Listener Questions Answered pt.5
Chris Grace: Hey, we're so glad you clicked in to another Art of Relationships podcast with Tim. I'm Chris, and we are here again today.
Tim Muehlhoff: We're professors at Biola University. We're with our Center for Marriage and one of the things we love to do is talk about relationships.
Chris Grace: And Tim, we get so many questions about relationships from listeners, from people who write in, and we have a blog as well that we put together on different questions and topics.
Tim Muehlhoff: And suggestions.
Chris Grace: Tim, let's take a couple of the questions that are out there and they are in a number of different areas. Let's start with a few-
Tim Muehlhoff: Let's jump in.
Chris Grace: ... That we would like to try and address today. Here's one. Dear Center for Marriage and Relationships, how do you suggest finding confidence in marriage, in yourself and in the future after a divorce?
So, here's a person who is, no doubt, knows somebody or they themselves are struggling in an area of trying to find hope again or confidence again, not only just in themselves but even in the institution of marriage and in the future. Tim, what do you think? There's a couple of ways that we can address this, but quickly.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, research shows that most people who get divorced get remarried. Some do it fairly quickly. I think divorce ... It's a difficult season of life. I watched my middle brother go through divorce and it was just heartbreaking. But it can also be a time of reflection, a time of learning. In a relationship, no doubt, there was issues on both sides, were doing things. I think when a marriage ends, I think it'd be wrong to rush into dating or rush into another marriage. I think that's a time of meeting with friends, meeting with a guidance counselor, a therapist, and just to learn what happened and what did I contribute to it. And then, over time, heal, but also address the deficiencies that were brought up when you were talking with trusted friends or professionals.
Chris Grace: Yeah, that's good. I would add to that, Tim. I think that's right, and I think a lot of the emotions and pain that are there and strong at the beginning, will sometimes fall into even more of these deeper doubts and disillusionments. One of the best things you can do, I think, is find a healthy, caring community, a church body to get around, and as you mentioned, the counseling as something to do.
Another topic we've been talking about here is gratitude, that if you can begin to think of things that can help you, that you are grateful for, the things in life that maybe you've missed or forgotten about. A lot of gratitude research is showing that it helps people deal with issues like traumatic events and they're more resilient. They begin to see things differently and helps reduce some of the sadness anxiety and depression that's out there.
Tim Muehlhoff: I want to give one little caveat to what I said. If you are exiting a marriage or a relationship because it's in an abusive one, physical violence, verbal violence. We're not suggesting that then you sit down and say, "Okay, what did I do to warrant the violence?" So that would be one huge caveat, to say you don't need to be asking those kind of questions. No one deserves to get punched. No one deserves to be call certain names. That would be my one caveat, is that.
And I love your suggestion of being part of a nice, healthy community, Chris, but not all communities are healthy. I would want to evaluate a community. If you feel like since the divorce or something has happened and now you're being treated as a second class Christian citizen, I don't think that's a healthy community. I think you need to find one that loves you, accepts you, and of course speaks the truth and love, but if you're just getting all truth and no love, all truth and no compassion, and you're starting to feel like, "Hey, I'm a second class citizen in this church because I went through a divorce," or something like that happened. Then I think it'd be time to find a new community that's going to be a lot more healthy and speaking truth and love.
Chris Grace: I think once you find that, Tim, there's a lot of churches that do some amazing things. Divorce recovery groups. They surround you and protect you and can walk with you through this. Lastly, just start to reengage with the things you love. There were things that you used to do that brought joy and excitement and pleasure, that made you feel alive. Sometimes when you're going through a relationship that's deteriorating, what happens is you stop doing some of that. If you could find ... Maybe it's just being in nature, walking, hiking, biking. Something. Serving and volunteering. Anything that would get you back into that which you've enjoyed and loved to do. Find those, make a list, and then try accomplishing a couple of those each time a week.
All right, so, Tim-
Tim Muehlhoff: How about another one?
Chris Grace: Let's try another one. Completely other side of the spectrum. There's a question here that talks about for couples that are thinking about premarital counseling. We've always suggested that on our program, right, for new couples. But what are your thoughts about post marriage counseling for newly married couples, and you're nodding your head because why? Wouldn't that be awesome if there was more of that?
Tim Muehlhoff: That's great.
