FamilyLife Today®

Am I in a Healthy Relationship? David & Meg Robbins

with David and Meg Robbins, Kelly Kapic, Lysa TerKeurst, Mark And Dee Jobe, Shelby Abbott, Ted Lowe | December 6, 2023
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Are you feeling trapped in a relationship? Join us as we take on a journey to unlock healthier relationships and rewrite your family story. With David & Meg and Shelby Abbott, we explore setting boundaries, shifting perspectives, and creating brighter family futures. It's not too late! 

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  • About the Guest

Find freedom in a healthy relationship with David & Meg and Shelby Abbott. Uncover tips on how to rewrite your story. It’s never too late!

Am I in a Healthy Relationship? David & Meg Robbins

With David and Meg Robbins, Kelly...more
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December 06, 2023
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Mark: Everybody has a cycle to break, everybody has a bold step to take, and everybody has a legacy to make. It's about breaking cycles in the past; it's about taking bold steps of obedience; and it’s about creating a new legacy as well. What is it that you’re forging?

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com.

Dave: This is FamilyLife Today.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today. We are joined by some special guests today. We have the President of FamilyLife® in the studio, David Robbins. [Whistling] He is here. [Laughter]

David: Applause! Keep it there. Yes, let’s go around every day with that one.

Dave: If you’re watching a video, we are bowing right now.

David: No, we need to edit that out!

Shelby: His better half joins us as well. Meg Robbins [Cheers] deserves a round of applause.

David: I’m the loudest applauder there.

Dave: She’s not bowing. [Laughter]

Shelby: And, for some reason, we have two extra special guests who have never been on FamilyLife Today before. [Laughter] David— or, sorry, not David; Dave and Ann Wilson. I'll remember your names, even though I say them all day, every day. The Wilsons are joining us today. I'll give you a round of applause. Yay!

David: Turning the tables though; Shelby's running the show. I like it.

Shelby: I don’t know why.

Ann: Shelby! In the studio, running the show!

Shelby: Yes, thanks for that. I appreciate that. I'm Shelby Abbott.

Dave: Yes, you're Shelby Abbott. That's who you are.

Shelby: And this is a special episode. All this week, we've been listening to the wise words of Lysa TerKeurst on the importance of boundaries in relationships. And so, today, we're going to be talking about pursuing healthy relationships. So much of FamilyLife talks about healthy relationships, and I want to kick it off with a tip from Lisa on handling friends who just aren't safe to be vulnerable with. It's a tip I think you'll find surprisingly honest.

[Recorded Message]

Lysa: When God formed the Tabernacle, which eventually became the temple, He allowed certain people certain access, but not all people all access. The closer access you were granted to the Holy of Holies, the more responsibility you had to demonstrate, all the way to the high priest. When the high priest would go into the Holy of Holies once a year, to make atonement for the sins of the people, he had to be absolutely purified and cleansed. If he wasn't keeping up that high level of responsibility, he would suffer the greatest consequence, and he would lose his life.

This gave me this little clue: to the level that I give someone access in my life is to the same level I need to require that they bring that level of responsibility. If I'm granting someone level ten access, and they're only bringing in, on a consistent basis, about a level three responsibility, the distance between those, level three and level ten, is where the chaos will be found. It's where the dysfunction will be found, and it's where a boundary is needed.

So, the mistake I used to make is: “Great, then I need to put a boundary on this other person!” You can have a conversation with another person and ask them to be more responsible with the access that you've granted them; but if they are unwilling or incapable of anything above a level three responsibility, then putting a boundary on them, using external pressure, is never going to work.

If you were having a cardiac event today, I would rush to you, and other people who knew CPR would rush to you, and we would, using external pressure, do chest compressions, and we could sustain your life for a little while. But at some point, if your heart doesn't beat on its own, external pressure will not sustain your life long-term. When we try to put external pressure of a boundary on someone who is unwilling or incapable to change, then it's going to cause nothing, but increase the frustration and the simmering resentments in that relationship.

The wrong tactic is to try to put a boundary on them to control them or manipulate them into doing what you want; and that is to change, be more responsible. The right tactic is to put the boundary on myself. If they are unwilling or incapable of anything more than a level three responsibility, then the responsible thing for me to do is to diminish the access from level ten down to level three, so equilibrium can be reached.

