Skip to main content

4 Ways Culture Impacts Relationships Pt. 1

Culture is the backdrop by which we do relationships. For the next 2 podcasts, we're going to tackle what we think are the 4 biggest cultural factors that tend to impact our marriages, families, kids and everybody. Listen to discover how culture influences your quality of interpersonal communication as well as your levels of satisfaction within relationships.


Transcript

Chris Grace:

Hey welcome to our podcast on the Art of Relationships. We're your hosts, I'm Chris Grace.

Tim Muehlhoff:

And I'm Tim Muehlhoff and we're with the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and we're here to talk all things relationships.

Chris Grace:

In today's episode we're going to talk about the way in which culture has an impact and has impacted relationships and marriage because there are broad trends going on there and we need to understand and get a handle on them and their impact. But before we get started today, we want to quickly introduce you to ourselves so that you know who we are and why you should listen to us. Tim, why don't you your listeners a little bit about yourself?

Tim Muehlhoff:

Well I've been at Biola University for 11 years, amazing how quickly time goes. I teach classes in Family Communication, Gender, Conflict Resolution, Apologetics. My background, I did all my grad work at UNC Chapel Hill and my dissertation, this cracks my wife up all the time, was on marital communications. You could say I have a Ph.D. in marital communication. My wife would say I'm good at the theory part. But yeah I've been teaching here at Biola, absolutely love it. Talking about relationships and the things that really matter to us.

Chris Grace:

You speak nationally with FamilyLife?

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah my wife and I for the last 20 years have spoken for Family Life marriage conferences, it was launched by Dennis Rainey 40 years. Yeah it's been great.

Chris Grace:

Well I'm Chris Grace, I have a Ph.D. in psychology. I've been working here at this university, Biola University for almost 28 years. I teach courses in a variety of areas but one of my favorite courses is teaching it with my wife Alisa, with Dr. Muehlhoff here next to me and his wife, Noreen and then another professor, 2 professors from the school of theology, the Thoennes’. We teach a course on relationships which is really been an awesome experience to work with our undergraduate students in that class. I have loved doing that. Also Alisa and I get a chance to speak as well at various conferences at universities and colleges at retreat centers. We've been doing that for many many years as well.

 

This thing that we've launched, the Center for Marriage and Relationships or as we call it the CMR here at Biola University is here in southern California and we did it just about a year and a half ago and our purpose for this center is to help people build and sustain healthy, Christ-centered relationships by combining the timeless cross-cultural truths of the Bible with the cutting edge research being done and then helping us apply it to our own relationships in a really practical way so that the relationships flourish and thrive and ultimately draw others to Christ.

Tim Muehlhoff:

The CMR offers a variety of resources for you like marriage relationship conferences, blogs, videos with practical tips and advice, marriage mentoring curriculum and training, pre-marital counseling. Also focusing on counseling referrals and a lot more. If you want to see what we have, the resources we provide, just visit our website at cmr.biola.edu and take advantage of all the terrific resources.

Chris Grace:

Yeah, thanks Tim. Hey let's dive into our topic for today. It's talking about culture and some of the ways in which culture has had an influence and an impact on our relationships. It's not about just 2 people, not just about families, but it's about broader cultural things happening.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Well it'd be great if marriage could be lived on a desert island in a vacuum in which nothing about culture or what's happening in Hollywood didn't deeply impact us, but that's just not the case.

Chris Grace:

Yeah it's not.

Tim Muehlhoff:

For the next 2 podcasts we're going to tackle what we think are the 4 biggest cultural factors that tend to impact our marriages, families, our kids and really everybody. It's the back drop by which we do relationships. Let's launch into our very first one. I think we can all relate to this one, it's called hurry sickness.

Chris Grace:

Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Sociologists have identified the fact that we run at light speed all the time that we're never really present and doing one thing at one moment. Literally walking over here to record this podcast, Chris, I almost was trampled to death by a technological herd of students all looking ... I swear to you, there were about 20 students all looking down at their phones. These phones are amazing, Chris. I mean they can launch missiles these phones. I literally said, hey hey, and they all just kind of looked up like zombies, techno-zombies and just kind of walked past us. Now the problem with that is that I'm never fully present in the moment, I'm always rushing from 1 thing to 1 thing to 1 thing in technology allows me to multitask, which I know you've talked about a bunch. That multitasking is kind of a myth.

