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How to Navigate Jealousy, Friendships, and Conflict

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

We're bringing back one of our most popular episodes this week where Chris and Tim answer your questions about how to handle jealousy in dating relationships, the role friendships play in a happy marriage, and tools for healthy conflict resolution.

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

Chris Grace:    Tim, oftentimes on this podcast we hear from listeners and they'll send in something through our website, We talked about That's another way to do this. And some of the topics and questions that we get are really cool. Let's answer a couple of those. What do you think?

Tim Muehlhoff:    That sounds great.

Chris Grace:    So, our first one. A listener wrote in and said that jealousy in a dating relationship is causing some problems, especially the fact that this other person, the person that they're with, has a close friend of the opposite sex. So, what do you tell a person who's in a dating relationship and the person they're dating has a very close friend of the opposite sex?

Tim Muehlhoff:    I would say one thing, Chris. I would say a dating relationship is important, that it's a dating relationship. I think it's unreasonable to expect when you start dating a person and they do have close friends of opposite sex, I think it's unreasonable to think that they have to then pull back or sever relationships that they've had for a long time. I think that shows a bit of insecurity on the person who now feels like I need to get rid of some friends that I've had for a long time, they're the opposite sex, because now I'm in a dating relationship. I don't know if that speaks well of the person who now suddenly is very insecure because the person I'm dating has close opposite sex friends.

Chris Grace:    So maybe the answer, Tim, comes down to the definition of dating. How long have you been with this person? Is this somebody that you've been dating for a long time who have just developed recently new close friends of the opposite sex? Or is this something that they've had with them for a long time and you're just the new person on the block and it bothers you? And so maybe again, how serious is the dating? How long? My guess, Tim, is soon as that relationship starts to get a little bit more serious, let's say, and maybe there's engagement or talk of engagement, what would you say then? Having a member of a close friend while you're engaged now is the issue in a couples' ... Let's say they're struggling with that.

Tim Muehlhoff:    So this is what's hard about these segments, we love them, is that there's just not a lot of information given in that one sentence question. I would have to know, what are we talking about? Let's say you're dating a guy, he has this close female friend that he's had for a long time and they're spending every other night together. They're off going and doing stuff. It seems like an inordinate amount of time with that person. Then my antennas start to go up. But if he has a close friend of the opposite sex and they may be a part of a study group, or are

they always get together as a threesome, like two guy friends and this girlfriend, I don't know. That I think is fine.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Now you and I have a little bit of a disagreement in how this gets played out, is I tend to think trust really surfaces very quickly. Again, unless this person is just doing things that like, hey, me and this opposite sex friend, we went and saw a movie, had dinner, and were talking for hours into the wee hours of the morning. Then I'm like, okay, the longer we date, the more I'm uncomfortable with that. How do you feel about my uncomfortableness? How is that received? So I think there just comes time where you have to negotiate it. And there's no right answer to this question. I think it's okay to have an opposite sex friend if the couple's okay with it, but that's going to have to be negotiated between you and that person. That's going to surface some interesting values that probably need to be talked about.

Chris Grace:    Yeah, no, that's good. Let's try another one. You got one for us, Tim?

Tim Muehlhoff:    Sure. I love this one. What is the necessity of community and marriage? Often couples, when they're dating seriously, they don't spend a lot of time with their friends and feel like community isn't really needed. Boy, we couldn't disagree with that more. When you get married, you need community more than you've ever needed them before because life becomes hard. And we've often talked about spiritual battle on this podcast. One of Satan's favorite tactics is for you to think as a young couple, we're the only ones who experience these problems. We're the only parents of teenagers or special needs children or whatever, and we're making all these mistakes. Every New Testament letter is written with group in mind, the church to Ephesus, the church to Corinth, the church to Rome. Even the pastoral ones to Timothy and Titus were to individuals, but meant to be shared in a group context. It couldn't be more clear in the New Testament, you do faith in community. We would argue you do Christian marriage in community because you're stronger and it's easier to talk to people and get support and you don't put all that pressure on your spouse.

