Counselors Milan and Kay Yerkovich offer helpful insights on learning how you show love to others, particularly your spouse, and explain what steps you can take toward loving like God does and breaking negative patterns to create a deeper, richer marriage. (Part 1 of 2)
Mrs. Kay Yerkovich: Until we understood the root was attachment and we started working at the root and I took ownership of that avoider part of me and he took ownership of the pleaser and we began to individually work on our sanctification in that way.
Mr. Milan Yerkovich: But iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. So, we talked to each other about our fears, how we scared each other.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Milan and Kay Yerkovich, describing how you can discover your love style and how that can help your marriage relationship. Now you'll hear more from them today, as we share another one of our Best of 2016 "Focus on the Family" radio programs.Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I always enjoy having Milan and Kay on the program. They are so knowledgeable, insightful and communicate in such a way to help us kinda get it, to catch it. Today they're gonna help us better understand the way we receive and give love--the love style which you just mentioned. And like so many personality traits we possess, each of us have a style that best suits us. And once we identify and recognize that, we open ourselves up to better relationships and stronger marriages. It's kinda what counseling does for you. You're able to identify those strengths and weaknesses and learn how to apply them. We're in for a really encouraging discussion. And if you feel like your marriage is on the ho-hum side, if I could describe it like that, I think you're about to get some good tools to take it a little deeper and have greater intimacy and I think that's what we're all aiming for.
John: And Milan and Kay are popular speakers and they do have a counseling practice. They talk to a lot of couples and they've written extensively about what they've found about this concept of love styles. And the book that describes this in greater detail is called How We Love. We've got it at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio . Here now is the conversation with Milan and Kay Yerkovich, a Best of 2016 "Focus on the Family."
Jim: So, let's talk about those styles that you've discovered in How We Love. Talk about the five that you express to couples to help them communicate better.
Milan: First, the secure attachment style is a person that has a decent sense of self, that they're worthy of someone doing something for them and they can go and ask for help. They tend to see relationships as a place that they want to get relief.
There are so many people in this world that don't go to relationship for release. They go to substances, addictions to make those uncomfortable feelings go away. And if we look at the person of Christ, He could give to people. He could receive. He could say what he needed; He could ask for help. He was the secure attachment. He's our model as to what secure attachment looks like.
And I think we don't really appreciate that only a few of us would have an experience at our homes that would cause us to look like that as adolescents and adults that have that—
Jim: Well, in fact—
Jim: --in your book you talk about how our childhood really does form these attitudes—
Jim: --and behaviors in us. And we see that. I mean, that's one of the things that we see here at Focus on the Family so often. How do we begin to arrest and understand that?
Milan: Well, I think the first thing we have to learn is that early experience, Kay, is what really sets us up for our future expectations and we either had that secure attachment or we had one that wasn't quite as secure.
Kay: I don't think people really understand how important those formative years really are. We take everything in, in the first two years of our lives in a nonverbal way. We don't have words yet, so we're taking in facial expressions and voice tones and they're building implicit memories, which are something that we remember in a feeling state in our body. They're sort of wordless memories. We actually remember them for our entire lives, but they're remembered in a state of feelings and response to other people.
And so, in the first two years of life, those are the implicit memories that they're with us for the rest of our lives and I was talking to a young man this week and he just had a new baby and he couldn't tolerate her crying. I mean, he literally went through the roof. And we began to talk and he says, "I don't understand my response."
Well, as we began to look at his own history, when he was 2, he had a baby brother born that never stopped crying for two years. He was so difficult. And I said, "Can you imagine the feeling that you're having in your body is almost like something you would feel as a 2-year-old, when you just wanted to hold your ears and scream?" And he started weeping and he said, "I never thought of that," but he said, "my mom told me that I used to go hide in the closet."
So, these are the power of these early memories and we don't always know how they impact us later in life. So, the secure connector is where we're gonna head, but these broken love styles come out of things that we often don't even remember and so, they're so normal to us, that we don't even know we're doing it.
