Breaking the Cycle of Fighting
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How can we be outward focused and winsome to our friends and neighbors if we are constantly fighting each other? Guy and Amber Lia speak about how to deal with conflict and reflect Christ’s love to one another.
Breaking the Cycle of Fighting
Bob: In marriage, all of us have ways we can irritate one another. For Guy and Amber Lia, one of the challenges they faced was just the reality that their days were very different days.
Guy: I’d be at work all day long: I’m getting to go step away to the coffee maker and get coffee; I have great meetings in my office; I’m going to lunch with friends. I come home and not understand her world, and the difficulty of taking care of a colicky/you know, acid reflux child.
Amber: —who never slept!
Guy: —who never slept; she never got sleep. I would come home and not have that perspective of understanding what her world was like all day long.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, April 13th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. The Bible tells us we are to “bear one another’s burdens,” or at least, have empathy for one another. We’ll talk today about how we can cultivate that in marriage. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. One of the things we have said, for years, at the FamilyLife®Weekend to Remember marriage getaway—
Dave: I’m wondering which of these things you’re going to pull out right now.
Bob: —I remember one of our co-speakers, our friend Gary Rosberg, was up on the platform one time. He said, “Alright! Let’s just get it out of the way. I’ve got conflict; you’ve got conflict; all God’s children have what?”
Bob: And he just said, “Here’s the principle: conflict is common to every marriage. The goal of marriage is not to be conflict-free—that’s a pie in the sky; it’s never going to happen—it’s two sinful people living together; there’s going to be conflict. The goal is to know how to handle conflict, rightly, when it occurs.”
I remember listening to an episode of Focus on the Family® years ago. Gary Smalley was on; Gary said, “I’m going to tell you”—Gary Smalley talked like this [Bob speaks softly]—“I’m going to tell you the one thing/the one skill, if a couple can get this skill down, it’s the one skill that makes all the difference in marriage.”
I’m listening; I’m going, “I’m co-hosting a marriage and family radio show. I should know what this one skill is, and I don’t know!” [Laughter] I keep listening; and he says, “It’s the ability to resolve conflict. If you know how to resolve conflict,”—he was saying—“that’s going to take care of so many issues.” I thought, “Well, that makes sense. You’re going to have conflict. If you know how to deal with it, you can have oneness in your marriage. If you don’t know how to deal with it, you’re going to be in isolation.”
Dave: Yes; and the marriage guru, John Gottman, says the same thing. You know, he’s really an expert on it. It comes down to—I remember, at our church, we’ve done many marriage conferences and weekend series—but one year, we said, “We’re going to do two days of a marriage conference at our church only on one thing. Every talk will be about one thing: conflict.” Because we all know how to have it; few of us know how to resolve it. We thought, “Okay, that’s going to limit the number of people, who [will] come, because it’s just…” It sold out in like 30 minutes.
Dave: Three thousand people—bam!—and we are there. “Whoa! You just hit something!”
Ann: Our church attendance actually grew.
Dave: —during that series; yes.
Bob: We’ve got Guy and Amber Lia joining us this week on FamilyLife Today. Guys, welcome back.
Amber: Thank you!
Guy: Thank you; it’s nice to be back.
Dave: And I guess they’re here, because they have conflict; is that why? [Laughter]
Amber: Yes, we sure do! [Laughter]
Bob: —like every other marriage in the world.
Bob: Guy and Amber live in Southern California. They’re involved in video production and all kinds of projects in the entertainment industry. Amber’s been here before; she and Wendy Speake wrote a book on Triggers, the way parents get triggered by their kids and how we deal with that.
Now, Guy and Amber have brought that wisdom to bear on the marriage relationship, with a book on Marriage Triggers. You list 31 triggers in this book. Where do you want to start?—which trigger?
Dave: Well, I mean, obviously, you know, you are the authors, and you’re the experts; but you have the external triggers that come from the outside—
Dave: —often other people—and then internal.