[Studio]

Shelby: Can you explain a little bit what she was talking about with the level ten and level three for any of our listeners who might be confused?

Ann: Yes, Dave, will you explain that?

Dave: I’ve never been good at math, so I was trying to figure out the seven minus—

Shelby: I mean, we can probably infer what she was talking about, but why did she choose those numbers in particular? Do you remember?

Dave: She was saying something that has often not been said in the Christian community: that it's okay to put up a boundary with certain people. We live with everybody's got full access. You have to love everybody at the same level—

Ann: —and that feels more spiritual.

Dave: Yes, but there's a point in your life where you've got to protect yourself. It's okay sometimes, when somebody's really harming [you]. We would do that with our kids. If someone is harming our kids, we would put up a boundary immediately.

Shelby: Of course.

Dave: It's okay sometimes to do that in your own life, because it's loving to do that.

David: In listening, I just was thinking about times I have felt burned or wounded by someone taking information I shared, and it being used against me. And what's tempting, for many people when that happens, is to close all the way up—

Dave and Ann: —yes!

David: —and to not give anyone access. And that's obviously not what Lisa is saying. It's using that wisdom of saying, “Okay, I do need those people I go to level ten with,” but using wisdom and discernment and building trust with others and knowing you don't have to give everybody that.

Shelby: Today is a unique episode. We're talking about healthy relationships, and we're listening to clips from FamilyLife Today over this past year that we thought were the best and the brightest. So, I wanted to shift gears here a little bit from simple friendship, as we were talking about before, to the intimacy of marriage. Now, you guys recently had a riveting conversation with Ted Lowe about how our brains can actually sabotage us and our spouse, the person we're most trying to love. Check this out.

[Recorded Message]

Ted: I think I mentioned to you guys yesterday, I did a lot of research on, “What are happy couples doing?” They do; they think differently. There was a fascinating study—it was a brain scan study—on couples who had been married an average of 21 years, who reported being “madly in love.” I'm thinking—

Ann: Wow!

Ted: —where did you—how did we find these?

Ann: “Madly in love.”

Ted: “Madly in love;” they were just going for the top-notch tier here! But they did a brain scan stud,y and there were three areas of the brain that had higher activity (than the rest of us, I guess). [Laughter] But one of them was the area of the brain that's responsible for a thing called “positive illusion.” It's the ability to focus on what you do like about your spouse, and not focus on what you don't.

Now, I know red flags go up. This is not about ignoring anything abusive. Let me just say that right off the top.

Dave: Yes.

Ted: This is not about being delusional or putting yourself in harm's way. But we think, for most of us, that can not be our tendency, to remember all the things that we do love about our spouse and stop focusing so much on the things that we don't. And that's where our brain can be playing a game called “confirmation bias.” In other words, you find what you're looking for.

The roughest point in our marriage was a time that my brain was playing confirmation bias, and I didn't know it. We spent our first five years of marriage on the West Coast. We had an incredible church we were working with, great buddies; we were close to the beach. I mean, I loved it there! But when we started talking about having our family, we talked about moving back closer to our folks.

And we decided that—you need to hear me on this point; we decided that—together. [Laughter] I was all in. I had made that decision with her; but when we moved back, we moved to Atlanta area. I didn't know what was going on at the time, but I was just struggling! And I thought it was just where we were. I thought, “I don't like this! I don't like this.” And Nancy loved it! She was close to her mom and her friends, and she can make friends in two seconds. [Laughter] So she was doing great!

I just remember one day, I was outside mowing the lawn, and it was 5,000 degrees. [Laughter] Our lawn in California took me four seconds, you know?

Ann: And it's a dry heat.

Ted: Oh, it's not even heat; it's like heaven! [Laughter] Are you kidding me? It's like a postage stamp size. I pull the cord and go five feet. “Welp, I'm done! Let's go to the beach!” I'm like, “Do we need to own the park, or do we need access to one? This is ridiculous! What is this? Why am I in charge of this big space?!” [Laughter] So, I'm out there mowing, and it's hot! She's inside in the air conditioning, so I'm not bitter at all. [Laughter]

I have this thought, “I wonder, did I really want to move here, or did she talk me into moving here?” Then I thought, “You know what? I think she always gets what she wants.” And then I had this thought—and I say it with zero humor, zero humor. I thought, “I think she's manipulative.” And when you hang that banner over your spouse, or you put that badge on them, you start treating them like they're manipulative. So, you can imagine what my attitude was, going back into the house. Quite frankly, for a season, where I was thinking, “Here I am in a place I don't like, and it's because of her.”

