Dr. Joshua Straub and his wife, Christi, discuss the marital challenges they've faced which has made them realize their need to become more intentional about connecting with and supporting each other. The Straubs offer practical ideas for couples to become more "we-focused" instead of "me-focused."
Man: You can’t do without them. There’s no point in doing it without them. If you try to do things alone at that point, what’s … what are you even in the relationship for?
WoMan: It’s really different. So it’s made me more organized and I’ve made him able to come to things like an opera taping.
Man: To be a team, I think a husband and wife needs to communicate. They need to be a team. You gotta … that’s your best friend. That’s your … your everything and you need to preserve that relationship, that commitment, because that’s gonna be the strongest bond you have, you know, for the rest of your life.
End of Clip
Sometimes Jean and I do that well. Sometimes we don’t and I’m lookin’ forward to learning more today about how to do that better. Um, we have gender differences. I hope everybody’s aware of that. We’ve come out of the 70’s now where everybody’s the same. We actually have MRI scans, you know, just like other medical technology, showing there are differences between males and females. I think these are God-given things and we’re gonna explore that today and better understand how we can each be, I think, more selfless in our relationship and put our spouse first. That does not come naturally, but it’s the way to have a successful marriage.
John: And to help us understand how to do that more effectively, Dr. Joshua Straub his wife, Christi, are joining us. They were on the program a few months ago talking about having an emotionally safe home and parenting from a position of posture, an open posture with your children. Joshua wrote a book about that called Safe House. Today though, as you said, Jim, marriage is the topic and we’ll hear from Josh and Christi about what they’ve learned through their own experiences and their counseling times with other couples, as well. The Straub’s do a lot of speaking and writing about marriage and really address this through a podcast and social media outlets, as well.
Jim: Josh and Christi, welcome back to “Focus on the Family.”
Mrs. Christi Straub: Thanks for having us.
Dr. Joshua Straub: Thank you.
Jim: It’s always fun to talk about other people’s marriages. (Laughter)
Christi: Right. (Laughter)
Jim: So today you’re gonna tell us a bit about why marriage works and why marriage doesn’t work right, sometimes. In fact, you had an “ah-ha” moment in your relationship. Hopefully most couples hit that point where they’re learning. What was your “ah-ha” moment?
Joshua: It’s funny. You know we are counselors. We have counseling backgrounds and education. But you can help other people when you’re the third party, but when you’re in it yourself and you realize … whoa; wait a second here. I’m not gettin’ what I teach other people. I’m not even gettin’ it. And I had that moment. I came in one day. I was out at a coffee shop. I was writing or I was doing something, but I was working from a coffee shop and it was right after we had our son, Landon, our firstborn. And I came home and I walked in and I was telling Christi all about my day and all the fun things that were going on. And I looked at her and now granted, to kinda set the stage here, she’s in sweat pants. She has no makeup on. It’s the end of the day.
Jim: I’m feelin’ uncomfortable here.
Joshua: And (Laughter) she’s not …
Jim: I … I’m feeling like saying, Josh, don’t go there! (Laughter) Pull back.
Joshua: And she’s like … all of a sudden, I just get … and she just looks at me and just, I mean, tears just well up in her eyes and she just starts crying. And she just says, “Why don’t you ever ask me about me?” And it was one of those moments where we had realized that our wedding vows … I mean we wrote our wedding vows and I said I will fight for you and not with you. And her wedding vow back to me was you are my teammate. You know, we love sports. We both played sports. We’re has beens, but we used that analogy in our marriage and here I was not even realizing it. Working completely, playing completely, out of a different locker room and part of that was because she was losing her identity.
Christi: But again … but to your defense, Josh, I would say I didn’t even know how lost I was at that time. It really wasn’t until that day, that moment. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was true. I was still in sweatpants, you know, hair in a ponytail, no makeup on, spackled in banana and sweet potato, ‘cause we were teaching our son how to eat solid foods.
Jim: And that is a word picture. (Laughter)
Christi: Right, but it’s like vivid in my mind and he comes in the house, wafting like some delicious-smelling latte that he probably had and talking about all the great projects he had going on. And it was all this ... all these exciting things and I was lost. And I think my exact words to you were, “Why don’t you ever ask about my heart?” But I didn’t know until that moment how lonely I was or really how lost I felt. But that was a huge moment for us and it kinda set the catalyst, I think, for us to start communicating in a very different way.
