Your Questions Answered Part Three
Chris and Tim answer listener questions about infatuation, love at first sight, finances, and more on this week's Art of Relationships podcast episode.
Audio: Welcome to another Art of Relationships Podcast. We are grateful for listeners like you. Let's get right into it.
Chris Grace: Well, Tim, it's good to be back with you on another podcast. These are so fun to do.
Tim Muehlhoff: It is great.
Chris Grace: As your background as a communication theorist and expert, sometimes you run into people throughout the country as you speak and travel that ask some really hard questions and then you and I sometimes go to places where they'll ask us questions that make us stop and think. But I think I've noticed, Tim, over the times we've been doing this for many years now that the questions seem to kind of group together. There's not a lot of weird anomalies out there. People ask and worry about the same things in relationships.
Tim Muehlhoff: We want to be humble about this. A good friend of mine, Tim Downs, who writes on marriage, speaks on marriage all over the country, once said, there's nothing easier than raising other people's kids and fixing other people's relationships.
Chris Grace: That's right.
Tim Muehlhoff: Just like I do this. Go try it. Get back to us. We might be a little humble, but both of us have been speaking on this topic for a long time. We've been married for quite a while. It is definitely hit or miss, trial by error. We're pretty candid about the fact that we don't do this perfectly, right, and we won't ask our wives to comment on it. Hey, here's a great question. I love this one. Do I have to feel all head over heels about the person I'm dating? I don't feel all google eyed or starstruck. Love the question. We get sold a bill of goods by Hollywood who paint these romantic romcoms where people just madly fall in love. It doesn't matter if they're vastly different. It's just you can't shake this person. I can't shake this feeling. That can be a dangerous narrative.
Chris Grace: What are you saying? Because this was interesting because I think we're mostly alike on this and I think we have a little bit of a difference here, but I think what you're saying... The question is, do I have to feel all googly eyed and head over heels, and you're saying be careful if you use that to gauge the good of your relationship.
Tim Muehlhoff: And even how you define it. If this person were here joining us in our podcast, I would say, "Okay. Just for a second, define for me what you think head over heels is." I think about this person 24/7. I go to bed thinking about this person. I'm writing out her name. It's like, okay, stop. Now, there are seasons of a relationship. I do believe, and you and I agree on this, the infatuation stage is that great stage. Don't rush through this stage. It's wonderful when you really are kind of like, I can't believe I'm dating this person. This is just really, really cool. I would love to see that stage a little bit. You and I probably agree though, man. That needs to burn away a little bit into stability and compatibility.
You can't just think, oh, this person gives me goosebumps every day, because there's going to be days when they don't give you goosebumps.
Chris Grace: Let me ask you then, Tim, though, the way I read this question is she's saying, do I have to feel that? I'm wondering if she's saying, I really don't feel this head over heels, googly eyed. We're dating. He's really kind. I like him. I mean, we have fun together. He loves Jesus. We would go to church. He's kind of my family, but do I have to feel all head over heels? I don't feel all googly eyed or starstruck.
Tim Muehlhoff: I have a good friend whose son was about to get engaged. I mean, he was going to pop the question, had already bought the ring. He said to his son, "Please call my friend Tim Muehlhoff and just have one conversation with him." I was like, yeah, I'm up for it. He calls me, great.
Chris Grace: By the way, he had called me earlier.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, and was thoroughly confused. He calls me. He's a great kid. Loves the Lord. Great kid. I'm talking to him and he keeps saying this about her. We're in ministry together. She's great. She loves the Lord. We are good friends. We work really well together. We blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I'm saying, "Hey, that's great. All of that's great. Hey, you find her attractive?" He goes, "Yes." I said, "Okay. Dude, if she asks you that question, it needs to be like really quick." I said, "Do you love her? Do you love her in a romantic sense? Not as a brother and sister in Christ, but in a romantic sense." The answers were kind of labors. I just said to him, "Listen, you're not looking for a ministry partner. You're looking for a lover. You're looking for a spouse, right?"
