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CMR Ask the Expert: Your Questions Answered!

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

Chris Grace and Tim Muhelhoff sit down this week to answer our listeners' questions about spiritual maturity, finances, family, and more!

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

Chris Grace:    Well, it's good to be here, Tim, with another podcast with you. We've been taking in a lot of listener questions recently.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Love the questions that are coming in. They come in all the time where we so appreciate it and we'd love to take a segment like this, Ask the Expert and we just want to dive in and offer our opinions. We so appreciate your candidness, your transparency in some of these questions that of course we'd never mentioned the name or anything that can link back to a person, but we love these questions and so we want to jump in and offer some of our thoughts.

Chris Grace:    All right, so let's start. So Tim, I'm just going to read one to you and let's react to it. Ready?

Chris Grace:    Listener wrote in. My boyfriend and I have been dating for a year. He is awesome, treats me well and I really like him. We seem to be on different pages spiritually however. He loves Jesus, but we do spiritual life differently. Is this a deal breaker or even a red flag? What do you think?

Tim Muehlhoff:    Well, it could be a red flag if what you talked about was enthusiasm for Jesus. If you're on a different page when it comes to enthusiasm, in other words, you really want to pray, read your Bible every day, for sure you want to go to church every weekend. For sure you have this passion for the Lord that seems to be with you all the time and the person you're dating ebbs and flows. Sometimes here she's up for church, sometimes not. Doesn't particularly read the Bible as regularly as you do. If the enthusiasm level were different, that's a red flag. If you do spirituality differently, that might not be a red flag, it just might be that you are wired a bit differently of how you seek out spirituality.

Chris Grace:    So Tim, I think that's really a helpful. Good. Give me another word for enthusiastic. Is there another way? So somebody who maybe is more, would you say, extroverted about their faith or are you not talking about necessarily you don't have to be this, I love to worship. I love to be with God. I love to be with people. I that kind of enthusiasm is one thing. You're talking about a deep sense of a person's identity is strongly centered around who Jesus was, God's word, and you want to cultivate that. So enthusiasm is one thing that I differ in.

Chris Grace:    My wife likes to, she loves to worship and pray and I do, but I do it much more quietly.

Tim Muehlhoff:    You have the equal passion for it. So let's say it was a passion for reading. You love to read. You love to be stimulated by reading and the other person has the same passion, then I don't care if one likes a Kindle and one doesn't. If one likes to listen to audio books and the other doesn't. Right? It doesn't matter to me the mechanism by which you do it, it's that you have an equal enthusiasm, passion about it.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Now, I suppose that could get weird if the person you're dating has a great passion for the Lord but isn't really into this church thing. Now that's an interesting qualifier because then you have to ask yourself the question, but I'm really into the church thing. Then we start to get these red flags but you don't have to convince me to love books. I love books and so do you, it's just that how we express it may be different. I'm fine with that, but if it's like one person really loves reading books and the other person is like, I can read a book every once in a while. I'm not really a book reader per se. I think you're going to have two very frustrated people trying to do this thing called life together.

Chris Grace:    So the red flag for you, what's the bar? There must be a some level of which a person must reach that is we could set that bar right now. I would say to another person, have they made a personal decision to make Jesus their Lord and Savior, right? There's not even necessarily a need for that to be a long period of time but it would help that this wasn't something that the person just became a Christian.

Chris Grace:    But again, this person has been dating for a year and assuming that what's another bar that they have a personal walk and faith in God and Jesus as Savior. They have a desire or are an open heart. What I look for Tim, would be does this person have an open heart toward God or a closed heart? Are they willing to listen and put underneath a Lordship type of thing with an open heart or is she talking about somebody who is more closed hearted like, "Well, okay. I go along because I know this is important but."

Tim Muehlhoff:    So I'm surprised, Chris, this has never occurred to me, but speaking at our conferences, Family Life Conferences, I'm surprised how many couples really struggle to pray together. They both like prayer but I've met couples where one person just feels really uncomfortable praying out loud with their spouse. So I would say this, I think it's great you have individual prayer lives. That's awesome. But I'd say to both people in the couple, how important is it for you to pray together as a couple? And if they say, "Oh, I've always dreamt to pray with my spouse," and the other person is like, "Yeah, that just makes me really feel uncomfortable." Well that's going to take compromise. I mean, so what are you going to do? You're going to have to find some middle ground to make that work.

