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Moving Past the Fear of Intimacy in Your Marriage

Art of Relationships 114

What does it mean to “let the Holy Spirit guide your marriage”? What do you do if you're too afraid to be vulnerable with your spouse? In this episode, Chris and Tim not only unpack these ideas, but also provide practical insight on difficult questions about constructive feedback, infatuation with what we do not have, and more.


Speaker 1:

Welcome to The Art of Relationships. This podcast is produced by the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships. For additional resources on healthy relationships, like videos, blogs, or events near you, visit our website at cmr.biola.edu.

Chris Grace:

Welcome to another Art of Relationships podcast. With me is Dr Tim Muehlhoff, and I'm Dr Chris Grace, and Tim, we've been doing this podcast now for a couple of years-

Tim Muehlhoff:

Has it really been, what ... three years?

Chris Grace:

Yeah, three-some years. We have, I think, over a hundred episodes out there.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Oh wow.

Chris Grace:

Do you know, it's been really fun to be able to do these together?

Tim Muehlhoff:

It's been great.

Chris Grace:

And I think one of the joys that we get is, by asking for listeners to write in, and they do, and so listeners out there, thank you, if you want to know how to write in your questions and we can answer them, Tim, we'll do a number of those today.

Chris Grace:

In fact, let's do that, but if you want to know how to do that, you just go to the Center for Marriage and Relationships, which is cmr.biola.edu, and you can find all kinds of things there, right? Podcasts, blogs that Tim or I or others have written. We have events, and now we have Zoom and virtual events going on, and some cool things happening, but we also provide resources as well, that are for those that might be struggling and hurting, so we have some free relationship advice for people.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah, nothing's easier than fixing other people's relationships or raising other people's kids.

Chris Grace:

That's exactly right.

Tim Muehlhoff:

There's nothing easier.

Chris Grace:

Just let us at it. Let us at them.

Chris Grace:

So Tim, let's take some of these questions from listeners, and one of the things that we can do is spend some time, just addressing a couple of themes.

Chris Grace:

Let's start with maybe a theme here, this person wrote in and asked this, "How do we move past fear of intimacy with a spouse?"

Chris Grace:

And so, I'll let you start by just saying the way I interpret the question is, there are many spouses, many people who are married, who intimacy is hard for them. They might be newly married, or they've been married for a number of years, but the problem is just this fear that they have.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah, and Chris, this is where I think we do a number on people. I think we idealize marriage, just too much.

Tim Muehlhoff:

We did pre-marital counseling with this one couple, and they saved themselves, they were both virgins, they got married, and then ... I take my hats off to this couple ... because four months later, Chris, they called us and said, "We'd like to get together," and we thought, "Oh, this will be great to get together and celebrate," and we sat down with them and they said, "Hey, things are going well, but sexual intimacy is not what we thought. It's kind of awkward. We're not pleased, really, with it."

Tim Muehlhoff:

You could see, they were agonizing and-

Chris Grace:

Even just how to talk about it.

Tim Muehlhoff:

... even how to talk about it, because, Chris, what do we say? "Save yourself for marriage," I've heard Marriage Conference speakers say this. "Save yourself for marriage, and guess what? It will all take care of itself, once you get into the bedroom. God will honor it, and sex is pretty natural," and I would disagree with that.

Tim Muehlhoff:

We find out in marriage, that sex is really complicated, because it's a ton of things. It's a diagnostic for the entire marriage, and a lot of couples have never read a good sex book, and there are some great ones out there, Between the Sheets, is one that comes to mind. You need to find out about each other's anatomy. You need to understand by trial and error, and what does my wife say, when we speak at Marriage Conferences?

Tim Muehlhoff:

She read a book that said, "Having a mutual orgasm is like trying to organize a sneeze together." I love that.

Tim Muehlhoff:

So I so appreciated this couple, just saying, "What are we doing wrong?" And I said, "You're not doing anything wrong. This is trial and process, and you're learning about each other, and sorry, if somehow the church or Hollywood gave you an over-idealized view of what sexual intimacy would look like."

Chris Grace:

Yeah, I think that's great advice. There's books out there. We have a blog on this. Another book, Sheet Music-

Tim Muehlhoff:

Oh, is that what I was thinking of? I think I'm thinking of Sheet Music.

Chris Grace:

... yeah, Sheet Music-

Tim Muehlhoff:

Between the Sheets.

Chris Grace:

... fine. Both use the same kind of analogy there a little bit, I guess.

