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Connecting as a Couple Despite Your Differences

Air Date 10/27/2014

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Focus on the Family President Jim Daly and his wife, Jean, offer advice and encouragement to couples as they describe how they worked through their differences in the early years of their marriage. They also offer insights from their new couples devotional, The Best Year of Your Marriage.

Episode Transcript

Opening:

Teaser:

Man #1: The thing that surprised me about marriage so much is how me and my spouse over the years, we've started out as such opposites and we've become so compatible over the years with each other.

Woman #1: I suppose the most surprising thing about marriage for me was, that it really did bug me that the toothpaste cap always came off.

Woman #2: The thing that surprised me the most about being married is that my husband stopped being a communicator once he had me.

Man #2: Well, I had no idea that there was a proper way to roll the toilet paper, that it goes a certain way. See, I thought it was just any way, but I found out quickly, no, it has to roll over the top.

End of Teaser

John: Well, if you've ever been taken back a bit by the differences between you and your spouse, there's good news; you're not alone. And you're listening to "Focus on the Family" with Focus author and president, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and we're gonna be talking about differences in marriage. And Jim, you've volunteered to do this in a pretty unique way.

Body:

Jim: (Chuckling) Yeah, I guess so, John. You know, Jean is my best friend and of course, my spouse for I think 27 years. Is that right (Laughing), Jean?

John: You gotta ask? We're not starting off on the best foot.

Jim: Hey, is it 27 years? (Laughing)

Jean: Uh …

John: She thinks so. (Laughter)

Jean: I think it's 28.

Jim: Twenty-eight, good, okay, good.

Jean: Twenty-eight.

Jim: Twenty-eight years—

John: All right, well, thanks for—

Jim: --there you have it.

John: --listening to the program today. (Laughter)

Jim: Well, you get stuck on certain years. I can't … 27 … is it—

John: A long time.

Jim: --28?

Jean: Twenty-eight.

Jim: Well that was just in August, right? So, the clock just ticked over.

Jean: Yes.

Jim: Thank you.

Jean: Absolutely.

Jim: You are so kind. I love you.

John: It's just all been one long period of bliss. (Laughter)

Jim: Have you ever just had the same birthdate for two years? Somebody said that just the other day to me. They were the same age … they forgot they had, had their birthday. So, I guess in some ways (Laughter) I'm forgetting, it's 28 years.

John: All the good years.

Jim: And those are good years.But we want to, you know, we want to come alongside you and talk to you today about how to strengthen you marriage, what are some things you can do to be purposeful about a stronger marriage. And so much of today pulls at us, whether it's kids or vocation or whatever those strains in life are—

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: --they can pull our marriages apart. You've got to work at having a better marriage. And we're gonna talk about that today.

John: 'We are and just this note, that we have a wealth of resources to help your marriage thrive at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And one of those resources is a new devotional, Jim, that you and Jean have written, called The Best Year of Your Marriage. And it is rich with practical, biblical ideas about growing and strengthening that relationship and I think it's a great project.

Jim: Well, we're the editors of that book. We've put a bit of our thoughts into it, but we pulled from a lot of other authors to give us their thoughts and ideas on strengthening marriage, as well. So, I think it's a great bedside devotional, that you and your spouse can do each and every night for the next year. And hopefully, it'll give you insights on how to do this better.

John: And Jim, as we get going here and thinking back on that montage of some of those people that noted the differences in their marriage, how would you characterize some of the differences that you and Jean observed in your early years, that maybe weren't apparent right away?

Jim: Well, the first thing is, that's so true. I mean, that is a young couple, 'cause you think you're so much alike. And then when you get married, you notice the differences far more.

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: But I remember Jean and I going to premarital counseling, which by the way, at Focus on the Family, we support all the way and we're gonna release a curriculum that's gonna release in the next few months, called Ready to Wed: 12 Ways to Start a Marriage You Love. And again, it's intended to help churches take premarried couples through an experience to get to know each other better.

What we found through the research, if a couple gives 10 to eight hours of premarital counseling, they have a far better chance of a life-long marriage. And that's what we're about here at Focus on the Family.

But Jean and I in our experience, we went in thinking we were two peas in a pod; we were so much alike. That's why God drew us together, 'cause we were both the same size shoe.

John: Naturally (Laughter) compatible, right?

Jim: But we got into this experience and it was called Becoming One Ministries. It was Jerry and Donna Lawson and I think we went for a weekend retreat, so it was two days, about eight hours and eight to 10 hours and about 12 couples were there and three or four of the couples the first morning, he talked 'em out of getting married--

John: Oh.

