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Navigating the Common Challenges of Marriage (Part 1 of 2)

Original Air Date 03/14/2013

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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 1 of 2)

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Episode Transcript

Opening: 

Teaser:

Woman: When we were dating, he made a funny little sound, clearing his throat. I thought it was kinda cute and endearing. But now that we’ve been married a few years, that funny little sound comes a lot more often than I realized. It’s not that cute anymore. In fact, it’s pretty annoying.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: It’s amazing how little things can suddenly become kinda big and really irritate us so quickly. This is Focus on the Family with your host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: Now you’re gonna have to strap on your sense of humor, because today we’re gonna talk about those annoyances in our marriages that can create some conflict. One of our most popular guests, Dr. Gary Chapman, joined us to dive into these issues and help us learn to navigate them better so we could have a stronger marriage. That’s a good thing. The true test for me was talking to Gary: he mentioned, “You know one great thing you could do is go home and ask your spouse, ‘What’s something I could do to improve our marriage?’“ I did that with Jean, and she quickly said, “Well, I actually have two.” 

(LAUGHTER) 

And if you’re wondering, “What were they?” we - both of us can only remember one, the first one, which was I’m a little too spontaneous at times. So something like, “Hey, let’s go to Disneyland this weekend,” and we live, of course, in Colorado, so that becomes a stressor... 

John: It’s a big trip with a lot of plans. 

Jim: ...for Jean. Yeah, no planning at all. And I think that was her point. And we literally can’t remember the second one. 

John: That’s a good thing. That’s probably a gift. And I do think of our own relationship - and Dena and I - it doesn’t take too long for me to realize, “Oh yeah, I’m doing that thing which really bothers her.” It’s just hard to stop some habits. 

Jim: It is. It’s a daring question to ask your spouse, but it does help in that marital communication. It’s important to be open with each other in that way. Today’s programs with Dr. Gary Chapman will help you figure out how to walk that fine line of marital communication. 

John: And Dr. Chapman is the author of the best-selling book, The Five Love Languages, and this conversation is based on a compilation of his writings called, Happily Ever After: Six Secrets to a Successful Marriage. We’re gonna pick up now as Dr. Chapman describes how he and his wife Karolyn dealt with the kitchen drawers being left open and cupboards not being shut. 

Jim: Never happens at my house. 

(LAUGHTER) 

Body: 

Gary Chapman: Well, you know, Jim, for years and years and years, I talked to other people about how to, you know, negotiate these things and these changes and how to - when to make requests and how to make requests and all of that. We’ll talk about some of that today, I’m sure.

But there are some things that your spouse will never change. And you never know what they are, but if you go for a few years, you know, trying your best to make requests and they don’t change, there comes a place where you have to accept that they are not wired to do that. I think... 

(LAUGHTER) 

Jim: That’s disappointing. 

Gary: ...that my wife did not get a drawer-closing gene. And there’s no way she can close drawers. 

(LAUGHTER) 

So, I finally decided that I would take the responsibility to close the doors and the drawers. And I said to her, “Honey, you don’t ever have to worry about this again. You can open ‘em whenever you like and when I come home, I’ll close ‘em. You can open ‘em again if you like. I’ll close ‘em. You don’t ever have to worry about closing drawers and doors.” It’s never been a problem since then. 

(LAUGHTER) 

I have no emotion about it. It’s just my job, okay. 

Jim: Well, now you’re a man of wisdom, because I’m sure you learned quickly now that you do that, you - every time you close a door or close a drawer, you don’t mention it to her either, do you? 

(LAUGHTER) 

Gary: No, never say a word about it. You’re not... 

Jim: I still have to learn that one. “By the way... 

John: And you don’t slam it, right? 

Jim: ...I’m closing another door for you.” 

(LAUGHTER) 

But Gary, let’s ask the simple question: why when it comes to marriage and why we as human beings wired the way we’re wired? Why? I think it’s 100 percent that we want some aspect of our spouse to change. 

