Listener Questions Answered, pt. 2
When dating, questions about marriage, conflicts about social media, and many other issues can start to rise. How you handle these questions and conflicts inevitably shape your relationship. Today, Dr. Chris Grace and Dr. Tim Muehlhoff tackle these questions within the context of dating. Tune in to hear your questions, answered.
Chris Grace: Well, welcome to another Art of Relationship podcast with Tim Muehlhoff.
Tim Muehlhoff: And Dr. Chris Grace.
Chris Grace: Well, we're back to just visit about all things relationships and it's exciting to be here. Mostly, Tim, I think it's because there's such a fun opportunity in this area of talking about relationships. We gotta cover everything from marriages to couples that are just dating, people that are dealing with things like ... even singleness and the relationship with God, and that's what this is about, this podcast. So it's really fun to do it with you.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's right.
Chris Grace: Looking forward to it. Let's try some more questions from listeners that are out there. There are a variety of questions people sent it in related to the podcast. You could send them to us online at cmr.biola.edu, at events, we oftentimes ask for questions and they fill them out. I thought, let's take another opportunity again-
Tim Muehlhoff: That's great, we have a ton of questions, which is great.
Chris Grace: Yeah, here's one. Let's talk about this one. "My boyfriend and I are ready to get married. My mother does not want me to get married until I graduate from college next year. We have been in premarital counseling and the only hindrance is my mom." What should I do? Wow.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, good question there, huh?
Chris Grace: Yeah. Tim, I think this one has so much to it. We really want to honor what those in our lives feel and say, especially if we're living in a situation in which we're trying to respect and honor those nearest to us. It's so important, we talked about this in another podcast, Tim, that we listen to those that know us in relationships, and for whatever reason, when a parent, in particular, says we really want you to wait, I think you have to weigh that very carefully.
Tim Muehlhoff: Absolutely.
Chris Grace: I do not believe that at the end, if that's the only, if everybody else in is in favor of this and just the mom is not, I think then you might really have to do some serious praying and thinking and maybe even dealing in that relationship but what's your first thought that comes to mind? How would you counsel somebody who says we're ready, mom isn't, and she wants us to wait until I graduate.
Tim Muehlhoff: Well, and the question, Chris, how close was this person to graduating?
Chris Grace: They're saying that's within the next year, I guess, until, well, it doesn't really say, she didn't say.
Tim Muehlhoff: Okay. I think, again, this was hard for us as we're just reading these questions, we obviously would get so much more context in answering things. I'd want to know a couple things. One, if you're within a year of graduating, a semester, I think there's wisdom. When we do premarital counseling, we always ask couples, "Why this person, why now?" And if my son or daughter was within a year of graduating, I think I would say "hey, let's graduate." You have no idea what life is going to throw you a curve ball and may never get back to it, and we just know a lot economically that people have college degrees can earn more and so there's that.
If they were within spitting distance, then I think it's wise to heed the mother. But second, I would want to know how controlling the mother is, what's her history on this because you're going to have to establish those boundaries after marriage. If this is a woman who generally speaking has not been intrusive and now she really is, I think I'd give weight in that. If she's always putting her nose into it, this might be a place where I put a stake in the ground and say, "mom, we've talked about this, our friends are in agreement, we're good with this."
So those are kind of the factors I might want to take a look at.
Chris Grace: No, I think that's good too. I really would just simply add a small point to that that is similar, and that is really deep down, if your mom, this is kind of unique for her, she's not normally one that would be too controlling, it could still be that it's not a correct approach. She'd most likely want to find out what's going on at this deeper level. Is she concerned, worried about anything else, and this just happens to be an excuse or a reason that she's pointing to? Those could be of valuable conversation that you would have and a good conversation starter. Couples have to deal with this all the time, and I don't believe you're going to get everybody always is on board at the same time, and sometimes the couple just has to make that decision. I do like the fact that they are in premarital counseling, listening to somebody from the outside, who's objective, and that could be a great voice in this situation.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, and I would say one general principle you want heading into marriage. You want a vibrant team of people on your side, and in-laws can be a huge heartache or they can be great advocates.
There's even things within our marriage, with me and Noreen, there's just some things I gave on. They weren't huge things. You want those people to be on your side as much as humanly possible, so again, where you can give, I'd give, and I like what you said, let's find out why she cares about this so deeply, and maybe you give a nod to her because you're just showing respect and love for her. Obviously, each situation is going to be different but there are just some general principles to keep in mind.
Chris Grace: Yup. I love it. Let's try this question, "As a dating couple, Facebook has become an issue because my better half does not want anything about us on his page. Is this okay?" I think these new realities, you all right-
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.
