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Moving Forward to Lasting Change

Air Date 08/31/2015

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Psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud helps listeners examine negative patterns that lead to poor life choices and offers advice for dismantling those patterns and moving toward healthier relationships.

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Episode Transcript


John Fuller: If your old ways of doing things just aren't working in your marriage anymore, Dr. Henry Cloud suggests that you might remember why you married in the first place.


Dr. Henry Cloud: I've never had a couple come in to my office and say, "You know what? We walked down the altar because we hated each other and couldn't wait till the day that we could break up and that's why we got married."

Jim Daly: Right.

Henry: Nobody went into it with that. They went into it with this, "Look what it has in store for me."

Jim: Hope.

Henry: Hope. It still has that in store for you.

End of Excerpt

John: There is still hope for your relationship and Dr. Henry Cloud will tell you more on today's "Focus on the Family" with Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.

Jim: John, today I think we're all gonna discover some new thought patterns and ways of thinking things in our relationships—our marriages and beyond, our friendships in every place we touch another human being. And Dr. Cloud, I think he's gonna teach all of us ways to avoid the old way of doin' things, which likely led to the very problems you may be facing in your marriage right now. If it hasn't been workin', why go back and do it the same way again? And today, you're gonna hear how to recognize those patterns and then how to change those patterns. I think it's gonna be really valuable.

John: Yeah and Dr. Cloud has been here before. He's a well-known psychologist, a best-selling author, popular speaker and a very influential leader, particularly in personal growth and development.


Jim: Henry, welcome back to the program.

Henry: It's always good to be here.

Jim: Henry, it seems like when challenges come up in our relationships, we want to learn from it, but sometimes we don't. We tend to try to, like I said, follow the same old methodology, but it goes nowhere. You talk about something you term, "My life in five short chapters." What does that look like? What does my life look like in five short chapters?

Henry: Well, it's an old story from recovery circles and it says, "Chapter one, I went out for a walk and I fell into a deep dark hole and it took me a long time to get out. Chapter two, I went out for a walk and I fell into the same deep dark hole and it took me a long time to get out. Chapter three, I went out for a walk. This time I saw the hole and I walked up and I looked at it and I looked in and then I leaned over and I fell in the same deep dark hole and it took me a long time to get out. Chapter four, I went out for a walk. This time I saw the hole and I walked around it. Chapter five, I went down another street."

There's a change, a real change of direction and when I first wanted to write this book, I wanted to write a book on repentance, because it just seems like, you know, such a religiously like "baggaged" word. We don't really think about it as a good thing, but the Bible calls it a gift, that repentance is actually a gift from God. And basically what it means is, look, when you're walkin' and you keep runnin' into the same wall, go a different direction. That's what repentance is. It's turning around to a new direction.

Jim: Well, and it's funny to think of it in physical description like falling in a hole, but emotionally, why is it so hard for us to recognize we're goin' in the same direction, having the same poor result? Why do we fall into that pattern?

Henry: That is the big question and basically, you know, the Bible has always talked about these patterns and these ways that we get into and that God wants to change our ways. But now in neuroscience, we can actually look at 'em in the brain, that we have waves, these patterns wired into us.

And the problem is, for the most part, that when we get into the destructive ones, especially in a marriage, you're gonna see a couple get into what we call a loop. And so, there's something in you that triggers something in her or him and when that triggers that, it triggers the retrigger in you and so, what you find couples doing is, basically they have the same conversation with different content over 20, 30 years.

Jim: Give us an example of how that goes.

Henry: Okay, so it's the end of the day. They both come home from work and he says somethin' like, "So, where's the milk?" And she goes, "Well, you think that's my job?" And he goes, "Well, I thought you were [getting it]." "Well, you said you don't think I do anything around here, do you?" "Well, I didn't say [that]." Well, and now they're in this loop, okay.

And what should've been just a neutral question taps into all of these patterns that are unresolved inside of us. You know, the Bible talks about the sanctification process. And that process is where we are growing in the grace and truth that God gives us and that we give to one another. But we have parts of ourselves and Scripture is very clear about this and research validates it, that aren't what the Bible calls complete or mature yet.

And when those get hooked and these patterns get hooked, here's the answer to your question. It's the very patterns that we get hooked in that are outside of the sphere of our ability to observe them. Now I'm gonna say that again.

Jim: Yeah.

Henry: The most hurtful patterns that we have live in this space in our souls, outside of the sphere of the part of us that's able to observe them. And--

Jim: So, it's a blind spot.

