Dr. David Clarke: “You can make it. Listen to this. God loves you. He loves your marriage. It’s sacred to Him and at all – no matter how bad it is, it’s sacred. And He will help you save it.”
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Dr. David Clarke joins us today on Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: Well, John, with this pandemic, the last couple of months have probably challenged most of us in some way. The stay-at-home orders that many states have deployed have put pressure on the family structure. I mean, marriages are both experiencing some good things and then being around each other a lot has created some stresses. But the thing that is true is this is an opportunity to work on those relationships, particularly our marriages. Here at Focus on the Family, we care about you. We care about your marriage. And we want you to have the most rewarding, fulfilling relationship in your marriage that you can have. Why? Because it honors God Who considers marriage sacred. And for that reason, we’ve invited a wonderful guest to come back and kind of give us that tune-up in our marriages under these circumstances. Give us some direction on what we should be looking at. How do we resolve conflict? Those wonderful things that will keep our marriage not perfect, but in good shape. And that person is Dr. David Clarke.
John: And he’s been a guest here a number of times. Always get a great response when he’s with us. He’s written a number of books and we’re going be talking about some of the content and practical ideas in his book, I Don’t Want a Divorce: A 90 Day Guide to Saving Your Marriage. And we have that here at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: David, it’s great to have you back at Focus on the Family.
David: Man, it’s great to be here.
Jim: Hey, listen, you’re a counselor. You help couples return from the brink of divorce and recover which is great. It’s something we try to do with Hope Restored. And you’ve given your life as a counselor to do this. I think it’s a noble cause. What are you hearing from clients right now in this environment regarding their marriages? How is the pandemic impacting them?
David: Big time and not in a good way.
Jim: How? What’s happening?
David: Well, if you’ve already got problems in your marriage and, of course, many people do, this virus, the stress of it, the anxiety, the fear, the financial stress, the lack of space and boundaries, it’s really causing a problem. So, it’s intensifying and escalating the problems that are already in the marriage. That’s what I’m seeing across the country.
Jim: You say there’s good news about bad marriages. So, let’s start there. What’s the good news in a struggling marriage?
David: Well, the good news is this is almost a universal problem. Satan wants you to feel like you’re alone, you’re isolated, never should have gotten married, other people are happy. Not true. We’ve all – the blonde and I’ve been through some hard times in our marriage. Marriage is impossible without God’s help. So, join the club. We’re all in this together and marriage is tough. That’s good news ’cause you’re not isolated. Now the other good news is there is help for you. Organizations like Focus, which is the world leader in this area of saving marriages and families. There is all kinds of great material – books that I’ve written. All kinds of people helping. The resources that worked there even 30 years ago are here now. And you can fix any marriage. You can fix your marriage with God’s help and the right plan.
Jim: Hey, let’s look at some positive steps we can take toward reclaiming and strengthening our marriages as we’re talking about. It’s always easy to blame our spouse. I mean, I think I’ve even fallen into that trap this – over this eight weeks. There was something Jean and I were struggling over and I tried to sort her out rather than say, “OK, what – what have I done wrong in this whole thing?” Why is it important to take ownership for our own stuff and not kind of just point out the errors in our spouses’ stuff? I mean, it sounds pretty obvious. (Laughter)
David: (Unintelligible) Every couple I see, though, Jim – you know this – they come into my office for the first time. I get the background. I say, “What’s going on?” And they just start throwing the rocks and bottles. “Well, she… She…” “He… He…” I say, “You know what? OK, I get the background. OK. That’s enough. You’re probably right. You live with this person and there’s their issues, but you can’t do anything about that, and it creates this Mexican standoff. ‘Well, it’s you.’ ‘No, it’s you.’ Back and forth. It never ends. So, the key is to own what you’ve done wrong before God and your spouse and even your kids and start working on that. That’s something you can control.”
David: I won’t see a couple a second time unless they’re going to own their stuff. I just – I’m not going to waste my time because it doesn’t work. You got to come in here and own it and work on it.
Jim: You know what’s interesting, David, is you don’t start there. I – I think the question is why do we fall into that trap? Why? You know, when we get married, we’re goo-goo-eyed about each other and we love each other and we have a high degree of acceptance about each other and you can do no wrong and oh, my goodness, then it’s why is the laundry never in the basket, always on the floor and the toothpaste and the toilet paper? Why am I the one change in the toilet paper all the time?
