Dr. Gary Chapman: But if one of you decides, I’m gonna do everything I can to try to make this marriage what I hoped it would be, I’m not gonna stop with simply having read a book or simply having tried three things. I will go to conferences, I will read books, I will go to a counselor, I will do everything I can to try to influence this relationship in a positive way.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: This is Focus on the Family and that’s Dr. Gary Chapman. You’ll hear more from him today about making your marriage stronger. Your host is Focus president Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: Today we want to help you see how you can better understand and serve your spouse. I mean, I think we all have that desire and we need to take the responsibility seriously. In Matthew chapter 7 verse 3, Jesus asks this question: “Why do you see the speck that’s in your brother’s eye but you don’t notice the log in your own eye?” How many– have you asked yourself that question?
John: I… I have felt that a lot. (chuckling)
Jim: I mean, it’s always that convicting thing and it’s a great place to start to analyze where you’re at. This is one of the most difficult scriptures, especially when you apply it to your marriage. I mean, how quick are we to point out the fault of our spouse before we look at our own faults– I’m guilty of it! I’ll confess it! Today we want to share a discussion we had with the wonderful Dr. Gary Chapman. He is always so good at helping us better see that log in our eye, John, and to give us some perspective on how to do it better.
And I want to say again, we are here for you at Focus on the Family. Maybe you feel stuck in your marriage; you don’t feel the atmosphere in your marriage is good. Maybe you need to do some things to get unstuck and we’re gonna talk about it today.
John: If you can’t listen all the way through, get a CD or a download of our conversation. If you’re dealing with something really serious, please call us. We have caring Christian counselors here and however we can help. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY and we’re online at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And Gary Chapman is a devoted husband, father and grandfather. He is a bestselling author; he’s helped millions. And his books include One More Try: What to Do When Your Marriage is Falling Apart. And that’s what we’re going to zero in on today and let’s go ahead and hear the conversation with Dr. Gary Chapman on Focus on the Family.
Jim: Dr. Chapman, it’s great to have you back at Focus.
Gary: Thank you, Jim. Always good to be here.
Jim: Gary, let’s talk about personal responsibility when it comes to uh … marital difficulty. So often, we’re quick to point out the abuse or the uh … the wrongdoing of our spouse and how they’re making us feel. But you do something in your counseling sessions that I found uh … quite interesting and you mentioned it in your book, One More Try. And that is this idea of listing your own sins, your own shortcomings, putting them on an index card. What do you have people do with them? And what’s that process look like?
Gary: Well, you know, what I do, Jim in the counseling office after we’ve talked a while and I have a sense of where they are, uh … I say, “Okay. I hear you some of the complaints that you’re making. I want to give you,” not a 3 x 5 card. I give ‘em a legal pad. (Laughter)
Jim: It’s something big and long.
Gary: I want to give you a legal pad.
John: Dreambig. (Laughter)
Gary: And I’m gonna put you in a separate room.
Jim: That’s intimidating.
Gary: And I want you to take 15 minutes and just write down everything that’s wrong with your spouse, all …
Jim: Everything wrong with your spouse.
Gary: Your spouse.
Gary: All … everything that’s wrong with your spouse, all the things that bring you pain, just write them all down, okay, so that I can see them, you know, and so you … you write them down and then you bring them back, okay?
Well, they’re eager to do it. And they write and write and write. In fact, sometimes when I go back in 15 minutes, they’re still writing. And so, I bring them back and I read them out loud. And uh … I say, you know, I appreciate you sharing these, because it shows me where your heart is. It shows me where your hurt is and I really, really appreciate that.
And so, now I … I want … I want to give you another 10 minutes and I want you to go back and this time, I want you to list the things that are wrong with you, where you feel that you are failing in the marriage relationship. I say, “You wouldn’t say that you’re perfect.” And they always say, “Oh, no. Oh, no, no one’s perfect.” I say, “Oh, okay. Just make me a list of the things where you’re failing in the marriage.”
Jim: I think I know where this is going.
Gary: You know … and they will think of one right away, but they will sit there and sit there, tryin’ to think of No. 2.
Gary: And seldom do they come back with more than three or four things on their list.
Gary: Twenty-seven things wrong with him, but–
Gary: –three things.
Jim: I was just gonna jump in and say, “Wh … why is that?” I mean, I’m halfway smiling, because I know it’s true of me. I would say, “Yeah, okay.”
Jim: Why does our prism look at it that way? Why are we so quick to point out the fault of another and so long in looking at our own issue?
Gary: Well …
Jim: There is a Scripture like that, you know.