Jim: Christi, before you go further; Josh on that, so many women just leaned in to what you were saying. You described probably literally millions of women that just heard you make that statement. Having that feeling, having that emotion, what was the first rung of the ladder that you could grab to say, okay, I’m not gonna live in this despair?
Jim: What was that? What did you grab to say, help me get out of this pit?
Christi: And it’s so funny you use that analogy, because that is exactly how I felt. I describe it as the bottom rung of life. I just remember being there. We had very difficult kids and just babies that were just colicky and screaming and not sleeping. And I don’t think that’s maybe a normal situation, but I don’t think it matters. When you get thrust into this, you have no idea what to expect. This is all brand new. And for me, it was the actual communicating. I had to literally get to the place where I could put words to how helpless and how alone, and I think, how invisible I felt. And once I could finally put that into words, because I think there’s so much shame that covers that, because we have so many dear friends who are struggling to have babies. We were able to. And this is a blessing, right? Like shouldn’t this be a blessing? You … you shouldn’t complain about this. This is a gift. And also, shouldn’t this be natural? Shouldn’t you know how to be a mother? And I had no idea.
Jim: And so, Josh comes home.
Jim: You’re the man of the moment. You’re the expert, Josh. Did you know that? (Laughter) And what did Mr. Expert do here to say, “Da, da, da, da! I’ve arrived!”
Joshua: Yeah and I mean, for me, so there’s two things. There’s what I did and then what’s going on in my brain. What I did, because I had no … this isn’t because I’m like I knew what I doing. I just didn’t know what else to do in the moment. I just held her and just let her cry on my shoulder. And I just remember very vividly where we were standing in the moment and just holding her and just saying, “Let’s figure this out.” In the back of my brain I’m going, “I gotta fix this thing.” You know, it’s that man, that … that male like—
Jim: You got two conversations going on. (Laughter)
Joshua: --yeah, right, so in the back of my brain I’m going, okay, what do I gotta do to fix this to get my wife to be happy again, so that we can all be happy? But the reality was it was important for me in that moment to realize I had to be emotionally safe for her. I had to help her as one flesh, as her partner, as her teammate. I had to figure out a way to sit with her, ‘cause I knew I couldn’t fix this. This was something we had to fix together. And therefore, I have to listen to her. I have to understand her. And to be very fair, it’s been a mutual …we’re talking something she went through. She’s done the exact same thing for me in a lot of great ways, as well.
Jim: Well, what you’re describing is that … that move from “me” to “we,” which you highlight. That’s a beautiful explanation of it. And I think as married couples, we tend to vacillate doing that well at times and doing it not so well at times, moving from me to we. And everything in our flesh is pulling on us to be, hey, be all about you. (Laughing)
Jim: Forget the “we.”
Joshua: Well, and the culture does, too.
Jim: Yeah and the cul [ture] …
Joshua: The culture tells us the same thing.
Jim: The sin of our flesh, I mean, the enemy of our soul. There are all those voices saying, “Hey, this is about you. You’re important. Why can’t she give a little more to what you need?” and vice versa. But we’ve gotta get to the “we” page. Describe how you begin to move from that me to we.
Christi: Yeah, I can say I have another vivid memory. We were visiting my family. I’m from Canada. We were there for Christmas and Josh looked at me and said, “I just want my wife back.”
And I … I’m not sure.
Jim: Did it scare you ?
Christi: Yeah. Oh, my goodness. That was a reallypivotal point. And that’s where I think I started to cling to that ladder, like I have got to move up one rung. I cannot stay in this place for my marriage. I can’t stay in this place for my kids or my family. And so, I think I’ve had to boil it down to three things and I’ll speak on behalf of myself and maybe women. I won’t speak on behalf of men, but um … I feel like these are three things that have been really core into my coming back. And that was to be seen, to be known, and to be invited.
Christi: And that works in community. That works in marriage, but I think that was one thing that Josh has done really well is, we started having conversations where it was recognizing that he sees me, right? Like he sees the “dailyness” of he’s off doing these great exciting things and by the way, you know, just so happens to speak on marriage and parenting, which is awesome, right? And coming home to this wife who’s in shambles.
