Jim Daly: Shaunti, what is one thing a couple can do today to feel happier in their marriage? Shaunti Feldhahn: When they’re hurt, believe the best of their spouse’s intentions. John Fuller: Hm … so, don’t make any assumptions about their motives. Shaunti: Bad assumptions– John: Ah. Shaunti: –about their motives (Laughing)
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John:That’s some great advice and you’ll hear more from Shaunti Feldhahn on our broadcast today with Jim Daly. This is Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller and Jim, this should be a fun program.
Jim: Well, fun but enlightening. Uh … you know, sometimes we focus so much on the hard things in marriage, the holiness of marriage and that’s critically important, uh … how it’s a refining process. I mention that all the time, you know, how marriage is a refining process. The Lord is teaching us to be more selfless in that regard. But we gotta celebrate it, as well and we’re gonna do that today with a very special friend and uh … Shaunti, I want to say welcome to Focus on the Family.
Shaunti: I’m always glad to be with you guys.
Jim: But also, I was reading your bio. I found this really interesting, because you’re a Harvard grad and that’s impressive. I bet your mom and dad were pretty happy, except paying the bills may not have made (Laughter) them too happy.
Shaunti: Not so easy, exactly.
Jim: Oh, that’s … yeah, that’s quite a …
Shaunti: I think it was 20 years before I paid off the student loans–
Shaunti: –for college.
Jim: I’m sure … I’m sure it was. But in … in your bio, uh … it’s listed, you served on the staff of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Jim: Now how in the world with that background did you end up writing marriage books? Is banking like marriage?
Shaunti: Ye … yeah, absolutely. It’s all transactional, right? (Laughter)
Jim: It’s all transactional. (Laughter) Here’s a dollar, give me $5 back.
Jim: Is that how it works?
Shaunti: Not really. Yeah, it’s actually really interesting. I had no idea that I would be doin’ this and it’s amazing how God set me up, ‘cause really, I basically got thisanalytical training. That was my graduate degree as an analyst. Went and worked on Wall Street as an analyst. And I had no idea that when I was learning how to dig into the things under the surface, that one day I’d apply that to relationships.
Jim: It is amazing.
Jim:God uh …
Shaunti: –it’s the same–
Jim: –twists and–
Shaunti: –skill set.
Jim: –turns in the journey with Christ. I mean, that’s what’s wonderful. You’ve written this new book, uh … some have called it “one of the best books, if not the best book on marriage.” That’s a big —
Jim: –endorsement. Uh … it’s titledThe Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages. Let me challenge you on the title right out of the gate. Is happy marriage really the goal for us as Christians?
Shaunti: You know what. Here’s I think the thing that we get into, is it’s so easy for us to say, “Well, our goal shouldn’t be to be happy. It should be to … like Gary Thomas’ book, to be holy, right?” And I once had a um … a pastor that I really respected and he’s done tons of marriage therapy. He said, “The problem with that is that we get to the idea that they’re mutually exclusive.” And he said … he has couples come to him all the time who think that they have two choices, which is break up and be happy or stay together and be miserable. And he’s like, door No. 3! (Laughing)
Shaunti: Stay together and be happy. And …
Jim: Why don’t we talk about that more often?
Shaunti: Well, I think it’s because in our culture, we’ve gotten, especially maybe in the Christian community, into this idea of basically saying, marriage is tough and it’s hard and–
Jim: We carry the burden of it.
Shaunti: –and we’ll carry the burden. And you know, yeah, absolutely. For some marriages, it is tough and–
Jim: And for some seasons.
Shaunti: –it is hard and for some seasons. And that’s never an excuse to give up. It’s never an excuse to leave. But here’s what I realized as I started doing this research, is it is so easy to focus on our problems to try to fix them. Problem, fix it. Problem, fix it. You know, what’s the issue here? And what’s getting in the way? And that means you’re only focusing on the problems. And …
Jim: Well, I want to say something before you–
Jim: –move on, because–
Jim: –as a man, I’m relating to what you’re saying (Laughter) right now, because we’re problem solvers. You’re that analytical mind. I like what you’re saying.
Shaunti: Well, here …
Jim: Do most women resonate with that though?
Shaunti: They absolutely do and you know why? Because one … one thing I always say, when I realized this, I’m like wait a minute. If I want to have a happy marriage, who do I look to? Like if I want to be more like Jesus, do I study the Pharisees?
Jim: I hope not.
Shaunti: (Laughing)Or do I study Jesus? No, I actually study the One Who I’m looking to as the role model. And so, let’s look at what the happy marriages have to teach us and celebrate that and say it’s possible.
Jim: Well, that leads to a great next question, I think, John. What was your No. 1 finding when you did the research for the book?
Shaunti: Actually, I think the biggest thing that is the biggest prerequisite, you can’t have a happy marriage without it, is you have to believe the best of your spouse’s intentions when you’re hurt.
