Habits of Joy

with Chris Coursey, Marcus Warner | January 14, 2020

Dr. Marcus Warner and Reverend Chris Coursey, authors of the book "The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled Marriages," reveal four habits that, if practiced, will make your marriage happier. Find out more about the habits of playing together, appreciating one another, listening for emotion, and nurturing a rhythm.

Show Notes and Resources

Dr. Marcus Warner and Reverend Chris Coursey, authors of the book "The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled Marriages," reveal four habits that, if practiced, will make your marriage happier. Find out more about the habits of playing together, appreciating one another, listening for emotion, and nurturing a rhythm.

Show Notes and Resources

Habits of Joy

With Chris Coursey, Marcus Warner
January 14, 2020
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: We’ve all had the experience of our marital communication breaking down at some point. Chris Coursey says one of the reasons why is because there are times when we try to provide the other person comfort without providing, first, validation.

Chris: Validation is: You say what you see: “Wow. You are really overwhelmed right now. I can see it; I can hear it.” And then comfort is: What do we need when this happens?/What would be helpful right now?—“Let’s go for a walk,” or “Let’s get a sitter, because we’re going out tonight.”

Validation basically sets the stage for comfort. If I offer the comfort without the validation, then I’m going to minimize; I’m trying to fix it.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for January 14th, 2020. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. There are ways we can improve our communication and, by doing so, improve the level of joy in our marriage. We’re going to talk about that today with Marcus Warner and Chris Coursey. Stay with us.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I remember back a number of months ago—actually, it was Labor Day. We had the day off and didn’t have anything planned. I had promised Mary Ann that we would do two things that day. The first thing was we were going to get the front hedges trimmed up. It was hot; I did not want to trim the hedges on the hot day. But we went out there together; we trimmed up the hedges. The second thing was there is a little room in our garage that is kind of the junk room. She wanted that—pull everything out, clean it out, reassemble.

Ann: Mary Ann is my girl; I’m with her.

Dave: Bob, this is Labor Day; you’re supposed to rest.

Bob: That’s what I was thinking; right? [Laughter] I was thinking: “Have Ann Wilson come do this with you. The two of you would do great at this. Dave and I could stay inside and watch something on TV”; but I did that with her.

Dave: Yes.

Bob: About halfway through this cleaning out the room, I just realized: “This is like my wife’s best day ever”; right? I’m/I just want to take a shower. She’s like: “This is wonderful just that we’re able to get this stuff done. Doesn’t it make you feel good?” I said, “No; it makes me feel sweaty is what it makes me feel.” 

It is fascinating how those kinds of times together can start to open up things relationally. We were working—it’s not like we went out and had fun; it’s not  like we went out and had a date together—we just did a chore together. All of a sudden, she’s—I could see the joy increase in her.

Dave: I am married to the same woman; my wife loves that stuff. [Laughter]

Ann: I love working. If all the kids are out in the yard, and we’re all working, I look at everybody, like, “Is this not the best day?” They’re all miserable; they’re hating it! [Laughter] But for me—that fills me up.

I will say for Dave—when we go play something—some sports or whatever—he is like a little boy; he’s ten years old. We’ll laugh; we’ll compete. I think what happens in marriage is we miss those times.

Bob: Yes; we’re talking about how to get those times back this week as we talk about the habits that lead to a joy-filled marriage. We’ve got Marcus Warner and Chris Coursey joining us this week talking about this. Guys, welcome back.

Chris: It’s good to be back.

Marcus: Thank you. Good to be here.

Bob: Marcus is a conference speaker and author, who has, for more than 30 years, worked with organizations on leadership issues, family issues, recovery issues. He is President of Deeper Walk International. Chris leads THRIVEtoday, a non-profit that, again, works with leaders and works on relationship issues. They’ve worked together to create this book, The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled Marriages: How 15 Minutes a Day Will Help You Stay in Love.

In reading this, and even talking about doing the chores together, I’m thinking about how, at our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways, when couples carve out time to say, “Let’s be together and do things together,”—even if one of them goes, “That would not be my favorite way to spend a weekend or a day,”—there’s something that happens when you start doing stuff together that starts to open you up. We see that happen at the Weekend to Remember.


Dave: Yes; I mean, bottom line is you’re pouring energy into what you would probably/we would all say is the most important relationship in our life. So often, other relationships get all the energy, and this doesn’t; so you pull away for about 48 hours. You say, “I’m going to give energy.” You said it, Bob, we’ve been a part of this 30 years. Every single time, we see God show up and just literally change people’s marriages.

Bob: We’re going to be in dozens of cities with the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway this spring. If you sign up today, you and your spouse will save 50 percent off the regular registration fee. This is part of what we do early in the season to encourage you to set aside a weekend and block off that territory/put it on your calendar. You register and save 50 percent off the regular registration fee.

Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for information or to register online; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, and you can get registered over the phone. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and plan to join us at a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.

Dave: I was thinking, “You know, when I hear ‘50 percent off,’ you know what that does?

Bob: That brings joy; doesn’t it?

Dave: “That brings joy!” [Laughter] That’s what I thought! That’s joy for me.

I do find it interesting—on the back of your book, it says, “What separates happy marriages from miserable ones? Surprisingly, it’s not healthy communication; it’s not conflict resolution skills. It’s actually how often you experience joy.” Let’s talk about that, because you say there’s four habits to finding joy in your marriage. Let’s talk about the four habits—what are they?

Marcus: To make it easy to remember, we used the word, “PLAN.” You need to have a plan to grow the joy in your marriage.

Dave: I like this guy. I like how he thinks: “P-L-A-N.”

Marcus: “P-L-A-N.” Habit number one: “’P’ is Play Together”; right? You stop and think about who your friends are, growing up. They are people you like playing with. When you first get married, you’re convinced: “I’m going to feel joy with this person forever because I love doing things with them. I love talking to them. We have so much joy together.”

Playing together: and making sure that stays on your schedule, that it stays a priority, that you’re finding areas to grow the areas in which you can play together. For example, I know a couple—he was into NASCAR; she was into HGTV—they made an agreement. He would start watching one HGTV show that his wife liked so they would have that in common; they would expand the area where they could share some joy. She went out and bought The Complete Idiot’s Guide to NASCAR. [Laughter]

Dave: Did she really?

Marcus: Yes; she did. They bought tickets to a NASCAR event and went together. She came back with great joy in the fact that she knew more about NASCAR than most people she was sitting with because she had read this book. Again, this is an example of growing the areas where you can play together.

Bob: I have to tell you—we have a mutual friend, Tim Kimmel, and his wife Darcy—I’ve never forgotten them saying this—they said: “When we were dating,”—Tim said—“one of the things that really attracted me about Darcy is she loved Monday Night Football. We would get together and watch Monday Night Football. She was so into the game.”

Darcy said, “One of the things that attracted me about Tim is, when I was cutting out dress patterns, he would help me cut out the dress patterns. When we got married, my interest in Monday Night Football went completely away; his interest in helping with the dress patterns…”

Why is it that, when we’re dating, we have all this energy for this; and after we’re married, all of this joy together stuff just evaporates?!

Ann: Yes; we stopped playing together.

Chris: Part of the reason is dopamine, actually. Dopamine is—when I do something new—your brain has a novelty detector; so when you’re doing something new and somebody joins you in that, it feels good; and you want to do that. But over time, you don’t get the same feeling when you do this; so maybe you shift interests or hobbies to other things.

The nice thing about relational joy is, no matter what it might be that you’re doing, the goal is: “Are we glad to be together while we’re doing it?” For play, for example, the brain is actually wired for play; and play is often a reflection of the joy in our marriage. Marriages with a lot of joy—you’ll find that they’re playful, and they’re playing, and they’re regularly doing things.

As those joy levels start to drop—because it’s easy to start joy; it’s harder to sustain joy over the long haul. When that joy starts to fade, you’ll notice couples kind of get into a rut. Learning something new, as a couple, would actually be really beneficial. My wife, for example, is wanting to go swing dancing; and I am not a dancer whatsoever.

Marcus: That’s true; I’ve seen him. [Laughter]

Chris: It’s not pretty; but it’s something new, and it’s something we can do together. We’re going to do it just because: “Hey, play’s good. You laugh; you smile; you have some fun, and you’re doing it together,”—those are the ingredients you want.

Dave: It sounds like play needs to be intentional. The examples you’re using—people said, “We are intentionally going to create space to play”; and that brings joy.

Ann: What we have found—we’ll talk to couples, who are struggling, and I’ll ask this question: “What are you guys doing to play, or to have fun, or to laugh together?” “Nothing.”