But the first one—I’m one of those people who likes to read real books by real people—not that I don’t like experts—but you know, people.
When we wrote our book, the first response from one of our friends was, “Wow! You’re so real. I think our marriage is a lot better than yours.” [Laughter] And when I read your book, I felt the same thing—
Dave: —like, “Wow! They are so real!”
And the first trigger—
Amber: “They’re really messed up, those guests!” [Laughter]
Ann: Yes, and that’s why we loved it!
Dave: Aw, loved it from the start! And I did not expect the first chapter to be where you started.
Dave: I found myself going, “Oh, this is—
Ann: —“This is really real!”
Dave: —“This is universal!’
Dave: I’m guessing almost every couple has thought it. You called the first trigger: “When you married ‘Mr. Wrong’ or ‘Ms. All Wrong.’”
Dave: Amber wrote this chapter, and it’s about your own marriage. Walk us through that one.
Guy: Yes, I’ll let Amber talk to you about the chapter; but I will say this was a surprise post that came out of Amber when she was a blogger—that’s kind of where it started—and I didn’t know she was posting it until after I read it online. [Laughter]
Dave: That would be a trigger!
Amber: There’s a trigger!
Guy: It was a little shocking! It was a little shocking; I got a little sweaty in the first half of the post.
Amber: Yes, it hinted at the content here.
Guy: And then, I understood where it was going.
Guy: And it really, I think, defines our relationship and how we like to share and are okay with our dirty laundry being shown.
Amber: Yes, I wrote that/you know, this chapter is the extended version of that little blog post. I had written that after Guy and I had worked through some pretty big hurdles and triggers in our own marriage. What I realized, when I was wallowing in a lot of my anguish early on—because we were so triggered and had such a difficult marriage for so long—was that I felt, a lot of the time, like, maybe, I had just married the wrong person.
Amber: “Did I make a mistake here?” “Did he make a mistake?” “Did I marry Mr. Wrong?”
And then the Lord began to show me that he had married Ms. All Wrong, and that’s when things began to turn: when I acknowledged my own part in this battle that we were fighting against each other. I want to give hope and encouragement to couples, who are in that place today. You know, they’re listening, and they’re going, “I have felt that.
Amber: “I’ve wondered if I married the wrong person: ‘Is this Mr. Wrong?’ ‘Is this Ms. All Wrong?’”
What I discovered, as I decided to lean into the Lord, and say, “Lord, I can’t change Guy. I have been trying, and trying, and trying; and it has gotten me nowhere except in a place of sorrow and conflict. This is not life to the full that You said you came to give us—‘life to the full’——and we’re not experiencing it; so Lord, start with me! You’ve got to just dial in with me.”
And I realized that nobody was going to be Mr. Right, because we are fallen people.
Amber: We’re sinful, fallen people. You know, he has his unique personality and issues; I have my unique personality and issues. Then, our marriage is going to have its own unique personality, and its own issues.
We needed to come together and work through them together, recognizing that I didn’t marry the wrong person; he didn’t marry the wrong person. The moment we said, “I do,” we became a match made in heaven; because we had made a vow and a commitment. So if you are married, and you’ve made those vows, you are a match made in heaven.
Dave: Yes; and you said/in your book, you said: “Our spouses were never meant to be our Savior—
Amber: That’s right.
Dave: —“or the source of our happiness.” I’m guessing that’s one of the reasons I love the chapter, because our book, Vertical Marriage, it was that thing—it’s like everybody thinks they married the wrong person—but we say, “You’re looking in the wrong place—
Dave: —“because you’re looking to your spouse.”
Dave: And you discovered, “It’s about me changing me and finding it there,” which is a powerful way, I thought, to start the book. You go vertical; you go, “Take your eyes off of each other,”—from the very beginning—“Put them on Him; put them on yourself,”—and then say—‘Let’s go on a journey.’”
Dave: And then, trigger number two—and there’s no way we’re going to go through all thirty-one—but this is a big one for us, and I love it! Based on the research, it’s one of the ones that rises up from your couples is: “The house being a mess.”
