Best-selling author Gary Chapman addresses conflicts that arise when expectations meet reality in marriage, and provides steps to better communicate with and love your spouse. (Part 2 of 2)
Listen online, or download from our store.
Gary Chapman: Before we get married and while we’re dating, we’re in the “in love” stage. And when you’re in - in that stage of the relationship, the other person’s perfect. But when we get married, we come down off of that. Now, we’re back to being normal, and normal, in our culture, is self-centered.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That insight comes from our last Focus on the Family broadcast. That’s Dr. Gary Chapman, and he’ll back with us again today, talking about marriage and setting expectations and dealing with conflict that typically results from our self-centered nature. I’m John Fuller. Our host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. And Jim, marriage is a foundational aspect of what we do here.
Jim Daly: Oh John, it’s one of the key things. We look at five things here at Focus on the Family that we wanna walk in the door every day knowing what we’re about. And it’s evangelism - reaching people for the Lord. If we don’t keep that front and center, we’re failing. Next is marriage. We need to do all we can to strengthen marriages in this nation and around the world, especially as Christians because our marriages are now testimonies to the world. Because marriage is being redefined in just about every culture. Next is parenting. Can we help you raise wonderful, spirit-filled kids that are gonna follow Christ no matter what? And also advocacy for children and engaging the culture. That’s what we’re about and I’m so thankful that we’re gonna talk again about marriage today.
And you know John, when we have a guest that really hits it, I know it because I’m at home talking to Jean about it. Saying how, “You know here’s what we talked about today.” And she engages the conversation. We laugh. We may even say, “Okay, I gotta try better in that area.” That’s exactly what happens with Dr. Gary Chapman. Gary brings such wisdom and insight into this studio, and we talked last time about those quirks in our spouses that drive us crazy. We used to think they were cute, but now they’ve become an annoyance. And if you missed last time, download it, pick it up by CD because it was really good and it taught me a lot. And I think it did you too, right John?
John: It did. Yeah, I’m taking notes every time Dr. Chapman is here. I mean he’s written so many good things and he’s brought so many good conversations to our audience here over the years.
Jim: Yeah, Dr. Chapman it is so good to have you back at Focus on the Family.
Gary: Well, thank you, Jim. I always enjoy being here.
Jim: Hey, last time, it was both fun and painful.
Painful in that, okay, I gotta do better in that area. But we talked about those things that irritate us and we talked about the fact that in many marriages today, we’re not even able to communicate the strain. We don’t sit down. We don’t take the time to say, “Let me share something with you and you can share something with me,” which you encouraged us to do last time. Let’s role play that for a minute. Let’s say uh, well, use your own experience or if you want me, I - I’ll use mine with Jean, but how would I even approach that? Tonight when I go home, how do I sit with Jean and say, “Jean, I’d like to share something that irritates me about you?”
Gary: Yeah. Well, I think first of all, Jim, you need to have an open discussion - husband and wife - and say, “You know, we realize that there are things that we irritate - each of us irritate the other. Why don’t we get us a plan? And one plan would be this, this week, I’ll ask you, if there something you’d like to share with me that I’m doing or not doing that irritates you?”
Jim: So, start with yourself.
Gary: Start with yourself. And then next week, you know, we turn it around. And it’ll be every other week. And you can choose the night and you just ask. If you agree to do that, then you don’t have to get up the courage every week to bring it up. Because you’ve already agreed that this week I’m gonna ask you, and next week you’re gonna ask me. And this is gonna be a part of our life from now on. And so you’ve got you a plan where you can share these things. So if you’ve got the plan, then you can say, “Honey, I think this is my week. And so what I wanna do...”
John: She would remember that, I think.
Gary: “So what I wanna do is ask you is this a good night to ask you uh, to share with me one thing that uh, I could stop doing or start doing that would make life better for you?”
Jim: That’s a wonderful question. I mean, it just, at - at its very core, it fulfills so much of - of a Christian and scriptural mandate for us as husbands and wives, doesn’t it?