Henry: --it's a blind spot and nothing changes until we can observe it. So, here's what happens. Let's say you're my spouse. You observe something in me. Well, I don't experience that as an observation. I experience that as a criticism, right, no matter how you say it.

Jim: Right.

Henry: And so, now I react to you and now you're reacting to my reacting and we're both basically I say marriage is an adult contract and you shouldn't practice it without a big person in the room. (Laughter)

And now we're both children, because nobody's observing their behavior. And in these patterns, we live out these patterns and we don't have the capacity to see ourselves. That's when counseling or a group or just being able to confess it to somebody and help us see it, is really, really important.

Jim: How does a couple when they're in that immature loop as you described it, there's blind spots for everybody, how does the spouse talk about it—

Henry: Yeah.

Jim: --in a healthy way? Where do you go, especially when you try to raise it and it gets met with such emotion?

Henry: Yeah.

Jim: What do you do with that? It's as if you can't talk about it anymore, so you just bury it and you absorb it and you move along.

Henry: Well, when you think about it, you know, in these problem areas, we're getting a strong reaction from really not the higher parts of ourselves. You know, God—

Jim: (Laughing) Right.

Henry: --has made us with several brains. One brain has the capacity to observe and to solve problems and to listen, to empathize, emotional regulation and all that stuff. But we have this other part where we feel threatened and when we feel threatened, this fight or flight, reactive brain kicks in. And when you think about that—fight or flight—when we feel threatened, what do we naturally do? We fight. We push against it in defensiveness or anger or that's not true or devaluation or something like that or we withdraw. We "flight."

So, what's really, really important, is if you know that you're in an area where fight or flight can be triggered, then that's probably not when you're gonna make any headway, 'cause those are the only two options that person might have at that moment.

Jim: So their defenses are up.

Henry: They're already defended. So, if you have those areas, then it's very important, you know, you don't remodel your house in a tornado.

Jim: No.

Henry: Right?

Jim: That's a good word picture.

Henry: Don't do it in the midst of the argument, okay? I think that it's very important for couples to be able to sometime figure out how can we have a place and a time that's dedicated to, let's not just be in our relationship, let's work on our relationship. Let's talk about how things are going and make an observing space for that.

Jim: Huh.

Henry: I think it's a very important structure. Now here's the thing. Sometimes that observing space can be done by couples sayin', "You know, I want to sit down and talk about some stuff while we're not goin' through it, while it's not happening. I want to talk about some patterns that we have and begin to look at that and figure out some answers."

Now remember, the key thing here is, I'm talkin' about the ability to observe. Okay, if you can't do that, if once you get into it, it starts to happen again, what have we lost? We've lost the capacity to observe. That's when you need another set of eyeballs in the room.

And what God talks about all the time and research validates, is that we have a body. See, we aren't supposed to exist in any part of life unto ourselves. We're part of this body of Christ and people have different gifts. And so, sit down with somebody else and say, "You know what, we're struggling." And that could be a counselor. It could be a mentor. It could be a wise friend. It could be your pastor. "We're struggling. We keep gettin' in this thing we can't get out of. Can you listen to us and help us here?" That's bringing observation back in the room.

Jim: And that's good. It takes a great deal of maturity to do that, but that's what we should be, right, as adults? We should be mature.

Henry: Well, let's play with that word a little bit.

Jim: Uh-huh.

Henry: Okay, so the word "maturity," you know, it actually means to be complete, right? It doesn't mean to be flawless. And it's really fascinating when sometimes we think of, you know, the mature Christian and we hear, "Oh, he is such a godly man," and all this. It kind of like they've got it all together and they don't have any flaws and this, that and the other. And it's really interesting how the Bible equates this humility thing and this ability to take feedback with wisdom.

Jim: Huh.

Henry: If you go through the book of Proverbs, you're gonna find this parallel track that the more wise someone is, if you correct a wise man, Proverbs says, they become wiser still. If you rebuke a righteous person, it says, they will love you for it. They will thank you for it. David said, "If a righteous man hits me on the head, I will consider it a gift and thank him" in metaphorically hits me on the head with a rebuke.

Jim: Right.

Henry: Okay?

Jim: Gets my attention.

Henry: Gets my attention. And so, what we've got in Scripture is exactly what the research shows, that the more mature someone is, they're not without flaws, the more they're able to listen to feedback about their flaws. The more defensive someone is, the more they "have it all together," the less mature they are. That's an incredible paradox, but when Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit;" blessed are those who wail and mourn about, oh, gosh, I got this issue and all this, you know and confess your faults to one another, this ability to give and receive feedback is the hallmark of what you're gonna see good marriages having.