Ann: It's her fault.

Ted: It's her fault. And so, imagine any time she got excited about something, how do you think I responded? Do you think I was, “Oh, I love seeing you happy?” No! Or just anything she would say I would view through that lens. You know, “Call me for dinner,” and that's manipulative. So, if one of those times [comes], it's just so important! What filter are we putting on our spouse? What are you telling yourself about your spouse? Because you're going to live like it's true.

[Studio]

Shelby: Okay, so David and Meg— [Laughter]

Ann: We love this guy.

Meg: That was golden!

Shelby: Alright, I saw you guys making lots of faces at one another, smiling, winking, pointing. What do you have to say to Ted Lowe or in response to Ted Lowe?

David: We're 21 years married. Are we one of those madly in love couples? I don't know. I'm feeling really uncertain right now. [Laughter] But no, I'm kidding.

Meg: I think that he so hit the nail on the head, though. We have been married 21 years and it's like there's this little progression of things. You can start out [and] something's bothering you, and before you know it, you're frustrated. It reminds me, if you've been to a Weekend to Remember® or you've listened to FamilyLife Today long enough, you've probably heard someone say, “Your spouse is not your enemy.” But these kinds of thoughts that get in our head make us start to look at our spouse as the enemy.

For me, one example would be, David—we went through phase in our marriage, early on, where he was coming home later than predicted, on repeat.

David: Or later than communicated, even.

Meg: Yes, like, “Oh, I'll be home at six.” That’s when we had little children, and when 6:00 came, it was like, “I'm turning it off!”

Shelby: Yes; you’re ready to be done.

Meg: “Whoa, where is he?” I was like, “I'd rather you say ‘6:45,’ then say 6:00 and come at 6:15,” you know, whatever. But I quickly began to—you know, it started as, “Oh, he doesn't value time for me.” And then it kind of became, “He doesn't value me. He values work more than me.”

Ann: So, that was the illusion you put over your heart.

Meg: Yes! The illusion was, “He doesn't value me,” which is not reality. We had to have a conversation and talk it out but—

David:conversations. [Laughter]

Meg: Lots and lots of conversations, yes. It was just taking that screen off, not looking at him through that lens of, “He doesn't value me.” Of course, he values me. I just needed—we needed—to talk it out and realize, “Okay, this is not a direct reflection of your love for me.”

David: And I needed to respond to show her how to love her well.

Dave: So, you didn’t throw a baby through the air as he walked in the door like my wife did to me. [Laughter]

Ann: Through the air?

Dave: A six-month-old came through the air—

David: —through the air.

Dave: —because I was late.

Ann: This is an exaggeration.

Dave: And she said, “This is what I've been doing all day!” And all of a sudden—

David: You’re good at football, Dave. She was confident.

Dave: I caught that guy.

Ann: I think every couple experiences this, don't you?

Shelby: Oh yes; I definitely have gone through it. There was a season where I was like upset at Rachel for one thing, and it ended up being more and more and more. I got to a point where someone reminded me of how amazing Rachel is, and then I flashed back to the pastor who actually married me and Rachel. At one point, he was having a conversation at our wedding, and I was behind him, but he couldn't hear me. And he goes, “Yeah, Shelby's great and everything, but with Rachel, he kind of won the lottery.” [Laughter] I was like, “He insulted me and complimented my new wife at the same time.”

But it's just true. It's just true. Everybody knows that Rachel is just a gem in every single way. So, I reminded myself of the fact that, “Yes, Shelby, you did win the lottery. All those little things that you've been kind of angry about, or upset about, those pesky little things, let's just put those to the side and look at her through a new filter.”

Dave: You know, Ted Lowe was honestly one of my favorite guests.

Ann: Me, too.

Dave: Not just because he was bald, [Laughter] but because of what we just heard. He was so honest. And, you know, the fact we get to do this every day, it's just crazy to bring that kind—I know listeners are like, “They're in my family room!” “They're in my kitchen. We've had these same thoughts.”