Chris Grace: of dealing with how you get our relationship status out there in social media, and publicly, people simply know and can follow us and know our lives pretty quickly and that can change in an instant. Here's the question, I guess, Tim. Is it okay if another person is a little bit hesitant or worried to express this in a public way and put it out there or is that a sign of something? I guess the answer for me would come down to this.
You probably didn't have that conversation and ask what is going on? Is this something that, are there other worries or concerns you just don't agree that everybody in the world you should know your business, or is this have anything to say about his belief or view of the relationship, and are you guys seeing it at different levels right now? That can start causing problems.
Tim Muehlhoff: Well you know, Chris, you and I both have to deal with this in a different kind of way because we're both public speakers on marriage.
Chris Grace: Right.
Tim Muehlhoff: I don't know the rule that you have with Alisa but I imagine it's very similar to one I have with Noreen. So, when I'm up in front of a group, I need her permission to talk about our marriage publicly. I also need her permission, If I'm going to share an argument but sort of, kind of represent her perspective in the argument, I need to clear that with her. I can talk about me all day long, the things that I struggle with and things like that. I think that's fine on Facebook, I think that's fine in front of an audience.
But when I start to talk about our marriage, our argument, my perception of Noreen publicly, I better clear that with her first. I think, so Facebook, if you're in a serious dating relationship and the other person thinks, listen, I really prefer you not share details about us on Facebook. I think the other person has to agree with that. They have to abide by that and respect that.
Chris Grace: Yeah, I just think people differ in this in the way they view and way they feel comfortable sharing different details in life. Isn't it just, we have different perceptions, right? You can have the same event, even agreeing on a picture, right, I mean-
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, for sure.
Chris Grace: A person might post something that I love the way you look in this and everything, I look horrible, please don't post that.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's right.
Chris Grace: Or don't say that even though we've might-
Tim Muehlhoff: I've had an accident and have ink on my jeans.
Chris Grace: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: I mean there's just, there's just things that happen in the course of life.
Chris Grace: Yeah, there are. Photoshopping as I would imagine is one of those things we could eventually do with the picture at the end, but in the long run, I think what you have to do, Tim, is really have a conversation and figure out what are the details, what's going on here, and why would a person be in a different place than you.
Tim Muehlhoff: But you could see how that could split a couple up.
Chris Grace: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: I mean, I have friends who just love Facebook, and they love to narrate their lives via social media. Well, that other person better be okay with that to a certain degree. Again, all couples have to establish the rules of the relationship, and I think Facebook kind of forces you to do that.
Chris Grace: Yup. All right. So you got another question for us?
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, and I thought this was kind of an interesting one. "Despite being in a healthy relationship, I find myself constantly desiring singleness?" How are you interpreting healthy? "Desiring singleness so I can pursue other women. Is that just a guy thing or is this a bad sign?"
Well, listen, I think this is where, we used to say this thing, Chris, that distance makes the heart either grow fonder or colder. I think one of the quick litmus tests of the relationship that you're in is your eyes are wandering all the time. You're always thinking, oh man, I wonder what it would be like to be in that relationship, I wonder what it'd be like to, I wish I was kind of free to get to know this person in my class. That's an interesting diagnostic to say hey, I don't think this is a healthy relationship, or maybe you're just too young to be in a committed, settled relationship because being in a settled, committed relationship means you are, as the Bible would later say, eventually getting in the process of forsaking other people.
So hey, when you're single, it's fine, you can get to know whoever you want. If you're casually dating, there aren't a ton of commitments. But when you're in a serious relationship, that means giving away some of these, I'm no longer, my eyes aren't wandering, and I'm not always thinking, boy, I wish I could get out of this so I could be in that relationship.
Chris Grace: Yeah. I would say it's a bad sign. It just simply, if you're constantly desiring something else, especially if you know deep down that you're walking and you're listening to what God is doing and speaking to you, I would say that there is something that you're going to have start figuring out, and that is what am I doing and why am I feeling these kinds of things. I think God can whisper to us and tell us.
I do believe that you probably would be better off being authentic, real, and also just being honest with the other person, saying, you know, can I just say this? I like being friends with you, I like this, but frankly, I'm just not ready, my heart isn't there, and I need some space and some time to figure some things out, so I think that being honest and sharing that.
Tim Muehlhoff: And there's nothing wrong with that. I mean if you're young and you're in college or you just joined a, start working with a company and there's single people everywhere, well, that's fun. There's no reason not to get to know people in an appropriate way. Don't be so quick to settle down. When you settle down, by definition, you are giving up some of your options. I would say don't be so quick to rush into this committed relationship.
