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How to Rewrite Your Internal Script

Art of Relationships Podcast Episode 126: How to Rewrite Your Internal Script

In this week's episode, Chris and Tim discuss how the subconscious "subtitles" in a conversation can reinforce a negative view of your partner and your marriage. Drawing on wisdom from John Gottman's book, they provide tools to help prevent your internal script from taking on a decidedly negative tone.


Speaker 1:

Welcome to another Art of Relationships podcast. We are grateful for listeners like you. Let's get right into it.

Chris:

Well, welcome to another podcast, Tim. It's really fun to sit together and be able to do these podcasts together. And I can't believe how long we've been doing this. It's got to be...

Tim:

How many years?

Chris:

I don't know. I think five, maybe.

Tim:

That's crazy how fast. And we just want everybody to know we're socially distanced from each other. Chris has a black shirt on and he's against the black curtains. It's just his head is just right there.

Chris:

Yeah. And I think one of the things that happens during times like this, Tim, is we start to find that people call or write in and say things like, "Man, I've been socially distanced for so long. I'm going crazy." A lot of people are watching a lot of movies and doing fun things. But after a while you start running out of creative things to do.

Tim:

You do. And Netflix can only, it's so much screen time. You just can't sit. And Netflix is unfair, Chris. It goes to the next episode in how many seconds? Noreen and I are like, it is 2:00 in the morning and we're like, "No, stop. Stop." But there's some great Netflix things out there and some bad ones and some good ones. But we want to talk today about things that have influenced our thinking about relationships. It could be any, we've been doing this for how long, Chris? We've been doing this for a long time. And there's things that just kind of stay with us. And that could be certainly a book about marriage or parenting or whatever, but it could also be a novel. It could be a movie.

Tim:

Just something about it caught our attention and we remember it to this day, as we're now working with the Center for Marriage and Relationships at Biola University. We thought it'd be fun to kind of go through some of these influencers and just kind of kick it around a little bit. Chris, does not know my list and I do not fully know his list so this is going to be fun.

Chris:

Yeah. What we thought it'd be, there's just some, maybe it's a movie or a book, maybe today we'll concentrate on books. What do you think?

Tim:

Oh it doesn't matter, whatever.

Chris:

And then maybe the next podcast. Whatever.

Tim:

Oh whatever.

Chris:

Well, so Tim, when you think about relationships, the things that have impacted you, like you said, some things carry or stick with you. It's a theme or an idea. It's a quote. And when we do that, it really kind of draws us back to when we read it, what we felt about it and it could really impact the way we look at things that you can look at something horrible as far as a story. Let me just start with a Dostoevsky novel called Crime and Punishment. He smiles because I'm not sure you expected me to go there. But even in Crime and Punishment, I read it and we were in a book club and I told everybody, "We need to read this book by Dostoevsky." And so they said, "Okay." Everybody gets to volunteer a book at one point. We all read it. And they came back like, "That was horrible. Why would you make me read? I wasted three nights."

Tim:

How long? How long is that book?

Chris:

Well it's not a longer, it's one of the shorter books, to be honest. Now, Anna Karenina, by Tolstoy or even Brothers Karamazov are massive. Those will take a long time to read, but Crime and Punishment is really more of a psychological dive into a man who decides that he is going to steal money from a woman, kill her and, and then he thinks he can better himself and then give back to people kind of like a Robin Hood. And the problem is he was so isolated from other people that this idea began to take shape in his mind. And he didn't have anybody around him. Tim, the reason I think it's such a good book is probably the first 90% of it is really hard to read and people may not like it, but he's an amazing psychologist this man. He understands the depth of a person's thoughts, but here's what he did. When you isolate, and in Genesis, here's the thing, what was the very first thing God said wasn't good? It wasn't sin by the way.

Chris:

Sin wasn't the first thing that was not good. The first thing was man, I've made him and he is alone and that is not good. And that's an amazing first thing ever out of his mouth. Therefore we can take from that, Tim, obviously that relationships, that being with other people is a good. It is the big, good from God. That is, do not be isolated. He made of course and created Eve so he would not have isolation. Well, here's some, so I think a history of relationships. The problems revolve around when people are isolated. Do you know that most, 25% of Americans don't have a friend. 25%.

Tim:

25%?

Chris:

Do not have a close confidant. 25%.

Tim:

Wow.

Chris:

The number of close confidants that people have average is two. Two close confidants. In 1980, the average American had four close confidants. Tim, here's the thing, in Crime and Punishment, this guy goes through this massive psychological shame and guilt for killing this woman to get a small amount of money and he's trying to hide from the authorities. And he's just following what you would imagine for somebody who did something horrific like that. And it goes through all of the ins and outs of things that are happening. And then he befriends a prostitute who is forced to do this in this part of Russia at the time, just to survive. And she becomes for him, she leaves that to follow him and loves him as a friend. And Tim, the very last two pages we'll have you just simply almost gasping at the redemptive power of Jesus.

Chris:

You stop and go, "My goodness. She did. She's a Jesus figure where she just, I will love you and care for you as a human being and as a friend and will follow you." Even to Siberia when they put him away and because of that, he comes out of this and says, he experiences redemption. And it is, I literally get chills for the last four pages of this book.

Tim:

Wow.

Chris:

Because of the love of a friend that stays with you. And I just think it's such a powerful demonstration of why friendships are so important and relationships. And to be loved by somebody just because they want to love you. And then you see Jesus through that. And that's why Crime and Punishment is an amazing book. I don't know, skip through the first 90% of it.

Tim:

No, the four pages won't work.

Chris:

That's exactly right, Tim. They won't work unless you go through the gross, horrible, rotten thinking of a man. Anyway Tim, it's one of my favorite books about relationships and the power of a friend who comes alongside you, even in the worst times and stays with you and says, "I love you because you're," and then that model's Jesus. I love it.

Tim:

That makes me think of a ton of things. One, the Christian life isn't meant to be done by ourselves. The letters to churches, even the ones that are to pastors, it was meant to be read to the church, First Second Timothy. We got to do this thing together and an application point just last night, Chris, a friend of mine called me and asked if she could talk to me because she's starting an M.A. in psychology at a secular university. And so she said at the very end, "What's one key piece of advice?" I said, "Listen, you got to have somebody you can talk this through with."

Chris:

Yeah, good.

Tim:

Because you're in that. I did all my education at UNC Chapel Hill, Master's and PhD. Loved it, loved it. But man, you start to feel like the frog in the kettle with the heat getting turned up. And I said to her, "You've got to find somebody that you respect, that can talk to you about all the things you're going to be hearing." Think of all the marriages, Chris, that 25% is amazing, where couples are starting to get these ideas, we're going to call it quits. And there is nobody to step in and to say, "Hey, hey, hey, come on now, this is a tough season, but we can get through." COVID, we've seen COVID put stresses on marriages. We need people in our lives to counteract these thinkings. If you don't, we're on the doorstep of Crime and Punishment.

Chris:

And Tim, one of the things that you and I do is we teach a class to college students, a class on relationships, Christian perspective on marriage and relationships. And we've been doing that for, I don't know, geesh, maybe eight years?

Tim:

Oh my. Chris, I need to just take a nap. I need to just take a quick power nap.

Chris:

And Tim, I think one of the coolest assignments we give these students, one of the coolest assignments is we make every student go out and get coffee, a coffee date with somebody. And it's usually we ask them to pick somebody they don't know very well or somebody that maybe they would like to get to know better. And we have them write down this assignment and they have to go get coffee and just talk and we give them questions and so it's not awkward. And they can introduce I have to do a class assignment. My teachers are making me and do you mind getting coffee? And they write back that it's a new way of getting to know somebody and maybe even starting a new relationship. Tim, I think that's exactly right.

Tim:

Well Chris, we are crazy blessed. I just had a birthday. I have an amazing wife who before my birthday went and solicited from a bunch of my friends, would you write Tim a letter? And so on my birthday, she had these bound and she gave me the book. Chris, your letter was amazing, but just looking past and present, Chris, I just realized how many men in my life. If I started to move away from Noreen, if I started to think about calling it quits or doing something stupid with a person of the opposite sex, I would have friends who would be bold enough to say, "Hey dude, no. No. This is not going to happen." And that man in Crime and Punishment did not have a community and that horrible thought took root and yeah, there's redemption at the end, but he still paid for his consequences. To me, that is such a chilling statistic that you said, what? 25%?

Chris:

Of Americans. Listen, they have no confidants.

Tim:

That's crazy. That's absolutely crazy.

Chris:

And I love the way, even the word confidant, somebody that you can confide in, somebody that you can share your heart with. Tim, you say, I'm struggling with this. And you said these men can come around you from all areas of your life, from when you were at UNC, before then.

Tim:

Oh before then.

Chris:

When you were in Detroit. When you were here at Biola. And they can come alongside you and say, "Tim, what are you doing?" And that's the power of friendships and relationships. That's why I think one of the reasons why we started this, not only this podcast, but our Center for Marriage and Relationships, which by the way, you can go to cmr.biola.edu and grab a lot of these podcasts and blogs even on friendships and things like that.

Tim:

And you and I have been in a marriage, we've talked about this a ton, but we've been in a marriage group for what? For 13 years, something like that. Remember Frederick Buechner, who's a theologian I like reading. He said, "Most of the time we live these highly edited lives." We do share with people, but we edit them because we're protecting our self identity and all that kind of stuff, impression management. But he said, "You need to have people that they get the unedited version of your life." And I have a friend of mine, Noreen saved him for the last letter in this book. He was the best man in my wedding. We have been friends for, oh my goodness, 45 years. And he was the last letter. That was really cool that she's stuck that in, but there's no impressing each other. There's nothing you can say to each other that would shock each other now and there's something really refreshing about that.

Chris:

There is, and Tim, the idea of a friend and friendship is so deeply woven into our history as Christians. For example, when Jesus talked about his friends and I no longer call you servants, I call you friends in John. And then in John 13, a new commandment I give you love one another. And then in 15, he continues that theme talking about, I have called you friends because I chose you. And Tim I'm telling you, it just gives you goosebumps when you realize that to bring us alongside as friends is so deeply powerful. In the Old Testament, God called two people his friend, Moses and Abraham. And Abraham, he said, "You are a friend." And now Jesus is saying, "You, all Christians can now come alongside." And it's just a powerful, it means confidant, intimate. I share details with you.

Tim:

So good. Oh boy, Chris, you make me want to go read it. I want to go read Crime and Punishment. All right. I'll do one.

Chris:

Yeah. Give us a book that you.

Tim:

I've got a book. Our friend The Beaver, a retrospect from second grade.

Chris:

Has never left you.

Tim:

Has never left. The way he built that dam was just, it was powerful.

Chris:

And it was a dam. It was of amazing quality.

Tim:

Okay. Here we go. All right. Listen, we talk about John Gottman a ton. We talk about him a ton. If you've never read a John Gottman book in your life, you got to read a John Gottman book. I just gave a guy at my Krav Maga school a John Gottman book, because we were talking about marriage as we're beating the tar out of each other. And I gave him a Gottman book. I'm picking my favorite Gottman book. And he's got a bunch of them. This is called Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You can Make Yours Last. We're not going to talk about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. We've talked about that a ton. We're not going to talk about the five to one ratio, we talked about that a ton. Please check the archives for that. We do a bunch of shows on Gottman, I think explicitly.

Tim:

All right, let me give you the pound for pound most convicting quote on marriage I have ever read. It has made my life miserable, thus, I want to pass it on to all of our listeners. Here we go. This is terrible, Chris. One of the first things to go in marriage is politeness.

Chris:

Oh, I hate that.

Tim:

Because Chris and I was thinking about that, how it really applies to you. No, I was thinking about that and you just get so convicted because when Noreen and I were dating, everything was politeness. Talk about highly edited versions of your life. I like what Chris Rock says, the comedian Chris Rock. He says, "When I go on a date with a person for the first time, I'm not going on a date with that person. I'm going on it with their representative." You know what I mean? Chris I said, please, thank you, you're the best, you're awesome. How many times did I said that to Noreen when we were dating? It rolled off. I could not imagine Noreen doing something that I wasn't profuse in saying, "Oh, you thought of me. Thank you. Oh, that's great. Oh, that's awesome," while we were dating.

Tim:

And then you get married and when I read this from Gottman's book, it makes you think, what do you start to take for granted that your spouse does? And it's like, well, where dinner? I can't find my socks, what's going on? All these traditional gender stereotypes. And I think Noreen and I, if I had to say what, because remember Gottman says in another place, I don't know if this book. Remember, he said, "67% of all your struggles are perpetual, they don't go away." Ours is not feeling appreciated. If I were to say 30 years of marriage, I would say that Noreen and I can go through these funks where it's like, I just don't feel appreciated anymore. Gottman said, "The first thing to go in a marriage is politeness."

Chris:

Tim, so when you know that, you've probably read that years and years ago and you guys are really good at your marriage and a model for a lot of people. But it's interesting that that's something that then almost any marriage can struggle with. And you found that, so what's your antidote? It could be, be polite again, but is there something deeper, like a gratitude level?

Tim:

We've done this on many occasions and this is applying a lot of positive psychology that I've learned from you. We have actually done Chris, where we feel like we're in the funk. We're just in it. And by the way, let me just say this to our listeners who have really small kids, welcome to the land of the funk. The kids take everything and you're physically tired. I've never been more physically and emotionally tired when our kids were young. We did a Zoom phone call Chris, just the other day. It was the Muehlhoff family during COVID. And my nieces have small kids. They were literally climbing over my nieces and grabbing the camera and I thought, I could not go back to that.

Tim:

When you're in the funk, the land of the funk, Noreen and I literally said to each other, Chris, "The day will not end until you and I have both said to each other, here is one thing I'm thankful for." And the first one is the hardest, right Chris, when you're in that funk? The first one, you want to look at your spouse and go, "Hey, you haven't been that much of a jerk today." But we have literally said, "We're going to go the next 10 days and we're going to comp." And you know what? It's kind of like priming a pump a little bit, it gets easier and easier and easier. And psychologists would tell us, "You need to train your mind to notice these." And that has been one thing that we've done.

Chris:

Tim, gosh, I love that idea, the funk. I think what I call it sometimes, it comes out of this passage in Jeremiah. He says "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not harm you and to give you a hope and a future." And then, what I love is is this next idea that when he comes up with that, what he says is, "I have these plans for you and you will come and call upon me and listen to you." And then he says something real interesting. "When you come and call upon me, I will listen to you. I will even make roadways in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." My analogy for your funk is a desert time where God says, "I'll make a river, but it's still desert, man. And it's burning and it's hot and it it's hard." And then when life gets really busy, when they're older, it's like being in a wilderness and he says, "I'll make a roadway."

Chris:

I was talking to somebody who's not even young kids. Actually it was a family member who has a new puppy. And it's the same thing. This puppy cries and is up all night. And they're like, "Oh my gosh, I was crying and weeping all night because I didn't get any sleep."

Tim:

Oh man.

Chris:

And so Tim, I think you're exactly right. Politeness goes.

Tim:

Let me say that this is going back to your Crime and Punishment about a community. Because let's say a couple is in the funk, they're in it. And you can start to think what's wrong with our marriage? And maybe we're not meant to be with each other. And maybe this is that, until you get together with other friends and they go, "Dude, you're in the funk." And it was like, "Well, what do you mean?" You got toddlers, you have teenagers. We're in COVID. You are in the funk and it's like, You guys do it? Yeah. We're in the funk. We get in the funk all the time. That's the beauty of community.

Tim:

Let me read you another quote that tags off of that. I love this quote from Gottman. Again, we're talking about his book. He wrote a great book called, Things I've Learned from Tim Muehlhoff. It's just I was surprised and shocked. It was a beautiful, nice thing.

Chris:

I think a lot of listeners are surprised and shocked right now too.

Tim:

Yeah. And he also had a chapter on the other guy, but a chapter is too much. It was like a tweet. Okay. This book is called, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last. He has a bunch of them, but that's one I like. Listen to this quote, Chris, this is about our self talk. And I think this is just brilliantly said in light of not being appreciative anymore. Listen to what Gottman says, "The assumptions you make about your spouse and your relationship can determine the state of your marriage's health. Marital problems easily arise if your thoughts and feelings are distorted." Now listen to this great metaphor. "If your subtitles reinforce a negative view of your partner and your marriage, the more entrenched the four horsemen become in your relationship, the more likely your internal script will take on decidedly negative tone."

Tim:

I love the idea of subtitles, Chris. You know what that is, when you're talking to a person and you're getting frustrated, that little subtitle comes like, oh, what an idiot. Or that is whacked. Or, you're whacked. When you look at your spouse and begin to communicate, we have got to work on our self talk, that that subtitle is it negative or positive? And it doesn't mean we turn a blind eye to weaknesses, but this is positive psychology. Is the first subtitle positive or negative? And Chris, that can determine if Gottman is right, the overall state of your marriage's health.

Chris:

It can change a marriage. It can transform it, if you get down in and figure out that subtitle, subtext, whatever. That idea that something there is not clicking or it's not healthy. And I think Tim, I think if we could tell listeners to do any one thing, it's to go figure out what's happening there that's driving this, maybe the conflict or what's driving this? What need is not being met? You're not simply fighting about the kids or discipline or groceries or money, you're fighting, there's something in that conflict.

Tim:

Yeah. And let me mention a side comment, but I think that is really helpful here is I wrote a book called Marriage Forecasting and the last chapter was on your climate with God. You know those subtitles we have when you're talking to your spouse or children, you better believe you have those subtitles when you talk to God and especially in a time of a pandemic. When you pray and again, here's what I love about the scriptures. God knows what the subtitle is. He knows it so be honest of what the subtitle is. Nowhere in scripture are people rebuked for being honest about their subtitles. If you are praying during the pandemic and your business is going under, your kids are losing their jobs, family members are getting sick, some are dying and you pray and that subtitle is, this is useless or you abandoned me. That's the subtitle. Well, embrace that. And again, community, go back to community where they can say, "Yeah, these are hard times, even with God."

Chris:

Yeah Tim, I think we can talk about this forever, because I think when you come to God, like you said in prayer, he knows your heart. I think what he's doing for me anyway, it's as if my praying is helping to finally work out and uncover and look at what is really going on in this heart of mine. And that's why when you just say, "Oh, I'll do my little prayer at night. And in the morning, I'll get up and I'll read and I'll pray." Without really seeking a time to dive in, to look at and then mostly to have God just kind of reveal to you.

Chris:

And friends, Tim, can do that. Spouses can do that. Situations and circumstances, but it's not easy work. You would say define that subtitle. Sometimes it takes years and then it hits you. I never really truly believed that God was answering my prayers. And so I'd go to him. And so you could be years doing that. And any solutions that you would have other than going to God with this and exposing that and asking him, "God reveal to me my heart." And that's what a lot of people say, "Reveal what's happening."

Tim:

Yeah. We're going to do in the future, we're going to do some podcasts on grief. I think that's important, especially in the age of this pandemic, not just grief of losing a loved one as horrible that is. But I think some small business owners, it's the grief of losing a dream. Our business is going under. My Krav Maga school, the owner said he has five martial arts friends, their schools are closed. They were literally selling off all their equipment. I would say this, Chris, get examples of Christians that we admire, who weren't afraid to let you in on their subtitles. I'm thinking of A Grief Observed where C.S. Lewis famously said upon the death of his wife, Joy, "Go to him when your need is the greatest and you knock on a door and there is silence or even worse, you hear double bolting on the inside from God."

Tim:

That's the great C.S. Lewis being really candid about how disappointed he was that he prayed for Joy, she went into remission, but came out very quickly and died. That to me is again, taking away from the Devil, a weapon to say, what a loser Christian you are. Those subtitles are horrible. And it's like, no, no, no. Some of the greatest saints have gone through what St. John of the cross calls, a dark night of the soul.

Tim:

Listen, we're going to do some future podcasts on grief. We think it's incredibly important. But right now we just covered two books. We covered Crime and Punishment and we covered Gottman, Why Marriages Succeed and Why They Fail. Listen, we're going to continue this, but we're going to take a break and please join us for part two of this podcast. We've got some more books.

Chris:

Yeah. We do. Have a couple of books we'll ask about maybe even some favorite movies and things like that. By the way, as we go, Isaiah 43:19 is the passage I was referring to about if you want to find out about him making roadways in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Tim, man, it's always fun to do this.

Tim:

Yeah. Check out our website. We have a lot of great things. There for you past podcasts, we have blogs like crazy. Some great guest authors have jumped in into the blog and feel free to check it out. Chris, our website is?

Chris:

Yeah, cmr.biola.edu.

Tim:

All right.

Chris:

Talk to you later.

Tim:

Bye.

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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