Jim: --which I thought was really unique. But as Jean and I went through that weekend, we realized maybe we're not so much alike.

Jean: I agree, Jim. I remember how I felt going into that and even probably the first day of it. I remember thinking, oh, it's just so great that Jim and I are so unique and we don't have to deal with what all these other people have to deal with. We … we are just so compatible and spiritually compatible and everything in our lives lines up and we're (Laughter) great communicators. And I really, really went in to our marriage thinking, you know, it was Cinderella and Prince Charming. It was perfect.

Jim: It was, wasn't it? What happened? (Laughter)

John: You mean, it's not now? Well, there is something (Laughter) … there is something that happens though.

Jim: It's called "reality."

John: You both walk in with expectations and that's what good premarital counseling does, is it surfaces what those expectations are. And it sounds like the two of you went in pretty level headed and yet, things do change. And those little personality quirks that we're attracted to can kinda get under my skin after a while, it seems.

Jim: Yeah, I think level headed's fine, but I think you go in with expectations. And so, when you go in with the kind of expectations that we had in marriage, which everything was perfect and then you do realize, you know, I don't really appreciate the fact that she squeezes the tube from the middle. And she never puts the cap back on. And it's toothpaste around the counter and that's messy and it should go back in the drawer. And I'm sure you got one or two for me.

Jean: Well, yes (Laughter). Yeah, but that's the whole dating experience. You know, we do that very subconsciously, that we're putting on our best airs. And we're not trying to be dishonest in that, but—

Jim: Best foot forward.

Jean: --yes, but the whole dating experience, we're not trying to be dishonest, but it's all fun. And the experts talk about this in the book, that you know, you go out together. You're doing only fun things together and you talk with one another. But then you're separating. You go back to your homes. And you're not working through who has to take out the trash and who needs to clean the garage and who needs to do this.

Jim: Well, and I think one of the biggest differences we experienced was … and again, the Lord typically attracts opposites and I think there's great wisdom in what He's done there, so that we become more selfless. I do think that's the purpose of marriage, is to become more like Him, more selfless and it's a hard lesson to learn.

But for Jean and I, too, she's the scientist. She's the one that, you know, she's got lists of things she wants to accomplish. She checks them off. I am far more spontaneous. I'm more extroverted. She's more introverted. I remember when we first got married, we had an opportunity to travel. In fact, that's a funny story.

John: Talk about that.

Jim: That spontaneity—

John: It's pretty funny.

Jim: --so, you know, differences. I'm just very spontaneous and so, a friend of mind from Australia called and he was coming to work here in the U.S. and he was looking for couples who could travel the U.S. for PepsiCo and do an anti-drug and alcohol abuse program for high school. And you had a custom van. You went out in teams of two. And I kinda covered the phone and Jean happened to be over at my brother's house. I was living with my brother at the time.

And Jean was there having dinner with us. And I covered the phone. I said, "Jean, you want to get married in the next few weeks and go travel the country together?" (Laughter) And her response was, "Could we call him back tomorrow and think about it overnight?" (Laughing)

Jean: Well, and this is—

Jim: How were you feeling?

Jean: --this is a great example of our differences, because I am a planner. I had a four-year engagement planned. (Laughter)

Jean: Four years.

Jean: That we were going to date for two years, be engaged for an additional two years.

Jim: We were probably engaged now about four or five months at this point.

Jean: Yes, I was gonna take a year to plan my wedding. I had this all planned out. Thankfully though, I was able to spend some time with the Lord and realized that I should not pass this opportunity up, that the Lord was presenting us with this opportunity. But that was so far out of my comfort zone. We moved down to … I had to move down to Southern California and had to finish up my studies—

Jim: You had exams.

Jean: --plan a move, plan a wedding in six weeks. (Laughter)

John: Yeah. (Laughter) And so, there's a lot of stress and a lot of understanding, I think probably in that situation of what the differences are. You don't necessarily have time to deal with them though. What was it like when you actually got on the road? Because that isn't what you had planned, Jean and Jim, knowing you as I do, you thrive on that kind of environment.

Jim: Well, and the extroversion, I loved it. I mean, we were in a new city every day doing this show, talkin' to high school students about a better path for them to go. And I think what happened, that extroversion, introversion thing, there was a moment probably three or four months into this, I mean, we were together 24/7 (Laughing). And I'm thriving in that. I just love—

John: Yes.

Jim: --this is my bride. I've just married her. We're gonna spend a year together on the road, 24/7! It doesn't get any better than that. And one night, it was probably about 5 in the evening, Jean said, 'I'm gonna go to the grocery store." And (Laughing) I remember saying, "Hey, I'll go with you." And she's going, "No, that's okay. Why don't you stay here." (Laughter) And I was so disappointed. I was goin', why wouldn't she want me to go with her? And we had to work through that.