I just want to say, “Thank you.” You allow us to do this. You pray for us. Many of you give financially and some of you [are saying], “What do you mean give financially?” This is a listener-, donor-supported ministry that doesn't happen unless people like you jump in. So, I'm inviting you. This is year-end time, which means your gift will be doubled. We have donors that are going to match what you give, and you can keep this kind of program coming into your home and into your neighbor's home. So, jump in and become a partner with us right now. It makes a difference.

Shelby: Yes, and you might be wondering, “How can I do that? I want to help make a difference.” Well, you can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com. You can give there, or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329; again, that's 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

Today, we are talking about healthy relationships on FamilyLife Today. We're listening to some clips from the previous year, in 2023 that we deemed as the “best of.”

Dave: The best of FLT.

Shelby: “Best of;” the brightest, the most poignant moments that we had from the past year. You know, our listeners got to enjoy a discussion that Dave and Ann, you had with Mark Jobe, who is the President of Moody, like all of Moody: the radio, and the publishing; all of it! So, he's kind of an important guy.

Dave: Yes, and he’s the pastor of a church.

Shelby: Pastor of a church.

Dave: He’s a busy guy.

Shelby: Also bald, so I know you loved him.

Ann: Author.

Dave: Yes.

Shelby: He and his wife [Dee] were here to give us a hopeful message about what can happen when we decide to break the negative cycles that we inherited from previous generations. Listen to this.

[Recorded Message]

Mark: Everybody has a cycle to break, everybody has a bold step to take, and everybody has a legacy to make. It's about breaking cycles in the past; it's about taking bold steps of obedience; and it’s about creating a new legacy as well. What is it that you’re forging?

For example, I was at a men's Encounter retreat, and we were talking about the influence of fathers and mothers on their children. I said, “Men, the way that your daughters relate to men is largely shaped by you and how you relate to them.” I talked about the power of letting them be secure in the love of a father. One man got up, he was weeping uncontrollably; and I said, “So, what's your bold step?”

He said, “I have three daughters.” He said, “I have never in my life told them that I love them.” He said, “No one told me.” He said, “I came from a very austere father that did not show emotion,” and he said, “I've never told my girls that I love them.” He said, “My bold step,” and he was weeping; he said, “My bold step is to go home, to kneel at their level, to hug them and say—look them in the eyes and say, ‘For the first time, you're going to hear, ‘I love you’.’” He doesn't want to be a bad father, but he has been—

Dave: —he’s continuing a cycle.

Mark: He's continuing a cycle of austerity, a cycle of not knowing how to be a father. I think that, when you break cycles, it doesn't relieve your kids from responsibility. They're still going to have issues to deal with, but I think it makes it less if you're the cycle breaker, and if you're the one that's breaking the cycle. I do believe that just as the sins of the parents fall into the laps of the children, so do the blessings of the parents fall into the laps of the children as well.

Ann: Yes, a thousand generations.

Dee: Yes!

Ann: Yes.

Mark: Exactly! Exactly. And so, we need to keep that in mind as well. You're not just doing it for you, you're also doing it for your children and their children.

[Studio]

Shelby: I'm a girl dad, and this hits home for me in a very personal way. What I want to say to my kids is that I want them to know that the Abbott family is a family that follows Jesus. Now that seems like a pretty typical thing to say when we follow Jesus, but this is not normal for me, and the reason why is because I come from a broken family. My parents were divorced when I was three. My mother had custody of me and my sister, and then we would visit my father for summer visitation rights.

Whenever we were home, the term “the Abbotts,” which was my dad's side of the family, would always be in a negative way. It would be a negative connotation. I'd always hear “the Abbotts,” and growing up, I thought that was a bad thing. So, when I got married, and people were like, “Oh, the Abbotts are coming to this,” “Oh, the Abbotts are here,” I had this internal response. It was like, “This is a bad thing.” I had to literally retrain myself to think, “No, ‘the Abbotts’ is a good thing, because the Abbotts are following Jesus, and I want to pass that along to my children as well;” legacy.

Are there things in your life that you've experienced, from maybe your parents or your grandparents, that was passed along to you, that you've decided definitively, “I want to change this about my family.”

Ann: I'm relating to that, because my parents never did say, “I love you,” or hug us really, in any kind of way. So, to change that was big. If my dad—I'm imagining this dad who had never told his daughters he loved them; had my dad—gotten on his knees, looked me in the face, and said, “Ann, I love you so much,” I can't even imagine what that would feel like.

And so, I have that in me. “I want to be better. I want to change that cycle!” Dave, I'm looking at you, thinking, “You have changed so many things from your past.” Our legacy is different because you're thinking, “I will not let that continue.”

Dave: Our listeners have heard our story many times, but when Mark was saying that in studio, I'm like resonating because, when we got married, it was—in fact, we used to have a little rock, you know, that they put words on. I don’t know where we found it. It said “legacy,” and we put it right by our front door. And every time you look at that, it's like, “We get to change a legacy.”

Some of our listeners were handed a godly legacy, and they get to continue that. That's a blessing! Ours was, “No, it ends here! Alcohol ends here. Adultery ends here. Abuse ends here.” It's like the Wilson name going forward: “God, would you allow us the opportunity to change what that name means?” And thank God, He's done that. Our kids aren't perfect. Well, they sort of are, [Laughter] but they're not. They're not at all. None of—God has done a miracle.

Ann: Shelby, did your dad ever tell you that he loved you?

Shelby: Yes, he was the kind of guy who would say a lot of things, but his actions would not follow it up. He was always verbose with saying, “I love you,” but the way he lived his life would communicate the opposite. So, it’s a different kind of pain—

Ann: —yes—

Shelby: —experiencing that because he cared about me until he didn't. So, around the age of 13, I barely heard from my father when I was growing up through high school, and then I didn't hear from him at all for 25 years or so.

I've told you the story as well. I had had to come to a point where I needed to forgive him, and I held on to bitterness for 30 years. And I finally did, a year and a half ago, write a letter of forgiveness to him. He didn't respond super well, but it was between me and the Lord. I think my dad loved me. I think he did in his own way. He just had a hard time showing it, and so legacy is something that is possible to change when we have the power of the Holy Spirit inside of us.

Ann: Yes.

David: Yes.

Shelby: We think that we don't have the power, but we do.

Meg: Yes, I actually feel like I come from a story of changed legacy, because my mom was really open when I was growing up about—I would sometimes struggle with fear about things, and she would be really honest that she struggled with fear, and that her mom struggled with fear. She's like, “I really want to believe God to change this cycle with our family.” I think just partly because of her honesty and openness about that, and her believing God to stop that legacy with her, really freed me up to believe God for that really from a young age, too. I feel like God really has freed up kind of a line of women in our family who struggled with fear just by her claiming, “We don't have to live under this.”

Just even hearing the different side, it just came to my mind: “Yes, this is real, this happened.” God really changes [our] legacy when we come to him with humility and believing His power to change us and create new legacies and new stories.

David: Yes, Pete Scazzero says, “Jesus may live in your heart, but Grandpa lives in your bones.” [Laughter]

Dave: Very true!

David: Jesus loves coming in and continuing to redeem—

Ann: —yes!

David: —breaking the cycles and making legacies that do make a difference. And whether you're the one breaking the cycle, or you've been handed down one that you get to walk into that blessing and continuing to pass it down, that's what we do. At FamilyLife, our mission is effectively developing godly families who change the world one home at a time. It's home to home, and it's generation after generation. And when you give to FamilyLife, you are giving to changing legacies and changing generation after generation.

And as you know, and you've heard us talking about this month, we've been given the opportunity for a special matching gift challenge where any gift you give this month is matched, dollar for dollar, and doubles the impact of your gift. And you may not know that at FamilyLife, about 40 percent of our annual donations that keep ministry going come in this month. So, whatever is given this month fuels ministry for the whole year and determines the ministry we can do.

I want to invite you and ask you, “Would you please give today to help continue changing legacies and families all over the world?”

Shelby: Yes, we're about healthy relationships here, and that's what we've been talking about today. You might be wondering, “How can I be a part of continuing on a different legacy, pushing Jesus into the future, helping FamilyLife to make that possible at FamilyLife Today?” Well, you can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329; again, that's 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” 

How can a man pray for his family? I know women have a tendency to talk a lot about prayer, but men don't talk about it very much. How can a man pray for his family? Well, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are joined by John Yates to talk about just that and help shape the prayer life of men. That's coming up tomorrow. We hope you'll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a donor-supported production of FamilyLife, a Cru® Ministry.

Helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.

 

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