Jim: I mean, how do we move from this bliss to this irritation and then not figure out how to pull up out of that?
David: I think it’s just human nature. Most of us grew up in homes where we did not get the right training, didn’t see a great marriage, don’t know what we’re doing. So, we fall in love and, right, everything’s perfect. But then life has a way of taking over. Personality differences. Male/female differences. I don’t know how to communicate. Nobody ever taught me how to resolve a conflict. Kids come along. Stresses. And so, things just naturally break down. And because we’re selfish, even if we know Jesus, I’m going to look at you. I can look at Sandy and say, “That bothers me. That bothers me. That bothers me.” And she does the same thing with me, so it just starts cranking down. And then we don’t know what to do about it. No one’s ever taught us how to fix anything in a marriage relationship. So, that’s what we need to get some help now.
Jim: No, and that’s good. That’s why we are here. That’s what you’ve committed your life to. So, remember, you can contact us here at Focus on the Family and John’s going to give those details in a few minutes. David, I love your idea of couple talk time. And in fact, when I was reading the prep early this morning, which is my, kind of, way I’d do it. I get up at 6. I put on coffee. I read the prep. Jean sat next to me. We read and prayed together. And then, you know, I had her read some of the prep and she really resonated with this idea of couple talk time. Of course, to me as the husband, I was going, “Oh no. This is exhausting.”
Jim: But discuss couple talk time and what you’re getting at and why Jean just lit up with it.
David: Oh, women love this. Women love me. Men hate me.
David: This is my career. And – but…
Jim: I wasn’t going to tell you that, but okay I’ll take that.
David: (Laughter) So you’re just one more. You and John. Sure. The truth is the guys end up loving me because if the woman is happy, they’re happy. But also, they – through the couple talk time – they start getting their emotional needs met. Their spiritual needs met. And the good news for the man is, if you will connect with her emotionally and listen and share and open up and you spiritually connect through prayer, conversations spiritually, that’s going to flow – that prepares you for the physical intimacy. She’s going to be open to it.
David: She might not throw herself into your arm, but she is going to be ready and that’s – so it all fits together. But you gotta have the quality time to get there.
Jim: Okay, but let’s unpack this a little bit, because sometimes we get in trouble with the quid pro quo, right? You don’t want to make that the goal in your couple talk time and certainly don’t mention that that might be your goal.
Jim: But, I mean, that’s part of the dichotomy. That’s part of the problem we have, isn’t it? That if that’s the essence of why we’re doing it, it’s going to fail. So, don’t make that your goal. But it’s a byproduct.
David: Right. It is. It’s a – and it’s a Godly byproduct. As long as you – that’s not your agenda.
Jim: I tell couples, “If you do it the right way, God’s way, you’re always connecting on a regular basis, then the – the natural flow is the physical is going to happen. You don’t have to say a word.
David: So, yeah.
Jim: Well, and in your couple talk time, you suggest 10 – it’s 30 minutes. 10 minutes of venting stress and anxiety. 10 minutes to talk about other topics and then 10 minutes to build a spiritual connection with each other. Prayer can be included in there, et cetera. I – as Jean and I were talking about this this morning, the thing I expressed to her was the transition between the first 10 minutes and the second. I mean, here you are venting stress and anxiety and then all of a sudden you stop, and you say, “Okay, let’s move to other topics.” It felt very mechanical. I don’t know that I could do that that easily, like shut down the venting and, you know (laughter) – and move to other topics of the day. “How’s the weather?”
David: Yeah, it’s a little tricky. You’ll get used to it because of what really happens psychologically when you blow your stress out – and frankly, your spouse is the only one that really cares enough to listen every day or four times a week to your stresses. Nobody else really cares. You wouldn’t have any friends.
Jim: What does that sound like with you and the blonde? (Laughter)
David: Well, it could be – and I’ve been slower at the office. I’m doing some writing projects. So, there’s some, you know – we – we’re have a cushion now financially but there’s some financial pressure. Um, if I’ve got – we just lost my mom end of last week.
Jim: Oh, sorry.
David: Which was really tough. Yeah. Not unexpected, but still, it’s mom.