He didn't marry her. He didn't marry this other woman, and they travel all over the country, by the way, as a duet. They're awesome. They're indie artists. He called me and he said, "Okay, I got it. I got it. We ministered together. But man, she's hot." I'm like, that's all right. Now, listen, I would have had a different conversation with him if that initial conversation it was all like, "Oh, I'm passionate and in love with her. She's hot." I would have said, "Hey, are you friends?" Right? We're looking for extremes, right?
Chris Grace: That's exactly right, Tim. It is, in the first case, simply not fair to the other person for you to get married to someone who you have about a half second delay, do you find them attractive? It's just not fair to them. I mean, again, given the balance of the opposite extreme, if they're just simply can't do anything wrong in your eyes and you are googly eye, then you are going to have some other issues. But in this case, it feels... We understand marriage and that feeling of I want to always be with this person. They make my heartbeat faster and faster around them. I just want to see them a lot and be with them because I find them very attractive. If you don't, it doesn't feel fair to start off a relationship or even a marriage that way.
Tim, I don't know, can she develop those feelings? Do they come along?
Tim Muehlhoff: I think she can. Yeah. Great. Great side move. Yes, I think she can. I've had situations where people have been friends, really good friends, really good ministry partners. I'm thinking of a couple right now and we just said to him, we just said, "Dude, my goodness, what in the world?" He's like, "Well, I don't... You know." It's like, okay, but man, think about it, pray about it. Exactly what are you looking for? Then you know what? He was like, "I'm an idiot. She's great." It's like, is she really great? Yeah, she's really great. Now, it'd be bad if he's saying, "Yeah, you're right. I'm going to set aside how I think she looks and attracted to her," but he just needed a little whack on the side of the head a little bit. I think it can develop. I think those feelings can develop.
I don't believe in love at first sight. I don't necessarily even believe in attraction at first sight. I'm concerned about people who are like, listen, I don't know anything about her, but I'm really attracted to her. It's like, dude, that's called infatuation and it's really based too much on our physical appearance.
Chris Grace: Yeah. We take the same question from both sides or from different sides and come to the same point. If you're too extreme and pragmatism and that is, we're good together, we do ministry well together, I'm not googly eyed, I think you and I would both say, "Ah, boy, this need for attraction is extremely important in a relationship." On the other hand, if you're not being clear in your ability to discern what's good-
Tim Muehlhoff: I finally had to say to Noreen, "Hello, I have a mind." I had a couple get engaged... Chris, this was like my first year at Biola. I had a couple get engaged actually during the semester. They were going to take their honeymoon. They took a week off, and I literally said to her, totally true story, I said, "Hey, what are you doing on your honeymoon?" She goes, "Oh, doctor, we're going to be in a cabin for 10 days. No social media. No anything. Just us and our love." It's like, I'd bring Scrabble. You know what I mean? That concerns me, right?
Chris Grace: Yep. Bananagram, something.
Tim Muehlhoff: Something.
Chris Grace: I'll give you another question. We have some cool ones out there. You got no one on your hand?
Tim Muehlhoff: Sure. I recently got married and we have not talked about finances yet. Can we stop right there? Hold the presses. Again, we don't know who these people are. Their names have not been attached, but honestly, that should never happen.
Chris Grace: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: One should never get married and not talk about the big issues, right? Faith, finances, kids, divorce, right? That concerns me. I'm sorry that happened. I have an idea of how it should be handled and he has another idea. Well, yeah, sure. I was a theater major and Noreen is a business major. She was pre-law. I was pre-unemployed. He grew up in a family of a single dad and him. I had a mom and a dad. I think that has a lot to do with it. He is okay if we don't have any money together, but it gets really unfair on any end and difficult when we hang out together or do groceries or whatever. Rent and bills are perfectly divided in half, but not everything can be divided in half. We are not roommates. Also, could you please keep this anonymous? Absolutely. We'll keep it anonymous.
