Help! My Spouse and I Can’t Communicate
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Rob and Gina Flood were surprised that their honeymoon was as difficult as it was. Eventually, they realized their bad communication habits were short circuiting healthy dialogue. Learn what they did to turn things around.
Help! My Spouse and I Can’t Communicate
Bob: Rob and Gina Flood remember the early years of marriage as being bumpy, but they never let anyone know about the challenges they were experiencing.
Gina: People would ask us questions that first year, “How are the newlyweds doing?” By and large, people expect the answer, “We're great; we're doing great.” There are so many couples that are not doing great, but feel obligated to say, “We’re doing great.” That's what we did; we said, “We're doing great.” Rob had positions of ministry in the church, and we were just not great.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, March 30th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. One of the reasons Rob and Gina Flood weren't doing so well in the early years of their marriage was because they didn't know how to communicate effectively with one another. We'll hear more about that from them today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. So this is fun; because we've got old friends back in the studio; at least, I have old friends. You met them for the first time today; right?
Dave: You don't mean old, like as old?
Bob: They're actually much younger than I am.
Dave: Yes. [Laughter]
Bob: Longtime friends—how's that? Rob and Gina Flood are joining us on FamilyLife Today. Guys, welcome back.
Rob: Thank you so much for having us.
Gina: Thank you.
Bob: I say welcome back because, although this is your first time on FamilyLife Today, Rob and Gina were on staff withFamilyLife®,back in the early aughts, as we like to say—back in the early 2000s. Rob was a writer, who worked in our digital area; Gina came in and did voice-overs, but was busy at home with, then, four kids; right?
Rob: Right; it was two; and then three, and then four while we were here. [Laughter]
Bob: I'm glad the message was getting through to you. [Laughter]
Rob: That’s right.
Bob: Rob and Gina now live in suburban Philadelphia, where Rob is on staff with a local church. Rob has just written a book called With These Words: Five Communication Tools for Marriage and Life. And these are communication tools you didn’t learn these by reading them in a book somewhere.
Bob: You learned these through the school of hard knocks; didn't you?
Rob: That's absolutely right.
Bob: In fact, I didn't know this—when you guys were here, I didn't know how messy your story was until I read your book; you kind of kept that all cloistered away. You go back to the honeymoon—Gina, your honeymoon was not all you dreamed it was going to be.
Gina: No, it was not.
Dave: It sounded like the first four days were okay.
Gina: They were bliss. We were in Disney World—the happiest place on earth. We were the happiest people on earth, until day—
Gina: —five; and then we were the unhappiest people on earth.
Bob: What happened, day five, Rob?
Rob: On day five, we had a conflict. It was a conflict that tapped into some really deep-seated bitterness that had developed over what probably turned out to be the last 15-18 months prior to that. The conflict, I think, tapped into impurity that we had experienced together before we were married. On day four, we started talking about it. The talking tapped into—whether it was guilt, or vulnerability, or division—that we didn't know had cultivated in there.
It exploded—it was really combustible on day four. It was actually Thanksgiving Day; it was in 1995, Thanksgiving Day. When the argument ended, she went and left the room. Rather than chase after her, and really pursue reconciliation there, I took a nap.
Ann: Gina, when you left that day—when you'd had a big argument—what was going through your head? You just had this big blow up; what was going on inside of you?
Gina: I think that I was wondering: “What has just happened? What did I just do?”—because this is now a lifelong bad thing in front of me; and now I'm looking 50-plus years and thinking—“Okay, is this going to be it? Is this going to be what we do?” And then I thought: “No, this was just an argument. We're going to move on from this; we're going to keep going. We're going to put things back together because that's what you do.”
Rob: But we needed communication to do that.
Rob: And when we started trying to have those conversations, we realized we were getting in our own way. We kept re-offending; and we kept tripping over the right thing, said the wrong way; or the wrong thing being said in the first place. Every time we tried to address it, by the time we were done, it was worse.
Bob: Rob, you say in the book, you said things in that hour that you can't erase—
Bob: —things that are hurtful—and even to come back and say, “I'm sorry I said that”; there can be forgiveness and there can be reconciliation—but those words are lodged kind of in the back of somebody's mind that: “At some point in time, in a moment, you thought that and you said that,” and “That was hurtful, and it's hard to let go of that.”
Rob: Even when we got on the other side of this—and really walked through wonderful healing and walked into a thriving marriage, which, thank God, did eventually occur—even 24 years later, in sexual intimacy, there are things we still do on purpose; because if we don't do them on purpose, it can tear the scabs off of what was said in that hour and what happened in that first week.
Dave: That sort of gets at—and I know this is a big premise of your book—the power of words.
Rob: That's right.
Dave: You're on your honeymoon. You don't want to have this conflict, but yet you're going into a conversation about something that's critical to talk about; you just didn't do it well.
Rob: Right; we didn't do it on purpose either. It happened because sexual intimacy was not going well. We were both, at that point, frustrated and vulnerable—not the time/you'll see this in the book when we talk about proper timing—not the time to have the conversation—but we went all in and had the conversation.
You said best moment/worst moment. It was a real low moment. I think it went down from there—for probably a year-and-a-half—where/when we stopped talking all together.
Bob: Wow. Did you, Gina—you thought, in that moment, “Have I made a mistake?” You were not talking about, “Did I make a mistake in what I said, back there, in the last hour?”; but “Did I make a mistake in marrying Rob?”
Bob: Over the next year-and-a-half, was that thought with you: “I've made a mistake, and now I'm stuck”?
Gina: It wasn't a question anymore. It was a statement: “I made a mistake. How do I get out of this? There's no way out of this.” As days went on—and we became further and further apart and more and more distant—people would ask us questions that first year, “How are the newlyweds doing?” And by and large, people expect the answer, “We're great; we're doing great.” And there are so many couples that are not doing great; but feel obligated to say, “We're doing great.” That's what we did; we said, “We're doing great.” Rob had positions of ministry in the church, and we were just not great.
Bob: Facade's up.
Bob: Behind the scenes, nobody knows that you guys are isolated from one another?
Gina: I don't think anybody knew.
Rob: Nobody knew until we eventually chose to go to counseling, which was nearly a year after. It was just shy of our first anniversary when we started to go to counseling, which is not where we learned these things.
Dave: Rob, were you feeling the same thing: “I've made a huge mistake. I can't get out of it”?
Rob: We had a moment in our reconciliation—which was about 18 months/two years in—we had a moment where we were sharing where we were during that time. We discovered that we both had genuine convictions that divorce was not an option; and yet, we were allowing ourselves to be free of conviction on bitterness and anger.
At one point, we knew the only way out was for one of us to die. We confessed to one another that we were actively praying the Lord would take the other to free us from this; because we knew that our other convictions were going to keep us in the marriage and there was no other way out.
Gina: I think that's a really smart thing that you said—we were free from the convictions of repentance and free from the convictions of not holding onto bitterness, which is really where we were supposed to be focusing. Had we been open with an older, godly couple, they could have shared that with us.
Dave: I've got to ask this; so you actually had a conversation, somewhere in that first year or so, that went something like this?—“I've actually prayed that you'd die”?
Rob: It was in year two when we were coming clean with all of the bitterness that we had built up against one another. It was after our second Weekend to Remember when we came back and talked about what we had learned and realized that it was not going to be the counseling—though I counsel; I think it's a good thing—it was not going to be the counseling. It was going to be the repenting and coming clean with one another.
When we shared where our hearts were, we were both shocked to learn that we were actively having conversations with the Lord: that He would either change this or take her; she was having this conversation that He would either change this or take me.
Ann: Gina, what did that feel like when Rob said it to you? For you, it was your own reality, like: “Here's my prayer, God. This is really hard.” But when Rob said that to you: “I've been praying that one of us would die,”—
Gina: “Me, too!” [Laughter]
Ann: —so you weren't offended.
Gina: No, because who would want to be married to me the way I was behaving?
Dave: I think we’ve found the couple that had a worse marriage than us, Ann.
Gina: That was not the goal.
Dave: I’ve never heard another couple, because part of our story is I actually prayed to die than to be married. I told Ann I just asked the Lord to take my life than rather to be married to you. At least I think I’m a little better. I didn’t pray for her to die,
Dave: But seriously I go back and that was in our first year, I was in agony. We were in agony and couldn’t see a way out. You’re right there. That’s where we were.
Rob: The irony of it was we were seeing success everywhere else. I was leading worship in our church. I was leading discipleship and people were getting saved. People were growing. There was real genuine, I believe to this day, eternal fruit. That was growing in those areas.
Gina: Which just proves that God uses us at our worst. He uses us at our lowest and He accomplishes His will and His way.
Ann: So, you saw God working. He’s doing all those things but you were thinking, now if only my spouse could get on board. Did you blame one another for the problems or did you own some of it yourselves?
Gina: Owning? No, there was no owning.
Rob: Until about 18 months in when the Lord really started to repair these things.
Bob: You said you were getting counseling.
Rob: We were.
Bob: But you said it wasn't very good counseling.
Rob: It wasn't. It was through a local church that we actually, years later, ended up—I was leading worship there. The counselor is a really dear man, who in all of our counseling, didn't crack open the Scriptures. He gave Gina a number of therapeutic things to do, convinced that Gina was the problem; because as we're sitting across from this counselor, she looked unhappier than I did.
The reason is because I was the major part of the problem. I wouldn't love her in the vulnerability she was. I was needing her/demanding of her to be this, this, and this instead of being as she was. I eventually needed to come to terms against the counsel of our counselor—that I was the problem—and what I needed to do was to free her from the demands I was making on her to be different than she was.
Dave: How'd you get to that point? Most husbands would be sitting there, going: “This is great. He thinks she's the problem, and I agree with him.” You're actually able to look in the mirror and go, “No, I can actually see that I'm part of the problem.” How did that happen?
Rob: I appreciate the grace in how you framed that. Here's how it really happened. One of the main things that brought us to this hopelessness was—I was raised by two phenomenal parents, but my dad was ill and disabled from the time I was very young. Money was always very, very tight, growing up.
Now, I have a responsibility for a household of my own. Gina was working full-time in an area she really ought not have been. She was teaching. She was wonderfully gifted at it, but the place where she was teaching was not safe/was not nurturing. It was really brutal for her to get up every morning and go.
What I needed to do was to free her and say, “Listen, we're going to serve your soul first,” and I didn't. I said, “Nobody likes their job; go!” “We needed the money,” was my perspective. It was actually the money we were paying the counselor.
Rob: I said: “This is ridiculous. We're getting nothing from this guy, and he's charging us this amount of money.” Again, he's a dear man, but we just weren't getting what we needed. We left and were in the parking lot after one of the counseling sessions, where I told her: “You know what? Quit your job. We'll lose the house—it will be your fault—but we can't keep doing this.”
Gina: All I heard was quit your job. I’m like, okay. He doesn’t like me anyway. I don’t like him. I’ll get another job and be happier. At least something good is coming out of this.
Rob: The ownership you attributed to me didn’t come until after that. The way I've described this to others is that I had this fist clenched around love of money and the comfort I was getting from it. In the parking lot that day, I cracked a finger open—one; I was still clenching with all the rest. In that little crack, God started to pour grace into the marriage and illumination just started to come: illumination of the truths we had been ignoring, illumination of conviction. We began to soften toward one another. This took probably six to eight weeks of softening toward one another until we had the faith to sit down for that conversation we were talking about earlier.
Bob: You guys said you went to a couple of Weekend to Remember getaways?
Rob: Yes, we did.
Bob: Were they helpful?
