Relationship counselors Bill Farrel and his wife, Pam, describe how couples can keep their marriage strong while facing the challenges that often accompany midlife changes. (Part 1 of 2)
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Jim: Pam, what's the best piece of advice you've been given to help um … help you protect your marriage during these stressful seasons in life?
Pam: It's a little like that movie, Twister, you know, it's like a storm hits your life, a tornado hits your life, no matter what the transition is. So, if you run into shelter and you tie yourself uh … with your spouse to God and hang on, you'll make it through and you'll go for the ride of your life.
Pam: It's all about holdin' on to each other through every transition.
End of Teaser
John: Hm … well, the seasons of life invariably include difficulty and challenges and you'll hear how to weather that twister, how to weather the storm better on today's "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and we have relationship experts, Bill and Pam Farrel with us, back in the studio.
Jim: We do, John and there are some predictable and unavoidable transitions I think we all go through. We may not notice them or put a label on them, but we go through them and some people are more aware of them than others and today we want to discuss that. Uh … we're all familiar with the old slogan that says, "Baby makes three," and "the empty nest." Those are transition points and there are others in your marriage that probably put a lot of stress—the tornado, as Pam answered there—into your marriage, into your relationships. Uh … you know, Jean and I are kinda in that right now with two teenagers. Uh … we are--
Jim: --feelin' the … the typhoon (Laughter) I guess you might say. And it's good. It's … you know, we're takin' deep breaths and all is good and uh … we're hopeful (Laughing) that these kids will do well and make it through this period of time. But it's a transition point for us. It's important for us to learn how to handle these moments and it may be seasons. That's probably a better way to say it. Today we want to give you a few tools to help you identify when you're in that tornado season and when you can take a deep breath.
John: Uh-hm and as I said, Bill and Pam Farrel are here. They've been in marriage ministry for over 30 years and founded an organization called LifeWise. And they're very popular conferences speakers. They've written a number of books, including The 10 Best Decisions a Couple Can Make and that'll kind of form the foundation for the conversation today.
Jim: Bill and Pam, welcome back to "Focus on the Family."
Pam: Oh, it's always great to be here. You--
Pam: --played a great foundation in our life when we were young parents, so it's wonderful to be here giving back.
Jim: It's always good to hear that with Focus. Dr. Dobson had a … you know, an imprint on people's lives. We're hopin' to continue that with young families today.
Pam: That's right.
Jim: Uh … in your 30-some years of marriage ministry, you've observed that transitions can either make or break a marriage. That seems self-evident, but maybe not. Talk about those transitions and why they oftentimes are the breaking point for a relationship.
Bill: Well, it's amazing to us that after all the research that's been done and all the … the … the teaching and training that's been done, people still have a tendency to think that marriage is gonna be the same throughout the years.
Bill: Yeah, they fall in love. They've met the right person. We just have this magic between the two of us and it's gonna be like that forever. And then they … they enter real life and suddenly, life starts to change on them. And what we know about people is, that a … the change points in people's lives are where the testing comes. In between those testing things, they kinda get things settled and they enter a season of life where we now know what to do. And they'll cruise along for anywhere from five to 10 years pretty well.
And then one of these transition points hits and everything has to change. And couples who expect it and couples who are prepared for it, tend to utilize those change points to become stronger couples. Couples who get surprised by those change points, tend to go into turmoil.
Jim: Well, how do you prepare yourself, as a … a young couple married for three years? You're getting' to figure out now that, you know, it's not always steady or up. There's dips. How do you prepare for the dip emotionally?
Pam: You know, one of the ways is to get a great mentor. When Bill and I uh … were newlyweds, um … Bill was wise enough, would go …
Bill: We … basically, we grew up in homes where we didn't want to repeat what we grew up from. Love our parents, uh … but the dynamic in their relationships is not something we wanted to repeat.
Pam: And I was the first believer in my family, so there weren't a lot of spiritual mentors.
Bill: So, we got married pretty young and we were pretty idealistic, which most people in their 20s are pretty idealistic. You know, we can do this. We got each other.
Jim: You can do it better than them.