Chris Grace: Thanks, Cecile, for the question. No, not really.
Tim Muehlhoff: How is Maine?
Chris Grace: It's cold up. No. There's probably the Cecile in Maine who's like, "Oh, dear Lord.
Tim Muehlhoff: There's a Cecile in Maine. We're just causing argument.
Chris Grace: Yeah. No, it's not true. That is anonymous and we've kept it that way. Tim, this idea of money, a lot of people have different philosophies on this. You and I had done a podcast on this. Do you put all your money together and share that? First of all, having the conversation before you've already identified that as a problem. You need to have the conversation. Second of all, anytime you try and divide your bills and you cover this and you cover that, it immediately does one negative thing. It begins to undercut the marriage because you become now not teammates and partners together and unified in which you can show selflessness and giving to another person.
You immediately I think start a process where you keep lives separate in one area and that intimacy can kind of start to put a wedge in other areas as well, like, well, you didn't really stay with the kids as long as I did, and you didn't go and do this, or I put in this amount of time. I, first of all, am not a big fan of keeping finances separately because I just think it can introduce problems into a relationship because now we're starting to always do this one thing that's not together as a team. It's now I'm trying to justify that I did my 50% versus saying, "Wow, let's do this together. I love to share what I have with you."
Tim Muehlhoff: This question surprised me. If you take away the first sentence, I would have thought this is a couple living together, but she said we got married. I'm thinking, okay, this is not the right way to be thinking after marriage. It might be the right way to think when you're seriously dating. I wouldn't combine finances then, but Chris, I would just say this, if ever there was a time, there's great resources when it comes to budgets and financial, I'm thinking of the work of Dave Ramsey.
Chris Grace: Sure.
Tim Muehlhoff: Right? I think a couple can have a budget. Then one thing when we did a budget, the really cool thing was we took like, I forget what it was, maybe it was 75 bucks, was totally yours. Tim, if you want to get a decaf vanilla latte every day, you go for it. If you want to go to Amazon Prime, God's gift for a fallen world, you do it. That's 75 bucks. No questions asked. Go blow it. Do whatever you want to do. I think you'd have like a little bit of discretionary money. But listen, you get married, I'm sorry, you're hitching wagons financially. Every decision I make financially, I've made it for my wife. That's what concerns me about this question is I think you're trying to do it in a way that's going to short circuit everything.
You need to combine your money, but that's going to be really, really frustrating and that's why you're going to have a big talk about, okay, what is a comfortable lifestyle that we honestly can assume financially. Yeah, there's a lot of work to be done, but don't go this alone. Get some good Dave Ramsey books from a Christian perspective I think would be best, but you're not alone in this question. There's a lot of great resources waiting out there for you.
Chris Grace: No, that's good. Let's try another question. This writer wrote in and said, "I'd love to hear your guys' thoughts on conflict with in-laws. My mother-in-law likes to give unwelcome opinions and talk about me behind my back. Thankfully, my husband and I are on the same team and he defends me, but her comments and animosity weigh on me." Tim, weighting into the in-law thing, all of us who are married understand at some level the role that our in-laws play and we are called to be together with our spouse. I love that when she says, "My husband and I are on the same team. He defends me," but it doesn't mean she can't get hurt and she's feeling that through comments.
I would just say I'm really glad that you're in a relationship in which your husband does defend you, and I'm really glad that he... He may have to take an extra step not just defend you with you in the room only, but in front of his mother be willing to say, "Mom, no more, or I can't do it," or draw a line somewhere so that she not only feels defended when she's alone with her husband, she feels defended when they're in the room or that he's actually going out and saying to his mom proactively, "No more. You cannot do this to my wife. If so, I'm going to put up boundaries here." Something that says he really is there not just in words, but even in the hard places and conversations maybe with his mom.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. There's some battles you can fight and there's some battles your spouses need to fight. If it's my mom or dad and Noreen is starting to feel belittled or talked behind her back, hey, time for me to step up, right? For Noreen to approach her in-laws and have this really hard conversation, that's a pretty tough conversation. I love the fact that, what you said, that she feels like her back is covered. That's awesome. It does weigh on you. Let me just make one quick comment. Unsolicited advice. I think our parents have sort of kind of earned the right to offer some unsolicited advice every once in a while. Whether you take it or not is totally up to you, but I don't think we always.. A prerequisite is that I have to give you permission to give me advice.
