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Thinking Your Way to a Better Marriage (Part 2 of 2)

Original Air Date 05/03/2016

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Author Sheila Gregoire and her husband, Keith, offer couples encouragement as they describe how God transformed their perspective on their relationship in a discussion based on her book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. (Part 2 of 2)

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Episode Transcript


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Mrs. Sheila Gregoire: We're so nice to these people that ... that we know on the periphery. And yet, when your husband comes home, you don't necessarily get him a coffee and you don't necessarily compliment him, because you know what he said to you this morning and he was not very nice when he left for work this morning. And so, he does not deserve it.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: That's a candid admission from Sheila Gregoire and you'll hear more from her and her husband, Keith on today's "Focus on the Family" about making small adjustments in your thoughts and your attitudes and having a stronger marriage because of that. I'm John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.

Jim Daly: John, last time we had, I thought, a great discussion about the way we think about our spouses and how if we think in a more appropriate way, a more godly way, we actually will eliminate so much of the tension and the conflict that exists in marriage.

We talked about how we tend toward negativity and this is something, you just look at the culture at large. We gravitate toward those things. We look at the most negative aspects of each other, rather than lifting up the positive elements in our marriages. And I thought that was refreshing and we're gonna talk more about it today.

John: It really is easy to kinda get into a negative rut and if you missed any of yesterday's conversation, it really does kinda set the stage for today's discussion and we'll encourage you to get the CD or the download at Of course, you can also get the app and the book we're talking about is available, as well. It's called Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage and I'm looking forward to this conversation.


Jim: Well, let me welcome both Keith and Sheila back to the broadcast.

Sheila: Thank you. We had fun yesterday.

Jim: We did. It was … it was fun and … and yet, it ended with a heavy note, 'cause we talked about the loss of your son and how your marriage survived that. And Keith, you said something I want to pick up on that I thought was well-said, that if that would've happened earlier in your marriage when you didn't understand these dynamics better, you're not sure where you would've ended up.

And there are marriages that are at the five-year-point or the 25-year point, maybe beyond, that they haven't had that revelation yet and they've lived in bitter conflict, but they've just settled into that area. And they've never done the hard work I would suggest of kind of climbing out of that and to think differently. Let's start there, because that helps frame the discussion the rest of the way. If a couple is in that spot, they're just in the pit of negativity with each other and again, they may have been married a long time. How can they change today? How do they go home, take off all those layers of negativity and start doing something differently?

Sheila: That's one of the big problems, because when you do have huge problems in your marriage, what do you tackle first? And what I often tell couples is, you gotta just be friends again. You've got to find ways to spend time together, because when you can do that, when you can start laughing every day, then you bring the tension down, so that you can start dealing with some of these negative things. But often we get in a rut and when we get in a rut, we stop talking. We stop doing anything together and the only way out is to start spending time together, 'cause every couple's gonna drift apart. If you're not careful, you will drift.

John: But what if they're saying, yeah, we can't even go there without a fight. I mean, the reason we don't spend time together is 'cause we can't be friends. It's always argumentative.

Sheila: Then when you're in that fight, stop thinkin' of it as a fight and start thinking of it as, how are we gonna find a win-win--

Jim: Right.

Sheila: --where both of us end up happier and more at peace? Because often I know when Keith and I used to have these disagreements and I was always tryin' to win. And the problem is, if you win every disagreement with your spouse, you're gonna be married to a loser. And nobody wants to be married to a loser.

Jim: That is really well-said. (Laughter) Say it again. (Laughter)

Sheila: If you win every disagreement with your spouse, then you're married to a loser. (Laughing)

Jim: Yeah, so it's important for you to make sure your spouse is winning.

Sheila: Yeah, you both have to win. I remember this one time, we were in the middle of a really big disagreement, because my writing and speaking career was taking off and I really wanted to have an extra, even just a half a day to work on some magazine articles. But we were homeschooling our two young girls and Keith at the same time, had this really busy medical practice and he was on call several nights a week. And he just needed some time to himself.

And he wanted one night a week where he could get together with some friends and play some games and do some things. And I thought, you want to play games more than you want to support my career. And we were in this thing where either I get my needs for my career or he gets his needs for his relaxation. And that was not a good thing. And so, Keith was finally the one who said, okay, we're being ridiculous here, Sheila. There has to be a way where we can both get what we need. (Laughing)

Jim: Yeah.

Sheila: And then we just brainstormed some ways and we figured out a really good win-win, where he just took off an extra afternoon a week and he came home and homeschooled the girls and gave me that time, 'cause we figured in our case, it was better to take a little bit of a reduced income and yet, to have that stress free.

Jim: Yeah, so there are solutions in other words.

Sheila: There are.

Jim: Hey, last time, we did talk about this, but I want to kind of make sure that we've hit it sufficiently, because your book deals with it and that is the intimacy issue. And one of the things you said in your book was this. Having sex isn't the same as making love. Describe what you mean by that.

Sheila: Billions of people on this planet have had sex. Having sex is not that hard. Making love is very different, because making love is all about intimacy and that's what God made sex to be. It's so that you can feel like you're one. It's about spiritual intimacy and emotional intimacy and physical intimacy all at the same time.

And what our world has done is, they've taken sex outside of the marriage context and as soon as you do that, then it's not about intimacy anymore. It's just about the body. And sex becomes focused just on pleasure, on having fun, on me getting my needs met. It's very self-focused.

And we grow up in this culture in a pornographic culture, in a culture which tells us all these lies and even if you're a Christian, it's very easy to buy that lie, that sex is only about feeling good, only about me feeling good and not understanding the real intimacy.

Jim: And in fact, you hear from a lot of women where they have that high drive and maybe their husbands don't. For them, this can feel humiliating or like there's something wrong with them. What hope would you give that woman, that maybe appreciates the physical intimacy even more than her husband, which you know, may be the 80-20 rule. This is that 20 percent.

Sheila: Yeah, I think it's actually closer to 30 now. (Laughing)

Jim: Yeah.

Sheila: Thirty percent of women have the higher sex drive in their marriage. And it's really important to get to the bottom of why, 'cause it might just be a normal variation. And if it's just a normal variation, that's when you gotta run to God and say, "Lord, You've gotta start meeting my needs." And that's when you need to be really open with your spouse and have some of those hard conversations and just say, "I need us to feel close. Can we talk about how we can find some compromise here and how we can both build each other up?"

Jim: And that can be an area where the door is shut pretty hard, that the conversation doesn't flow as easy, as easily as you made it sound. I mean, you start the conversation. You're the desperate spouse and you bring this up and the other spouse just shuts down, 'cause emotionally it's hard for them for whatever reason. If you keep going to that dead end, what can you do?

Sheila: Again, you gotta get to the root of it, 'cause in a lot of cases, it isn't just a normal variation. In a lot of cases, it might be due to stress, in which case, you've gotta look at the underlying issues of why we're so stressed. But the biggest reason that men are losing their libido today is because of pornographic use.

Jim: Yeah.

Sheila: And sometimes it might not even be porn use today. It might have been the fact that they used porn for 20 years before they go married and it's affected their ability to get aroused by their wife, because pornography retrains the brain, so that what is arousing is an image or a video or something instead of a person. And then when you're with the person, it doesn't do anything for you. And so, you've got to get to that root, as well.

Jim: Well, I just say to folks that are struggling in that area particularly, because it's such a core problem, I mean, finances and intimacy, these are the two that we hear about all the time. And if you're in that spot, call us. Don't hesitate. We're here. We can provide other resources. Certainly we can provide Sheila's book. But there is help out there and I just want to make sure that the listeners are aware of that.

John: Yeah and to talk with one of our counselors or get a copy of that book, Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, just call 800-A-FAMILY.

Jim: Let's touch some of the other topics. The No. 1 thought that you had in your book was, "My husband is my neighbor." I love that. Of course, the little "diddly"pops into my head, (Singing) "My husband is my neighbor." (Laughter) But how is he my neighbor?

Sheila: Well, when we read the parable of the Good Samaritan, the message that we often take from that is, that everybody is our neighbor and we're supposed to be nice to the people out there.

Jim: Even your husband?

Sheila: But no, we (Laughter) often don't realize that your husband's your neighbor, too. How many times do we women, maybe you go into work, or you go to church and you say, "Oh, you got a new haircut. You look so good. Here's a coffee I picked up for you on the way in. I just thought you might like it." And we're so nice to these people that we know on the periphery.

And yet, when your husband comes home, you don't necessarily get him a coffee and you don't necessarily compliment him, because you know what he said to you this morning and he was not very nice when he left for work this morning and so, he does not deserve it.

Jim: Keith, why'd you do that? (Laughter) Well, that is true, isn't it? It works both ways.

Keith Gregoire: Absolutely, I think that we often take for granted the people that are closest to us and we don't show them the appreciation and love and care that we show to complete strangers. And it's a real shame and I think that's why this thought, although it sounds simple is, it's very revolutionary. If I treat Sheila as my neighbor and love my neighbor as myself every day, how can your marriage not get stronger?

John: Yeah, what comes to mind is, I'm sure this is kind of typical, but there's a fight going on or a conversation going on—

Jim: Disagreement. (Laughter)

John: --that we're having and the phone rings and the person answer it is oh, so very nice, right? "Oh, hi. How are you ? Yeah, things are good." Right? So, why do we do that?

Sheila: Well, here's another one. I used to notice that every time I would go grocery shopping, I would put makeup on before I left the house because people might see me in the grocery store and so, I need to look good.

And yet, I realized that I don't put makeup on when just my husband's comin' home from work. And I thought, why am I tryin' to look better for complete strangers, than I am for my husband? And so, now (Laughing) I try to put lipstick on before he comes home. (Laughing) But you know—

Jim: Oh, that's sweet.

Sheila: --it's just a little thing.

Keith: She always looks fantastic.

Sheila: It's just a little thing. How often are we more focused on what those other people think of us, than we are, how can I honor my spouse?

Jim: Yeah, I mean, it's a wonderful way to think about those things. But you can quickly rationalize that, 'cause you get into a slump.

Sheila: Because we know our spouse's faults so well and we know how they've messed up. And so, we can exactly, we can rationalize treating them badly.

Jim: And you know, when you live in this spot, you can drift apart and you used an analogy in the book that I thought was brilliant and that's the sea otters. And I didn't even know that story, but tell us all about the sea otters.

Sheila: Okay, this is the most adorable thing in all of creation. Sea otters, when they sleep, they hold paws.

Jim: That is so good.

Sheila: They lie on their back in the water and they hold paws. And that's so that in the morning, they don't wake up miles apart, because they've drifted.

Jim: Right, laying on their back in the ocean.

Sheila: Exactly and it is natural to drift apart. This is what people don't get. We think that because we were best friends when we got married, we're gonna be best friends forever. But no, you might start in exactly the same place, but overnight you could end up miles away from each other if you don't take care to hold paws, okay. Just (Laughing) stay close. Do things that counter that drift and that fight that drift.

Jim: Right, do you have advice for that couple, probably younger than Jean and me (Laughter), where you have, you know, a 2-year-old, a 4-year-old in your house and you got so much chaos goin' on and they're struggling in their marriage because they don't get the time together. The expectations are all blown up. What would you say to that couple in that chaotic moment?

Keith: Yeah, I think first of all, I think you have to have grace for each other, because we have busy schedules and we watch our expectations on each other. But I think that you need to be intentional. You need to carve out time, even if it's just five minutes a day to say, you know, where is your heart today? What's happened that's really weighed on you? What lifted you up and made you soar? Like tell me what's going on inside you today?

Jim: And the only time is when one of you is doin' the dishes and the other one's head is in the dryer.

Keith: Yeah and--

Sheila: And that's okay. (Laughter) Take that time.

Keith:--and sometimes what made you soar was that you took the kids for five minutes around the block, so I got five minutes of quiet, you know. But just connect each day and it doesn't have to be big things. People talk about having a date night every week and so many people find that more stressful, 'cause you gotta make all these plans and it causes more grief and stress. I just think on a daily basis, you need to be spending time with each other.

John: Our discussion today on "Focus on the Family" is with Keith and Sheila Gregoire and Sheila's excellent book is called Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage and the subtitle really describes it, Because A Great Relationship Doesn't Happen By Accident. And we're talking about kinda retraining the mind and looking for the positive. And you really can benefit from the book and the CD or a download. You'll find those at

Jim: You know, I want to be mindful of a certain segment of society and we have a family member that lives in this particular space, that they have a severe special-needs child. And their marriage struggles. I think it's natural that you have that much caregiving occurring. But speak about that relationship, the great dangers that exist in there and how can they be realistic about their circumstances and what they can do to build into each other.

Sheila: Don't aim for perfect. You don't have to be a perfect mom. You don't have to always do everything right with your special-needs child or with whatever the big problem is. Sometimes you just need to get through the day and that's okay—

Jim: Yeah.

Sheila: --if that can be a major success. And I think with your marriage, it's the same thing, like Keith said. You don't necessarily need a date night every week. Maybe all you need is to head to bed together at the same time, 'cause that's very important--

Jim: And spend a few minutes talking.

Sheila: --and just hold each other and that can be enough if you do it every day and it becomes a habit.

Jim: Yeah, that's good.Hey, also you talked about No. 5, one of the thoughts (Chuckling). And we'll post these on the website, John. Let's do that, but No. 5 was about not competing with your husband and I guess again, you could fill this in either way, competing with your wife. Now this is a touchy subject (Laughter) and we gotta rip the Band-Aid off this sore idea, but biblical submission, leadership in the home, wow. Okay, so what does it mean to not compete with your husband when he makes such bad decisions, Sheila? If you knew my guy, I mean—

Sheila: I think—

Jim: --tell us about it.

Sheila: --I think the whole way that we talk about submission pits husbands against wives, because if I were to ask a group of women, what does submission mean, everybody would hem and haw and then finally, I think the women would say, "Well, I guess it means that when we disagree, my husband makes the final decision," as if that is the definition that God wrote all this stuff in the Bible just to say that in the case of ties, the guy wins.

And I think that's a very simplistic and odd way of looking at it, because nowhere else in Scripture is it assumed that two Christians will disagree. And yet, the way that we talk about submission, we're assuming that a married couple will disagree and that God had to put submission in there, so that when they disagree, he makes the decision.

And I just don't think that biblically that is what it means. I think what it means is, that we are gonna chase after our spouse's best. And we are going to look after our spouse's needs, look at what God is doing with our spouse and run with that and how can we support them? It's a whole lot bigger than just "in the case of ties, he wins." It's an attitude throughout the day and it's always there, that I am going to support my husband. And I think that's a taller order, but it's also much nicer and [a] way of looking at it, than we're always gonna be at odds with each other.

Jim: Okay, now you sound like you're really have ironed this out, but there has to be something in your past (Laughter), where the two of you really went at it. (Chuckling) But I mean, just for us to learn about, just does that come naturally for you? Or—

Sheila: Oh, I—

Jim: --did you have to learn, okay, where's the best here?

Sheila: --I am such a gentle person. I would never (Laughter) disagree with anybody and I never try to have my own way. Can't you tell? (Laughter)

Jim: Keith's got the biggest smile on his face.

Keith: So, when I married this woman, I knew she was a real firecracker and—

Jim: I can see that.

Keith: --and she's a force of nature sometimes. (Laughter) And I love that about her, you know, and I never want to change that with her, 'cause I mean, and God's using her to do great things 'cause of that iron will that she has, right.

I think the thing is, is for both of us, is the always putting your partner's needs ahead of your own. It's more important to be one, like O-N-E, than to be right. We want to be looking out for each other. We want to be doing what is in the other's best interests at all times. And Sheila's very good at that. I feel very supported and loved and cared for. And I hope that she feels that—

Jim: Well—

Keith: --from me, as well.

Jim: --and I want to put the shoe on the other foot, because you know, we're putting Sheila on the spot with submission, but you know, we talked a bit about it. But what is that responsibility? A lot of men can make the mistake of saying, hey, listen to me. I'm the one that gets to make the decision in the tie.

Keith: Absolutely and one of the things—

Jim: And that's an error, right?

Keith: --absolutely and one of the things that I get very distressed about is, men who think that, that verse means that they're supposed to be some sort of drill sergeant with a whip saying, you know, when I say jump, you say how high. And I don't think that's the Christ-like model of what leadership is.

Jim: I know it's not.

Keith: Clearly it's not and I think that, I mean, Jesus, the last thing Jesus did before He went to the Garden of Gethsemane was wash His disciples' feet. I think if you're not leading from a position of humility and servant leadership, than you're not leading in the way that you really should be.

Now I think that the point is to take the initiative. The point is to say, I want to listen to you and I want to pray about things and I want to go where God wants to take us. But I think it involves communication and both of you working on that, just not me saying, this is what we're doing. You better get in line, lady. I don't think that's the Christian model at all.

Sheila: The same thing when you talk about decisions, is that if you disagree, there is only two possibilities [sic]. Either one of you is wrong or both of you is wrong. And don't you think that God would rather that both of you be right? That's why I find it so odd that we frame submission about decision making, because in our marriage, we have always, always said that we're gonna find unity. And sometimes that's been tough.

It was tough when we had to decide what house to buy when we were moving to Belleville, 'cause I really wanted a big one and he was like, we can't afford that. That's not a good idea. And I was not happy with that, so we had to really pray before I realized, oh, man, Keith is right and he totally was. In retrospect, ooh, that would've been a disaster.

But we've had to hash it out about what church to go to, all kinds of things, but we always said, we need to find unity in this, 'cause if we don't, then how do we know that we're right? How do we know we're following God's will?

Jim: That unity, that is well-said and I agree 100 percent, but that unit comes through discussion and as you just displayed, I mean, you had a different opinion and somebody had to get in line with the other. And hopefully, you know, there's give and take on that, but that comes through a process, right?

Sheila: It does and sometimes it's an issue that you can't resolve, because the other person isn't willing to get in line. For instance, if one person's perspective is, you really need to quit the porn and the other person's perspective is, but I like the porn, then that's where you might need to get a third party involved.

Jim: Absolutely, that' over the line—

Sheila: Exactly.

Jim: --way over the line.

Sheila: Yeah, exactly.

Jim: But you've got to be willing to hear each other and as you said so clearly, be willing to look for the other person's best interest. And that's what you're talking about.

Sheila: Yeah and that's I think why God made women to be helpers. A helper is a position of strength we're there. We're perfectly made to help our husbands, which means sometimes the way that you help them is by calling them on things.

Jim: Yeah, you know, the difficulty, too, though in our culture and again, we can debate the finer points of this, but you know, there is an expectation for men to more understand their feelings and the, what some have called the feminization of culture and I think to a degree, that's factual. I think we're not, you know, just off on the farm land and come back in and say, "Woman, where's my supper?" I mean, that's a good thing that we're [not] trying to communicate as loners as men, but in the context of all that, men may be losing their masculinity or their sense of manhood.

Talk about that "take charge" woman and you know what? I'm makin' the decisions, 'cause all that guy does is sit and watch football all day long and you know, he maybe barbecues once in a while for us. But she's a take-charge kind of person and she's payin' the bills and she's makin' decisions on what school the kids should go to or maybe they're homeschooling and she's doing all that work, whatever it might be. She's just an assertive, go-get-it kind of person and her husband may be a lot more reserved.

John: Passive even.

Jim: Passive.

Sheila: Yeah and there's a danger, because when someone who is extremely active marries someone who is extreme passive, what happens is, that you tend to go toward the extremes. So, you become even more assertive than you were before, because you see someone being passive and it scares you, so you go in and you fill all the gaps.

And then because those gaps are filled, the passive person becomes even more passive. And so, 10 years later, you're even worse than when you started. And there is no way that you can badger a passive person into becoming more assertive.

And so, if you were in a position where you are doing everything in the marriage and you are so ticked because your husband does nothin' or because your wife does nothing, the only way for them to do more is for you to stop fillin' all the gaps.

Jim: Yeah and talk it through--

Sheila: Talk it through.

Jim: --calmly.

Sheila: And call out the good things in your spouse. You know, God is doing things in your spouse. Call them out. Speak them out loud. You know, hon, I noticed the way that you praised Steven after his loss at the soccer game today and I noticed the way you just put your arm around him and you told him that you were proud of him. And that made me so proud of you. You know, and I'm just so proud that you are such a compassionate man. You know, say those sorts of things out loud.

Jim: Well, and you're giving exactly the answer to the question I wanted to end with, was what would be a couple things people could do tonight? They've lived in this mess maybe a year, maybe 20 years and they need help. And you're saying it right there, which you said last time, look for a couple things to be positive about and think more positively about your spouse and talk and build that emotional intimacy with each other. I think you'd agree with those points.

Sheila: Absolutely.

Jim: That's what you taught me here. And I think everyone will learn from your book, Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. It's real simple. It's changing behavior in the most positive of ways and yes, it's right there in Scripture. Think upon these things, you know, the positive nature of each other, the God nature in each of us and I think when you do that, your marriage will be in a better place.

If you're stuck and you need help, you don't know how to talk to each other that way, Focus on the Family is here for you. Even if you're at the last knot of that rope, you're thinking of divorce, we've got a program which we're now calling Hope Restored and that is our intensive counseling program, where you can go for four days and they will really unpack your issues and begin to teach you how to communicate in a much more constructive way. These are people that are in the queue for a divorce. They're ready to go and they have come and they have almost an 85 percent two-year post counseling record and you know what? That's money worth investing in your relationship. Think of your kids. Think of, you know, long term, those years that you want to spend together in a far healthier place than you are right now. So, call us if you need us. Thank you, both Keith and Sheila for being with us.

Sheila: It's been wonderful.

Keith: It's been great. Thanks for having us.


John: Well, we do want to come alongside you in your specific need and to speak with one of our counselors or to find out more about Hope Restored, call 800-A-FAMILY. And please know that because of call volume, we do get a lot of calls after a program like this. We might need to take your name and number and give you a call back. And by the way, I've seen the Hope Restored facilities. They're great and it really is a special place where God can meet you and bring some change.

Now if you've resonated with Sheila and Keith over the last couple of days, get a copy of the book, Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, which as you can tell from our conversation, is full of practical advice and tips to implement today to make your marriage stronger.

And then finally, when you get in touch, please help us help others. Every day we come alongside couples around the world through our radio programs, our associate offices, all the resources we have online. And we give hope and in fact, last year alone, just in North America, almost 800,000 couples told us that we helped them build stronger marriages. So, if you'd like to be part of that kind of an outreach, join our support team today. No donation is too small and we'll put your dollars to work to save marriages. You can donate at or call 800-A-FAMILY and when you do, we'll send a copy of Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage as our way of saying thanks for being part of the team.

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, as we take a look at summer vacation plans.


Dr. Greg Smalley: I think there's things that we need to do to where we're literally, we're at rest. We're at peace. We're not goin' and blowin'. But then we've gotta discover some things that will bring life.

End of Excerpt

John: Well, if you're feeling like the end of the school year can't come soon enough, but I'm not sure what I'm gonna do this summer, join us tomorrow for Greg and Erin Smalley, as we once again, help your family thrive.

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Keith and Sheila Gregoire

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Sheila Gregoire is a syndicated columnist, a popular blogger and public speaker, and an award-winning author. Her books include To Love, Honor and Vacuum31 Days to Great Sex and Another Reality Check. Sheila's husband, Keith, is a pediatrician, and the two frequently address audiences together at marriage retreats and FamilyLife Canada weekend conferences. Keith and Sheila reside in Ontario, Canada, and have two grown daughters. Learn more about Sheila by visiting her website: