FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Creating a Healing Environment

with Paul and Sandy Coughlin | January 11, 2008
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How can you make your home a place of rest and healing? Find out by tuning into today's broadcast when Dennis Rainey talks with Paul and Sandy Coughlin, authors of the book Married But Not Engaged, as they share how they stopped "peace faking" and turned it into real "peace making."

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • How can you make your home a place of rest and healing? Find out by tuning into today's broadcast when Dennis Rainey talks with Paul and Sandy Coughlin, authors of the book Married But Not Engaged, as they share how they stopped "peace faking" and turned it into real "peace making."

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

How can you make your home a place of rest and healing?

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Creating a Healing Environment

With Paul and Sandy Coughlin
January 11, 2008
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Paul: The sins of passivity are legion.  The passive lifestyle is absolutely full of sin but, unfortunately, it's not the real noticeable sin, especially at church.  You can be a Christian nice guy, you can show up to church for an hour and a half, two, two and a half hours on a Sunday, maybe on a Wednesday.  No one is ever going to know because you Christian nice guys are very good chameleons.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, January 11th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  If you married a nice guy and found things aren't as nice as you thought they were going to be, stay with us.

Larry: And welcome to FamilyLife Today, I'm your host, Larry the Cucumber.

Bob: Excuse me, Larry.

Larry: Yeah?  Hey, Bob.

Bob: What is going on here?  What are you doing?

Larry: Well, you know, I've always kind of wanted to be a radio host, and I've been on TV for a while, and I love the radio …

Bob: Larry.

Larry: So I'm just looking for, like a new career opportunity.

Bob: Are you married?

Larry: Who – who me?

Bob: Because this is a show about marriage and family.  That's what we're trying to do.

Larry: Oh, marriage and family?

Bob: Don't quit your day job, okay?

Larry: Okay, okay.

Bob: Mike Nuraki [sp] is here with us.  Mike, thank you for stopping in.  This is a big day for you guys.  Your movie, "The Pirates" –

Mike: "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything," that's right.

Bob: It's in theaters all across the country starting today?

Mike: Starting today, yeah.

Bob: And you have – do you have the Johnny Depp or the Orlando Bloom role in this one?

Mike: Oh, more of the Johnny Depp. You know, Larry has that little goatee thing going.

Bob: Tell us about the movie.  What's it about?

Mike: Well, but I should clarify first that the script was written before even the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie came out.

Bob: That's what they all say, that's what they all say.

Larry: So it was our idea first.

Bob: We had it before Disney, yeah, I understand.

Mike: Oh, man, it's a great film.  It's sort of a time travel film.  It's the "Three Amigos" meet "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure."

Bob: Well, we hope the film has great success.

Mike: There you go.

Bob: We hope lots of folks will go see it, and can I take the show back and get things started here?

Mike: Oh, sure, you can go right ahead.

Larry: You can go right ahead and do that.  But, needless to say, they go back in time …

Mike: … and help rescue the prince.  It's a great lesson, and we incorporate a great biblical value about how God calls us into adventure and equips us with what we need to heed that call.

Bob: Cool.  Thanks for stopping by.

Mike: Oh, you're welcome.

Bob: And I'll see if I can get us back on track here.  We're going to talk about what happens in marriage when you marry a really nice guy, and then there are some challenges being married to a really nice guy. 

 Do you think, Dennis, when you and Barbara got married, were you a nice guy?

Dennis: You know, I don't think anybody ever accused me at that age of being a nice guy.


Bob: It just wasn't the adjective that came to mind?

Dennis: I don't think it was, and our guests on today's broadcast will help bring some meaning to your statement, Bob, because our listeners are going, "That was really nice, Bob, to say about your friend Dennis, here, on the broadcast."

 But Paul and Sandy Coughlin join us on FamilyLife Today again.  Paul, Sandy, welcome back.

Sandy: Thanks for having us.

Paul: Thanks for having us.