Chris Grace:    You wouldn't counsel this couple. That wouldn't reach the level of, that's a deal breaker I would imagine.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Unless the person said to me in premarital counseling, I've always, always dreamt of praying with my spouse, of going to everything in prayer. Right? So we're going to pray about our future, we're going to pray about our kids eventually. I just always imagined me and my spouse sitting down together, kneeling together, praying together. I'd say, "Okay, what if that never happened?" Not that he doesn't pray, she doesn't pray, but they're not going to meet that expectation. That vision you have. Are you okay with that? See that's the beauty Chris, of premarital counseling, is you start to really ferret those things out. Now I think we also say another one is finances, right? If one of you is like, man, I hear the pastor say there's a need, a missionary comes, I want to support them. I want to do this, and the other person's like, "Yeah, you know, we need to have a nest egg here."

Tim Muehlhoff:    So those, those are, we always say the devil's in the details. So that's where an issue like this could become an issue if you're not willing to give on your vision of what spirituality looks like.

Chris Grace:    I like the way you framed that and to help couples or people in a dating relationship and this listener in particular frame what is a red flag and what is not. So if you have an intense desire for something, that is part of who you are and your walk with the Lord is really about this and the other person doesn't, that could be a red flag. In another situation, it could just be, "Well, okay, you pray one way, I pray another and we're good with that."

Tim Muehlhoff:    But that's the key phrase, Chris. We're good with that. So let's tackle another question, which is exactly the same question. It's just a different issue. So here's this question.

Tim Muehlhoff:    My boyfriend is on the heavy side; kind of obese. I really, now notice that word, I really try to watch my weight and eat healthy. When I tried to help, he gets hurt. While I really love him, I find this really turning me off; fear is that it just get worse when we get married. Am I being shallow or should I be concerned?

Tim Muehlhoff:    See that's exactly. We just swapped out spirituality for healthy eating, a healthier lifestyle. So we love to watch the show. I don't know if you guys watch it, This is Us. Very interesting show, super-popular. This exact same thing is happening. There's one couple, they're both obese, but they go through a tragedy and one guy reacts, the husband, by working out like crazy. He gets a gym membership, he disappears. Like he'll actually say I'm going to the store when actually he's going to get a quick workout in. While he's dropping weight and getting in shape and she is staying the same. If anything, she's putting on a little bit more weight because of this tragedy. She's trying to compensate by eating.

Tim Muehlhoff:    So they had this argument and she says to him in the midst of the argument, "I suppose you're just going to run off to the gym now, aren't you?" Okay, so the question... The answer I would give to this person is, Okay, when you say really, how important is a healthy lifestyle working out to you? And what if he never changes? What if he never buys into your healthy lifestyle and now you're going separate ways. You're headed off to the gym. He's not. You don't want to buy that kind of food. You don't want to have that kind of food in the house because it's tempting but he's like, "Hey, don't take your healthy lifestyle and put it on me."

Tim Muehlhoff:    Well, I'm sorry, this to me could be an absolute deal breaker and it's not shallow. It'd be really hard for me if I was married to a person who just didn't care about a healthy lifestyle because Noreen and I, the older you get, the harder it is and I really appreciate that Noreen and I will say, "Okay, we've got to get off this Mardi Gras attitude, man. We came off Christmas. We were eating everything and now let's adopt a good healthy couple next months." It'd be really hard for me if Noreen didn't jump in on that.

Chris Grace:    Yeah, Tim, I think you're right in identifying the importance that is placed upon this for the individual can determine why this is an important issues and in your question, the way she asked it, not only did she say I really tried to watch, the telling thing for me was when she said, "When I try to help, he gets hurt."

Chris Grace:    Well, that tells me something. It means, okay, what are you trying to help means what? You're obviously trying to communicate love and care for this person, but he's hearing judgmental, maybe he's hearing something different and there is a dynamic there related to. How are you saying what you're saying is another indication of how important this really is to you and the fact that he's feeling hurt is setting them up for a massive amount of conflict because the deeper issue probably isn't necessarily about weight. It's about maybe something more important and deeper and I would challenge this person to go, you need to go get this figured out. What's going on in your heart and what are you communicating?