Tim Muehlhoff:

But who knows what the other one is? If there's a book like that, do not get that book. That has not been vetted by the CMR. Sheet Music, can you imagine. "I found this one, and it was-" "I'm so, so sorry."

Chris Grace:

Ladies and gentlemen, that's Tim Muehlhoff that recommended this, not the other guy.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah.

Chris Grace:

I think the problem with intimacy always boils down to this ... conversation first and communication. Tim, there are so many other issues that are probably going on here, and I think couples have to really learn that a lot of the intimacy that takes place is much more than physical intimacy. It's this vulnerability. It's emotional intimacy. It's being myself. It's the fear of not being judged or criticized.

Chris Grace:

I think in a marriage in which you have alleviated some of those fears by having good patterns of communication, and being able to talk, I think what happens, Tim, is couples learn to be emotionally vulnerable with each other, really is one of the keys to having intimacy in the physical realm, and so we would oftentimes recommend that couples work on intimacy in these other areas. What it means to be vulnerable naked to somebody and still feel accepted and heard, and loved and understood. Man, that leads to some amazing things.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah, I'm not going to mention the name of this couple, although, they're on the speaker team of Family Life Ministries, just like the Graces are ... brand new members to the team ... and Noreen and I have been doing it for 26 years. We're the authors of Between the Sheets. We are not.

Tim Muehlhoff:

So there's a couple on the team, that are a Godly couple. They were full time Christian ministry, Chris, and they get married, and it totally blindsides them. They can't pray together. They can't pray together. They just feel like it's too intimate, or it seems forced, and what I love about this couple, they still struggle with it, and they say that from up front to ballrooms full of people.

Tim Muehlhoff:

So that'd be another thing I would say to this couple. You and I have been in this marriage group for probably, I don't know, 10 years, Chris, and it's so good to have other couples, that you can say, "We're struggling," and I think it's great for another couple to come along and say, "Man, we did too," right?

Tim Muehlhoff:

And let's add spiritual battle for the heck of it. Greatest thing Satan likes to do is isolate a couple.

Chris Grace:

Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Isolate them and say, "You're the only one who's struggling with intimacy to pray together, or sexual intimacy, or emotional intimacy." That's one of Satan's favorite tactics. Remember, he didn't separate Adam and Eve physically. He separated them psychologically.

Chris Grace:

That's right.

Tim Muehlhoff:

And so to separate you as a couple, isolate you, and in COVID, this is easy to do, is to get isolated in COVID, make sure you're going to couples that you trust and just being vulnerable with them.

Chris Grace:

That's good. I love that, which kind of leads, I guess in some ways, to this next question. Another person wrote in, Tim, and said, "How do you receive criticism in a productive way, without becoming defensive or taking it personally?"

Chris Grace:

The reason I think it's tied in is, first of all, how do you receive criticism? Well, nobody receives criticism in a positive way, in almost no case. Now, constructive feedback or something that is maybe less what we would use, instead of the word, criticism, it might be ... Well, Tim, let's come up with better words than that. If someone wants to say, "I've been thinking about ... honey, I'd like to talk about something with you, and this is hard, and I've been praying about it."

Chris Grace:

Criticism that's done in a certain context, changes the way it's received, and if it's done in a humble way, in a spirit of generousness, just a spirit of kindness and generosity, right, then a criticism can be seen very differently or felt and received very differently.

Chris Grace:

So first of all, I think it starts with the person who's presenting the criticism, and again, we would call this ... different words and all has different meanings, but to receive criticism really starts with the person giving it.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah, the Harvard Negotiation Project just released a book, I think it was two years ago, called Between the Sheets ... no, that's the last joke-

Chris Grace:

Last one. No more.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That was it. I'm cutting myself off.

Tim Muehlhoff:

They wrote a book called Thanks for the Feedback, and one chapter was why we're resistant to it, feedback, and I think some of that is that if you're in a career, an industry, where you get a lot of feedback or criticism ... You and I are professors, right, Chris? We get idea evaluations at the end of every semester. Students will have an opinion of our class. We have to turn in annual review every year, in which our Chair and Dean weigh in. Then there's this godforsaken website called ratemyprofessor.com ... Understand that your spouse may be walking into your criticism with a lot of negative examples and the last thing I need is to walk home, and get what I just got at the office or at work, so I do like the term feedback ... "Can I provide some feedback on how I think things are going with finances. Can I provide some feedback about the kids' schedule."

Tim Muehlhoff:

And then again, I would implicate myself in that, and not just say, "Hey, let me give you some feedback," but maybe generalize it to, "Here's some feedback about us," and then have a conversation.