Gary: Yeah. Well, it’s always true. It’s just there. I think it’s because God made us unique. All of us are unique in many, many ways. And there’s gonna be a certain amount of things in a Christian marriage or any marriage for that matter, that are gonna irritate you. You never know what they are until you get married. And then you discover them. 

And immediately, you want them to change. I mean, that’s the natural response is, you want them to change, because typically, it’s something that’s not, you know, earth-shattering. I mean, you could easily do this, could you not? You know, and that’s our reasoning. 

And so, we ask them and if they don’t change, we ask again and again and again and again. And eventually, you know, we end up arguing over these things. And so, one of the things that I’ve tried to do years ago in my counseling is to help couples learn a way to request change so that you’re more likely to get change. 

And I encourage people to change. You know, if you find out the - that your spouse is upset about something and it really irritates them, if you can change, why not change? You know uh, I mean, let’s make life as pleasant as we can for each other. I mean, didn’t we get married wanting to live happily ever after? I mean, didn’t we want to make each other happy? So, if I find out that this irritates my spouse and I can change it, then let’s change it and let’s make life as pleasant as we can for each other. 

Jim: Well, let’s go after one of the myths then, because I’m sure there’s conversation that’s happened between husbands and wives and one of these myths pop up. It would be, “Yeah, I can’t change that attribute of my behavior.” 

Gary: Yeah. 

Jim: Is there anything we truly cannot change? 

Gary: You know I don’t know if it’s cannot or will not.

 Jim: Right, but it’s a big difference. 

Gary: Yeah, there is a big difference. But like with my wife, I mean, really, she’s not a rebellious woman, you know. And that’s why I’ve concluded that there must be a drawer-closing gene and she didn’t get one. I mean... 

(LAUGHTER) 

Jim: Well, personality does play into this. I will reveal one of the two things my wife shared with me today. And that is, uh, she said, “When we’re together with the kids, you’ll often spring a plan on me and you haven’t talked to me ahead of time. And I may have a reason why I don’t want to do that, but now the kids are all excited to go do that. So, then I look like the bad guy by saying, you know, we can’t do that.” And I quickly responded, “Well, I think it’s because you’re a planner and I’m more spontaneous. So, accept my spontaneity, because...” 

(LAUGHTER) 

John: Or plan to accept it. 

Jim: But - but I - I need in that case, I need to kind of hear her heart. She is a planner. She knows 85 things that need to be done next week. And when I spring out of bed and go downstairs and we’re havin’ breakfast with the kids and say, “Hey, would you guys like to go to Disneyland next week?” And she’s going, “No, no, time out.” That could be irritating. 

Gary: Absolutely, absolutely. And that - and we - we tend to excuse ourselves. You know, we tend to say, well, this is who I am. You know, you just need to accept it. But the reality is, if we’re gonna live together in harmony, which is what marriage is all about, we’re teammates; we’re here to love and encourage and support each other and help each other accomplish God’s purposes for our lives, if we’re gonna do that, we’ve gotta be willing to change things. 

And so, I - I think we should take seriously what our spouse says, reflect on it and ask how could I do that differently? And be willing to do that. And if they’re coming at us every day with these things, we get overwhelmed and we begin to feel like, well, I - I can’t ever please the person, you know. And that’s why one of the suggestions I make is, don’t overload the person with requests. You may have 15 things that irritate you, but let’s process them over a period of time. In fact, I suggest, you know, this week, you tell me one thing that I could do or stop doing that would make life better for you. And then next week, I can tell you one thing that would make my life better. So, every other week, you know. 

Jim: And that’s good to open up the discussion that way. You can actually talk about those things. I would think a lot of marriages today, in those relationships, you just shut down and there’s distance that grows. I’m tired of fighting it, all the phrases that we could put in there. What in our makeup again, especially for Christian couples, what would motivate us to not do that? Why wouldn’t we want the best for our spouse? Why do we all of a sudden become uh, indifferent to our marriages? 

Gary: I think many times it comes across as controlling or sometimes we use the word “nagging” and we feel like, well, they’re trying to make me do something I don’t want to do. And they’re trying to make me be somebody that I’m not. And we see this controlling. And none of us like to be controlled, and so, we get defensive. If we view it as an effort to control us, we get defensive. 

I mean, look, 15 things they keep harping on. They don’t like me. They wish they weren’t married to me. And then we get to where we don’t like them. So, I think if we don’t have a plan for handling these irritations, we tend to end up, you know, feeling the other person doesn’t love us. The other person doesn’t want to be married to us. And that’s not a good feeling to have when you’re in a marriage. 

Jim: Why do you think though, that you go in on your wedding day? Everything is so happy. And you’ve dated and you think, “This is Mr. or Mrs. Right.” And you get into marriage and then you find these little quirks that irritate you and the communication begins to dwindle. “He doesn’t talk to me the way he used to talk to me when he dated me. Now he just comes home and grunts and watches Monday Night Football.” 

Jim: What is happening there in that relationship that really is a microcosm perhaps, of the bigger culture? We tend to be a coarser culture today. We’re less interested in other people. We’re more narcissistic, more self-focused, more me-focused. Is all of this playing into these relationships, our marriages, to where we struggle redeeming conflict and making it better and using a biblical approach to doing so? 

Gary: I think it is, Jim. You know, before we get married and while we’re dating, we’re in the “in-love” stage. And when you’re in that stage of the relationship, the other person’s perfect. I mean, everything about them’s perfect. 

Your mother can see their flaws, but you can’t see their flaws. You know, uh, but when we get married, we come down off of that. The average lifespan is about two years of that, with - so, if you’ve been dating for two years, you might come down on the honeymoon. We come down from that. Now we’re back to being normal and normal in our culture is self-centered. 

And so, we start processing marriage from a self-centered perspective. We have all these expectations we have of our spouse. They have expectations of us. And when we don’t meet those expectations, we not only lose the euphoria, we now have negative feelings toward them. 

And then they start bringin’ up these little things that irritate them and we have more negative feelings toward them. So, we move from this euphoria to a very negative, emotionally negative relationship with each other. And - but I think you’re exactly right. I think as Christians, we have to come back to the basic concept that love is the key to all relationships. 

We love God, because God first loved us. And Jesus said that, as I have loved you, you love others. Love is looking out for the other person’s interest. And in a marriage, if I have as a husband, the attitude of Christ and I’m looking out for my wife’s interest and my attitude is, “Honey, how can I help you? How can I make your life easier? How can I be a better husband to you?” she’s gonna tell me and I’m gonna be able to minister to her. And if she has that attitude toward me, then I’m gonna be looking out and doing those things for her. So, we can process our humanity if we let the love of Christ control our hearts.

That’s the key issue, is we gotta have a heart that reaches out for the other person. 

Jim: Oh, that is so well-put. Um, I’m thinking of the word you used there, which is “expectations.” And it seems to me that even in my own experience in my own marriage, but those that I’ve counseled and talked with, that is the pitfall of relationship. And in marriage, you - you do end up with a lot of expectations for your spouse and what they’re going to do. And when those expectations aren’t met, you do get hard of heart, don’t you? 

Gary: Yep, you do. 

Jim: How does a couple, how do we declare those expectations? How do we um, maybe change those expectations in the relationship and talk about it perhaps over a 30-year marriage? What happens in the early years, the middle years and the later years? 

Gary: Well, I think in the early years, we’re getting to know each other and we’re discovering what the hot spots are in our relationship. We’re discovering those things over which we get defensive about each - with each other. 

And that’s why I say to young couples, better to have a weekly time that you sit down and say to each other, “How are we doing? How am I doing as a husband? How am I doing as a wife?” And - and just a time to share with each other what the hot spots might be. And then talk about, how can we do it better? How can we make it better for each other? 

If you start that kind of relationship in the early years, you can carry it with you all the way through the middle years and the latter years. And you develop this concept that, I’m in this relationship for you and you are in this relationship for me. And we both have that attitude. You carry that through the years; you will process the conflicts. You’ll process the challenges that you face in life, whether it’s physical disease or all kind of other things that we face as we move along. But it’s the attitude; it’s the heart that helps us do that. 

Jim: And that’s ideal. I would want to give hope to the middle year and the later year folks that, if they haven’t done that, and there’s stress in their relationships, always has been, it’s not too late to start, right? 

Gary: No. We start where we are. And any time you wake up and realize things are not good; things are not what they should be, the question is, “Okay, what can we do to make it different?” 

John: Well, this is Focus on the Family, hosted by Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and our guest today is Dr. Gary Chapman. And we’re talking about marriage, specifically. Uh, the book he’s written that is kind of the foundation for a lot of our conversation today is called Happily Ever After: Six Secrets to a Successful Marriage. And uh, Jim, along these lines here, where we’re at right now in the conversation, our executive producer shared a story about expectations and - and I’d like to ask you about this, Dr. Chapman, because uh, as a newlywed couple, he was waiting for the grass to grow a little bit longer before he cut it. And his wife expected him to cut the grass sooner than this. 

So, instead of talking it through, she just went out and mowed the lawn. And his assumption was, great! She likes to mow the lawn. So, he just waited for her to - to do it again. Uh, we all have those kind of unspoken expectations or we make the assumption. We read the situation and it doesn’t always pan out that, that - that’s a really correct reading. So, it really is imperative for us to have that regular conversation that you talked about, but life is busy. 

Gary: Well, life is busy, but I do think we come into marriage with expectations, primarily based on what our parents did. If her mother mowed the grass, then she will likely see that as her role. If his father mowed the grass, he will see that as his role. They may have some differences that you just said about when to mow the grass, but I think that’s why - when - before couples get married, I suggest you make a list of all the things that will have to be done after you get married. Someone’s gotta buy the food, cook the food, wash the dishes, vacuum the floors, the whole - everything you can think of. 

John: That’s pretty non-romantic. 

Jim: Well, I was gonna say that doesn’t always apply. Jean’s mom mowed the lawn, but Jean does not mow lawns. 

(LAUGHTER) 

So - but the general rule of thumb is what you’re getting at. 

Gary: Yeah. Yeah. Make that list and then, separately uh, he puts his initials by the ones he thinks he will do and she does the same. And then they come together. And maybe they agreed on half of ‘em, or two-thirds, but the other third, you need to negotiate. Who’s gonna do this after we get married?

Then you go in on the same page and you can change those things as you move along, but at least, you’re moving in the marriage with the same expectations, as far as roles are concerned. 

Jim: Sure, you know, the - that sparks a thought for me, Gary in this uh, for perhaps older married couples, maybe in their mid-40s and beyond, probably have a more traditionally approach in terms of roles around the house. And then younger couples, they may still share some of that traditionalist attitude. But I would think a lot of women particularly, let’s say 25 to 40, have a different view than their moms did about their role. And they want their husbands to share more in those domestic chores than maybe what their fathers did. 

Gary: Yeah. 

Jim: Is that true? 

Gary: I think that is true. And I think that’s why we have to discuss that. And you know what I say is, let’s find the best team member for each of those things. For example, there are wives who relax by mowing grass. I mean, they love to mow the grass. And the husband... 

John: Not yours or mine, though. 

(LAUGHTER) 

Jim: No, Jean and Dena. 

Gary: It’s not my - it’s not mine either. 

Jim: Blessed is the man whose wife likes to mow the grass. 

Gary: Yeah, but - but see - but see, if he feels like, “Well, that’s a man’s role. I should be doin’ that.” But if it’s meaningful to her and doing something for her in addition to getting the grass mowed, then he should be willing to look after the small children while she mows the grass. 

Jim: Or do the dishes. 

Gary: Or do the dishes. He’s doing her a favor, you know, rather - but because of the traditional patterns, we sometimes think, well, you know, I’ve got to do this, ‘cause I’m the man. Or I’ve got to do this, because I’m the woman. We’re on the same team. Let’s assign it to the best team member. One of you typically is better, for example, at balancing the checkbook than the other. 

John: Ouch. 

(LAUGHTER) 

Gary: So, let - let’s put it... 

Jim: Is he hittin’ where it hurts? 

John: Oh, yeah. 

Gary: ...with the best team member. Yeah. 

John: Yeah, I thought it was my role to do the checkbook and then about two years into it, Dena looked at me and said, “Do you want me to do that?” And I said, “Uh, sure.” And it’s been balanced ever since. 

Jim: ‘Cause it was causing you... 

(LAUGHTER) 

It was causing you a little stress, I take it. 

John: Yeah. It was causing her stress. I think my lack of attentiveness to the checkbook was not helping. 

Jim: Dr. Chapman, I mean, what we’re talking about is it’s so common. Somewhere here we’ve gotta just relax and approach this with a sense of humor. When you think of the way God designed us, you do have to chuckle a little, because there seems to be purpose in this chaos. 

Why did God create people to be attracted to opposites? People that irritate you end up the people you’re going to be married to for life. That seems like bitter humor. 

Gary: All I can figure is God wanted us to learn how to love. And He loved us when we were unlovely. So, He gives us in marriage often a chance to love someone who at the moment is unlovely to us. And if you have that spirit, that attitude of Christ, of love, then you can process these things and it all works together well. But if you don’t learn how to love, it’s gonna be a battle. So, the fundamental thing I think that God is trying to teach all of us is to be like Christ and to love people. And in marriage, this is the workshop. This is where it all starts. If we can learn to love each other, then we can learn to love outside the marriage. 

Jim: Well, Dr. Chapman, you’ve gleaned, I think from Scripture and from natural human tendency, a wonderful truth and that was The Five Love Languages and you’ve applied it to children and obviously, adults. Recap those for us. What are those five basic love languages that we possess as human beings? 

Gary: You’ve got five ways to express love emotionally and each person has a different love language. So, the key is to learn your spouse’s primary love language. One of them is words of affirmation. “You look nice in that outfit. I really appreciate what you did.” For some people, that fills the love tank, because that is their language - words of affirmation. 

Gifts, universal to give gifts as an expression of love. The gift says, he was thinkin’ about me. Look what he got for me. 

Third love language, acts of service: doing something for them, cooking a meal, washing dishes, walking the dog, whatever, doing something that you know they would like for you to do. For some people, this really communicates love to them. Actions speak louder than words for these people. 

Then there’s quality time, giving them your undivided attention, sitting on the couch, walking down the road, going out to eat, but they have your attention. 

And then number five is physical touch, holding hands, kissing, embracing, arm on the shoulder, the whole sexual part of the marriage. 

And if you discover your spouse’s primary language and give heavy doses, they will feel loved. If you don’t speak their love language, you can be speaking some of the others and they won’t feel loved. 

Jim: And there are some tendencies that connect to those languages. Let me give you an example. This may be a bit vulnerable, but um, you know, Jean is words of affirmation. And I - it took me a long time to understand that and I still don’t probably fulfill that always for her. And in the early part of our marriage, I would make a point of observation, which... 

John: A criticism, you mean? 

(LAUGHTER) 

Jim: Yeah, uh, exactly right. And um, and I don’t think, well, not at that time, I didn’t realize the damage that I was doing. Because I would think there’s a correlation between a person that really responds to words of affirmation and their sense of self-worth. Usually do you find that those go together? That a person that has low self-esteem, words of affirmation are very important to them. It’s like oxygen. 

Gary: Yeah. If this is their love language, then it is tied to self-esteem. And if they don’t feel loved, then they feel like they’re not worthy of love. So, communicating words and when you give negative words to a person whose love language is words of affirmation, it is a dagger to their heart. 

Jim: It will kill the relationship. 

Gary: Yeah, it will and because it’s - it is communicating to them the opposite of love. It’s negative words. And there are other people, you can give them negative words and they roll off like water on a duck’s back because that’s not their love language. 

Jim: And you can actually notice this in your parenting with your kids. Uh, I’ve applied that and I appreciate your discovery of those things. And I know with my son, Troy, it’s all physical touch. He loves to hug. He loves to be hugged. He loves me to, kinda run my fingers through his hair, high-five him, tickle him. And if I ask him and I have asked him, even at a young age like at age 7 when I first asked them that and gave them the five options, he quickly said, “Oh, Daddy, it’s physical touch.” 

Gary: Yeah. 

Jim: Isn’t that amazing? 

Gary: It is; it is. My wife’s love language is acts of service. That’s why before I left to come out here, I made sure the garbage was out. 

(LAUGHTER) 

Jim: Well, in fact, you have a story in your book, talking about dusting the blinds. 

(LAUGHTER) 

Tell me about that one. That was funny. 

Gary: Well, we were sitting around the house one night and my wife said, “You know, honey, these blinds are getting dusty.” And I looked at the blinds and I said, “They are, aren’t they, honey?” That’s all I said. But I heard the lady. I catalogued it. And two mornings later, it was a Friday morning, I was getting ready to leave later to go to a marriage seminar. It was about 6:30 Friday morning. I was in there vacuuming the blinds. And she stumbled in and said, “Honey, what are you doing?” And I said, “Honey, I’m making love.” 

(LAUGHTER) 

Jim: And that - that’s a great way to see that. I mean, that - most men would definitely miss that. 

Gary: Yeah. 

Jim: ‘Cause that is not what I think of when I talk about lovemaking. 

(LAUGHTER) 

It’s “cleaning the blinds.” But it - it caught my attention and I need to think about that uh, acts of service, which may not be Jean’s primary love language, but I would think it communicates. 

Gary: Well, any of these can communicate love. And if you give a person a heavy dose of the primary love language, you can sprinkle in all the others and get extra credit. 

Jim: Oh, that’s so good. Dr. Chapman, we have talked about so many great things, but there’s some more in this area of marriage and your book, Happily Ever After. When I look at the trauma that marriage is under today, so many Christian marriages particularly ending in divorce, it’s horrible. It’s painful. And uh, we need to do our best, because our marriages truly are witnesses to the world, aren’t they? 

Gary: Well, I think people see our marriages, you know. We may not think they do, but they see our marriages. They see the way we treat each other in public. And the children observe it more than anyone else. And we do our children a great disservice when we don’t work on our marriage and learn how to have a loving relationship. 

Closing: 

John: A terrific reminder from Dr. Gary Chapman about some of the common challenges in marriage and how to get some perspective on things. And there is more to come, tomorrow. 

Jim: Dr. Chapman is so good at helping you and your spouse get through these little issues so that they don’t become big issues down the road. And this is what we do here at Focus on the Family. We want to give you the tools to strengthen your marriage, which is the bedrock - the foundation of the culture. It points to what we were just talking about there with Dr. Chapman. Your marriage is a witness to the world. It’s a testimony. But we know sometimes things um, they go sour. That’s why we have caring Christian counselors available for you, to talk to and hopefully they can help point you in a good direction, a Biblical direction, to sort out the difficulties you’re facing. 

We also offer Hope Restored Marriage Intensives, for those marriages that are on the brink of divorce. I’m tellin’ ya, it is an incredible program. It’s not easy. I mean this is hard, kinda marriage boot camp work. But couples that go, and these again, are couples that have even signed divorce papers: 4 out of 5 of those couples have stuck it out and are still successfully married. Those broken marriages have been redeemed. And I think that is awesome. 

We also have other resources available to you, like the book we mentioned today, Happily Ever After by Dr. Chapman. But we can’t provide these things without your support, everybody. Your prayer and financial empowerment allow us to come alongside marriages like yours with encouragement and Godly advice. Can I ask you to join us in this ministry to couples, today? Right now is the time to step up and make a contribution because we have some generous friends of Focus who will match your donation, dollar-for-dollar. So your gift will help twice as many couples. If you give $50, it’ll be a hundred and so on. Thank you for standing with these couples and supplying the help they need! 

John: Donate today and make a generous pledge or gift of any amount and we’ll send a copy of Dr. Chapman’s book Happily Ever After as our way of saying thank you for being a part of the support team. You can do that and find details about Hope Restored and Dr. Chapman’s book at focusonthefamily.com/radio. Or call 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. 

On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back tomorrow as we hear more from Dr. Gary Chapman, and once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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Guest

Gary Chapman

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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.