Understand when you become a parent, you're going to get this, but I think it's okay for a mom or dad every once in a while to say, "Listen, nobody asked me, but can I just offer my two cents?" Now, there's a good way to do that, there's a bad way to do that, but let's allow our parents who put a lot of time, energy... I'll give you for instance. One of my kids wanted to quit baseball in high school. We played literally. Chris, I know you're a former baseball player, but good Lord help me. I sat through some doubleheaders in the sun and could speak Spanish at the end of them. It's such a boring, slow game. Love it. Talented. You're great boring game. We put all this time, money and energy into it. My son in high school says, "Yeah, I'm done with it." I said, "Hey, wait. Whoa. We need to talk about this."
No, it's my decision. Well, wait. We have a lot invested in your baseball career, and we want to have a talk about this. I think parents can feel that way. Like, Hey, we raised you. We went through a lot and now suddenly I have to wait for you to ask for my opinion? Can I offer it every once in a while? I think there's a happy medium, but let's let our parents every once in a while offer advice. Don't feel like they need to ask her permission first. Does it make sense?
Chris Grace: It does. I think in situations like that, then the next thing you have to do is your... Let's say your husband is defending you and he's doing a good job and yet it's still unwelcome advice that still comes in and opinions like that. I think, Tim, then a person might need to take a new perspective and say, "Let me just look at this a different way," and maybe change their perspective. Like, they care for my husband and I know they care for me, and so I'm going to try and figure out why this is bugging me so much and learning ways just to see it in a different light. Maybe it's because of the deep love and a deep care and a deep concern maybe done the wrong way. Maybe going through a process of reevaluating and taking different perspective when someone gives you advice.
Tim Muehlhoff: This is where meta communication comes in. Meta communication is communication about our communication. I do think it's okay to lay down the ground rules with in-laws to say, "Hey, obviously, mom, dad, if you feel like we're making a mistake, if you have concerns, we want your input. But once you give it, we need to be able to have the freedom to make the decision." Sometimes we feel like you give your opinion, we make a decision that wasn't what you advised, and now you just keep bringing it up. That's when it becomes worrisome and almost like you're critiquing us rather than... Right? That kind of meta communication rules I think is good just kind of lay out for particularly in-law situation.
Chris Grace: No, that's good. Let's try this question. You want to go deeper or keep it light?
Tim Muehlhoff: No, let's try another one.
Chris Grace: All right. There is a way I want to have an understanding of how childhood abuse affects people in a dating relationship and how to love someone who comes from a history of abuse and/or trauma. I think this could help a lot of people, and I love listening to your podcast. Tim, when you're in a dating relationship and the person you are with has had a different experience than you growing up, let's say there's abuse and trauma, one of the things I think you could begin to do is educate yourself a little bit on the person you are with and learn what it means... Go do some research, maybe go figure out what, what does happen in abusive relationships.
Know what they like or dislike when it comes to talking about the topic, or go read a book on what some experts have said and what impact it could have on a relationship. Know the triggers. Know the things you shouldn't talk about. Then even more importantly, have that conversation with the person you're dating to say, "Hey, help me with some ground rules. Help me with some boundaries. Help me with what you want to talk about when you want to talk about." Then one other thing, Tim, if you are dating somebody like that in a relationship, I would say there are some things that I would like to see in the person who suffered the abuse.
I would like to see that they have made an effort to get some help or to think through the dynamics and the processes that impact them and affect them and that they've started a journey to get some clarity in their own lives. If this person hasn't, if they just say, "I'm going to fight through this. It doesn't bother. I don't want to talk about it. I've been in this situation and this is what happened to me, but I'm not trying to grow. I just want to put a lid on it and hide it," I think that relationship could struggle because it's obviously going to have an impact. In some cases, it could determine the health of a relationship going forward.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. Two quick thoughts. I love all of that. I love particularly find stuff for your spouse to read. A good friend of ours, Dan Allender, friend of this podcast, of our center, brilliant writer on relationships, wrote a book called Wounded Heart, about sexual abuse. It specifically is about sexual abuse, but broadly it's about trauma. We had a couple that she was sexually abused and she checked this book, read it, underlined certain parts and gave it to her husband. He said it was an epiphany. I just didn't know the depth of it. I remember one time Noreen said to me, "Honey, I don't get it, guys and pornography. I don't get it. I just don't get it." I said, okay. I gave her an article written anonymously by a pastor for Christianity Today called The War Within.
I said, "Honey, read it." She read it, and she was like, "Oh honey, I have no idea what was going on." I think that's really helpful to do.
Chris Grace: Me too. Now, in a dating relationship, however, your dating someone like this. You're not married yet. You're not making a commitment. Their worry now, I think the person writing this in, is how do I love them better or how does it affect them, right? It's the same thing. Go out. Do some reading. Figure it out. Tim, I think one thing we would suggest then is have this conversation to see what does express love to this person, what is the thing that is most traumatic for them that they want to avoid, and can I handle this? Am I prepared? Remember, I would write to them, you're never going to be this person's therapist. You can't go on a relationship being the one that they turn to, being the one they reveal all these things too, and then seeking your comfort and everything.
You want to provide that, but in a dating relationship, I would say, "Man, you need to encourage them towards health and to strength and to healing by getting somebody hopefully that they're turning to in a counseling situation, for example."
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, and this is where I think... Let's pick on Hollywood just for a second. There's a show. Do you guys watch This Is Us?
Chris Grace: No.
Tim Muehlhoff: Okay. We watched This Is Us, and by and large, let me just say, I like it. By and large, I like it, but here's the crest, heres the main relationship, okay, between these two people, he is home from Vietnam. He has post-traumatic stress syndrome. He's working a minimum wage job. He is slowly becoming an alcoholic. She meets him, doesn't know him at all, but they have this real chemistry, right? They've only known each other for a month and they go on a cross country drive with each other and then she tells him, "I've fallen in love with you." I just want to say this is where Hollywood can really do damage. Can you fall in love with a man struggling with post-traumatic stress syndrome? Absolutely. Is it going to take a ton of work? Absolutely.
Don't over romanticize this. You're jumping in. Again, if you've seen the movie 1917, God bless these people. I don't don't know how you come back from conflict like that and even function. Just know what you're getting into. I was sexually abused as a child. That doesn't discredit you from having a relationship. Just know what you're getting into and you're going to have to be patient. There's going to be two steps forward, three steps back often. I like your idea of let's get educated about it.
Chris Grace: Tim, I think then for anybody in this place that they find them, and I think you made a great point, this is not the issue that will end any necessarily or prevents you from having a healthy, happy, good relationship with somebody. These things can be overcome. But again, they may take the help of somebody who's an expert in this. You might want to look at it. Tim, we have time for one more question, and there is somebody who talked about, hey, talk about weddings. They want to know this real quickly, inviting old friends they haven't seen for years, should they do that, or those that they're new friends with, but they're also wondering and worried about, gosh, these guys I haven't seen in 15-20 years, do we invite them? This person had a whole lot going on in their lives.
But the long story short, they were in a bad relationship. The get somebody new, but now all these old friends that they want to stay in contact with, but they haven't seen and talked to since, maybe they sent... She said, "We send them holiday greetings, but that's about it. Now, I got her wedding invitation in the mail a few weeks ago. I haven't seen her in four years." What are your thoughts? What do I do? I don't know if I should attend her bridal shower and wedding because there's a lot that went on between them way back and there's a lot of water under the bridge.