Jim: Gives you a certain amount of accountability.
Christi: Yeah (Laughter), right. But he said I see you. And I see what you’re sacrificing in our home. But also I know you. So I want to know your heart. I want you to tell me those deeper things and that kind of led us into … we started doing this thing of, we call it “15 minutes,” how 15 minutes saved our marriage. And I don’t know if you, Josh, want to talk a little bit of how we got into doing that, but I feel like those were the first rungs that we started to climb out.
Jim: Recover it.
Joshua: --on. Yeah, it’s like(Laughter) that mindless activity. It’s Netflix or Facebook or, you know, Instagram. Whatever it is. Or maybe it’s going back to work. But we decided to say, hey, we’re gonna take 10 to 15 minutes at the end of every day and we’re gonna just focus on each other and we’re gonna use feeling words. We’re not gonna talk about all these things that we have going on or we’re not gonna talk about kids, but we’re going to focus on feeling words. So, I felt angry when this happened today or …
Jim: ‘Cause we hear this—
Jim: --and we talk about it. Let me hear the two of you go through an evening. We won’t take 15 minutes. Just give us a minute of what that picture conversation would look like. Just pick a time or pick a subject that we can eavesdrop in on your discussion on the couch at home. Kids are in bed. You’re getting’ together.
Christi: Yeah, well, we can go back to that day. And it was that very day where you walked in and I realized I you don’t see me. Why don’t you ask about me? And so, I think what our conversation ended up being that day was that I need to know that I’m valuable. Right? And I need to know that I’m (Whispering very low) doing a good job.
Joshua: And to go back, I’m gonna go to one that was just last week. Because that whole “good job,” ...that, for me, I wouldn’t have known that. I wouldn’t have known.
Joshua: She does such a great job as a mom that I take that for granted.
Jim: You think she knows.
Joshua: I think she knows, so I don’t highlight those things. I don’t focus on those things. So, for me, now I can say to her in those evenings, I was grateful today when you helped Landon learn to draw, write his name.
Jim: So, something specific--
Joshua: Something, you gotta—
Jim: --which is important.
Joshua: --be very specific. So positive and you know, you hear the five positives to every negative. We have to know our spouse and what they need to hear. Just the other night I go to the negative one. We love the TV show, “This Is Us.” And you know it’s one of our shows that we watch at the end of the day. And we don’t double screen in our home. We have an electronic nuptial agreement in our marriage. We have an e-nup, so we know when we’re allowed to be on our phones and when we’re not, right?
Jim: I like that.
Joshua: And so, we just found that it helps with the technology conversation. So, part of our 15 minutes that night after that was, and it’s become so natural for us to have this conversation, that in that moment I was able to say, “I’m frustrated that you picked up your phone and we didn’t get to share that moment together.” And of course, we … it was on DVR , so we rewound it and we watched it. But I was able to say, “I’m frustrated that you were double screening. You broke our e-nup.” But, and it frustrated me because I want to share this moment with you. I …
Jim: Well, and part … and Christi, I just love your emotion. I mean, man again, it’s just like, uh. But part of me, as a man, when I hear that, putting Jean in your place—
Jim: --if she’s saying that to me, I’m like traveling in first gear, maybe second gear, ‘cause I’m thinkin’ of all these other things, you know--
Jim: --that I gotta do.
Jim: And all of a sudden you’re in fourth gear.
Jim: And I don’t even know how to move into that gear.
Jim: And how would you help husbands better understand when you’re wife is communicating like that, find fourth gear? Go there with her. I think a lot of times in marriages, we assume we’re just all truckin’ along fine and you know, you know you’re great, right? You know, you’re doin’ a great job, but you don’t. And then how does a man, a husband, when he sees a clue like your tears, how can we go there with you? What’s the next right thing to say? ‘Cause I think we get so fearful, we backup.
Jim: We’re going, “Uh, did you get the shopping done? Can I help with the dishes?”
Christi: Exact [ly] … oh and—
Jim: What do we do?
Christi: --don’t we all want to avoid that, ‘cause it’s negative emotion, right. We don’t know what to do with that.
Jim: We want to avoid it.
Christi: And our culture says, we just don’t do a very good job of sitting with one another in negative emotion and just being with one another. And I would say, doing this 15 minutes a day has really helped us, ‘cause I know it can sound super corny. It really can to say like, “using your feeling words.” I mean, that sounds, you know, but this has become something that’s now more natural to us so that I think it avoids some of those really emotional buildups that we get to the place where we’re bursting into tears and the husband’s in first gear and the wife’s in fourth gear and having no idea where she’s coming from. So this has really helped us sort of play offense a little bit, that we’re getting less of those. And so, what we’ve found too, is it’s helpful to even call out in the other person those things. “I notice when, you know, when you’re with Landon that you get really frustrated or you get, you seem really exasperated like, what’s goin’ on there? And again, we do a very bad job of being aware of ourselves.
Jim: Well, and one of the things … I appreciate that transparency, one of the things are the hurdles, especially with uh … you know, having kids or having other things—high stress, vocation, whatever it might be--lots of travel—you know, people listening, they have all these obstacles and I can even say that, you know, Jean and I could find it hard on some days to find 15 minutes to sit down together, because her pattern is at night when the dinner’s done, we’ve had a good time, we take a long time at dinner. We’ll spend 30, 45 minutes together around the table tellin’ stories, havin’ fun, laughing--
Christi: I love that.
Jim: --which is good.
Jim: But then it’s kick-in mode. She’s very task oriented so she’s got her list in her mind and we’ll go off and start doing other things and to get back together after the boys are down or whatever is hard sometimes. But it is what you need to do. How do you create the discipline, I guess, is my long-winded way of asking? How do you get the discipline to be regular on this? Maybe it’s not gonna be every night, but three to five times a week where you’re connecting emotionally, intimately like this.
Christi: Exactly and I think it’s so much less legalistic than we think it has to be. Like this is what we learned is to just start to integrate it so it becomes a natural part of your day, right. The natural part of your dance with one another and how we’ve learned and sometimes he does travel a fair bit and so, that is a struggle for us. Especially for me, who as a wife and Josh works a lot with military wives and families, as well, who feel left at home, right? And it’s finding those times during the day. Often we’re texting or calls during nap time or lunch time or while the kids are at school, things like that.
Joshua: And we started it as the 10 to 15 minutes, because that’s what we needed. We needed to make sure that we found that time to begin this level of conversation. And just as Christi mentioned, you know, there are times where I’m able to call out on her … “You seemed frustrated, but I noticed you were frustrated at …” And she can do that to me. It’s become such a natural part of our conversation. However, it takes time, because our natural tendency is to defend ourselves. We feel attacked. And for us that’s been part of becoming teammates, better teammates, is communication. About the communication. I’m not trying to attack you. What I’m trying to do here is, I want to get deeper into … I don’t want you to be frustrated. I want you to be more present with our kids. I want you to be more present with me, like I desire. It’s that our motivation is positive and that we have conversation about that, so that we see those motivations.
Jim: There is the couple, when you hear that you go, “Hm, yeah, he’s right.” And you can give way to that, ‘cause you know he’s right. Sometimes in marriage those idiosyncrasies, those moments where a little bit of a chip has been knocked off of your love rock (Laughter), if I could say it that way. And then you begin to respond with, “Yeah, he’s right, but you know what? I didn’t like that anyway. That’s just not right.” And then, bam! You’re into a conversation, an aggressive conversation-
Jim: --where the edge is not so defined. Speak to that moment when a couple, you’re just irritated.
Jim: And you’re tired of it. You know, if I want to look at my phone, I’m gonna look at my phone, okay, Josh? Are you okay with that?” (Laughter)
Joshua: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: But speak to that moment where it’s not, “Ah, you’re right. You got me. I’m so sorry.”
Christi: It is so seldom that.
Christi: It’s true. Yeah, it is most often … I mean, that is our first instinct as humans, is it not? Defend ourselves.
Jim: It is the truth.
Christi: And you’re attacking me and I’m gonna stand up for myself, darn it. (Laughing) And that’s something that especially me, I will say with just personality wise, I … I ‘m an … I attack. I do and so …
Christi: Yeah and um … Josh is more passive-aggressive. We know that about one another at least. But those are very difficult things. We’ve learned to, I guess, take a step back. What? What were you gonna say?
