Ted Lowe and his wife, Nancie, believe many couples make their marriage harder and more complicated than it needs to be, and suggest cultivating four simple, core habits for a healthy relationship in a discussion based on his book Your Best Us: Marriage is Easier Than You Think.
Woman #1: I think one thing that makes a successful marriage is remembering that you’re both on the same team.
Man #1: Compromise.
Man #2: The willingness to commit to personal sacrifice.
Woman #2: Talking about everything, whether it be good or bad.
Man #3: If you both have a good strong commitment to the Lord.
Man #4: Take lots of vacations without your children.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: So what do you think? Will those ideas build a strong, healthy marriage guaranteed to last a lifetime? What’s worked for you? Today on Focus on the Family, we’ll explore the ways that you and your spouse can experience the very best marriage God intended for you. This is Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, and your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, I think having a strong marriage is a common desire for all of us that are married and probably for those who want to be married someday. And I think we desire to have a loving, caring relationship with our spouses where you experience true intimacy physically, emotionally, and spiritually. That’s the desire. And then reality hits and life hits. And eventually kids come along. And then they become teenagers. And I’ve always said you’ll have a much better marriage once the teenagers are gone.
Nancie Lowe: Yes.
Jim: But it’s all good! And I love the topic that we’re gonna talk about today with our guests because it’s the positive side of marriage. It’s not as difficult as we sometimes make it to be. And you just have to do some very core, fundamental things and do them well. It’s like a sports team. When you do these things well, the outcome typically is victory. And that’s the context we want to put this in today.
Today’s program is not for the serious marital conflict. If you’re in that spot, you need to call us. We’re here for you. We have additional resources. We have counselors who can help you. So this is that tune-up moment to think about where you’re at in your marriage, what you can do better to really honor the Lord, especially for those of us who claim Christ as our savior. And you’re gonna enjoy it.
John: You will. And let me just say, our number is 800-A-FAMILY if you do have serious things going on and need to talk to somebody. Our counselors would be happy to talk to you. Our guests today are Ted and Nancie Lowe who lead a ministry called MarriedPeople.org. And they help churches strengthen marriage through a variety of resources, including a podcast that they do and a blog. And they speak at marriage events around the country. And we’re gonna hear about the book Ted has written, called.
Jim: Hey, welcome Ted and Nancie to Focus on the Family.
Ted Lowe: Well, thanks for having us.
Nancie Lowe: Thank you.
Jim: Now, Nancie, you’re not the co-author here...
Jim: ...So I got to ask you, is it as easy as Ted makes it out to be?
Sure! He did - he did let me read it as he’s going and saying, “Is this true? Is this true?”
Jim: Did you edit?
Nancie: No, no. No, but he did want to be authentic. And I said, “Yes, this is true.” And these are things we’ve really actually done.
Jim: Yeah. And it’s a good thing. And I love, Ted, what you’ve done here with that subtitle, particularly, “Marriage Is Easier than You Think.” We do tend to make it difficult. Why?
Ted: You know, I think we’ve been convinced, um, that a group of Ph.Ds., which are great, have the answers to marriage and somehow the average Joe and Sue have to extract those answers, right? And I’ve had many friends that are counselors and psychologists who say, you know, “We’ve just forgotten a lot of the basics, like being kind.” And so I’ve been working with married couples for a long time. I worked at a church for 10 years. And we would have these events once a quarter, and we would just talk about one thing. We walked away with just one thing. And so we would always do that out of God’s word, and the whole night would be based on that. And I kept hearing myself say over and over, “Hey, this may not be easy necessarily to live out, but it is easy to understand.” You know, why would God make the Gospel, you know, really, really complicated and make marriage complicated? God’s made the Gospel clear and how we love each other clear.
Jim: Yeah. For the benefit of the listener, let’s roll the clock back. Let’s talk about how you met and how you got married and kind of that background because many people will connect with your story because you’re - I say this in the most complimentary way - typical. You fell in love. You were attracted to each other. Talk about those days, and then getting married and looking the other way with these things, and then eventually the irritations pile up.
Ted: Yeah, so we dated for, like, six weeks.
Ted: And decided we were gonna get married and then I moved across the country. We were living in Alabama at the time, and I moved to California. And so we don’t tell singles our story a lot because we don’t want them to emulate that you need to decide to get married after six weeks.