Chris Grace:    Yeah, Tim, I agree with the very idea that whenever we hear New Testament passages that address this, it's always, even in Hebrews, and let us consider how to stir up or stimulate one another. It doesn't say, hey do this within your marriage, stir up. This means in community you are going to be able to poke or prod another person and learn from that. And so when couples, like you said, they date and they maybe get engaged and they start to isolate from. One of the hard things is reintegrating them back into a community, but it's so critical and so important simply because, as you said, they learn other things from other people that they can't learn within this isolated twosome, this coupleness. But it also does something for them. It also makes their relationship stronger.

Chris Grace: I remember my wife saying, "Chris, I like you better when you go out with your guy friends. When you invest in them and, and you go do things with them, it seems as if it just gives me a better version of you." And so, I feel the same. When she goes off and sees her girlfriends for a night out or they go for a weekend away or they go, it just, she comes back different, happier. And I love that idea.

Tim Muehlhoff: So we have been in a marriage group. How long have you been in this group, Chris?

Chris Grace: Yeah, it's been about 12, maybe 14 years.

Tim Muehlhoff: And it's just great. I mean, we try to get together maybe twice a month. Sometimes life's busy. But man, to be in this group and just say things like, "Hey, what would you guys do? We're having trouble with one of our kids or we're running into this issue. And what would you guys do?" There is wisdom in numbers, and that group has become more dear to us over time. And we had one in North Carolina and when we got here to California, we said one of our top priorities, look for great couples and just pull them together. And again, ask couples. Now people are busy, but find people in a similar season of life and bring them together. So Chris, we think community is huge.

Tim Muehlhoff: What do you think of Hurley's comment in, what's that book called, Divorce Proofing your Marriage? Isn't that William Hurley.

Chris Grace: Harley, yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: Harley. Remember he said this comment that ... By the way, the book is pretty good. And I would say overall I would recommend the book. But he makes this one weird comment that has never sat well with me. And then he said, "Don't do any hobby that your spouse doesn't do with you." I don't like that. I think that's too restrictive. I like what you said is that you go off and do things with your friends and then you're a better version of yourself when you come back. So, Noreen doesn't necessarily, let's say like playing tennis or mountain biking. Is it true that he would say, well, you probably shouldn't do that because you're excluding your spouse?

Chris Grace: Yeah, maybe. And I can't remember the context, but I've always read it this way, that there are so many things that you need to invest in. You have only so much time. Right? And so if there's a balance, this is where I think you and I agree on this one. If you are doing something together, you find your similar life passions and joys and excitements and maybe it is tennis or maybe it is mountain biking, but it can't be everything and I think that's the point. That I continue to evolve and grow as a person and we will like each other more as you continue to grow and evolve, so long as or provided that you are in this limited amount of time that you have in coupleness, spending that time together. And Gottman calls this and others the magic of five hours.

Tim Muehlhoff:    A week. A week, right?

Chris Grace:    Yeah, the magic of five hours a week. That couples that are struggling compared to couples that were thriving after a year of watching them over time, they were all at the low bottom end. The difference between the couples that found something to do for five hours more a week versus the other couples actually had higher ratings of marital quality. And Tim, I think that five hours is, could couples find something to do? And that's oftentimes a hobby and that's oftentimes doing something together, but it doesn't negate the fact that each of us have individual lives and we're probably going to be better off still continuing to do those hobbies, even if the other spouse isn't there, provided again, that you're investing together.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah. Here's a good balance. So Noreen and I on Wednesdays, we go to yoga together. Chris, I wasn't flexible in high school. I'm certainly not flexible now. Happy baby position is not happy. That is not a happy baby. But we just, it's beginning yoga. We literally laugh and just have fun, but she also does Pilates, and I've seen Pilates. I've seen what those women do. I'm not doing Pilates. And she has good friends in Pilates. So I think that's the kind of balance we're looking for. There's certain things Noreen wants to do that I'm just not going to do.

Chris Grace:    What is the happy baby position? Show it to me.

Tim Muehlhoff:    I am not showing you happy baby. It is not happy.

Chris Grace:    Okay. So Tim, start another one. What's another question that we have out there?