Chris Grace: Yeah, and finally, the part of the question too, is this just a guy thing or a bad sign? It's a guy and a girl thing. I don't think there's a gender difference in this. I think God leads us directly and differently in what we desire meaning, it could be anybody, and I don't necessarily think it's just a guy thing.
Tim Muehlhoff: The only thing I would add to that caveat would be, I do think there's this gender-male narrative that's out there that's kind of like being a player kind of a thing is attractive to a lot of guys. A lot of movies we could look at, man, just, they love the guy who's the player and moves around in and out of relationships.
So we have to be very careful not to idealize that gender-narrative when it comes to hyper-masculinity, I think it can get people in trouble fairly quickly.
Chris Grace: Yeah. Well-
Tim Muehlhoff: Hey, I have another one.
Chris Grace: Okay, good.
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, you have one?
Chris Grace: Yeah, no, go.
Tim Muehlhoff: Here we go. "How do you receive criticism in a productive way without becoming defensive or taking it personally?" I'm going to let Chris take this.
Boy, that's hard.
Chris Grace: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's tough. Right?
Chris Grace: Yeah. No. Yeah, Tim, you don't do this very well oftentimes, I've noticed, and so what I'm wondering why is this such an issue for you when all I'm doing is commenting on the fact that your modeling career never did take off, and you're probably...
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, but it could have. It could have.
Chris Grace: Yeah. Hand-modeling. No. So here's what we need to do-
Tim Muehlhoff: I was committed to an alien at the time and she just wasn't-
Chris Grace: I think receiving criticism really has a whole lot to do with who's giving you the criticism, what the context is, why they're doing the criticism, and ultimately at the end of the day, no criticism about anything we do is going to be easy. It's just simply because we don't want to fail, we don't want to be misperceived, we don't want to be unliked, we don't want to fail. So when someone brings up something that says we're not doing it well, it just can be very difficult.
So I would suggest that the way we do this is we listen in a way, you have to really, especially if it's somebody who's thoughtfully done this carefully and prayerfully and is approaches you about something at that point, I think the response better be, you better take that seriously, take it away, take some time, pray about it, think about it. If it's done a little bit more flippantly, Tim, you know, without really a lot of thought-
Tim Muehlhoff: More hurtful and a sarcastic way.
Chris Grace: Yeah, then I think you maybe still do the same thing, you take it away and say, "God, lead me in this, help me to see maybe what's going on here. Let me honor this person and listen" but I think there's also a very important place for context.
Tim Muehlhoff: I like what you said, though, Chris. It depends on a lot of things. One, if the person is just giving it harshly, man, that's brutal to take without getting defensive. But you said something like if this area is important, how important is this area to you?
I love this one quote, it's by a man called Lord Byron, he said, "All is to be feared when all is to be lost." If I go into that job 360 review, if I really ask students in my class to honestly evaluate my classroom, if all is to be lost, if I get a bad review, then I'm never going to receive criticism. If my self-image hangs on the fact that I've got to get great course evaluations or that promotion, I have to, have to, have that promotion, I have to have you like me, then any type of criticism is just going to be devastating.
We mentioned this before in podcast, that idea of self-image, self-concept is really important is that we need to be somewhat confident in who we are regardless of whether you win the game or not, regardless of you get that promotion, regardless of those different kind of things. Now that's hard, but if everything's on the line, then I'm never going to be able to receive criticism, so we have to be confident individuals rooted in what God has done for us and yeah, it's a test your character. Everybody can receive praise, love that. When you receive that person who thinks you could have done it better, I think that's also a gut check to see, am I open people? Am I proud when it comes to this issue? That's interesting.
Chris Grace: Yeah. No, that's good. Let's try another question.
Tim Muehlhoff: Sure.
Chris Grace: Slightly differently, it's in the area, though, "How do you know, other than hearing it from God, that you are ready to be married? How do you know, other than hearing from God, that you're ready to be married?"
Tim, what do you think? There's a variety of things that need to be in place in your life, right? There's just some maturity, we'll never get to that point where we're going to be, you know, we've achieved a certain level satisfaction and walk with the Lord and lack of sinfulness, we're never going to be perfect. There are just going to just simply be times in which we accept, okay, this is who I am but maybe it's this, maybe you're ready when you're able to say, Lord, I am so content in you, in my relationship with you in where you have me. I'm working on it. But that contentment comes from I seek who I am, my status, my identity in the Lord and you're working a lot of things with me, but there's nothing significant, major, or that is extremely detrimental to my interacting with other people.