Tim Muehlhoff: Wow. Well, I would say when in doubt because of past conflict, the water sort of under the bridge, I don't know what this is going to trigger. I wouldn't just show up. If you're wanting to go, but not understanding how it would be received or what it would trigger, I might reach out to that person ahead of time to say, "Hey, thank you for the invitation. I'm really seriously considering coming. Would that be okay with you?" It might be I sent the invitation, but I never thought in a million years you would accept it. Be careful not to co-opt a person's bridal shower or wedding by showing up if it's going to be at all controversial. Old flames is like this little bit. I'd be a little careful. When in doubt, don't.
Chris Grace: I agree, Tim, and I think in this case the question is also about we didn't really have a great relationship, she didn't treat me well back then, and now she's inviting me to the wedding. I think it's a pretty straightforward answer, which is I'm not sure it's in your best interest then to go to this wedding. Maybe you can send congratulations, hope you have a great marriage and wedding and all well, but it doesn't sound like in this case it was a very healthy relationship to begin with.
Tim Muehlhoff: Maybe do a middle ground. Maybe do a middle ground of saying, "I'm not necessarily going to go to the wedding, but we're going to send them a nice gift with kind condolences..." Not condolences. Condolences?
Chris Grace: Congratulations.
Tim Muehlhoff: Kind wishes, but I would send them a gift. I think that's kind of nice, maybe a box set of meal hot box. I don't know. I'm brainstorming out loud. By the way, I would say to that person, reconciliation probably needs to happen especially if you're both Christians. I don't know if the wedding's the place to do it, although it could be a good, it could be a good olive branch.
Chris Grace: Yeah. Sometimes it can be in.
Tim Muehlhoff: I might reach out just before. I don't want this to be a, hey, let's do this at your wedding. I think it was kind that she sent you an invitation. That spoke well. I might just reach out to her and personally say, "Hey, so happy for you. Love it. We're seriously thinking about coming. I just want to make sure we're okay. I just want to make sure this wouldn't be disruptive." That might be a nice olive branch.
Chris Grace: Yeah. Another one is, like you said, send congratulations and say, "I'm sorry we can't make it, but maybe after you guys get back and get established in your first year of marriage, maybe at some point let's get coffee together, Maybe we get together and have dinner or coffee or dessert or visit some sometime."
Tim Muehlhoff: You don't like the meal hot box set? I do.
Chris Grace: I think he's wonderful. I'm not quite sure it's that appropriate for... Actually, it maybe be good.
Tim Muehlhoff: It might be too heavy. Hey, we love it. We love the diversity of these questions. We're in roughly 140 different countries. We do not take this lightly. We steward such an audience. We love the transparency that has been sent here. Just know that we're giving you our advice. Again, what's hard about an ask the expert situation is, Chris and I, we both agree, we probably need a ton more context, right? But we want to be a place that you can get some trusted information and give you resources, so we're willing to tackle these. Just know we probably need more context on all of these, but we just love it. We get flooded with questions. We try to get to as many as possible.
Chris Grace: Our website, cmr.biola.edu. If you do have questions, send them in and we'll do a program on it. It's great to be with you, Tim.
Tim Muehlhoff: Love it.
Audio: Thanks for listening to The Art of Relationships. This podcast is only made possible through generous donations from listeners just like you. If you like it and want to help keep the podcast going, visit our website at cmr.biola.edu and make a donation today.
The Art of Relationships podcast, hosted by Dr. Chris Grace and Dr. Tim Muehlhoff, is centered on helping you build healthy relationships and marriages. In this podcast, Chris (director of Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and professor of psychology at Biola University) and Tim (professor of communication at Biola University and author of I Beg to Differ), weigh in on how to navigate the complexities of relationships in our culture with biblical wisdom and scholarly research. Listen to get practical insights on relationships, dating and marriage that can be applied to all relationships — family, friends, co-workers and others.