Dennis: Paul and Sandy have written a book called "Married but not Engaged."  It's all about men being real, being honest and open, it's really the story of their marriage and how Sandy loved Paul out of his shell, and encouraged him to come on out from being a "Christian nice guy" as Bob was talking about.

 Paul speaks to men's groups around the country; has a radio program; has written a number of books, they've written a number of books together, and they have three children and live in Medford, Oregon, and this book really is interesting how it kind of peels back the term "Christian nice guy."

 Explain to our listeners why – now, again, you don't know me well – but why, more than likely, I would not have been known as a Christian nice guy when I first married Barbara.

Paul: Because you are assertive, proactive, you lead.  Christian nice guys don't do those things. You can see it in your countenance and how you hold yourself.  Christian nice guys are all about hiding who they are; they're not about going out there and having an abundant life.  They may want an abundant life, but they really don't know how to get there.

 And, again, this is fake niceness I'm talking about.  Kindness is a virtue.  We need more kindness in the world, and kindness is a word that is synonymous with nice.  This is not real kindness.  It's fake, it's "I'm going to be nice to you not because I necessarily care about you.  I do not want to have conflict with anyone or anything."

Bob: And what you're talking about leads to kind of a crazy place in marriage, and the reason it leads to a crazy place is because when you've got a guy who is thinking, "Well, I'm trying to avoid conflict in our marriage.  I'm trying to keep a peaceful relationship."

Paul: Yeah.

Bob: And a wife is frustrated by that?  Sandy, why would you be frustrated with a guy who is trying to keep things peaceful?  He's trying to be nice.

Sandy: Because I wanted to be known, and I wanted to know Paul more, and so we were not getting the intimacy that we needed in our marriage.  It started out okay, but when you long for that intimacy, and when it was not happening, that's when I started realizing something wasn't right.

Paul: And, Bob, it was actually peace faking, not peacemaking.  Making peace is hard work.  Making peace means that both people put their stuff on the table, and you work it out while still keeping the other person's dignity intact, you still show respect to the other person, but you disagree.

 Conflict can be intimacy in disguise if it is handled properly.  I can tell you from experience not handling it properly is to go passive at those moments of disagreement.

Dennis: You have a quote in your book, I'm going to turn to it here – by Dr. Paul Coleman – "A complaint is an intimate moment in disguise."  An intimate moment in disguise?  What do you mean by that?

Paul: It can be if it's handled with integrity, with – when you don't shame and guilt the other person.  Complaints, legitimate complaints, happen in life, right?  You have two people coming together trying to create this great union of marriage, and when you show yourself in a real way with a real concern, and the other person comes back in a very real way and very real honesty, then that's about the only time you can get together and get to the heart of a matter.  And then after you get to the heart of the matter, you've got closeness that you just didn't have before.

Bob: Sandy, were there times in your relationship with Paul in your marriage when he would be deferring to you, and you would be thinking, "Okay, this is nice that you're deferring to me, but I'd rather have you do what you want or say what you want than to defer to me all the time?"

Sandy: Absolutely.  And that's where I think I didn't respect Paul.  I started respecting Paul later on when he would step up to the plate and handle situations and make decisions and have an opinion and tell me what he was feeling.

Bob: Even if you disagreed and even if you didn't like what he was saying, you respected him more if he'd stand up?

Sandy: Absolutely, even if I didn't agree.

Paul: Bob, I get that comment constantly at conferences – and e-mails.  Wives of Christian nice guys who say, "I would want him to even get angry – I just want him to express some emotion.  I want him to be knowable.  He just won't let me know him."

Bob: I think – we've talked about two things already here that are significant that we really need to make sure guys are hearing.  One is this whole idea that deference is not necessarily kindness or attractive to a woman.

 Now, that doesn't mean that you always say it's got to be my way or the highway, right?  That's an obnoxious jerk.  But the guy who is always saying, you know, what would you like to do, honey?  Where would you like to go?  A guy can be thinking, "Hey, I'm just trying to be a nice guy," and his wife can be going, "No, you say what you want to do, otherwise this isn't really a relationship."