Dave: How is that a trigger for people?
Amber: Oh, man! [Laughter]
Guy: Do you remember?—we talked about before, you know, we got married—late on—
Bob: We talked about your clean and tidy apartment; I remember [Laughter]
Amber: Exactly! Exactly!
Guy: Yes; exactly!
Ann: I think that’s abundantly clear.
Guy: So add in the dirty house, coming home from a busy day of work—and my wrong perspective, thinking that my wife should have things nice by the time I get home—and I think really changed/it caused a lot of problems in the beginning.
Amber: With a baby on each hip, and a broom in my mouth, I guess. I don’t know.
Ann: I bet that went over really well! [Laughter]
Guy: Oh, yeah!
Ann: Actually, let’s just all say—every listener can agree—when you have little kids, your house is always messy.
Amber: There’s turmoil; yes.
Ann: There’s just paraphernalia about that is child-centered; you can’t help it.
Bob: Well, my clutter tolerance is higher than my wife’s clutter tolerance. I mean, I can look and go, “I’m comfortable with this.”
Bob: There’s a little table right next to my chair in the den. I’ll sit in that chair; and that table gets piled up with some books, and some papers, and there are some remote controls and some flash drives.
Dave: I think I saw eight remote controls, Bob! [Laughter]
Bob: There’s a bunch of stuff on that table! I know where everything is: it’s in arm’s reach; it’s good. Mary Ann will periodically look at that table and go, “Can we straighten that up?” And I say, “Straighten it up? It will just be messy in a week again.
Ann: Ohh, yes.
Bob: “Why straighten it up?”
Ann: This is/this stuff drives me crazy. I’m a clean person.
Dave: I would have found that table in the trash; that’s what would have happened. She wouldn’t have asked me to clean it up; it would have been removed! [Laughter]
Ann: Amber, you’ll understand how messed up this is. Like, I just thought—you have expectations of yourself, even, when you have little kids—
Ann: —and I think, “I am never going to let my house get messy!”
Amber: Boy, yes!
Ann: So then, I was thinking, “I’m going to teach our son to not be messy.” I gave him this little apron thing, like, “I’m going to clean house, and I’m going to teach him.” He was like two! I put this little squirt bottle in there and a little dusting cloth; I’m patting myself.” [Laughing] Look at Bob’s face!
Bob: You scarred your two-year-old by giving him an apron! [Laughter]
Ann: He liked it! He liked spraying everything all over the place, and he was creating more mess than the help.
Ann: You know what? I totally gave up on that. This child is an amazing man; but I’m telling you—if he came in my house right now, and he walked through it, and I came home later, I could tell he was there; because every cabinet’s open—he doesn’t see any of the mess! And I just think—
Bob: [Laughing] It drives you crazy!
Ann: It does, but it’s who he is!
Bob: So, you’ve got some people, listening right now, that go, “I’m sorry, but this is really a big deal to me.
Bob: “To walk into a messy house is just—I cannot do it! I’ve got to have some help.” And the other spouse is going, “Well, then, have the maid come at 3:30; because there’s no way I can do all of this, and give you your clean house.” How do these couples deal with this thing?
Amber: Yes; practically, it’s a real thing. Guy and I had to, again, have a loving, honest conversation.
Amber: There were things I could have done, practically, to make it a little bit more appealing, aesthetically, for him when he came in the door. Likewise, there were things that he could have done to adjust his expectation and, also, to chip in. We had that conversation: “Alright, practically, what can we do? What’s the biggest problem for you when you come home? I can’t do all ten things, but I can tackle a few of them.”
We had to strategize—you know, the shoes everywhere—okay; I got a basket/put it by the front door to put the shoes in it. We do have to get practical. Maybe we can hire somebody to come and help us with certain things. You know, maybe that investment is worth it if we’re able.
Ann: I think that’s smart. And when I look at people, I think, “What is the deeper issue?”
Ann: For me, that cleanliness—there were some deeper issues of our views of a clean home.