Tim Muehlhoff:    Well, another great question is our culture today encourages shallow connections, but how important is it to cultivate deep friendships?

Chris Grace:    Yeah, I think the difference oftentimes comes down to maybe another variable, and that's introversion, extroversion. Let me just say it this way. People that are introverts probably have a more likely opportunity of going deeper with one or two people because they maybe don't spend as much time with a lot of other people. Extroverts, I think with that question, it's this. They probably have this very wide ranging amount of friendships out there that they enjoy. They're fun, they like to get together. You do all these fun things, but they probably are, or can oftentimes suffer from a lack of an ability to go deep. And so I think that

deeper friendships are for anybody to be able to learn how to cultivate. I hear this question all the time.

Chris Grace:    In fact, a student was recently in my office and he said this, "I'm really good. I connect people. I bring them together. I love doing that, but the weird thing happens. I find they start to connect a little bit deeper with each other and I feel left out and then I start to wonder, am I really bad at this? How come I can't make deep friendships? Is it because I'm not in tuned with my emotional side? What is it that makes me unable to go deeper?"

Chris Grace:    So Tim, I think that's a great question and it goes like this. I think we need to encourage and have people learn what it means to pay attention to another person, to learn about them. And oftentimes that involves this ability to be interested in what they're doing and what they're saying and who they are. Giving them my full attention, learning what it means to be a presence in their life, a healing presence, and then actively working at it. Sometimes it requires intentional effort to show up with one or two people and to be there for them. And I just hope they're able to do that more.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Well, what might surprise listeners is that you and I would both identify ourselves as introverts. I have extreme extrovert qualities when I speak, so sometimes that throws people off a little bit. So for me, I'm going to gravitate towards a small group of friends, where an extrovert may have a wider net to cast. And I think that's fine. And by the way, in reading this question, I don't want to poo-poo virtual friendships. I think we're way too down on that. I think it is possible to have virtual friendships where you can choose to go deep with a person and maybe you reconnect after years, but now you're intentionally online digging deeper friendships. I think that's great. And let's not be so negative on virtual communities. I think virtual communities can be very beneficial.

Chris Grace:    Hey, we'll take a break now and let me just remind listeners of something that you may have not heard about or something to take advantage of. And we would love, first of all, to be able to hear your questions, just like the ones that Tim and I are talking through today. We have a really simple way of doing that. You can go to a website, submit your questions, and then we'll take them and turn them into a discussion on the topic on a different episode. So here's that website and I'll just spell it out for you. It's That's speak as in speak, pipe as in, one word, So send us your questions, send us your ideas of some topics and we'll be able to tackle them on a next episode.

Speaker 1:    If you enjoy this podcast, we'd love to hear about it. Send us your feedback on the things you've enjoyed, or tell us if there is a particular topic you'd like us to

cover. Just email us at And don't forget to rate the podcast on iTunes.

Chris Grace:    Hey, let's try another one. This person has a friend and they have this question. How can I let this person know, this friend, that they've hurt me, but I don't want to damage the relationship? They're afraid that if they talk about the hurt and the pain that they've experienced from them, that the friendship will or the relationship will be damaged. So Tim, how do you have those hard conversations with somebody? I think it starts with this. I think the level and the depth of your friendship is directly proportional to the amount of vulnerability. All relationships require what? An investment of time and a commitment. I have to be there for them, whether it's in person face-to-face, or like you just mentioned, maybe even virtually. But at least I make time.

Chris Grace:    But vulnerability is one of those very important variables that require me to say when things are going well and also not well and expressing that to the other person, knowing that as I express this, a good friend is going to listen, be able to process that and still accept me as a friend. Keep that which is good, blow away the bad and still do, but it's easier said than done in some of these relationships.

Tim Muehlhoff:    We've done podcasts in the past about communication climates. I think this is a great climate question. Climate is made up of four different areas. How much do you trust each other? What are the expectations you have of each other? Is there acknowledgement? And what's the level of commitment? So sometimes in a friendship, when you do bring up an issue that's difficult and the person doesn't necessarily respond well, what you've just done is uncover a little bit of what the climate's like. Now listen, it doesn't mean the friendship's over just because the person didn't respond well. And this question reminds me of the question we get at a university. Hey, how can I break up with a girl but not hurt her? Well, when you find that out, let me know. I'd love to know that.

