Gary Thomas: If women understand the power they have in God, the affirmation they have in God, that He’s called them to rule and really, we’re called to elsewhere in Scripture - 1 Peter and other places - that we are kings and queens. We’re royalty before God. And so act like a queen in your home who deserves respect, who can have influence, and who God made to rule along with her husband.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That’s Gary Thomas with a reminder that you have a significant role in the life of your husband. Gary is our guest again today on Focus on the Family, and your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, last time we started a great discussion on reminding wives of the tremendous influence they have on their husbands. It was a good reminder for all of us uh, that you can’t change your spouse, but you can influence them. And there was a distinction that our guest, Gary Thomas, brought to that discussion. If you missed it, get the download because I think there is a lot of meat in our talk about wives and how they can better manage the environment of their marriage and, I think, have a different attitude that is healthier, more biblical and honoring of Christ. And this isn’t a pick-on-the-wives day. I know that’s a - hey, three guys talking about women. No, it’s not that.
John: This is how you can make it better.
Jim: But our guest, Gary Thomas, has written a wonderful book, Loving Him Well. And there’s just some, simply put, great insight in there. And uh, I believe we really uh, excavated that information last time. We’re gonna continue the excavation work today. I don’t know why I’m on an archaeological dig here, but uh, I think it was wonderful information. Here at Focus, we want to help you, and that’s our goal.
John: And we want you to get that first half of the conversation. Uh, go online, get the download, CD, get our mobile app. If you’re not using that, that is one of the best ways to have the content right there, to download it, take it with you and to access everything we have to offer here. Focusonthefamily.com/broadcast is where you can get the help. And uh, our number here, if you’d like to call, is 800-A-FAMILY. Gary has been one of our most popular guests over the past number of years, and he’s married to his wife Lisa, so he really studies the Scripture. He’s studies...
John: ...Church history. He takes all of that into his own marriage, and then he comes out with some great stories and insights.
Jim: Hey, we did mention, last time - we went into some depth - this idea of changing your husband versus influencing your husband. Give us just a quick recap, so we can reset with new listeners today, what that concept’s about.
Gary: I believe the difference is that when you’re trying to change your husband, your satisfaction depends on whether - I believe the difference is that when you think about changing your husband, you’re only gonna be happy based on something he does.
Gary: Influence focuses on what you do - partnering with God to be a positive influence, to be a nurturing influence and, by example, calling your husband to become the man that God created him to be as a husband, as a father, as a son, as a friend, as a worker in God’s kingdom.
Jim: In fact, Gary, there’s so much great content in your book, Loving Him Well. I didn’t get to this last time, and I wanted to. It’s a quote. I hate quoting back to the author of a book, but let me do it. On page 36, you said this, “What if your husband’s faults are God’s tools to shape you? What if the very thing that most bugs you about your spouse constitutes God’s plan to teach you something new?” Oh, seriously, Gary?
Jim: That is so stinking convicting. I mean, you had to come up with that, huh?
Gary: Well, and it goes beyond marriage to how God can give you the perfect kid that knows exactly what button to push or...
Jim: Yeah, right.
Gary: ...An in-law or somebody at work. And - and the main thing is learning, again, I can’t change those around me, but I can be changed by interacting with those around me. Now, I do think there are destructive relationships that I need to walk away from. But often, the ones that most frustrate me point out one of my own weaknesses because I’m contributing to the problem, and I want to be stronger, I want to be wiser, I want to be a redemptive influence. But I - look at relationships are like practicing. None of us have arrived. None of us are completely mature, and none of us are completely Christ-like. And so when we interact, even with a difficult person, something with our spouse, saying, “Okay, I’ll give myself a B-minus there. But here’s what I did. I think next time I can get a B-plus.” And so you’re just looking at - that God is growing you as you learn to deal with your spouse and those around you.