Jim: Well, let me in that context, in a Western context particularly that we live in, we seem isolated when you look at some of the research, most people don't have a confidant, certainly most men—

Henry: Right.

Jim: --don't have a go-to person that they can be vulnerable with, that they can trust, that you can talk about. Is that typical of human relationships? Or is that a weakness of modernity, that we no longer have those kind of deep relationships, where we can be real with each other?

Henry: Well, you know, I'm not a sociologist, so I can't give you all the statistics on that, but I can tell you that you have described a reality and I do think it's getting worse, because one of the things that a lot of research shows is, that especially in our digital age, that so much of our "connectedness" to one another is exactly the opposite. It's disconnectedness.

And there's a lot of research out in the last several years from neuroscience that shows the actual transformation that happens with humans when we are in a room with one another, lookin' each other in the eye and talkin' about things. If it's done in a safe and a positive way, it actually begins to open us up and we're more apt to receive what is coming from the other side.

People all the way down to, everybody's heard of mirror neurons, for example in the brain where God has wired us in a way that we're supposed to be able to receive from one another. We're supposed to be able to receive happy things about ourselves and not so happy things about ourselves, but that can only be done in safety. And so, what happens is, when couples can't do that or we don't have a place, you know, in a relationship to do that, we have to find that safety.

Now what you've described is a big, big problem, not only in the church, but in the bigger world, as well. People, the research shows, people don't have anyone that they can be transparent with. And what that does is, it would be the equivalent of if you had a cut and it were infected and you got a scab that formed over it and nothing could get in or out, you're gonna get gangrene. And that's what happens in our souls.

You know, James 5:16 says, "Confess your faults." And literally, you know, agree with what's wrong (Laughing)—

Jim: Right.

Henry: --with one another and you will be healed. And now neuroscience and all the research says, "Duh." You know, it's almost like the person that wrote the Bible understood how the brain and the heart works. It's really interesting.

Jim: Isn't that something? Hey, let's move to the idea and I think another common problem that you mentioned in your book, Never Go Back, it's this desire that we have before we look at ourselves and again, another scriptural reference where Jesus said, "Look at the log in your own eye, before the speck in your brother's."

Henry: Right.

Jim: Put that in the marital context. We're so quick to want to change the other person, because they're the problem. Talk about that relationship and the futility of attempting to change another human being, whether that be your spouse, your children, your in-laws. I mean, fill in the blank. Talk about the futility of that. How is a more productive way of getting to the better road?

Henry: Jim, I'm glad you used the word "futility," because if you really want to have a frustrating life, get up every morning and make a list of the people you're gonna change.

Jim: Yeah. (Laughing)

Henry: Because it is futile and if you think about it, you know, let's just pretend for a moment that you're God (Laughter), all right? Now if you're God and you look at somebody's husband or wife and their behavior and you say, "I am going to change them" and you swoop in and you start to change them and they didn't really sign up for that program, then you don't find that in the Bible anywhere, right. What you do [see] is, God being concerned for this person, what you do see and God's got a hope and a plan that this person's gonna move from A to B in this area, but He doesn't move in and knock 'em unconscious and put 'em on the operating table and you know, take out this problem surgically without their permission or their alignment.

Okay, so, humans have this thing called, whatever you want to call it, "choice," "will," "volition," "existence," whatever it is. We never can get away from that, that God has created each person to be able to get with the program or not, okay.

So, when a husband or a wife has a vision for better, then the last thing you want to do is go impose better on that person, because they're not in the program. They haven't bought in. What does God do? Look at, you know, throughout the Scriptures. Romans says it clearly. It's the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance.

Now repentance, you know, I wrote this book, Never Go Back; the only reason I didn't name it Repentance is 'cause the publisher wouldn't let me, because it's (Laughing) it's too negative and nobody'll read it, but that's what it means. You know, that there are patterns that we don't want to continue to do the same thing again, you know, expecting different results. And if you're gonna try to change somebody, you know, if it's sort of like, I think Dr. Phil says, "So, how's that workin' for you?" right. It just doesn't work.

Jim: Right.

Henry: And you gotta have a different approach, because you've gotta get that person's buy-in and there are ways to get people's buy-in to change.