Jim: Kay, let me press you a little bit--
Jim: --because folks that are listening are thinking, ah, psychology and Scripture—
Jim: --and you know, does that really count? I mean, I'm a 2-year-old at that point. The Lord can work all that out. Talk about that blend from the outset here, because so often, you know, we in the Christian community can be critical of science.
Jim: But really what the Christian belief system does is, prove what scientists are discovering. I mean, we might have an understanding as Christians about what scientists are looking at, 'cause we believe in the Creator. We believe there's order in the universe and those kinds of things. But talk about that junction for the skeptic right now that's hearing us going, this is psychobabble.
Milan: Well, we may not like science until we need a heart bypass and then—
Milan: --we will, you know. And then we go, "Sign me up," because it really hurts right now. But really all this is, is observing how the mind should be developed. We don't think of parents as brain shapers, but they're truly shaping the brain of the child in the early experiences. God invented this. This is about God's invention of attachment.
The human being has the longest attachment period of all the mammals on the planet. And God created this extensive period of time where a child would be looked at with this lit up mom and the child would respond back and so, there's this strong sense of togetherness that is built very early on, not just in our left brain, which is our cognitive reasoning, but in the right brain of feeling states. It feels comfortable to be next to you or it feels uncomfortable to be next to you. So, really all science has done is, they've observed God's creation of attachment.
Milan: And they have made studies to say, what has gone really well and when it doesn't go so well, what are the ramifications in a person's mind? And then that leads us to many things, of course, in the whole department of sin and brokenness. But one of the things it leads us to are these broken or wounded attachment styles.
Jim: Now we've talked about that secure attachment. Let's talk about the others that are coming out of the pain. In fact, vacillator is another one. Talk about—
Milan: Well, a vacillator is a person who came from a home where perhaps they had intermittent connection with their parents. Intermittent connection meaning, I see you. I give you attention and then all of a sudden, I've pulled away from you and I've gone dark. I've gone dark because I am inattentive. I'm preoccupied myself as a parent. I am busy. I have my own issues of where I cannot see you, because I'm preoccupied with something else. So, the child never knows or I have an addiction or I'm fighting with the spouse.
And so, I then, the child feels alone. Then the parent re-engages with him at a time unpredictable to the child. And the child feels this ambivalence from the parent, an ambivalence of, "I don't know when I'm gonna be connected with," but they tend to value connection at a very high value. And that becomes their primary desire, is to have intense connection that never goes away.
So, when they grow up and enter into a relationship, they enter into a relationship with a very high expectation and hope of a connection that will never feel as though it's going away or will stop or will cease or will be intermittent. And so, they have an intense desire for perpetual connection.
When their spouse averts their gaze, turns their back, is busy, they get very agitated on the inside. Then they get angry at the spouse for somehow abandoning them. Now they don't use the word "abandon." They just say, "I don't like how I'm feeling right now and you made me feel that way." And so, they get angry. They're the protestors that say, "Why did you do that? Why did you make me feel this way?"
So, they are the love-hate, hot-cold, in-out, on-off spouses, bright-dark in a (Sound of fingers snapping) moment's chan[ge], kinda like the weather here in Colorado Springs. (Laughter)Yeah, maybe on a sunny day in the summer where it's a beautiful day, then all of a sudden, the clouds come over and it's dark. And this would be the vacillator imprinted. It's also in the literal called "the ambivalent or preoccupied," because I'm in and out, on and off and I am preoccupied, because I'm always thinking about, what's Jim thinking of me right now? Does he appreciate me? Does he value me? Does he want to be with me? Does he not want to be with me? He gave John a bigger thought than [me].
John: These are my thoughts all the time.
Milan: Okay (Laughter), so he gave you a--
Kay: John's a vacillator.