We have a friend, where his wife was just a messy—their house/they had kids in and out all of the time—and her husband had these high expectations. I finally said, “Get a cleaner.
Ann: “Like just get someone to come to the house. You have the money! Just hire somebody!” He said, “No! I’m teaching her a lesson.” [Groans] Doesn’t that make you think, “Uh-oh!”?
Guy: Yes; right!
Amber: Yes, that’s tricky.
Guy: I think there’s a shift in perspective that I needed to make, though, too. I would leave for work—you know, from 8:30 in the morning, I’d be at work all day long—I’m getting to go step away to the coffee maker and get coffee; I have great meetings in my office; I’m going to lunch with friends.
I would come home and not understand what her world was like—
Dave: Right; right.
Guy: —and the difficulty of taking care of a colicky/acid reflux child.
Amber: —who never slept!
Guy: —who never slept; she never got sleep.
Guy: I actually didn’t get sleep, because we kind of co-dealt with those issues at nighttime. But I would come home and not have that perspective of understanding what her world was like all day long.
Bob: Well, I’m guessing, at your office, there was a cleaning crew that came in—
Guy: Oh, yes!
Bob: —and cleaned it regularly—
Amber: Right! Exactly, yes!
Guy: —every night!
Bob: And you never saw them, but you just expected, “This is how the world should be.
Bob: “Things should be cleaned up overnight while I’m sleeping”; right?
Ann: Amber’s barely hanging on.
Amber: Yes; and ultimately, we came to a place, spiritually, where we had to recognize that Jesus’ model for us—He came to serve; right? He came to serve; He didn’t come to gain His own glory or His own ambition; He came to serve.
Bob: Right; right.
Amber: Guy and I had to put on this attitude of: “We need to serve one another, just like Jesus did.” Jesus served to the point of death on the cross for our sin; so is there some way that I can get over myself, and think about, “How can I serve Guy?” Because if we say we love our spouse—but we’re not really willing to serve them—then our definition of love is not biblical.
Bob: We talked about, if you’re going to have these kinds of conversations as a couple, you need to come spiritually prepared: humble, ready to deal with your own stuff.
I think the other thing that’s so critical here is: you guys came with an understanding: “You’re not my enemy.
Bob: “We’ve got an issue; we can put the issue on the table. We can talk together about how to resolve this issue, without it being ‘Well, it’s your fault!’ ‘No; it’s your fault!’
Bob: “No; let’s figure out: ‘What’s the issue?’ and ‘What’s the best way to get there?’ and ‘We’re probably both going to have to adjust a little bit to get there.’”
Amber: Yes; the thing is, Bob, we loved the Lord. You may not have been able to tell that some days in our home; [Laughter] but we love the Lord! And we knew that we wanted to be an example of Him; we wanted to be a testimony of Him to our children under our own roof.
Amber: If we are constantly fighting each other, we are powerless to fight the better fight—
Bob: That’s right.
Amber: —the bigger fight.
Ann: That’s so good.
Amber: “How can we be an impact in our neighborhood, in our own home, in our world, if we can’t even get our act together?” It was sobering when we realized that we were spending so much energy fighting each other, we didn’t have any energy to fight the better fight that God called us to—
Amber: —to be a light!
Dave: And even this chapter, as simple as it is, here’s what you said: “Instead of huffing and puffing as you walk into the room and see the clutter, jump in, with an attitude willing to serve.”
Guy: One of the practical things that I would do is— on my way home from work—I would call Amber and check in, and say, “How was the day? What’s going on?”
Ann: Ooh, that’s smart!
Guy: My underlying thought was, “What am I walking into?” [Laughter]
Bob: That’s right! A little recon here!
Guy: I could park out in the driveway. I could give myself 30 minutes, and I could have a perspective shift: “Okay; I’ve had a busy day, but I know my wife has, too. I’m going to walk through that door, and I’m going to be purposeful about caring for her for a few minutes, seeing what needs to be done. I’ll jump in; do it, and then my needs will get met in a little bit.”
