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Directing Your Strong Will to Improve Your Relationships

Air Date 08/17/2016

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Author Cynthia Tobias offers encouraging insights to strong-willed women who are seeking to improve their marriage and parenting relationships by balancing their strength, confidence and determination with tenderness, compassion and understanding.

Episode Transcript



Mrs. Cynthia Tobias: You don't get to say, "Well, I'm strong willed, so you just have to deal with it." No, no. Because if I really want to honor God with my strong will, then I go to the foot of the Cross and I leave it there.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: Well, today on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly, you'll hear from Cynthia Tobias, who offers insights about how you can use your own God-given personality to improve your relationships. As I said, your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.


Jim Daly: We do have a great program today and especially for women, because you can use that personality and those gifts that glorify God in such a way to enhance your marriage, your parenting and probably every facet of your life, but it starts with understanding how God has wired you and that's what we're gonna talk about today.

We have a wonderful guest, who's been back many times and she has great wisdom and terrific insight into how children think and now, how strong women think and Cynthia, it is great to have you back to "Focus on the Family."

Cynthia: Always good to be here.

John: Well, Cynthia has written a number of books. She's been here at Focus on the Family, a number of times, probably a dozen, I'd say. And she's got a new book out and as Jim said, it's about women. It's called The Woman of Strength and Purpose: Directing Your Strong Will to Improve Relationships, Expand Influence and Honor God.

Jim: That is a big title, Cynthia.

Cynthia: Yes.

Jim: I mean, for a woman who has that strong-willed spirit, sometimes not fashionable, particularly within the Christian church to talk about women havin' a strong will. How do you square that aspect of, you know, the submissive part, just stay in your place, why is it a gift to be a strong-willed woman?

Cynthia: Well, of course, every person is of worth and value to our Creator, across the board, men and women, children every single human being is. And God created us just the way we are for His purpose and His design and His glory. And it's when we use it in a way that's opposite that, it gets us in a lot of trouble.

Jim: Well, what does the strong-willed woman, give me that personality profile.

Cynthia: The strong-willed woman, when she's using her strong will in the right direction, unconquerable, undeterred, undaunted, doesn't accept no for the first answer, very persistent. I talk about in the book, if we were talkin' about God's army, the strong-willed women in it would be the Special Ops--

Jim: Oh, wow, okay.

Cynthia: --because every soldier is valued and every soldier serves God and you know, we're not necessarily smarter or stronger. We're bolder. So, when the commander in chief says, "I've got this mission and it's impossible almost and you could probably die," and everybody else goes, "No thanks," it's the strong-willed woman who goes, "I'll do it." "Well, you could die." "Well, yeah or maybe I won't and you say it's impossible, but what if it just hasn't been done yet."

And that's how we're thinking. We're thinking, oh, for heaven's sake, why are you giving up so quickly? Why would you just assume that it can't be done? God has given you the strength and the persistence to say, "I'm gonna go for it."

Jim: Now we talked about what a strong-willed woman looks like, but you have a quiz actually that—

Cynthia: We do.

Jim: --people can take. I think we're gonna link to that, so if you want to identify (Laughing) yourself, where you land on that spectrum, you can go to the website and get that. Is that right, John?

John: Yeah, that's we'll link over to that.

Cynthia: And the fun thing about the quiz is, I want you to take it as the reader, as a woman, but then I want you to give it to either your spouse—your husband—or somebody who knows you really well and have them take it on your behalf.

John: And I was just gonna ask that (Laughter). I thought, oh.

Cynthia: Okay.

John: I wonder if a husband would dare to—

Jim: Yeah.

John: --take this to [his wife].

Jim: Tell me why would you do that?

John: Well, what's the--

Cynthia: Well, because—

John: -- benefit?

Cynthia: --well, because the book is so positive. This is finding strength. This is saying, it's an actual huge advantage to be strong-willed. And it's not a negative thing. And maybe you thought it was, but we talk about, there's a whole chapter in the book on strong-willed women and men who loved them.

Jim: Hit some of those again though. A strong-willed woman's relationship with her husband, talk about that dynamic. And then a strong-willed woman's relationship with God, what does that look like?