Milan: --yeah, he gave John a bigger hug than he gave me, so maybe he likes John better. And so, this preoccupation of relation and they're hyper-vigilant, always watching.
Jim: Okay. So, that's the vacillator. Kay, you write in the book your own personal story of being the avoider.
Jim: So, as an expert in that category—
Kay: I'm an expert in the avoider.
Jim: --what is "avoider?"
Kay: Well, I lived for 15 years with this love style, not really realizing that my family didn't really bond on any emotional level when I was growing up. My parents loved me. We had nice dinners at my house, but we never had any personal conversations and if I had a feeling, if I was sad, my dad said, "You better stop crying or I'm gonna give you somethin' to cry about."
Jim: (Laughing) Famous line.
Kay: Famous line or "Go to your room until you have your happy face." And my mom just got highly anxious. So, there was this underlying message of, feelings are something we don't do. Feelings are something that we dismiss. Feelings are something we don't move into. We are always trying to fix them and move away from them.
And so, I got very good at first of all, just not showing my feelings and over time, not even really knowing what they were. So, if you ask an avoider how they are, they really only have one answer: "Fine."
Kay: And I can't say that wasn't true. I sort of existed in this like very midline kind of a level where I was never very happy and I was never very sad.
Jim: So, steady.
Kay: Steady and a lot of people marry avoiders, 'cause we're very predictable and we're very steady. And what people don't realize until usually they marry us is, that we don't really have any range of emotion. We really can't connect on any emotional level. I don't have memories of comfort from my childhood where a parent really noticed I was not doing well and sought out to kind of understand what's deep in my heart.
And so, I couldn't describe what was deep in my heart. I had no words for internal experiences. And it was just a place that I never developed. And I didn't realize until the 15-year mark that when you wanted closeness, Milan, I really didn't know what you were talking about. This was just a foreign concept to me and a lot of people think they're avoider spouses are holding out on 'em. You know what I want; you just won't give it to me. And honestly, avoiders don't even know what they feel. They don't know how to comfort you. They don't know how to have empathy. And what was it like being married to me? (Laughter)
Jim: I'm glad you asked that question.
Kay: Yeah. I was gonna say, I'll be brave and ask that.
Milan: Well, it was hard to feel like I could capture you or that I could pull you into a place that I could feel as though there was something substantive and meaningful. I appreciate the point Kay made, because a lot of times a person who's married to an avoider would believe that they are just holding out. But truly, Kay did not have the words to be able to describe how she felt. She's no longer an avoider, by the way and I am happy to announce that.
Kay: (Laughing) Yeah. I've worked hard.
Milan: She's a recovered avoider. She's now that secure attachment.
Kay: Now that was my sanctification.
Jim: And that's the goal for everybody.
Milan: That's the goal for everybody. It's not, stay in these wounded states. It's to move out of that. And I would have to say that, your distance from me was something that maybe we can talk about a little bit later, but it was the very thing that triggered my childhood, her distancing. So, that's part of the chain reaction..
Jim: I mean, that was your wound when you felt--
Milan: Yeah, that was my wound.
Jim: --a distance.
Milan: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: Let me ask you about that, because it's intriguing to me and in part, I'm always asking, are these mechanisms that God provides us for a period of time to cope with our environment? And I don't know, 'cause we talk about them in positive and negative contexts. But for me, I would probably lean like you, Kay, toward the avoider because of my childhood.
Jim: I mean, it's total chaos.
Kay: I read your book. It's—
Jim: And yeah—
Kay: --it was very hard.
Jim: --would you say that would be a classic?
Jim: So, I mean, one of Jean's things would be that, you know, I struggle being emotionally attached to her in certain ways.
Jim: And I'm mindful of that, but the difficulty in that is I'm always saying, "Well, Lord, those circumstances that I was in, was that a protection mechanism--
Kay: Yes, I think—
Jim: --that You've given me?