Jean: We did. I did not realize until we got married that I needed personal space. (Laughter) I really didn't know that about myself. And I think anyone who feels the same way would also discover that. Once you get married, that you are with this person, it may not be 24/7, because you have jobs to go to or are going to college or doing different things. But for us, it was 24/7.

John: Wow.

Jim: We were slammed together.

John: So, was there a lot of discussion that had to accompany this revelation of yours, that I need space and I can't be around Jim all the time? (Laughter) How did you deal with that?

Jim: Would you rephrase that question?

Jean: You know what? Well, no, that is a great question, John, because I think in a very healthy manner, you would have a great deal of discussion about that. But I think that first year I learned so much about myself and really was not a very good communicator, nor was Jim. So, we have had to learn through the years of marriage how to communicate to one another. So, no, I was just finding out about myself, that I needed time alone.

Jim: Well, yeah and I think expectations is [sic] a huge component and it's one of the big parts of the devotional time, is thinking through questions. What are your expectations as a wife? What are your expectations as a husband? I think too few couples that are married, probably one to three years, have enough insight or desire to really delve into those questions in a way that makes the relationship stronger. That'd be one of our great, you know, if there's any wisdom and pieces of advice, is for young couples to really understand each other's needs and what are the expectations?

I think for Jean, let me speak to yours and you can speak to mine. I think in the expectation category for Jean, I think she felt that I would be there to meet 100 percent of her needs. And I realized I cannot do that. I can't be her best girlfriend.

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: I can be her husband, but being her best girlfriend, that's a different person, because I can't get to that level. Is that fair?

Jean: Absolutely and I think many, many or most people and probably women go into marriage expecting that from our husbands, that they will meet 100 percent of our needs. And again, that's not even conscious. You know, we wouldn't say that, but you do go in expecting your husband to always be romantic and always be wanting to chat and (Laughter) always wanting to do whatever it is that you want to do.

John: Uh-hm.

Jean: And even fulfilling that spiritual need and no one can fill 100 percent of your need except Christ. And we just cannot expect that from another person, but we do. I think going into marriage—

Jim: Well …

Jean: --most of us go in very starry-eyed and as with any relationship, it is work.

Jim: Well, for Jean and I, you know, one of the most perhaps desperate moments in our marriage, we were three years, probably about three years married, 2 ½ years married. And I remember coming out of the bathroom getting ready at night, brushin' my teeth and I come out and Jean was sobbing in bed. And you know, I feel like a rookie. I'm the worst husband; why is my wife sobbing in bed?

And you know, we had to talk about what emotion she was feeling and I didn't understand it. She was feeling like she wasn't a good enough wife and that I shouldn't stay married to her. I mean, there were really I guess confidence issues. Jean, you can describe that. But I didn't know what to do with that other than to say to her, "Hey, we're not ever gonna get divorced, so we might as well do this happily, rather than unhappily." But at the same time of that being a raw moment in our relationship, it also became a concrete moment for our relationship, that we weren't gonna back out of this commitment we had to each other, no matter what. But it was unexpected on my end. You were probably feeling that.

John: Yeah, describe what—

Jim: What was happening for you?

John: --you were feeling?

Jean: I think again, probably like many people, I am able to keep my emotions pretty hidden or at least, kind of squashed down for a long time. And I think that's what was happening in those first few years of our marriage. I've talked about how I really didn't know who I was until I was married. I only really saw the positives in myself (Laughing) before my marriage.

Jim: I guess I'm good at point out the negatives.

Jean: And that's a rude awakening. That is a rude awakening to find out all these negative things about yourself and all your imperfections. And you also do see those in your spouse, as well.

John: Now was this because you felt like you weren't doing what you needed to as a wife?

Jean: Yes.

John: Was …

Jean: Absolutely.

John: It wasn't necessarily Jim was point out—

Jean: Oh, no.

John: --all the shortcomings.

Jean: No, not at all, not at all. This was all about me and my insecurities. And I can't even sit here and tell you what precipitated that and what all I was feeling. I just felt like a failure as a wife.

John: Well, Jim, you've shared a little bit of that story, but how did she express that to you? I mean, you …

Jim: Oh, through tears. I mean, again I was flustered, because I thought we were like living at a[n] A plus.

John: Oh.

Jim: I'm movin' along going, this is great. I love my wife. She's awesome. And coming out of the bathroom, you know, after brushing my teeth and seeing a girl really crushed and not understanding, okay, the first thing I thought of, what have I done?

John: Hm.

