the same as selflessness.
Jim: Hmm. That is good. What’s the third one?
Debra: The third is the compromising couple. Um, you know, we- we hear this a lot, when it comes to how to navigate conflict. It’s kind of the 50/50 approach. Um, “I’ll give in this time if you give in the next time,” when you can’t always meet in the middle. You both know what you want, but you choose to give so that the other person can receive. You kinda take turns in the compromising role.
John: Yeah, and so, that- that feels like a lose-lose kinda thing. You know, “I wanted Mexican, you wanted, uh, Italian, so, we’re settling for hamburgers.”
John: No- n- neither-
John: … of us gets what we want.
Jim: Sounds good enough for me. (laughs)
John: Not that that’s- (laughs)
John: … a real-life thing. I’m asking for a friend. (laughs)
Debra: You know, even though people praise compromise, I think you’re right. In the end, it’s actually a lose-lose. You’re- you’re giving s- 50%. So, you’re losing 50% of the time, and I do think, when you’re struck in a compromising role all the time, you might not have that much conflict, but you might not have that much satisfaction either.
Debra: You might harbor some bitterness.
Jim: Right. That- probably, the style of conflict, that one probably is the one that creates the most bitterness and resentment, ’cause you can’t even feel like you can surface it, ’cause I agreed to compromise. (laughs) So, I’m stuck.
Debra: Or you end up keeping score.
Debra: You know, “Well, you did this this time and I- it’s my turn now,” and it can actually lead to conflict, and that’s why I really appreciate the next conflict style, which is the collaborative conflict style.
Jim: It sounds so nice.
Debra: It does.
Debra: Let’s collaborate. This requires you to be assertive, to be able to say what you need with respect, and to look for a solution where everybody feels like they won in the end.
Jim: So, it’s not a lose-lose-
Jim: … it’s a win-win.
Debra: How can we win in our marriage after this conversation? What is the best for our relationship? What is the best for our family? And you kind of have a team spirit with the collaborative approach. It’s not about me or you. It’s about what we’re doing for the whole, what we’re doing for us.
Jim: That’s good. The last one’s competitive. Um, I- I would hope that a person that has a competitive spirit is not necessarily defined by this. (laughs) ‘Cause I do have a competitive spirit, but I’m not like “my way or the highway.”
Jim: And that’s what you’re kind of, uh, saying. Right?
Debra: Well, the competitive approach is really defined by somebody who just wants to win at all costs-
Debra: … whether that comes with aggression, whether that comes with putting the other person down, they just wanna win. They feel that their way is always the best. But, of course, that leaves a lot of broken hearts in its path and just a lot of unhealthy behaviors come out of that approach.
John: Well, we hope that, uh, what we’re talking about today with Debra Fileta on today’s episode of Focus on the Family is connecting with you and that you’re, uh, finding something to take away from this discussion that will help you strengthen your marriage. Certainly, we’ll point you to her book, Love in Every Season: Understanding the Four Stages of Every Healthy Relationship, and, uh, as has been mentioned earlier, we have a great counseling team here. Uh, it’d be our honor to have them do a phone consultation with you. Our number’s 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Debra, finally, now, we’ve covered last time, uh, spring and summer, and we just finished fall, and these are all relevant and so good, and such a great context for how to understand your marital relationship. Now we get to the tough one, winter, and you’re talking to people from Colorado at the table here. (laughing)
John: It can- it can be brutal.
Jim: I mean, winter here, gets really cold. I mean, 20 below zero, and-
Jim: … three feet of snow, and 50 mile an hour winds. I mean, if we’re using that description, I think those are the marriages that are right at the brink of divorce, in that kinda weather description.
Jim: Um, what does the winter season of marriage look like?
Debra: Well, you’re right. When we think of winter, we do think of those intense, cold, frigid temperatures, especially when you’re from Colorado. Right? But I also want people to remember that winter doesn’t always have to be as intense and obvious. You- there was a farmer in Australia and a unexpected frost that came a little bit early ended up killing over 90% of his crop.
Debra: That reminds me of the frost that we sometimes experience in marriage. Winter is the beginning of that, the cooling down of those emotions, and I call it the frost of apathy.
Debra: When you look at your marriage, you might not be fighting every day and having intense, explosive arguments, but have you allowed yourself to feel the frost of apathy where you no longer care that much? It’s not a big deal. You’re not being as intentional. I think that can be just as dangerous as the frigid temperatures that sometimes we feel in winter.
Jim: And that leads really to the next concept in the book and this idea of boundaries, that it’s healthy to have boundaries. You’re describing that early frost. I mean, that’s a boundary. Uh, in nature, we see that. We see a transition from fall to winter. It’s that first frost. What do those boundaries look like in marriage that we need to demarcate so that we don’t go into danger zones.
Debra: Yeah. Well, I think when it comes to boundaries, we have to look at the different aspects of the things we need to protect in our marriage. So, um, emotional boundaries with the opposite sex. Um, but we also need boundaries with our schedule.
Debra: How many times do we feel so burnt out and stretched so thin, like, maybe we’re not even close to having an extramarital affair, but we spend so much time on our phone, or so much time on Netflix that we’re neglecting the emotional needs of our spouse and our own emotional needs.