Gary: It does. And here’s what I suggest also, Jim, that once I’ve asked you that, you say, “Well, honey, before I tell you that, I want to tell you three things I really like about you.” And you say, “I really like the fact that you vacuum the floor on Thursday night.” This is what my wife would say. “And I really like the fact that you get the hairs out of the sink. And I really like the fact that you take the garbage out. Now if you want to know how you can be even better...” and she shares with me one thing that I could do that would make life easier for her.
Well, see, I feel affirmed by her. I feel like I’m already doing a pretty good job, but I can be better. And she’s telling me how I can be better. It’s easier to receive her suggestion because she’s told me three things she likes about me.
Jim: Well and you were very specific with that 3 to 1 ratio. Is that a magic formula?
Gary: You know I just take that out of the book of Revelation where God said to the church at Ephesus, “You know there’s three things I like about you and there’s one thing I wish you’d change.”
Jim: So even God is doing that in that context. Gary, it’s wonderful to be able to capture that. I can imagine there are many women hearing this though and they’re gasping, thinking, “My husband and I could never communicate like that because if I open that door to share something that you would like me to improve upon, he will pounce on that.” And they fear it. Um, how can they get over that to where they can even become vulnerable to hear it?
Gary: Well, you know, I think the natural thing is if we’re having struggles in a marriage, it’s because my spouse is not doing this or not doing that or because they’re doing the wrong things. And that’s the place where we go all the time. In our mind, we go there.
But the place Jesus said to start was by getting the beam out of your own eye. And this is just trying to apply that principle. So, if that wife, who’s fearful, would simply say to her husband, maybe they don’t have this discussion that I mentioned about, you know, I’ll do it this week; you do it next week. She’s afraid to do that.
She just says to him, “I’ve been thinking about how I’d like to be a better wife. I know I’m not perfect and I want to be a better wife. And I’m - I’m asking you to tell me one thing that I could do or stop doing that would make life better for you. Now please don’t give me five things, because I can - I - I just want to work on one. I’ll ask you again later on for another one, but just give me one.” Most husbands, even though he may brush it off at first and say, “Oh, you’re doin’ fine.” You know, if he didn’t want to get into it, “You’re doin’ fine.” But she says, “No, I’m serious. You know, I - I really want to be a better wife and I want you to give me an idea on how I could do that.” If he really feels she’s serious, he may not that night, but he may come back the next night, when she comes back and says, “You know, honey, you didn’t tell me last night, but I know you’ve thought about it today and I’m ready. Tell me one thing,” he will.
And if he sees her do that one thing, he’s beginning to think, “What is goin’ on here?” you know. And she does it two - let’s say two weeks later, she does it again. And well, it’s not long before he’s thinking, “Well, now wait a minute. This is kinda one-sided.” You know, “Why don’t you give me a suggestion on how I could be a better husband?” So, she brings him into it without ever discussing it, just by her model.
Jim: And again, that’s very scriptural, isn’t it.
Gary: It is.
Jim: It’s what the Lord said we should do. As I was reading your book,, and parleying that into a conversation with Jean, there was an instance in there and it really caught Jean. And she laughed because in the book you talk about a man who said, “There’s three things that I struggle with with my wife. One: she’s very unorganized. Two: she spends more money than we budget. And three: I don’t get enough love-making in our marriage. And Jean howled. Saying, “Okay, that’s basically every man and woman’s struggle. All three of those.”
Gary: That happened in the counseling office, and those are the three things the guy started out with. You know, “This is the problem in my marriage.”
Jim: I mean that’s kind of - that’s probably hitting 70 percent of marriages.
Gary: I would say so, those are very common things that men struggle with in a marriage. It can sometimes be the other way around. You know a wife can have a husband who’s spending too much money in her - in her mind. Or he can be disorganized as well. But, you know I think when you get down to it, marriage has to do with an intimate relationship between a man and a woman. And we know that involves the sexual part because God made us sexual. And that’s God’s design, and that’s an important part of marriage. It’s not all of marriage, but it’s an important part of marriage. And then, the whole issue of processing life - money is a part of life. And money - we can have conflicts over money. There’s only three things you can do with money: you can give it away, you can spend it, or you can save it.