Dennis: Women want to be led.  They want to be led in a direction and …

Bob: They don't always act like they want to be led.

Dennis: No, they don't.  They'll sometimes shake it up, and Barbara goes, "No, I want you to ask me what I want to do."  So it's not going to be a puzzle that you figure out once and for all.

Bob: Which is the other thing that I think we need to help a nice guy understand, and that is that conflict can be healthy, intimate, and important in a relationship.

Dennis: Well, Bob, how about you commenting on this? 

Bob: Well, I think I just have, you know? 


 Just by drawing these – I mean, I recognize …

Dennis: Conflict is – when you and I first starting working together you admitted to me that conflict was something …

Bob: I'm conflict averse, okay?  I mean, who likes conflict – nobody is raising their hand right now and going, "Boy, I love it when we really get into one."  But I would be the kind of guy who would be more deferential and more of a peace faker and I – you know, I'm okay with this.  I can put my own preferences to the side and defer to others.  That seems like a really …

Dennis: Noble, noble thing.

Bob: Spiritual thing.

Paul: And there are times that that is the right thing to do, no doubt.  But an entire marriage based on that – not because you're trying to be thoughtful but because you're being fearful, and when you have that fear, as I did, you have resentment under the surface, and you resent your spouse, and she didn't even know that I would have that resentment because I never made it plain.

 Have you ever watched the deep sea divers on television, and there's a giant squid and they put their hand down, and they go to grab the squid.  What does the squid do just before he touched?  Squirts out ink – defuses the situation where you literally cannot see the squid while it retreats. 

 Well, that's what Christian nice guys do with silence.  And so – and then, also, too, when you hold in that inner truth, those things you're really thinking – "let your yes be a yes and your no be a no," as the Bible says.  When you do that, you don't allow yourself the opportunity to learn how to be tactful in the things that you say.  It takes a long time, particularly in marriage, to learn how to say something without unnecessary pain and suffering.  Speaking the truth without being gracious is like surgery without anesthesia.  Does it get the job done?  Yeah, I suppose it does, but, boy, there's a lot of unnecessary pain that goes along with that. 

 But you don't learn that as a Christian.  Nice guy when you're in hiding.

Dennis: Sandy, what does it feel like, as a wife, to be married to this nice guy who is manipulating you, as an assertive woman – he's manipulating you with his silence, with his non-answers to your questions.

Bob: Did you know that was what he was doing?

Sandy: Yeah, eventually I did, and it's a horrible feeling, but it's really easy to take your words and to start shooting them at him.

Dennis: So you pulled out the bazooka.

Sandy: I pulled out the bazooka of shame, and it would only force Paul deeper into his nice guy ice cave.

Paul: And then the covert contracts – this is what nice guys do – they call them "covert contracts."  I would come home from work and want to get to know my wife, so I would say – what I should say is, "Hey, baby, when the kids are asleep, you know, let's you and I retire into the bedroom."

Dennis: So that's a covert word for having some romance.

Paul: This is Christian radio so I need to be careful here.  But instead of being honest and straightforward, being simple with the request, I would worry that I might get rejected.  Again, and not like I got rejected a lot before, right, but I just had this script in my mind, this over-arching fear of rejection and conflict.

 And so what I would do is I would show her affection when I got home, stroke her beautiful hair, rub her back type of thing, and so that was my way of saying, "I'm going to show you affection now.  Later, you show me affection."

 Well, I would never come out and say that.  That's what we call covert contracts.  I made her sign a contract she never knew she signed.  And so, she, being a normal human being who is not clairvoyant did not know that's what I was doing, and so if she didn't return the favor later on, I would do the great passive/aggressive thing – get very angry or pout. 

 It's a horrible thing, she spoke about being on eggshells previously, it's another example of how the wives of Christian nice guys walk on eggshells.

Bob: Did you have any idea what he was angry or pouting about?

Sandy: No, I didn't.  But because of the silence then …

Bob: He was stroking your hair earlier – you didn't get that?