David: So, we’re helping my dad. So, we’re – that’s a stress now on us. Even though we love him to death. We have him here in our home. He’s a wonderful, Godly man, but grieving like you wouldn’t believe. So, that’s something that we’re talking about now. I’ve got to get that out of my system. I can’t share that with anybody else. My best friend Bob to a degree. But really, it’s really more about, you know, Sandy. She’ll listens. She’ll listen every time I talk and she’s she lost her dad, in fact, last year, so she’s been through it. So, we’re talking, sharing. So, that’s – that would be if that first part. Just kind of – but once we blow that stress out and it could be anything. Could be – it’s not conflict between the two of us because that’s off limits and the couple talk time, it’s all positive. But if I’m stressed or anxious, if I had a difficult client at the office, I got a nasty email from a man that hated me. (Laughter) This happens.
David: Okay, I can share that with Sandy, not with any identifiers, but I can share that. And then once it’s out of my system. Then you can transition into the second 10.
David: Now, the fact of the matter is women I think are better at this than men only because they’re just used to sharing more than us. So, the second 10, very often the blonde, Sandy, will start talking about other topics.
David: And I kind of warm up by listening and reflecting and then I can get into my own stuff.
Jim: Well, and I was going to mention there must be right and wrong ways in doing this, so describe some of those. And I think, you know, women are just so well connected in their brain chemistry that they don’t struggle with it. I think they struggle with the fact that men struggle with this because it comes so naturally to them. They can’t understand how can you not sit and talk with me? But give us some hints. Maybe, you know, between men and women, what are the right things to do and the wrong things to do in your couple talk time of 30 minutes, four times a week?
David: Well, the key is – the wrong way is for the woman, for example, to schedule it and initiate it. That is not her job. She’s not the leader. And that’s what happens.
Jim: (Laughter) That so resonates with me already.
David: Yeah, see? Let the – let – it starts off like with a thud ’cause you’re not leading me. “Oh, I forgot about our talk time.” So, the man schedule the four times the weekend before the week and then it’s your job to invite her in. Women love to be invited. They won’t forget the time. They forget nothing. They’re like elephants. Nothing is forgotten. But it was…
Jim: I’m already feeling guilty about being too lazy to do that. Thank you.
David: Yes, you should be.
Jim: But that’s a good idea.
David: It is. See leadership from the start, the woman loves that. When I say to the blonde, “It’s time for our couple talk time.” She has never once in 33 years said, “Oh, I forgot.” Well, of course she knows. But she smiles and says, “Thank you.” ‘Cause I’m inviting her in. That’s leadership.
Jim: Wow, that’s good.
David: So that’s a good one. Also, important, you kind of touched on this, Jim. Men often don’t like to talk about stresses and anxieties so that first 10 can be tough for them, but it’s vitally important. The woman – not just listening to her talk. The men will make the mistake of, “Honey, I leave work at work. Let’s leave that stuff alone. Let’s just talk about nice things.” That’s not a good idea. You’ve gotta get the stress out first.
David: So, you listen. You reflect and then she needs to hear it from you, too. You’ve got your own stresses. Blow that out. Also, as the woman, and I covered this in my Focus on the Family book Men are Clams, Women are Crowbars, don’t – the woman doesn’t need to be the crowbar and pressure and ask questions and pin the guy to the wall. Oh, bad idea. That’s the crowbar. He’s going to clam up every time, so we don’t do that either. Give the man some time and space to process. That’s why we have – one of the reasons we have four a couple talk times is in your first talk time – let’s say it’s tonight – of the week, the woman’s going to talk, and he’ll share a little bit. He’ll listen, reflect. But he’s not going to sharing thing personal because he – he’s not ready yet. But if he – you let him process the next talk time, he can have a response. Men have to ride the train. They have to process. And then they’ll get back to you.
Jim: Let’s move to what both men and women need. You say that men need praise from their wives and women need romance from their husbands. I think we get that. But make sure we fill in the blanks here. What does it really mean?
David: Well, the – a man’s number one need is respect. Men usually think, and women do, too, that it’s another area – not true. It’s respect. To feel like you’re something special. That – that’s she’s impressed with who you are as a man and that – you can’t get there without praise. Men have a desperate need for praise and not from anybody else. I don’t know care who else praises me, I got to get it from the blonde. I write a book. I do a seminar. She’s in the audience in the front row. She’s heard it all before. She’s probably sleeping, but she’s listening.