Jim: What does that look like practically? ‘Cause I … there are times to be vulnerable. I don’t always have that thought. (Laughter) I mean …
Shaunti: Well, most of us don’t–
Jim: It … it–
Jim: –it seems more natural and human to have not-so-good thoughts in that regard, that you don’t think the best of your spouse’s intentions. (Laughing) You know, why did she leave that in the walkway toward the driveway, whatever.
Shaunti: Well, she knew I’d trip over it and break my back–
Jim: Correct, basically–
Shaunti: –I guess, right, yeah.
Jim: –that could be a thought. You’re not falling at that moment thinking, I’m sure she intended this for my good. (Laughter)
Shaunti: Pretty much. Here … you know, here’s the difference. It wasfascinating. As I was talking to the really happy couples and you know, we should explain that what I was doing was researching the happiest couples–
Shaunti: –to try to find out what they’re doing–
Jim: So, that was your pool–
Jim: –of research.
Shaunti: Yeah, what are these people doing differently than everybody else, ‘cause …
Jim: And it was 1,000 couples. Is that right?
Shaunti: Yeah, it was … I did a huge research with a big nationally represented survey, which is, you know, one of the things I always try to do, to … to nail it down. And I found that these really happy couples, that when they were hurt and everybody gets hurt, right? I mean, just ‘cause you have a happy marriage, doesn’t mean it’s perfect, right? When a normal average couple is hurt, the natural human tendency is to think to yourself, oh, he knew how that would make me feel and he said it anyway, right?
Jim: So, you process that maybe without even thinking that way.
Shaunti: Without even … it’s subconscious often.
Jim: It just …
Shaunti: Great point. It’s really subconscious. And … but you don’t realize that what you’re kinda feeling is, he doesn’t care. The happy couples I noticed this completely different trend. They basically would say to themselves, ow! Yeah, that hurt, but I know he cares about me.
Shaunti: I know he loves me, so he must not have known how that would make me feel or he wouldn’t have said it. It was a totally different way of looking at it.
Jim: And I would think that that would be a predominant thought. I don’t think, um … happily or average couples uh … go out of their way to hurt. They may just speak without thinking. I mean, is that a cop out, do you think?
Shaunti: No, I think … you’re right on actually statistically. This is one of the things that I think [the] reason it’s a prerequisite is that in almost 100 percent of cases on my survey, even in the most struggling marriages, everybody really cares about their spouse. But if you want to be happy, you have to let yourself believe it. Do you mind if I give you an example?
Shaunti: ‘Cause I was talking to this one we … young woman, who’s probably, I don’t know, late 20s, married a few years. They were pregnant with their first child and she had been planning this like big romantic, like the last dinner out before the baby comes kind of deal, right?
And her husband worked late that night and they missed the reservation. And it was this big like deal, that this restaurant they’d been looking forward to forever. And she’s like, I can’t believe that he did this. And so, I said, “Take me through what happened, you know, in your mind.” And she said, “Well, I was so upset, like I can’t believe he’s working late again and he doesn’t care. Wait a minute. No. I know he wanted this as much as I did. I knew he was looking forward to this.
And so, she approached him totally differently. Instead of, “I can’t believe you missed this and this was our last chance before the baby came” and something that would’ve him on the defensive and you know, started a negative spiral. What happened was, she said, “What happened? I know you were looking forward to this, too.” And she heard him say, “The client call came in right at the end of the day. His boss was standing right behind him and he had heard there were gonna be layoffs next week. And he’s like, “We have a baby coming. I can’t afford to be, you know, looked at negatively by my boss.” And so, it … now we could say as women, well, I wish he would’ve approached it differently or whatever.
Jim: Choose me over him.
Shaunti: Yeah, but … but she … by the way she approached it, because she believed for the best of his intentions towards her, it preserved their happiness and gave him a change to explain and for her to see, he does care. That’s an example of how different things go when you assume the person cares about you.
Jim: Let me continue with the newlywed story, ‘cause I think it’s a good analogy. I’m sure most people get married with the best of intentions for each other. And you think rightly of each other and the excitement is there. How does the rut begin to get dug, that you know, you end up having a thought that maybe their intention isn’t so good for me. They’re–
Shaunti: I …
Jim: –believing the worst of me. And then how do you get into that pattern 10 years down the road?
Shaunti: I think it is basically the opposite of what we see in like Philippians 4, where Paul says, you gotta think on what is lovely and pure and excellent and honorable, right and worthy of praise and not what’s driving you crazy.
Jim: That applies to a broad array–
Shaunti: This is actually …
Jim: I think it’s one of the great issues in the Christian walk where we areso hypercritical on people.
Shaunti: No, really? (chuckle)
Jim: We don’t want to think highly of people. (Laughter) It’s much more comfortable to be aggressive with people.
Shaunti: And we don’t realize how much we do that, even with a spouse
John: Well, that’s Shaunti Feldhahn. She’s our guest on today’s Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. And the book that we’re talking about, it’s the foundation for the conversation today, isThe Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big Difference. And you can get a CD or a download of this program and find out more about the book when you stop bywww.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And in fact, we’ll send a copy of that to you for a gift to Focus today, a financial gift of any amount. So, please contact us and make a donation today.