Pam and Bill: Yeah. (Laughter)
Bill: That's right. So, we get married and we … it didn't take us long to realize, wow, we really love Jesus. We really love each other, but we have no idea what we're doing. And so, I … we used to go to church and I would stand in the back and look for couples that looked like they still liked each other. (Laughter) I …
John: That's a high bar. (Laughter)
Pam: No, there … there are around or they … you know, are holding hands.
Jim: So, you could see it in their faces.
Pam: A little … this smile, a little grey hair maybe even--
Bill: And we--
Pam: --was good.
Bill: --would go meet them and I was so desperate. I would look the guy in the eyes and say … I would say, "You look like you're in love. Is this real?"
Bill: And if he said yes, I would say, "Okay, well, how did you do it?" And … and that nor … normally led to a lunch invitation.
Pam: It was like, woo-hoo! Free lunch and great advice. This is great for a young couple.
Bill: Wh … which for any of you couples out there that have been married 15 years or longer, if you want to really encourage a young couple, just take 'em out to lunch. They're probably not eating all that well anyway. (Laughter) So … so lunch is a special thing for them.
And then just give them an opportunity to ask questions, 'cause that's what we did is we just asked questions of these couples and found out that most couples who are doing well have some pretty good advice to give. They just never thought to put it in words themselves.
Jim: Bill, let me ask you this though. I'm sure there are some couples listening, individuals who have had a pretty good go of it. They really haven't experienced dips per se. And they might've been married quite a while. We get mail like that, especially when we talk about difficulties. They say, "We just haven't experienced that." That probably is like the 80-20 rule. You might have a 20 percent of couples who are sailin' along pretty well. Um … but it's the 80 percent we want (Chuckling) to talk about where …
Bill: Right and … and my guess is, that those couples went in pretty well prepared.
Pam: Right, they knew what was coming. Like that's why it was great to have wonderful training. You know, Bill and I went to seminary and Bible college and a part of that was learning about the seasons of a couple's life. And you know, you jump into God's Word and Ecclesiastes says, there's a time and a season for everything. So, God's Word prepares you for seasons.
And so, when you have mentors and when you have some good training, like listening to "Focus on the Family," then you're not as surprised. And so, some of the natural transitions are … don't have to become storms or obstacles, because you know what you're dealing with and you know what to do, 'cause you have tools in your toolbox.
Jim: Which are helpful. Uh … you talk about a woman's midlife re-evaluation occurring--
Jim: --somewhere around 28 to 38. I was a bit shocked by that--
Pam: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: --because in today's culture, a lot of 28 to 38-somethings aren't even married yet.
Pam: Right, right, but it has to keep adjusting um … but the stage of life will happen no matter what age you are, um … the stage will happen. And how it hits is, is … this is one that we don't talk about a lot and it typically hits um … after you've been married for a few years. Some people call it like the seven-year itch. Um … so, it hits us after a few years. And usually you're … you're kind of in a mommy mode, so you kinda have the new motherhood thing down a little bit.
And maybe you've even launched one of those kids into kindergarten or so, so you have just enough time to think. Huh! Why am on the face of this globe? Is it just dishes and laundry? Is that why I'm here? You know, our … how do I balance it all, career, family, marriage? Oh! I feel like I'm just spinning plates, like what is the meaning of life? That is the big question.
Jim: But it happens … what was shocking again, is it … it happens earlier for a woman than it does--
Jim: --a man. A--
Jim: --man is the 40-, 45-, 50-midlife crisis. And for us, it's easy. It's the gold medallion (Laughter). I don't know what it is … ( Laughter). I've never worn … I'm 50. Did you ever wear one of those?
Bill: Not yet.
Jim: Yeah, okay.
Panel: (All talking at once.)
Jim: I'll get it for your next birthday--
Pam: Try not to …
Jim: --that gold medallion. But um …
Bill: And … and Pam will have to confirm this, but it … it seems to me that it … that the woman's thing kicks off with one … for one of two reasons. Either I know I'm done having kids, so now what's next in my life? Or I've put off having kids and how am I gonna adjust to that?
Bill: Am I gonna hurry up and have children? Or am I just gonna let it go--
Bill: --and be childless?