Kay: --all of these are protective mechanisms and they work. In my family, it was way more comfortable not to show my feelings. It was way more comfortable the few times I did cry, I went to my room. I went on a walk. I always moved away from people when I was sad or when a feeling would be too much to handle and keep down.
And of course, I did that in my marriage for the first 15 years. He never saw me cry. So, yes, as a child, they're very protective. But they become so automatic we don't even know what's animating us as an adult. And so, I had to learn to develop a vocabulary for feelings. I had to learn to go back and repair the places where I just didn't develop.
And one of the huge things for me as an avoider was to learn to take a feeling word list and to refer to it often, so that I could start to have more of a knowledge about what do I feel?, because feelings went to needs.
Jim: You gotta fill that in for me.
Kay: Okay, if you go to our websiteand you go to Freebies, there's a list, a document there called "Soul Words." And it's also in our book. It's just a list of words that are feelings that describe what's inside a person.
Jim: Do you have some examples?
Kay: Oh, my goodness, sad, jealous, betrayed.
Milan: Humiliated, abandoned.
Jim: So, are these things, I mean, literally you have a list and you'll say to Milan, "I'm feeling this" and point to it?
Kay: Well, for now I can identify, but for two years I had that list in my journal. I had it in my Bible. I had it in my car. I had it in my purse and—
Kay: --I purposed to look at it and say, okay, if I was feeling a feeling right now, what might it be? And at first, I was sorta guessing. But then I began to learn to read my body, because avoiders turn off their body, which is part of how we know what we're feeling. Our body is usually the first signal that we're feeling something. We get angry. We get tight, tense shoulders or we're sad and we start to feel an anxious stomach. So, I began to pay attention to my body and about the two-year mark, I actually started to realize, hey, I actually know what I feel right now and I could put words to it. So, this is a very important growth goal.
Milan: We ask our audiences all the time, does God have emotions from Genesis to Revelation? Do we see God, you know, with His emotions? And everybody goes, "Yeah." And I go, "Lots of 'em?" "Yeah." Well, what are they? Jealous and envy, I have anger; I have hurt; I have sadness; I have grief; I have joy. God has all these feelings. I have love and He knows how to name 'em. He knows why He has them and He knows what He wants to do with 'em. And we're made in the image and likeness of God, aren't we? So, for us to have access to our emotional self, this is called "emotional intelligence." Our God's highly emotionally intelligent. This isn't psychobabble. We're just copying God.
John: Well, you can learn more about the love styles and we'll link over to the Yerkovich's website so you can take advantage of the free resources that Kay mentioned and take that love style quiz, so you can learn a little bit more about where you're at and perhaps your spouse can do that with you. All of that information and a CD or a download of today's conversation at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
End of Program Note
Jim: Okay, we've talked about the secure connector type and that's the goal. That's where you want to get to—
Jim: --and we're gonna talk more about how you do that. We've mentioned the vacillator, the avoider. Let's talk about the pleaser and what we're doing here for you is identifying perhaps through the description of these, what you might be, but there is that online survey you could take and just go to our website and you'll be able to do that. We'll link to the Yerkovich's survey that you can do. So, talk about the pleaser.
Milan: Well, you were right a moment ago. I liked how you put it. These are stress management coping mechanisms for us as children. What serves us best to survive what we're going through at the time? For me, I had an angry parent, an explosive parent and so, I found that to be quiet, to be a good boy, to try to do nice things around the house, to stay in and maybe clean or straighten things up to really emotionally "caretake" the parent.
What happened to me was, is I would stay in for the purpose of trying to figure out, are things improving? Are they getting better? Are they getting worse? What can I do? And so, why do good kids come upon the scene? They're trying to be good to manage what's happening around them to make somebody happier. So, that's your point exactly, Jim when you talk about how we cope and it serves us well. So, that's what I did as a child.