Debra: You know? So, these are the things that maybe they’re not as intense and scary, but they still cause damage in our marriage if we’re not careful.
Jim: Yeah, and again, I love that frost of apathy. Man, I- can I use that? (laughs)
Jim: ‘Cause I-
Debra: You may.
Jim: … it just- it just captures it.
Jim: I’m thinking, you know, I’ve said a few things about the wife that, you know, is feeling the trust issue. Let me turn to the husbands and use this analogy. I think that frost of apathy is really there for husbands because you, as a husband, if you don’t feel like you’re performing, if you’re not doing the role correctly, according to the person you love, your wife, you can pull back emotionally, ’cause we’re still little boys, acting like little boys.
Jim: I’m not performing for mom and dad.
Jim: And we just decide rather than to up the performance and meet the need, we just pull back, and we shut down, and we compartmentalize-
Jim: … which is what men do so well. “Okay, done with that box. Put it away.” And you just live watching news, weather, and sports-
Jim: … eating dinner, and going to bed.
Debra: Right. Exactly. And- and I think the- the thing we need to remember is that we shouldn’t fear winter because, in nature, winter has very important roles to play. Winter- the cold of winter kills off disease and virus and infection-
Debra: … in- in the ground. You know, so that spring can come again, and when I look at the season of winter in a relationship, I see it as a time of identifying the things we need to change. So, if we wanna get out of that frost, the first step is to identify the root cause. Where is this coming from? What do we need to work on? What are the problems that might be here for us to start, um, discussing and bringing to the surface? And then we’ve got to discuss the problem. You can’t just know it. You then have to discuss it with your partner. “Hey, here’s what I think is happening in our marriage and wh- how can we work on this together? How can we get to a better place?” And then you come up with a plan. I think, many times, couples talk and discuss, and then they leave it at that, but we’ve gotta come up with an action plan, just like anything else in your life that you wanna change. If you wanna lose weight, you come up with a plan or it’s not gonna happen. And marriage is just the same. If we wanna get to spring, we’ve gotta come up with a plan.
Jim: John, uh, I’m not popping this question on you. Some people might hear this and say, “Why- why would Jim do that?” But we’ve talked about it and you were willing to share-
Jim: … this about you and Dena have gone through kind of a winter experience. Describe that as a practical example of what some couples can go through.
John: Well, uh, let me say first that we’ve gone through a lot of winter experiences.
John: I mean, there was a time when I was doing graduate school and I just wasn’t around emotionally for her, and there was a distance there. Uh, more recently, in the past few years, after 30 years of, uh, being parents, half of that with a special needs child, and then some elderly parent issues, we found ourselves just kind of dividing and conquering all the different challenges in life. So, we- we just drifted. And, um, you were so kind, and Focus was- was gracious enough to allow me to go to Hope Restored. Uh, Dena and I went to Hope Restored where we learned some of the thing you’re talking about, Debra. And we were able to go back and say, “What- what is that about,” because we both wanted out of winter, but we didn’t have the ability to talk about it without hitting conflict, which never got resolved. Um, we had no emotional energy for each other. We- we were exhausted physically. And so, that summer was a time of rebuilding and kind of coming out, but we’re not there yet. We still have issues, but we at least have what you’re talking about Debra, we have put it on the table.
John: We’ve named it. We’ve understood kind of our patterns-
John: … from before. We’ve understood the external things that have affected all that, and, um, while we weren’t headed toward divorce, we certainly are running away from it together in a much stronger way now, and really grateful for that.
Jim: Well, and I appreciate the vulnerability of that.
Jim: I really do, John. It takes courage to say that, and I- what a great example that we have to, um, you know, deal with the stuff.
John: Well, just last night, I was telling Dena that we’d be having this conversation and she said, “Well, we’re- we’re coming out of winter,” and then she grabbed my arm and kinda leaned into me and was sort of like, oh, that’s a springtime moment.
John: It was really nice.
Jim: That’s sweet. That’s so sweet.
Debra: And that’s the beauty, and- and, you know, you’re setting the example, um, reminding people that you shouldn’t stay in winter. You know? I think it’s too easy to stay in winter because it requires less work. Uh, let’s just stay here. Let’s just be content. Let’s just live our separate lives.
John: Co-exist. Yeah.
Debra: Let’s just co-exist. But the beautiful thing about winter is it’s not meant to stayed in. It’s meant to be passed through, and there is hope, no matter what your relationship is going through right now. There is hope with God’s help that spring can come again.
Jim: You know, in that context, um, and for all of us, when we’re looking at that, um, how do we seize an opportunity to smell the smell of spring again, when we’re living in winter? What can we do as a couple to maybe be courageous enough to, like John described, uh, Dena pulling him in with his arm. Um, you and John had that experience too.
Debra: Yeah. We’ve had many of those experiences.