Chris Grace: I think it's a great question and I think the basis is this, that during premarital counseling, what happens is you can really begin to establish a lot of important foundational things that will carry your relationship and your marriage. Tim, as you've done premarital counseling, and we have as well, we see couples that are doing well, that are really starting off on the right foot, and then there are others that really need a lot more work, and maybe need to postpone getting married, but I think this question says, "All right. Now that I'm married, we've done our counseling, we're done." The implication for some couples is-
Tim Muehlhoff: We're done.
Chris Grace: We've done it. And now let's begin life. But in reality, my goodness, what if couples in that first year of marriage, realized and saw, "You know what, let's continue the learning process. Let's continue to get advice and people speaking into us." So, I'll just say there's a student here in our graduate program at this university whose doctoral paper is coming out in less than a year. I happen to be the advisor, and her whole goal is to figure out how can she get couples to see the benefits of doing post marriage counseling for newly married couples. She called it the Neglected First Year of Marriage, that we tend to not find many programs and people that are aiming for helping those during that first year. What do you think?
Tim Muehlhoff: I'm a huge proponent of premarital counseling, and even pre-engaged counseling, I think is great. But it's an artificial situation, right? It's saying, so when you live together you're going to have to make sure you're attentive to this and that. Hey, when you're together you're going to have to make sure this and this and this. But they're not together yet. When you get married, it really is stepping into a different context and it's like, "Oh, that's what they were talking about in premarital counseling. That's what they were talking about." And stuff like that.
I love the fact, that first year, that second year, remember Gottman said ... We quote John Gottman a ton. I was his mentor. He doesn't talk about it a lot. It's going to be hard. One of the first three years is going to be hard Gottman says, so yeah, I love the idea. Hey, let's give it a year and then meet again with counselors and say, "Okay, what was theory now is reality. What was a small problem when we were just seeing each other on a daily basis, or a semi weekly basis, now we're living together and this has surfaced. I didn't even know this was going to be an issue until we actually started to live together under the same roof. Now, this is an issue and I need more tools in the toolbox."
Chris Grace: Yeah, I love, even in the Old Testament, that it's a pretty isolated verse out there in Deuteronomy that talks about soldiers when they go to war that are newly married, they should do what? Stay home for one year and-
Tim Muehlhoff: Cheer the wife up.
Chris Grace: Make their wife happy. After the first year, or during the first year of marriage. Don't go into battle or to war, instead stay home. Who knows what the context was, but it seemed to imply that there was a very important foundational thing going on in those early marriages. That's Deuteronomy 24.
Tim Muehlhoff: And it's funny how much people neglect that passage, though, Chris. How many times have you met a young couple who says, "Hey, we're getting married and we're starting graduate school." "Hey, we're getting married and we're starting this new business." I'm always like, "Oh, I'd be leery about doing that." That first year, so many good habits and bad habits are going to be established, and if you're adding grad school and a new business? Sometimes it's just not feasible. You just have to ... The timing, you didn't pick it, it just kinda happened. But be careful that first year, and get more tools in the toolbox by people, trained professionals. I'd say read a book on it, on marriage. I'd go to a marriage conference that first year. I'd get in the habit of doing that, and then I would do post marriage counseling.
That's a great question and great need that needs to be met.
Chris Grace: Yeah. That's good. Let's try another question from a listener who wrote in this. They want to know if casual dating is okay. They talk about FOMO, right? Fear of Missing Out. These people wanting more casual hanging out or non commitment. I guess they want to know when is casual dating okay, and we're big proponents of any type of dating that would involve, I think, in some ways, casual dating might actually be much more beneficial for a lot of people to start to get to know likes and dislikes, learn things about themselves and other people. I guess, maybe it depends on your definition of casual dating.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, that's what I was just going to say. We have to be careful what we mean, but yeah, you and I are big proponents of this. Casual dating got a bad reputation 15, 20 years ago. Some books were written about it. We like the idea of casual dating being two mature adults get together, they have common interests, common activities, and why in the world can't they go on a casual date, a get to know each other date, that doesn't have implications that, "Hey, just because I asked you out once means I'm going to ask you out a second time." We work at a university that makes this really hard, because Biola is a smaller university and people just tend to know each other's business.