Pam: Of … oftentimes it is connected to our biology.
Jim: Well, and speak to the woman who is choosing career right now. Um … you know, her and her husband have made that decision. You know, Jean and I … Jean did biochemistry. She loved learning and she was teaching labs at a local university and really enjoyed that. And that was in her mid-30s and then, you know, it was like, wow, we've gotta have children. The biological clock is--
Jim: --is goin'.
Jim: And … and boom! You know, thankfully, the Lord blessed us with two boys rather quickly. And uh … but a lot of women are strugglin' with that. That's--
Jim: --a phenomena that is today. Uh--
Jim: --it's not just should I be at home? It's work; it's home. It's balancing all of it.
Jim: Does that put pressure on for that mid-life re-evaluation?
Pam: It does. It does put pressure on, because what a woman is really asking, is she … you … you know you might have this midlife transition going on if you like walk in to the living room and you see like cup out of place and you say, "Aah! Am I the only one that sees this mess?" Or (Laughter) maybe you're more spiritual than that, so you don't yell. You know, you go take the cup to the kitchen and you just loudly put away the dishes and some brave soul says …
Bill: Would you like some help?
Pam: Don't want to put anybody out or anything? Yeah, so like overstated emotions, uh … that's a little bit of a sign--
Jim: That's overstated?
Pam: --that you might … that … yeah. (Laughter)
Jim: I'd never ask. Kinda normal. (Laughter) I'd say it too. Nobody pick up anything in this garage? (Laughter)
John: So, you're having a midlife re-evaluation. (Laughter)
Pam: Uh … but yeah, you find yourself being more emotional than you normally … whatever your norm is, you find ourself being a little bit more edgy. And the reason why you have this question on your heart and that is, "Why am I on the face of this globe? And what am I supposed to do here, now, next that will make the best impact?" And the reason why um … it's so important for us to identify that question and we talk about it in The 10 Best Decisions a Couple Can Make and I go into depth in 10 Best Decisions a Woman Can Make, like how do you find that unique contribution for every woman … um … and balance the work and family things so you're not so edgy.
It's important because this is the No. 1 time um … in a woman's life when she's statistically most vulnerable to an affair. I remember like, what? An affair?! Like how am I supposed to work another spo … person into my life? You know, I'm already busy enough. But women don't mean to. And the reasons they don't mean to spend so much time with a coworker, you know, using him as a sounding board, they don't mean to spend so much time with their boss, late hours and drift into an affair. They don't mean to get on, you know, Facebook and drift into an affair.
Like you know, the Internet's one of the No. 1 ways now uh … for people to reconnect um … and blow their life apart in a second. And they just don't mean to um … but they're just not guarding their heart. And the reason why they're so longing for this connection with their spouse, um … is that they have that question. You know, what is my value right now? And why am I here? And what's my unique contribution? That's what's on the heartbeat of that woman in that midlife evaluation time.
And a wise woman, instead of drifting off and making emotional connections that will undermine her whole life, a wise woman will grab her busy husband by the lapels and say, "I love us too much to drift apart. Hey, let's set up some date nights. I need you for a sounding board. She'll grab a mentor and she'll say, "Have you ever felt this way?" And that mentor can help walk her through finding her uniqueness and she'll get some girlfriends around like, "Let's do a Bible study together and figure out what's goin' on in this season of life" and gain that sistering that we all need.
Bill: And the big challenge during this time is, most people on earth, their desires are bigger than their abilities. So, you mentioned your wife. She was effective in her career, but then she also wants to have a family. And so, she has these desire that all take up time and all take up focus and all require energy. And … and it comes down to, I just don't have enough hours in the day or enough energy in my soul to do everything that's on my heart to do.
Jim: Well …
Pam: And this just upset …
Jim: Yeah and I think for women particularly, that … that the need to be two people--
Jim: --is a stressful thing.
Pam: Yes, it is.