Chris: Right.

Ann: They don’t even know how to do that again. You’re saying—as what you said, Dave—we need to make it to be an intentional part of our relationships.

Dave: When I read this section of your book, I thought, “One of the reasons our marriage is healthy is I’m married to a woman who wants to play—a lot.” It got to the point, when our boys were little, I’d get into the shower—and almost every other shower—an ice bucket douse of water would come flying over the top of the shower—

Bob: —from your wife?!

Dave: —from my wife and my little boys, running out of the bathroom. I’d be standing there—just boooosh! There was play.

Again, reading what you said about the brain—I never had any understanding. Right now, the joy bucket/the joy center of my brain is actually still growing. That’s a beautiful thing; I had no idea of the brain science behind it.

Ann: Yes; talk about that.

Marcus: You definitely want your wife and husband to be your play friends as well as just your business partner. In terms of the brain behind the joy—there is on the front of your brain, something called the right orbital pre-frontal cortex, which we call the joy bucket.

Dave: I like joy bucket better. [Laughter] That’s easier.

Marcus: The joy bucket, basically, is the part of your brain that grows with the experience of joy and rest. You maybe have seen a baby in a grocery store—and the baby locks eyes with you and gets really excited?—and you share joy? The baby gets so excited that they finally just turn away. Then, in a couple of seconds later, they look back and their seeing: “Are you still there? Will you do this again?”

What’s happened was, basically, their joy bucket got full; they couldn’t handle any more joy. It would actually almost become traumatizing to them, at that point, to have more joy; so they had to look away—that’s the rest time. Just like when you lift weights, you’re not actually growing your muscles while you’re lifting the weights. You’re growing your muscles in the rest time in between. You’re actually damaging your muscles while you lift; then they recover.

In the same way, we need joy and rest—that combination/that rhythm—that grows the joy bucket in your brain. The bigger that bucket gets, the easier it is for us to return to joy from upsetting things and the more natural it is for us to live out of a place of joy rather than fear.

Chris: You can see God’s signature in how this works: because so much of the brain works on a “Use it or lose it” cycle. You either use it over time; or the brain says, “Hey, we can get rid of that.”

There are seasons—certain things grow during this window of time—but it won’t grow later. However, with this joy bucket that Marcus is talking about, it has something called fetal biochemistry, which means it can grow over the lifetime. It grows in response to joy-filled relationships and joyful moments. So every time that baby looks and sees the smile on someone’s face, this is the part of the brain that’s working out and getting stronger and stronger.

We had my 96-year-old grandmother living with us. We would do a version of these exercises every night at the dinner table. It was amazing to watch my young sons building joy; but then, over here, my grandmother, who’s in her 90s, building joy. Her joy bucket is still getting a workout as long as there’s relational, authentic “glad to be togetherness.”

It’s not happiness. It’s not like we’re forcing it: “We’re faking it ‘til we make it,”—oh, no. This is, “I’m genuinely glad to be with you, and I’m glad that we’re together right here.”

Bob: So, playing together is key to joy.

Dave: That’s the “P,” Bob. [Laughter]

Bob: What’s the—what’s the “L” in the PLAN.

Marcus: Alright; “L” is Listening for Emotion. This is based off the idea that our left brain and right brain operate differently. Left brain tends to listen for problems; right brain tends to listen for emotions. If you think about it—a lot of times, when we’re listening to somebody—if we’re listening in a left-brain fashion, as soon as I hear the problem, I lose all curiosity about where the rest of this is going. My switch shuts down; I become non-relational. Now, at this point, all I want to do is talk about your problem; solve your problem. I largely want to solve your problem so that you’ll go away. It’s really sort of a selfish motivation to solve your problem, because I don’t want to deal with this any longer than I have to.

Whereas, when I’m listening for emotion, what I’m doing is—I’m listening to: “How is this affecting you? Is this making you sad? Is this making you feel overwhelmed/in despair? Is this making you feel joyful and excited?”—“What’s the emotion?” 

I find that, if I’m listening for emotion and I can validate the emotion, I don’t lose my problem-solving capabilities; right? If I’m listening for emotion, I will always be able to come back and do the problem solving. But it doesn’t work the other way around. If I’m listening for the problems only, and I’m doing the problem solving first, I will never get to the emotion.

“We want to listen for the emotion first,” is the skill that’s involved here.