As a result of that, pleasers walk into adulthood and they don't have a strong sense of self. They're very tuned into other[s], but if you ask them, "Well, where do you want to go for lunch?" They'll say, "Well, wherever you want to go for lunch." You know, they don't have a strong sense of opinion.
Secondly, they have very weak boundaries. If you need somebody to do something at the last minute, ask a pleaser and they'll get it done for you, you know, even if it's midnight. They don't have a strong sense of the ability to say no. That's boundaries.
And then, they won't get angry. Why? Because anger is a separating emotion. If I get angry at you, that means we're gonna have some distance and separation. So, pleasers, unlike Kay, who could tolerate separateness, pleasers need closeness in order to feel okay. And I'm okay if you think I'm okay.
So, I'm very other dependent on you to make me feel okay. If you're smiling, then I can smile inside. So, that's what I grew up with, so it took a lot of work for me to get to a place where I could learn to be strong and autonomous by myself, without your approval or yours or even Kay's.
Kay: Aren't you gonna ask me like how it was to be married to a pleaser? (Laughter)
Milan: Well, I was just (Laughter) gonna—
Jim: Touché (Laughter).
Milan: --I was just gonna turn to that.
Jim: I wasn't gonna ask that question. (Laughter)
Milan: If you notice, I was just turning this way.
Kay: I was wondering. (Laughter) Okay, very good.
Jim: Oh, good conflict there.
Milan: So what was it like to be married to an unrecovered pleaser who had no idea he was?
Kay: You know, you were so nice and I kept feeling like, why does it bug me so much that he's so nice?
Milan: It was nauseatingly nice, wasn't it?
Kay: No, as I look back now, you used to ask me all the time, how are you? How are you? And of course, there's only one answer, "Fine." But I could say now that I understand it. It never felt like it was really about me. It felt like it was more for you, like if there was one right answer, "I'm great; I'm fine; you're amazing; you're the most wonderful husband I could ever have."
Milan: So, it was a disingenuous question. It was really not about you. It was really about me, wasn't it?
Milan: How are you?
Jim: Oh, that's interesting. You picked that up--
Kay: I did pick that up.
Kay: Yes and—
Kay: --so, I think the other things that was frustrating is, you know, the lack of boundaries. You know, you could be very overbooked trying to help everyone and you know, be nice to everybody. And sometimes that took away some time that you might've had at the home.
Milan: And I've completely grown out of that, haven't I? (Laughter)
Kay: Yeah, you have. In fact, you know what--
Jim: She's winking.
Kay: --kind of the interesting things about these love styles is, we could also think of them as a stress response. So, avoiders flee. You know, you have your fight, flight, freeze. Pleasers—
Kay: --they freeze. If you're mad at them or there's conflict, they get, you know, rattled and they also just fight.
Milan: Fight, uh-hm.
Kay: So, we have these stress responses that sort of go with certain reactions that are very predictable.
Jim: Right. The last one, I think the last one is chaotic. Describe chaotic. That seems to be the worst possible state. I'm not sure that they're measured here.
Kay: No, it is.
Jim: That one looked more destructive than the others, but talk about the chaotic, controller, victim mentality.
Milan: Well, Jim, just a little while ago, you said, "My childhood was so chaotic"--
Milan: --and when we stop and say, what was that like? And having read your book, it's a home where there's unpredictability, where a person doesn't know if they're safe, where the parent is supposed to be providing security and safety. The parent is simultaneously dangerous, abusive, neglectful, harmful or so addicted or at such a mentally unhealthy place, that they're perhaps at a level or lower than the child.
So, what does a child do? The child doesn't know what is predictable. There's, if you will, another synonym for "chaotic;" [it] is "disorganized." So, there's this disorganized attachment, not just a disorganized world, but a disorganized attachment experience.