Cynthia: Well, for instance, with your husband, it's not like someone is the boss, for example. You know, between Jack and me, neither one of us is "the boss." You know, is he the spiritual leader of the household. Oh yes; he is. I love that he is the spiritual leader, but we collaborate and we are co-leaders in so much. And we have complementary strengths, for example.

He relies on me for certain things, where my strengths lie. And the opposite is true. I know that he is much stronger in certain areas. So, it's not just a matter of I am the boss and you must do what I say.

Jim: Okay, let me put the words to the test though. Has there been an example where you and Jack have been kind of at odds on a decision and how did that work out? And how did you—

Cynthia: On, now, we have a—

Jim: --make it?

Cynthia: --perfectly peaceful [marriage].

John: Okay. (Laughter) That's why she wrote a book.

Jim: Right, well, this is where it gets real. I mean, if you guys were at a different spot on some decision, do you as the strong-willed wife, the woman of strength and purpose, do you say, "Okay, Jack, I'm folding." How do you negotiate that? If you both believe so strongly in a decision, how does that biblical kind of stewardship and leadership come to pass?

Cynthia: Right, well, of course, as a strong-willed woman, you wouldn't hear me use the term, "I'm folding." Like that would be weak. (Laughter)

Jim: Well, that's just a figure—

Cynthia: But—

Jim: --of speech.

Cynthia: --because Christ is at the center of our marriage, that's the bottom line. And we do have a lot of conflict, just like everybody does. When you marry somebody who's opposite, there's gonna be conflict. That's normal. When you factor in a strong-willed woman, the definition of normal shifts even to a higher gear.

But both of us, we want Christ to be the center of our marriage and if it came, as you're talking about, to a really major decision, push comes to shove and we both feel very strongly about it, then if Jack says to me, "Look, I really believe that this is what God wants and it's been revealed to me by Him," and you know, my first reaction would probably be, "Well, He hasn't revealed it to me," right? But instead, say, "I'm gonna trust you. I'm gonna trust you."

Jim: Well, and that talks to the maturity of that and I'm tryin' to actually pick on it a bit. I don't disagree with you, but I'm trying to speak to the heart of that woman who sometimes may not have the maturity and maybe the husband, too doesn't have that maturity. It goes both ways. And the conflict doesn't get resolved in a biblical way. And because perhaps you're both strong-willed like you talked about and—

Cynthia: Right.

Jim: --it's difficult to find that space where you can find reconciliation. In fact, you know, Jean can be pretty strong-willed at times. And I would say that sometimes if we don't have agreement on something, and I think this is natural, there can be a, "I'll trust you, but verify." (Laughter)

Cynthia: Right, right.

Jim: That's the old Ronald Reagan term.

Cynthia: Realistically, yes.

Jim: Right, so in the back of your mind as that spirited strong-willed woman, you may say the right thing, but there's always that trap door waitin' for the husband, that if it doesn't go down right (Laughing).

Cynthia: Well, and here again, you know, I use a lot of this strong-willed child, I mean, because you don't outgrow your strong will and I was a strong-willed child and am a strong-willed woman. But some of the techniques you use with your strong-willed child work also with your strong-willed wife.

And they're ones that I employ, too. For example, the whole idea of asking questions. If Jack says [something and] we disagree and I say, "Is what you're really asking me to do? Are you actually telling me that it will go very badly if we don't do that?" Then that puts me in a position of where we're still talking about sharing some control and authority. We're still discussing, instead of saying, "Look, I am the leader and this is what we're going to do." Now that doesn't work with kids and it really doesn't work with adults realistically either. It's not a positional authority thing of I'm the boss and you're not. It's this collaboration that says--

Jim: Well, a mutual respect.

Cynthia: --are you happy? Are you happy with how that turned out? Do you think we would be happy with the way that that's gonna go? And then we're still talking and we're collaborating, because it's not, I am woman, hear me roar and I get to be the boss.

One of the things I love about being a strong-willed woman, I want to work shoulder to shoulder with men. I don't want to put them down or to put myself up or to have special privileges. I want to work side by side in a collaborative method, using complementary strengths. So, it's not in any way a feminist position. It's not a position that says, okay, women are better. It's saying we are collaborating. We are mutually respectful.