Amber: If both came to each other and said, “What can I do for you right now?”—
Amber: —just as simple as that.
Amber: You know, if both of us met each other at the door and said, “What can I do for you right now?”—you know, “Jinx! You’re it!”; you know—[Laughter]—it’s an attitude shift that we have to make.
Amber: But it’s hard to know how to implement that attitude shift in the day-to-day moment.
Dave: I’ve seen a definition of leadership being that. A great leader walks up to the people he or she is leading, every day, and says, “How can I help you?”
Dave: And that’s what you’re saying.
Guy: Absolutely; absolutely.
Bob: Well, let me ask you about another trigger. Ann, it’s one I’ve heard you mention as you talk with wives. They’re often triggered by the passivity of their husband, especially in spiritual matters:—
Bob: —“Why doesn’t he do this?” “Why doesn’t he read the Bible to the kids?” “Why doesn’t he lead us in prayer?”—“Blah, blah, blah.”
Dave: You’ve heard Ann talk about that? [Laughter] I don’t know why she would ever!
Bob: I’ve heard her say that as she talks to wives.
Dave: Yes, there you go! Good save.
Bob: This is an issue that emerges often. Amber, you address this in the book.
Amber: Yes; this was a big one for me. I’ll tell you—of all the triggers—I think this one was the biggest disappointment for me, early on. I felt like we were going to be that family, where my husband set me up behind a white picket fence, and he went to work. All I ever wanted to do was—I had a ten-year teaching career; I loved it!—but when I had my first son, I was ready to come home. The Lord has, obviously, gotten me real involved in all kinds of other things since then. He often adjusts our expectations; His ways are higher than ours, and that’s a good thing.
But with Guy, I just recognized that, in spiritual leadership, he was not meeting my expectation there either. I thought, “He’s going to come home for dinner, and he’s going to have a Bible lesson ready. He’s going to ask me what my prayer requests are, and he’s going to follow up. He might even have a praise report to offer me.”
Ann: Amber, we are twins! [Laughter] This is exactly what I thought, and I think a lot of women do.
Amber: We do. I discovered that, in talking with other families, that this was a need that a lot of women had/their expectation.
Bob: Okay; I’ve just got to stop right here! [Laughter] Does that man exist somewhere in the world?
Amber: There are a couple of them.
Bob: Are there?!
Ann: I always thought Dennis Rainey was that kind of guy. [Laughter]
Amber: It might be Dennis Rainey.
Bob: I worked with him; Dennis Rainey’s not that guy! [Laughter]
Dave: Thank you, Bob! Finally!
Bob: I’m telling you, he’s not that guy.
Amber: And I called this a church-ical thing, and not a biblical one.
Amber: Church-ical is a word that I kind of made up; because I thought, “This is something that, in the church, we think is a thing or it’s a verse; and it’s not.” It’s just a church-ical idea—
Amber: —that has really become a yoke of slavery on a lot of men, in particular, I think; and then, on women, in their expectations. What I began to do was to be on the lookout to recognize that Guy’s walk is different from mine; so “Why am I putting him in a box of what I think that spiritual leadership should look like?”
He was far better at connecting with our boys in different ways, spiritually, than I was. My strength was memorizing Bible verses; my strength was doing Bible study. I got to a place, where I let go my pressure of Guy to be the Bible study leader. I let him organically breathe life into our children, spiritually, in his unique way.
I was comfortable with: “Okay; if we’re going to memorize verses together, that’s going to be my role; so I’m going to do that. It’s my strength; I’m going to do the memorization songs and all of those things with our kids, and that’s okay.” Instead of being bitter about it, I got to a place, where I embraced my spiritual strengths; and I appreciated Guy’s spiritual strengths, which were different. It didn’t mean they were wrong.
Ann: It’s like putting on a lens of seeing their strengths instead of your expectations of what you thought it would look like.
I remember when one of our sons—he was probably 15—and he was listening to this CD. I’m priding myself/like: I’m so strong spiritually,” and “I’m doing such a good job with our kids spiritually.” I see this CD that our son was looking at. I’m a verbal processor; so I look at it and say, “Are you kidding me? This is from Satan himself!—wrote these lyrics.” [Laughter]
I take it out of the CD player, and I throw it in the trash. I’m like, “That’s where that belongs.” Then I watch/Dave came over, pulls it out of the trash can. I’m thinking, “What are you doing?!” He goes/sits down beside CJ; and he says, “CJ, tell me about this music that you like. Tell me all about it.”
Here, I was thinking I was all righteous, and this was the way to do it. I’m thinking, “Oh, he’s so much smarter than me!”
Dave: Did I just get a compliment? [Laughter]
Amber: You got a compliment!
Dave: I don’t think I got it that day.
Ann: No! It’s because I was prideful.
Guy: One day, I got a text message from her—
Guy: —because she had read an article from—
Amber: Well, I had read an article; and it just got me started thinking about this process of valuing your spouse and their unique qualities,—
Amber: —which I hadn’t really been doing.
Guy: I get this text from her, saying, “I value you as a spiritual leader in our family, and I know it’s different than what I would like; but I really value what you bring to our kids.” It was just a freeing of my spirit, and she saw me.
Amber: For me, too/for me, too; because I no longer had this monkey on my back,—
Amber: —where I was like wanting him to change and be this different thing.
Amber: Finally, I could just relax into enjoying and appreciating who he was and his walk.
Bob: Here’s what’s so important about both of these issues we’ve talked about: because we’ve talked about messy houses; we’ve talked about passive spiritual leadership. What’s important is to pull back and to go: “What’s going on inside of me?”
Bob: “Why do I have these expectations?” and “I feel like my expectations are legitimate, but are they really? I mean, how legitimate are they really?” and “Are there adjustments I need to make?”
Bob: Whatever it is that’s triggering you, to have that perspective that says, “I may not be right here. I may have issues in my own life that need to be dealt with. Let’s come together; we’re not the enemy of one another. Let’s figure out how we can make the adjustments we need to make, and live at peace with one another, and help one another in the midst of this.”
That’s at the heart of your book, Marriage Triggers, coaching us, as couples, to know how to respond when we are provoked; because we’re all going to be provoked. We’re making the book available this week to FamilyLife Today listeners. Those of you who are regular listeners, if you can help with a donation this week to support the ongoing work of this ministry—to help continue this radio program on your local radio station or as a podcast—however you’re listening/however you receive it—you make this program possible for yourself and others every time you make a donation.
And if you can make a donation today, we’d love to send you Guy and Amber Lia’s book, Marriage Triggers: Exchanging Spouses’ Angry Responses for Gentle Biblical Responses. That’s what we want; right? We want to respond biblically; we want to respond gently and kindly to one another, so how do we cultivate that in our marriage? We’ll send you a copy of Guy and Amber’s book, Marriage Triggers, when you make a donation today to support FamilyLife Today.
Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation and request your copy of the book. And keep in mind, your donations are really helping to build the marriages and families of so many people all around the world. Hundreds of thousands of people, every day, who are receiving practical biblical help and hope, thanks to your donations. You’re really investing in the lives and marriages of others every time you make a donation; thanks for your support of this ministry.
A quick reminder: if you are in a blended marriage, or you know somebody in a stepfamily, a week from Saturday is our Blended & Blessed one-day virtual event. You can still sign up to take part in this event, either as a couple, or if you want to get a group together and go through the material together. All of the details are available on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. The Blended & Blessed one-day event, Saturday, April 24th. All of the information, again, is available online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Sign up and join us for Blended & Blessed.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue to look at those things that can provoke us to irritation or anger in marriage. What do we do if we just feel like our spouse is not loving us the way we ought to be loved? We’ll talk about that and other marriage triggers with Guy and Amber Lia, again, tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with help today from Bruce Goff and, of course, our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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