Jim: Well, and it’s such a great um, lens to view it through. It takes you out of bitterness, which is not healthy, and it puts you in a different position. So okay, “What is the Lord teaching me in this tough moment?” In fact, again, you mention a Scripture that, you know, we breezed through, and you have captured it to say, no, focus the light on this. It’s James 3:2 where it says, “We all stumble in many ways.” And you mention, in the book, how that kind of revolutionized how you thought about this. Why? How did it revolutionize your thinking?
Gary: I have probably talked about that verse 40 hours in my lifetime. If I were to add up all the marriage seminars and the books I’ve put that in - it’s been in every marriage book - and blog posts and whatnot. And it’s still, I forget everyone will stumble in many ways. It says all of us stumble in many ways. There’s no exception. Nobody gets to marry the fourth member of the Trinity. That person doesn’t exist. And we know that intellectually, but sometimes, in our hearts, we resent it. We say, “Okay, Lord, I know my spouse has to stumble. Why does he have to stumble in that way? Or why can’t she stumble in this way?” And so we think how much easier it would be. And I just point out if you married someone else, they may not stumble in this way, but they’re gonna find another way to stumble because the Bible says we all stumble in many ways.
Gary: One thing the Bible says so clear about, and we just have to get it - there’s only one hero in scripture, and that’s Jesus. I mean, every major character - David, he wouldn’t qualify as an elder in any Baptist Church that I know of when people read his history. And...
Jim: That is true.
Gary: ...And Moses - I mean, every one of them - Peter - every one of them has these things that just make us cringe, and God is bold enough to say, “He’s still a man after my own heart.”
Gary: And I would say to wives, can you look at a man who stumbles as David stumbled, and have God’s heart to say, “Man, he blew it here, he blew it there, he stumbles here. He’s still a man that has my heart”?
Gary: That’s the tough thing, but that’s the supernatural grace of God. We need to realize that we need to receive that grace. The more that I know how God gives me grace, I can give grace to others. If I haven’t got it - that I live by grace, that I make myself the hero, God loves me because I don’t do that, God accepts me because I’ve learned not to do that - then I ask the same of other people. But when I accept that Jesus is the only hero in the Bible, Jesus is the only hero today, I’ve received grace. I’m just so much more likely to give grace. And Jim, I know people - this is what people expect a pastor to say. But for me, I can’t love my wife and others well if I’m not spending time at the beginning of the day receiving affirmation from God.
Jim: Well, and that really does uh, point us toward the disciplines that allow us to do that. And one of the things you encourage women to do is to form their heart towards their husbands through prayer. That can be hard to do when you’re feeling this emotional separation, when you’re feeling antagonistic toward your husband. I mean, really - how do I pray for a guy I really don’t like? I know I got to love him, but I don’t like him right now. So speak through that - how that is so fundamentally important that you have a time of prayer for your husband - just you. It doesn’t have to be with your husband.
Jim: Um, probably better if it - he’s not there. But speak to that discipline and what is gained through prayer for your husband.
Gary: First, let me talk about the danger of prayer. If you go into prayer with a list of your husband’s weaknesses and spend 20 minutes...
...Haranguing God about...
Gary: ...How this has to change, and he’s making you miserable, you’re gonna come out of that prayer sick in your heart toward your husband. That doesn’t really help. I’m always mindful when I’m talking to God about my wife, I’m talking about His daughter. I’ve never got - I have - I have two daughters.
Jim: It is so powerful to think of it...
Gary: And it...
Jim: ...That way.
Gary: ...It’s just like, “Okay, God, I’m talking about Your daughter, and I know You love her, and I know You get it, but” - it just changes my attitude, and it takes...
Gary: ...Changes my approach. Now, on the positive end - let me use an analogy for my wife. One of her favorite things to do is Saturday morning - she goes to this huge farmers market. Again, everything is locally sourced and organic.
John: No Doritos there.
Jim: She is one good eater.
Gary: And $6 for a dozen eggs. Um...
...But they’re happy chickens, right?