And my husband and the 439 women in my survey, most of us said, our husbands appreciate our strengths when it's used in a collaborative effort. They count on us.

Jim: Well, and what that is saying is, mutual respect.

Cynthia: Right.

Jim: I mean, that's what that is saying and that's a healthy thing in a relationship. We've talked about that in terms of the strong- willed woman's relationship with her husband. How does that work with God? I mean, how does that strong-willed woman relate to our heavenly Father?

Cynthia: Well, and again, the reason I serve Christ is not the hell fire and damnation aspect of, I'm gonna lose my soul if I don't.

Jim: Although that's motivating.

Cynthia: Obviously it's very motivating and it's a real bonus. But when it comes to my strength of will, He's really the only One I can totally, fully, completely trust with that. So, when I, as a strong-willed woman, it takes much more strength to surrender my will to the One who gave it to me, with the faith that He's going to consecrate it and give it back and use it in me, than it does to resist and to fight it and to take the wrong direction.

The one thing, you know, that this book certainly isn't an excuse for bad behavior. You don't get to say, "Well, I'm strong willed, so you just have to deal with it." No, no. Because if I really want to honor God with my strong will, then I go to the foot of the Cross and I leave it there and I say to God, nothing in my hands I bring; only to the Cross I cling. That's where we talk about, even in the book, about coming to the point of brokenness that says, "My self-sufficiency gets completely turned over to Him, so He becomes my sufficiency." And then He lets me be strong, but He guides me and He lets me use the strengths in ways that honor Him and then He catches me if I'm not honoring Him in the strengths, I don't get to get by with that.

Jim: Do you have that example where you've had to wrestle with the Lord in that way over a certain thing that you felt you had to lay your desire, your will down for something God was asking you to do?

Cynthia: Yes, probably the most self-revealing that I haven't revealed prior to now, well, about 12 years ago, I had an unexpected and totally unwanted divorce, which was just unthinkable for me, a church girl through and through, never even a consideration. Made some jarring discoveries and some really bad stuff and I remember thinking, "Well, I'm strong. I'm successful. I should be able to make this right."

And I fought for a long time with my own sufficiency to say, with my strengths, I should be able to overcome it. And it got to a point where finally in the end, it was God saying, "You are gonna hit a wall where your strong will isn't gonna be enough and when you hit that wall and your strong will is no longer enough, I'm here."

Jim: And that was your wall.

Cynthia: And I was on my face before God and all of a sudden, it just came over me. God said, "You have to surrender it all my plans and all my dreams and everything that I had counted on. I was at the end. My strong will was not going to be enough and it was at that point in that term, when I had nothing left but Him, that God came in and just blessed me in this huge way, as my Abba Father, who was gonna take care of me and I had to confess the sin of self-sufficiency, my trying to be everything I needed, instead of turning it over to Christ.

John: And Cynthia, what you're sharing is so vulnerable and all of us have struggles and for you, it was marriage, for others, it's parenting or just a matter of faith. God, are You real? And we've gotta deal with our self-sufficiency and give that over to Him.

And if you're struggling, please get ahold of us here at Focus on the Family. We've got details about Cynthia's book and other resources at

Jim: Cynthia, sometimes I would think that for a strong-willed woman, she's going to vacillate almost like a switch. 'Cause on the one end you're operating out of the gifts and strengths that God has wired you to do and then, you're gonna hit a speed bump. Something's gonna happen, maybe a conflict with your husband and they tend to turn the switch all the way the other way. Okay, I have to be demure. I have to quiet and it's not natural for them to do that.

Cynthia: Uh-hm.

Jim: Give advice to that woman who's struggling with her strong-willed nature and trying to find a place where she can operate from who she is in a godly way, without having to try to remap her personality.

Cynthia: Well, and the first step is just to recognize, awareness of I am a strong-willed person and I know I don't always use it appropriately. And I come to God. I talk about in the King James Version in Corinthians where it says, I want every thought to come into captivity to Christ.