Sandy: Oh, earlier – well, we had three little kids so who knows what I thought.  I was sleep deprived.


Dennis: So you guys really never talked it out.  There was no discussion of unmet expectations, disappointment.

Sandy: Not until later on in our marriage.

Bob: Okay, Sandy, what does a woman who is married to the pouty, covert, nice guy – what does she do so that this issue can get out in the open other than get out the bazooka and start firing?  Is there anything she can do that will cause this thing to dislodge?

Sandy: Yes.  Well, I think the first thing that's important is to be a mirror of reality in his life, and so I would have to show Paul – and eventually I did – what this was doing to myself but not just me but what it was doing to him.

 And then the other thing is, as we started communicating more, I would need to give him room to make mistakes, because it was so easy for me to correct him all the time, I needed to listen and to sit back and let it work itself out.  And it would – we would move two steps forward, one step back.

Paul: And, men, it is a whole lot easier to get the room to make mistakes when you start doing the soul work necessary to get over the Christian nice guy problem, to get over this fear of conflict, this fear of disagreement with other people.

 There is a reason for that.  God did not put that fear in your heart.  This world, life experience, gave you that fear.  You need to confront that fear because that fear often has with it lies associated with it.  It tells you that you're not valuable in God's eyes, which is not true.  The prophet Jeremiah told me that we are imbued with great value; that other people are out to get you.  That's not true, either.  And that you are worthless.

 Many people have been abused.  Christian nice guys often come from alcoholic backgrounds – the parents are alcoholics.  There is sexual abuse in their background.  Many of them are over-protected, so they have this fearful, anxious mindset.  It is your soulwork, it is your requirement, to do that work.  I believe it is a sin if you don't do that work, because look what it's doing to your family.  Look what it did to our relationship, to our marriage.

 We talked about husbands and wives, what about children?  Christian nice guys aren't available to their children, they're not emotionally viable.  That is a cruel thing to do to a child.  When a child wants to connect with you, it is one of the most flattering things in the world to take place.  And they want to connect with you probably like no one else in this world is going to want to connect with you. 

 When you hold them at arm's length, they don't realize what you're doing to them.  They think that there is something wrong with them.  They think that they are not worthy of love later on in life because father didn't give it to them. 

 So if you don't do it for yourself, do it for your kids.

Dennis: Paul, you speak to men's groups all across the country.  Do you think we have an epidemic of passive men today?

Paul: One study shows that the population, in general, 62 percent have a passive personality.  That number jumps up to a whopping 85 percent in the church.  There is something about church that attracts that passive person.  Passive people are very wounded people.  So it's great that they're going in the church.

 So, yes, it is an epidemic, particularly in the church, and what we need to do to these Christian men is we need to help them learn how to cowboy up.  They need to be shown how to be courageous in life and, unfortunately, many of them get this "gentle Jesus meek and mild."  That is as fictitious as anything you'll find in Dan Brown's "The DaVinci Code."

Dennis: You know, and the reason I ask that question at that time, I was listening to your description of how young men are growing up today wanting that attachment, that engagement with their dad, and I've got daughters who have all gone to college, and they talked about it.

 "Dad, the guys don't initiate.  They're passive.  They're not willing to take the risk.  They're playing it safe." 

Paul: They've not been shown how.  Courage is better caught than taught.  It's great to see it in action, because it takes a lot of the question marks out, and it makes you feel that, "Well, if the most important man in my life did this, then I can do it, too."

Dennis: You know, I think you're right in terms of what men need today.  They don't need to be scolded, they don't need the bazooka of shame like you're talking about from a woman.

 Recently, my friend, Crawford Loritts, who pastors a church in Atlanta gave a message that I'd heard him give before a number of years ago from the first chapter of Joshua where it commands us to fear not but be courageous.

Paul: Joshua and Caleb – a great example of biblical courage.

Dennis: Three time the command is there, and one of Crawford's points that I think is – well, it gives men the courage to step up.  He said, "Courage has a clear assignment from God."  And I believe masculinity is an assignment from God that He gives to men.

