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4 Ways Culture Impacts Relationships Pt. 2

In the last episode, we explored the cultural trends of "hurry sickness" and "affluenza" and their impact on relationships. This week, we discuss 2 more cultural trends that result in highly unrealistic expectations for marriage. Listen to gain practical tips on how to overcome these cultural challenges.


Transcript

Chris Grace:

Hey. Welcome to our podcast on The Art of Relationships. We're your hosts.

Tim Muehlhoff:

I'm Tim Muehlhoff.

Chris Grace:

I'm Chris Grace. We're with the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships. We're here to talk about all things relationships. We're glad to have you joining us. Come to see us again. If you missed this opportunity to hear all of the podcasts and you want more tools or resources, or even if you've spent time with us, go to our website: cmr.biola.edu. We have an entire center on marriage and relationships in which we're dedicated to providing resources and tools and integrating two cool things. Ready?

 

The timeless cross-cultural truths of Scripture with scholarly insights and wisdom that we've taken from a variety of perspectives and then, applying those to relationships for marriages all the way through any kind of relationship that you're in. Any way in which we can provide help to you, that's what this podcast and that's what our center's all about. We're excited to be here again, Tim.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Feel free to go to our website and offer some comments about the podcast. We've already received some great feedback from people. One person had a great comment. They said, "Hey, I really loved what you did last time, but I could really use more cowbell."

Speaker 3:

Guess what? I got a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell!

Chris Grace:

I think that was you that actually wrote that.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yes, I did. It was a write in. Last podcast, we discussed the fact that no marriage is in vacuum. Every marriage has a context, every marriage is in culture, and that culture really does deeply impact us. Last podcast, we mentioned two things. One, we mentioned something called "affluenza". That, as Americans, we constantly play this game of bigger and better. "I want a bigger house, I want a better marriage ..." That it just breeds dissatisfaction.

 

The other factor we talked about was "hurry sickness". We are just crazy individuals. I love what one person said, that we yell at a microwave to hurry up, for crying out loud. My wife always gets frustrated at me because no matter what, I put something in a microwave. No matter what I do, I put in forty seconds, I cannot wait forty ... Who's got forty consecutive seconds? No one does.

 

I always stop it with, like, two seconds left, three seconds left, and it just drives my wife crazy. Those are the first two, but here's another one to consider: an overly romantic view of marriage that we have today. When we watch the movies, we see a view of marriage that it is so highly romanticized, that of course we look at our boring marriages and relationships and say, "Well, mine's not that." It causes us to be deeply dissatisfied with the type of marriage that we have.

 

There was a study done by the University of Edinburgh where they studied romantic comedies between the years 1995 and 2005. It was things like "Runaway Bride", "Notting Hill", "You've Got Mail", "Main in Manhattan", "While You Were Sleeping" ... Any movie with Julia Roberts qualified. They just basically looked at it and said, "If you constantly watch these movies ..." Like I know you do. I know you love ...

Chris Grace:

Yeah. I just finished watching one as you were talking.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's right. "Maid in Manhattan". Yes ... On your watch, most likely. If you watch these, what happens? Here's what happens ... Researchers said two things happen. One, you spoil your love life because it's dull, and then, second, the lead researcher said that it shows you that there's a person that can meet all of your needs. That that really only happens in the movies, but it deeply impacts us.

Chris Grace:

It is so unrealistic and yet, we just simply buy it because it shows to us that this could be. "There's an ideal out there and I don't match up." Right? This whole comparison that we have ... I could imagine, ultimately, for many people who would just simply view a number of these things time after time again what's going to end up happening.

 

You have this unrealistic expectation, this unrealistic now standard, and it's never going to be met by nobody unless they're able to come in and airbrush things and Photoshop things and edit things out. No marriage has an editor unfortunately, right? We live with the consequences of just day to day living.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Just the time frame. Right, Chris? I mean, the time frame of the average movie is, let's say, an hour and a half, an hour and forty five minutes. All the major problems, right, can get resolved in an hour and forty five. You take an average sitcom, maybe a half hour sitcom, take out the commercials, you're looking at, what ... Twenty three minutes? Things can get resolved that quickly.

 

We start to get impatient that we're not resolving things as quickly as we can see in the movies or on television. I think, Chris, that the most damaging message is that, "I can fix this person." Think of all the shows, all the movies where a character will even say, "This person's no good for me." Right? "But I can change that person." We know how damaging that is in research.

Chris Grace:

Yeah. It's damaging because change, transformations, rarely happen immediately, right? They take time. They take investment. They take me making choices that seem, maybe at the time, very small and very little baby steps. In reality, those are what get us to a point where we can make bigger changes, but you need a longer view on that. I'm not sure how we ... Overcome this. We have to be very careful in what we put in, what we think about, and ways in which we process relationships and what we allow to come in as our standards, as our views.

Tim Muehlhoff:

When Noreen and I do premarital counseling, and I know you and Alisa do as well, we always ask this couple who wants to get married ... We ask them this: "If the person you're engaged to never improved, but never got worse, would you be okay with that person as is?" Chris, you should see the responses from these couples, like, "No way! I want that person to change and I'm banking on the fact that he or she will change." That's ... You can't do that.

Chris Grace:

No. It's a telling answer. It's a great question that needs to be asked for anyone who's in that position to say, "I am about to enter into a relationship with somebody that could be fairly permanent. Even if they never change, this is who I'm married to and I had better be ready" and because it provides for you this notion that, listen ... All of us have flaws. All of us are working on things and we can't expect someone to change as time goes on. They will change, but it's not going to be usually in the way in which we hope or anticipate.

Tim Muehlhoff:

It could be worse.

Chris Grace:

That's right.

Tim Muehlhoff:

They could change for the worse. Chris and I, along with some other Biola faculty and our spouses, we teach a class on Christian relationships. It's about two hundred and thirty students. One student just asked, "Hey, but I thought opposites attract."

Chris Grace:

Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Right? "I thought opposites attract." I said, "Yeah. You know what the rest of that adage is? 'Opposites attract, marry, and then, kill each other.'" My goodness, there has to be that core compatibility. What's the message from movies, right? "Twilight" ... A vampire and a werewolf can get together and ... That's just craziness to think that two people from radically different backgrounds can come together and their love is going to change one another ... Man, that's brutal.

Chris Grace:

It is ... Those are the types of relationships that you worry a lot about because people are led to believe, "Oh, this could work. We're just so different. We counter, we balance each other out." I guess in some personality characteristics, in some ways, it's good to be different and to kind of complement each other. It's probably a better adage to say, "Birds of a feather flock together."

 

If you have a whole lot more in common, your compatibility level is higher, you like and have the same sense of humor, maybe personality, the way you view money ... Those are critical issues that are going to hit you all the time. Add in spiritual values and morals ... Boy, there is no such thing as opposites attract when it comes to that, in which there's a healthy outcome.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's why Paul is so wise to say, "Do not be unequally yoked together." He, of course, means Christian/non-Christian, of course that. I think he also means maybe interest in the Lord. How passionate are you about the Lord and then, you're marrying a person who exhibits not a lot of passion? You're thinking, "Yeah, but we love each other and that person's going to change." I'm like, "Man ..."

 

One psychologist said, "Your future is right now. You can't bank on the fact that that person's going to change." An overly romantic view of love and marriage ... Chris, I was teaching a class a couple years ago. A woman got engaged and so, she was getting married at the end of the semester. I just asked her ... I said, "Hey, what are you doing on your honeymoon?"

 

She said this ... I think this is indicative of this over-romanticized view of love. She said, "Oh. Me and my husband, after we're married, we're going to go to a cabin, no electricity, no social media, no television, and we're going to be there for ten days. Just us and our love." My response was, "I'd bring Scrabble." You know what I mean? It's like, "Wow! That's kind of crazy." You know what I mean? That's that over-romanticized view of love. Anybody who's been married any length of time knows that there's peaks and valleys.

Chris Grace:

That's right.

Tim Muehlhoff:

There's times of high romance and there's times where you just got to slug through it. You got toddlers or financial pressures and marriage isn't particularly romantic. It's not overly sexy right now, but our commitment is what's fueling it. Okay, so an overly romantic view of love and commitment fueled by media.

 

The next one is this idea of what we call "starter marriages". Those of you who have bought a house ... Listeners, you know that often, Americans will buy a house that they call a starter house. It's with the assumption that we're going to move on to something. Interesting that kids in high school today refer to their first marriage as a starter marriage. They've grown up in the divorce culture, so they don't want to divorce, but "Hey, it would not surprise me whatsoever if I do get a divorce when it comes to my first marriage."

 

Heading into commitment like that in the age of divorce kind of is like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Again, we're going to do a whole podcast on this mythical fifty percent divorce rate. We've kind of grown up in the shadow of that, so people today expect that "My marriage isn't necessarily going to work out and that's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just something that happens all the time."

Chris Grace:

Yeah, I think what worries us a little bit is this notion that once you accept some of these false cultural assumptions or premises about what it is like to be in a marriage and how quickly and how easily, frankly, it is to get out of something, that there are no consequences, or the consequences aren't that great, when in reality, they have huge impact on our emotional well-being. They have impact on friends. Listen to this ... We have found Americans since 1985 have gone from saying that they have four close friends to two.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Wow.

Chris Grace:

Twenty five percent of Americans say they have no single person that they would call a close friend. Right? Some people are pointing to the likelihood of that very view, these starter marriages and the increasing rate of divorce ... What it's done is when someone does get a divorce, they're viewing this as "Oh, this is just a starter and I can get out of this any time."

 

Well, in the meantime, they're developing relationships that are tied into that marriage. Well, someone's going to lose. People will not have friends, they want to remain loyal to someone, and so all of a sudden now, this lowering in the number of friends that people have could very well be to this notion of divorce, how easy it is, and then, these ideas of starter marriages.

Tim Muehlhoff:

This is where, again, we mentioned an overly romantic view of marriage fostered by Hollywood. Well, I think it impacts us here when it comes to marriage. I mean, it used to be ... Think about the 1950s. If you were a divorcee, that was a negative stigma.

 

I wrote a book on marriage called "Marriage Forecasting". In it, a psychologist said, based on her research, how long do you think it takes for a couple to hit the rhythm of their marriage? She said ten years. Chris, for the divorce rate, what's the average? If a couple's going to get divorced their first marriage, what's the average that they call it quits in America?

Chris Grace:

Well, people might have remembered the notion it was a seven year itch. It has clearly gone down now. In fact, about fifteen years ago, people were talking about the five year and the four year. Today, we're looking at an average of around two and a half to three years when people call it quits, which is amazing because ... By the way, they almost always say when asked by divorce lawyers who kind of keep track of some of these things, "Why are you getting divorced?"

 

They almost always say it's just simply there's just too much conflict going on and they give up. They just don't have the tools and the equipment, which we're going to talk about in another podcast soon on "How do we deal and manage with conflict that all of us are going to face?" We stole this from you and Noreen, but I remember one time you were telling a story about Noreen said to you, "Tim? We had better get this issue worked out because it's going to be a long seventy years of marriage if we don't."

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's right.

Chris Grace:

[crosstalk 00:14:22] that's the long view, isn't it?

Tim Muehlhoff:

That subtext is really powerful. Chris, when I was doing my Ph.D. at UNC Chapel Hill, there was a professor who was very famous for giving a lecture. He called it the "exit lecture". In the lecture, he said this, "The only thing that makes marriage work is that I have a back door, I have an exit to the marriage, and you even know what it is, by the way. You know if this happens in our marriage, I'm out of here."

 

"The fact that I choose not to use the exit, the back door, actually is a sign that I'm committed to the marriage. Knowing the back door is there actually relieves some of the pressure when it comes to marriage." I'm just thinking of what the Song of Solomon says, right? A totally different perspective. "Love is stronger than death," the ancient writer says.

 

Today, I think people know, "Hey, divorce is not a big deal as much as it used to be. I can get out of this thing and I'm actually glad that I can exit out of this." At the center, we're wanting to take a very different view of marriage and just say, "No. You become one flesh with this person. This is a lifelong commitment to that person." What Noreen said, "We better work this out or we're going to be pretty miserable because we're in it for life. This is a lifetime commitment."

Chris Grace:

I think what ends up happening for a lot of couples is they realize something is deeply powerful there when they say, "We're going to even ban the word 'divorce' from our conversations. It's just simply ... We're not going to talk about this because we are in this." Well, what it does is it subtly reminds each of you that, "Listen, I don't care what's going to happen next."

 

"I know we're each going to go through difficult times. I know there's going to be conflict. I know that this is not always going to be easy, but I am going to give you this guarantee: I will not give up. I am committed to this. This is something I am in and ... The only thing that's going to get me out of this is until death do us part'."

 

That can do some pretty powerful things at a sub ... At this level for your spouse, but it can also tell a lot to other people. Right? In our culture, when people hear that? Say, "Yeah, I know I'm struggling or this is hard, but you know what? I'm committed to this marriage and I'm going to ..." That can be a very powerful model for a world that needs to hear and see that kind of ministry or that kind of testimony and that kind of marriage.

Tim Muehlhoff:

 Chris, here's an interesting question some of our listeners might be thinking about. You have a couple, they're both committed Christians, but they say, "Hey, listen ... We're unhappy. I mean, this is unhappy. We experience this 24/7. We don't see this really going away. Would God have us stay in an unhappy marriage?"

 

That's pretty powerful. I don't want to minimize it, right? I don't want to minimize the fact that for some listeners, their marriage is just difficult. The fun left a long time ago. Some couples report not being sexually intimate, right? I mean, that stopped years ago. "You're saying God would have us be miserable in this and somehow that brings glory to God that I'm miserable in this relationship?" That's an interesting question that, at the center, how do we answer that kind of person?

Chris Grace:

You answer it by recognizing that there are just some realities that people do struggle. They're not doing well and it is hard. There are very few times in which people would say, "Conflict is actually enjoyable." No one really loves that. I think what ends up happening is you have to help people recognize that there is and will be something very deep, very powerful, and very important for couples, which we'd like to offer: that is the word "hope".

 

There was a great study done by [inaudible 00:18:08]. They took twenty nine thousand people and they surveyed them. They found out for those that were struggling, when they came back three years later after just simply having time and looking at some things, they actually reported that their marriages were now good or even better. There's hope there. For couples, some of the things ... Of course, it could be some major things that have to go on.

 

This might involve bringing in professionals. It might even involve getting counseling. It might even mean taking steps to help get some of these things back. That could be really hard and take a lot of time. For other couples, it could just simply be some things that they can start doing even today. They can start doing some things like we talked about last time ...

 

Showing more gratitude, taking more time to look out for somebody's interest, start thinking about ways they can improve and change, start thinking about different things that they can do to bring joy and hope back into something. What oftentimes happens is that hope can spur us to change and we can realize we can do this. We just need to make some tweaks or even some major changes, but there's an outcome out there that could be very powerful and attainable if we do some things and take some steps.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Chris, I love that. That study is remarkable ... Three years?

Chris Grace:

Yeah. Within ... A short amount of time, couples ... Many of them had re-rated and found that they had gone from just simply very poor or neutral ratings of their relationship or their marriage to increasing it.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah ... I think I read that study and they mentioned that reading a [inaudible 00:19:41] book on marriage ... Maybe I read into the article, to be fair.

Chris Grace:

Yeah, to be fair, I think you're probably right.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Noreen and I, we speak at FamilyLife Marriage conferences. We've been doing it for over twenty years and I remember meeting with some couples where they would say, "I'm unhappy." I said to them, "Can I just for a second ask you to define one word for me? Define happiness. You're unhappy. Well, how would you define happy?" That's really important because there's two different definitions of happiness. One, we could take the modern definition, right?

 

Look up the word "happiness" in a dictionary and you'll get something like, "A pleasurable feeling." I could be happy helping the poor or I could be happy killing Nazi zombies "Call of Duty". Let's for a second just take an older definition of happiness, one that actually a philosopher named Aristotle gave. It was this: "Happiness is actually you maturing as a person." He called it virtue. You're happy when you're actually growing.

 

I remember speaking at a conference of, like, a thousand people. I said to them, "How many of you would say using the first definition that you're in a constant state of happiness in your marriage?" Well, very few hands and they're mostly people kissing up, right? They know date night is Saturday night at the conference, but then you say, "How many of you would say using Aristotle's definition of happiness that you have matured through the course of this marriage?" Hands go up everywhere.

 

We need to ask the question, "Hey, by happiness, do you mean a constant pleasurable feeling? Well, then, yeah. Guess what? I don't doubt that there's a lot of couples who go through deep seasons of unhappiness." I find it interesting in the book of James, James says, "Consider it joy when you hit hard times."

 

That joy is roughly the same Greek word Aristotle was talking about, right? I think we need to ask the question - we're going to do a whole podcast on this - is, "What is God's purpose for marriage in the first place?" It may not be that we're constantly happy, first definition: "I think the purpose of marriage is ..." You can be assured, even in the unhappy marriages, God's using this difficulty to mature us.

Chris Grace:

Yeah. Even Gary Thomas, the guy who wrote a book "Sacred Marriage", has as his tagline: "What if marriages were designed not to make us happy, but to make us, what, holy." That's that notion, right? This is a process. I remember back ... If you asked us about our marriage and what it was like, we would say we're happy. In fact, I'd say, we're very happy. We've been married twenty eight years.

 

I'll tell you. We have had a couple of seasons in there in which things did not go well, right? Each couple can experience these. For us, it was the birth of our second child. While it was joyful and awesome, it just created tensions that we weren't ready for. That year six and year seven were very difficult, very painful. In fact, if you were to ask us that question, I'd say, "Not only are we not happy, I'm not even sure what we're doing. This is very difficult for us."

 

One of the things that I would suggest if you face this or you're in this now is recognize that you cannot wait to get help. What's the average couple wait when they're seeing significant issues or problems? The average couple waits ... Ready? Six years before they get help. When they talk about couples that divorce, less than one percent have actually even gone to therapy or counseling that year they got divorced.

 

Here's what's happened ... Couples are just waiting too long. There are so many cool things and important things that you need to be doing during that time that are available. In fact, if you can go to our cmr.biola.edu website, you could find a number of conferences that take place here. Wherever city you're at, I guarantee you, there is some sort of date night, there is some sort of marriage conference, there is some sort of weekend away that you can take advantage of. That's how you begin to get out of this.

 

For Alisa and I, we just simply were asked to start talking about relationships and marriage. We had to sit down and have hard conversations about what was going on and why we weren't connecting in this and ... What had happened is, we had just let things begin to disconnect and never had time to follow up with these.

 

By the way, we went and did a marriage weekend after that. It was extremely important and powerful for us to get a handle on this and begin to see, "Ah, this is some of the reasons why we're struggling. We are just not having time to talk about some of these deeper issues that are going on."

Tim Muehlhoff:

How long did couples wait?

Chris Grace:

Couples wait an average of six years to get help. Once the fracture starts, they're waiting six years.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Chris, imagine taking that philosophy and applying it to anything else in life.

Chris Grace:

To your car.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Your car.

Chris Grace:

Exactly.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Right. Your fancy watch that you wear that launches missiles. Imagine that. Your car ... It would not work anymore if you waited. The engine light goes off and you're like, "Okay, I'm going to wait six years."

Chris Grace:

Well, yeah. It's like termites in the house. You see termites. You see them there and you go, "You know what? This is fine. I think I'll just wait a couple of years and we'll just see. It'll go away or maybe this is what everybody does." In reality, guess what? Six years later, you're going to be facing a much bigger cost than anything else.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Chris, we've not shaken the stigma of marital counseling, do you think? By and large?

Chris Grace:

I think it's funny because ... The younger people, I believe, are saying, "You know what? It's okay to talk about issues, problems and to admit that we're not doing well." They tend to - not all - but they tend to go out and not feel kind of shame or embarrassment to admit they've got some issues or problems. I think it's a little bit of the older generation ... There's still a little bit of ambivalence about or some way that it's associated with "To admit that I'm not doing well ..."

 

Even to go to a marriage conference, people will say, "Well, if I just simply go to a marriage conference, I'm going to tell everybody that I'm not doing well and I don't want to talk about that. I don't want anybody to know about that." I think a little bit is fading, but we worry a little bit ... That still kind of can be there for some couples.

Tim Muehlhoff:

I just had a couple come up to us at a marriage conference in Boise. We were just talking to each other. She said, "You know, I get the craziest reactions from my friends when I tell them what I'm doing." I'm like, "Like what?" She said, "Well, we were talking to some friends because they were going to watch our kids for the conference.

 

The friend said, 'So you're going to a marriage conference?'" She says, "Oh, actually, this is our third one." The response was like, "I'll pray for you." The assumption is, right, the car can't work anymore and now it's time for us to go to a mechanic, where pre-maintenance is incredibly important to have healthy marriages.

Chris Grace:

Yeah. That's right.

Tim Muehlhoff:

In this podcast, we took a look at an overly romanticized view of marriage, right, via Hollywood. We got to be careful, right? Entertainment is great, but it can spoil our love life if that research from the University of Edinburgh is true. Second, this idea of starter marriages ... We've kind of embraced the fact as a culture that divorce happens all the time and it's probably going to happen to my marriage. I don't want it to, but I won't be shocked if it does. We're kind of, at the Center for Marriage and Relationships, offering a different perspective on that. We're more of a Biblical view of a lifetime commitment to another person or one-flesh relationship. What are we going to do next time?

Chris Grace:

Well, next time, we're going to talk about ways in which certain emotions get triggered very quickly for couples. It's the basis for a lot of our conflicts, but unfortunately, many couples simply fail to realize that an argument about money is really about some other deeper issue, oftentimes. An argument about being late is not always about being late. That's what we're going to talk about. We're going to tackle that next time. Yeah, it's going to be fun.

 

Hey, here's what we want you to do if this has been helpful. If you're looking for more opportunities to engage with some of this material, if you want to look at some blogs, some videos, if you want to hear about some conferences in your area, go to the CMR website. Go to cmr.biola.edu and you can find out all kinds of cool things going on and look at some resources and tools we have available for you guys. Well, we're really glad you joined us for today's podcast. For more resources on marriage and relationships, visit our website at cmr.biola.edu.

Tim Muehlhoff:

We'll see you next time on The Art of Relationships.

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