Gary: Yeah, yeah, uh … you’re right. I … I … I think … I think it is because we are selfish. We are self-centered and almost always, if there’s a conflict in the relationship, in our mind it’s because the other person’s wrong.
Jim: Their log is bigger.
Gary: See, their log is bigger than ours. And of course, you’re right. Jesus said in Matthew 5 or Matthew 7, “Behold the beam in your own eye, first.” And that’s Scripture on which I base this exercise that I do. Let’s … let’s look at your own self first.
And then I say, you know, typically I say, “Now your husband’s not here. He wasn’t willin’ to come, okay. So, I can’t help him change these things right now. But let’s work on these two things here that you’re aware of in your own life. And first of all, let’s confess these to God as sin, because when you sin against your husband, you also sin against God. So, let’s confess to God, you know, whatever it is you’ve written down here.
And then, I’m gonna ask you to go to your spouse and just tell them that you’re beginnin’ to realize that they are not all of the problem in the marriage. And there’s a couple of things where you realize you have really failed and you just want to share it with them and ask if they’ll forgive you.” I say, “Then we’ll come back and we’ll pick up next week.”
Jim: What’s the typical … and I know it’s hard to answer in that way, but when you do that, what does week two, three, four, five after that look like? What typically happens as you see that relationship unfold?
Gary: Well, right away, the spouse knows that something good is happening in the person, because they’re doin’ something they haven’t done. They’re confessing some wrongs in their own life. So, they know somethin’s goin’ on here.
Then I move to the positive side of sharing with them the love language concept and challenging them, so, let’s identify your spouse’s love language and let’s go home and let’s start speaking it every week, at least once a week, we’re gonna speak his love language or her love language.
And we’re gonna do this for several weeks without asking anything. And I also ask them, let’s call a truce and let’s not condemn him for any of these things for a few weeks. Let’s just move to the positive side for a few weeks here.
Jim: And in that context, do you– do they struggle with that?
Gary: Some do, more than others. But if they understand the biblical concept and the fact that we have God’s help to do this– and I don’t have to like him, I don’t have to be happy about him in order to do this. I’m doing it as an agent of God for his benefit. And let’s see what happens. And typically what happens is the climate begins to change and then sometimes, you know, the spouse will even agree to come in. In fact, I sometimes actually call the spouse after two or three weeks and say, as you know, I’ve been talking with your wife, she’s been coming to me and I really would like to continue to help her but I feel like I could do it better if I had your input– would you be willing to come and share with me?
Gary: And almost always, they come.
Jim: I bet! “Sure!”
Gary: And now I can start a process with them.
Jim: Yeah, and that’s, that’s, I mean, it’s clever, it’s being wise.
Jim: Which the scripture talks about. Gary let me ask you this. This seems so simple and when people hear it, they think, yeah, this makes sense, if I could just speak that way. But emotions get into it and when you’re tryin’ to say to your wife, “What’s one thing I could do?” which you recommend doing. What’s one thing I could do to uh … help you today? And you start on that good foot. And then pretty soon, you get, you know, not the response that you thought you’d get. And then you respond emotionally then. Pretty soon, you’re arguing over, you know, whether the house was clean or not. Um … how … how do you fight those temptations?
What mechanisms are most helpful to people, to say okay, I’m gonna be disciplined in how I communicate with my spouse? I want this better outcome. I want a better marriage. Therefore, I’m gonna bridle my tongue, which Scripture talks about, as well and I’m gonna fight the temptation to speak a word that’s attacking. But what mechanism do you help one of your clients that struggles with that, what mechanism do you give them to say, okay, here’s something you can try?
Gary: Well, typically, Jim, what people do is, they follow their patterns, whatever those patterns are. And some people grew up in a home where there was a lot of argument and so, they argue and that’s their pattern and they’ve been doin’ it from the very beginning of the marriage. And there are other people who grew up in homes, where their response to what they saw in the home was to withdraw and become quiet. And so, they don’t ever share anything. They just suffer in silence.
And what I say to them first of all, we have to look at our pattern. What … what was the pattern in the home I grew up in and how did I respond to it? Now, is it working? Well, it’s not working or they wouldn’t be in my office.
Gary: So, we’re gonna have to do something different. So, let’s begin to think how we could do things differently. It’s gonna take some effort on your part, because by nature, we all just follow whatever our pattern is. The emotions push us along and we do what we’ve always done.
So, one of the things I do suggest to couples when both of them are coming and both of ‘em want to work on the marriage, is let’s have a time at least once a week in the early stages– later on we can do it once every two weeks— in which we sit down. We … we’ve got it on our calendars. We’re gonna have an appointment together and we’re gonna talk about our relationship. And we’re gonna talk about what we can do to make things better.