Chris Grace:

It is a myth. I think what happens is younger people tend to buy into this myth. They feel like, oh this has always been a part of me I can text, I can do stuff on the computer, I can be looking at Twitter, I can be watching TV and I could be studying. It's this belief. But really the problem with multitasking is it always comes with switch costs and that means I pay attention to 1 thing and that's what the brain is designed to do and hold on to that. But when we switch to the next thing, it's maybe a different screen or a different concept, all of a sudden what happens is you lose the ability to remember that's what you were paying to before. The switch cost ends up actually causing many problems so multitasking is probably one of the biggest myths out there.

Tim Muehlhoff:

What's funny Chris is, I'm so distracted by the different screens. Like I could be sitting on the couch with my wife, on my laptop and Noreen's talking to me and she's telling me something really personal, something really intimate. Like, honey I realized as a teenager girl I was abducted by aliens. You know.  There is the theme music to sports center and I just turn towards that screen and I know it's a bad decision, I know it's disrespectful to Noreen. It doesn't even matter what's on the screen, it could be Yiddish shuffle-boarding and I'm like hang on Noreen I want to see if Yan gets the red one.

 

I get so used to switching that I actually get jittery if I only have 1 screen or I'm focusing on just 1 thing, it actually makes me uneasy and even kind of nervous.

Chris Grace:

You know it's such a powerful thing to be pulled over to another thing, another topic because it takes so much time to interact and to pay full attention and to give that. We like to kind of relax and let down and kind of pay attention to other things and yet that pull and that tug on us can be so great. In fact, they just had a recent ESPN special on retired shuffle-boarders from Sweden and I was just fascinated by the fact that it's been 10 years since one of the greatest leading ...

Tim Muehlhoff:

No don't ruin it for me I have that tivo'd. Don't ruin it. You know what's so worrisome about this Chris, is when you're pulled in so many different directions it's what you miss in the process. The beauty of life we just kind of miss it. Here's my favorite example of this, the Washington Post wanted to see if people would slow down enough to notice something absolutely wonderful that was happening right before them. Here's what they did, they took Joshua Bell, who's one of the top violin players in the world. They gave him a 3.5 million dollar violin and they stuck him in the middle of DC metro rush hour. They wanted to see, they had cameras set up everywhere, they wanted to see in the mad rush of life how many people would actually stop and listen to Joshua Bell play 8 songs that you normally would pay hundreds of dollars to hear him play.

 

When they actually counted how many people walked by, over 1,097 people passed by him. Chris, guess how many people stopped to listen to him.

Chris Grace:

Oh I couldn't imagine it was more than 2 or 3 probably, I don't know.

Tim Muehlhoff:

It was actually like 8. Eight. One person when they turned the corner passing Joshua Bell, many people didn't even notice him, didn't even hear the music because they were looking at their cell phones, they had ear buds in or they were just in mad rush to get to work. When you turn the corner there were people from the Washington Post who would grab you and say, hey by the way did you notice anything out of the ordinary? They said, no and then they made them go back, look around the corner and said, that's Joshua Bell right there.

Chris Grace:

Do you know how much it cost to get a ticket to Joshua Bell?

Tim Muehlhoff:

I just wonder, Chris, how we're in the mad rush to get to the next thing we never really enjoy the thing that is in front of us. That can cause massive problems in any marriage, family or relationships.

Chris Grace:

Yeah how does that do? There's this notion that you call and refer to hurry sickness, people have referred to that in a while. It does have an impact because there are times in which we just simply feel like you start a conversation in our family, especially with young kids around and that conversation it may take 3 months before you're able to finish it. Because everything steps in and you just don't have time and so you say, let's talk about this later. How do you overcome this notion and what do you do with it?