Joshua: I was just gonna say, it’s because if I am aggressive, I know what I’m gonna get back, so I have to try to passively (Laughter) help her understand what she’s not doing a good job at. (Laughter)
Jim: That’s what we’re describ[ing]. I love the playfulness of this, because if you can talk about it, you’re in a much better place. But it’s those years of erosion.
Jim: And when you can no longer laugh about your differences, where you can’t be “we,” I’m gonna be “me,” that’s why I think divorce courts are filled up, ‘cause we just run out of patience with—
Jim: --with each other. If you think about it, if we had good communication skills, we had the long road in mind, that we want to end life together, I want to be there for you and I know you want to be there for me, isn’t that the most beautiful story?
Joshua: And what I … what I love is, um … you know, the only other covenant relationship apart from marriage is the relationship that we have with our kids. And when you’re raising kids, you’re not getting mutual affection back and forth, right?
Jim: (Laughing) Definitely not in the teen years.
Joshua: Right, yeah or the early years. (Laughter) I mean, you’re just pouring in and you’re pouring in and you’re pouring in, yet your love for them grows.
Joshua: You certainly don’t …there’s moments you don’t like your kids, but your love continues to grow and it continues to grow. And I think the same thing in the context of marriage. When we press into some of those negative emotions and we call them out on the table, and again, doing it sensitively but also being able to just say, “Hey, I’m feeling sad” or … but being able to use emotion and pressing in to those emotions, over time – we might not like each other in certain moments – but when that’s resolved, we know that that conflict when it’s resolved in a healthy way, it builds intimacy over time.
Joshua: And your love for that person deepens and that’s a greater feeling than just liking somebody.
Jim: So true. And that’s where you get to the “we.” Which is the whole point of the conversation today. This has been fantastic. I so appreciate your vulnerability in there and Christi, thanks for your tears about what … when you said that, I felt it when you said, “I just want to be known.” My heart went out to you and I’m thinkin’ of Jean. You know, I could hear Jean easily saying that to me at different moments of our marriage, so thank you for expressing that.
Jim: --especially Christian marriages and I’m grateful for you guys being here, talking about this today and I hope people have benefited today.
John: Yeah, and I’ll add my thanks, Josh and Christi, for your vulnerability in sharing about your marriage story with us. It’s been so helpful. Erin. The title is Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage: Twelve Secrets for a Life Long Romance. And you can request your copy of that and a CD of today’s program when you call 800-the letter “A” - and the word FAMILY. Or stop by focusonthefamily.com/radio for those resources and the audio download, as well.
Jim: John, let me put a punch on that, because folks, this is what Focus on the Family does. We help restore marriages. Last year 130,000 marriages were saved as our research indicates. That is a privilege to be there in the gap for you. Don’t feel that you’re so messed up that you’ll be embarrassed calling us. Let us work with the Lord in helping you.
John: Coming up next time on Focus on the Family - Cynthia Tobias has great advice on how to help your child do his or her best this upcoming school year.
End of Excerpt
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Joshua StraubView Bio
Joshua Straub, Ph.D., serves as Marriage and Family Strategist for LifeWay Christian Resources, and is the president and co-founder of The Connextion Group, a company designed to empower marriages and families. As a speaker, family advocate and professor of child psychology, Josh has trained thousands of professionals in Critical Incident Stress Management. He uses his experience and knowledge in the area of trauma to help people around the world, including those in Rwanda who seek healing from the 1994 genocide. Josh speaks on emotionally safe homes and spouses, and the influence of technology on today’s family. He is the author of Safe House: How Emotional Safety is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love and Lead Well. Josh and his wife, Christi, have two children. Learn more about Josh by visiting his website, www.joshuastraub.com.
Christi StraubView Bio
Christi Straub and her husband, Josh, are the co-founders of The Connextion Group, a company designed to empower marriages and families. Passionate about families in her generation, Christi writes and speaks on helping moms to discover their identity and model thriving marriages for their children. She is co-host of the Dr. Josh + Christi podcast, and a weekly Facebook Live broadcast with Josh that reaches tens of thousands of families. Christi and Josh also serve on the board of directors for Exile International, a nonprofit that helps children affected by war to become leaders for peace. Christi and Josh have two children. Learn more about the couple by visiting www.joshuastraub.com.