David: When she says to me, “Dave, that was great. I still – God with us and I felt like it was really helping.” Oh, I mean, I can run on that for two days. And most ladies, God love them, they’re lousy at praising. So, if you will just stoke a man with – and you don’t lie. It’s all – it’s physical attributes. The guy wants to know that he’s still got it. You’re in the bedroom and he takes off his shirt. You could say, “Hey, look at those guns.” Would that kill you to say that?
Jim: (Laughter) Sorry. I’m just laughing there.
David: And the guys and the wife. I think I still have it. “Yes, you do. It’s like fantastic.” So physical attributes. It could be character traits. It could be personality. Could be something he’s done for you. Spiritual things. If you – it’s at least once or twice a day you drop a compliment on him. He’ll feel respected. It will help him open up to you as well.
Jim: Huh. Interesting. So, it works both ways. That emotional intimacy that she is seeking, when she does the complimenting, he’ll provide that. He’ll open his heart up. That’s really insightful. I’ve not heard that so clearly before. OK, what about the other direction for the romance side? For those of us that said, “Hey, we got married. I showed you I loved you at the altar.” That’s not the romance you’re talking about, right?
David: No. Women need to be romanced and pursued throughout their lives. My dad was a master at this.
David: They were very close. 64 years together. He loved her every day in very passionate ways and very romantic. A great model for me. I tried to do the same thing with the blonde. So, it is a number of different things. Verbal romance is very important. To describe her beauty, her physical beauty, and to be very specific. “It’s your eyes. It’s your neck.” There are passages in the Song of Solomon that are – that are very sensual, but they’re very real. And where Solomon is just praising Shulamith, his wife, in these specific ways. You don’t just say, “Honey, you’re beautiful.” That’s too general. “Honey, you’re beautiful and here’s why.” You have to add that. Women always love the details. I talk about Sandy being a blonde. I – I love her hair. She’s got the most beautiful bushy head of hair you could ever imagine. It’s kind of wi – it’s getting wilder as she gets older…
David: …And I love it. It’s like hrrrr. It can’t be controlled. “I love your hair.” So, this is like a verbal romance the other way. And also holding – something as simple as holding hands. That’s what sweethearts do. We love walking on the beach, and we can finally get back to the beach here in Florida. Just walk down the beach holding hands. If you’re a couple married or unmarried and you’re dating or a romantic marriage and you’re on the beach not holding hands, just get off the beach. That’s not what the beach is for. You’re wasting your wasting beach space. You hold hands. Hold hands to the car. Or how about getting the car door? You don’t let your women walk up to her side of the door and open it herself. She can do it. She’s fully capable. It’s just romance – it’s small. But it’s a romantic thing.
Jim: Yeah, that’s good. Those are good reminders.
John: And you’re going to find a lot of other great reminders about how to have a healthier relationship, particularly if you’re struggling with some of what we’ve talked about with the talk time, with these simple gestures of romance. David Clarke’s book I Don’t Want to Divorce: A 90 Day Guide to Saving Your Marriage. We’ve got copies of that here at Focus on the Family. And, uh, when you get in touch, we can also tell you about Hope Restored, our four day marriage intensive for couples who are thinking, “I’m on the brink of divorce. What do I do?” Well, Hope Restored is for you. Give us a call. We can tell you more about the book and Hope Restored. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: David, one of the concepts you describe in your book I Don’t Want a Divorce is this idea of positivity. You know, I was reading that earlier this morning and I’m thinking to myself, that often comes across as so – I don’t know, outside of the Christian realm. Positivity is – is like a dirty word. And I know well enough to know what you mean by this. But I want you to describe it for the listeners, because Christians, man of all people, we should be positive people, right?