I want that for myself as the strong-willed woman. And I want to make sure that my life aligns with Christ. And let's just be honest for a minute. In churches and in women's ministries, the strong-willed woman is not always present, because we're not gonna go do arts and crafts on a Thursday night women's ministry.

Jim: What do they like to do?

Cynthia: Well, it needs to be, I don't know, emergency responder, first aid or kayaking or, I mean, something that's motivating and something that's action oriented and something I can immediately use. And not every strong-willed woman's gonna feel that way.

But most strong-willed women will tell you that we don't necessarily feel as welcome in a church as we do on the job, for example. We could be a CEO of a large organization and be really valued for our leadership. But then at the church it doesn't translate.

And so, this book is meant to open conversations like that, meant to open the conversation and say, "Where are the strong-willed women that we need praying for us? Where are the strong-willed women that we need coming alongside us for support? Are we reaching out to them?"

Jim: Cynthia, one of the biggest issues, as we talk about in marital conflict, etc., will be this idea of submission. I mean, it's almost a bad word. How does a strong-willed woman and strong-willed wives, how do they relate to that word, "submission?" What is its biblical application? And then, do they struggle with it, even in a biblical context?

Cynthia: I think we do. I think when we talk about submission, especially to God, it's the strength of submitting to Him is that, we are able to control our desires and our bents and be able to aim them in God's direction because we have submitted. You know, I often say with the strong-willed kid of any age, if you have a relationship with me, then I'm gonna voluntarily give you the authority over me. You won't have to wrestle. But if you come and wrestle me for it, it's like the difference between enlisting and being drafted, right? If you come and you tell me, I have to do it and you wrestle, you'll never get it.

And so, even in a relationship like a marriage or like a parent and child relationship, if you're constantly demanding that the other person submit, you're not gonna get it, because it doesn't have to do with demanding and positional authority. It has to do with relationship and respect and my realizing as a strong-willed woman, if I want to honor God and honor my husband and love him, I need to find ways that I can do that collaboratively and I do need to submit, but it's not because somebody told me to do it.

It's because God and I, we realized and I rely heavily on God. You know, the more I know Him and the longer I serve Him, the closer we get obviously and the more He nudges me. Anymore it's just a little tiny nudge and I go, "Uh! I don't like it." (Laughter) But I know, okay, okay, okay. I know that that's what I'm supposed to do.

Jim: Cynthia, one of those stress points, which is obvious, will be the strong-willed mom and a strong-willed child. I mean, you're the expert in strong-willed children. You were used by public schools to help teachers better understand how to deal with strong-willed children. What about that combination? We have a strong-willed mom, who is trying to get control of a strong-willed child, who doesn't want to give you that control and there's constant conflict there. And I think husbands in that environment, get torn—

Cynthia: Right.

Jim: --because both are pulling on the husband and the father to kinda be in the other one's corner. (Laughter)

Cynthia: There were some real fun survey answers on this one, too. In fact, one of my favorites, one woman said, "You know, with my strong-willed child and me, we're like two goats on a cliff. You know, face fight and we're both—

Jim: That's good.

Cynthia: --we're both willing to go off the cliff if we have to, 'cause neither one of us are gonna back down." And all of us strong-willed moms are just nodding going, "Yeah, that's true, going toe to toe with a strong-willed kid, we're going, 'Listen, you don't know who you're up against, buddy.'"

Jim: I win; you lose.

Cynthia: But one of the things that is most important is to realize, we are parenting a younger version of ourselves. (Laughter) And you know, that's both, you know, interesting and terrifying in some ways, 'cause strong-willed moms are thinking, "Uh-oh. You know, I got a strong-willed child, 'cause my mother prayed I would." (Laughter) It's—

John: I've heard that before.

Cynthia: --what goes around, comes around—

John: Yeah.

Cynthia: --right? (Laughing) And so, the idea is, if we can, you know, we say, "Well, how did I want to be approached when I was younger." You know, what was important to me? Did I want to be able to share in a little bit of authority? Did I like the bossy voice? Well, how did ultimatums work with me as a strong-willed child?