We’re not gonna argue about a bunch of stuff that we haven’t gotten solved yet. We’ll get to that. We’re gonna share with each other one thing that we think would improve our marriage every week. And we both work on that to the best of our ability. And we won’t bring up the same thing the second week to say, “Well, you didn’t do it last week, so I’m … do … ask this one more time.” No, no, we share it, but we leave it up to the other person on whether they respond to what we’re sharing or not.
We might bring it up again a month from now, but not … not two weeks in a row. And just week by week, we’ve got this on our calendar. We’re sitting down, taking 30 minutes, sharing with each other one thing we think would make our marriage better. And both of us are getting in a positive mode now. We’re beginning to take some of these steps. We’re feeling better about things. We’re going somewhere.
And once you get going somewhere, then we can start pulling out these conflicts they haven’t resolved for years and we can start working on resolving those things, because now we’ve got a positive mind-set. Now we’ve changed the pattern. We’re not just responding to emotions or what we’re saying. We’ve got a time in which we’re sitting down in an unemotional time and we’re discussing these things together.
Jim: So much of what you described and the work that you do seems to be setting the right environment and maintaining that environment so people feel safe that you can ask the question. When it comes to the idea of uh … you know, what’s one thing I can do to improve the marriage? I remember after a broadcast taping that we did together, I went home and Jean always knows. She’ll say, “Were you with Gary Chapman?” (Laughter) I love it.
John: She can tell.
Jim: But I came home from the office here at Focus and I came through the door and I said, “You know what? I just want to ask you, what’s one thing I could do to just help you today?” And she said, “Well, I’ve got two.” (Laughter) That’s a little … but one … one is so funny and it’s personality driven and the first one that she said, she said, “You know, one of the things that you do that really causes me frustration,” you gotta know our temperaments a bit, but Jean’s more of a scientist. She’s like an engineer.
Jim: She’s great at math and science and that’s her bent. So, she is more methodical, data oriented and she says, “You know, one of the things that drives me crazy is, you’re so spontaneous. You’ll come home and say in front of the boys, ‘Hey, let’s go to Disneyland.’” (Laughter) And it … that’s big. (Laughter) That’s not just like, you can do that this weekend. I mean, that’s 2,000 miles away and, you know, for instance, oh, let’s just jump on the plane or drive out there.
But it helped me better understand that. It actually worked. It … it has bridled my tongue at times, that I’ve started the process of jumpin’ out there and sayin’, let’s … uh … let’s talk about that first with mom, okay? (Laughter) Hey, mom, I got an idea. But those are things that are practical that can work very effectively, to know your spouse and to do better. John, what would … you got one that uh … fits for you and Dena?
John: What? One thing I could do (Laughter) to improve the relationship?Is that what you’re asking? (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah, what’s the one thing you could do better?
John: I can just be quiet. (Laughter) I have a pattern of just kind of espousing my opinion, whether or not it’s welcome and that’s uh …
Jim: Is that right?
John: Yeah, I can do that sometimes.
Jim: How have you uh … how have you overcome this?
John: Um … she’s effectively communicated to me that she doesn’t like that. So, she’s helped shut me down sometimes. She’ll look at me like, are you serious? You’re really gonna say that? (Laughter) And I reali … okay, I won’t … I … I better just be quiet and so, Proverbs 15, you know, “A fool is thought wise when he holds his tongue.”
Jim: (Laughing) Yeah, that’s right. I like that Proverb actually. Gary, part of this is having fun with it, isn’t it? Sometimes we can get in a place where it’s so serious. And sometimes the environment is very serious, where you’re contemplating divorce or separation or you know, it’s … it’s gotten to that level. But you can start years before confronting some of these issues in a way that’s a little more light-hearted–
Jim: –that you get to know one another better. It doesn’t always mean it … it’s easy. But I think understanding Jean, for example in that way, uh … helps me to do things or say things a little differently. Not always perfectly, I slip and I’ll say something more spontaneous and extroverted and marketing (Laughter) oriented, uh … compared to her scientific black-and-white thinking pattern. But to just know that helps, doesn’t it?
Gary: Yeah, it does. I think one of the problems is, that most couples do not have a scheduled time to talk about ‘us’. And so, they just have reactions. Their … their relationship is one of reactions to each other. And so, they get hurt and they withdraw or they get into an argument and then, there’s silence for two days and then they pick back up and try to carry on, you know. And this is … this become[s] their pattern.
But if we make time to talk with each other and another thing I really urge couples to do and I say this in my seminar every week, once a year, the rest of your life, go to a marriage enrichment event. It may be a class in your church. It may be a weekend event that’s put on by some group. It may be a one-day seminar, which is what I do on Saturdays. But you go to something once a year the rest of your life.
And secondly, every year, share a book on marriage. Work through a book on marriage. Read a chapter a week and share with each other one thing you learned out of the chapter.
Jim: And the reason for doing that is, it creates common dialogue between you.
Jim: And that … it gives you something to talk about–
Jim: –in a healthy way.
Gary: Right. It opens up the possibility of things being different. We went to the seminar. We heard these things. We … oh! Let’s go try that. And we read the book. We’re reading a book and we’re … we’re trying new things as we move along, so that the marriage is moving in a positive direction. We’re doing something to enrich the marriage.
John: Yeah, things being different, that’s … that’s a good concept. I’m … all through our conversation today, I’m … I’m just thinking about couples where, when they’re younger and in love, as you describe it, uh … there’s nothing I would change about that other person. And then, you know, we get into the relationship and then we–
John: –have the legal pad of things I’d like to change.
John: How much of it is accepting that we don’t like to be where we’re at. We want to keep growing and accepting the fact that I really can’t change my spouse.
John: You know, I … Jim, I was serious. I … I tend to give opinions to Dena about how she can change to suit me. (Laughter)
John: That does not work.
John: Letting go of that is a very healthy step toward owning responsibility for the relationship and being in a healthier spot, isn’t it?
Gary: Yeah. Yeah, it … it’s true that we cannot change our spouse, but we can influence our spouse. And we’ve often failed to recognize that, that we have the power of influence. For example, you come home from work and walk inside. You go greet your spouse. You give her a hug. You give a kiss. You have a little talk about, “How’d your day go?” And then you say, “What can I do to help you?” And you’ve influenced your spouse.
Another scenario, you walk into the house. You don’t go find your spouse. You flip on the TV. You get you something to drink. You watch TV. You have just influenced your spouse, but in a negative way. Every single day we’re influencing each other by what we say and what we do. And when you have a positive influence on your spouse, chances are you’re creating a climate where change can take place, where positive change can take place.
Jim: ‘Cause they feel safe and–
Jim: –accepted, loved, unconditionally. Uh … Gary, let me ask you this uh … I think rather hopefully tough question. Uh … we tend to … to know the right buzz words. We know what to say. We even try to convince ourselves on how to feel the right way. Uh … and what I mean by that, when we talk about pointing out the faults of our spouse and then trying to identify our own, if we can find any (Laughter)–
John: Said “tongue in cheek.”
Jim: –tongue in cheek totally.
Jim: Uh … but that’s the point. It’s almost like our appetite to move back to the faults of our spouse is irresistible.
Jim: And I guess the question is, the realization of this, that we’ve gotta concentrate on our own stuff with sincerity. And sometimes people, they try to shortcut it to say, “Okay, I got that, Gary. I got it. I got my two things I’m workin’ on. I got …What about the 35 things in my husband?” Um … how do you keep somebody focused on their stuff until it’s healthy for them to … to go to a different place? I would think their appetite for that would be quite high.
Jim: You know, we can cover my two things today in our hour and then, let’s work–
Jim: –the next 400 hours on his stuff. (Laughter) You … you … how … how do you keep ‘em there?
Jim: Because again, I think … I think it’s so easy to go to the other stuff.
Gary: Yeah. I think it’s a matter of helpin’ them understand how their behavior affects the other person, ‘cause we don’t know until it happens. You know, you can make a simple statement and your spouse can get very defensive. In your mind, you’re wondering, “What set that off?” (Laughter) You know?
I remember, I don’t know, three or four years ago, Karolyn was cooking one night and I was sitting in a chair and she likes me to sit there if I have time and just talk with her while she cooks. She doesn’t want me to help her. Okay, that’s good. (Laughter)
And … but she was salting something and I said, “Honey, don’t put so much salt in there.” And she just flew up, you know. (Laughter) And I thought, oh, my goodness. And I didn’t say anything. I just let it all calm down, you know. And then later on after dinner, I said, “Honey, what happened there? I mean … “ And she said, “Well, I’ve been cookin’ for you for …” and she told me how many years and she said, “and now you’re tellin’ me how to cook.” I said, “I’m sorry, honey.” You see, from my perspective, I wasn’t tellin’ her how to cook. I just didn’t want her to put so much salt in there. (Laughter)