And then personality differences. You know organized and not organized. I mean there’s all kind of personality differences. But as we love each other and we feel loved by each other, we can process these things that irritate us in a much more positive manner. We can change a lot of those things, and the ones that don’t get changed, we can come to accept those things. And life really is what God intended it to be. You know, loving, supportive, caring relationships. That’s what marriage is designed to be.
Jim: Okay, so let’s say we’ve done that really well as a young couple and we’ve got this great open communication going and she’s limiting her quirks and I’m limiting mine and we’re gettin’ along just fine. And all of a sudden, guess what? We’ve got babies on the way. And those little ones come into our family and now it turns everything upside down, ‘cause there’s a whole new set of expectations. Talk about those times and when children are bringing some different dimensions to the marriage.
Gary: Well, let’s face it; babies radically change a marriage, because somebody’s gotta care for that baby. But here’s the danger, that we both focus on the baby and we totally ignore each other.
Jim: That’s very common, today.
Gary: Very common and it leads to the point where six years down the road, we’re wondering why we’re married. And that’s why I say to couples, you need to prepare for a child coming into the house. And then once a child gets there, you need to be discussing things on a regular basis, how we’re handling these things. Because it’s gonna take more time for the baby. It’s gonna be his time or her time. It’s gonna take more money, because a baby’s gonna cost. So, we’ve gotta think about these things.
And getting control of the schedule is a huge thing with children. And I say to parents, of course, you know, when they’re infants, they’re gonna be sleeping two-thirds of the time, we hope, you know.
Jim: That’s the goal.
Gary: But as they - as they begin to grow up, we need to establish definite bedtimes for that child. I’m amazed. I’m in Walmart at 10 o’clock on a Monday night and here’s a 3-year-old at Walmart.
Gary: And I’m thinkin’ this kid should’ve been in bed three hours ago, you know?
Jim: At least.
Gary: So, establish that bedtime and when you establish it early, you can follow right on through all of childhood. And that gives the two of you some time to have a marriage after the children are in bed. I mean, that’s the most logical time. So, we have to get control of our schedule. We have to have the children on a schedule. We have to assess our own schedules so that we make time for each other; it’s key.
Jim: Gary, so often, especially for young couples, uh, a wife that’s feeling perhaps isolated or not connected like she once was with her husband, they may think having a baby will draw them closer together, so they’re actually using the child as an opportunity to heal their marriage. That’s probably not a good thing to do.
Gary: A child never heals a marriage. If you think that having a child is gonna draw the two of you together when you were not together before you had the child, you’re mistaken. You need to work on your marriage before you have the child, because the child is gonna be stress on the marriage relationship. It’s not going to enhance it; it’s gonna make it more difficult.
Jim: And let’s be sure that people hear us. Children are a blessing.
Jim: And we want to say that forthrightly and any child anytime is a gift from the Lord.
Jim: But you’re cautioning couples to make sure that they’re healthy, so that there’s not greater havoc in that home, which so often unfortunately today ends in divorce.
Gary: Yeah. And let’s face it. God designed marriage - husband, wife and most marriages, children. So, there has to be time to have a good marriage after you have children. It’s God’s plan and there has to be time to do it. We have to make the time to have a marriage after we have the children. And to be good parents.
Jim: Well, when you tie that again, to the love languages - let’s say you a spouse that their love language is time, and you add those kids in. I mean this is chaos. John, you’ve got 6 kids.
John: This is my house. You’ve just described it right there.
Jim: So tell us. Give us that scenario. What happens in your home, I think Dena...
John: Dena is absolutely a - a quality time person.
Jim: So how do you do it? How do you find time or is that a struggle?
John: It really is a struggle. And um, I think I didn’t realize that that was a primary love language of hers until uh, I don’t know, 3 or 4 kids into this. And so we’ve - we’ve been much more intentional in these past years. And it gets easier when you have a teenager who has a cell phone, and now you have built-in babysitting. You know we’ve got co-workers, Jim, they’ve got 2 or 3 little kids - 5, 6 years old or younger - there isn’t a lot of free time there. That is a challenge. Um, you know for us, when we were able to have built-in babysitting that unlocked a regular date night. But Dr. Chapman, talk to those couples that - that hear what you’re saying, but it’s impossible. They’re both workin’, they’ve got kids, they’ve got a lot of stresses. And a regular time to talk is just not gonna happen.
