About the Guest
Choosing us in your marriage is both crucial and complicated. Counselor & author Debra Fileta offers advice to consistently operate as one unit.
Dave: So after 41 years of marriage,—
Dave: —which has been awesome,—
Ann: Okay; yes.
Dave: —what would you say is different about me from maybe the beginning?
Ann: Oh, that’s a good question.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: What would you say is different about me from maybe the beginning? Please be nice.
Ann: I totally will be nice; yes.
Dave: No, say whatever you want to say.
Ann: Okay; you are way more others-centered than self-centered.
Ann: Oh, yes. What did you think I was going to say?
Dave: I had no idea; I just wanted to know what you were thinking.
Ann: Okay, what would you say? That’s kind of scary.
Dave: No; I think we’ve talked about this many times. You are so affirming; you believe in me. I feel so believed in. For anybody, that really matters; but for me, as a man, that is one of the greatest gifts anyone could ever give.
Ann: I feel like that about you too. You—this is our session right now—I feel like you believe in me way more than I believe in myself, and that’s a great place to be.
Dave: I’m laughing because we have sitting, across the table in our studio, a therapist, who is probably analyzing us right now, like, “Oh boy! I can see all their childhood wounds coming out.”
Ann: I’m glad she didn’t see us back in the day, hon. Let’s just say that.
Dave: Yes. We’ve got Debra Fileta with us. She is a therapist, and an author, and a mom of four kids. I mean, your first book was really about dating; right? But—
Debra: Yes, it was a book about dating.
Dave: —True Love Dates—but you’ve moved on to write about marriage. We’re also going to talk about some other stuff in terms of psychology that you wrote.
We want, first of all, to say, “Thanks for being here. It’s great to have you and your husband John in town.”
Debra: I thought, for sure, Ann was going to say the haircut.
Dave: I thought you mentioned something about sarcasm earlier, how it is hurtful. [Laughter]
Debra: I thought I was being just honest, but—
Ann: I would say that was pretty honest, and that is a big change for sure.
Dave: I think it is funny. There was a day when that bothered me; and now, it’s just like, “I love being a bald man.
Debra: “Low maintenance.”
Ann: That’s right.
Dave: “Nothing to do.”
Ann: No shampoo budget.
Dave: None; yes, to shave in the shower.
Debra: Well, you both look great; let me just affirm that.
Ann: You’re so sweet.
Dave: Well, your book, Choosing Marriage—let’s talk about this subtitle.
Dave: We’ve already talked about many things—the walls that we bring in—if you missed our previous conversation, you’ve got to go listen to it. The subtitle is Why It Has to Start with We over Me. I’m guessing that has something/I know I’ve read the book, talking about going from pride to humility or the selfish problem in our marriages.
Dave: Help us out with this.
Debra: Yes; “We is greater than me.” I think that is the formula for a healthy marriage. When you think of marriage—I think, oftentimes, we look at it like a competition; you know?—like, “Who’s doing more around the house?” There can be this competition rather than seeing us as truly one.
Debra: When we are truly one, it’s a we thing. Now, I am beginning to lose myself but in the best way possible.
When John and I met—you guys didn’t hear this story at lunch—I used to go by Debbie. When John and I met, he literally just started calling me Deb, without even asking my permission. It was kind of funny; because at first, it threw me off. I’m like, “I don’t like the word, ‘Deb.’ Debs are serious, and Debbies are fun. Debs are like boring.”
Ann: Yes. [Laughter]
Debra: But he just started calling me Deb, and it stuck. Now 14 years into marriage, you can tell how someone knows me by what they call me. If they call me Debbie, it’s pre-John era.
Debra: My parents, my cousins, my high school friends—if they call me Deb—it’s the post-John era; right? If they call me Debra, it is work-related.
Dave: There you go.