Tim Muehlhoff:

But again, part of me also wants to say, Chris, it's time to grow up a little bit. If you're married to a person, then I would want that person to offer constructive criticism. And again, tone is everything when you do it.

Chris Grace:

Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:

But I think we need to be asking God to use our spouses, and eventually our kids ... boy, Chris, can you have some conversations with your kids, where they say, "Dad, I just need to tell you something, man, this is not good-"

Tim Muehlhoff:

But part of that is, "Am I teachable?" I think is probably a good precursor to ask before that happens.

Chris Grace:

Yeah, that is good, because there are always ways and things that all of us want to improve on, and other people can see that a little bit more objectively sometimes than we can, right? Oftentimes we are blind to a few of these things, and so I think there is something to this ability to receive this constructive feedback in a way that's positive and helpful. Again, it has a lot to do with the way it's presented.

Tim Muehlhoff:

And not even just receive it, Chris, but maybe we'd be good, every once in a while, to seek it out. Is to say to your spouse, "Hey, how am I doing in these certain kind of areas?"

Tim Muehlhoff:

Chris, let me tell you a really funny story. So we're at a Family Life Marriage Conference. It's always a married couple, and one other single speaker. So I happened to be at this conference by myself, and I'm listening to one of the male speakers, and he said, "Man, I challenge you right now. Go home, get all your kids, and ask them what's one thing you can change about dad, if you could change one thing?"

Tim Muehlhoff:

So, Chris, I was all enthused about this. What a great example, I'm going to be. I go home. I get the three kids. I sit them all down, and say, "Hey, what's one thing, if you could change about dad, what would you say? You probably need some time to think about-"

Tim Muehlhoff:

Three hands shoot up. I didn't even get the words out of my mouth. Three hands are up in the air. I said, "Do you need time to think about-"

Tim Muehlhoff:

"No, got mine." "Got mine." And I said, "What?" And all three said, "You yell too much," and part of me wanted to immediately become defensive-

Chris Grace:

Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:

... do you know what I mean? I wanted to say, "Now why do you think that is? Why do you think dad has to yell?" I wanted to say to one of them, "Is your room clean right now? Is it clean right now? Because I asked you it be clean, and it's not, so you know why I yell? Because it gets results. That's why I yell."

Tim Muehlhoff:

Now I had to bite my tongue hard, not to say any of that, and it was hard to hear, Chris, because my dad was a yeller-

Chris Grace:

Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:

... so here's what I did. I sat with it. I jokingly said, "Hey, we're going to do mom next," and Noreen's in the kitchen going, "No, we're not doing mom next."

Tim Muehlhoff:

So then I took the night to sleep on it and pray about it, and then the next day I put them all three together, and said, "Okay, let's have an honest conversation. I should not yell as much, but guys, this is a cooperative effort, so what does dad need to do to get you to clean your room and not yell?" And we actually had a pretty good conversation.

Tim Muehlhoff:

So sometimes invite criticism, "Tell me how I'm doing?" Is not a bad thing to ask.

Chris Grace:

No, that's good. An author we love, John Gottman, puts together something. He would actually say it's better to think of the language of complaints, and so he would even have a complaint formula, so you can look it up at some point if you want, but he talks about, you want to express how you feel, you talk about the specific situation, like you yell too much. For my kids it was the same thing. We were driving in the car, and we were getting onto the kids for not saying please and thank you. So we're real big on, "You say please. You say thank you." The little six year old or five year old pipes up, "How come dad and mom never has to say please and thank you," and so it was one of those real interesting complaints. I had to just realize and to come to terms with, I'm telling my kids to do something, and that is you use these words, please and thank you, in your sentences, and when you talk with people. They called out dad for not having to use it. I think, Tim, the same thing applies.

Chris Grace:

Anyway, Gottman talks about complaints ... because criticism can actually lead to one of these four horsemen of contempt, and so to complain about something is appropriate. I can do this in an appropriate way. I can mention things that, you know, "There's something about the way, dad, that you talk. And you're really good and kind with these things but sometimes you yell too much," and that's a complaint. And it's valid complaint versus sometimes criticisms can attack our character, and when they got at that ... If they were to say, "Dad you're just the worst dad in the entire world-"

Tim Muehlhoff:

"Dad, you don't care about us."

Chris Grace:

... "You don't care," well, that's going at character, and that's what criticism can be really hard.