Tim Muehlhoff:

Well here's a quote I always write on the white board when I teach my classes at Biola University. I write this, the average couple speaks to each other how many minutes a day? Right? Then I have my students guess. The answer, 3 minutes. Now people will say, no that's just not true I know I've talked to my spouse more than that. Sure. But we call that organizational communication, right? Which is hey pick Tommy up for Tae Kwon Do. Don't forget that we got to do this, hey don't forget this. Right? In a personal communication we define as, I'm fully present in the moment and you and I are talking not about organizational things like who's going to pick up who and don't forget we have a dinner tonight and don't forget this. That interpersonal, 3 minutes a day because we're so hurried we don't have time to go deeper.

 

Again, you can't spend every day deeply connecting. But if the average is 3 minutes of interpersonal communication that's going to cause a ton of problems on the back end. How do you overcome this? Well, boy I would say ... Well listen, we're not going to give up technology, right? I mean, you and I would not give it up. But we would say we need to manage it. I like the idea of having pockets of solitude. Those pockets of solitude can be by myself like when I drive to Biola it's about a 25 minute commute, I don't turn on the radio. I don't have my phone on, and I'm just focusing on prayer or thinking about things I had and I'm fully present on the drive.

 

Noreen and I can do this where we go for a walk and purposely don't take our phones with us. I think creating this ... I think dinner can be this, right? Say to the kids, hey listen if the zombie apocalypse happens during dinner, we will find out about 40 minutes from now, okay? But for dinner no cell phones, and that includes the parents as well.

Chris Grace:

I think that's a great example of ways in which we can capture time. Another way, we have a date night, Alisa and I and we love going out. You go to a cheap restaurant, grab something, sit there and talk but we have found that if we go out some place else we can oftentimes put aside and call this kind of a tech free zone or a tech free time. We could do it in the house but it's harder in the house because you have that constant email or you have that phone or you have somebody else near by and so sometimes it takes getting away just a little bit, even just down the street or like you said going for a walk. Those moments where you can put in a tech free place, a tech free time, you shut everything off. All screens off at 8:00 for example might be a way to do this or there might be a way to say, you know our dinner time is a sacred space.

 

Classrooms, gosh as a professor here and I know you feel the same way that having students come in and concentrate and leave that technology behind can be a very powerful moment and very difficult to accomplish because it's such a draw. People want this and they're almost addicted to that little ding and that little note and that little, I got an update, someone commented on something, I need to go look at this. People are beginning to find that their sleep is being impacted, young kids because they leave that phone right next to them just in case somebody calls them, texts them, updates them or there's some new post.

Tim Muehlhoff:

I feel kind of embarrassed because I kind of spaced on what you were saying because I just got a text that said, Yawn got the red one so we can be rest assured. Hey but we don't want to give a false impression here, right? We don't want to make technology the bad guy in all of this. You could have all the technology turned off, be sitting with your spouse or a child and be totally distracted.

Chris Grace:

That's exactly right.

Tim Muehlhoff:

We have a process in communication theory called clear the mechanism, which means when we're talking and these things do come up. Like, well I wonder how many emails I got or man, I got to remember to do this when this thing's over or I'm just really distracted by work or something. I need to say to myself, hey come on be present here. Clear the mechanism. I've even done the thing where I've had a piece of paper by me where I can just write something down real quick to help me clear the mechanism. We don't want to say technology is all bad and by the way, we're going to do a whole podcast with Dr. Carolyn Kim, one of the top experts at Biola on media. She's going to come in and give a balanced view of how we can control technology and make it our friend, not make it our enemy of intimacy.

Chris Grace:

Yeah because it could actually strengthen and help relationships. It keeps people connected, it does an amazing thing. I think you're right, that notion you said it here that notion of being present when you're present. You've been given something and it's a gift and you have that gift to share with somebody else and that gift of attention, right? Being able to do that in the moment and say, I'm going to listen to this person.