Gary: Two things I would say: one is you have to make marriage a priority. In your mind, in your heart, you have to say to each other, “Our relationship is priority.” Secondly, you have to put your money where your priority is. And that means that we’re gonna spend some money to hire a babysitter if we have to. To come in so we can go out. Use your money to build a relationship. You say, “I find couples that are saving their money to build a house or buy a new car or whatever.” And by the time they get around to the house or the car, they’ve lost the marriage. And a house is meaningless without a marriage.
So, you make marriage your priority, and then you put your money where your priority is. And you organize your life around that. That means you may sacrifice in some other areas, but we’re gonna make time for each other. And uh, yes, when you have small children, you’re gonna have to get somebody from the outside to stay with those children a few hours. Now it can be a grandparent. If they’re close, that would be fine; that’d be wonderful. But sometimes you have to hire a babysitter to come in and stay with those children so you can get out.
Jim: You know Gary, even last night as I was looking at the book and prepping for the program today, I asked you in the question, “You know if there’s one thing I could do to improve our relationship, what would it be?” And she said, “Well, there’s two.”
Jim: I mean, she had these in a - in a instant file in her brain ‘cause obviously - she didn’t even hesitate. And uh, she said, “Well the one thing you do - I love your spontaneity. It - it brings zest to the family. But sometimes your spontaneity - it’s a little out of control ‘cause you come home and you say, ‘Hey, let’s go to Disneyworld tomorrow.’ And you say it in front of the kids, and the kids get all excited, and there’s no way we’re gonna pull that off.” And I had to stop, and I thought about that. And I said, “I do do that, don’t I?” I mean I didn’t realize, you know, that I was doin’ it.”
John: Well it’s a good thing you asked then.
Jim: Well it is a good thing. And you know, it’s so funny, the first one stung me so much, I don’t even know what she said for the second one. I can’t remember.
John: Well I’m sorry to hear that. But I’m getting some signals from the crew in the control room here that they’re gonna help you with that, Jim, because they’ve suggested getting Jean on the line...
John: ...telling me that they’re gonna - they’re gonna get her on the line right now.
Jim: What is this? A torture...
John: In fact, they have her on the line.
Jim: Is this a torture chamber?
John: No, they just anticipated that you might need a little prompting on this one.
Jim: Oh. Hey, Jean, are you there?
Jean Daly: Yes.
Jim: All right. You can say hi to Dr. Chapman. He’s right here.
Jean: Hello, Dr. Chapman.
Gary: Hello. I’ve done all I can to help Jim today.
Jean: I appreciate that.
Jim: He has worked me over, let me tell ya.
Jean: I appreciate that.
Jim: You know, the uh, Jean, this is probably the best way I could be held accountable. These guys wanted me to be a little more forthright about my shortcomings. So, just this morning you shared two things with me that you felt I could improve on. One was not to surprise you with spontaneous plans to do something fun with the boys, like, “Hey, let’s go to Disneyland tomorrow,” when you got a whole list of things you want to do. I heard that. I just want you to know, I affirm that. I heard that and I will try harder not to do that.
And then you mentioned a second one, I think, but I’m struggling in remembering that one, so I need you to tell me.
Jean: Well, it’s um, as you of course, know, the garage is your domain.
Jean: And you like it to be nice and tidy. And it rarely is. I mean, you know, you will go out and clean it and then it gets messy very quickly from the boys and I. But it does - does bother me that almost 100 percent of the time...
Jean: ...we - if I’ve asked you to go out to the garage or if you need to go out to the garage, you do comment on the way it looks.
Jim: On how untidy it has become...
Jim: ...since I just cleaned it.
Jean: And - and you’re not happy about it when you comment, make those comments.
Jim: All right, well, listen. I am going to try very hard to restrain myself from making that comment. That’s my commitment to you. And Dr. Chapman’s gonna hold me accountable.