Debra: But I use that story because, in a way, I lost part of myself when I got married. My name shifted—even something as small as that—but in the best of ways; because in marriage, God calls us to lose our self/our selfishness—all of the things He didn’t call us to be—not our personality, and not our hobbies and interests, and our calling—but all of the things that God didn’t intend for us to carry, those sins and struggles. We come to the table of marriage to be sharpened, to be changed, to grow, to mature.
Ann: That is so interesting; because I’m thinking about when I was a young mom, with three boys under five; and I would continually say: “I have no life anymore,” “I have no life anymore.” Then, as my kids got older and I got older, I changed that, like, “That was such a wrong way to see it.” My life did change; everything about it changed, but there was beauty in that change. I saw it as: “Oh, I can’t do this anymore,” and “I don’t have time to do that anymore.” Yet, there is this beauty to that.
I think marriage can be the same way. It is different—it’s no longer me; it is we—and you are saying there is a real beauty in that.
Debra: There is; and it is something that is so unnatural because, as a single person, your whole life is dedicated to self.
Debra: You are thinking about yourself: “What are you going to eat?” “Where are you going to go?” Your schedule, your budget—it is just about you—and all of a sudden, you have to share everything from the remote, to the fridge, to the bed. I mean, someone told me, before I got married, “Invest in a king-sized bed.” I was like, “What kind of marriage advice is that?!” [Laughter] She was right; you know?—everything.
There is so much that you have to learn to overlook with regards to the minors so that you can reserve your energy and power for the majors, the things that really matter. Not everything can be a big issue. I actually think of our—what I would call our bathroom drama when it comes to—let me talk to you a little bit about selfishness when it comes to just something as simple as how we get ready. John’s side of the sink looks pristine—
Ann: Dave’s too!
Debra: —as if we just moved in.
Ann: There is nothing even on the counters.
Debra: Nothing. My side is like a little bit chaotic, but I know where everything is; you know? Then the toilet paper roll—like these little, tiny things that start bugging you—he is the king of leaving one square left on the roll.
Ann: —or when they’ve used the toilet paper, there is just the cardboard.
Debra: —or the cardboard.
Debra: So I’ll go replace it.
Dave: I’ve never done that by the way. Alright; go ahead.
Debra: I’ll replace it; but I’m just like, “I’m not going to put it on.” So I just prop it on there.
Ann: Come on!
Debra: We’re both annoying in different ways.
Debra: I think that’s the stuff that begins to come to the surface.
Dave: I mean, it becomes, really as you’ve written about, and you know a big deal. You don’t foresee how selfish you really are until you get married. So how do we deal with our own selfishness? We want to deal with our spouses, but we really need to deal with our own. How do we move from pride to humility?
Debra: Well, I think it’s important to, first and foremost, recognize our selfishness. When we’re oblivious to it, we have no hope. To really do an assessment between us and the Lord: “God, just open my eyes. What are the areas that I am holding onto self, elevating self?”
Then something else, too, that I really think helps is just changing my mentality and seeing the ways that God has forgiven me and what God has done for me. It kind of begins to change my heart to extend that same grace to my spouse. I do believe it starts with the little things in marriage.
In the surveys I did—I surveyed over 1,000 singles and 1,000 married couples to get some data for this book—it was really interesting because the majority of married couples said it’s not the big things that they feel are destroying their marriage—like addictions and pornography, not that those aren’t an issue—but what is actually affecting their marriage, day in and day out, is these little things—these little lifestyle selfishness-type things—the tension that begins to build.
I mean, think about it: most of these arguments that we have are about these little things. If we don’t learn to extend grace to communicate in a healthy way, if we don’t learn to build those muscles with the little things, when the big things come, we’re not going to be able to handle them. It really does start with learning what it looks like to be selfless in the little things.
But I will add I think a lot of Christians are walking around, believing that they are being selfless, when they are actually being passive. That’s something I think is really important to differentiate.
Ann: Yes, talk about that.
Dave: Talk about that; that’s interesting.
Debra: Passivity is when you’re not communicating your needs. Passivity is when you don’t know how to say, “No”; and you are just doing things out of guilt. Passivity is when you don’t want to rock the boat and cause conflict, so you’d rather just not talk about something. That ends up destroying your marriage, because you cannot be passive and not expect that there is some root of bitterness that starts to take hold of your heart and life.