Tim Muehlhoff:

And then we should mention, since we're on Gottman, Gottman is famous for saying, "Have a soft start up, not a harsh start," and here's what happens, Chris, in most of our marriages, I suspect, and relationships. This happens in dating relationships and family relationships. Something happens, and you sort of want to say something, but for whatever reason, don't, and then it happens again, and you're like, "Oh, now's not a good time. I'm just not going to do it." And then it happens again and again, and then we've all done this, right? We're like, "Sit down. Sit down right now, because I'm sick of it. I'm sick of it and you do this, and you do this, you do this, you do this," and that's actually called kitchen sinking.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That is a harsh start up. So generally speaking, this is what I think Paul's talking about when he says, "Do not let the sun go down on your anger," right, "So deal with these things before the Lord in a timely way and with each other in a timely fashion. Don't let these things build up, and don't blow when you're going to sit down and talk to a person, and, "Here's five things that bug me, or I'm so mad that you did this again."

Tim Muehlhoff:

And then we add this ... COVID has added to this ... we are at the ends of our wits right now. This has been going on for months and months and months. We're living on top of each other, and this new study came up, Chris. This was just two weeks ago, that the divorce rate is up 31% where it was this time last year.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Get a load of this. Of the 31%, 20% is couples who have been married five months or less.

Chris Grace:

Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:

So now I think we're so on top of each other that everybody's frayed patience, so now would be a good time to give each other some grace, and just ease into these conversations.

Chris Grace:

That's good, and Tim, I think the same thing that can apply not just in marriages, but in other relationships, when we're talking about criticism, and complaints. There's things that go on.

Chris Grace:

I think it's different, of course, because you're going to have this conversation in a different context. There's a different level of commitment that you have, and trust that you've built up, but there is criticism that can occur in all relationships.

Chris Grace:

In fact, let's take another written question for us that was submitted to us recently, and it says ... this is definitely from a single person, and it's about dating relationships and non-commitment, and he wrote, "Despite being in a healthy relationship, I find myself constantly desiring singleness, so I can pursue other women. Is this just a guy thing, or is this a bad sign?"

Chris Grace:

Okay, despite being in a healthy relationship ... I guess we'd start there. Let's start with what he would call this opening salvo of, "I'm in a healthy relationship."

Chris Grace:

I would say I wonder if you really are, first of all, if you're desiring or looking out for other people all of the time, or desiring singleness. You've got to wonder how healthy that might be or, better yet, you might want to talk about the health of the individual who's maybe writing this question.

Chris Grace:

So, Tim, sometimes we get questions at the CMR on dating and non-commitment and the feeling of inadequacy because they're not quite sure if their partner is in this thing for the long haul, and how do they know if this is the right one? In this case, at least they're being frankly, fairly honest, that they're constantly, you know, desiring singleness, so they can pursue ... Well, first of all, I don't think it's a guy thing, I think it's a human thing.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Right, right.

Chris Grace:

But let's talk a little bit about that.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Okay, so obviously the hard thing about these questions ... we love getting them ... is that we just can't ask questions. I'd want to know his age, and I think we've done a great disservice to dating today. We don't do a lot of dating, and I think if he's young, then do date. Don't jump in and out of relationships. That's breaking people's hearts, but it's okay to date broadly, and I wouldn't settle down if you're young and feel like, "Man, I just want to know what different personalities that are out there. Who's a good fit for me."

Tim Muehlhoff:

Again, so long as you're not over-committing and then breaking up with a girl three months later, then I think it's okay to date broadly, and the older you get, when you finally do settle down with a person, then there is no more looking around. You've set your face forward and you're in this marriage, but I like the idea of dating when you're young, and I just want to know how long has he had this wanderlust, and then second, it's okay if you're young. I don't see anything wrong with that.

Chris Grace:

So Tim, let's just suppose that he's not young. Let's suppose he's in his late 20s, which is in a healthy relationship. My guess is, this clearly needs to come up between the two people, because obviously you're leading another person to believe they're in a healthy relationship with you, or with him, when in reality, I would question the health. There's always, I think, comparisons that might go on, second thoughts, we get this question all the time, "How do I know this is the one? I'm just not sure, there's other people that can draw my eye and my attention."

Chris Grace:

One of the ways we counsel them is to say, "Listen, there is no 100% certainty in life. You move forward, and you pray about things, and you hope and figure that the person you are with in this relationship, the reason you're dating them is because they have the potential to be that person that you want to commit to, but we are probably never going to get 100% assurance."

Chris Grace:

But the question is, maybe, how often are these thoughts coming on? Is this going on, only during the rough patches?