Dave: I think a lot of us don’t understand how to do that. We do exactly what you said; I’ve done that. I tell you what—when I read your example of the couple, before they got married, about him wanting to build a house—tell that story, because that helped me understand, “That’s what it means to listen for emotion.”

Marcus: Yes; we had a pre-marital counseling appointment. The couple that was there for counseling—I asked them, “Do you have anything that you argue about?” They both looked at each other, like, “Yes, we know what that is.” I said, “Why don’t you do it in front of me while you’ve got a third party present?”

They started arguing over whether or not they should build a house before they got married or wait until after they were married to build the house. This guy was an engineer. He literally pulled a piece of paper out of his back pocket with seven bullet-pointed reasons why it made more sense to build the house before they got married. [Laughter]

I said: “Alright; I’ve had enough fun here. We’ll take a time out. Why don’t we do this?”—I’m going to give the guy the assignment—“You listen to your [fiancée] explain this to you. All I want you to do is listen for the emotion, and name it accurately.” She goes into this explanation, “Well, you know, I’m just concerned that, if you’re building a house, we’re going to get to one of the biggest days in my life, and I’ll find myself going through…” She was kind of all over the place; you’d had to listen for it a little bit.

I got done; I’m thinking in the back of my mind, “Fear; she’s clearly afraid.” I said, “What emotion did you hear?” He goes, “Anger.” I’m like, “Whoa!” I mean, it so caught me off guard. It was so obvious she was feeling fear. I’m like/I told him, “You are either very intuitive or a really bad listener.” [Laughter] He said, “I think I’m really intuitive.”

I was like, “Okay; where did you hear anger?” He said, “She knows she’s losing this argument,”—which tells me something—because when my right brain is shut down and I’m totally in my left brain, not only am I in a problem-solving mode, but I’m also/life is all about winning and losing. That is a clear sign that my right brain is shut down, and I’m totally in my left brain.

I’m like: “Okay; let’s try this again. Only this time, you tell her what emotions she thinks she’s feeling.” To his credit, he hit a home run; he did it perfectly—so well that she started crying—like: “I feel seen. I feel understood. I feel recognized.” She goes, “Go ahead and build the house.” I went, “Time out; he doesn’t get off that easy.” [Laughter]

He was convinced that he had only logical, rational reasons for wanting to doing this. There was nothing emotional about it until she started asking questions, pulling it out of him. He began to realize what he really wanted was to make his dad proud. Once he put his finger on that emotion, now they’re both crying; right?

I asked them, and they ended up actually waiting until after the marriage to build the house. They got to a point where they had to keep the relationship bigger than the problem. One of the ways you keep the relationship bigger than the problem is by listening for the emotion and validating that emotion first.

Chris: That way you feel seen/you feel understood—like, “I feel like he gets me,” “I feel like she understands me now.” That’s the ingredient right there—that if I don’t feel understood by you, or you minimize, or you try to fix it—we’re not even in the same boat. This isn’t going to feel very good, going forward.

Bob: This has been talked about for years—that guys are always trying to fix things; we’re the logical ones. Wives are like [sounding tearful]: “I don’t want you to fix it. I just want you to hear me.” Is there something about men and women that men tend to gravitate toward this?

Ann: Let me give an example of this. [Laughter]

Dave: No, don’t! Don’t! Don’t! I know what she’s going to say.

Ann: At this time, we had three boys under five. Dave came in one day, and I’m crying. He goes, “What happened?” I said: “I feel like a bad mom. I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. I feel like my life is out of control. I feel like I don’t have a life. I think I’m terrible at this.” He’s listening, and he goes upstairs.

Dave: I said, “I’ll be right back.”

Ann: He comes down with a piece of paper. I’m thinking: “He wrote me a love note. He’s going to encourage me.” I take it out of his hand; he said, “Here.” It’s numbered one to ten. I thought, “Okay; it’s ten reasons why I’m a good mom.” I read it out loud.

I say, “Oh, hon! ‘Number one: get more organized.’” “Wait”—I’m thinking—“Oh, well, I must be reading this wrong.” “’Number two: use your time more wisely.’”

Dave: Okay; you get the idea.

Ann: I take it; I say, “What is this?!”

Dave: Watch this.

Ann: He said, “I’m helping you.” I said, “Do you think this is helping me?” I took it and I ripped it up into little pieces, and I threw it in his face. Then tell them what you said.