And not that it will automatically make it easy for you as a strong-willed mom, because let's face it, we can dish it out, but we can't take it. You know, I would find myself saying things to my strong-willed child, I know he's not gonna do, 'cause I wouldn't do it, but we just don't have a reverse gear, right. So, it's not like I can back up, but I need to sometimes.

And so, again, we look at it [and] get a different perspective to say, okay, all right. I gotta think about this for a minute. If this were me, what would work? And why is this not working? And if we can do that and sometimes your husband can help you, but usually, it just makes it worse in the heat of the moment. But sometimes if he can say, "You know, I wonder, you know, you're pretty strong-willed in a wonderful way now. But when you were a kid, did this ever happen? And what would've worked with you? Maybe you can give me a couple ideas on what I could try with this strong-willed kid, because you're, you know, it takes one to know one." And that actually helps in parenting.

Jim: Cynthia, one of the observations with a strong-willed mom with a strong-willed child, would be that a strong-willed person usually has a formula in their mind that they think will work best. I'll put it in the context of school. And again, you were a schoolteacher and so, that's part of your experience. A strong-willed mom I could envision expecting certain kind of homework styles, study habits, that kind of thing, 'cause they worked for her.

Cynthia: Right.

Jim: But that other strong-willed child is sayin', "That's not who I am."

Cynthia: That's right.

Jim: I like doin' it this way and it may not be working all that well (Laughing) actually. But how does a strong-willed mom get the outcome that she's looking for without kinda going to the tactics of shame and manipulation?

Cynthia: Well, there's a great, great way to do this, just an outstanding way and that is, you want to maintain bottom line accountability. You have to ask and answer one of my favorite questions. What's the point? What's the point? So, in the heat of the argument, you need to say, "Okay, wait a minute, wait. Look the bottom line is, this has to be done by 8 o'clock. If you want to do it a different way, I'm open to that as long as you can prove to me it's gonna get done."

Now that backs me off and I might actually, as the kid, decide to do it your way after all. But because you gave me the option, the accountability didn't move; it's still there, but you said, "If you want to try a different way, maybe you don't want to do it this way and that's okay with me, as long as you can prove it works in order to accomplish this." And that way, you know, a lot of times, it's a control; it's just a struggle and a power struggle and that's all it is.

And so, if you want to diffuse the power struggle, think to yourself and ask out loud, "Okay, the point is what? The point is, this is what I have to do. Let me just rewind. Let's have a do-over on how I ask you to do this. Let me just tell you what it is that needs to be done."

Jim: Right.

Cynthia: And so, then it puts some control in my court, whether I'm the parent or the child that needs it. I need some control in my corner. And then when I have some control, I will accomplish your bottom line.

Jim: Cynthia, one of the things you stressed in the book which I can relate to is the need to keep a sense of humor.

Cynthia: Uh-hm.

Jim: That's so true no matter who you are, strong willed or not so strong willed. A sense of humor in relationships, marriage or family, it's pretty critical.

Cynthia: Yeah and it's hard to do with a strong-willed person sometimes. (Laughing)

Jim: (Laughing) It really is, 'cause there's not much that's funny about strong will. (Laughter) But how do you do that? I mean, how practically can you aim for that and hit it?

Cynthia: Though you know, we go back to the same thing I suggest to kids. It works with adults, too, but just you know, if they say something that's outrageous and it just makes you so mad you're blood boils, instead of just jumping right in and attacking them, going, "Whoa! Nice try. I thought you were serious for a minute."

Jim: Yeah. (Laughing)

Cynthia: And then you're giving me this little fire escape where I can say, "Oh, yeah, yeah, sorry." And you know, keeping a smile on your face, even when you don't feel like it, there's just something magic about you. You say, you know, you're going to bed without dinner. And you smile. (Laughter) And they smile back and they're thinkin', why am I smiling? But it's the old, "Oh, yeah, no, yeah, nice try. Not gonna happen." "Whoa, that was a good one; that was a good one, but I think you and I both know, that's not gonna work."

Jim: And then they tend to smile back. I think when they're had, they know they're had.

Cynthia: They tend to smile back. They know they're had and a lot of times, you don't have to do it the hard way.