Jim: Uh … Shaunti, I’m gonna come back to this and press you a little more, because I think it’s–
Shaunti: Go for it.
Jim: –it’s part of–
Jim: –the cultural problem that we have today. Some people can take happiness to an unhealthy extreme, an unbiblical extreme. And basically, they say in their minds, “If I’m not happy, this marriage is a failure and I gotta find a way out.” Speak to the person that’s not in that happy marriage right now. They’re in that rut. How can I go home today and think differently about my spouse?
Shaunti: Well, one of the most important things honestly does come out of that great passage in Philippians, right? Because one … and this is actually one of the other secrets. There were 12 of these habits that I identified of what these couples were doin’ differently, the happiest couples. And one of ‘em was basically, they learned how to talk themselves out of being upset–
Shaunti: –or being mad or having this weird, you know, icky feeling towards their spouse.
Jim: So, they choose a more positive–
Shaunti: –they choose a more positive perspective and it’s biblical. It’s not this like weird, you know, guru on a mountain top in Nepal, just you know. (Laughter) It’s … think … think out in the cosmos somewhere in some weird New Age way. No, no, no. This is biblical.
Paul is saying in Philippians 4, rejoice, right. Remember this; it’s this command. Again,I’m gonna say, rejoice. And–
Shaunti: –you think, okay, you know, you were in prison while you’re saying this, Paul. You’re chained to a wall. How do you rejoice in a prison or in a difficult marriage? And the answer comes in verse 8, just a couple verses later. He says, “Okay, here’s how you do it. You think on the best instead of the worst.”
You think on the things that you can appreciate about your spouse, rather than what legitimately is really an issue. For example, one of the things that I saw in these happy couples, which just blew me away, is these really happy couples, they had issues just like anybody else. I mean, there was a husband who was struggling with pornography. Or there was a … a wife who was dealing with, you know, special needs kids all day at home or there were all of these issues and yet, they were so enjoying their marriage.
And okay, what is it? And I was noticing that what the thing was, one of the things that made this big difference is, when they legitimately had an issue, like, “I wish this wasn’t an issue.” And we’re working on this real problem with my husband, say. But you know what? He’s a great dad. He always … he’s so tired after work and he takes the kids out and plays ball with them and what a huge way he’s pouring into his children. So, she’s choosing to focus on what is lovely, rather than what is legitimately an issue. It doesn’t mean you ignore the problems, but it does mean that you can completely change how you feel about your whole marriage.
Jim: Well, I like that emphasis, because one, it’s rooted biblically and two, it reflects the heart of God. You know what we’re challenged with, I think, in our culture today, not just in our marriages, but our culture at large, is we’re getting more and more and I think too comfortableattackingeach other.
Jim: And even in the Christian church, rather than trying to think the best of people while you work out your differences, it’s almost even within our Christian orthodoxy, we become so polarized that if you don’t do it a certain way, you’re no longer a Christian. And we’re forgetting the principles are what are key, not some of the tactics.
Shaunti: You know, what’s really fun is um … one of the other habits, you know, and this is a little one. I almost missed it. I didn’t realize what a big deal it was until I started looking into the numbers. Talking about that kind of polarization and attacking and how you speak to each other, we’ve gotten into this weird habit when we’re in a marriage. We kinda let it all hang out.
And we kinda think, you know, I should be able to say, you know, whatever is on my mind. I should be able to tell it like it is, ‘cause brutal honesty is really important.
AndI asked one women who kinda had that sharp kinda snappy, you know, sarcastic “teasy” attitude. But she had a really happy marriage. I said, “What do you think about brutal honesty?” And she looked alarmed and she was like, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no–
Jim: I don’t want to deal with that.
Shaunti: –no, no, no, no.” It wasn’t that I wouldn’t want to deal with that, she said, “It’s dangerous.”
Shaunti: She said, “I need to be able to be honest, absolutely. I need to go deep. I need to tell him when there’s real issues, but that’s what I most need to be carefulnotto hurt him.
Jim: To be tactful–
Jim: –and kind.
Shaunti: And kind to one another, I think that’s in the Bible somewhere and (Laughing) there is a real need for us to, I think, pull back a little bit from that sense that I should be able to tell it like it is. Yeah, but that’s when you most need to be careful. You know, how you sometimes see somebody speaking to a husband or a wife in a tone that, you know, like I can’t believe you forgot the dry cleaning. And when will … (Laughter) And I think … and I think–
Jim: Do you ever …?
Shaunti: –to myself …
John: Nope, no.
Shaunti: You never heard anybody (Laughter) say that? Well and … and I’m not talkin’ about you gentlemen.
Jim: Oh, of course not. I have–
Shaunti: I’m talking–
Jim: –a friend.
Shaunti: –about … I’m talking about …
John: A mutual friend. (Laughter)
Shaunti: I’m talking about —
Jim: His name’sJohn.
Shaunti: –the people. (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah, you’re talking aboutthose people.
Shaunti: I’m talking about the people that you sometimes hear like standing in line at a restaurant or something.
Shaunti: And you think … you hear