Jim: What role have I played in her sense of coming up short? And we had to just talk that through. And you know, I think that is a process. I don't know that we've gotten over the goal line and meeting each other's needs in that way. But again, what you find is that if you're rooted in Christ, you begin to work on those things in a biblical way. And it sounds maybe too trite, but it is true. You start giving of yourself, trying to understand the other person. Help me better understand what's happening here.

It doesn't mean I'm perfect. I mean, I'm short-sighted in so many ways. You know, for me, the way I grew up, I think emotionally I tend to pull in. I withdraw. And I am not always that available to Jean and that came out in different ways. That was my thing. I wasn't perhaps crying in a huddled mass in bed, but I just wasn't connecting with her--

John: Hm.

Jim: --especially in her points of need over the next 10 or 12 years. There were moments when I failed.

John: So, for the couple listening who might identify with Jean's point of need, where she's thinkin', I can't stay married to you; I'm not good enough, it seems that so many couples just say, "Oh, okay; you're right; it's not working." What encouragement do you have for 'em? I mean--

Jim: Yeah.

John: --what do you say to that couple?

Jean: I would say, it is so important to have the mind-set that we are in this for long haul. Had Jim come to me that night and said, "Well, okay, you're right" (Laughter) "Let'sget a divorce." Now as a Christian woman, I don't know that I would've been able to go that route. I was struggling with that, but you have to have the mind-set that we're in this in the long haul.

So, okay, we're not going to get divorced. We can either live miserably or we can work to make this better. And that's where you have to go outside of yourselves, outside of the marriage relationship in seeking help. And that can be through the Focus on the Family website. There are books, myriads of books, resources—

Jim: Counselors.

Jean: ---counselors to help couples get through that. I love in this devotion, that there are so many plans for an advice for couples for communication. Especially, you've got those couples that are wondering if they can even survive their marriage. In this book they talk about the 10-minute plan for couples who really don't even know how to communicate with one another. And I'll read from the devotion that the goal was to help this couple in a way that fit their busy schedules. Three times a week they were to spend four minutes reading a recommended marriage book together. Four minutes having a positive discussion with no criticism. And two minutes praying. That was it.

John: Pretty simple plan.

Jean: Pretty simple plan, but it ended up for this couple, really transforming their marriage. And I think that's what I appreciate about this book, the practical tips to help couples when they don't even know how to communicate.

Jim: What's the next step?

Jean: Right.

John: Yeah.

Jim: Let's post that online, in fact, John--

John: Good idea.

Jim: --and that devotion, people can take a look at it. And I think that's really the crux of it. How do you keep nourishing your marriage. I think to your question, when a couple feels like they come to the end of the rope and they're only seeing divorce as an option, you know what? For us that claim Christ, that is not an option.

John: Hm.

Jim: And we've gotta transform the mind-set, that we can escape these relationships. It's just not working for me. Now we know what happens for a variety of reasons and if there's abuse or those kinds of traumatic things occurring, yeah, you've got to get space, perhaps that is the right option and a biblical option. But for those of us that are just struggling in our communication, we don't understand each other, we're coming from you know, different planets, you've gotta just dig in and do the hard work of investing in your relationship.

John: Well, and for those of us who claim the name of Christ, we've got to really pay attention to that spiritual component of the relationship. Now you're both very, very busy and so (Laughter), yeah, it's kind of ironic. You've written a devotional. I mean, how do you work together, before this devotional, how have you worked together spiritually so you're on the same path and you're walkin' arm in arm and not two distinct orbits, where Jean, you've got the boys and the home and women's groups and prayer groups and Jim, you've got the realm here at Focus and other places. I mean, how do you find the time to spiritually nurture your relationship?

Jim: I think one of the great things that Jean and I have shared is a commonness in our faith. We have always been kind of at the same spot, no matter the continuum of a Christian walk. It's amazing that God knitted us together in that way. So, we started with a very similar core, a foundational core of our faith. We went to similar churches before we were married. We understood Scripture in a similar way.

And I think that has been one of the bedrocks for us. We've not had any disagreement um … in terms of our interpretation of Scripture, what Christ has done for us, all those core, core things. And I think that's been a foundational component of our relationship and actually a breath of fresh air.

So, where the things that we struggle with will be more definitely our personalities and how God has created us and how we're gonna work through those shortcomings that we each possess to become better for each other. And would you agree with that?

Jean: Absolutely I agree with that. And also, John, to answer your question …

Jim: More directly (Laughter) … that's all right; that's the scientist in you.

John: Yeah.