Jim: God works in mysterious ways.
Nancie: He did.
Ted: He certainly does. And we thought we were the special couple, that we were going to have no issues whatsoever. We kind of felt sorry for everybody else because they didn’t have what we had. We had some older couples going, “You need to watch out for this. This could be a problem.” We’re like, “Mmm, I feel sorry for them,” uh...
That’s never gonna happen.
Ted: And then we got married and - wow. But we look back and we felt like we were having, like, these great moments of awesome mixed with these moments of awful. And I couldn’t figure out how those two things worked out because we would have some great moments.
Nancie: Oh, absolutely.
Ted: We loved hanging out. We were really close to the beach. It was great. But then we had all these moments that were awful. We’d get in these silly fights that, you know, I always say silly fights can cause serious damage, right? And so we were, like Nan said, we just let it go. And by let it go, not like, “Hey, we’re not going to talk about it.” Like, let it go, “We’re just going to say what we want to say.”
And so I think what we’ve learned is to pull that back. But we learned kind of the hard way. God put some great couples in our life to kind of show us the way. We always say we don’t have any excuse to have the bad marriage because we’ve always been surrounded by great people just doing marriage well. And so God allowed us to be exposed to some great stuff. And it changed us.
Jim: Yeah. Ted, in that context though, you could be surrounded by great people but you don’t listen to them. So how do you keep your heart open to those great words of wisdom when people say, “Hey, watch out?”
Ted: You know, the thing that was amazing to me is we had been married about four years and we started traveling with a big ministry that was doing events in arenas. And so they had every marriage guru in the country up on stage, and here we are fighting in the greenroom.
John: Oh, gosh.
Nancie: Oh, those were good times, good times!
Ted: Right. And I look at that, and for whatever reason, I mean, if you could see a video of us in the beginning to now when we’re not perfect, but I would wish our marriage on anybody. And not because we’re perfect, but because I feel like we’ve come so far and we’ve just learned some pretty basic things - right? That changed everything. So that’s what we’re passionate about, is going, “Okay” - because people feel so flooded when their marriage is in trouble, right? They feel so flooded. And they feel so confused. They feel like it’s so complex. And a lot of times just the small, simple things can make a huge difference.
Jim: And we’ll get into those. One of the things you talk about in your book,, is the bumper car relationship and how these issues tend to be like that. Describe that for us, and it might help people understand what they’re going through.
Ted: Yeah. And so you’re having this total normal day, and everything’s good and then, you know, you’re on your way to church and someone brings up lunch and there becomes this discussion of, “We always go there, I never get to go where I want to go or the kids don’t want to go.” And all of sudden, there’s this bump that disconnects you. It’s like a little relational speed bump. And I think a lot of times people don’t talk about those things because they seem so silly to share with someone else. Like, once you describe that you got in a fight about where you were going to eat lunch, you just feel silly so you don’t bring it up. But it still disconnects you. So it’s just these relational speed bumps or bumper cars that just happen with all relationships. And we have these moments and go, “What am I gonna do with this?”
John: Now Ted mentioned being, you know, at a speaking event and you’re fighting in the greenroom. Was it over lunch? Or was it something else, Nancie?
Nancie: I don’t even...
Jim: Way to rip open the wound, John.
Nancie: ...Know. But that would be one of those gross moments that it got ugly. And then we had to go on stage and be funny and charming and act like we liked each other!
Ted: Because we weren’t speaking about marriage. We were doing scenes of conflict, which we were great at.
Nancie: So good - so good.
John: You were practicing.
Ted: Just so real!
Jim: Because they weren’t so much acted as reality?
Nancie: Maybe a little bit, maybe a little. Maybe a little - maybe a little close to reality.
Jim: But I think people connect with that. I mean, one of the difficulties we have, particularly in Christian leadership, is those other people on the stage may have been going through the very same things you were going but they hid it better. So why do we do that, especially as Christians, why do we try to project perfection when brokenness is what draws people to the cross?
Nancie: I remember one time when Ted was speaking, when he was working at the church at one of these marriage events, and we’ve always - I don’t even know if we had a discussion about it - but he’s always been transparent and we always have about just struggles and all. And I remember someone came up to me after it and was like, “I can’t believe you let him tell stuff like that.” And I’m like...
Jim: I’ve never heard that before.
Nancie: Why - why wouldn’t I? I mean, like what - what’s the benefit to me or to anybody else for us to hold our negative stories to ourselves? I mean, it - it serves no purpose. I feel like...
Jim: Well, especially if you can have - you can learn from them and others around you learn from them. I think that’s the context in which that should be shared. In the book,, you mention these areas of conflict. In your early marriage, you tended to lean on humor. Did the humor cover things up? Or was it an important part of making it better?
Ted: I don’t think we used humor to cover up. I think we used humor to rescue ourselves sometimes.
Jim: Which is a good thing?
Ted: Yeah. It was kind of repair attempts.
Nancie: Oh, completely.
Ted: John, we talk about repair attempts. And so we would start laughing or we’d make fun of the last fight. Fun has always been a huge part of our relationship. I always say she married me for two reasons: one, because I’m brutally handsome, and two, because I was funny.
So one of those is not true. So I have to keep the funny thing up. You know, I gotta keep that game going.
Nancie: Oh, and he still tells stories that he’s told since...
Jim: He still makes you laugh. And that’s important!
Nancie: Yes, since we were first married and I go, “Oh, please tell that again.”
Jim: How critical is that, to have humor in your relationship?
Ted: Oh, my, I think it’s huge. I think it’s huge. It’s the joy. It’s what we had when we were dating. It’s what drew us together. I mean, no one says when they’re dating, “Oh, Dad, I just met the most amazing girl and she’s completely passive aggressive. I can’t wait to get together to work that out.” You know, they got together because they loved being together and having fun. So just to continue that, because sometimes couples stop that. And so I just - I think it’s huge. It’s what brings joy into the day because, you know...
Nancie: Keeps it light.
Jim: What about in terms of temperament and wiring? You know, what if two - and forgive me, engineers have senses of humor, I get that, but just for illustration’s sake - what if two engineers are married and there’s just not a lot of expressive humor in that relationship?
Ted: Well, the reason we called the bookis because I feel like a lot of times as Christian leaders we’ll paint this picture-perfect, pedestal couple.
Ted: And we want everybody to aspire to be like that. And I think God’s way more creative than that. I think He’s painting different stories. Every marriage is completely unique. And so we encourage couples - don’t be a version of someone else - just be your best us. That’s where that came from.
And you know, engineers may have engineering humor, like, for them.
That’s funny to them. It doesn’t have to be funny to anybody else but the two of them. But I think the thing is what are you doing to keep joy in your relationship? What are you doing to keep it light? Are you smiling at each other? Like, what - what are those things? You know, we take things so, so seriously. We think we have First World problems a lot.
Ted: You know, we talk about all these things being so difficult. And we’re like, “Oh, wait a minute. That was total First World problem,” and then we’ll laugh and move on. But I think it’s key.
Jim: How do we - in our marriages - how do we stay away from the complaining trap like that, First World problems? You know, ruh-ruh-ruh, and you’re just complaining to one another. Sometimes about each other, other times about your circumstances.
Ted: I think that phrase for us has been the thing. That phrase has stopped us in our tracks many times. It’s been more helpful for us probably in the complaining space than anything because it sounds so silly coming out of your mouth when you - and if you ever travel outside the country, you try to keep those memories in your mind to go, “Don’t say that I’m frustrated because the wireless doesn’t work in the far end of our house,” right? That’s crazy.
John: And you’re listening to Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. Our guests today are Ted and Nancie Lowe. And the book they’ve written is called. We have that and other helpful resources at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: All right, let’s get to it. You developed four key habits for couples who want to experience a strong and healthy marriage. Everybody just went, “Okay, what are they?” They got their pen and...
John: Here we go.
Jim: ...Paper down. They’re ready to go. All right, number one, have serious fun. We’ve touched on that - the importance of humor. Love God first. I think, fundamentally, this is it. And sometimes our habits become lax: praying together, reading together. It’s true for Jean and me. Sometimes we just go through seasons where we’re busy. And it’s a terrible excuse. But speak to that issue of keeping God first. And how do you do that?
Ted: Yeah, one of the things I think is a little bit of a paradigm shift in terms of what we’ve been teaching churches and leaders and couples is a lot of times people see their faith is impacted when only the two of them are praying together, doing devotionals together. For us, we feel like if you get along with God by yourself, if you become the best version of who God wants you to be by yourself, God makes us a spouse we can never be on our own, you know? What did Jesus say? You know, love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, body and mind, then love others. And I think there’s something to be said about the order of those two things. That when I am filled up with who God wants me to be, I’m - I’m a spouse that I could never be before him. I mean, the Fruit of the Spirit described a pretty great spouse. And so we feel like a lot of times, couples are trying to get all these relational needs met from each other. You know, and a lot of us are living in communities of two. And so we’re trying to get all these needs met by, you know, what people used to get met in a village but also, only the needs that God can meet. You know, there’s - classic movie,, where he says, “You complete me.” And I think a lot of people think that that’s what marriage is supposed to be. And I think God never designed our spouse to complete us. He wants to complete us. And that won’t fully happen till Heaven.
Jim: Yeah. And it’s well said. Nancie, from a woman’s perspective though, those needs are there. They’re real - the emotional needs. And a lot of husbands struggle meeting those. How do you set your expectations in such a way that Ted can actually meet those expectations that you have for him? And you know, speak again to a woman’s heart.
Nancie: We laugh at our house. I have far fewer words than Ted does at home. He’s more the talker. But I think I’ve seen the shift of him of just being careful with my heart. We were talking this morning before we came and that has just been the shift of...
Jim: What does that look like for you? What does that mean?
Nancie: I think the way he responds to me - even when I’m doing something that I’m sure is quite frustrating - even the way his facial expressions - there’s not a roll of the eye. There’s not an “Ugh.” There’s not a shake in the head.
Jim: And you notice that?
Nancie: I do. And maybe I’m - I’m probably pretty sensitive. I don’t know.
Ted: We both are.
Jim: I think you’re normal.
Nancie: But I totally notice it. And I notice when it does happen. But I also notice the absence of it. I’m not - I don’t take that for granted because I don’t think we were always that way with each other. I think we were pretty loose with our - with our frustration and expressing it. So he’s careful with my heart.
Jim: Ted, how do you fight that desire to win, to be right, whatever it might be, when you could give a little smug look that proves your point? I mean, it’s so human to do that. How do you overcome that?
Ted: Yeah, so I grew up in a very demonstrative family. And so people - they loved each other hard, but they would also fight hard. And so it was just - everything was pretty dramatic, and there was lots of expressions. And I’ve watched how tender her heart is. She is very, very sensitive. Her mother talks about the fact that she is very, very sensitive. So I know that - that she’s just that little girl grown up. And I have to be so careful with her. How do I fight it? I think it’s back to spending time with God. I think it’s back, you know, having, you know, the Holy Spirit do things that I can’t do out of my flesh because my flesh wants to roll my eyes, my flesh goes I’m right and she’s wrong, right? And the spirit of God in me says, “You be careful with her heart because I have entrusted you to her.” And we have been through some really hard things where she has just served me so well. We’ve become closer than I ever dreamed that we could be, right? And how can I not be careful? You know, the Bible doesn’t have a lot of verses on marriage, but one of them to men is, you know, “Do not be harsh with your wife.” And she said to me before, she goes, “I don’t like it when you use your work voice.”
Jim: Oh, man!
Jim: That is good.
Ted: “Don’t come home with work voice.” And so I’ve had to - I’ve had to learn, you know, drop that at the door. And I’ve heard a man say one time - his wife said, “I want you to talk to me like I’m a woman and not a man.” And so I think it’s just those simple things to go - and this is why we’re passionate about what we do - you can choose not to be harsh any longer with your wife.
Ted: You can have those moments, absolutely. Go and apologize, say, “I’m working on it,” but people can choose how they treat each other. And that’s the thing. People just - “Oh, I just get so frustrated. I can’t help from getting mad.” But yet, they have great control at work, great control with perfect strangers. I’m convinced many a marriage that’s in trouble right now, if they would treat each other as well as they do their coworkers with that amount of respect, the way they listen, consideration, that their marriage would do a 180.
Jim: And you’re touching on that very next thing, which is that love and respect component, which we’ve done a lot of broadcasts on. But I mean, that’s true. A woman needs to feel loved and, generally, and that man needs to feel respected. And you’re - you’re illustrating that.
What about the power of the wedding vows? I mean, these are things we say and often, unfortunately, we forget that commitment that we made before the Lord. Why are the wedding vows and remembering them such a critical thing?
Ted: Solomon reminds us about, you know, be intoxicated by the wife of your youth. We’ve heard that and to go, “Wait a minute, you made a promise to this young lady.” We married when she was 23 and I was 25. So we were - we feel like now, “Wow, we were kids.” But I still promised her in front of her family, in front of her friends that they could trust me with her forever and not, you know, so many people say, “We’ve just changed.” And we’re like, “Of course you have. I hope you have in this many years.” But for us, we say marriage is not about the big day. It’s about the everyday. In this country last year, we spent $72 billion on wedding ceremonies.
John: Oh my.
Jim: In one year?
Ted: In one year. That average is $30,000 per ceremony. And I broke the Internet because I can’t find one stat on what people actually spend on their marriage. And so we say it’s not about the big day. It’s about the everyday. It’s about what we call “micro-moves”, that marriages aren’t made up of the grand gestures. They’re not made up of great vacations. If that were the case, celebrities would have incredible marriages. They’re about these little moments, these micro-moments. And we say the combined total of micro-moves equals the condition of your marriage.
John: Oh, I like that.
Jim: It’s so true. And that’s a good thing for us as married couples to remember and for those that hope to be married someday. These are the right things to concentrate on.
Ted, it seems that love and respect is one of the most difficult attributes to get down because we fight so often in an ungodly way or we discuss things in an ungodly way, let’s put it that way, if you don’t fight. What is, perhaps, one of the greatest lessons we can learn in this area of love and respect?
Ted: Right. For us, we’ve created an exercise along with people way smarter than us about - to discover what are we really fighting about. Because you’re really not fighting about, you know, that he got home 10 minutes late. You’re really not fighting about the roll of the eye. You’re - you’re talking about something deeper. You’re talking about wounds. You’re talking about things that trigger each other. And so one of the things that we’ve seen with the book that’s been the most helpful is this how do we take this cycle of love and respect when we doing it wrong and start doing it right? And really, that starts with discovering here’s where we’re really wounded, here’s where our spouse is really wounded, and here’s a different way to respond. And that for us has been massive.
Ted: ‘Cause they’re negative responses. Mine would be to get defensive. And hers would be to withdraw. So the more she would withdraw, the more defensive that I would get. And being defensive, I was communicating to her that she didn’t measure up. And by her withdrawing, she was saying to me that I was defective. That was our woundedness.
Ted: Because it’s deeper than that. We brought those wounds into marriage. And that, for us, was so huge that I know that when I get defensive, one, I’m never gonna win by getting defensive. I’m never gonna win a fight by trying to win. But that’s when I protect her heart, just to go, “Stop, just stop talking, Ted.”
Jim: But in that regard, Nancie, you had to learn, I would think - so don’t let me fill in the blanks, you fill them in - but you had to understand that. Ted somehow had to communicate that. You had to understand that so you wouldn’t, in some ways, verbally attack him so he would become defensive and start the cycle.
Nancie: Right. We were trapped in the car actually - I like to say that I’m not a marriage expert. I’m a marriage guinea pig.
Jim: Yeah, right!
Nancie: And so I was driving. We were trapped in the car. And he’s like, “Uh, I got some questions for you.” And that’s how it usually starts. And so he launches in. He’s asking questions. And it evolved into this of “Where’s the woundedness?” And it was a calm moment. If we’d had been in a fight, it would’ve been horrible. But in that calm moment of nothing’s on the table, we’re just talking...
Jim: No energy.
Nancie: ...No, it was just flat, it was easy to talk about. And then the next time there was a fight, it played into my head of going, “Oh, when we were in that calm moment, this is what we were talking about. This is - and now I’m feeling it now. I’m feeling it living out. Now what are you gonna do?”