Paul: Absolutely.

Dennis: And he calls men to be men, he said that in 1 Corinthians chapter 16, verse 13 and 14 – "Act like men."

Paul: He sure does.  I was interviewed by "Nightline," and the reporter asked me, "Well, what is manliness?"  And I think it is love bolstered by courage.  Greeks had a great word for it.  It's called "thumos."  We don't even really hear that much about it today – courage coming from a different place.  They said it was found in our chests – courage not so much found in our hearts because our hearts will betray us.  Courage is when the head and the heart align, where we have this emotional viability, and our brains, our minds, connect to a truth that is bigger than us. 

 Of course, we find that in the Bible, so when our hearts are alive, and our brains are engaged into biblical matters, and we go out, we are much better able to take a courageous, many approach toward things than if that weren't the case.

Dennis: And you talked earlier on a broadcast about how Jesus really was the ultimate man because He submitted not to the culture, not to other men, but He submitted to the truth of God and to God Himself and as a result courageously depicted what real manhood is really like.

 And I want to thank you guys.  I want to thank you for your work, because I think what you've done here in this book is in a real and – you'll take this in the right way, Paul, I'm convinced – in a sneaky way, you've kind of snuck into some people's marriages and lives and kind of come in through a side door, and you called men and women to step up and to be courageous in their relationships and life.  We really like giving people courage here on the broadcast.  Thanks for being with us.

Paul: Thank you for having us.  Thank you for this opportunity.

Sandy: Thank you.  Thanks for having us here.

Bob: I'm just sitting here thinking about Sunday morning at our FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences when we get the guys alone for about 90 minutes, and we get the ladies in a different part of the conference area or the hotel where we're hosting the conference, and we get a chance to talk straight to the men about what it means to be a godly husband and a godly dad and a leader in the home; what it means to step up, and we also get a chance to talk to the wives about the responsibility a wife has, before God, to support and to respect her husband, to be the kind of wife and mom that God has called her to be.

 I was looking at some comments from some of our conferees just recently, and one of the notes that I saw was from a guy who said, "Sunday morning was significant.  That was that time where it was just the men, and we kind of got to challenge the guys man-to-man."  He said, "That was the difference-maker point in the weekend for me."

 These really are great weekend getaways for couples, and we're going to be hosting them in dozens of cities all around the country this spring.  The reason I'm mentioning it is because our FamilyLife Today listeners have an opportunity this week and next week to register for one of these upcoming conferences and to save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee.

 Now, to do that, you have to register online at or call 1-800-FLTODAY and register over the phone, and you have to identify that you're a FamilyLife Today listener.  So if you're registering online, what that means is you'll come to a keycode box on the registration form, and you just type my name in there.  You just type in "Bob," and we'll know you're FamilyLife Today listener.  You're a friend of Bob, and we'll make this special offer available to you.

 If you call 1-800-FLTODAY to register for a conference, just say "I'm a friend of Bob," or "I'm a FamilyLife Today listener," and, again, we'll make the special offer available to you.  You will save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee for one of our upcoming conferences.  If you need to find out when the conference is coming to a city near where you live so that you can make plans to be at an upcoming conference, go to our website,, for that information or call us, and someone can answer any questions you have.

 1-800-FLTODAY is the number, and the website, again, is  On the website, you'll also find information about the book that Paul and Sandy have written – "Married but not Engaged," and it's a book that husbands and wives need to read together so that both of them can understand what it is about us guys, us nice guys, that we tend to check out and what both of us can do together to try to re-establish some of the oneness in a marriage relationship that we got married for in the first place.

 Again, the book is called "Married but not Engaged."  It's available on our FamilyLife website at, or you can call to receive a copy of the book at 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.

 Well, I hope you have a great weekend.  I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend in church, and I hope you can join us back on Monday.  Author Gary Thomas is going to be with us, and we're going to talk about ways a wife can be a sacred influence on her husband – not change him, I didn't say change him, I said be a godly influence on her husband.  We'll talk about that Monday.  I hope you can be with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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