 

By the way, on the receiving side to that it could be deeply powerful and reinforcement for that person who is given your attention. When you give it to them they're going to want to be with you and like you because they since that you are there with them. I know I find myself attracted and drawn to people who will sit and listen or pay attention or even make eye contact. I know they're busy and yet I feel like I am center to them at that point.  It could be very encouraging, powerful and hit us in a deep way that could just increase and help us on our relationships. I love that idea of being present when you're present.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Not be rushed. See I don't want to, you're one more thing on my agenda. Okay have an intimate conversation with my wife, Noreen, check. Now we're out of here. I find that my business, my addictedness to busyness causes me to be greatly impatient. I love this one quote by Collin [inaudible 00:14:59] said, we are a nation who shouts at a microwave to hurry up.

 

Noreen always gets frustrated at me because no matter what I do Chris on our microwave, whatever time I put in I always have to open the door 3 seconds.  Like who's got 40 consecutive seconds? Noreen always, it frustrates her because you can't see the clock anymore if there's 3 seconds left. She's always like, Tim you couldn't have waited 3 more seconds? It's like, honey I really couldn't I'm a busy man. To give somebody unhurried time is really a gift to that person. This hurriedness we're going to have to find a way, by the way this is why God was so wise to say I want you to take a Sabbath, right? One day out of 7 I want you to take a day, a time that is just different from the rest of the week.

 

That could be a great idea and I know Dr. Kim's going to talk about a taking a technological fast every once in awhile. We really need to consider it. Hurriedness is really important, deeply impacts us. There's another one that I'll introduce with a Woody Allen quote. Woody Allen says this, we spend money we don't have to buy things we don't need to impress people we don't like. I love that.

Chris Grace:

Boy isn't that just American way to do things? It probably happens in other places but it just feels like that is really one of our plagues.

Tim Muehlhoff:

It's just true. To flesh this out in an academic way this Woody Allen quote, there were 2 professors and it just pains me to tell you where these professors are from Chris, it just causes literal heart pain. They're from Duke, I hate Duke.  I hate Duke because of the spiritual reasons. What's their nickname? Chris, what's the nickname?

Chris Grace:

Wow they're devils.

Tim Muehlhoff:

The blue devils. I call them the blue satans. I'm from UNC Chapel Hill, we hate Duke. But 2 Duke professors and a documentarian got together and decided to take a look at this desire for more and they actually came up with a made up word. The word they came up with that has become very relevant recently in the news is this word called, affluenza. Which they define as, a painful contagious socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting in the dogged pursuit of more.

Chris Grace:

Oh boy.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Wow welcome to America, right?

Chris Grace:

No doubt.

Tim Muehlhoff:

We seek and want things. They make us feel better I think than us.

Chris Grace:

People say, you know I can forget a little bit of my worries or my concerns or my troubles. When I go out and buy something it's almost this pleasurable moment and therefore I can avoid these awful painful things that I didn't want to deal with then that makes me feel better and then it just becomes this cycle.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Pound for pound the greatest blessing God has ever given to us, Amazon prime. Right? Amazon prime. Chris, all you got to do is click.

Chris Grace:

One button baby.

Tim Muehlhoff:

It's 1 click, oh my gosh. We can get the history of Yiddish sheep herders, we can get all of it. It might not be there tomorrow. Noreen's like, honey it's going to be there tomorrow. Have you ever played this game, Chris? We played it in college. The game is called bigger and better. Here's how the game is played, if you're not familiar with it. You get handed an object, you're broken up into groups.

 

Let's say we have 2 groups. One group is given a penny, one group is given a paper clip. Then these groups walk up to a person's door and knock on the door. When they open the door they say hey can you give me something bigger or better than a paper clip? They'll say, well I can give you a pencil, that's bigger. Awesome, give me the pencil. Then you go to the next house, can you give me something bigger or better than a pencil? They go well sure I can give you a paper plate. Awesome, give me the paper plate. Do you know the team that won at the end of the day, they wheeled in a car that was no longer running. But I often think that's my life. The American life, bigger and better. You start with this house, of course you're going to get a better house. You get this computer watch, of course you're going to get the updated bigger and better.