David: Absolutely. Was so much to be thankful for. When a marriage is going downhill, and Satan pushes us, of course, as much as he can, everything turns negative. All the positive is sucked out, gone. Because “I don’t love you and feel good about you. I’m angry with you. You hurt me.” And so, everything is negative. And so, now you’re really in trouble. So, when I see a couple that we’ve got some hard work to do on their issues, of course, but I can’t do that unless there’s some positivity flowing into their marriage and I will force it in. Speaking of holding hands, I have a couple, they hate each other’s guts. They’re at the brink of divorce. That’s why they’re in my office. I’ll say, “Look, we have to start with some positivity.” I’ll give them some things going out the door. I say, “Look, I can – from my window here, I can see the back door all the way to your car.” They say, “Well, who cares?” I said, “I’ll be standing at the window and when you leave my office, I want to see you holding hands on the way to your car.” First session. They think I’m out of my mind.
David: I say, “I’m not kidding.” And for the first 10 feet, it’s like Frankenstein and his bride. They’re so awkward. “I can’t… My hand…”
David: But here’s what happens. Once they – they know what they’re doing it’s like riding a bike. They’ll hold hands. After a few feet, it starts to look natural and there’s a better vibe. That’s so small. And I’ll say, “Look, holding hands isn’t going to save – this isn’t holding hands therapy. You’ve got hard work to do the next two or three months. But we got to start somewhere. And I want you to go home and I want you to start communicating only on a positive level. And I wanted to start complementing each other at least once a day. I don’t wanna – you can think of a thousand negatives. I don’t want to hear any of them. Think of something positive and squeak it out of your mouth.” Because in God’s plan, God’s a Master at this. We see it in the song of Solomon of Songs. When you compliment your spouse, okay, they’re impacted, but so are you. It comes out of your mouth verbally.
David: You are drawn to them. God knows exactly what He’s doing. So, it’s a two way street and it will – I’ll say, “Look, you spent a few weeks at this. It will start to work. Now we have a positive flow. Communication, going out on a date. Only positive. We’ll say the conflicts for my office.” And it starts to work. And that allows…
David: …Them to actually address their issues.
Jim: Yeah. No, it’s so right on. I’m thinking, I know in Florida you’re opening up a bit more, perhaps bit more than other places around the country. Here in Colorado, we’re still kind of safer-at-home, I think is the term. And in these in these environments where many are still working from home, et cetera, you know, tension is kind of lurking just under the surface. What is – and you may have just answered this by being positive with your spouse. But what’s a way that we can nip that conflict in the bud, sort of speak, as we’re around each other together, debating how you make a sandwich, (laughter) whatever it might be? But what are some ways, some little things we can do, to pull the conflict down and not get into that hamster wheel?
David: Yeah. Good question. I would say this, “You embrace it at first. You expect it to happen.” I tell all of my couples now, you’re going to get – you’re edgier. Things are going to bother you. Your tolerance is way down for the dumbest little things. So, expect it to happen. But when it happens, just stop it. Just – you’re not going to go there. These are conversations not worth having.
David: You know, I left that dish in there. It’s been it’s been two days. “What’s the matter with you?” Well, who cares? That’s small. Or with the kids or the pressures, you don’t – you just – OK. Acknowledge. OK, we’re doing it. It’s the virus. Just say, “It’s the virus” and stop it. That’s one thing that will help. And then, this sounds crazy, but right after the interaction that wasn’t so good, you’re moving on, puts – you have to have some positivity. A little kiss would be good. Maybe a hug. “I’m sorry. I’m edgy. It’s the virus.” Whatever. And then you want to do something positive, even something small, a cup of coffee together. Take a break from those kids who are driving you nuts, whatever. So, the positivity remains very important. You have to have a flow because it’s like bone on bone these days when you’re stuck at home. So those are some ideas that’ll help.
David: Embrace it. Stop it.
Jim: Hey, let me in on a serious question, which is, um, you know, some marriages are in desperate trouble and their conflict is their Goliath. I mean, they’re – this is the thing they’re consuming all day long is the fact that they feel like it’s over and then they’re ruminating on the consequences of that. Some couples are in that place. We deal with that at Hope Restored. You’re speaking to some right now on the broadcast. What would you say to them when they’re in that kind of desperate moment? It’s right before they call you to schedule that first counseling call. And what can you say to them to give them some hope that it can be different?