As one researcher coined it, it's called "fright without solution." A child is in a frightened state without any solution to that. And the child is left in this unsettled state. And so, they often then find themselves moving into one of two modes—a highly controlling mode where they can predict their world, which has high levels of rigidity to it, because if I have a rigid controlled world, then I'm not left unsettled anymore because I know what's gonna happen around me every day. It just means that you better do what I say so that you're not doing something different that rattles me. Or they might end up more of a victim type.
Kay: Yeah, the victim is just somebody who learned to tolerate the intolerable. This is the more compliant child in this home that just learns if they stay under the radar, if they hide under the bed, that that's their way of coping. The trouble is, they have very little sense of self or boundaries and it's very hard for them to stand up and say no to someone who's controlling or abusive themselves, because they've already learned to tolerate the intolerable. It's normal.
John: We'll have more with Milan and Kay Yerkovich on the next "Focus on the Family," as we reflect back on our Best of 2016 programs.
Jim: Well, Milan and Kay, they hit it out of the park with many of you, I think because again, they were providing such good depth on what happens in a marital relationship and where things go wrong and how to get people back on track knowing that love style--the avoider, the pleaser, the vacillator, the controller and the victim.
And I think each of us kind of know where we fall and that's what makes it so powerful and why so many of you responded to this program when it aired earlier in the year. We heard from a lot of you. One man, Tom called us to tell us that, while listening to this program, he realized he needed the book, How We Love by Milan and Kay for the last 55 years. (Chuckling) And in a teary and serious voice, he said he had to call to get it because he didn't want to wait another 55 years to correct those patterns in his life.
That's life-changing and we are grateful to be a small part of how God used Milan and Kay to change this person's life.
Let me remind you that Focus on the Family, we're here for you, as well. Christmas can be a difficult time for families. We have resources and tools to help you strengthen your marriage. We also have counselors. If you're in a tough spot, call us and they will respond to that call as soon as they can. We want to see your marriage be the best it can be because it's a witness before the world. And we are committed to that. Give us a call and let us come alongside you to help.
Maybe you're on the other side of a problem or a difficulty. You had a crisis in your marriage. You contacted Focus and received hopefully, the answers you needed. We could really use your support, especially here at the end of the year. Stand with us and give the gift of family. Help us help others through the ministry here. And when you donate, your gift will have twice the impact. Every dollar you give right now will be doubled through a matching challenge gift provided by a handful of generous friends of the ministry. So, if you give $25, it'll be 50 and I think that's a fun way to go about helping to raise the budget for Focus.
As our way of saying thank you for giving that gift of family, I want to send you a copy of Milan and Kay's book, How We Love to give you the tools to help your marriage and maybe your friends and neighbors.
John: And you can donate when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or donate and we'll send that book to you when you're at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And then of course, don't forget our Best of 2016 collection is on CD or available as a download and it includes 13 or 14 of our best programs from this past year. We'll encourage you to get that for listening throughout the next coming weeks and months.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire Focus on the Family team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time as we hear more from our guests and once again, help you and your family thrive.
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Milan YerkovichView Bio
Milan Yerkovich is an ordained minister and pastoral counselor who has devoted himself to working with families and couples for more than 30 years. He is the director of Relationship 180, a non-profit organization dedicated to counseling individuals and families toward healthy relationships. Milan is also a co-host at New Life Ministries, a nationwide counseling talk show with Steven Arterburn. Milan and his wife, Kay, are co-authors of the books How We Love and How We Love Our Kids. The couple has four children and several grandchildren. Learn more about Milan and his work by visiting his website, www.howwelove.com.
Kay YerkovichView Bio
Kay Yerkovich is a licensed marriage and family therapist whose specialty is treating couples using attachment theory as the foundation of her work. She is a popular speaker and lecturer in the areas of parenting and marriage relationships, and she supervises and trains other therapists. Kay and her husband, Milan, are co-authors of the books How We Love and How We Love Our Kids. The couple has four children and several grandchildren. Learn more about Kay and her work by visiting her website, www.howwelove.com.