Chris Grace:    This might be a initially about healthy eating and weight but there's something more here at a deeper level and that's why he's feeling hurt, judged, I don't know what.

Tim Muehlhoff:    I would challenge, she says at the very end, "Am I being shallow?" No, I don't think this is being shallow. This is a life. You're now comparing two different lifestyles. You want to have a healthy lifestyle. He doesn't particularly buy into that. That's important and then you said, "I fear that this might get worse after we get married." The answer is, it might get worse because right now you're dating, you have all the bargaining chips right now because you're not married yet and if you can't get him to buy into your ideas while you're dating, guess what? That's not necessarily going to happen after you get married because now you're married. He doesn't need to necessarily change.

Tim Muehlhoff:    I think this is a deal breaker if they can't come together. We have a friend of ours, she became vegan. Okay. He was like, okay, newsflash, I'm not vegan, don't want to be vegan. I want my lasagna. I want. Right. It caused problems, Chris and kudos to them, they worked it out. She still is vegan but she's literally making two dinners some nights. Right. For him and for her. Now that's one way to work it out but you just added a whole lot to her. Now she's making two, right. That to me doesn't seem sustainable but you're going to have to work it out.

Chris Grace:    Tim, then let me throw something at you just spontaneously here. What then, We talked about spirituality, enthusiasm, passion. If you're off that way, in the first question, then you value something very differently. This was important. Weight or let's say healthiness, then there must be a whole host of things, if one person is very strongly committed to, that you would then call a red flag.

Chris Grace:    Can you come up with other ones like that for? So for example, is it a red flag if some person is, let's say, much more oriented, let's say towards an academic or intellectual life and another person is like, forget that man. I just want to go out and experiential [inaudible 00:13:16]. What are the potential red flags that you see for couples if there's a big gap between them.

Tim Muehlhoff:    That's a great question and that's what premarital counseling is so good at is to surface those.

Tim Muehlhoff:    So you already brought one up earlier, finances. You have another one family. Noreen is Irish Catholic and you know this, from your background, it's a way of life.

Tim Muehlhoff:    So imagine if I get married and Noreen's like, "Hey Christmas, I want to go visit them." Which that's pain. That's too, when we had family of five, that's a whole lot of money getting on that plane going across country. So imagine Noreen's life if she's always having a drag me like, "Oh honey, please, can we go to Christmas? Can we please go visit my parents?" Imagine that. But I'm pro-family, I love Noreen's family. So when Noreen says, "Can we go?" "Yeah, we'll find the money, we'll do it." So you better know that heading in.

Tim Muehlhoff:    You're about to marry a person who family is hugely important. By the way, This is Us, I appreciate the topics that they tackle. So you have two individuals. They're passionate, Chris. I mean this is the prototype passionate relationship. They both look like models, they love each other and they are about to get engaged until one day he's holding a baby and looks at her and says, "Hey, I cannot wait for one day for us to start our family." She says, "Hey, we need to have a talk. I was abused as a child by my stepfather. I'm not bringing a child into this world." He goes, "Would you ever change your mind?" She goes, "No," and he finally broke up with her, but not right away. He said, "No, we're done. That's cool. I choose you." It's this great dramatic moment. We got tears arise watching it, I choose you and then literally three months later, he's at a family reunion where small kids are everywhere and she's watching him play kickball with small kids and she knows in a heartbeat he's not going to be content with this decision.

Tim Muehlhoff:    And you know what? They broke up, right? Those are huge issues that we need to think about.

Chris Grace:    Tim, I'm glad you identified that this is one of the single biggest goals of premarital counseling. It's why you family, right? Finances. The way you take care of yourself. There are spirituality concerns. These things are potentially red flags depending upon...

Tim Muehlhoff:    Potentially. This is the hard thing about premarital is you're judging the future. You're saying, "Okay, kids won't become a crushing big issue." But hey, here's another one.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Tim, it's obviously during the podcast you pull back a little bit in order not to shame Chris [crosstalk 00:16:02], I also feel like I'm pulling back in this relationship. What should I do? I just... you're kidding and actually my screen just went blank. You read it.

Chris Grace:    You have no idea in which question is you do. Let's try this one. All right. This is kind of interesting because you know it's this idea of family dynamics. We could talk about that one. There's one on dating, so let's try the dating one.