Dave: I said, “That was from God,”—I really said that—“That was from God; because I went upstairs, and I prayed. I felt like God gave me ten ways to make your life better” type deal. She threw it. That was the day—we can mark it—where she said, “That’s not what I’m looking for.” What Bob said—I thought she really did want me to fix it. I’m not saying I’m great at listening for emotion; but I started to learn, early in my marriage—it’s like, “It’s bigger than this.”

I never did this, though—I never connected what you guys have just brought to this thing: “If I do listen, and she feels heard, joy comes. That’s a motivator that can change your marriage.”

Chris: That’s it. What you had in that story—you had good intentions, but the attunement was missing. The attunement is listening for emotions, going: “Wow; I hear you’re really overwhelmed. This seems awful.” Marcus and I call it “Validation and comfort.” Validation is: You say what you see: “Wow. You are really overwhelmed right now. I can see it; I can hear it.” And then comfort is: “What do we need when this happens?/what would be helpful right now?”—“Let’s go for a walk,” or “Let’s get a sitter, because we’re going out tonight.”

Validation basically sets the stage for comfort. If I offer the comfort, without the validation, then it’s just—I’m going to minimize; I’m trying to fix it.

Bob: Alright; the fourth area in your PLAN—you “Play together”; you “Listen for emotion”; you “Appreciate daily”; “Nurture rhythm” is the fourth one. We are failures at this because we have no time to talk about this on FamilyLife Today. [Laughter] We did not nurture the rhythm, so folks are going to have to buy a copy of your book to figure out how to finish the PLAN; aren’t they?

Marcus: I’m crushed. [Laughter]

Bob: Is that okay with you?

Chris: Yes; no; that’s alright. [Laughter]

Bob: Thank you for being here. This has been so helpful and I think very practical for how we can cultivate joy. We’re grateful for the book, and thanks for your time on FamilyLife Today.

Chris: Thank you.

Marcus: We really appreciate the opportunity.

Bob: We have copies of the book, The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled Marriages, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to order your copy, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the title of Chris and Marcus’ book is The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled Marriages: How 15 Minutes a Day Will Help You Stay in Love. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to get your copy, or call to order at 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

We would also encourage you to set aside a weekend this spring and you and your spouse get away and attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. The president of FamilyLife®, David Robbins, is here with us. David, these weekends are about more than just information to help your marriage; they’re about transformation. God shows up in these weekends, and marriages are transformed.

David: There’s something special about time together over timeless truth. When you step away—and someone else frames up the conversation, and points you to Scripture, and sets it up—the conversations just often lead to transformation.

I got an email this week—a woman—they’re newlyweds; been married less than two years. She went on and on about the transformation she experienced. At the end of her email she said: “We’re not perfect. We have some hard work ahead; but I am so excited to become a team, so when more hard times arise, we will be able to handle it as a team. I needed this weekend even more than my husband.”

Nothing excites me more than seeing couples walk away from Weekends to Remember, on a team together—values together/Christ uniting them—heading into the next seasons of their life.

Bob: That’s what we want to see happen for your marriage. If you sign up today to attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, you’ll save 50 percent off the regular registration fee. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Take advantage of the special offer we’re making to FamilyLife Today listeners this week and next week only. Find a getaway in a city near where you live or in a city you’d like to visit. Block out the weekend and then join us for a Weekend to Remember.

Again, save 50 percent off the regular registration fee by signing up today. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information or to register online. Or call us if you’d like to register by phone or if you have any questions: 1-800-FL-TODAY is our number.

Now, tomorrow, we’re going to look at a book of the Bible that is often overlooked but that has lots to say about marriage, and romance, and passion, and intimacy. It’s the book, the Song of Solomon. Sharon Jaynes will be here to give us some insight into that particular book of the Bible. I hope you can join us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.


We are so happy to provide these transcripts to you. However, there is a cost to produce them for our website. If you’ve benefited from the broadcast transcripts, would you consider donating today to help defray the costs? 

Copyright © 2020 FamilyLife. All rights reserved.




Fun, engaging conversations about what it takes to build stronger, healthier marriage and family relationships. Join hosts Dave and Ann Wilson with FamilyLife Today® veteran cohost Bob Lepine for new episodes every weekday.

About FamilyLife Today® View today’s resources




Recent Episodes