Chris Grace: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: So, if you spend time with a person, it's like the snickers begin. Oh, should we be marking out time on the calendar for your engagement party? If we're talking about casual, slowly getting to know each other by doing common activities, we're all for that. I think it's great.
Chris Grace: I think that's a good answer. With the events going on during that particular time and that season in life, it's a busy season with most likely people are working and school, trying to figure out that which they're going to be doing, so the opportunity just to find friends that you can get to enjoy and love-
Tim Muehlhoff: It's hard. I love C.S. Lewis' quote. Friends look in the same direction. I've always advocated just go do the stuff you love to do and who do you meet while you're doing these things? That seems to me like a person that you might be interested in dating, in taking it the next level, but do the ministry God's calling you to. Do the things you greatly enjoy and then meet the people who have common interests. I think that's a nice combination to start to date.
Chris Grace: That's great. Let's try another one, Tim. A listener wrote in and said, "Dear CMR, as a girl who grew up being taught to never pursue a guy, how do I make my interests known without coming across as maybe desperate or a flirt?"
Tim Muehlhoff: It is funny, Chris, how the social backdrop really determines a lot of these things. As I read the Bible, Chris, I don't see anything that says a girl can't initiate with a guy. I get that that might go against some cultural norms, but I think, like the one we just answered, right? Let's say you have ... The question we just answered, where two people are doing something that they greatly enjoy. It's fun. They love it, it's ministry. They're doing it together. They like ... You can tell there's a little bit of whatever but the girl's like, "I would like to take this, I'd like to go on a date."
I see no reason, whatsoever, Biblically for sure, that she can't initiate with him, say, "Let's go grab a cup of coffee. Let's go do this or whatever." I don't see anything, do you, in scripture, that would prohibit her from doing that?
Chris Grace: No, obviously not in scripture because there is just a clear sense of encouraging one another. Building up one another, the idea of developing a friendship that is deep, that is also just something that is enjoyable and fun. We're designed to ... And there is nothing, Tim, in my opinion, that has any concern if I hear that she asked him out on their first date, or they went out because she initiated it and had an interest. In fact-
Tim Muehlhoff: Or her and her roommate initiated with that. You know what I mean? But here's the argument against it, Chris. Here's what I've heard people say about this. I've heard people say, "Yeah, but this is developing a dangerous pattern. Not a good pattern because she's the initiator." I want to say two things. One, I think early on, it takes a lot to get a pattern going, for one. Second, I don't see anything necessarily wrong with that.
My conception of marriage is that I'm the spiritual leader of the marriage. That doesn't mean that my wife can't initiate with me even romantically or on dates or initiate certain ideas. I think a woman could, in the relationship, be the initiator when it comes to relational things, and that's still okay if the guy's okay with that. But know, I say to the woman, but know if you're always having to do the initiation and he's never initiating, okay that could be a pattern that I'm uncomfortable with. I'd want to see some mutual initiating with each other, but again, I think women today ought to be free to have a voice in their dating relationship and not always sit and pray and God brings somebody along. That would be my advice to a young woman.
Chris Grace: I agree. There's another ... Speaking of patterns, let's take this question because it's similar. This couple has been dating for about three months, well actually a little bit longer than that. It looks like almost a year and three months, but they really never had any reason or even the courage to talk about some of the doubts they were having. When finally these doubts did come up, they knew that there were maybe some deep worries about their future together, but they didn't want to hurt each other by talking about it. So, while they love each other, their ability to talk about things like this is lacking. Here's the question. We know that if we were to decide right now, they would not get married, but should we work harder to improve the relationship or let it go?
This question, Tim, is really, I think, at the heart for a lot of people who have been dating for a while, are getting more serious, yet they're holding onto some doubts. Let's talk about doubts real quickly and dating, because here's the thing, is it something that just should be worked on? Are they giving up too prematurely? If a couple is holding onto a love, they like hanging out with each other, there's maybe this calm enjoyable relationship, and yet, underneath that they have some doubts. I know this is an area for each of us that, you really have to be discerning and wise to know if those doubts, how deep they go.
Here's a doubt that I would say you really need to start paying attention to. If this doubt involves anything related to the way you feel when you're around this person, or you sense something in them that they're not bringing out the best in you, I would say you might want to really consider that doubt.
Here was this person in my office last month, and she was saying something similar to this. Her doubts were beginning because she found that she didn't like the way she interacted with her boyfriend over the last couple of months, but she was starting to get irritated. He would say some things and it bugged her. The way he would talk led her to think, "I just don't really like your approach," and then she revealed they really didn't have a whole lot in common in some areas that were beginning to now come out and bother her more than normal.
Here's the question, Tim. What would you advise for this couple when they're having some doubts? Is it about the level of doubts and the kind of doubts that they're having? Should they just keep fighting and doing this better and maybe not give up. Maybe God is teaching them something about their selfishness. I told her, listen, I think these are serious enough doubts for you, that if you're going to have to accept this person and your relationship the way it is today, and it never changes, would you be happy in marriage 20, 30, 40 years down the road? And you know what she said? She said, "You know, I just don't think that I would be really that happy because I feel I would still be irritated with some of these things."
I thought, "Well, I think you need to start really seriously having this talk and consider something different if your relationship is already heading that direction."
Tim Muehlhoff: I think that's good, Chris. I would also say go back to our pre engaged counseling. This is where you want an expert to weigh in eventually, Chris, right? If I was thinking about buying a car, what's the first thing you do before you buy the car? The first thing you say to the salesperson is, "Now of course, can I take this to my mechanic?" If they say no, Noreen and I walk away from that car. The Maserati we have now ... I'm kidding. I go to a car mechanic and I say, "Listen, we hear this noise." And the car mechanic goes, "Oh yeah, don't worry about that. That's one tightening of a screw. You're good. But listen, this concerns me." And we're like, "Oh, I didn't even realize that." Oh no, no. This concerns me, right?
You're looking at this much of a repair, I would eventually, before this couple gets married, I would want to sit down with a trained marriage person, marriage and family therapist and say, "Okay, here's our doubts. Can you evaluate them for us?" I think the one you just mentioned would be a significant one. If she just feels irritated in these conversations, I'd say that's a pretty big doubt. I would say if it has to do anything with character. If you're suspicious of this person's character, then I think you've got problems.
But here's another one, Chris. Let's do a real life situation. I do know of a friend who is dating this girl, and they are, on the surface, they are great for each other. They're in ministry together. Everybody who meets them says, "Oh guys, come on. You're perfect for each other." Here's his doubt, and you tell me what you think of it. He loves to go deep, emotionally. He loves to watch a movie and just sit in it and think deeply and emotionally, and when they do have disagreements, he really wants to get to the emotional part of it. She, actually takes on a classic masculine style when they have arguments, and she just wants to keep it at the rational level and doesn't go super deep emotionally.
That's one of these weird questions, where I look at every category we're great, and everybody says we're great, but I'm a pretty deep emotional person and it seems like she's just not. And I want to get your opinion. One thing I'd say to him is, "Brother, people do not fundamentally change. She might get better but she is not fundamentally going to be the person that you just want her to be naturally." What would you say to this couple?
Chris Grace: I guess I would say it doesn't bother me as much as one of the most ... Because it's not a character flaw. It's not a deep relational issue that can't be helped. There are some things that we can't change. If you're a deep internal processor or external processor, if you're extrovert or introvert, right? Those are kind of deep, but those kinds of things can actually help a relationship and help a person grow and learn. Is it something that could be learned by her, in this case, to better understand another person? This could be a great relationship minus the fact that she just doesn't have the tool or equipping yet to figure out how does she ask or address deeper questions with somebody, and at least appear to be interested. I think it's a pretty simple fix.
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, that's interesting.
Chris Grace: Because it simply what it means is you would tell her, "Listen, is this something, a relationship you enjoy this person? You have so many things in common. He likes to go deep. There are a couple of things that you can do to help encourage that."
Tim Muehlhoff: That's good.
Chris Grace: You know, my wife really tried some areas that, for me, were really important to me. For example, I love sports. Playing and watching. It just didn't have any interest in her, but it was really important to me to talk about, "Wow, this guy. Did you hear about this game? Or did you see this?" Well, what she did was she realized, that which is important to me is something that she could adopt and figure out how can I get more involved in his world? How can I take and get a cognitive love map that includes these things that are important to him? And it really was something she learned and tried to do.
So, she'd sit there and watch a game with me and she'd learn some names and she'd ask the question, "I hear the Dodgers this week got a new pitcher. How's he doing?" I'm like, "Wow, yeah. Good question." She really have any deep emotions about it? No. I think it's fixable in this case.