Jean: May I make a follow-up comment?
Jim: Of course!
Jean: Well, no, I wanna say that there’s probably 25 percent of the people listening who are thinking, “Well, why doesn’t Jean just clean up the garage?”
Jim: Oh, I doubt that many people are thinking that.
Jean: Okay, good. But we’re in Colorado, so you can only do it in summer time and you know it’s too cold to go out there and keep it tidy.
Jim: Yeah. Well, I appreciate the thoughtfulness, but uh, anyway, hey, I love you. We’ll see you later.
Jean: Very fun.
Jean: Love you, too. Bye.
John: Oh, that was fun, Jim. Thanks for being a good sport and letting us get her on the line like that.
Jim: I don’t think I had much of a choice.
John: I really appreciate Jean’s candor there.
Jim: She’s got a great sense of humor.
John: You two obviously get along well.
Jim: We do. We do.
John: A garage notwithstanding.
Jim: Even garages, they can split marriages right in half. So can not remembering the second thing your wife told you to improve on. That can split your relationship too. You know what? I’m so thankful for an understanding and patient wife. You know, patience, I think, is one of the most important things that you can show to your spouse as they’re trying to, you know, improve things.
Uh, Gary, as we come in for a landing in this very embarrassing program, we’ve spent a lot of time encouraging, hopefully, couples to think about how they recognize their differences and their needs and to communicate them openly. Set up a time even once a week, as you’ve talked about, to encourage honest dialogue. “What can I do to help you? What can I do? What can I change in myself that actually would benefit you? And I’m willing to do that.” That is so Christ-like. It screams Ephesians, your ability to lay down your life for your spouse. It’s a wonderful thing.
When you look at marriages today, is it simply that we’re not training young married people, even you know, middle-aged married people, to think in this way? Why have we lost the art of marriage?
Gary: I think you’re right, Jim. I think it’s the fact that we have not, as Christians, really personalized the concept that I am here to serve others. That’s my calling. I don’t care who you are. If you’re a Christian, you’re here to serve others. You’re not here to satisfy your own desires and your own dreams and visions. You’re here to serve others. That - whatever vocation you have, you’re here to serve others. Why should that not start in the marriage?
And if we have a heart to serve others, I think it does overflow within the marriage. And then our children pick up on it. And our children grow up not expecting everybody to do everything for them, but they grow up wanting to reach out and help others. It’s the central theme of the Christian life. Jesus said, “I did not come to be served, I came to serve and to give My life a ransom for others.” And we’re His followers and we’re not here to be served; we’re here to serve others.
Jim: Gary that’s so beautifully said and so scripturally accurate. Um, I’m reminded of a good friend to this ministry, Don Hodel, who worked here as interim president. He served in the cabinet for President Reagan. He was the secretary of Interior and Energy during Reagan’s eight year, um, a delightful person, a good friend of Dr. Dobson, a board member at one time. But he, to help Dr. Dobson in the - in the transition process, agreed to come and be interim president. That was before I was appointed.
And uh, you know, I watched Don and Barbara come to every meeting. Barbara was part of his life. Uh, and she wanted to be engaged and they would actually work together and she was...
John: She had a desk in his office as I recall.
Jim: She was always there next to Don. And Don shared an amazing story with me where, just weeks before Barbara had a terrible accident, fell down a flight of stairs and became a quadriplegic, just weeks before that happened, they talked about what a wonderful life they had shared together and how beautiful it was and how blessed they were by the Lord. And they agreed that when something happens, when it was likely at some point in the years ahead, something could happen that would diminish their ability to enjoy this life that they agreed that they would, one, take care of each other and two, remember the good days, so they could get through these more difficult days.
Jim: Well, lo and behold, the accident happened and for years, Don took care of Barbara. She passed away not long ago and to me, that was a model of love, the absolute biblical application of what you’re talking about. And so often today, that can break a marriage up.
Jim: Um, where the one spouse is unable to cope and because I can’t cope, I’m leaving.
Jim: Um, and we can do that emotionally. We can do it because of physical difficulty. But what a beautiful picture of the way it should be done.