Maybe, you’re not actively saying it—you’re being quiet, and you’re letting your spouse kind of lead; and you’re not saying what you need—but deep down, the root of bitterness and resentment begins to kind of creep into your heart. You can only be passive for so long until it is going to come out in some conflict, or argument, or rage. Do you know what I mean?
I think we have to really be cautious and say: “Selflessness is thinking of others first, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t communicate what I need. That doesn’t mean I pretend that I’m fine when really I’m not.” That actually ends up causing more damage to the relationship than good.
Ann: I think I did that a lot in our younger years, when we were first married, because I thought: “I’m not going to bring it up, because it’s not that big of a deal,” and “I want to be this good, Christian wife.” So I found myself stewing about things. When I would go back and think about—“What was I thinking about in my head?”—I was constantly complaining about Dave over little things—as you said Debra—like, “He never puts his dishes in the dishwasher,” or “Why isn’t he praying with the kids?” or “Why is he gone again tonight?” But I didn’t say anything; but man, I would keep thinking about it.
Then I would kind of pat myself on the back, like, “I do this, and I do way more than he does.” I think that is typical in a lot of marriages; but then what would happen, because I didn’t say anything, then I would just blow up at one time.
Ann: Dave’s thinking, “What is happening?! Where did this come from?”
Debra: “Where did this come from?”—right.
Ann: Is that kind of typical?
Debra: Absolutely; it’s very typical. If you really get to the root; the question is: “Why am I not communicating what I need?”—maybe, you don’t know how to put it into words; maybe, you don’t think it is serious enough; maybe, you’ve grown up just kind of stuffing your needs or not feeling like they are important—so the question is: “Why?
Debra: “What makes me passive?” Because when you get to the why, you can begin to resolve things. It’s so important to feel that you can share with your spouse what you need.
Ann: Talk to a listener that maybe has done that—they are listening and thinking, “That is exactly what I have done over the years,”—what’s our next step? How do you take that step into that conversation?
Debra: First, it starts with learning to identify your needs. I think sometimes we stuff those needs for so long that it turns into criticism:—
Debra: —“My spouse isn’t helping with the dishes,” “He doesn’t do anything around the house.”
The question is: “What do I need?” The answer: “You know, I’m feeling burned out. I’m feeling exhausted. I need some help. I need support. I need to feel like you’re a teammate.” When you can figure out what you need, it begins to become about you rather than about your spouse. That’s how we want to approach the conversation.
You don’t want to go up and say, “Dave, you’re just so lazy! I do everything around here! You’re not helping.”
Ann: I may have said that over the years.
Debra: Was/were you like, “Were you at that conversation?” But more of: “Dave, I’m feeling burned out,” “I’m feeling exhausted, and it would mean so much to me if…,” because now it is about me. I’m not attacking him. Now, it’s about me and what I need and what I feel versus about him and what he is not doing; because that totally changes the dynamic of the conversation. You can still have a positive conversation and share your needs.
I think sometimes people think that sharing what they need and being honest is always going to lead to conflict.
Debra: But that’s not the truth.
Dave: I think sometimes, maybe, as a Christ-follower, you don’t want to share what you need because it feels selfish: “It’s not about me. It’s about laying down my life for you. I’m not going to bring up my needs because then it’s about me.”
But you’re saying that could be a positive way to actually serve your spouse, by actually saying, “This is what I need”; right?
Ann: Okay, I have to give her this example; and as a therapist, I’m going to ask Deb, like, “Okay, what would you do with this?”
Dave: I have no idea where you are going. This could be scary.
Ann: We’ve shared this before; but when our kids were little, I was having a day that I felt overwhelmed. I was sitting at the kitchen table, crying.
Dave: No, no; don’t tell them this story.
Ann: I just want to see what she would say. I’m crying; and I say to Dave, like, “I am the worst mom. I feel like I’m failing. I can’t keep our lives together.” Our kids were all little. I was super vulnerable; because I was at my wits’ end, and I am crying.
This is what he says: “I’m going to be right back.”
Dave: Okay, this is a really bad illustration of what—okay, I was very young; and didn’t know what I was doing.
Ann: I know; you would never do this today. He goes upstairs; he comes down with a
3 x 5 piece of paper.
Dave: Actually, it was this big.
Ann: Oh, it was.
Dave: It was that big.
Ann: I thought—when I saw it, I thought—
Dave: That’s about an 8 x 10; isn’t it?—7 x 10—6 x 9.
Ann: “He wrote me an encouraging note, encouraging me as a mom and a wife, like, ‘You’re doing a great job, honey.’”
Dave: —that’s what she thought.
Ann: He handed me this paper, and it was numbered 1 to 10. I thought, “He’s like written 10 reasons why I am a good mom.” I said, “Oh, look!”
I put/I held it in my hands. I said—and I read it out loud—“Number 1”—and I look at him like, “You are the sweetest…”—“Get more organized. Number 2”—I’m thinking, “Wait; this has to get better,”—“Use your time more wisely.”
Dave: Okay, that’s enough; you don’t need to keep going.
Ann: I said to him, “What is this?” He goes, “I went upstairs, and I prayed; and this is what God gave me.”
Dave: I said that. I actually said that.
Ann: I said, “Do you think this is from God? This is from Satan.” I took it, and I ripped it up; and I threw it in his face.
Dave: She threw it right in my face.
Ann: So here—here, I’m trying to be vulnerable and not withdraw—so like, as a therapist—
Ann: —in your office, what would you say when your spouse doesn’t respond in the way that you were hoping?
Debra: Here is what I would say if this was a therapy session.
Dave: You wouldn’t say, “You’re married to an idiot!”
Debra: No, I wouldn’t. I would start by saying, “Dave, I’m proud of you that you tried to meet your wife where she was at. That’s a great step in the right direction.
Ann: See, this is why she is such a good therapist.
Dave: I would pay $150 for that.
Debra: “That was ‘A’ for effort; your heart was in the right place. Now, I need you to spend some time listening to Ann to figure out what actually works for her; because what works for you is a list of things we need to change, but that’s not what works for her.”
“Ann, you’ve got to get better at telling Dave, in those moments, what you need; because he can’t read your mind. He’s a completely different person; he doesn’t know what you need in those moments unless you tell him.”
Ann: And that really was our conversation. This was a breaking point for us in terms of it took us to a better place.
Dave: Actually, when she did rip it up, and throw it, and say, “This is from Satan…”
Ann: —you had a great question.
Dave: I said—yes—“What do you need? Help me understand.”
Debra: Ann, here is where you went wrong. You shared your feelings, and you stopped there. So I want you to share your feelings as well as what you need.
Ann: Oh, that’s really good.
Debra: See, there are two parts to it. It’s like, “Here is how I feel,”—well, maybe, he doesn’t know what to do with those feelings—“Do you want me to”—
Ann: —which is typical for us.
Debra: —“pat you on the back?” “Do you want me to jump up and down?” “Do you want me to cry?”
But when you tell me, “This is what I feel, and this is what I need…” then I have a roadmap.
Ann: Now, go one step further; because I’m thinking of all the women I talk to. They’ll say, “I did that. I said, ‘This is what I need.’”
And I did tell Dave, “I need you to sit in it with me”; but—
Dave: And now I do; I sit.
Ann: He does; but I’ve heard some women say, “So, then I told him, ‘This is what I need from you’; but my husband has not done anything since I told him that, and I was super vulnerable.” Then that bitterness has started.
Ann: So how would you counsel them?
Debra: I would look at it as marriage is not a once-and-done conversation. This is a process, and we are being molded and shaped with each conversation. This is a work in progress:
- So we keep sharing what we need.
- We keep giving clues.
- We keep connecting with one another.
- We keep seeing what the other person needs.
- We keep making deposits before we make withdrawals.
- We keep seeing our role, because that’s the only thing we have control over.
Ann: That’s good.
Debra: Then we trust God with what we can’t control, so this isn’t a once-and-done thing. I mean, it takes you so many years to get to this place of dysfunctional interactions. You can’t expect them to go away overnight. It takes years of unlearning and relearning, and learning what the other person needs and having conversations.
There’s even a roadmap called The Speaker-Listener Technique, which you might have heard about before; it’s from the Gottman Institute. I kind of give you a layout of: “What does it look like to even begin to have a conversation about what you need and what you are feeling?” because some people don’t even know where to start.
Dave: Yes, I didn’t.
Debra: So when you begin learning these things, give yourself grace; give your spouse grace. This isn’t an overnight thing. Training for marriage—just like training for a marathon, just like training for medical school—takes a significant amount of time, and energy, and effort, and work. When you begin to do those things, it’s going to start moving in the right direction.
Dave: And as you say, in Choosing Marriage, “It’s choice after choice after choice; and a lot of them are little.” I know for me, when Ann told me that—this was decades ago—here is what happened: I began to understand, “Oh, this is what she needs.” But here is the trick: is when I would be in a situation, and I would know what she needed, I would still feel this selfishness in me, like, “I don’t want to do it.” And that’s where I would be like, “Jesus, change me. I can’t do it. I don’t have the power within me to serve her right now. I know what serving her looks like; she has told me. I don’t want to.”
It’s like that’s where the power of the gospel, I think, meets us and says, “I’ll give you that power right now.” Little choices like that, piled on top of each other, you have a whole different marriage.
Dave: You just start one choice at a time to say, “Jesus, I surrender. Give me the power to be the man/the woman You want me to be”; and then walk into that.
Debra: Amen. Like we talked about in our last conversation: with my God, I can scale any wall. That’s the key—it’s not just the wall; it’s not just me—but it’s with my God. Psalm 18—like, “I can do this with God’s help,”—whatever that wall is: conflict, or bitterness, or resentment, or exhaustion—God can give me what I need to overcome this into a fruitful, positive, beautiful, grace-filled marriage.
Bob: If you are at a point in your marriage, where you find yourself saying, “I can’t do this anymore,” then, according to Debra Fileta, you’re at the exact right spot; because on our own, we can’t do it; but with God’s help, and God’s strength, and the community of believers cheering us on, and the wisdom that comes from God’s Word, there is a way for your marriage to be God-honoring and God-glorifying and for you to find joy in the midst of your relationship.
That’s what Debra has written about in her book, Choosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start with We Is Greater than Me. It’s a book that we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center; great book for you to go through as a couple or to go through together with other couples to work on strengthening your marriage relationship. You can order Debra’s book from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy.
And this subject of oneness/this subject of prioritizing the “we” is something that is at the heart of our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. For more than four decades, couples have been coming together to spend a weekend with us to focus in on God’s design for marriage. This event has had a revolutionary impact in the lives of hundreds of thousands of couples, who would tell you their marriage is different today because they chose to invest a weekend and spend it with us. We want your marriage to be all God wants it to be, and that’s our goal when you attend one of our getaways.
You can find out when a getaway is coming to a city near where you live. Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and click the link for the Weekend to Remember. All of the information you need is available there. If you register for a getaway today, you and your spouse will save 50 percent off the regular registration fee. So a great incentive to plan early, to black out the weekend, and to join us at an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information or to register online. Call if you have any questions: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number; 1-800-358-6329. Make plans now to do something that will pay huge dividends in your marriage. Join us for a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
With that, we have to wrap things up for today. Hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend. I hope you can join us on Monday when we’re going to talk about how important it is for us to be authentic, transparent, not hiding things in our marriage. It’s God’s desire that we be fully-known and fully-loved by one another and by Him. Dave and Ashley Willis will join us to talk about the issue of transparency in marriage. Hope you can be with us for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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