Tim Muehlhoff:    So yeah, when you're going to say something hard in a relationship, there's a chance short term, it's going to impact the climate a little bit, but that can be recovered. But if you're afraid to ever say anything because you think this is going to damage, I don't think the friendship is strong enough to sustain this, then I think you've also uncovered that vulnerability that you've just talked about. Man, latent conflict is not good for a relationship. So, if you're carrying this all around because I'm afraid to say something, it might be the end of the marriage, the dating relationship or the friendship. That's a bad sign as well. So I would test the waters. I would test to see what the climate is like by talking about certain things. And also I love what the Harvard negotiation project says. Offer an invitation to talk, to say, hey, there is something I've been thinking about in our friendship that I'd like to bring up. Would you be okay with that? I think that's good to offer the invitation rather than just sneak it on a person.

Chris Grace:    And in other podcasts, Tim, we've also talked about understanding. And hopefully you can get to a point where as you begin to have this conversation with your friend, that you begin to recognize not just the event that maybe caused this, maybe they were constantly saying something that you misinterpreted or you interpreted as negative or maybe they were doing things that you've asked them not to do and it hurts you. It's not just the event, Tim. It's also that deeper issue. What's the hidden emotion going on there? And being able to understand that in yourself and then being able to express that. When we, or when this happens, I feel this way and it makes me feel this way. And that ability to talk and then be able to listen to the other person can begin helping navigate these very hard moments and difficult conversations.

Tim Muehlhoff:    And not to toot our own horn, but get resources before you do this. Don't just sit and say, hey, I want to talk to you about something. So I'm going to take a deep breath on three. Here it is. That can really backfire. So we have great resources on our website. We have blogs on this issue. I wrote a book called, I Beg to Differ, navigating truth and love in difficult conversations. So I would say prayer and get some good resources. Check out our website, but man, have a plan in mind of how to do this so it doesn't go south. And by the way, I want to talk about something later, if you can just stick around.

Chris Grace:    I'll be ready for you.

Tim Muehlhoff:    When recordings are off.

Chris Grace:    Okay, so here's another one. Very similar. This person writes, how can I overcome a fear of tiptoeing in relationships? Afraid of my actions, pushing a friend or a significant other away. worry about this question. I don't know if this is what they mean, but tiptoeing in a relationship is never a good thing. If you're always constantly in a relationship in which you're afraid they're going to leave you, you feel vulnerable, you feel like you can't say what you really feel or you feel like you're always on eggshells and it's about to crack or to break. I mean there's maybe a self-diagnosing thing there with your relationship. Why is it that this relationship isn't as stable as you want or need or what is it about the relationship that maybe your missing? But this person says, how do they overcome the fear of having to do that in a relationship, because they don't want to push them away.

Tim Muehlhoff:    We just did a podcast on perceptions, and I want to know, what has caused you to have this fear? It may be that you had a really bad experience with a friendship that went south, maybe that you grew up in a family where people weren't necessarily connected. It is good to do some unearthing of understanding what's causing this fear. I also say expectations play a part. You

and I work at a university, Biola University. I'm always fearful of incoming students who say things like, "Yeah, I can't wait to meet my roommate. I just want him or her to be my best friend." And sometimes we place too much on a friendship too quickly. Like, oh, finally this is the couple. We're going to be best friends, we're going to do life together. Finally, this is the person that we're going to be soul mates and we'll be friends long after. Right?

Tim Muehlhoff:    So, people can feel overwhelmed sometimes when you're desperate to finally get that friendship. So I would take it in stages. I would move slowly. And I think friendship is usually based on common values and common activities. So, make friends with the person who has the same interests you do. And as a couple or families, we found that life was seasonal as a family with small kids. You're hanging out with people that have small kids as well. You're at every basketball game together and Tae Kwon Do practice. So I would say commonality is where you can develop friendships as well, but take it slow and let it develop almost naturally. But eventually you're going to have to make decisions to spend time together.