Gary: Yeah and - and that’s - that’s the results of a lifelong relationship where you’ve been loving and supporting each other. You know, sometimes we talk so much about the problems in marriage, but marriage is an absolutely incredible experience. It’s a relationship that God ordained and it brings tremendous satisfaction.
You know, I’m - I take great pleasure and joy in seeing my wife blossom and do things for God. And she does the same through me. Uh, you know, you rejoice in each other. It’s more blessed to give than receive, the Bible says. And that’s certainly true in a marriage.
Jim: But we need to cultivate that attitude, don’t we? Today we’re so quickly to give ourselves over to what I would say are more worldly uh, characteristics. We want to fight. We want to divide. We don’t want to do the things that God says will bless your life.
Jim: To have a healthy marriage, to have loving children. We choose to go with our flesh, rather than with the Word of God.
Gary: And we talk about being happy, you know.
Gary: You know, so many couples say to me, “I’m getting out of this marriage, because I just - I think I deserve to be happy.” You know failing to realize that if you do marriage God’s way, happiness is just a by-product of that. I mean you do have happiness. You’ve got joy, which is much deeper than happiness, it’s that deep, settled contentment, you know. But you do have happy feelings, too, if you cultivate the marriage.
John: Always great insights from Dr. Gary Chapman. And regardless of your age and stage and season of marriage, there’s something to grab onto here.
Jim: It’s been wonderful, these last couple of days to talk about how to have a strong marriage, being rooted in God and sacrificing yourself to each other. You’ll be amazed at how God will bless that. And it’s not gonna be perfect - I’ll tell ya. Some days you do it well, other days you won’t. What we want to say as we end today’s program is we are for you. Maybe on those bad days where it doesn’t go so well. We are for your marriage and more than that, God is for your marriage. He wants you not to have a marriage that just survives, but He wants it to thrive, to be a witness for Him that this is His plan for the family and for one another. It needs to be like I said, that shalom, that peace of God that comes into a home. And we want to help you here at Focus to achieve that. So, if you’re struggling, call us. That’s an open invitation.
We have many many resources available to you, including counseling and our Hope Restored marriage intensives. We also have the book we mentioned today,by Dr. Chapman. And you know what? These resources and this broadcast are all listener-supported. So let me say thank you to those of you who have supported us in the past. Your prayers and financial contributions are what fuels the ministry here at Focus on the Family and allows us to minister to couples and families.
In fact, right now, we have some generous friends of Focus who will match your donation dollar-for-dollar. So everything’s doubled. If you give $50, it’ll be $100, which means your donation’s gonna help twice as many families today. So join us in standing for marriage and for the family!
John: And when you do, we’ll say thank you by sending a complimentary copy of Dr. Chapman’s book,. So donate and get your copy of that book and learn more about the kind of help we have for marriages at focusonthefamily.com/radio. Or call 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459.
Be sure to join us next time as you hear about your personality and the personality of your child and how those intersect and what God wants for you.
Mrs. Hettie Britz: That God is shaping both you and your child through the dissonance that you experience because your temperament is not the same as your child. And when you rub them up the wrong way, they still are growing through that and so are you.
End of Teaser
Featured Broadcast Resource
Receive Dr. Gary Chapman's book Happily Ever After for your donation of any amount!Give Now (Available to U.S. residents only)
This valuable bundle includes Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage, Love & Respect, Cherish and The 5 Love Languages.Buy Now
For couples in crisis – you can still put the pieces of your marriage back together with Hope Restored.Read more
True love, the kind of love that keeps a couple together for a lifetime, is not a feeling but an attitude. It says, "With the help of God, I'm going to do everything I can to enhance the life of my spouse."Read more
Focus on the Family offers one-time complimentary consultation from a Christian perspective.Read more
Recent Focus on the Family Broadcast EpisodesGo To Most Recent Episode
Gary ChapmanView Bio
Dr. Gary Chapman is the senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. He's also an international public speaker and the best-selling author of numerous books including The Five Love Languages which has sold more than five million copies and has been translated into nearly 40 languages. Dr. Chapman holds several academic degrees including a Ph.D. in adult education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.