Jim: That’s right.
Gary: And they have videos that show that they live happy lives. So - so every Friday night, I have to go to the ATM machine and - and get cash because...
...I just - I walk behind her carrying the food and - and shelling out. But she takes great joy - “Oh, here’s some grains. All right, here’s good healthy meats. And - and here’s some” - I mean, she just loves gathering all these things because it’s what she’s gonna serve everybody that comes to our house and me and her for the next week. And if we viewed prayer as going to the farmers market: “Lord, remind me of the strengths that my spouse has that I’ve forgotten.” And so before I pray for my wife, I listen to God about my wife. “Remind me uh, you know, of the grace that You’ve shown her. Remind me of the evidences of Your work in her life.” And I’m sort of, like, gathering things. And then, “Lord, remind me of why life is difficult for her right now. Help me see the challenges she faces.” So I’m going to God, not just to change her, but to understand her. “Give me the supernatural understanding of why my wife’s life is difficult, why my wife might be dealing with this, why my wife might be facing this.” And so then I’m - I’m trying to gain God’s affection for my wife, I’m trying to gain understanding of my wife. And then I can go, “Okay, how do I help influence her and affirm her in a positive way?” And usually what it means is - I’ve never had God say, “So these are the five things she needs to change.”
It’s usually one thing where God says, “Why don’t you help her grow in this?” But you’re supporting her to move in this direction. “Honey, I want to - I think you’ve got so much stress this area. What if I do this so that you can have that?” And so I come to her as one who wants to help her and nurture her, not with the list of five things that she’s failing me, she’s failing God, she’s failing her kids, and why don’t you just retire? I mean, you’d never say that last word, but that’s what she hears.
John: Yeah, Gary, I’m - I really am intrigued by the - what you’re saying right there. And I’m thinking that, for men, so much of our life is tied up in work.
John: And there are probably a lot of wives who don’t hear much about their husband’s work. There’s a whole part of their life that is kind of hidden. How can she enter into that as she prays and then just, day to day, get to know that aspect of his life?
Gary: I think just asking God to reveal to her why her husband is the way he is. You know, so often - let me just use an example. There was a Hollywood actor who had so many problems with drugs throughout his career. And I just, in a judgmental way, I’m like, “Guy, you have to work eight weeks a year, you make tens of millions of dollars, you can go on these great vacations, you have people paying for you to have - what is your problem?” Well, then when I read, his dad introduced him to pot when he was seven years old. He was smoking dope with his dad at seven years old. I’m like, “Oh.” I mean, it doesn’t excuse the decisions he makes as an adult, but I take a step back and say, “Why are you the way you are?”
And again, where people fear is they’re saying, “I’m not excusing it, but when I understand somebody’s pathway, then I’m just less judgmental, and I have more nurturing.” Because in Christ - John Calvin said this. I can’t take credit for it, but it’s a great sentence. Once we’re in Christ, God doesn’t treat us as a judge, he treats us as a physician. And that’s the attitude we have to have toward our spouse. “Okay, this is wrong. And maybe you have cancer because you did this.” You wouldn’t say that. You would - but - but you can stop smoking. But you’re recognizing what led up to this issue in the person’s life, and then you’re saying, “How do I help you face it?” Now, another thing I would say with wives on this - about husbands not sharing - they just need to know this neurologically because I’ve found, when I was doing research for this book, so many of the most common disagreements between husbands and wife aren’t disagreements between Jill and Peter or Shanice and Antoine, they’re disagreements between the male brain and the female brain.