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, that's good. I'm assuming that when the Anaheim Ducks got swept from the playoffs, devastatingly so, I think one game was eight, nine to one, that Alisa then joined you, right? She cuddled you? You were in the fetal position, and she just came alongside, right? I'm just assuming.
Chris Grace: Yeah, she did, and I think the words she used was, "Chris, at least the Red Wings didn't make the playoffs and so you could be encouraged [crosstalk 00:23:11]."
Tim Muehlhoff: It's hard for you to hear what you said with 11 Stanley Cup rings in my ears. But hey, go back to this couple. Go back to this couple. I would absolutely agree that the question you mentioned with the different question would apply to him, if she never got better or got worse.
Chris Grace: Yeah, that's right.
Tim Muehlhoff: Would you be okay with this? Because we're assuming she would try to get better or even could get better. I love that of saying, "If she never improves, would you be okay with her?" And if he waffles then, what would you say?
Chris Grace: I would say then, it might point to a deeper character issue. If you ask somebody who ... If two people are paired up. One likes to go deep emotionally and the other one doesn't, and the other one doesn't simply says, "I will probably not change and you need to expect the fact that I'm going to always be this way." My concern in that situation is something much deeper about a person's character. Listen, intimacy involves my ability to try and connect with somebody and want to know them-
Tim Muehlhoff: That's good.
Chris Grace: And intimacy says, "I'm going to have a love map of this person and I want to see what hopes and fears and likes and dislikes are part of their life." And so what I want to be able to do is say, "I'm going to grow with them and learn from them." If someone doesn't do that, Tim-
Tim Muehlhoff: That is a great point. If she doesn't try, then we've got a bigger point.
Chris Grace: We do.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's good. I like that. Here we go. Very last question, and it's this. In this relationship, they have a question about boundaries. What are the appropriate boundaries when it comes to level of intimacy and digging into these things as the relationship progresses? For example, they find themselves going too deep. This is very similar to maybe the situation before. And the other person doesn't always feel like going that deep is appropriate at this time. How do you know, when one person says, "Yeah, this going deep is really actually something that's a positive and really necessary for me." The other one says, "I just think it's too soon. We're not there yet."
This couple is dealing with seemingly opposing views, and how can you determine the proper level of intimacy as a relationship progresses?
Chris Grace: It's okay for one person to be ahead of the other person. It's okay for one person to want maybe to go more in-depth than the other person's doing. Here's where a red light comes on for me. If the other person does not respect the hesitancy of the other person. Let's say one person wants to go deep and the other person says, "I'm kind of uncomfortable with that," either emotionally or physically, and the other person keeps pushing and pushing and pushing, that to me is surfacing a bigger issue, and that is there's a lack of respect and boundaries. Once I establish a boundary, you need to respect that, even if you try to convince me maybe we don't need to have that kind of a boundary. That comes to me a level of respect. What do you think?
Tim Muehlhoff: I do think it is respect. It's also then there's probably ways in which a person is trying to be protective of themselves, and if it's a healthy protection of the relationship, because they realize, "We've only been dating X amount of time and you're kind of pushing this to maybe a deeper level than I'm ready for." I think it involves not only respect but also some wisdom. There are just some people who are maybe not as cautious or careful going in. They maybe set up a boundary for them that allows them to take it to deeper, and sometimes that can involve some hurt and some pain when a person does prematurely begin to talk about and reveal deep things in their heart that does lead to some premature intimacy. I think you're right. You tend to go with the person who has the most hesitancies in this case.
Chris Grace: And crossing another person's boundary, you have to be very careful. That fosters a lot of hurt. You have to have discernment. When is it too early to kid about a crushing sweep in the hockey playoffs? When is the pain too palpable and did you cross a line in pointing out that the Ducks had these high hopes and were on a great run before the playoffs and got utterly obliterated by a team. That's discernment.
Tim Muehlhoff: And so we just hope the rest of you enjoyed this conversation. Hey listen, these podcasts are made possible by the generous donations of listeners like you, so, thanks for listening. Go to our website, the Center for Marriage and Relationship, host these things Biola University, and we're just so glad that you get to hang out with us and spend some time. We look forward to future talks.
Chris Grace: Yeah, please join us again.
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.