Chris Grace:

Boy that comparison and comparing ourselves to others and then recognizing that they might have more could be a very insidious way of kind of almost undermining a relationships. Because I think some people think, you know this relationship I was in was really kind of giving me a lot, it made me feel better. People say it completed me and yet when the normal everyday type of conflicts come in and we begin to say, I bet this other person I wouldn't have as many conflicts with.

 

There is somebody who is more like me and out there and it would be easier almost to trade up and to trade in. That's where we start to find some of these major significant problems.

Tim Muehlhoff:

We're forced into that by our way of life. Our kids had a PS3 because we'd play Call of Duty and kill Nazi zombies, right? Generally speaking I think zombies should be killed and certainly Nazi zombies, right? But the PS3 started there was problems with it, so I literally took it to an electronics shop, Chris. The guy looks at me and he says, okay here's the deal. It's going to cost you 75 bucks for me just to look at this thing, you're telling me it's not working so it's going to cost another 75 bucks or 100 bucks to fix it. Well guess what? Buy a new one. Get rid of that one and get a new one. I think we've carried that into our relationships. Hey, why not get a new one because this one, why fix it when I can simply trade it in for something bigger and better.

Chris Grace:

Yeah and we're going to talk in another podcast about conflict. But in reality every couple is going to have to realize, everybody has conflict. It's just the way you manage it which we'll talk about soon. But when you take the wrong approach, and believe that this means that your relationship is fundamentally flawed or no good because if you had a perfect relationships which you seek and want and ideal there should be any conflict. Therefore, I need to find out somebody or find somebody better for me. That's when this notion of material ways that we look at things, we trade up, we find our happiness in things and in the right person. Then all of a sudden now we're looking for something better and different and that's where our problems come in.

Tim Muehlhoff:

We might laugh at a Woody Allen quote, right? We spend money we don't have to buy things we don't need to impress people we don't like. But these 3 researchers came up with some amazing statistics of how Americans are getting sucked into affluenza. Consider this, in each of the past 4 years more Americans declared personal bankruptcy than graduated from college. Our annual production of solid waste would fill a convoy of garbage trucks stretching halfway to the moon. We have twice as many shopping centers as high schools. We now work more hours each year than do the citizens of any other industrial country, including Japan. 95% of our workers say they wish they could spend more time with their families.

Chris Grace:

Amazing.

Tim Muehlhoff:

You can't get away from that, right? You can't get away from the American dream, this idea that the American dream is always me moving upwards financially, status wise and if that's what driving you to feel good about yourself then guess what? You're going to leave the family behind in this rush towards affluenza. You and I are in academia and how many of the people we know that we graduated with in our Ph.D. programs were on their like third marriage, the professors. Because you burn out your first marriage getting your Ph.D., you burn out your second marriage getting tenure, then you burn out your third marriage getting established and finally you're on your fourth marriage.

 

Well this affluenza thing if we don't check it is going to put us on a hamster wheel where we just run and run and go in circles and circles and circles.

Chris Grace:

Yeah and I think what we have found is too the people when they begin to fall into this trap and they begin to recognize how pleasurable things are when they buy, all of a sudden now it starts to reinforce something that is they're only able to gain pleasure when they're able to see, buy something new. It makes them feel good and that's great but again, the problem starts to come in when this begins to dominate who we are, what we do and the way in which we see things and the way in which we see other people. Now we only feel happy when we buy something new. We don't feel happy and connecting and we almost begin this process of now isolating from the very thing that God has called us to. This commitment and this decision to be together and isolation now starts to take in because I just have time for you and I've got time for things that I want that bring me pleasure and this one doesn't.

Tim Muehlhoff:

It's not just new, it's status attached to it. Because I have 3 kids, right? They all played basketball. I was a wrestler so if I shoot a basket it hits the backboard, I get excited. The noise excites me. But they all play basketball so obviously they need basketball shoes right? You got to have basketball shoes.  Well, Chris we had to walk into a sports store and there would be the clearance aisle or there would be the shoes that were on sale. My kids without even looking at them would march right past them and go right to the Kobe Bryant which literally was tripling the price of these perfectly good shoes that were on this discounted table.