Gary: For a male to talk about his frustrations, neurologically, it’s painful. It’s like - uh, it’s not even like a deep tissue massage. I mean, it’s like a painful chiropractic thing where a doctor is wrenching something, and it hurts. For the female brain, for whatever reason, talking about it, receiving empathy is soothing and healing, and she feels better. Now, just because something hurts me doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. My wife wants to be a part of my world, and I have to open it up. But it helps her give me a little bit of grace. When do we do it? Is it best at the end of the day, maybe on the weekend, maybe on vacation - you’re trying to figure out things - or maybe in a certain environment where you can create it? But just - just have some empathy that - it’s great that you want to be in his world. But if a guy feels grilled, it is painful for him, neurologically, to share with you. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love you. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t want you in his world. He might just be reacting against the pain. I flinch if somebody’s making me hurt, even if I don’t want to flinch.
John: Well, I appreciate that. We’re hearing from Gary Thomas today on Focus on the Family. And uh, he has such great insights. The book is called Loving Him Well: Practical Advice on Influencing Your Husband. Uh, we’ve covered a lot of it thus far. There’s still more to come. But get the book at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or give us a call, and we’ll send it out to you: 800-232-6459.
Jim: Gary, I want to kind of keep going a little deeper in this brain chemistry area because God’s created us and it’s in that context. Sometimes we put at war science and biblical truth. I don’t think they’re at war actually. I think over time, science continues to prove in this material world that the Scripture is accurate. In that context, when you look at the brain science that you are alluding to, I found it fascinating in that research that uh, male brains have less serotonin than female brains. And that serotonin is that calming feature. So that’s why women, I think, can sit and talk calmly about issues. They don’t need to resolve it. But men, we get antsy.
Jim: We want to fix it.
Jim: It’s - its brain chemistry, folks. I mean, it’s hard...
Jim: ...For us.
Jim: I mean, I get antsy listening, and I - sometimes I say the exact wrong thing to Jean when she’s elaborating on something. And she can feel my impatience. I’m sitting there going, “And? And?”
Jim: “And? I mean, what did you guys do to resolve that?” “Resolve it? What are you talking about?” I mean, it’s got to be so frustrating to her.
Jim: But it is. It’s this weird thing that the Lord decided, “Okay, to make you a little more selfless, I’m gonna give you two different ways of approaching a problem.” And it drives us crazy.
Gary: Right. Right. Here’s the thing I would say - and I hope women will take this - I’m gonna try to say this in as gentle a way as I can.
God knows I’ve - people have said in most of my books - Sacred Marriage - that I’m harder on men than I am on women or whatnot. But this is one area where I feel like sometimes women are disappointed with their husbands for being men.
Gary: I said...
Gary: ...You married a man, and God made a man in a certain way. And this whole notion of nature and nurture - modern neuroscience has blown it apart. Uh, one researcher has talked about how between the third and sixth month of an unborn baby’s life, hormones begin to shape the tiny brain long before it’s nurtured. That male brain is being hit with testosterone in a way the female brain isn’t. And you hit on one - that Mr. Fix-it mentality, where men and women just think differently. Now, we men need to learn how to respond to our wife’s pain in a way that is more nurturing. But I do think wives need to understand what’s going on because they’re looking at their husbands as uncaring when, in fact, their husband’s thinking they are caring. Let me explain this. In her brain, she expresses empathy by marrying a person’s distress and concern because she clicks toward what they call the MNS form of emotional processing. What that is is that she shows concern by mirroring it back - “I hear you. I understand.”
Jim: Even facial expressions.
Gary: “I feel it.” Yes. I mean, everything within her, that’s how her brain is registered to express empathy.
Jim: A child with a boo-boo. “Oh, you got a boo-boo?” I can see Jean’s face right...
Jim: ...In front of me.
Jim: Making that...
Jim: ...That “aw.”
Gary: The male brain expresses empathy by a process that scientists call cognitive empathy, which means we’re motivated to stop the problem. We want to stop what’s causing your pain. And to stop what’s causing the pain, we don’t have time to show empathy. We’re like, “Okay, you’ve given me the information I know.”
Jim: I’m gonna go do something.