I think it's a tough question because you're doing some self-assessment, how are you before God? Are you feeling-
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.
Chris Grace: ... like you're ready, prepared?
Tim Muehlhoff: No, I think that's good.
Chris Grace: And that you are content with Him?
Tim Muehlhoff: Yes, that self-assessment, though, is going to break down in two ways. One, I think there's some philosophical self-assessment, what you just described was perfect. Another philosophical one would be what we just talked about. Hey, are you ready to not let your eyes wander? Are you ready to commit to a person, knowing hey, I'm committed to you, I'm not going to look for other relationships. I'm not going to look for a back door in this marriage, I'm ready to do that mature-wise.
Here's another one. Can you live on your own financially? Can you make it? Here's the practical one. Can you support this woman or man that you getting married, can you both your incomes make it because if you can't make it, you're not ready to get married. That's craziness. I had one person say, "Well, I'll be an Uber driver." Well, okay, God bless you on that. You know what I mean? There are some practical things. Do you have a place to live? Do you have a job and can you pay for each other? Do you have dental? Do you have insurance?
So there are some practical things of hey, it cost money to make it on your own, you can't be having that umbilical cord, financial umbilical cord to your parents, right? So I think those are some practical things as well as the good philosophical things you mentioned.
Chris Grace: Yeah. Good. Got another question for us or you want me to give you one?
Tim Muehlhoff: No, go ahead.
Chris Grace: "Premarital counseling is strongly suggested for new couples. What are your thoughts for post-marriage counseling for newly-married couples?
I think that's a great question, and I would say it is strongly suggested. The reason we, everybody recommends premarital counseling is that a lot of the latest research, guy named Scott Stanley at the University of Denver and others who have explored this idea found a lowering of the divorce rate for those who've gone through premarital counseling by up to 30%. Those are huge reasons and motivations to get to know each other before you get married and have somebody objectively peek in. But I think this is a great question and it says is there something we should be doing after we get married?
There is some great advice. We were told this when we were married or getting married, the advice was, during our premarital counseling is you need to go to a marriage conference or a marriage event every year.
Tim Muehlhoff: Every year.
Chris Grace: Every year.
Tim Muehlhoff: Wow.
Chris Grace: Find an event, find a conference, find a talk, read a book, do something every year that invests in that relationship. I think that has been, for us, some of the best advice. We followed that for many, many, many years and in fact, I would say until this day, we're still living that after 29 whatever plus years of marriage, we're still doing that.
Tim Muehlhoff: Wow.
Chris Grace: We're trying to find something whether it's us speaking or going and listening. But I think, Tim, what this is getting at is how important is it to invest in this relationship even after we're married? It just seems extremely high on the priority list.
Tim Muehlhoff: Now, I really like that Chris. Going to a conference, I think, is great, but I like your idea that it could be a book that you both read together. I would say it becomes even more important the more the external challenges start to hit. I mean, when you have young children, toddlers, man, that is such a prime time for the couples to move away from each other, you're both exhausted, you're tired, you're not talking about the marriage.
I'm amazed, Chris, how many marriage conferences, either it's our conference with the Center for Marriage Going Deeper or speaking at Family Life conferences, couples will come up and they'll say, "This is the first time in 10 years we've been away from the kids."
Chris Grace: Oh, yeah, that's messed up.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's going to get to you after awhile.
Chris Grace: Yup. That's right.
Tim Muehlhoff: I would want to do something, I like your idea of a one-day getaway, marriage retreat, a marriage conference reading a book, they also have great DVD series, "The Art of Marriage," books on audio, just something so you're getting input, I think is good.
Chris Grace: No, I think that's right. For those couples that are dealing with this, I think that engagement time, and if you're getting that kind of advice, keep investing in it, it keeps the relationship fresh and exciting and interesting.
Tim Muehlhoff: We believe that marriages are never stagnant. They're either moving towards oneness or they're moving away from oneness. But we tend to think ... oh, sorry, other couples will say this to me, Chris, "Yeah, we did a marriage conference, it was probably, I don't know, 15 years ago, 16 years, 17 years ago." It's like, hey, if you said to me yeah we went to car mechanic 15 years ago, we went to the dentist 18 years ago, right? So, man, I think it's diligence and we get lazy in our relationship sometimes and it's good, I like that, what you're saying. Before you get married and after you get married, get more input.
Chris Grace: Yeah. Tim, there's some things in here for couples that might be dating who have gone through even are attempting a blended marriage in a relationship so let's try this. This person wrote in, it says, "My fiance is a wonderful partner, and we love each other very much. I have children from a previous marriage and share custody with their father. What are some things that we can do to help cultivate our love and relationship with my children and our extended family?"