Chris Grace:    Yeah, that's good. Another person wanted to talk a little bit about friendships that ultimately transition out of your life and how do you deal with that? In other words, there are some times you have a really close friend, and I think this is what they mean, or a friendship and all of a sudden life happens. You find yourself in different cities, in different states, different seasons of life. Now you've had this friend, you are now married and they're not, and all of a sudden all of your things are working with married couples and all of your ... and it's hard to connect again. And they just worry a little bit about that transition and how to deal with that.

Tim Muehlhoff:    So I have a friend of mine who's a gifted writer. He came up with, I love this phraseology, friends of the heart and friends of the road. Friends are the road means you know what? You move out of your hometown, you go to college in a different state. You go to college and you have all this commonality and then you graduate and you only hang on to like one or two of those people. Right? Those are friends of the heart. Friends of the heart is like, hey, I don't care the circumstances. I have two friends I'm thinking of. One was in my wedding. We've known each other 30 plus years and we still talk to each other. I bet you we talk to each other three or four times a month on the phone. He's in Canada, I'm here. Obviously we're not seeing each other much.

Tim Muehlhoff:    I have another friend of mine, a guy named Tim, who I bet you we talk once a month and then see each other once a year at this conference that we both belong to the same group that speaks on marriage. But I think that's going to be a small group. I think it's okay to have friends of the road, like, hey, we had great time and let's not devalue that, but we didn't ... That was my time. We're up

Sorry, I get paid by the minute here. So I think let's not get a guilt trip that we have friends of the road. Friends of the road are great. You just can't carry all of those friends because then it starts to dilute all of your friendships. So I like that idea of friends of the heart, we're going to stay in touch no matter where we live, what season of life. Other ones, this was a great season and we just kind of moved on.

Chris Grace:    No, I like that. I think it's a great way to help you categorize and maybe not feel so guilty or bad. This is part of the way life is. We move in and out oftentimes of jobs or roles or responsibilities, and friendships can be like that. There's nothing wrong with that. That just points, Tim, to the power, how important consistency and togetherness is in a friendship. And when somehow that's being compromised, you still may enjoy the person, love them, reconnect with them again, and it's just a phase we oftentimes will go through. I just feel like oftentimes we need to take advantage and remember that we're right now to be able to express appreciation, enjoyment for another person for the season you're at is really important. And take advantage of those times in which you do have somebody in your life, someone that you can hang with and talk with and enjoy because it doesn't always stay that way.

Tim Muehlhoff:    And here's the great thing about social media. A couple of years ago, my editor, my publisher in the varsity press wanted me to get on Facebook. And I was like, "Oh, please don't make me get on Facebook." But you know what? It's been a blast, Chris. You know why? A bunch of friends of the road pop up all the time. My wife and I lived in Lithuania for one solid year before we had kids. And I got really good friends with a guy named Thomas who was on the Lithuanian national water polo team and we spent a ton of time together. I witnessed to him. He never accepted Christ, but it was a blast. We went on a bunch of double dates. He was dating a girl.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Guess what? Literally a couple months ago I get a Facebook message from Thomas saying, "Do you remember me?" I'm like, "Thomas, are you kidding me? Yes." We traded family photographs and guess what? He's going to be coming to San Diego in about eight months and we're going to try to find a common place just to catch up. So don't discount these friends of the road that they'll never pop up again. They might pop up again, and how fun to keep those lines of communication open that they can pop up again and it's not this big awkward thing.

Chris Grace:    That's great. I love it. Thanks. Good advice. Good questions and so-

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yes, keep them coming. We love interacting with your questions.

Chris Grace:    So we'll do more ask the expert questions at another time and it's been good visiting with you.

Tim Muehlhoff:    We got one more. Why can't we hear more from Tim? Well, because I don't want to be selfish and Chris needs this more than I do, but hey, thank you for the CMR broadcast.

Chris Grace:    It's funny that was in your handwriting, that question. That is so weird.

Tim Muehlhoff:    I submitted it.

Chris Grace:    Yeah, I could tell. Well, let's end there then. What do you think?

Tim Muehlhoff:    All right. 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 and make a donation today.