Chris Grace:    Girlfriend and I go to different schools. We're both Christians, but he goes to one school and is really focusing on his faith and growing as a Christian, but she is really starting to party and drink a lot. She's a fairly new Christian, so he's asked, "Hey, I just don't think it's important to just party and drink so much." And she responded by saying, "Hey, stop controlling me." What advice can you give us?

Chris Grace:    Okay, well that's doesn't sound very good to begin with.

Tim Muehlhoff:    No, it doesn't and here's what concerns me. Here's what jumps off the page.

Tim Muehlhoff:    She's a new Christian. So I would expect her to be working out her faith. Right? Paul had to deal with this with the church of Corinth. Hey, stop doing these things and you now are following Jesus and any gave time for people to do it.

Tim Muehlhoff:    So I get that she may be still doing parts of her own life and stuff like that. That does seem to be expected. Here's what jumped out at me in this question. When you offered your advice, she said, "You're being controlling." That scares me. Maybe Chris, he's doing it in such a way that he is being controlling but the mere giving of advice and saying, "Hey, as your boyfriend, I'm concerned about this," and her first response is, "Don't control me," you just identified something that needs to get fixed before you ever get married because if I had that defensive mechanism, that anytime you asked me to do something, "Hey, don't control me." That's going to be a disastrous marriage.

Chris Grace:    Tim. I think you've hit the key point there and beginning a relationship off this way. Also, it's pretty revealing as well that they are clearly going down different paths right now. He could be just concerned as a brother in Christ and he could be saying, gosh, I've helped maybe this person with Christ or led them this way or I'm a good model and I'm just concerned about them as a person.

Chris Grace:    I think the answer, Tim, that you hit is yeah, there are some, this is a really significant hurdle to think through, process and it doesn't sound healthy.

Tim Muehlhoff:    And I'm thinking of Gottman, Chris, when I read this. Remember his four horsemen of the relational apocalypse and defensiveness is one of them. That's a pretty defensive response and again, we need to know that. Here's what we don't know. If we knew at the level of drinking was, like if we're talking she's going to a party and just stone cold drunk, okay, well that just ups the... And he shouldn't have every right to be concerned because that just seems to be way too much.

Tim Muehlhoff:    So I would say what's going to be hard is you're going to different universities, you're going to have to work this out. I think you can have some good heart to heart phone conversations, Facetime, but this, this needs to be worked out and I would not move forward in your level of commitment until you guys worked out these issues.

Chris Grace:    No, I agree. Hey Tim, we've got time for another one and we have about five minutes and so in the last session here, let me ask you this.

Chris Grace:    Another person has written in and talking about and we have the holiday seasons upcoming and probably right in the middle of them right now even. Families get together and when they do, this person says things get heated, tensions flare, there's a lot of disagreements. It's can even be passive aggressive sometimes. But when that happens, Tim, do you have any advice for people as they approach this in a situation that their families aren't really the healthiest place to be and yet they know they're going to go there?

Chris Grace:    How do you encourage healthy dialogue. For a listener out there it's like I want to go. I want to be a good family member, but dog gone it, this place drives me crazy and it hurts our relationship or it's just hard in general, whether they're married or not. Going into a family dynamic like that, what advice would you give as they approach them?

Tim Muehlhoff:    I would give first, let me just say this, everybody deals with this. Everybody heads into the holidays, you're stressed. It's crazy. Life is hard and people tend to struggle.

Chris Grace:    Crazy Uncle Charlie.

Tim Muehlhoff:    You don't ever see him and I realized this is why we never see him because he's crazy. He's crazy, Uncle Charlie. So there's that dynamic. I would lower expectations. I mean on one way you could think, "Boy, everybody's together. I just want this to be a meaningful time. It'd be great if we affirmed each other and created a great memory." Yeah, that'd be great. That'd be awesome but I would lower my expectations just a little bit to say it probably isn't going to be a Norman Rockwell Hallmark moment.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Second, it all comes down to what we call communication climates. I would work on the climate before Thanksgiving.

Chris Grace:    So you mean you would think through, from your own personal standpoint, or you would call the family or you would deal with Uncle?