So they're beginning this, starting this new journey, and they love each other, they're about to get married, and they have this whole, now, set of issues that come in with blended families and loving each other's children.
What advice would you give them, Tim, and as far as how would you do this? It's tough, right? You begin by saying you've obviously picked a person that you believe is going to treat your children the way you want them to be treated and that will love you and them. I also believe that in this, you most likely need to be certain that in your giving of time that you're making this fiance and eventually this spouse feel as if they are very important, they are the central piece to this marriage and your relationship. I would say, Tim, that it is a new and unique set of circumstances come in when we bring children into this kind of thing?
Tim Muehlhoff: I have a brother who's divorced and not of his own desire, but he's in the best second marriage I've ever seen. It's been hard. He had kids, she had kids. It takes time for these kids to embrace you because when they do embrace this new spouse, they're basically signaling there's no hope mom and dad are going to get back together. That's really hard.
We were just talking about resources. I'd love to recommend people, a man name Ron Deal, D-E-A-L. He's written a book called "Smart Stepfamilies". He's with FamilyLife.
Chris Grace: Yeah, that's a good one.
Tim Muehlhoff: I think he would also say, "Boy, you need to give each other an extra dose of grace, an extra dose of understanding." You're going to have to create this new culture that has new rules and for the husband and the wife to be on the same page with this and communicate a lot, get information such as from Ron Deal. I think it's going to have to be carefully negotiated, how much can I discipline your kids? And all of that is going to have to be worked out and talked about so communication's going to have to be paramount to each other and give each other grace and things like that.
Chris Grace: Yeah, no, I think this is a place where there's no simple answers because each relationship is going to be different and the relationship that the children have with their biological parent or with their now-stepparent, is all depends upon their age but also the way this has been navigated, location, geography, finances. But it is a new reality and so in doing that new set up and in preparing for that, there is really just going to be some resources that can help establishing a new way of doing things, establishing rules, establishing patterns, and then being able to communicate to each other in a way that it really expresses hope for something that is so exciting and so new, this new relationship and it just can be fraught with difficulties if it isn't navigated well.
Tim Muehlhoff: My brother, Ken, has a great relationship with his stepdaughter, but it took years. That's why I think families can get frustrated because we want to be a family, and we're under the same roof. Well, but that takes time. Give each other grace, time, input. Again, there's some stuff from Ron Deal that the whole family can read together to give voice to what everybody's feeling.
So, time, grace, input I think are important factors.
Chris Grace: Yeah, one last thing, Tim, I think sometimes when people have experienced a loss in a relationship, the trauma from previous relationships can influence the way in which we can see the new relationship. That's why I think professional counseling can also be of value in some situations because we just have differences in ways in which we see the world now, and this new relationship, we don't want to bring in a whole lot of baggage which is already going to be there, and to have some way in which we can navigate this with somebody else who can help us think through this.
In many respects, there are just some circumstances and times in which getting professional outside advice can be extremely helpful before you start running into issues that maybe have come up in the past that are now going to be brought out in this new thing. So maybe family counseling as well as an opportunity to begin to see some things in a new light.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, and if family counseling doesn't work because certain family members just won't attend, get counseling by yourself.
Chris Grace: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: You need-
Chris Grace: That's good.
Tim Muehlhoff: to be strong and healthy as you can help other people be strong and healthy as well.
Chris Grace: Good. Well, there's a lot here. Tim, it's been fun with answering questions.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, this is great.
Chris Grace: There's a whole lot more questions so let's have another podcast eventually and hit some of these, especially in the area of marriage. We can take a whole podcast on that because we have about 20 questions still to go through. What do you think?
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, and nothing is easier than fixing other people's problems. We love doing that.
Chris Grace: It's an art, baby.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.
Chris Grace: Maybe it's really not the art. Okay. Well it's good visiting with you, and listeners again, go to cmr.biola.edu just for more information on some tools, equipping, events, things that we have including other blogs and podcasts, so, Tim?
Tim Muehlhoff: Chris?
Chris Grace: All right, take care. Bye.
Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.
Tim Muehlhoff is a professor of communication at Biola University and author of several books, including I Beg to Differ and Marriage Forecasting. His most recent publication, Defending Your Marriage, speaks to spiritual warfare in marriage and how to equip yourself to defend your relationship. For the past 18 years, he and his wife, Noreen, have been frequent speakers at FamilyLife marriage conferences. Muehlhoff regularly writes and speaks for the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships. Follow Dr. Muehlhoff on Twitter.