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Your Questions Answered Part Two

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

Chris and Tim answer listener questions about divorce, dating, compatibility, and more!

Speaker 1:    Welcome to another Art of Relationships Podcast. We are grateful for listeners like you. Let's get right into it.

Chris Grace:    Well, so good to be here with you, Tim on this podcast again and it feels like it's such a joy to come in and do this with you because we could talk about relationships and we get to talk, Tim about things that are impactful in a lot of people's lives, and so we're going to take some questions today. But it's fun to do this with you in your background, Tim and for listeners that maybe are joining us for the first time. Your PhD from UNC Chapel Hill, who as a communication theorist and an expert in this, and this is something you've been studying a long time, and it's fun to talk with you about it.

Tim Muehlhoff:    It is fun to talk about relationships and we call this segment, ask the expert. And we don't want to assume that our listeners just know our backgrounds except that we have devilishly handsome voices. But yeah, Chris, you have a PhD in psychology.

Chris Grace:    Yeah, social psychology from Colorado State and you and I have been... Oh gosh, how long have you been speaking on relationships with family life?

Tim Muehlhoff:    Oh my gosh, 26 years.

Chris Grace:    26 years. You and I do conferences together. We each teach courses on relationships, undergrad. Also, we do conferences together and we've been doing this a long time. So as a communications professor and as a psychologist, one of the things, Tim that's really fun is you and I get to go travel, for example, to cool universities and talk as well. We've been all up and down to-

Tim Muehlhoff:    Berkeley, Yale.

Chris Grace:    Yeah, both coasts. And it seems like we get a lot of similar questions about relationships. Those that are thriving and they still want a little tune-up and those that are struggling, they're like, please give me some advice. And then there's some that are really hurting. And Tim, I know your heart, you and Noreen spent a lot of time with couples and families talking about these things. And so do Elisa and I, and just sharing some of the things that have helped us. I think the best part about all of this is we get to apply this to our lives to see what works and doesn't work. And so it's not just from an academic standpoint, but it's also experiential, the things that worked in our relationship.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah, and I've learned a lot, Chris, from you, emotional contagion, things that make their way to see my books.

Chris Grace:    See people can't see you smiling.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Oh, I'm totally serious.

Chris Grace:    I read your non-verbals.

Tim Muehlhoff:    You started laughing. No, I mean that. It's been so funny to do this with a psychologist. It has been really cool.

Chris Grace:    It has been.

Tim Muehlhoff:    As we get to our first question, here's what's really cool about our audience. We're in roughly 140 different countries and we have... Although we're a Christian university, Biola University, we get people who aren't necessarily Christian because the relationship advice we give, I just want to say this very quickly, really does apply and you don't have to be a Christian to do it. This is just good solid advice about conflict resolution, anger, bitterness, forgiveness. But we had the belief that with God's help, the Holy spirit, it's going to augment everything.

    So we get a very unique first question from a reader. I'm so glad that he took the time to send this to me. Let me just read this very quickly. "Last year, I came across your podcast and had been a fan ever since. I find them very informative and the topics you both discuss are often eye opening and mind opening. The podcast makes the drive to work a bit more bearable." I love it that we can make it a little bit more bearable. "I realize your podcast is faith-based as you both make reference to the Bible. I'm of the Hindu faith and my wife is of the Buddhist faith."

    "This has made things interesting but often confusing. We are in our early 50s, married for five years and have struggled in our marriage for most of its duration. Based on your podcast, the D word is something typically unspoken in marriage, but we are on the verge of filing for divorce." Thank you so much for being transparent and trusting this to us. We take it seriously. "We no longer connect, perhaps we never did, the word marriage, what it stands for and the most foundational level has been lost in our marriage. There's no cheating or any abuse. We are early 50s. This is my second marriage. First for hers. We've been married for 5.5 years. While it's easy to get stuck in the blame game, I prefer take the higher road and would like my path towards salvaging the marriage. Is there any hope for the marriage?"