Jean: That the spiritual relationship has to be a priority. It's so easy to push that to the side. We're busy. Right, we have the kids. You have jobs, you have all of this. You're tired. But we have found that we have to be very intentional. And you know, Jim and I have worked on this over the years. We have to be very intentional about reading the Word together and praying together and it is not easy for couples to maintain that. And it just has to be a priority. Just has to be a priority and maybe not doing that even every day. That's great if you do that together every day, but that's difficult with busy schedules and—

Jim: And kids.

Jean: --have to connect. You have to connect a few times a week--

Jim: Right.

Jean: --with reading together. And we do that as a family now at night—

Jim: Yeah.

Jean: --a few times a week that we read together with the kids. But you need to pray together. Praying together, oh, my goodness, it is so important for marriages, because you cannot be angry with someone that you're praying with. You really can't.

Jim: Well, and I love the statistics. When you look at the research, you know, couples that pray together and are reading Scripture regularly together, their divorce rate is less than one percent.

John: Ah.

Jim: That's the evidence right there.

John: That's huge.

Jim: That's all you gotta do. I mean, it sounds simplistic, but if you're doing those things, I think your heart is in a better position to love each other in the way God designed marriage to work.

John: And you know, Jim, as we close here, I'm wondering what final words of advice you might have for that couple. They feel like they're just so different.

Jim: Differences are gonna happen, maybe even arguments are gonna happen, but always try to find that way through them that will actually make you stronger. And I think if you can do that, you've got a healthy relationship.

Jean: And I also think what's key to that is remembering that we are imperfect people, each of us are imperfect.

Jim: Are you sure?

Jean: And that (Laughter) oh yes, I'm definitely sure. And that your relationship is long-term. It's for the long haul.

Jim: Don't give up.

Jean: And to realize that life isn't easy. It just isn't and how God uses all of the trials and tribulations. Iron sharpens iron. The Bible talks about that. How God uses all of this to grow us, to grow us individually. So, you know, a lot of it is just perspective, recognizing okay, I can either think this is difficult and I'm gonna hate this and I'm going to get a divorce or you know what? We're imperfect people. God uses all of it for the good. So, let's work out this like a team and find some humor in it and realize that your spouse isn't the enemy.

Jim: And Jean, that is so true and if you can have that mind-set, then you can work toward not just surviving marriage, but a thriving marriage and that's what is so important and that's what we so desperately need in our country today and around the world.

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: And uh … I hope you've enjoyed this little inside look into our relationship. That's a little unnerving to do, let me tell you, John. But I hope this devotional book, The Best Year of Your Marriage will feed you with what you need to do marriage better. And again, these are contributors from the various broadcast guests and friends of Focus of the Family over the years. Jean and I are really the editors of it and give our insight here and there. But I think it's filled with wonderful information on how to communicate, how to love each other, how to see the weaknesses in yourself and how to build upon the strengths. And I think it's a great gift and also a great devotional and Jean and I, we'll use the themes in this devotional to strengthen our marriage. I hope you will, too.

Closing:

Closing Voice Track:

John: And I'll tell you about getting a copy in just a moment. It really has been fun to hear the interactions between Jim and Jean. We see that up close and personal, if you will, here at Focus. I'm glad we could have that kind of fun conversation with you, our listener.

And The Best Year of Your Marriage is available from us. You can get a CD and download of today's conversation, as well. Find out more about these resources to strengthen your marriage at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio .

And you know, today's program has highlighted our mission at Focus on the Family to come alongside and provide you with meaningful advice that is built on biblical truth. Now recently we received an e-mail from a new listener to the program and she shared this with us.

She said, "Thanks for your radio show. I listen to "Focus on the Family" every day. I'm newly married and my husband and I plan to start a family soon. We're both new believers in Christ and I'm encouraged to know that I can turn to your ministry and the resources that you provide when I face difficult challenges, as I'm sure we will. Thanks again."

Well, we appreciate those kind words and we're so glad that we can be there for this young couple. Now when you give to Focus, you're helping us impact that next generation of new marriages and young families. And we'll invite you to join our support team today by making a generous donation to this work.

Now today when you send a gift of any amount or make that online, we'll give you a copy of The Best Year of Your Marriage as a resource for you or maybe to pass on to a new couple in your church, in your neighborhood or at work. You can contribute to the work here online at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow. We'll have Kathi Lipp here with us to give you some encouragement and hope in your mothering journey. Always fun to have Kathi in the studio. I hope you'll join us then, when we'll have more trusted advice to help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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Guest

Jean Daly

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Jean Daly became a Christian in 2nd grade and rededicated her life to Christ at 17. She attended the University of California at Davis and earned her degree in Biology from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Jean has been married to her husband, Jim, since 1986; they have two boys.