Tim Muehlhoff:    I would be sending out, so months before Thanksgiving, I would be sending out emails, tweets, just to say, "Hey, so appreciate you. Looking forward to this day. Here's what I'm so thankful for about," before because the day of, it's really hard to improve a communication climate the day of.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Remember what Gottman says, "It takes five positive interactions to overcome every one negative." Well, man, on Thanksgiving, you're racking up the negatives. So I would say beforehand, work on the communication climate. Maybe send out a note to everybody, just say, "So looking forward to it and this is what I appreciate about our family." I would do as much positive work, preparatory work. Just like you're going to prepare and take time to prepare the meal, I would take time to prepare the communication climate and I do that weeks in advance.

Chris Grace:    Well, it's interesting. I think that's, I can just think of some families where they would go... It'd be hard to do. They don't have that climate to begin with. Right. But I think it's wise advice. I think I would say for this, when your first advice was also really sound where you said, "Hey listen. Know this going in and know this isn't the time to make, it's not going to be the perfect situation and you accept that it's not going to be where we're now coming together in front of a fireplace, something I've always dreamed and talk and visit and share a meal.

Tim Muehlhoff:    The Detroit Lions win that day.

Chris Grace:    Lower your expectations because it's most likely.

Chris Grace:    So Tim in that regard, I think anybody that's about to face that has to have good expectations going in and know and realize that once they go in there with realistic expectation, they can also control their own heart and their own criticism and their own cynicism. They can choose to say, I'm going to see and interpret people positively and do the best I can, but I'm also not going to stay for the full 12 hours that day because nobody benefits that way and it's in my best interest to just limit that as well.

Tim Muehlhoff:    And two other things. One, [inaudible 00:23:45] has a great phrase, I love this. Thick skin is a gift from God. I think that day you need to put on your thick skin. Remember there's a proverb that says, a wise man overlooks an insult. So I would say that day, prepare for it spiritually. I'm not kidding. I'd prepare for it spiritually to say, "Lord, give me a compassionate heart. Give me a thick skin today. I'm not going to bite on some of these, especially if it's passive aggressive or they're insinuating this." I would watch that.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Second thing, you can't necessarily limit the intake of alcohol from the people that are there but you certainly can with how much you take because I've seen this go south in a heartbeat, where you're right later in the day after you know you're having a couple of drinks, that's when lips start to go.

Tim Muehlhoff:    So I would definitely limit your intake of alcohol if possible. I would limit as much as possible how much is going to be consumed that day because we've seen some really ugly arguments from people that are drunk, tipsy, and that's when the lips start moving and just know everybody's in the same boat.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Also, I'm just mentioning real quick, Chris, because I work at domestic violence shelters. This can be a very volatile day and for some people are very unsafe day. So I would definitely have an exit strategy that you could leave pretty quickly. Leave the environment, take your kids, just leave. Maybe just pop in and say hi and affirm people but you can see the telltale signs. That person that you're kind of afraid of verbally abusive or physically, they're pushing them back. They're not avoiding alcohol.

Tim Muehlhoff:    So if possible, I would limit interactions. Have a safe plan that if things get violent, things get ugly, you're going to exit. The exit strategy is good in conflict when things are a bit dicey. So we're really sad that you even have to think about that at holidays, but that's a reality for a lot of couples is we do see instances of domestic violence, boyfriend violence towards women. So be wise, have an exit strategy, know the telltale signs that the cycle of abuse is and be aware.

Chris Grace:    That's a good word. When you go into this, if you're coming from a difficult background like that, Tim, that's great advice and if you're going into something maybe not quite as unhealthy but still not as pleasant, be mindful of the fact that this is probably a day to be grateful, to enjoy, to be sensitive to others around you, but also take it for what it is.

Chris Grace:    It's a great day to be together and to maybe remind yourself, Tim, I love that you prepare yourself spiritually; an attitude of Thanksgiving and gratitude as you go in of kindness and perspective taking as we talked about and then you just make the best of it and be with people that you enjoy and maybe not so much enjoy, but you do it in a way that is honoring and I think you do these things ahead of time.

Chris Grace:    I love that idea to plan it out, get your heart ready, limit your expectations and then go in and enjoy the time that you have.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Good word. Hey, we love these questions. Please keep them coming. We love this Ask The Expert, and so we always enjoy you guys supporting our podcast.

Tim Muehlhoff:    We've mentioned a couple of times, we're now up to 140 countries, people listening and we don't take that for granted. We want to be a good steward of your trust in us, so thank you and please tune in next time. All right, see you later. Bye.

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