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Listener Questions Answered Pt. 6

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.


Tim Muehlhoff: Welcome to the Art of Relationships podcast, it's great to be with you again. Every once in a while we love to not have necessarily a plan topic but respond to the ton of great questions we get on our website all the time Chris and there's some really thoughtful questions.

Chris Grace: Yeah, we call this listener questions answered right because-

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, we love the interactions so please keep those coming and we just love to take a segment every once in a while and just answer some questions we think have a lot of reach, so let's jump in.

Chris Grace: Yeah, let's do it.

Tim Muehlhoff: Chris, what are the five things you love most about doing podcasts-

Chris Grace: With you. It would take way too long for me to go over those together.

Tim Muehlhoff: Right, we don't have that long. Here's the first one. "What advice would you give a person who does not have access to marriage counseling, no trained pastoral staff, no Christian counselors close by, what should I do?" But I'd even add one to that Chris is you just can't financially afford marital counseling.

Chris Grace: Yeah, I guess my advice Tim, let's both answer this. To me most of the time couples that are in marriages can get by without a professional counselor. They can deal with issues by having good emotional connections with other people, family members, friends, pastors others.

Who while they may not be trained professionally but just simply being heard, being able to talk, being able to share. We have a program on mentoring that doesn't require a license, it doesn't require that you have a trained therapist there are the time. For a person who doesn't have access I would say most of the time you'll probably be able to find the help you need with those around your emotional support systems with family, friends, pastors, others.

I guess though if you know that the issues you're facing are of significance and that you've been recommended for this Tim, I guess for this listener I'd say something, well there are some options, here's one. We have a friend who does online marital questions and counseling, so we've had her on our podcast. Debra Fileta does and sets up appointments online.

That's just one example, she'll set it up, talk with you and she'll be able to help that way. If you want her website is probably related to choosing marriage, she's just one of others so Tim I would think that's one way. You just go find somebody that you trust including her and do it online.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, there are some great online, now make sure to check out their credentials. We know Debra, her credentials are impeccable so we can trust her but do due diligence, just like you would with a Christian counselor. You'd want to sit down first and just know where he or she's getting their education from, their point of view.

I would say this Chris, there's some great books on marriage, so I'd grab a book, grab two or three couples and just say, "Hey, we're not going to be the leader of this group right, we're just going to read the book together and all of us can simply sit down and talk about a chapter together." What I don't like about being isolated is just you and your spouse talking about something, it's really good or just reading a book by yourself, it's good to have an outside perspective jump in.

Form a reading group and pick a book on marriage and I would say also pick a book on marriage that has some diagnostic tools in it. I'm thinking of John Gottman's book, Why Marriages Succeed, Why They Fail. He actually has you stop and take these different tests to see where you're coming down on the particular issue that he's been talking about. I think those are particularly helpful that you can, it takes you just one step further. Start your own reading group, a marriage reading group I think would be really beneficial.

Chris Grace: Yeah, and a shout out to some listeners that we know that have used this podcast in their small life groups at church, to spur the conversation with other couples on how to do relationships well and they used the podcast. They listened to it and then they talk about it.

Tim Muehlhoff: Hey we're in a marriage group so Chris and I, we've been in a marriage group for how long Chris?

Chris Grace: Maybe 10 years now, 11 years, 12 years.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, 10 years. You know what we did is there's some really great talks, Ted Talks so one time we just did, we found a Ted Talk on relationships on forgiveness. Again check out the person who's doing it, just find out his or her perspective but we would then listen to a Ted Talk is cool, it's 18 minutes.

And then just everybody in the group just responded and mentioned books that they had read or their personal experiences. That could be a really cool thing if you have a computer you can get some good Ted Talks or sermons even, a sermon series on marriage or something like that.

Chris Grace: Yeah, or a blog or a podcast that we, you just go to our website too.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, we have a ton of stuff. Yeah, that's great.

Chris Grace: All right Tim, another question from a listener. "How do I handle a situation in which a close friend of mine is making decisions that I do not think are good for them? How do I balance loving them and calling them out?" You have a close friend, they're not making good decisions or at least you don't think they are, that are good for them. "You want to love them well." But this person says,  " ... but how do you also call them out?" I'll give that question to you.

Tim Muehlhoff: It's going to come down to a couple different factors. All of us by the way have this situation where with the best of intentions we've sat down with a friend, tried to point something out and it backfired and went south pretty quickly. I would say ask yourself what is your overall communication climate like and do we have a strong climate between us?

I think if you have a strong climate then you can sit down and you can be honest as Paul says, "Speak the truth and love." But listen if you don't, see here's where I often get, here's the question I get from some of my students. "Yeah this is a high school friend, this is friend back home. We don't have a ton of contact with each other, we've stopped talking as much as we used to, but I really feel like she's making a big, wrong decision and I want to go in and talk to her."

It's like wow, what's the climate like and what's your credibility like with this person? I do think if you have high credibility with a person, you can take the risk and really talk about something, but if you don't have high credibility, unless this is like a life and death situation that's going to impact them right away, I might have to build up that relationship before I have enough credibility to talk about this particular issue.

Chris Grace: Yeah, I think this is a tough one. I recently had someone stop by my office and said a good friend of hers, one of her best friends, they're college age, was in a relationship. Her friend was in a relationship and dating this person and in general it was going well but they felt like there were just some things that maybe they weren't processing well. For example, she felt like they were spending just too much time together.

Tim Muehlhoff: A common thing that happens to couples.

Chris Grace: Yeah, so she was feeling a little bit left out at times, maybe taking advantage of it at times because they shared an apartment and therefore when this person would come over, she was isolated or left alone or couldn't study or whatever the issue is. Tim I think she wanted to have a conversation in calling out some of this, so here's what I recommended.

I recommended that one of the best things that she could clearly do that is identify boundaries, it was appropriate for her to talk to her friend about, "Hey listen, this is great and all when you have this person over but I also live here. And I would like some time when if I'm studying and you guys are in here watching TV and enjoying and laughing, I have a hard time studying and we've talked about that."

That's something to have a conversation with, I love you and yet I also want to be fair. We only have a certain amount of time, so calling out and having a good discussion about that right, that's one thing. But if she starts trying to say, "But I also want to talk to you about the unhealthiness that you have in your relationship and the amount of time."

I think she needs to see that she may not necessarily be an expert or gifted on this and she may want to weigh. It may not go over as well when you're starting to talk to somebody about insights about their own ways they're dealing with relationship pain and issues and struggles. And she might want to just simply pause before she brings that with that up, what's your thought?

Tim Muehlhoff: Well I noticed the question said, "How do I balance loving them and calling them out?" Well I would say, "Okay how is the balance? Are you doing a really good job of loving them or you've been slightly ticked at them or have you been distant? Because if you are loving then I think you have the green light, then I think you have the green light to address an issue.

But listen it takes two people. You can do this perfectly, the climate can be great, you're as gracious as anything and the person just doesn't respond well. Well welcome to life this happens a lot, you don't withdraw the friendship, you'd still be a good friend. You had a bad conversation, doesn't mean the whole thing's over. But just know you can do everything perfectly and take a risk and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

Chris Grace: Yeah good, one other thing I had shared with her too was to do this. If this friend has invited you in to speak into her life, to speak into her relationship, to point out things to them, you have that freedom. That's how you both love and call out, she's asked you to do this. If she's never asked you or doesn't respond pretty positively, if she's saying, "Listen, I love you and all but I'm not asking you to come and tell me about my relationship with my boyfriend, I don't want you to speak."

Then guess what, you go ahead and doing that is not going to work. We call that, "A meta-conversation, a meta-conversation is I want to have a conversation about our potential conversation." I think I'd sit with this friend and say, "Listen, I view us as being really good friends. I view us as being more than just roommates, we're friends. An expectation I have is that if you see anything in my life that you're concerned about that you have the green light and I would hope that I have the green light."

Tim Muehlhoff: Now listen, at that point I wouldn't have the conversation, in other words if she goes, "Well of course you have the green light." Good, here we go, boom, boom. I would say, "Great, that's my expectation as well, thank you." And affirm her for that then I'd wait a little bit and say, "Hey I'm going to cash in on our medic conversation, which is we gave each other permission to do this." But have a conversation about the future conversation you want to have right then.

Chris Grace: That's good and Tim there are sometimes you're going to see something in somebody's life that you know there are some that do cross the line, that are dangerous right? They're doing something maybe illegal whatever they're doing and then so they are crossing the line and you really do need to speak up really quickly about this before it can be detrimental.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's great and I was going to almost say that this is on a continuum. I mean if there are things that are just unhealthy, dangerous, abusive guess what? You don't necessarily have to have the green light to step in and say, "Listen, I'm not just seeing you guys as being isolated, I see him isolating you and being abusive towards you." Well guess what, you step in regardless of how this is going to go.

Chris Grace: Yeah, good so sometimes we see things and there's a balance there.

Tim Muehlhoff: There's actually a couple things I want to talk to you about after the podcast, so let's wrap this up.

Chris Grace: Got another question?

Tim Muehlhoff: I do, so this is a great question, both of us have had kids go graduate from college so now I see both sides of this. When I was an undergrad I see this, when I was a parent I see it but here's the question. "New to college, my parents are having a hard time letting me go, calling often, checking in, worried when I don't update them, asking about grades, et cetera. How do I respectfully push back and ask for their trust?"

Chris Grace: The quick answer, call them, check in every day send your parents-

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh come on, give your parents a break, call them right now. Stop listening to this podcast.

Chris Grace: Probably paying for your college, come on.

Tim Muehlhoff: No, here's what I would say. To me a way to interpret this question is new to college. If this person were a junior, if this person were a senior I'd say come on I get it right? I get that mom and dad are wanting to hang on in your junior year but this is new to college, maybe this is a first semester freshman. I would say this, allow your parents to wrestle. Allow your parents to work with the transition and sometimes not always respond well like man it was hard.

We live about 25 minutes away from Biola University and when our oldest, when we dropped him off there was this great ceremony we do at Biola. Where we have communion and Dr. Corey the president is giving this great talk about transitions and leaving. Noreen and I are crying, we're going to see him probably the next day. He lives 25 minutes away it was really hard on us.

Well imagine if you're across country, imagine if you're across the city. I just would say listen, give your parents just a little bit of grace, they could be over reacting and then guess what, next semester say, "Hey mom, dad I appreciated that you want to stay in touch and I appreciate checking up on me but can we establish some boundaries and norms?" But give them a little bit of grace.

Chris Grace: That's good Tim, so you give them grace, you've done this for a semester or two but the parents now let's say it's your sophomore junior year. Parents are still having a hard time-

Tim Muehlhoff: It's your wedding night. Your honeymoon, hey honey real quick.

Chris Grace: the question, "How do I respectfully push back and ask for their trust." Right? That's a great question too but I guess Tim in this one other thing to add, I love the idea extend grace, your parents aren't perfect, they miss you. Just take it and understand it, really recognize wow I'm so glad I have parents that care.

Turning something like that to, "I'm so glad." because there are some students who are like, "Finally they're out of the house." and they never hear from them again and they wished they had a good relationship with their parents. And so one way is just to be grateful that I'm really glad I got parents that care, that's cool. But to push back I guess-

Tim Muehlhoff: Even though they're driving me crazy.

Chris Grace: Even though they are. To respectfully push back is I think Tim you've mentioned this a number of times. It's in fact in another podcast recently it was about this idea of having a conversation about the conversation, these meta-conversations that say, "Mom and dad can we just talk about something? I really want to keep you up to date." And then for you to I guess push back is to identify and know what your parents are probably dealing with. Maybe a little bit of loneliness, a little bit of sadness, worry about you.

Identify those things and say, "Mom, dad I know this sometimes happens, I want to assure you of a couple of things." And then you begin that conversation but you really have to have a conversation about that kind of conversation.

Tim Muehlhoff: And don't condition your parents in the wrong way. For example some are in the habit of as soon as my mom sends me a treat I respond. As soon as I see a message from my dad I respond. I would gradually condition and again you're not being manipulative, you're busy so guess what I can't. I have a son in law school, he's in his first year of law school and you do shoot him a text asking, he wrote his paper in law school and I shot him a text just dying to know. And he's just taking a little bit a while to answer it but that's okay but I think it's okay for me to inquire.

But again, give your parents that transitional, let them struggle but then hear what we're saying, it is perfectly as an emerging adult to set boundaries. And respectfully acknowledging all they've done for you but sit and say, "Mom, dad can I just say something? Maybe weekends we can talk but during the week mom, dad I'm going from class to class, meeting to meeting. I'm stuck in the library and every time you call I have to get up out of my cubicle, go find a stair well and talk. Can we say that maybe weekends on Sunday, we'll connect on Sunday afternoon."

Chris Grace: Yeah, the second thing Tim that this person is asking too, is how too is how-

Tim Muehlhoff: I'm not speaking to my kids by the way. My kids pick up the dang phone and go to a stairwell. This is for our listeners. Go ahead.

Chris Grace: This listener, how do I respectfully push back and ask for their trust? Some of this is a little bit as a parent wanting trust and how do you ask for trust, well you act in a trustworthy manner right? You also then do things and I think for some parents they'll get that. However if there have been things that have happened in your all's relationship in which you've violated or broken trust, you're going to have to reestablish that and so it could take a little bit of time.

Maybe you've failed a class because you didn't do a couple of things that you said you were going to do. You told your parents you were doing them, turned into things and now all of a sudden you get the F and it's costly and you have to rebuild that trust. You ask for trust by saying, "Mom I just want to point out or dad that you know I've been doing this and I know maybe in the past." That's one way, how would you say?

Tim Muehlhoff: And let me say I think this is situational to be honest, so if your parents are paying for tuition and your parents are paying for room and board, well guess what? They have a right to be kept in the loop. If you're paying your own way, your parents weren't able to help you or you're working a job and you're mostly paying your own way, then I think there's some freedom with that.

But hey if mom and dad are making university life for you possible, then I think they have a right to check in more than a couple who's not really helping their kids with tuition.

Chris Grace: Yeah, well for all the parents out there-

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, we feel yeah.

Chris Grace: Yeah, for letting go, it's hard isn't it Tim and sometimes it really takes lower, you know what I think it takes Tim too is many parents, one of the things I recommend for new parents like this if this is you out there as a listener on that end of it. It's really being able to specifically pray more for your child, pray for your heart and then just simply, "Lord bring people into their lives, let this be a moment in time for them to see and trust in you."

But to be more intentional in our prayer life for our kids and then that God works on us as well. As we navigate the hard realities of missing somebody deeply that we want to be in contact with and knowing we got to entrust them into God hand.

Tim Muehlhoff: I literally just texted you right now because I just wanted to have a connection partly. Hey last question we'll tackle is it's a great question and we need to address it. "A friend is struggling with depression and anxiety. How can I support them in that struggle?" I'm so glad we're getting this question today because one of the cool things about Biola University is we have chapel programs. And we just had a speaker come in and address the topic of depression.

A woman who herself has struggled with depression for a multitude of reasons but she used the Prophet Elijah as her example. Here's Elijah who has just done some incredible acts of faithfulness, he's one of the prince of the prophets. He's like the model prophet and at the end of his life he was carted up to heaven in a flaming chariot I mean this is the topnotch profit. He does all these great works and then a woman, I think her name is Jezebel?

Chris Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Muehlhoff: Comes up to him and challenges him and says, "I'm going to take your life." And it freaks him out and he goes and falls into a state of depression and "I love God's reaction to him." is what this woman pointed out in chapel. She said, "First thing he did, Elijah wakes up and there's bread by his head and he's told to eat. And then gradually he starts to work out of this funk but God isn't impatient with him, God doesn't rebuke him saying, 'Listen, you're one of my top prophets, what are you doing?'"

One I guess I want to say I've not struggled with depression but I have a dad who did struggle with this. It's for real, you don't question a person like, "Hey snap out of it." We need to acknowledge that hey you're in a season that you're telling me you just can't shake it, we need to take that seriously.

Chris Grace: I would say Tim, along those lines if you have a good friend, to be a good friend you know what you're going to do? You're going to get as much information about depression and anxiety as you can, not to fix them, not to treat them, you're not going to be able to do that.

But just to have resources for them so when they come to you and you notice that they're struggling you say, "Hey let's go together and talk. There's a dean here, there's a faculty member here, there's somebody nearby. Here's some resources, let me support you in doing this." so being aware. Another thing, yeah go ahead.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh no so I love what you're saying so the woman who spoke in chapel said, "Notice one of the first mistakes Elijah makes is he has an assistant, he has a servant that's with him. He leaves the servant and continues on without the servant so now he's isolated by himself trying to ... " I love the fact of you saying, "Hey don't isolate."

Chris Grace: Yeah, Tim I think another thing we could do to support, if you have a friend who's dealing with this, sometimes I love your example. There's another biblical model, two of them actually that come up for me is thinking about Job's friends. When Job was dealing with this what did his friends do? They came and the sat with him and they didn't speak for three days. That to me, these friends sat there for three days and I just simply think that sometimes it's just to be with them.

I have a very close family member who struggles with anxiety and really I think if this person were to say what would they want most during their times when they might be struggling or a panic attack? You know what they want is just a friend to come by, that friend doesn't have the answers. They don't have to necessarily know the cure, they just know when to be there. Bring them soup, bring them a cup of tea, just come and sit there and I think that's really important.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, let me ask this, have you ever had a panic attack?

Chris Grace: Well not me but I know some people have that-

Tim Muehlhoff: I've never had what I think I would officially say is a panic attack but you know how we get crazy busy, our schedules get of whack and somehow this has happened. I literally was flying every weekend, speaking but also teaching, I mean I come home from speaking, walk right into a classroom, teach and my gas tank was absolutely empty. Chris the closest I've ever had is Noreen's not home, she's at work, I get into my car, I start my car. I cannot think of where I'm going, what airport I'm going or even when the flight is.

And it was complete almost just the system just said, "Okay we're overloaded and we're stuck." You know how your computer freezes? Chris I sat there and my heart rate was going like crazy and that's where I think I just realized okay, I need to make some real changes here. I have a little bit of empathy, I've never had depression but to feel that and again if you would have said to me at that point, if you were to walk by and see me in the car and said, "Tim snap out of it, come on dude."

I would have been like, "Hey that's not helping because this feels really overwhelming right now." I have compassion towards people who feel like I'm at end emotion. Again this was Elijah before eating, before resting his gas tank was empty.

Chris Grace: That's good, that's really good Tim. What I would do with somebody who is dealing with this, one other thing that I would add. During times in which they are not experiencing deep emotions, depression or anxiety, have the conversation ahead of time. What do they find would be helpful, what can I do during this time that you've... And they would say, "Oh gosh thanks for, here's what would be helpful just sit with me or better yet if you see this coming, take me and get me out of this place and walk me and talk with me and bring me something."

And then you can have that conversation outside of this deep emotional time, that could also be helpful. You can really get some good clarity on how this friend would best be served by you. And I think Tim, just simply recognizing and knowing that these are common symptoms that people struggle with, sadness and depression and then fear and anxiety. They are pretty large numbers out there in the world.

Tim Muehlhoff: By the way one of Satan's greatest tactics we just did as a Center for Marriage we did a whole conference on this. Please check our website, you can get information about topics we covered, even we've written a book on spiritual battle. But Satan would love to isolate you, Satan would like to say, "What loser Christian are you that you're struggling with anxiety attacks and depression?" And not to isolate like that.

Very quickly biblical characters who have struggled with depression, we know, I've already mentioned Elijah, add to that King David, a man after God's own heart. Job and then we also mention people like CS Lewis was very public about it. We know that Luther, what did he call it, "The black dog that would follow him." Mother Teresa, we talk about the epitome of caring and nurturing and Mother Teresa also suffered from it.

We also have people like Barbara Bush have been open about their depression. We recently had some basketball players come out. Chris Bosch came out and said, Kevin Love came out and said, so just know Satan would love to isolate you and think you're the only one who deal with this. But just know in the bible very famous Christians, I think we've seen a bit of shift in depression today where people are more open to talking about it. Don't let Satan isolate you if you're a believer.

Chris Grace: Yeah, and if this is your friend that's dealing with it, you want to support them in their struggle, then we've given you a couple things to do. Stay with them, be available to them, know when they need help. Know signs that are really okay your depression is one thing but now we've talked in the past when it gets to this point, you've asked me to get professional help for you. And know when that is, know that boundary between what's appropriate for this person and what's not.

If a person's having a panic attack maybe they said, "Hey just sit with me." but if it's a panic attack and they're really beyond that level, you need to then support your friend by saying, "Okay let's go together and let's get some help in those things."

Tim Muehlhoff: We just did a podcast on what's good about social media. Here's what's good about it is you don't have to just sit and wonder, hey is this depression or what's the telltale signs or what can I do? Go again to a qualified source like the Mayo Clinic and just type in depression in their search engine and they're going to say, "Hey, here are some of the indicators, here's some of the medications typically used."

They're always going to say, "First step is to go to a trained professional." but it takes some of the mystery out of it to say, "Okay some of those characteristics I think apply to me, some clearly don't." but to me that's the beauty of the internet is go to a credible source and get input right away.

Chris Grace: That's right and always, always, always in any of these situations make sure they've had to go to the medical doctor and get a checkup. Have somebody check this out, take it seriously enough to say, "Encourage your friend that if they haven't seen a professional to make sure that there's no other cause or nothing else going on to do that first." and these are all good ways to support a friend. Tim great questions.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh this good. Hey listen, we want to be a resource to you and that resource can be going to our website where you can submit questions just like this. And we love it so keep sending us those questions and we'll group them together but we really appreciate your partnership with us, your listening and we take that very seriously, we don't take it lightly so thank you so much.