David: I tell what I tell every single couple I see, Jim, whether it’s on the phone call from across the country, in my office, at a seminar, I say, “You can make it. Listen to this. God loves you. He loves your marriage. It’s sacred to Him and at all – no matter how bad it is…”
David: “…It’s sacred. And He will help you save it. And with the right plan and God’s help, Who will always help, you will make it.” I have. I’m unequivocal about that. It’s not, “Well, this is a tough one. I’m not sure you can make it.” You’ll never hear that from my lips, because God wouldn’t say that. He’d say, “Look, I’m a God.” I’ll say a couples, “Do you believe God can do anything?” Well, they have to say yes, if they’re Christians. I say, “Well, then, is your marriage outside of His realm?” Of course not. And He loves it. It’s important to Him. So, you’re going to make it. You’ve got to believe that you will make it through, and you’ll have a marriage better than you ever had before the problems. That’s what God can do.
Jim: You know, in that context, David, it does often puzzle me that there seems to be such a pattern to marital breakdown. And again, that’s one of the things we try to equip couples with are the communication skills, the emotional skills to actually do this. Is it that simple that we’re just kind of immature about how to communicate with someone so close to us?
David: Oh, I think that’s part of it. I absolutely do. We don’t know what we’re doing. The breakdown of the family. Mom and dad didn’t show this. See, this is crazy to say, Jim, but you know this, even if you grow up in a home where there was a wonderful marriage, mom and dad, their conversations, how they really connect don’t happen in your presence. It’s behind closed doors. You don’t know the specifics. So, I think every couple has to learn those.
David: And if you teach those skills, they will work. If I can keep people from just quitting and divorcing, they’re going to make it. I’ll tell them that. There’s no other option.
David: There’s no poss – it’s a 100 percent chance you will make it if you just follow the plan.
Jim: And I’m telling you, the research shows that if you do stick it out, you will be happier and in a better place if you can just equip yourselves with these tools to communicate better, to love each other better. You’ll be more satisfied. At least, I think it was the University of Chicago, 85 percent after five years more satisfied, doing far better than those who divorced five years later, had remarried, and even – you know, so there’s no guarantee and everybody’s situation is unique. But I love what you said that God loves marriage. It’s sacred to Him. That’s what we read in Scripture. That’s what He wants for us. And we just have to put effort into it. That’s what you’re saying. David, this has been so good. Thank you for the tools and for the conversation and for your great book I Don’t Want a Divorce. And again, John’s going to explain how people can get a copy of that. Thanks for being with us. Now get out to the beaches in Florida. I’m jealous.
David: Yes. (Laughter)
Jim: Have a great time with your bride. And someday maybe we’ll get down to Florida once again.
David: Oh, I’d love that. Thank you so much for the opportunity, Jim and John, too. Thank you.
Jim: Let me turn to you, the listener or the viewer. Man, I hope you’re feeling it and hearing our heart for your marriage for lots of reasons. Most of all, because of how God honors marriage. We want to make your marriage as strong as it can be. It doesn’t mean it’s always perfect. I think I’ve confessed enough today that Jean and I struggle sometimes (laughter), too. It’s just normal. But we want to continue to grow, to plow the field of marriage, to make sure the right stuff is growing in our relationship together. And certainly, one great thing you can do is get a copy of David’s great resource, I Don’t Want a Divorce: A 90 day Guide to Saving Your Marriage. And as is a kind of a tradition now we will send you that tool if you can make a gift to Focus on the Family for any amount. And in the best way, if you can do 10 or 15 or 20 dollars a month to help us to help us save other marriages, to help parents do a better job, to lead people into a relationship with Jesus, to help foster parents do a better job fostering, to help save a baby’s life. These are all the things that we’re walking and doing each and every day here at Focus. And you can be a part of that. God knows the economy that He puts together. He knows you work hard. But if you can help us in a monthly way, even with 10 or 15 dollars, it is a big help when lots of people do that and if you can do it, we’ll send you a copy of David’s book as our way of saying thank you not only for building into your own marriage, but also helping Focus strengthen other marriages.
John: You can make that monthly pledge at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or if you’d like, make a phone call and we can tell you more about Hope Restored our marriage intensive as well, which we mentioned earlier. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Well, join us again tomorrow as we take a look at six different ways to be generous toward others.
Brad Formsma: But you know what? God’s not about a duty on this. We get to give. He loves us. He wants us to experience joy in giving. And it’s good for us when we give.