Chris Grace:    Is there any hope? Even the smallest of opportunity and then even just this idea I think too, he wants to maybe hear discussions about mixed and non-Christian faith marriages and your views to making them work. So Tim, is there any hope for this marriage? And the answer is there's always hope. There is always hope. If you want to save this, if you want to fight for it, we can tell you keep listening to podcasts like this. Keep finding out good things from others and fight for it. You can do this. It doesn't necessarily mean, just because you're not connecting now that you won't have a good future with your married partner.

    And I love studies that have shown couples that struggle as they watch them over a number of years. They found some great things. They made small changes. One small change that they made in this study, Tim, you and I've talked about is simply finding five more hours a week, help couples who are struggling. A year later, they seem not to be struggling as much because they made a small change. So it's not necessarily the big gigantic things, but it does take work. So what would you suggest?

Tim Muehlhoff:    So there's a Catholic writer that I really liked Peter Kraft and he wrote a book called Advice To My Children. He's nearing the end of his career, so he wrote this book just for his children and in it he tackled the topic of marriage. He said, "Listen, any marriage can work if you have two things, forgiveness and determination."

Chris Grace:    Oh, great.

Tim Muehlhoff:    I really liked that advice. Now listen, we don't want to minimize the problems that this person's going through with this marriage. So I just want to say though, if what Dr. Grace said is true, if you put a stake in the ground and you say, "I'm not giving up on this marriage." And again, you mentioned that there was no cheating or abuse, then I would say it's going to be hard, but let me mention one thing I read from a psychologist I used in my book, Marriage Forecasting, that you don't find the rhythm of your marriage until roughly the seventh year. So you're at 45.5, you're not even yet to the rhythm of the marriage.

    So I would definitely get help read books, listen to podcasts, seek out marital counseling. Now, let's address the religious aspect just for a second. What helps a Christian marriage is that we're kind of rowing in the same direction when it comes to our faith. So I believe faith can be really important, it can really help. I'm not saying just exclusively Christian faith, I think a Muslim couple, a Buddhist couple, a Hindu couple, but when you start to mix faith traditions, that can get pretty complicated.

    So you and your wife are probably going to have to borrow from some of the Hindu faith and some of the Buddhist faith to say, "Okay, this is the strength we're going to get." Because that's what Chris and I would say if sometimes in marriage when it comes to bitterness and forgiveness, you're going to need spiritual help is our belief.

Chris Grace:    Yeah. I think Tim, that's great advice because here's the thing, we can't do this on our own. And especially when there is a struggle like that, it is even more imperative to have community around you, friends around you and in cases Tim like this, I think it would be really good to make sure that to call in professionals who can help walk you through some of these things. So for example, a lot of people who get divorced think about it because they're unhappy and that getting out of this relationship will make them happier when in reality most of our findings and researchers out there say that is not what's going to happen.

    Marital happiness, unhappiness, first of all is not permanent. That's awesome. In fact, it's the ones that are the most unhappy in those first five years you talked about that have the most dramatic turnaround if they wait just a little bit and fight for this. And those dramatic turnarounds include about some 70% in one study who claim they were very unhappy, now claim to be happy, and that is a pretty cool thing. So keep fighting, keep bringing in community, don't give up on this, but recognize that sometimes you need people to come alongside you, and this is where we would recommend counseling as well.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah. And let me borrow just something from a Christian tradition real quick. It's a principle that Jesus lays out that happiness is a derivative value, which means happiness is something that you get while doing something else. So we see in the American culture at least, that a lot of people say, "My goal is to have a happy marriage." We think that's kind of misplaced. So Jesus says, "Seek first the kingdom of God, and all of these things will be added. So you see for a couple, the purpose isn't their happiness, the purpose is furthering God's kingdom.

    I would say God's kingdom is spreading love, spreading the words of Jesus, helping the poor, helping the marginalized. When you make that your focus, then you just start to realize, "Hey, I think we're doing pretty good." But if you set out to say, I purposely want a happy marriage, I think we need to get first and second things in place, and I think that's a second thing. Get the first thing. And again, we're saying it could be whatever that you and your spouse come up with. This is the purpose of our marriage is to help our neighborhood. It's to help these values. It's to have something like that. I think it needs to be happiness is derivative.