Debra: You know, I think of, even when he was in medical school, um, working many hours in residency, and I- we have newborn babies and I’m feeling postpartum depression. I mean, we’ve had seasons where everything just seems to happen at once. How do we bring spring back though? That’s the question. How do we begin to thaw the ground of winter and bring spring again? When I look at I Corinthians 13, I see a list of actions, behaviors. Not just feelings, things that I’m supposed to do. And when I look at the season of spring, it’s the season of planting good seeds. If I want spring to come again, I need to start planting good seeds again. I need to start taking those steps of action, even when I don’t have the feelings to follow suit. Even when the feelings aren’t there to help me. I plant those seeds, those right decisions, those next steps, in faith that the Lord is going to allow them to take root and begin sprouting healthy fruit in our life and in our marriage, and that spring can come again.
Jim: Yeah, and I so appreciate that. That’s the whole goal today. That’s what we’ve been talking about today and last time, is how to recognize the season that you’re in and how to, uh, certainly move to the healthier places in your marriage. There’s been so much great content-
Jim: … in these two days, and your book, Debra, is fantastic. Let me, uh, ask this question. And, you know, I don’t wanna be the only one at the table not describing (laughs) a winter season. I feel like I’ve skated through pretty easily, but, uh, you know, Jean and I have had those times. I remember one time she said, “I love you, but I don’t like you right now,” and, you know, of course, my response was, “How could you not like me?” (laughing) You can already see it, as a counselor. Oh, oh, you’re kidding. Um, but- but there are those times, and we’ve got to seize this. And I- if I could, I just wanna make- I don’t even wanna call it a pitch, but as Christians, in this culture right now, the work that you do every day, Debra, is so valid. I- I believe the work that we’re doing at Focus in this area of marriage, what Greg and Erin Smalley are doing, is so valid because we do need to stand out. The culture pulls at us. It tempts us to move into an area of destroying our marriages. Eh- that’s why the Christian divorce rate is as high at is- as it is.
Jim: We have bought the lies of this world, and we’ve got to figure out ways working with each other, and most importantly, with the Lord, to say, “Lord, how can we honor you in a better way?” And, you know what? Plainly, it’s selfishness when we do not.
Debra: You’re right.
Jim: And we’ve got to put that aside-
Jim: … as the Christian believers who are to be the example in this world. And don’t do it begrudgingly. Don’t do it with bitterness. Do it with joy and happiness and desire. Say, “I want that relationship with my spouse to be a model for others to look at.” And then you gotta go spin the web.
Jim: You gotta do the work-
Jim: … to lay it out there and create the strength, the tensile strength in your marriage to withstand the things that you’ve talked about. What do you think of all that?
Debra: It’s so true. I think sometimes we assume that just because we’re Christians, we’re gonna be good at relationships-
Debra: … without any training, without any education, without any preparation, and then when the struggle comes, we’re almost surprised by it instead of anticipating it-
Debra: … and being prepared for it. Winter is going to come. I mean, I’m not surprised when November, December rolls around and it’s winter, and I think we have to have that same mentality to be prepared for winter, um, to have the tools that we need to not be afraid to identify the problem and go to Hope Restored, or to go counseling and share what’s going on, um, just like we would with any other issue. You know? Like you said earlier, when something’s broken in the home, we call a plumber, we call the electrician. When something’s broken in the marriage, we need to be willing and ready to call, to take that next step and begin the process of getting healing.
Jim: Wow, you said it so well, and Debra, thank you for your vulnerability. John, thank you for yours too.
Jim: And, uh, I hope you’ll get in touch with us. Uh, don’t feel like what you’re experiencing is beyond, uh, the pale for us to engage and to hopefully help you. There’s nothing embarrassing. Uh, we have heard it all over 44 years of ministry, and, uh, we’re here for you. We want to be that backstop for your marriage. So, if you’re struggling, get in touch with us, and we can talk to you about Hope Restored. We can talk to you about a number of resources. We have a free, um, marriage assessment.
Jim: It takes five to six minutes to complete. It’ll show where you’re doing well and some areas you need to think about, some areas to improve in, and, uh, we’ll even associate resources that’ll help you do that. So, we’re here for you. Uh, don’t be shy.
Jim: Call us.
John: Yeah. Help is a phone call away and our number’s 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459, or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Also, uh, to mention Debra’s book again. Uh, Love in Every Season. It’s (laughs) a great resource. I think you can hear that in the content of the program. Get a copy from us here at Focus on the Family, and when you do, you’re helping ministry, uh, happen. The great news is, uh, last year alone, we’ve helped over 100,000 couples in a marital crisis. You can be a part of that. Either join as a monthly partner, a one-time gift. Um, it all goes to helping to strengthen other people’s lives and marriages and their commitment to Christ.
John: Yeah. There’s generational impact when you donate to Focus on the Family today, and when you make that monthly pledge or one-time gift of any amount to the ministry, we’ll send a copy of Debra’s book as our way of saying thank you for partnering with us. Once again, our number, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, or you can donate and get the book at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
John: Well, coming up next time, we’ll hear from Dr. Meg Meeker. She’ll share what children need most from their fathers.
Dr. Meg Meeker: Children need their fathers engaged in their lives, even if the wives don’t think the father’s a great husband. That child needs parts of his father. There is something great that you have that your child wants.