 

I had to have it out with my 3 kids. I said, okay here's the deal, that Kobe Bryant shoe right there that is like ... Chris, it was like $240. I'm saying, okay I'm not buying that. Well but I need ... This what they said, but I need shoes. Oh absolutely you need shoes, but these shoes right there are a fraction of the cost so here's what mom and I are going to do. We're going to give you the money that you could buy this pair of shoes right here anything else you want to add comes out of your pocket. Boy, that was an interesting effect on these kids. Suddenly these Reebok's look pretty good.

 

But man that to me is the status symbol. We buy jeans with holes in them and I think the highest, I researched this in one of my classes, the highest priced jeans in the United States was $550, with holes riddled through them. Because somebody has the power to say, that's status and you will feel good about yourself if you're in the in group and you have a status symbol.

Chris Grace:

You know that status symbol it seems like it even applies to the way we are sold on what's romance, what's love, how Hollywood does that. Not just with stuff that it tells us, oh this is what marriage is, this is the best marriage, this is the best to do this. All of a sudden now we start to compare like I don't have a marriage like that or I don't have a relationship like this or I want that. It's so unrealistic.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah one of the fun things we're going to do, we've talked about future podcasts is the next time the Academy Awards happens. We are going to take a look at the 10 movies that have been nominated and we're going to ask this question, if all we learned about love, marriage, sex and commitment came from the movies that were nominated what would be the message that we would get?  Because you're right Chris, it causes us to be dissatisfied with what we have. Now what do we do as Christians with this? I think this again, and this is going to be a common refrain to listeners is this idea of a Sabbath. See on the Sabbath it's not just rest, it's reflection. We reflect on the good gifts God has given to us. Right, James, every gift is from God. We're content with it, right? We don't ask for more.

 

I recently preached a sermon at a church on prayer and I said to them, hey let's do a prayer experiment for the next week. Let's not ask God for anything. Now obviously if our prayer life was like that 24/7 for months it'd be wrong, God does want us to ask for things. But for 1 week I encouraged this congregation, do not ask God for anything just be content with what you have and what God has given you. I think that's probably a good spiritual experience in the world of affluenza.

Chris Grace:

It pulls and calls to mind so many things that we can now be grateful for and thankful for and change perspective on when we do that rather than seeking out and trying to find things.

Tim Muehlhoff:

One other thing I would say about affluenza, we can kind of wrap it up here, is as Americans we do not realize where we fit on an economic level. I think we forget that. Remember that studies that's been reproduced over and over again? The study says if we were to keep all the demographics of the world the same and reduce the world to a village of 100 people fascinating what you see about the 100 people. Roughly, 28 of those 100 people would leave in abject poverty.

 

I say to my kids, and they're sick of hearing it of course they are, but I say to my kids, guys when Jesus talks about the rich young ruler, we're the rich young ruler if you take a look at what Americans have globally. We need to be content with what we have because other people across the world are looking at us saying, you're complaining about those clothes? You're complaining about that car? About what you just had to eat? I do think and not that we can't enjoy good things, but we need to realize, listen globally Americans are doing incredibly well and we just need to take time to say, God thank You for what You've given me. By the way, how can I pass those blessings on to other people? It's incredibly important.

Chris Grace:

Yeah that's right. We find a great study in psychology that says that those who score highest on happiness measures are often times those who frequently compare themselves and think about those who have less and who are not as well off.  They go and they invest time with those who might be, so if you're healthy going in and working with those that are sick or dealing with struggles or issues can actually be very powerful. Because it reminds you of how many blessings you have and how many ways in which you can have impact the life of somebody else by comparing with those that are maybe struggling or not as fair.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's why I like to hang out with the Duke grads every once in a while, just to realize what are the intellectually impoverished like. It just makes me appreciate my UNC Chapel Hill education.

Chris Grace:

Hey, we're out of time for today but we're really glad you joined us on this podcast. It was awesome to be here. Thanks again. If you want more information check us out on cmr.biola.edu.

Tim Muehlhoff:

I'm Tim Muehlhoff and we'll see you next time on the Art of Relationships.

Comments