Gary: “This hurts you. I’m gonna stop it.” Now, that’s not what most wives want, but I think that’s where you go to your girlfriends and your sister and your mom or even your daughter to get that. But your husband is expressing concern by trying to fix the problem. Now, for the men listening - and here’s what I’ve found to deal with this divide - I’ve learned, because this is what expresses concern to my wife, when she expresses something that’s really bothering her, that’s not the moment for me to fix it. That’s the moment for me to say, “Man, I’m sorry,” and to draw her out and then that “Oh, yeah, I see that” and to be curious. She feels loved when I show empathy and more curiosity. Not stop talking - it’s usually “Tell me more.” But then I come back later in the day, at least two hours. “I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve been praying about it. What if we did this?” Then she just seems more willing to receive it because she felt heard. But what I want wives to hear is this - because I know a lot of wives, sometimes you feel this with your sons. You have an adolescent son, and he’s hurting. And you want to smother him, you want to hug him or kiss him, and he pushes you away. And you know how that hurts because you’re thinking, “I want to show you I care.” And he won’t let you care. He’s pushing you away.
Jim: “Why doesn’t he love me?”
Jim: That’s how she interprets it: “Why doesn’t he love me?”
Gary: That’s exactly how your husband feels when he’s trying to stop your pain, and you resent him for it. He feels like he’s giving you a hug. It’s his neurological form of a hug, and you’re rejecting it. You don’t want your husband to feel bad for wanting to show empathy. He is showing empathy. He’s just showing it in a different way. So for the men listening, let’s learn to show empathy and curiosity. And for the women listening - but don’t discount the male version of showing empathy. If we would just understand the way our brains work instead of resenting each other, we can work toward each other. God made us as complements. I’m glad the world has both forms of brain. We want the people who say, “I really care that you’re hurting,” but I’m thankful for the people that says, “Yeah, but I can fix that.”
Gary: You know?
Jim: You know, Jean and I - the one where you’ve got going right now, and she’s coaching me on this, it’s my ability to finish her sentence. I’m fixing the end of her sentence. Because she’ll say, “You know, the other day,” and she’ll go into a story, and then she’ll struggle for that word. And I’ll say, “To do this, to do that.” And she finally looked at me and said, “Let me finish my sentence.” And I’m - it is a struggle for me. That’s my fix-it mentality. Let me just move it faster. Let me move it along.
John: We are so similar. I mean, I’m thinking...
...One of the scripts I have running these days is, “Just be quiet. Don’t ask anything. Just let her process because Dena likes to just throw it all out there and talk.” And I get lost sometimes. It has been helpful for her to know that if you’ll just shorten things up or let me just pare it back to you, what I think you’re saying, it’s so much more beneficial to the both of us. But it’s hard work on both parties to understand, “That’s how he’s wired.” “That’s how she’s wired.”
Gary: And to respect God’s design that we just - the natural human tendency is if somebody’s different, we think they’re worse. We look down on the different. Because men are different than women, women fault men for being different. When you think about it, put it in a medical procedure. If you’re going in for a medical procedure, you want one person with great bedside manners. “Boy, this must be painful. Yeah, we’re going to be there. Everything’s going to be okay. Don’t worry.” But when it comes to the surgeon, I don’t care if he or she even talks to me. My son had surgery with this brilliant surgeon. It was this Asian woman. He had to have his hand worked on. She goes, “Here’s my first thing. If this works, this is what I want to do. If that doesn’t work, I’m gonna do this. And here’s the third thing, but this is the first.” I thought, man, I’m so glad she’s working on my son. And she got A done. I just want competence. I want somebody to fix his hand. After he’s done, he wants somebody to say, “Can I get you ice? How are you feeling?”
Gary: You know, patting him on the shoulder. I’m glad there are both kinds of people in the world. And so marriage is about that. Men are different than women, and that’s by God’s design.
Jim: And Gary, you said this, but we sometimes - it’s - I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but it can be a bit of a throwaway comment that, of course, men need to learn to listen to their wives. But what does that look like practically for us? How do we - how do we stop trying to fix it? And how do we lean in and - and really do that? What’s the teaching for us here?
Gary: Look, I feel like a bit of a hypocrite because we’re - I’m three decades over - three decades into my marriage, and I’m still really trying to learn it. I think I’m getting a little bit better. But for me, I have to learn not to go with my natural reaction.
Jim: So when you get the urge, just back down.
Gary: Yeah. I have to say, “Okay, this isn’t the time to solve it.” I’m going to try to, if somebody’s bothering her or something’s happening. But it’s first - okay. What I found, Jim, that helps me is, “Tell me more.”
Jim: That’s a good question.
Gary: Curiosity expresses love to my - to my wife. And I um, Pam Farrel really helped me understand this - how our wives feel loved when we’re more curious. And that just - that one word - just say, “Okay, Gary, be curious.” Isn’t that what makes a woman feel so loved when she’s dating? “Really? Tell me what happened?”
Jim: “Tell me more.”
Gary: Or - you seem fascinated with them. And so I’ve just found, for my wife to feel cherished, I want to be curious. I want to draw her out instead of, “Give me the Reader’s Digest version,” I want to make time for the amplified version so I can really hear. If I ask more questions, um - but even then I had to learn, “Now why does that hurt you?” I think I’m being curious, and she thinks that’s a challenge.
So it’s really learning to read your wife and just say, “Lord, help me with my words to show her that I really care about this and I really feel for her.”
Jim: Well, Gary, you have said it. And I hope the program the last couple of days has been helpful, particularly for those wives who have struggled and who have felt they - they’re in marriages that are isolated, they - they feel like they’re in a rut, they’re not going anywhere. Maybe they’ve already, um, sensed that resentment, that bitterness taking them over emotionally. This is for you. And, uh, we’re here for you at Focus on the Family. We have a great counseling department. They can kinda get that discussion going, uh, confidentially. You don’t need to worry about that. We also have an intensive marriage program called Hope Restored, if you’re in greater difficulty, as Gary has described. Um, there are many resources and tools here at Focus on the Family for you, and I want to make sure that you’re aware of that. Not everybody listening will know that. And I hope you’ll take advantage of that.
And we also have other great resources like Gary’s book, Loving Him Well, which I wanna put in your hands. And we’ll do that for a gift of any amount. And I’m telling ya, if you can’t afford it, just let us know. We’ll get it into your hands. There will be others who will help us to cover the expense of that. That’s why supporters have donated, invested in the ministry that we’re doing here. We want to help you. I mentioned last time we have about 4,000 counseling calls a month that come into the ministry where people need help. So don’t hold back. We are equipped to help you. And I hope you’ll do it. Take advantage of it.
John: Yeah. You can get in touch and uh, learn more about how we might be able to help, regardless of the circumstances that you’re facing. And uh, our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Online, we have so many great resources, and we’ll certainly include Gary’s book, Loving Him Well. Uh, the website is focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Hey, Gary, before we say goodbye, um, we’ve talked about the importance of prayer for your husband, um, making sure that you’re rooted in God’s word. Let’s end with a scripture. Uh, for that wife who is struggling, what can she hold onto today to begin her journey with her husband and loving him in a different way?
Gary: It’s a familiar verse, Jim, but I think it will change the way we look at our marriage. Philippians 4:19 says, “My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.” My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus. We go to God first to receive. We go to our spouse primarily to give. That doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate things we want to receive from our husband. But it starts with receiving first from God.
Jim: Well, that is well said. Gary, great to have you with us here at Focus. Thank you.
Gary: Thank you.
John: And we hope you have a great weekend with your family and hopefully at church. And then join us again on Monday as the late Wynter Pitts reflects about what our daughters really need from us.
Wynter Pitts: She still just came in my room because she just wanted to be with me. And it just reminded me that that’s what our kids need. They don’t always need our performance or our perfection or for us um, to be teaching them or showing them something. They just like being with us.
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