John: We're talking with Dr. Henry Cloud on today's "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and you can learn more about that book, Never Go Back and a download or a CD of this program, as well as our mobile app, at or call us and we'll tell you more, 800-A-FAMILY.

And as we're talking about accountability and I'm thinking of David in the midst of his sin, his bad choices and wicked ways, Nathan, the prophet, has to come and talk to him. If I see my spouse really veering off course, if I observe something that does really need to change, how do I know if I should say something or when?

Henry: Well, absolutely, you know, the plan No. 1 is that we could say anything to anybody, right? I mean, we oughta have the kind of relationships where we basically can talk to each other, right? And that's kinda Plan A.

Now what happens is, Plan A has its problems, because we bring problems to the plan. So, I've got my blind spots. I've got areas where you can correct me and rebuke me and say, "Why did you do that?" And "I don't know; I'm such an idiot. I gotta do it." And it's fine, but you hit the right button in any of us and we're gonna probably, you know, flinch a little bit.

And so, it's in those areas where that kind of feedback, if a couple begins to notice, you know, "Usually we do pretty well in talking to each other, but there's this one area it's hard for me to get to and I don't want to hurt you, but why is it hard to talk about that? 'Cause it seems like you feel like I'm against you when we talk about that and I'm not against you. I'm for us" and see if you can kind of observe and notice that when we get close to this, and make yourself, you know, look at the log first and ask, "Is there some way that I say it or some way that I mention it or bring it up that hurts, that makes it hard to talk about it, 'cause I don't want to do that."

Jim: Yeah.

Henry: And if we can begin to talk about the "how" we talk about these things and not arm wrestle over the "what it is" until the "how" works," then that's what's paramount. And one of the things that I like to see couples, CEOs, executive teams, individuals do is, stop. You know, you hear this in leadership all the time.

I know you're workin' in your business, but how much time do you take to work on your business. Okay, so one of the things you see, I mean, I see this in the corporate world all the time to great results. They will take their team off on retreats, not to talk about the business, but to talk about how we work together. How do we give each other feedback? How do you like it? How do you not like it? You know, how much time do we need together to be making sure we're on the same page? Does it work when we have these weekly meetings? Do we need to check in every day? Do we have the equivalent of date night? You know, and (Laughter) couples really need to sit down and talk about, how do we give each other feedback? Is it working? If it's not working, how could we do it better?

And there are many, many ways that we can do this, but to your question, we oughta be able to say things to each other and when we can't, we gotta stop sayin' things to each other and start to work on why can't we say things to each other? And sometimes that requires help, but sometimes not.

Jim: You know, John, this discussion reminds me of something we're tryin' to do for the Christian community and the broader community and that is our marriage retreat center, Focus on the Family's National Institute of Marriage and I am so pleased to let everybody know, we now have hundreds of couples who are going through the program there and these are marriages that are in desperate trouble. Many of 'em have signed the divorce paper and they're going through an intensive counseling. Branson, Missouri is the location of the property and their two-year post-test is a[n] 84.7 percent success rate. And I think that is terrific.

That's the work I'm talkin' about. It's not a shame to be in difficulty in your marriage. We know, as we've talked about today, we know couples are struggling on how to communicate better. That's what Dr. Cloud has been talking about. And I just want to encourage those couples, if you're feeling like we need help, we're in a desperate situation, call us here at Focus on the Family. Let us point you in that direction and see if the National Institute of Marriage is a program that you can benefit from.

John: So many have been helped and the number is 800-232-6459; 800-A-FAMILY and the key part of why we're here. We want to help you put hope back in your marriage and Henry, I'm thinking of something you said earlier. When you wrote the book, Never Go Back, you wanted to show people how to get out of some of those old patterns that are causing relational challenges and you mentioned it a couple of times now. There's a need for repentance and we don't talk much about that word anymore. Explain what repentance is.

Henry: Well, God calls it a gift, that we can get the gift of repentance. Okay, so here's what repentance actually means. It means, I'm gonna turn and go in a different direction. I'm gonna change my mind. I'm gonna do somethin' different.

Now think about it. If you've got a pattern that's wrecking your business, do you want to continue to do that over and over again? You know the old saying, if you continue to do the same thing, expecting different results, it's insanity.

No, I don't want to do that. I want to do something different. I want to go down a different path. And repent, this word "repent," if we could get the religious baggage and negativity and guilt and shame and anger out of it and see it as a gift and people could come to life and say, "You know what? I see this pattern and I want to turn that around in my life. I want to turn that around in my marriage. I want to think about it differently and I want to change." Isn't that an amazingly positive word?

And so, I would love to see marriages asking themselves, "Gosh, there are some things that we need to, 'ah-ha,' repent over, right?" (Chuckling) We need to change the way we talk about stuff or we need to change the way we spend our time. And I think that the way we create that is, you've got to find a space where it's absolutely seen that way, that we're not here just to criticize each other or to beat each other up. We're here to find a way and God will make a way, but we're here to find a path to what we signed up for this for in the beginning.

I don't know one couple, I've never had a couple come in to my office and say, "You know what? We walked down the altar because we hated each other and couldn't wait till the day that we could break up and that's why we got married."

Jim: Right.

Henry: Nobody went into it with that. They went into it with this, "Look what it has in store for me."

Jim: Hope.

Henry: Hope. It still has that in store for you. There was a reason why you hoped and thought it could then, but what happened was, there were patterns that began to interfere with that hope and those patterns hooked into the patterns of the other person and now you're down a different road and all repentance is, is saying, "Look, let's stop this pattern that we have. I want to find out what I'm doing to contribute to the pattern. I'd like for you to ask what you're doin' and tell me what I can do differently. Let's go down a different path and we might need some help to do that."

Jim: I mean, there's so much in what you just said, but let me ask you a practical question. Your wife, Tori, I mean, you're the psychologist. You're the one that's learning this.

Henry: Not in that relationship. (Laughter)

Jim: That's what I wanted to ask you.

Henry: If you pull out the psychologist card, you're gonna lose.

Jim: Yeah, yeah, (Laughter), but how is that played out practically in your own marriage? What were some areas that you and Tori maybe were strugglin' with that you said, "Okay, hang on." Or maybe she said, "Hang on, Henry. Let's talk this through." Is there an example in your own marriage that you could give us?

Henry: Yeah, well, one of 'em would be, you know, we're both pretty fiery and (Laughter) we would have to see early on that there were sometimes where, you know, we weren't really solving a problem. We were just kinda goin' off on each other. And one of the things that we did was, we figured out early on, let's recognize when that's happening and stop, because you know where it's gonna end up.

Jim: Right.

Henry: It's not gonna end up having fixed anything and then sat down to say, "Okay, you know, when it starts to seem like that, just tell me. Or when I start to seem that way, just let me know." And then--

Jim: So, you're giving permission.

Henry: --it's not a permission; you are asking for the feedback, right? And once you do that, now you've gone down a different road and you're goin' down a different road to, let's try to get back to safety first. Let's try to get back to where we're sittin' on the same side of the table, looking at the same problem, instead of on the opposite sides of the table, just you know, accusing each other.

Jim: Right, no, that's well-said and I hope people hear you loud and clear, especially those—

Henry: In all of us.

Jim: --marriages, yeah, and those marriages that are in trouble and you know it in your heart, you actually do, I believe. And if you're in that spot, first of all, pick up Dr. Henry Cloud's book, Never Go Back. Contact us here at Focus on the Family. The National Institute of Marriage is here to help you if you're in that point, if you're at that point where you feel there is no hope in your marriage and we're here to help you. That's why we're here. That's why people fund the ministry, is to strengthen marriage, to strengthen parenting and to be there in that moment of crisis for you.

So, Henry, let me say formally, thank you so much for bein' with us. This has been a really insightful discussion. Thank you.

Henry: It's always great to be with you guys.


John: Well, thanks and if you need help with your marriage, as Jim mentioned, you can ask about our National Institute of Marriage when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

And as you learn new ways to resolve those same old problems in your relationship, get a copy of Henry's book, Never Go Back. It'll help. You can order that and a CD or a download of this discussion at In fact, select that as your thank-you gift when you make a donation to support our ongoing work here at Focus on the Family to help more and more marriages be strengthened and become a shining light of what God can do when we allow Him to work in and through those challenges. Ask about Henry's book, Never God Back when you donate generously.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow. We'll be talking with former congressman, Frank Wolf about the matter of religious liberty around the world and here at home, as well, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.

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Henry Cloud

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Psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud is a popular public speaker, a bestselling author and an acclaimed leadership expert. He and his colleague Dr. John Townsend have co-written numerous books including Boundaries, which has sold more than a million copies. Dr. Cloud holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Biola University and draws from his extensive professional background to impart practical and effective advice for improving leadership skills, personal relationships and business performance. He and his wife, Tori, reside in Los Angeles and have two daughters. Learn more about Dr. Cloud by visiting his website,