Jim: Yeah.

Cynthia: 'Cause you've given 'em a chance not to do it the hard way. But there are times, but what you don't want to do is let 'em get by with bad behavior, 'cause they don't respect you. They don't expect to get by with bad behavior.

John: So, you have to be firm. You have to establish the boundaries. You have to enforce the boundaries--

Cynthia: Right.

John: --even when the strong-willed child say, "Um, nah."

Cynthia: And you've gotta understand that you can't make me obey. You can't enforce me to obey. I like the response, "Well, I may not be able to force you to obey, but I can make you wish you had," right. But can I force you to obey? No, but I can enforce and should enforce the consequences for not behaving. And then you get to decide, is this what you want? I'm sorry. I'm not gonna relent, but I'm not gonna force you.

Jim: Well, these are great concepts and Cynthia Tobias, this book that she has written, A Woman of Strength and Purpose, I think it has so much in there. The survey is what really grabs my attention, you know, to speak to almost 500 women and get their input and get their sense of how they have approached their spouses, their families. It's very insightful.

You know, here at Focus, this is what we're tryin' to do each and every day, is to equip people to live their lives in a way that honors the Lord and that draws people together with their spouses and with their children.

One woman wrote us recently and she said this. "I fully believe that without the daily 'Focus on the Family' radio broadcast, my husband and I would not still be married. My husband and I would not still be married. We would have chosen the easy way out, but instead, we've learned what a godly marriage should look like through your daily program and we strive to make God the center of our lives. We've been listening for over 14 years. Our family is better and stronger because of you."

And that's fantastic. I mean, we don't take any of that as a pat on the back. I mean, that's the Lord working through the ministry together and really His purposes being accomplished. And Cynthia, you have done that today. You've brought some practical advice on how that strong-willed woman can actually be more effective for the Lord, probably more effective than she even realizes today, because you can, as you said, kind of round off some of the rough edges that come with a strong-willed personality and you'll be more effective when you do. So that is wonderful that you have put this together.

Cynthia: And let me say one thing. If you know or love or work with a strong-willed woman, you can give her this book without fear. This is a positive, encouraging, uplifting—

Jim: Not judgmental.

Cynthia: --non-judgmental, a wonderful way to encourage that strong-willed woman in your life that she has amazing strengths and gifts and that it's a benefit to the kingdom of God. Give the book without fear.

Jim: Hm.


John: And you can get a copy of the book, A Woman of Strengthand Purpose when you call us here at 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And when you have us on the phone, be sure to make a generous donation to the work of Focus on the Family, as we help women's strength really dial in and honor God and stay together perhaps in their marriage because they have a better understanding of who they are. And we'll encourage you, as well to get the extended version of this conversation on CD or as a download. There's a lot more to cover with Cynthia and that additional content is only available if you get the CD or download.

And Cynthia's book about Women of Strength and Purpose [FYI: A Woman of Strength and Purpose], we'll send that to you when you make a generous gift to this ministry today. We're listener supported. We need your financial support to continue reaching out and offering practical programs like this. And so, please make a generous donation of any amount today and we'll make sure that you get a copy of Cynthia's book.

Well, the program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us. Plan to be with us tomorrow as we hear from Dr. Greg Smalley and his wife, Erin, about the power of being committed in marriage.


Dr. Greg Smalley: Conflict is gonna happen and hard times are gonna happen. We're gonna go through some really difficult seasons and how we go through those will either keep our marriage strong or gonna, you know, widen the gap. And I think one of the greatest things that I've learned is, that we have to keep fighting for this relationship. God has given us amazing marriage as a gift and it's a part of our job to steward this.

End of Excerpt

John: You'll hear about having a stronger marriage, even when conflict comes, on the next "Focus on the Family," as we once again, help you and your family thrive.

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Cynthia Tobias

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A former high school teacher, Cynthia Tobias is now a best-selling author, a popular speaker and the founder and CEO of AppLe St. (Applied Learning Styles). Her books include The Way They Learn, Every Child Can Succeed and Bringing Out the Best in Your Child. Cynthia has two grown sons. Learn more about Cynthia by visiting her website: