Not If, But When: Navigating Grief with Gary Thomas
Mandy: Welcome to another Art of Relationships Podcast. We are grateful for listeners like you. Let's get right into it.
Alisa Grace: Hey, welcome to another Art of Relationships Podcast. I'm Alisa Grace and I'm here with my beautiful husband over there, big brown eyes, Christopher Grace. Hey, Chris. How you doing Today?
Chris Grace: I'm doing pretty good. Lise, thanks.
Alisa Grace: Yay. We're just back hot off a trip to Portland. We had a marriage conference up in the Portland/Vancouver area and it was awesome.
Chris Grace: Oh, it was. We had so many couples there, Lise. I don't know, there were like five, 600 people. And it is just awesome to be able to talk about how a marriage can impact lives in ways that are just profound, right?
Alisa Grace: Yeah.
Chris Grace: They bring them closer to God and some marriages pull you apart. And then just to be able to play a role in helping them draw closer to each other and draw closer to God. And I don't know, there were a lot of people who made decisions to recommit their lives and their marriages.
Alisa Grace: At least six people made professions of faith while we were there this weekend, over 140 rededicated their lives and marriages to the Lord and pursuing oneness. So boy, it was just a fantastic time of ministry. But one of the things that we do at that conference is we allow people to submit questions to a panel and we answer them. And Chris, I don't know about you, but one of the things I was struck by, these questions that were submitted were the number of people that were experiencing crisis due to infidelity, due to one of the spouses having some kind of chronic illness, or some kind of crisis, like the death of a child or something. And so many people struggling in this area. So I'm really excited about the guests that we have today to address some of these issues.
Chris Grace: Joining us today is Gary Thomas, bestselling author of course, of maybe many of you have heard and read, Sacred Marriage. I'm sure you have. And then Gary has a new book out Making Your Marriage a Fortress: and How to Strengthen your Marriage to Withstand Life Storms. And Gary, welcome to our podcast.
Gary Thomas: Well, thank you for having me back.
Chris Grace: It's good. We had Gary just here on the previous podcast, and so if you want to hear a little introduction about Gary and his work and some of the things he's doing, Gary's actually, now, Gary, you and your wife are in Colorado and you're working at a wonderful church, I know, Cherry Hills Community Church. You found it out in Highlands Ranch, is that right, Highlands Ranch?
Gary Thomas: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, it's just a beautiful place. I love it. We've got the mountains in the background and then it's a sea of houses. Highlands Ranch used to be a ranch and they just filled it up with houses. And I'm just thinking the difference it could make in those homes if God would be Lord in each house.
Chris Grace: Yeah. Well, we thought about you. We were up in Portland and I know you did your degree, your systematic theology at Regent in Vancouver, in British Columbia, and then your divinity, doctor of divinity at Western Seminary in Portland. So we were right in your neighborhood. In fact, I actually thought Vancouver Washington was right across the river from Vancouver, British Columbia, and I was shocked to learn, it was across the river from Portland. And someone said, "Yeah, you have to go south to..." And I go, "Wait, hold on. How do I get from here to Canada?" And they're like, "Well, you have to go through an entire state to get there."
Alisa Grace: We thought we were flying into Portland, and then driving all the way up to Canada for the conference.
Gary Thomas: And about four traffic jams, one in Olympia, Tacoma, Seattle.
Chris Grace: Yeah. That's right.
Gary Thomas: Yeah, you're going to...
Chris Grace: So I know that's your favorite area up there, or one of your favorites. But Gary, as we end up even the last podcast, one of the things that you had mentioned that's intriguing is... First of all, in the book you cover a lot of different couples and some of the issues, and I really want to dive into, we personally have one with health issues, then there's the financial, couples that struggle in that area. But even before we dive into that, you said something at the end about ways in which you can prepare ahead of time. So many of our listeners are out there going, "Gosh, we're not there yet. We've been married five, 10 years." And they know as you make it clear, absolutely something is going to come into your marriage at some point.
Alisa Grace: It's not a matter of if, but when.
Chris Grace: Yeah, that's right Lise. And then there are things, Gary, you mentioned that all couples need to do to prepare for these moments. How do you go about doing that and what are those things?
Gary Thomas: Well, the three things that most of them had in common that really not just survive but thrive. The first one was they realize they had to become strong individually. 1 Timothy 4:8 says, Godliness has value for all things. If you grow in godliness, get rid of bad habits and the sin and the habits that make you weak, and grow in Christ's likeness, whether it's a financial storm or a relational storm, a health storm, you're going to do okay. We talked about affairs in the previous one, one couple I didn't talk about that had it where the husband had been a sex addict. I mean, he showed all the signs of addiction. He was found out, he thought it would be the worst day of his life. He looks back, it was one of the best days, because he threw himself earnestly into repentance, was going to the 12-step groups, making the phone calls, had a professional licensed counselor, was taking polygraph tests and whatnot.
18 months after he was in recovery, their daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, and it was life threatening. She was in the hospital, the wife was with them. Both he and his wife told me, with passion, we would not have made it if he was not in recovery. His organizational skills are off the chart. So while everything else was going well, he could manage an addiction on the side. But when your family's in a state of crisis and mom is at the hospital with the daughters, and he's home with the sons and still having to keep the house going. They just couldn't have done it.
And so I would say to people listening, you might have some things that are making you spiritually weak and you're getting away with, it seems, because it's like you're living in Santa Barbara, in Biola land, or Biola land, where the weather's always pleasant. But there's going to be a time when you really do need to be strong.
And then it's not just for that, but I think of a couple that lost their only child, and the wife admitted that for the first year it was 95% Joe, that's her husband, and five percent her keeping the marriage going. The second year, Joe had the tough year, and she said it was 75% me and 25% Joe. That's why a good marriage needs two strong individuals. Because you respond to crises in different ways. You might be the initial one that's weak, but then later you become weak. You want two strong... So get strong spiritually, pursue godliness in all areas.
The second area that was really helpful was growing in scripture, hiding that scripture in their heart. So often Bible study seems like an obligation, check it off the list. But when Janelle was telling me about how she overcame the grief of losing her only child, knowing she would never have grandkids, that there would never be a Mother's Day when a biological child would send her a card. That every holiday now would be just earn her husband.
I mean all of these things she started quoting 2 Corinthians 5:8, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. And the light in her face, the strength, her voice returned. Gary, God didn't just call Garrett from something, he called Garrett, that's their son, to something. He is perfectly serving God and glory. She goes, "Some of my friend's kids, they're causing them such grief. Every time I think about Garrett, I just get so happy knowing how he's doing perfectly, exactly what God created him to do." And that verse was life giving. It was proof of Hebrews, it says, the word of God is living and active. It was sustaining her and keeping her from despair.
Or I think of the wife whose husband had lost millions of dollars. It wasn't really his fault, too hit in the economy. It's a long story I won't get into, and I've seen that so often turn couples against each other, when finances are tight. How come you're spending this much? Why can't you earn this? Why didn't you see this coming? The reason they were turning toward each other is that she was a student of the word. And she said, "Gary, I took hope from Psalm 23:1, the Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing." And she said, "I won't lack because my husband is a great businessman or can see ahead what's going to happen. We won't lack because God is our shepherd." And so that scripture kept them from turning against each other and toward each other in a beautiful thing.
I say to couples now, "Be like a bear going into hibernation where you're ravenously devouring the truth of God's word, the psalms, the gospels, the promises of Jesus. Because there will come a time when you need to have those verses stored up in your heart to be able to draw.
The third thing that hit me, and I think this is where a lot of modern couples fail, was the need for community. When Janelle found out their only child was dead, she only had to make one phone call and within minutes, almost, the neighborhood was filled with cars. Her house was filled with people because they had invested in their church. She'd been in choir. They'd been in Bible studies. She grabs the shoulders of one of her close friends and says, "Look, I know 70% of marriages don't survive this. I've already lost my son. Please, don't let me lose my marriage."
And then 18 months later, when Joe was the weak one and they had their worst argument ever, and he storms out and she was terrified, she knew a friend to call. He was involved in the church, and also had connections with law enforcement. She says, "Y'all got to go get him. I don't know what's going to happen." And he knew how to find him. And you can't build community when you need community. It's like, they wouldn't have had that kind of community if they had waited until a crisis to get involved in the church.
And so often we think, "Well, if I'm at church a couple times a month, that's better than most people." But that's pretending that everything is going to be okay. And I'll end with this. I know I'm just running on. But-
Chris Grace: No, you're doing good.
Gary Thomas: ... the guy who had the sexual addiction, and this is what breaks my heart, and where I wish the church could grow, when he was involved in the 12-step groups, he said, "Gary, when I'm in recovery groups with guys, I don't know what their job is. I don't know who their favorite sports team is. I don't know what neighborhood they live in. But I know their character strengths and weaknesses. I know the last time they fell. I know their heart issues. I know all about them." He goes, "At church, it's the opposite. I know their favorite sports team. I know what neighborhood they lived in. I know where they work. I don't know anything about the state of their heart."
And I wish in the church we could learn to develop that kind of community and relationships that those in recovery know they need. Because, again, if everything is like Santa Barbara climate wise, you don't feel like you need other people, you don't feel vulnerable. But when the storms do hit, at that point, you need real relationships, not superficial ones. And we really put ourselves at risk as a married couple if we're isolated as a married couple, and aren't valuing church. The Bible says, don't give up meeting together, some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another all the more, as you see the day approaching.
Alisa Grace: Well, so Gary, what would you say to that couple that is, let's say, that they're in church every Sunday and like you said, you know some cursory things about them. It can go a mile wide but only be an inch deep. So the people that are in your community, in your close proximity, how do you go about, I guess, effectively developing community? A lot of people didn't grow up with that, and so they don't know how to do that. So what would you tell that couple that desperately needs it but doesn't even know where to start?
Gary Thomas: You're going to have to be initiator, and you're going to have to be a pioneer. Because you're right, a lot of people don't know. And it could just begin by, "Hey, let's just go out to eat." And especially with married couples, it's really helpful, the ideal is if the guy really gets along with the guy and the woman really gets along with the woman, that's the bonus. Lisa and I have met couples like that and we just thank God when it's like there's a good mix all around.
And so you don't want to make a commitment too early. You want to figure out how it's going. But I would say if you can't find that couple, I still think it's vital for the wife to have friends that she can count on and the husband to have friends that he can count on, and just go below the surface. Don't always talk about sports teams, but how are you doing? When Lisa and I were getting to know a couple, the sermon in the church that Sunday was about chinks in your armor or whatnot, and they said to us, "We don't really know any of your chinks."
And we said, "All right, well let's get together. Next time, we're going to have a long time." And our relationship changed so dramatically to let another couple in. Now, we knew them well enough where we could trust them, where we valued their input, that we knew they were a safe couple to be open and honest with. But as I think God's providence, as the days unfolded, boy, we needed them and they leaned on us, and I did the premarital counseling for their daughter and whatnot. So it's just wonderful when that happens.
So I would say go to church together and then talk about the sermon. And if you're in a good church, these issues are going to come up and just say, "Hey, what did you guys think when the teacher said this? Or that came up? Or do you ever deal with that?" Or read the same book that brings these issues. I don't want to sound like a shameless huckster, but Making Your Marriage a Fortress does lift a lot of these things. What would it be like if you got MS? What would it be like if financially you had to sell the home you raised your kids in? What would that do to your marriage?
So you might have to create it, you're probably going to have to initiate it, but it's worth the hassle. And you might have a couple dead ends. You might find couples just aren't ready for it, or they're not mature enough for it. I think it's worth it to keep going until you find at least another couple that you can have that life with.
Chris Grace: Gary, yeah, great answer. Thank you so much for even just thinking about this, and your heart is clear. And I think, too, your notion that the bear hibernating and getting God's word in, it reminds me of a couple of things that have come up in my field, social psych, one is very much related to that, it's just maybe a different word picture. They talk about some of the greatest athletes in the world, their desire to do well always starts with their practice. Dallas Willard wrote about spiritual disciplines, and the notion of somebody standing there taking free throw after free throw after free throw. Because that which becomes most practiced, and this is a very long standing psychological principle, that which is most practice, most inherent, most part of who you are, is that which is going to come out at the time of greatest need.
So if you're in the middle of a game, it's overtime, and you're standing at the free throw line or you're up to bat in the bottom of the ninth, or you are about to have to make a decision about how do I forgive, like Jesus forgive? How do I treat somebody the way God would want? That which you have been practicing and doing, is that what is going to come out in stress and life, is that which is going to call out your best. And also you're going to default to it without really thinking. I think that's the bear hibernating, right? What's going to happen in a moment of greatest need, is that what you have most practiced and prepared your heart for.