Chris Grace:    That's good. So finding that bigger, deeper purpose out there. By the way, even on a research side, a researcher, Harold Markman or Howard Markman, I think, and Scott Stanley, Tim, we're familiar with a lot of their work at the University of Denver, but one time he was asked this very question about happiness and he said the some who divorce think it will make them happier. But people who are depressed and anxious often attribute being that to a bad marriage. Then they get divorced. And what happens, Tim? They carry it with them.

    So they think that this marriage is causing them to be anxious, depressed, and sad, and so they get divorced and in reality they're carrying that with them. So take care of that first in the health and then you'll find this. So great question. Let's try... Oh, go ahead. You want to go say something.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Can I just say one other thing?

Chris Grace:    Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Go see Marriage Story.

Chris Grace:    Ooh, yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:    As a couple...

Chris Grace:    New movie, yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Go see it. It's been nominated for best picture. Adam Driver, best actor, Scarlett Johansson, best actress. Go see it. And again, in a way I'm preaching to the choir because this is your second marriage, right? But it is good to go see cautionary tales because sometimes we can romanticize what divorce is and the benefits that it gives. I think Marriage Story is just the sober reality that divorce can get ugly. It doesn't have to, but it can. And then it maybe, it's better to stay pat than try to do... it's a riveting movie. I'm glad it was made. I think it'd be good for married couples to go see it.

Chris Grace:    Oh, that's great. That's awesome. So Tim, some other questions. Here we go. For example, sometimes I feel like I'm too critical. This person may be.

Tim Muehlhoff:    You are. Oh, I'm sorry. Oh, to the question, my bad.

Chris Grace:    That was really rude to interrupt me, and you tend to always do that and that's exactly what you're like. [crosstalk] This person writes in and says, "I actually try and think about reasons why I started dating someone. What are the good qualities that they have given this? How do I know if I'm just convincing myself to be with this person, right? And my efforts to always think good things about them and to compliment them and find good experiences. I'm potentially leading them on, I'm definitely deepening the relationship and maybe I'm convincing myself or maybe blinding myself to the things that make us incompatible."

    Well, I love this because there's a lot to talk about Tim, with healthy relationships, unhealthy. Here's what I tend to say to couples in general and to people who come asking for relationship advice, I tend to point out that I think people need to trust their gut a little bit more than they do. And so if your gut is saying, "There's just something off. This person doesn't seem to treat me well or we don't seem to get along. I can't put my finger on it. I'm uncomfortable with them, or they seem a little critical or I seem critical, or we're just not as compatible as it feels like." And you walk away feeling this, ugh.

    I guess, I would say don't just ignore that. Don't just blindly go, "Oh, it'll go away. Oh, if I love somebody, I wouldn't be this way. Well, I could be hypercritical and so I need to tone that down." And pretty soon you end up toning off or ignoring some pretty serious significant things. And going back to your gut, explore that. Why is it there? What, does this make you feel? What is it that they're saying to you? Maybe they say something mean to you, but they couch it in a passive aggressive way and you pick it up. Or maybe they're doing something that is really kind of at an unconscious or subconscious level, Tim, and you're reading it. I guess I like to say, pay attention to that. Go explore it. Talk to somebody and say, "What do you think? Is this weird or bad or should I pay attention to it?"

Tim Muehlhoff:    And just know that age affects your ability to trust your gut. So Saturday Night Live did this great parody. They came up with this thing called The Settle dating app, and their byline was The Settle dating app is for people in their 30s who are now willing to overlook certain characteristics they wouldn't have in their 20s. You know what I mean?

Chris Grace:    Oh, it's funny.

Tim Muehlhoff:    So I do think that's true. You're talking yourself into it. You're literally saying, "No, I'm good. I'm happy. No, that's not so bad. No, that's..." Right? And be careful of how much you're talking yourself into a relationship and it's work to overlook certain things. I think that that can be problematic. I think sometimes we can be overly critical. I think sometimes friends can step in. We had a really good friend that speaks for family life. They're awesome couple. And finally we had to sit down with him, three of us and say, "Dude, are you kidding me? What about her?" And he just needed a little nudge.