Jim: You … it's impossible--
Jim: --to achieve, but the demand for being two people or three people is always there. Let me ask you to respond to a listener who wrote in to Focus and I think asked a very specific question that puts this into context. She wrote to us and said, "I feel like I made a mistake by marrying the man I did. We're not the same people we were when we got married. We want different things, have different morals and values and disagree on how to raise our kids. All we ever do anymore is fight. Am I supposed to continue in this miserable relationship?" Um … what would you say to her? What is her hope?
Bill: Well, first of all I would say to her, every relationship is one breakthrough away from being a great relationship.
Bill: And … and when things get out of kilter or things get off … out of synch, people start to think, oh, it's a tragedy. It's never gonna turn. We disagree on everything. And … and it starts this downward spiral that begin … starts to feed on itself.
Bill: And so, now everything is evidence that this is a bad relationship. And in reality, all it takes in marriage is one decision can turn everything. 'Cause obviously, this couple used to be in synch. And … and they … they loved each other and they had agreements that they were moving forward on. And now probably my guess is, the stress of life has pushed them to a different place.
John: Well, that's a good point Bill and this is "Focus on the Family." We're talking with relationship experts, Bill and Pam Farrel about midlife transitions and how those affect a marriage. And the Farrels have written a book, The 10 Best Decisions a Couple Can Make. That'd make a great addition to a library or maybe a good resource for you to pass on to someone else. It covers things that we've talked about here today and also will just guide you through 1 Corinthians 13 and works through those verses and applies them to everyday life as a married couple.
Bill and Pam also offer very practical ways to strengthen that bond with your spouse and we'd invite you to learn more about the book or to donate to Focus on the Family today. Our number is 800-232-6459 or you can do so at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Now Bill, you just said that every relationship is one breakthrough away from being a great relationship and I appreciate that optimist, that hope. Um … going back to the listener question that Jim just read, where does that women begin? What can she do right now to make a change in her heart and reconnect with her husband?
Bill: Well, if … if she were to start praying, "God show me how to get to that breakthrough. It's like, I want to be on my husband's side, fighting against life, rather than fighting against each other." God can start to orchestrate her heart to where she gets to a place where she's softer in her response to her husband and she starts to find boundaries she can set up that start to change the system.
Because once one person starts to do real change, it's amazing how often there's a big change in the relationship that takes place, that takes these seemingly incompatible area of life and suddenly, starts to turn them back to where they were when they started this relationship.
Pam: You know, that's why it's important to have like rules of engagement, how you're gonna argue. And for example, Bill and I have a conflict covenant and we, in our conflict covenant, have things in it like, we'll hold hands when we are in arguments, 'cause you're just less likely to throw stuff, you know, when you're holding hands.
Jim: That' s hard to do though (Laughter) really.
Jim: It's hard to do. (Laughter)
Pam: It is. Um … we … in our conflict covenant, you know, the … I … we'll take the word "divorce" out of our vocabulary. We're not gonna swear at each other. We're not gonna hit each other. I promise to not run over you with the truck when I'm upset, you know, those kind of things.
Jim: You had to put that one on the table?
Pam: Yeah. (Laughter), so, like I'm … (Laughter)
Jim: For … for which party?
Pam: I'm emotional. (Laughter) Yeah, so … and it's just important to have that conflict covenant--
Pam: --um … as a part of your agreement. And maybe picturing how that conflict covenant in a real-life situation um … would help the listener. For example, Bill and I, our longest argument was during my midlife transition. And um …
Bill: It … it lasted for a year.
Bill: Because we had this rule that we're gonna …
John: That's a long conflict.
Bill: It was a long conflict. But we had a rule that we finish every conflict.
Pam: Finish every argument.
Bill: Or whatever … we just took a while.
Bill: And what I mean by that is, that we're not done until we appreciate the strengths that led us into that argument and we're back in love with each other.
Bill: And we would have a conversation, couldn't resolve it. We would pray together, reschedule it. We'd get together again, talk it through, pray together, reschedule.
Bill: And we did that for a year.
John: That's a long time.
Bill: And because we stayed at it, it added a lot of value to our relationship, even though we were … we were strugglin' to find an answer.
Pam: And we both were praying. You know, um … I am a re-entry woman. I'm trying to finish my degree. And we had um … a couple of kids. Our youngest was … we had three kids at that point, youngest was 2.