And so, Gary, I love that idea for couples to get ready, like, I think you said at one point, "You can't bubble wrap your house and hope that the water doesn't come in." Alls you can do though is you can be ready with who Jesus is, how God loves you, how He views me, a deep understanding of what it means to know my heart, but know how God has prepared me, so that in that moment it comes out when we most need it. And man, talk about times like that. You mentioned one with illness. I think about the weightlifting couple and how strong he was, and all of a sudden, not only did she look to him for protection, but in that moment of time when he became very ill and continues struggling with MS, it's at that moment that what you have in your heart and that you've been practicing comes out.
Gary Thomas: And in their case, and this is a great lesson for couples to think about, it's respecting each other's different response. That couple really told me how important it is to let your spouse grieve differently and respond differently. Different challenges, we just process it differently. In their case, you've hinted at that the husband was diagnosed with MS about three years into their marriage, he'd been a weightlifter. And at first he's the half glass full guy. He's thinking, "I can beat this. I'm an athlete. God's going to heal me." I mean, he's a committed believer. And so he thought he could work through it. Until the doctors had to stop him, and say, "Darrell, you're doing damage to your body that your body can't recover from. You can't pretend you don't have this."
Chris Grace: That's right.
Gary Thomas: Now Stacy, his wife, was a half glass empty person. "Oh, this is so terrible. It's awful." And Darrell needed to learn from her. It really was awful what they had. But Stacy needed to learn from Darrell that in one since it was going to be okay. And it took her a couple decades. She described for me a dinner party where they were all around the table. Darrell is now in a scooter, a motorized scooter. They have great friends and conversation, and she realized, "Stacy, this is what you have feared your whole married life. This situation, where your husband is this disabled where he is in a chair, can't walk, can't use his whatnot." She goes, "But you're okay. You're laughing. You love each other. Yeah, you're going to have to leave at eight o'clock, because Darrell does better if he gets in bed early. But things are really good."
And that's when she said to me, "Gary, my fear of MS did more damage to our marriage than MS did." So she could have learned from her husband that God's grace is going to be there, it's okay. Darrell needed to learn from here, it is really bad. Take it seriously. And I think that's the key when you're facing these challenges as a married couple, don't turn on each other, don't expect each other to respond in the same way you do. But learn from each other, listen to each other. Face this together as a unit. And you'll go much farther and come out much closer.
Alisa Grace: Gary, I think one of my favorite chapters in the whole book was right at the very beginning, the chapter called Fighting Fear with Faith.
Chris Grace: Yes.
Alisa Grace: Gosh, it was just gold nugget after gold nugget in that chapter. But at one point you talk about, you said that, "One of the best tools for growth is learning how to grieve in a healthy way." And so can you talk a little bit about the difference between grieving in a healthy way and grieving in an unhealthy way? And what does a couple do if the way they grieve or lament looks different?
Gary Thomas: Well, in this case, I don't know, I'd say grieving an unhealthy way, it was Stacy's belief that grieving wasn't appropriate as a believer. When Darrell was diagnosed with MS, he said he had one prayer, two word prayer, "Heal me. Heal me. Heal me. Heal me." Until God said to him, "Darrell, I'm going to heal you but not of MS. I'm going to use MS to heal something even worse in your life."
Now at first Darrell's thinking, "What is more important in my life than MS?" Looking back now, it's an amazing work that God has done in that man's soul. He's a humble man of faith and you see how God has healed him. But Stacy had to realize that it's okay to grieve. It's not wrong for her to want to be taken care of and protected, and to have a husband that she thought could carry in the groceries, that could get himself in bed and all of those things. Darrell doesn't live in a home. I mean, they live together. And so there are a lot of things that she has to do for him.
But it was that going into the laments that it's okay to cry out to God, that God is big enough, that God will hear it, that God wants us to let the crisis turn us toward Him, instead of on Him. Just as He wants the crisis to turn us toward each other, instead of on each other. And she found lamenting and grieving was a way to do that. It's fine to pray for healing, and it's fine to hope that things will be different, but there comes a time when the really healthy response is just to grieve and to admit it, and even to grieve together.
And then we talked about in healthy grieving, not to take it personally. For instance, Darrell can't take it personally that his wife is grieving, that he can't do much physically, that he has MS. It's understandable that that makes life very difficult for her. It's not about him, it's about the situation. And that's really a high level of relating for a married couple, when you can be frustrated with your spouse or disappointed in your spouse, but still cherish and love your spouse and turn toward your spouse.
So often we see those as exclusive. In a fallen world, we can't make marriage about us. Of course, you're disappointed at this. I'm sorry you're having to face this without feeling attacked and threatened by it. Darrell needed to let Stacy grieve. Stacy needed to grieve. Darrell needed to grieve. He thought he had to be the strong one and present the strong face. But he realized that Stacy could be helped when she saw that he too was lamenting and grieving this terrible medical diagnosis.
Alisa Grace: I love that. I love that in the book when you were talking about that grief doesn't push God far away. In fact, it actually draws him near, you said. And you quoted Psalm 34:18, that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed` spirit. I think as Christians, I think, so many could really identify with her perspective of wanting to put a positive spiritual spin on everything, right? Yeah, it stinks, it's bad, but praise God, He's good. God's good all the time.
And I think there's a lot of times we're just not able to go into that position of grieving and lamenting publicly. Where we might do it at home, in the privacy of our own home, but with other people we might want to put on that face that's brave, that's spiritual, that's the good Christian, and not really acknowledge the pain that we're in.
Gary Thomas: And Stacy found it was essential for their children. At first, when Darrell was now in a walker and they thought one of their kids was embarrassed by him, because he would have to be low in the bleachers going to games or whatnot. And it really hurt him, until they got heart to heart with their child and realized a child was grieving, and wanted a dad who could help practice with them, that could stand up and cheer. And that that's a natural thing for a kid desire. So she was able, as a mom, to model how to face disappointment that doesn't pull you away from God, but, as you said in that psalm, draws you toward God. To admit that you're brokenhearted, but God will meet you in your broken heart.
Alisa Grace: I love that. I love that. Just a couple of years ago, in our own personal journey, Chris was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer, and at the same time our 17-year-old daughter was experiencing a debilitating herniated disc. And so things at our house were a little hairy for that year. And I think that's why this particular chapter really resonates with me personally. And I think one of the aspects of this chapter that I also really, really liked, and maybe I'll have you speak to that, is when Darrell said that "grieving is very important, you have to do that grieving process, and that lament, and lean into that and don't ignore it, because it's going to come out one way or the other."
But then he also went a step beyond that and said, "While it's okay to grieve, that Basically at some point you need to stop grieving and start celebrating-
Gary Thomas: Yes.
Alisa Grace: ... what you have."
Gary Thomas: Yes.
Alisa Grace: Tell me the difference. What's the difference between ignoring it and stuffing it, pretending like everything's okay, and then as opposed to actually coming to terms with it and moving into a place of gratitude?
Gary Thomas: This is one of those conversations that changed my life. Again, I said I was looking for strong people of faith and this blew me away. Darrell recounted how when he goes to bed at night, he can motor his chair right up to the bed, and with his arms he can lift his body on the bed, but he can't get his legs over. He needs Stacy to come and bring his legs over. And he said, and I get this, he was an athlete and he took pride in his body, and now he can't even get his own legs up over the bed, and he said, "There's part of me that wanted to feel sorry for myself, and say, 'Well, if I can't do everything, why don't I just have Stacy lift me up and just do it?'"
But then he said, "But, Gary, I am determined before God, maybe I can only do 20% of what I used to be able to do physically. I am determined before God that I will do a 100% of that 20%. And I'm going to be grateful for that 20%. Instead of being bitter, I'm thankful I have a wife who will lift my legs over." He goes, "I don't want to be this old, cranky, depressed dude and it would be easy." But what this attitude is doing is helping him be a grateful dude.
And I was able to use this with a couple. Where in their case the husband had prostate cancer, which can really impact things in the bedroom, particularly early on and maybe long term. And I was able to use this analogy, where I said, "Well, maybe you can only do 40% of what you used to be able to do. And it is so easy in our human state to say, 'Fine, if I can't do everything, I'm not doing anything.' And we punish ourselves even more." I said, "Do that 40%. Maybe you can just hold each other. There are other things that you can do that you can enjoy, and that you can still give to your spouse. But just recognize there are things that..."
You guys know this, the study show that just holding each other naked can do amazing things with oxytocin and emotional connection, even if there is no full sexual component to it. So I said, "Don't just shut everything off, because you can't do all that you would like to do. Do all that you can do and thank God for that. And it creates a life of celebration and it draws you toward God, instead of pushing you away from each other, and making yourself miserable with bitterness."
Chris Grace: And it's just such a great story of the way they've navigated this and have gotten from... It's just a complete turn in their lives physically, but the more impressive turn is spiritually for them. The transformative work that God did when he would say, "God heal me from this. God heal me from this. God heal me from this," was God's answer to him was, "I can do that, but I have something even better planned for you."
And it's really hard in the middle of treatment, in the middle of going through that I'm sure for a lot of couples. And so Gary is as you meet with other couples or you think about them, and whether it's in your church or writing or just your ministering around the country, those that have dealt or are dealing with devastating illnesses or loss, I guess, one of the things that stands out that what you said is God's math.
God's math is very weird. For example, if you have 20%, you give a 100% of that 20%, and all of a sudden you realize that that's kind of so biblical. That it's when Paul recognized that he was dealing with something that he would never get over, and yet that's when God's fullness came in. When we're brokenhearted, He's near us. It's like, for my journey, colorectal cancer, stage three, the cancer itself is bad, but the treatment is horrible. And you're broken and you don't feel whole. But all that to say, at the end, I think God's mouth is funny, Gary. And you bring that out that it is at times like that where His spirit seems strong and close to us in a weird way.
Gary Thomas: Yeah. Well, what I've found, and this was my temptation that I had to grow out of as a teacher and a writer, I always want to have the right thing to say, and usually people want to know why. And what I found is that God is comfortable in His silence, and we have to let God be silent. And I think what friends need when you're working with a couple that is sometimes just to be there with your presence, but your words aren't really going to do anything anyway. And if God is willing to let Himself be silent as we work through this, eventually, perhaps bringing insight, wisdom, and revelation through counselors word, we have to be willing to walk in that silence with our friends and with each other and with ourselves.
And the couples that did that, without fail, found that in the end, God is good to His word. God is a refuge in the storm. It is a broken world, but He is not a broken God. He is a capable God. He's a powerful God. And He is the rock. And those that turn to him still have their joy. In fact, they have more joy. And they still have their marriage. They still have their intimacy. This might sound funny, I wouldn't want any one of their lives, but I envy every one of their marriages.
Alisa Grace: Wow. I love that. Hey, Gary, if I can kind of follow something that you said just a few minutes ago, you were talking about in their sexual intimacy, this one couples how just because of his cancer that they had to make some adjustments. And so, of course, enjoyable sex can't save a bad marriage. That bad sex can certainly keep a marriage from feeling good, right?
Gary Thomas: Right.
Alisa Grace: So understanding your partner's sex drive is important. A conversation, you encourage the past newlywed phase, but how can couples start that conversation? This could just be a particularly difficult area for a lot of couples to talk about.
Gary Thomas: Yeah. If I could say one thing to the younger couples, enjoy your youth. Seriously. I mean, because there will come a time when there are complications because of age, because of disease, because of other things. And I just want to say, enjoy it while you can. Lisa and I would laugh early on at those books, about 365 sex positions, if there are, I don't know. I just want to say-
Alisa Grace: That's all?
Chris Grace: There are 367 just so you know, but, yeah, we found them.
Gary Thomas: You can tell me the other two off air. But the reality you better do before you're 40, because your body won't bend the same way-
Alisa Grace: You're going to pull something there.
Gary Thomas: ... when you start to get older. And so in the chapter, there's a couple where the wife has a higher drive and there's another couple where the husband has the higher drive, and it's amazing, some of the same lessons. But it's just important to realize, number one, I would say, even if your sex life is off the chart and you're having sex three times a week, which is way above average, certainly, after the first year of marriage. I did the math, it's still less than one percent of your marriage. And if you've got a marriage that's 99% great, and maybe okay, the rest I want the partner who's feeling frustrated, still recognize that.
What the higher drive wife had to understand, the breakthrough in their marriage, was when she started thanking her husband for ways that he loved her that weren't sexual, taking care of the kids, fixing this, picking this up for her at the store, whatnot. She had reduced it to I'm wanted and loved if my husband wants to have sex with me every day, and not too many husbands that long into the marriage are going to be that interested every day. So she had to stop defining her satisfaction by the frequency of sexual relations, but also realizing how important it can be.
And so you've got to be sensitive. I want to talk to both that in marriage there is only one person, because of God's decree,, that we can be sexually intimate with. So anything I deny my spouse becomes an absolute denial. Now it may be that after betrayal it takes time to heal. It may be times of trauma. It may not be wise to become sexually... I'm not talking about those situations. I'm talking about where we don't make it a priority. And I get tired of hearing, frankly, some people say, or bloggers or podcasts will say, "Well, it's not a need because you won't die without it."
Let me say, "That's totally a 100% true," but if I want to cherish my wife and that's my standard, I don't want the standard to be, "Well, if she won't die without it, she can go without it." I want her to feel cherished. I want her to feel desirable. I want her to feel pleasured.
And so we can fall off on any end. And this is an area where I think the church just doesn't have much nuance. They go back and forth. They say the one that doesn't feel like they're getting much sex at all, just learn to live without it. You can hear the conflict in my voice. What I loved is that these couples, by discussing it and understanding each other and loving each other and wanting the best for each other, found a way. Where neither one of the higher drive spouse, either the wife or the husband, felt like they were getting as much sex as they wanted, but they thought they had a much better marriage.
And then the lower drive spouses thought they were having sex more often than they might naturally want, but they thought they had a much better marriage because of it. And so I often say to couples, "Instead of how much sex do you want, explore, how much does our marriage need?" There was one little tool that they both found very helpful that is more recent in sex therapy that Christians would do well to understand, it's the difference between responsive drive and spontaneous drive.
Those who have spontaneous drive don't really need a trigger. If the wife is changing her shirt or if the husband says something and they're higher drive, they're ready to go. And they don't need an excuse to have sex. If the spouse is willing, they're probably going to really enjoy it. A responsive drive spouse may not be that interested in sexual relation, until they actually physically stimulate.
Now, their natural response might be, "No, not again." The lower drive wife said, "I said, 'No, we just had it,'" and then she went through her head, it's been two weeks. And she realized, "I've got to get away from that automatic no and realize, maybe can be a really helpful work." Now, maybe does mean maybe. Maybe can mean, why don't you try to convince me, but the higher drive spouse still has to know, consent matters. All right? Maybe might end up at a no. So you're not being teased, it's they're saying, "I'm open to it, but let's see how it goes." But for the lower drive spouse, it's saying, "Well, maybe I'll get into it." And sometimes responsive drive spouses after sex will say, "Why don't we do this every night?
Chris Grace: Oh, my gosh.
Gary Thomas: "Because it was wonderful." And it's just, when they both understood how their brains operate, that, one, the default is always go, and the other default is always no. They said, "That's not who I want to be. It's not what best serves my marriage. It's not what makes my spouse feel desirable and cherished. So how do we do this without it being coercive or manipulative or whatnot?" They found a way to arrive at a healthy place, where sex became a blessing more than a burden.
Chris Grace: Well-
Alisa Grace: I love that.
Chris Grace: Yeah, I do too, because it just gives clear ideas to who we are and a clear perspective on how we respond. And I'm sure many couples, Gary, are just going to thank you for being able to bring that type of information to light. That idea of spontaneous versus responsive is really an awesome way of putting it. And it doesn't make it all men are this way and all women are this way, because that's not at all what you're finding and not at all what we're finding.
And I love that it's such an encouraging word to help. And so for those that are dealing with issues and they want to be able to strengthen their relationship before the troubles come, Lise, why don't you tell them how to get it. And let's just finish there. Lise, what's the book title?
Alisa Grace: So the book is Making Your Marriage a Fortress: Strengthening Your Marriage to a Stand Life's Storms. It's available on Zondervan, I think is like 27.99. And golly, if I-
Gary Thomas: [inaudible] Christian books. [inaudible] books.
Alisa Grace: All right. You know what though? But every penny well worth it. Well worth it. I think just given what our life has been like in the last three years, this book just completely resonated with us. And I wish you would've written this 30 years ago, Gary. But I'm so glad that you wrote it now. I'm telling you, you will want to go buy this book. It's excellent. So, Gary, thank you so much for joining us. It's been an honor and a real pleasure to visit with you and to have you on our podcast today.
Gary Thomas: Well, thank you for the tremendous work you're doing. Thank you.
Chris Grace: Thank you, Gary. Thank you. Good to have you. All right. Bye-bye.
Mandy: Thanks for listening to The Art of Relationships. This podcast is only made possible through generous donations from listeners just like you. If you like it and want to help keep the podcast going. Visit our website at cmr.biola.edu and make a donation today.
The Art of Relationships podcast, hosted by Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace, is centered on helping you build healthy relationships and marriages. In this podcast, Dr. Chris Grace and Alisa Grace weigh in on how to navigate the complexities of relationships in our culture with biblical wisdom and scholarly research. Listen to get practical insights on relationships, dating, and marriage.