    But be careful of how often you need these nudges. And so yeah, I like that. Trust your gut. When it gets serious, do premarital counseling because now you want a professional gut checker. You want somebody who's going to ask these really good questions. But yeah, if you're talking to yourself into it, it's like a little pebble in the shoe. Oh, the shoe is okay, the shoe is okay. And it bothers you. That's not good.

Chris Grace:    Yeah. Tim, I recently spoke to a single person who has been dating for almost two to three years now. And these little tiny pebbles, these little doubts were there. She tried to hide them, she tried to ignore them. And finally after an argument of one of many over the last couple of months, she came and wanted to talk. And Tim, I'm just going to tell you, it's exactly what I saw and it was my fear that she was trying to do this run and say, "No, it's not that bad." When he raises his voice, it just means he's trying to do the best for me.

    When he tells me that I should and I could do better at this, he's not being as demeaning as it sounds. And to have someone sit there and reflect back to her, wait, he raises his voice, he makes you feel belittled, he demeans you, he tells you that your ideas are really kind of not good. She finally started to hear somebody say that back to her, and unfortunately she started to realize, "Oh, I need to pay attention to these things." And by the way, I don't think they're dating anymore.

Tim Muehlhoff:    That's what's good about a third perspective because it's like, are you... Let's stop right now. Are you hearing what I'm hearing and why doesn't it bother you? So we were at a family life marriage conference and a couple came up and it was going to be his third marriage. It would be her first. They had already lived together and had broken it off because of anger issues. But now she was in her 40s. They're back at a family life marriage conference. They're not engaged and they're thinking about getting engaged. He says, "Yeah, I do have an anger issue. I really do." And I'm like, "And you already tried this once." "Yeah. For a year."

    I want to say, "Excuse me for a second." I want to turn to her and go, "Run. Run. What are you doing?" But that's the thing. I'm not really willing to overlook things in my 40s. So yeah, I like that. You need outside perspective to say, "Really? Do you think this is going to be okay?" Here's one about compatibility that I thought it was good. How do I know when a conflict is indicative of an issue that makes us incompatible or if it's just something I'd prefer not to put up with but isn't an actual incompatibility issue. How do you know when it's in compatibility and what if it's just your standards are being too high?

Chris Grace:    Oh, I love the question because it goes like this a little bit for me. First of all, guess what? If you get married, guess what you're going to be. You're going to marry somebody you're incompatible with and about a whole lot of things. The way I think about money or the way I think about my extroversion or introversion or the way my wife likes to have the house clean or not clean. Guess what? It doesn't matter who you marry, you're always going to be incompatible in certain areas. Right? Yeah. So the question I think says this, hold on. If I have a conflict over, for example, being late or my family, the way I love them and hang out with them, but the person I'm dating doesn't really want to be with family, that's an in compatibility.

    But Tim, is there a difference then is what she's asking? When I have a conflict about in compatibility, let's say introversion, extroversion, or the way you keep things clean, is it to the level of which you should then seriously question whether or not you want to move forward and make this relationship even more serious. That's what she's asking. What if it was, let's say for some people, humor may not be at all that important to them and they say...

Tim Muehlhoff:    What?

Chris Grace:    And so they might say, "This person isn't all that funny. Maybe I'm not all that funny." Well, guess what? If you have an incompatability in your humor, then it probably isn't that high on the list. But if one of the most important things to you is to be able to laugh and enjoy, and your humor is off, guess what? I think that's a pretty big for you, characteristic of the other person or of your relationship that you might want to explore whether or not this is going to cause you problems because of the importance you place on it.

Tim Muehlhoff:    So I love what you said for you. I think it's really good to sit down with a list to say, "Okay here are my non-negotiables, and here are things I'm willing to live with." She even said that in her question, which I thought was good. Now listen, eventually I would show that list to somebody because it might be like crazy unrealistic. But I think it's really good to sit down and say, "Here are the things I'm not willing to give on." I really am a saber. I really, really love to pinch pennies. I'm the coupon person. I need to have a nest egg. Well, okay. Do not marry a person who doesn't even remotely think that way because that's going to be a crazy maker. You're always going to be tugging and yanking and pulling. Right?

    So I just wanted to say to that person at that point, "Okay, I've fallen madly in love with a guy who loves to spend money, loves to be spontaneous. He didn't have any savings whatsoever." By the way, I'm describing myself. I would say to her, "Now listen, can you live with him?" The answer is yes. "Do you want to? Do you want to?" It's always going to be a little bit of a thorn in your side a little bit, and is that okay? Do other things outweigh the fact that you're a penny pincher and now you're marrying a guy who's pretty free with his money and likes to be spontaneous? Can that work? Absolutely, that can work. Do you want to put the work in to make it work?

Chris Grace:    So Tim, would you then recommend to anybody in a serious relationship even in a new marriage, you can start talking about these things if you've already tied the knot and if you haven't had these conversations, but let's just say that there's somebody who's thinking about like she is in a relationship getting more serious, you would recommend and, I think you are to actually write down, to actually know those very things that are the most important, and to have that conversation to sit down, take a date night and say, "Hey, we have to talk about some things and I want to share my list of those things that I find where we have the same values."

    Maybe they're of the same Christian faith, let's say, and the big ones are in place. Right? You have to have a conversation about those that you're willing to say, "This is big for me, this issue."

Tim Muehlhoff:    So when we do premarital counseling, we go after what we think are the deal breakers. And maybe we disagree with this, but I think finances is a deal breaker. What's your philosophy of debt? What's your philosophy of the use of a credit card? Because we know that finances, it's roughly in the top three reasons that people get divorce, financial issues, strangle a marriage. So I want to say to that person, what is your philosophy of debt? How much debt are you in? How readily are you going to use the credit card? Is savings important to you?

    Noreen had savings, I didn't. But I valued savings, I just didn't do it. So to me that's a deal breaker though, Chris. I'd say to a person with two radically different views of finances, I'd say, "You need to see if you can work this out before you get married, and engagement is the time to try to work it out."

Chris Grace:    Perfect. So we said it's individual. We said each of these things. You rate money much higher, let's say, than another person.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah.

Chris Grace:    So let's real quickly share your list of things that ought to be on there as far... Right?

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah.

Chris Grace:    What are some things? So I'll start.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Good.

Chris Grace:    You mentioned money. I would say if your view of family and the way you spend time and how much time it's important to you and how much you value that. And if you marry somebody who is like, "I don't care about my family. I don't really want to see them and I don't care if you see your family." There are some times in which that particular issue will be the death of some couples if they don't talk about it. So give us another one.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Okay. Another one, to be passion for the faith, passion for it. Is this really a Christian marriage? Are we really pursuing God's kingdom, and do you see a track record of that pursuit as an individual? I think that's important. Not that one person... One person can know more the Bible than the other person. One person can be even more spiritually mature, but they both have a passion for the faith. They're both wanting to go for it. I think if it's not correctly matched there, then I would push back the engagement to see if you can get on the same page, passion wise.

Chris Grace:    Great. Great. Let's try another one. This one might be a little bit controversial, but what if your spiritual temperament is different? And it kind of bothers when someone doesn't join you in worship and in singing and you love that and that's how you invest in your soul. Now, do you think that if someone else is like, "Oh my gosh, the last thing I ever want to do is raise my voice and sing out loud in church because I'm just not that good." Probably, for some isn't an issue unless your way of seeing God or finding him and being close to him is very different... It's kind of similar to the passion issue.

Tim Muehlhoff:    I like what you were saying Chris, that you're putting these really good qualifiers that of course we would flesh out in premarital counseling is bothers me. Okay, bothers you. On a scale of 1 to 10... Are we talking about mild annoyance? Well, I love what you said. Welcome to marriage. It's full.

Chris Grace:    Mild annoyance.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Mild annoyances. But there are things that bother me. Like for instance, one time we were talking to this cop when she said, "It drives me crazy how much of a slob he is." I said, "Okay. Unpack drives me crazy. Are you just kind of saying that tongue in cheek, oh it drives me crazy or does it really drive you crazy because you're going to live with that the rest of your life?" So those are the kinds of things Chris, I think we need to flush out. I think views of in-laws could be a deal breaker.

Chris Grace:    Children.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Children. Like in-laws. I'm married into an Irish-Catholic family. If I were to say to Noreen while we're dating, "Hey, I know you'd love to spend time with your family. I know you guys are intertwined. That's just kind of not my deal. I think we should have separation from your family." I would have said to Noreen, do you really want to marry a guy who doesn't value family? Because for Noreen family is everything. I would have said to Noreen if I'm doing premarital counseling, "Yes, he's a wildly handsome man. That's in me a lot. But how big is family to you?" Noreen would have said, "Oh, it's in the top two." Then if I said, "Don't marry this guy. Are you kidding me?"

Chris Grace:    Okay.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Makes sense?

Chris Grace:    It does. I think it's great. And I think this whole issue is keep that list going. So Tim, what's the last one?

Tim Muehlhoff:    So I just want to mention her last comment I thought was really, really insightful. Maybe I'm blinding myself to look past the incompatibilities. So let's go back to this hypothetical situation. Me and Noreen. If I'm doing our premarital counseling, I would say, "Okay. Now Noreen, notice what you just did. You very clearly communicated to Tim, you're not engaged yet that family is like your number one priority and you better get on board or this thing can't go anywhere." "We're not going to get engaged. I'm not going to get engaged to a guy who doesn't care for family." There is a real danger at that point that I put on the family hat because I want to get married. Now, we've seen that with church attendance, right Chris?

Chris Grace:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Muehlhoff:    A girl goes to church regularly, but they get married, you just lost all that leverage. We're in favor of track records. See that he's doing it. She's doing it because she wants to do it. Not because he's secretly pacifying you so you can get married. I think that's a real danger when we start to introduce these.

Chris Grace:    Right.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Right?

Chris Grace:    Yep. Oh, I love it. That's really good.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Good question. Thank you for sending these.

Chris Grace:    Yeah. So there's another question, Tim that comes in about compatibility but I think we'll move on to maybe this. What degree of sameness or difference-ness, which is the same kind. What degree of is typical in a good relationship? In other words, how much of our views and vibes about God need to align? So it's the same question, but coming at it from like... She asks this person says, because I'm dating someone who is super passionate about evangelism, so arguably we have similar views about God, but something still feels off. How much should our values in life vision align? And I think that's what you were getting at.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Chris, I think it needs to align. Let me just say a couple of ways, I think it should align. I come alive with worship music, modern contemporary worship music. I'm not a liturgy person. I'm not traditional hymns. I respect the hymns, of course. I just don't want to be singing them. So for me to go to a contemporary worship service like House Fires, that group, which I love, and you're kind of tolerating it a little bit, but you really want the hymns. Now, there could be compromise. Listen, there could be compromise a little bit. One time we go to a workshop that's modern. Next time we do the hymns, that's fine. But if you don't value modern worship, and I don't value hymns, now we're in dangerous territory, right?

Chris Grace:    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Muehlhoff:    Let me say this, and you're going to laugh at this. You're going to laugh and you'll have found a way to bring it in. I could not be married to a Calvinist. I couldn't. Very quickly a Calvinist, generally speaking, believes that God ordains everything, right? Well, I couldn't do that. If a tragedy hit our family, you're going to have two different narratives when that tragedy hits the family. Let's say one of our kids is brutally crippled in a car accident and we're in the emergency room. We're both praying our guts out. It would be very hard for me to be next to my spouse knowing she thinks God ordained and caused this. I think this is just a crappy accident and God is grieving right now. That's two different narratives of prayer and I think that needs to be flushed out in premarital, right? Do you think?

Chris Grace:    Well, I do. I think because of the importance you place on it.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah, good.

Chris Grace:    And the importance I place, let's say in this question on evangelism or the way I go about doing it, like I might go off and just assume and maybe speaking to strangers in a confrontive way about their sin and how they need Jesus and suppose my style is I'd like to be friends with them thoughtfully. That might be something that I would rate higher than let's say-

Tim Muehlhoff:    And if I attach godliness to it, boy that's dangerous.

Chris Grace:    I think that's right. Well, Tim let's do this. There are so many-

Tim Muehlhoff:    You did great.

Chris Grace:    Yeah. There's so many more questions. This has been awesome. It's been good to talk with you about these things and let's continue the conversation on another podcast.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Love it. Bye.

Chris Grace:    Take care.

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