Pam: And um … so, I'm jus … just "fliddlin'" away uh … you know, a little a time on my degree. And Bill's--
Bill: But …
Pam: --a senior pastor of a new church and so, there was a lot on our plates.
Bill: And … and the passion in Pam's eyes scared me.
Bill: Because we had these young kids and I saw this desire to get her … her career up and running and this desire to start writing books and this desire to create a ministry for women that was gonna be effective. And it looked too strong to me. And I thought it was gonna throw the priorities of our life completely off if she really ran with this thing.
Pam: And so, we were both praying. I'm … I am praying like, "Lord, I'm trying to follow Your call. I'm feelin' like You want me to do this, but Bill's upset at me." Bill's praying, "Lord, I'm tryin' to follow Your call, but like this is really irritating to me."
Bill: "But it looks like You need to talk to Pam" (Laughter), is what …
Pam: Yeah. I'm like, "You need to talk to Bill." *(Laughter)
Jim: So, af … over a year, what happened?
Pam: Over a year.
Jim: What was the resolution?
Pam: So, here's the turning point. We … one day we were just so upset at the end of one of those disagreement, scheduled arguments. And um … we … I just … I … I just start crying. I fell down on the … kneeling by the sofa and--
Bill: And … and I just--
Pam: --I began to cry.
Bill: --kneeled right next to here. And we were both just so frustrated. We had no idea what to do--.
Pam: We're holding--
Bill: --at this point.
Pam: --onto each other, even though we don't like each other. And we're praying and I'm like, "Lord, Jesus, I don't know what's going on here. I'm just trying to like do what You want me to, but Bill's so mad at me. And like, I don't know what … I don't … I don't like this. I don't like this and so, please God, if there's anything that You need to change in me, please do it. Please fix this thing. I don't know what to do. Please do something." And Bill prayed.
Bill: And I followed up and said, "Jesus, I love this woman, but I don't like her very much right now. And I don't know what's wrong in our relationship, but something's gotta change. So, if something needs to change in me, make it obvious to me so I can change it. And if something needs to change in Pam, make it obvious to her so she can change it. Whatever needs to change, just show us 'cause we can't keep going like this."
Pam: And nothing changed immediately, but later that night I said, "Oh, by the way, tomorrow when I'm in class, every day I have to stand up for my faith, um … in this English class, could you just pray for me? I know you have to do some filming for the church up there on campus." He …
Bill: And … and this realization hit me, af … after I prayed that desperate prayer, this realization hit me that I thought I was arguing with Pam. But it turned out that I was really arguing with God over this, because the reason why Pam couldn't calm down the passion is that God had put this dream in her heart. And it created a problem for me, because I knew if I was arguing with Pam, I could probably outlast her and win that argument.
But now that I realized I really was arguing with what God was doing in her life, I knew I couldn't win that one. And you know, as guys, we like to win, so when we realize we can't, we have to do something. So, I said, "God, I need … I need to change now. I need to turn my attitude on this, but I need to do it in a way that's convincing, because I've spent a year arguing with Pam. And if I just went to her and said, 'Hey, I realize this is what's goin' on and I'm sorry and it's over, It couldn't be very believable after a year of arguing with you." So, I said, "God, can You give me something, some way of communicating this to Pam?"
Pam: So, I was in that class the next day and the professor said … we were studying the Romantics. "The Romantics, it's impossible. No two people could stay in love for a lifetime. It's an illusion." And then all the women are like, "Yeah, because men are scum!" And all the guys are like sinkin' down in their chairs. And I'm just busy taking notes. And the door pops open and in walks my handsome husband with a dozen roses. And he comes over (Laugher) and he gave me--
Bill: And I … I gave her a--
Pam: --a kiss.
Bill: --kiss on the cheek and I said, "Pam, I love you" and walked out of the room.