Jim: Well, I can so relate to that because some things out of your control you can’t be responsible for. I’m thinking of kids - kids again - in that marriage discussion, when kids are doing things you don’t want them to do and the spouse is saying, “Hey, how come you didn’t do this to prevent that behavior?” And you’re going, “I don’t think me doing that would have prevented that behavior because he’s his own person, and he’s responsible to God for that behavior and I’m his dad, but, you know, I can’t own him.” You understand?
Nancie: Yes, absolutely.
Jim: You’ve played that out a few times?
Jim: And I think that defensiveness - it does come up because you don’t know what to do. And for men, particularly, when we can’t fix it, we’re in trouble because now we feel inadequate. We feel like we’re not up to the task. And we’re in trouble.
Ted: That’s another phrase that has saved a million fights at our house is I would say to her, “Do you want me to fix this or feel this?” And every woman listening right now is just going, “Oh, we know the answer. It’s feel this,” which, to a man, makes zero sense to me.
Ted: Uh, but for her, it makes perfect, perfect sense. “Do you want me to fix this or feel this?” Probably 95 percent of the time, she’ll say, you know, “Feel this.” And I’m like, “I’m just gonna have to respect that.”
Jim: What does that mean, to feel it?
Ted: I think it’s to be there, to listen, to say, “I’m sorry.” And, you know, even - I have to constantly, constantly fight the inclination to fix it. I mean, I am sitting...
Nancie: He gives me the three-point fix-it plan.
Ted: I’m going, “I’m wanna save you.” I think that’s the good heart of a man is he really does want to rescue and save his wife and go there. So I have to fight it the whole time. Internal dialogue for me is like, “Don’t say what you want to say.” Just, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” which, to a man, makes no sense.
Nancie: But just think, gosh, if you had - if you were sat down with me and my three best girlfriends at one of our nights out and heard us talking, it would be maddening to you because we just discuss it.
Ted: Yeah. She does a girl’s trip, and she comes back every year - which is great for her - and she would say they talked about this, talked about this, talked about that. And I’d say, “Well what’d they say to do about it?” She goes, looking at me straight, like, “Nothing.” “How is that helpful?!”
Jim: Most guys are like, “Wait a minute. What a waste of time!”
Jim: “Why would you just talk about the problem?” But that is - is so good. This is the right stuff. I mean, uh, you know, again, this is basic marital advice. And you’ve done a great job in your book,. And Nancie, I think you’ve provided great color commentary here...
Nancie: Well, thank you. Thank you.
Jim: ...As the guinea pig of marriage, not the expert.
Jim: But uh, it’s so refreshing to have both of you talk so openly about where you were at, where you’ve come from, and the lessons you’ve learned. And you’re mentoring people through your book and through what you do and your ministry there. So thank you for that.
We are here for you, everybody, at Focus on the Family. If it’s serious and needs counseling, we’re here. If it’s a lighter touch and it’s just a fine-tuning of your marriage so it can be a witness to the world, we’re in. We want you to be that. We want to be that. We want to be that witness for people to say, “Wow, what do you guys have in your marriage that I don’t have?” It’s a foundational relationship with Christ. That’s key. We’ve talked about that and the importance of that. And then humor and being kind to one another, and then that love and respect - those are the four components. And I so appreciate you illustrating these in your book.
And um, for us here at Focus, we want to get this into your hands. Um, provide a gift of any amount and we’ll send you a copy of Ted’s book as our way of saying thank you for supporting the ministry and for helping other couples who may not be able to afford the resource themselves. We’re here for you. And uh, just call us.
John: And don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459 - online, we’re at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Ted and Nancie, this has been great, but I want to ask a couple of more questions, so let’s go over to the website, and people can follow us there or look us up a little later to hear the end of the conversation. Can we do that?
Jim: Let’s do it.
John: While you’re on our website, we’ll encourage you to take our free marriage assessment. It’s just a few minutes long, and it’ll help you identify what’s working in your relationship and where you might be able to improve some things. Find that and other help at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
And coming up next time on this broadcast, how you can better understand and relate to your teenager.
Jerusha Clark: We can’t control our teens. I know we all want to and especially - ladies, I’ll just say it to you ‘cause I’m a recovering control freak, as a woman - we cannot control anyone but ourselves. And so as we, under the power of the Holy Spirit, are transformed, our teens are then able to see in us that change and they are given the chance to change as well.
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