Tim Muehlhoff:

Oh, okay.

Chris Grace:

Is this only occurring after an argument, that you're like, "What would it be like?" Now you're starting to look at, I think, maybe, Tim, other things that you need to start dealing with. Disciplines in your life, the ability to forgive, or patience, or what love is, or kind, or forgiving, because if you're not dealing with, "Love is kind, love is patient, love is forgiving," well pretty soon, a person's going to irritate you regardless of the trust and commitment you've made to them, and you have to decide right then and there, "I'm committed to this," versus, "Forget this, I'm going to start looking around," and that's the sign of maybe an immaturity as well.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Two quick thoughts about that. One, I'd be curious if this bled over into other areas?

Chris Grace:

Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Like career, or settling down in one geographic location, now suddenly I want to check out other geographic locations, other jobs? That would be interesting.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Second, we're going to have a guy on our podcast, his name is Tim Downs, he's an awesome author, speaker with Family Life. Chris, we've talked about him doing this so many times, that we've just got to pull the trigger and have him on. He calls it the mystique of singleness and the mystique of marriage. Basically the premise of it ... now, he'll do a much better job explaining it ... is when you're single, there's the mystique of marriage. You make marriage all this great stuff, regular sex, commitment, passionate romance, but then, as soon as you get married, Tim says, now the mystique of singleness comes back, and you start to make singleness something it never really was, but now you're married, so guess what? If you were to divorce that person, and then jump back into being single, the mystique of marriage would pop its head back up.

Tim Muehlhoff:

He does a great job laying out what both look like, and I think we should have him on. He would love to come on. He'd be a great interview-

Tim Muehlhoff:

So we've got to be careful of that kind of stuff is ... I've always got a wandering eye towards what I don't have, and as soon as you get it, your eye wanders back to a different area. By the way, welcome to the Book of Ecclesiastes. Part of that is life in a fallen world, so we just have to be aware of that.

Tim Muehlhoff:

So his name's Tim Downs. He wrote a great book called The Seven Conflicts, that is just an awesome, awesome book, and we'll have him on soon.

Chris Grace:

Tim, I got a similar question. "How do you know when you have found the one?" And that leads to some very interesting debates around here, but we get that question all the time, and the one ... you and I probably differ just a little bit on this, and it's that kind of again, concern that we all have, that maybe we're settling for second best. How do we know that this is the one, and how long before you can know that?

Chris Grace:

I think, Tim, what's interesting is our stories. You dated Noreen for almost two years-

Tim Muehlhoff:

And we're older.

Chris Grace:

... and you guys had a little bit more experience-

Tim Muehlhoff:

Worked together.

Chris Grace:

... and you guys had a lot of time together, and you still dated for a good amount of time.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah.

Chris Grace:

Versus us, who really ... we didn't work together, we didn't live in the same state, we barely knew each other for a year.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Right.

Chris Grace:

And knowing that the answer to, the one, question, it could take a little bit of a stress and emotional fraughtness to just go, "How do I know this?"

Chris Grace:

I remember talking to a guy who just constantly found himself in a relationship and never could figure out how he felt going forward, because he just wasn't sure that this was the one. Every time he got to a point where they were getting more and more intimate, he found some critical flaw.

Chris Grace:

So, Tim, the question is, how do you know, basically, if you found the one?

Tim Muehlhoff:

So, let me mention a Harvard study that's just came out the past year. You read certain studies, and they're mind blowing. We'll have to put this on our website.

Tim Muehlhoff:

So here's what Harvard would say, based on their research. You don't find the one, you make them the one.

Chris Grace:

Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:

The number one determining factor these Harvard researchers came up with is, the attitude you have towards your spouse is the single greatest predictor of happiness. So it's not that you find the one, and you're like, "Oh, this person is check, check, check, check, check on my list."

Tim Muehlhoff:

Harvard would say, "No, no, no. You make them the one." You have a positive attitude towards them. You work with them on their ... we were just talking about criticism ... and you help that person grow. Your attitude towards that person is the single greatest thing.

Tim Muehlhoff:

I'm sure some listeners are like, "Oh great, so I'm stuck with the person that I'm stuck with." Well, with that attitude, you are stuck with the person that you have, but if you'd rather say, "You know what? Through generosity, through appreciation, through speaking affirmative words, I'm going to make this person the one," and do you know what? If Harvard's right, that's a positive, positive psychology move, right? That's positive psychology.

Chris Grace:

It is, and I think what that study demonstrated so clearly, is something we've known for a long time, and that is you speak into the lives of those near you, and you get what you speak into, right? And so, when I speak kindness. When I speak forgiveness. When I speak into my spouse, or the person I'm with, a generosity, what ends up happening is it comes very much ... it's just evident that that other person responds in a way that changes them, creates something unique or different in them, themselves, and so that's what that study showed, was there is a way in which we get the spouse we expect, or we get the spouse that we speak into, right?

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's a great phrase. We eventually get the spouse we deserve-

Chris Grace:

Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:

... because you made the spouse.

Tim Muehlhoff:

So let me drop a little art history on you. Right now, Dr Chris Grace, so you know, generally speaking, the greatest architecture sculpture ever created is David by Michelangelo. Do you know that massive while slab of marble had been abandoned for 40 years, and there was actually one big accidental cut in the marble, but through the great artistry and skill of Michelangelo, he turns it into David, okay. So psychologists, yes, I'm borrowing from your field, psychologists now have what they call The Michelangelo Phenomenon, which is, I sculpt you.

Tim Muehlhoff:

I can sculpt you for good or for bad, but I love that phrase, Chris, "You eventually get the spouse you deserve, because you've really helped create them," so if you're in a bad situation, man, take a cue from Michelangelo, and you're going to be chiseling this person ... think about it ... I've been married for 30 years, and I've been the dominant voice in Noreen's life. I got to take a lot of responsibility, whether she has good confidence or not. Whether she feels like she's an attractive woman, a good mother, a good wife, right?

Tim Muehlhoff:

I don't want to put ... I don't want to go overboard ... some people are ... they're human beings with free will, and they can reject what you say, and nothing you say ... you give it your best effort, right. But the Michelangelo Phenomenon, I think, is really good to remember. You are sculpting this person.

Chris Grace:

That's good, Tim. And I think out there, there used to be some of this idea of just the opposite, right. That individuals kind of bring out the worst in each other, and unfortunately, there's a tipping point where that does occur. In fact, it used to be called something like the Blueberry Effect, or something ... I don't know what it was called ... something weird.

Chris Grace:

But it was, Tim, I think, in this particular question, I think what we're getting at is this ability to see another person and have the faith in them to also do this with you, right? And if you find a person, who in times of distress or in difficult trauma times, or in times in which it's really hard, and they live out a Christ-centered or a world that shows a Godly discipline, man, that's the kind of person you definitely want to be around. You find yourself around a person who struggles well in hard times, who still walks the walk, and maintains that relationship with God and loves you, man, that's the kind of person you want to be around.

Tim Muehlhoff:

And let's speak to the singles right now that are listening in.

Tim Muehlhoff:

You definitely want to find a person who you have seen evidence listens to the power of the Holy Spirit, right? Because the Michelangelo Effect isn't just human to human. The Michelangelo Effect can be the Holy Spirit working on the person's life, right, chiseling away.

Tim Muehlhoff:

So when you're dating a person, you want to have your antenna up. Does this person listen to the Holy Spirit? Otherwise, you're going to be the person nagging that entire relationship, man. Find somebody who's open to the Spirit, and that Spirit can speak to that person in any relationship or marriage.

Chris Grace:

Oh Tim, that's great, and I love the ability to take some of these topics and address what is really some hard questions people face in relationships. Let me just say that this whole podcast is made available through the generous donations of listeners like you all. We're 100% donor-funded, and a gift of any size will help us keep this podcast going, so, hey, preferably consider sending in a generous gift to the CMR today. To do that, it's real simple. Just go to our website, cmr.biola.edu and then click the Give Now button.

Chris Grace:

Tim-

Tim Muehlhoff:

Let me just say, for the first 10 people who give, we're going to send them a copy of Between the Sheets, with Tim Meuhlhoff and Dr Chris Grace. It's hot off the press. You're going to love it.

Chris Grace:

You know, I do want ... Tim, let's start with one last question that I think we have, and it's this same thing, it's this idea of someone just asked, and I think it's important to see if we can get to this, and it's the idea of casual dating.

Chris Grace:

Some people say, and this person wrote in, that their fear of missing out, is leading them to maybe wanting casual hanging out, or maybe non-commitment. In other words, they want casual dating ... and it's mostly because of fear of missing out. What's going on out there in the world?

Chris Grace:

I guess that's not necessarily inappropriate to date that way, to learn if that other person has these traits that we've been talking about that are healthy, good traits, or is it somebody you can see that you want to be around, because they bring out the best in you.

Tim Muehlhoff:

All right, so let me mention another study by the University of Texas. This study would say that the optimal age to get engaged is 27, okay, for a bunch of reasons. Maturity, you're more mature at 27, hopefully you have a career, there's financial stability at age 27, all those different factors.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Then they said this, I thought this was interesting, "For every year after 30, it becomes more difficult, because, a, you get used to your particular kind of lifestyle, and, b, you just can't land the plane. You just can't commit."

Tim Muehlhoff:

So what we already said is dating early, broadly, to see what kind of personality types you click with or don't click with, I think is great. But there's going to come a time ... remember what we just said ... you don't find the right person, you make them the right person.

Chris Grace:

Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:

So there's going to come a time where you're just going to have to commit, and this is what's great about being a Christian, Chris, is you ask the Spirit's wisdom, and I think you and I ... I don't know if you and I disagree about whether God has one person for you ... I tend to think no, but you certainly can ask the Spirit's leading. Both of you can.

Tim Muehlhoff:

So is it a commitment issue? If it is, then eventually you're going to find that person. You're going to have compatibility, affirmation of the Holy Spirit, affirmation of your friends, then you've just got to pull the trigger, and say, "Guess what? We're making this work."

Chris Grace:

Yeah. I think that's really good. I think eventually, Tim, with enough time, with enough input from friends, I think this is the time to also ask trusted loved ones, parents, it might be somebody ... your pastor at church, or it might just be a colleague. Somebody that knows you well. To really evaluate and look at some things that you may be missing, because they might see some habits and patterns in your relationships that aren't healthy, and yet they also can serve as just great resources when we're trying to make such a big decision.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Dr Gregg TenElsof, one of our colleagues here at Biola University, wrote a great book, won Christianity Book of the Year award in Christian Living, called I Told Me So-

Chris Grace:

Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:

... and it's all self-deception, and that scares us in dating relationships, doesn't it, Chris?

Chris Grace:

That's right.

Tim Muehlhoff:

We see two people that ... it is so obvious they're not good for each other, and yet they're wildly in love and you just can't speak to them, so absolutely, it's the affirmation of friends who know you well, and I'd listen to those friends and seek out what they really think.

Chris Grace:

That's good.

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Chris Grace:

So Tim, here's a question of a listener that wrote in, asking about this idea in marriage, but it's really, "How can married Christians avoid emotional affairs?"

Chris Grace:

I think it's a wonderful question. You can just say, how can married people avoid emotional affairs, but let's take what they ask, "How can married Christians avoid emotional affairs?"

Chris Grace:

Tim, I think-

Tim Muehlhoff:

How would you define an emotional affair, let's do that real quick.

Chris Grace:

Oh yeah, great. I would say an emotional affair begins when you start to find that there's another person outside of your spouse who are meeting those deep needs that you have, on an emotional level, such as feeling heard, or feeling understood, feeling cared for. They laugh at your jokes, and they kind of get you, while your spouse, let's say, maybe doesn't do that, and you begin a reliance on that other person to meet some of your deeper emotional needs, of feeling things like listened to, cared for, even worshiped, I guess, a little bit, right?

Chris Grace:

So, I would start with an emotional affair is that. Would you add something to that?

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah, I would add, flirty inside jokes, things I tell this friend, I don't tell my spouse.

Chris Grace:

Yeah, you reveal secrets to each other, and have secrets and inside jokes.

Chris Grace:

So the question, I think, is a good one, for all married couples. How do you avoid that? I guess, the first thing, Tim, is what we just did, is you understand the definition of what an emotional affair is, right? You begin to see that, "I'm sure spending a lot of time with this colleague, and I really like them. I like being with them. They make me feel more alive. They make me feel more loved," and now all of a sudden, you start finding yourself planning out your day in anticipation of seeing them, and it's kind of regular and scheduled. Maybe it's at work or after work, or whatever it is, that's the beginning, is when you start to find those things.

Tim Muehlhoff:

And you add in the shroud of secrecy. Your spouse doesn't know. Maybe they know about this person. They don't know the depths to which you're communicating via social media, or you're going to have lunch together, or certain things like that.

Tim Muehlhoff:

I'm involved in something called the Graceful Warrior Project, which is an awesome project. We go to hotspots in the world, and teach women self-defense. The founder is a phenomenal woman named Kelly. Single, Godly woman, and when she comes over, it's always me, her, and Noreen. I'm on the Board of Directors, but Kelly and I aren't going off and having lunch together to talk about things.

Chris Grace:

Right.

Tim Muehlhoff:

If I want to talk about things like that, then I would invite her over for dinner, me, Noreen, and her, and maybe Noreen goes off as we talk a little bit of business ... by the way, we're going to the Congo together, but it's going to be me, Noreen, and her.

Chris Grace:

Right.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Noreen feels more ... again, we totally trust her. She totally trusts me, but just for our marriage ... and she loves Noreen, and Noreen loves her. So, for me, it would be different if it was just us for two weeks in the Congo, man, I just would say, "You got to watch that. That's ... come on ... it's an intense situation. Noreen's not around."

Tim Muehlhoff:

I think it's the secrecy thing. I think it's okay to have female friends, but in marriage, it tends to be that person, if they're single, and me and Noreen.

Tim Muehlhoff:

We're great friends with you and Alysa, but Alysa and I aren't going off and playing pickle ball together-

Chris Grace:

That's right.

Tim Muehlhoff:

... because she'd kick my butt, and I'd get mad.

Tim Muehlhoff:

So I think it does change when you get married. To me, the number one indicator that this has stepped into an area is, "My spouse doesn't know the depth of it."

Chris Grace:

Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:

"She just doesn't," and that, to me, is really concerning.

Chris Grace:

Yeah, I think that's right, Tim. I think, also, when you use the word depth. I think people sometimes misjudge that depth, and they believe, "Oh no, this is just what normal people do. This is how colleagues interact," and you start to rationalize the amount of time that you spend.

Chris Grace:

I would ask and challenge this listener to consider, especially if they're the one dealing with it, or it's their family or friends or somebody, is have that person really take a serious look at, are they beginning to think about planning things around their day around this person? Are they looking forward to it? Are they finding that they're just getting more, and this doesn't have to be physical at all, there might not be any physical contact, but there just is this lively, fun, interaction that is consuming a little bit of their time, and they're thinking about it on a regular basis.

Tim Muehlhoff:

See, this is the myth of singleness, myth of marriage that Tim Downs talks about. So I love a quote from Chris Rock. He says, "When I meet a person, I'm not really meeting that person, I'm meeting their representative."

Tim Muehlhoff:

So the seduction happens this way. You leave your house and it's chaos, right? You've got small kids, there's things happening, there's unresolved conflict between you and your spouse, but you got to go to work, "I have to go to work." So you go to work, you walk in. This person, who doesn't really know all of your faults, you now are a representative of yourself, it's her representative, and she laughs at all your jokes, and she thinks you hung the moon. Why? Because she didn't know us back home.

Tim Muehlhoff:

And then when you go back home, you step into all this messiness and tension, and unresolved this and that, and I think that's what's unfair to your spouse, is, "Hey, by the way. Newsflash. We used to be like that."

Tim Muehlhoff:

"Absolutely, we used to be like that. Now I've been married to you, for x amount of years, and we know each other's weaknesses. We've had disappointments, and now that's really unfair that you're not letting that person see your backstage, and you guys are having a grand old time." That starts to feel really unfair to the spouse, who's slugging it out, 24/7.

Chris Grace:

Well, Tim, that's good word, and good answers to these things. I love it.

Chris Grace:

By the way, this podcast is made available through the generous donations of you listeners. We're hundred percent donor-funded, so thank you so much. Go to the cmr.biola.edu, if you love what we're doing, click that link, and even click the Give Now link. It'd be awesome.

Chris Grace:

In closing, Tim, this podcast is something that we would love for people to go and rate us. Rate us on iTunes. Share it on your social media. There is a small technical glitch, and iTunes actually erased 150 of our five star ratings, so we need your help, listeners. Go back. Some of you gave us a five star rating, go back and do it again. iTunes, unfortunately, we don't know how it happened. It just happened, but if you like what you're listening to, go back in iTunes, click that five star rating.

Chris Grace:

By the way, there's one other thing I'd like to mention. We have free relationship advice. Some of you are hearing some of these things. Single, married, engaged, dating, if you're feeling frustrated or worried about any of these relationships, you're not sure how to handle it, just contact us, and you can get free relationship advice. It's not formal counseling or therapy, but it is an opportunity to bring questions just like these to trusted and trained individuals, who can offer wise and biblical counseling on any of these issues.

Chris Grace:

So, visit our website, cmr.biola.edu, click on the yellow banner at the top of our homepage, and it'll let you set an appointment with one of our counselors.

Chris Grace:

Tim, it's been good doing this with you.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Thanks, Chris, it's been great.

Chris Grace:

All right. Take care.

Speaker 1:

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.

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