Pam: And my professor's like, "Is it your birthday?" I'm like, "No." He's like, "Your anniversary?" I'm like, "No." Then he was like, "Well, why is he in my class then?" I said, "Well, I … I think that Bill just wanted me to know that he believes in me. He believes in the dream that God has placed on my heart and he wants to be on my team." And then all the women are like, "So, does Bill have a brother?" (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah, all of a sudden … (Laughter)
Bill: And … and what I know about Pam, is Pam thrives on public attention. (Laughter) If your wife doesn't like public attention, this is not really a good idea, but I knew Pam does. So, I figured if I went into her world and made a statement, uh … the message would get across.
Jim: Well, that's very intuitive. I mean, most men miss that by a mile (Laughter). So, I give you an A+.
Bill: Thank you, Jim.
Pam: That's the prayer part. And so, both of us that whole year, even though we were very much in disagreement and we did not see life in the same way, God kept giving us little things along the way. Like, Pam, adapt your schedule so that it doesn't interrupt the senior pastor's life to father the kids. They'll move the class around. Bill, um … give those affirming words even though you do not understand what's going on in your wife's life. She's talented. Affirm the talent. Um … you … He just kept giving us little things to help us hang together through that twister or tornado, a storm of life.
Jim: Bill and Pam, what an invigorating discussion. I hope people are helped today and that if you need to talk to somebody, call us here at Focus on the Family. Our counseling department is here for you. We have wonderful people who can put tools in your hand, resources. We can point you in a direction if you need more counseling in your hometown. We have an extensive list, about 3,500 uh … counselors that are on referral list. Take advantage of it. Don't sit quietly and let your marriage die and let your family die. Get ahold of us. Uh … Bill and Pam, thank you for being with us today.
Pam: Thank you so much.
Bill: It's great getting more tools in our tool box from Focus.
Bill: And I hope people call, 'cause it's a great reminder that you never know what's gonna turn the tide in any relationship.
Jim: Hm ... I appreciate that, Bill. Uh ... you know, a simple phone call can make all the difference in your relationship. That's what we're talkin' about, just reaching out and asking for help. Um ... we can't make that next step for you. You have to do that.
And uh ... for those of you who are in a good place, you know, what we uh ... wouldn't have those counselors here to help without your financial support. So, if you can um ... help us today by giving a donation to Focus on the Family, we would really appreciate it. Your donations are really the fuel that keep[s] the rocket going and uh ... I hope you'll see it that way, that uh ... together we're touching the lives of people that really need to hear from the Lord.
And a gift as little as $50 a month provides those resources and the counseling and advice that Focus can provide a broken family. So, if you can do it today, please join us. One of the ways Jean and I support the ministry is through Friends of the Family. That's a monthly contribution. It's automatically withdrawn from the bank account. We don't have to think about it. It just happens. It's same day every ... every month and that is a wonderful way to steady the budget needs here at Focus on the Family.
So, if you can become a Friend of the Family for 25, $50 a month, that would really help us. And uh ... John, let's provide the book that Bill and Pam wrote as a way to thank you for a gift of any amount and for joining the Friends of the Family monthly pledge.
John: Well, that's a great idea, Jim and here's how you can sign up as a Friend of the Family. Call 1-800-232-6459 or go to www.focusonthefamily.com/radio . And as Jim said, our way of saying thank you for your monthly commitment to our work of any amount will be a copy of the book we just discussed, The 10 Best Decisions a Couple Can Make by Bill and Pam Farrel. And uh ... that book goes far more in-depth about facing mid-life transitions as a couple and a number of other aspects of marriage. It'll walk you through 1 Corinthians 13, the "love chapter" and offers personal stories, practical tips, all designed to help strengthen your marriage and keep your love alive. As you can tell, the Farrels have a lot of wisdom and humor and their advice will surely help your relationship.
There are also a number of other benefits to becoming a Friend of the Family, so please call us today. Again, the number is 800-232-6459 and we're online at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio .
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for listening in. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time. We'll continue the conversation with the Farrels and once again, offer trusted advice to help you and your family thrive.
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Bill FarrelView Bio
Pam FarrelView Bio
Bill and Pam Farrel have been working together to help couples and families for more than 30 years. The Farrels are popular speakers, authors and the co-founders of Love Wise, a ministry dedicated to helping people build successful relationships. The couple has co-authored numerous books including The Marriage Code and Red Hot Monogamy. They have three children and two grandchildren.