Rob: Yes; the first Weekend to Remember we went to was very shortly after our wedding. It was largely the speakers showing us everything each other was doing wrong. There's this wonderful amount of truth that gets delivered at the Weekend to Remember. We went, getting a shovel-full of truth and throwing it in the other person's direction.
It wasn't until the second Weekend to Remember—this is after God had poured some grace in and we began to soften. Now, it was the same outline—it was different speakers—but the same outline/the same general content. Now, we went with rakes, realizing now that: “I need this. Whatever God does with her, He's going to have to deal with that. I need this.”
Ann: Gina, Rob talked about his heart softening. Could you see that? And did yours start to soften as well? What did that look like?
Gina: Yes, I could see the way he was talking to me/the way we were interacting with each other started to change. It wasn't a big boom kind of a moment; it really was just one day at a time, engaging one another on daily life, having difficult conversations, and muddling through them because we still didn't have a lot of great communication skills. It was slow, but it was worth it.
Rob: I really do think Gina captures it when she's saying it was a gradual process. It was really over the course of, probably, 12 months. I'd say, at the end of those six to eight weeks, there was hope that we were going to make it. But we weren't at the place where we were really enjoying one another; it was—there was still shrapnel all over the place but—“There's grace for this.”
Bob: You've said two things in our conversation that I just want to come back and draw
attention to. Here's the first one—you said you had convictions about the permanence of marriage, but you didn't have convictions about the other things the Bible calls us to in building relationships. I think that's such an important point; because our conviction that the Scriptures are true and authoritative over our lives are not just: “Oh, we have to stay married.”
In fact, think back to what you vowed each other when you got married—things about loving, and honoring, and cherishing, and sacrificing, and laying down your life, and for better/for worse. It wasn't just, “I will grit my teeth and tough it out until the end, whether I like it or not.” It was: “I will love you,” “I will cherish you,” “I will honor you.” Those were the convictions you weren't living out; there wasn't a lot of cherishing or honoring going on, and the Bible speaks to those things. There's a lot the Bible says about communication that you were just ignoring while you were holding onto this biblical conviction of: “We've got to stay together.”
I'd just say to couples, who are listening, ask yourself the question, “Am I committed to the authority of Scripture when it comes, not to just hanging in there, but to the way I'm supposed to relate to another person in a marriage relationship?” That's really tied to the second thing; and that is, you talked about how your first Weekend to Remember, what you were thinking about is: “The problem’s with you.” I don't think there's ever a breakthrough in marriage counseling or in a marriage until both people say: “The problem's with me.”
Gina: I think that goes back to what you were saying, too, about being called to honor, and love, and cherish—all of those things that you have to do—you have to lay yourself down to do that.
Gina: You have to lay down your preferences; you have to lay down the things that you think are your rights. You have to pick up your cross every day, and carry it, and trust that God is with you, and the yoke He has placed on us is easy, and He will be with us in it. We weren't willing to lay any of those things down.
Bob: Whenever I'm speaking at one of our Weekend to Remember getaways I will start on Friday night and I will say: “If you came with the idea that I would say something that would fix your spouse, I'm sorry to break it to you; but I'm not even going to talk to your spouse this weekend. I have nothing to say to your spouse. The only person I'm here to talk to this weekend is you.”
Now, I say that kind of tongue-in-cheek, and everybody chuckles a little bit; but I want to drive home the point: “As you're listening to what we're saying, don't be thinking, ‘Oh, my spouse needs to hear this.’ Be thinking, ‘Lord, what do I need to hear?’”—because the only person you can change in a marriage relationship—
Ann: —is you.
Bob: That's right!
Dave: And it's the hardest thing to do, because that's that core DNA of selfishness.
I was speaking, years ago, in Cincinnati. Actually, it was the last session; my co-speaker was on the podium. Ann and I were sitting on the side. I'll never forget this—this guy, sitting in a section in front of me—I saw interaction between him and his wife; it looked like it didn't go well. He got up, starts to walk out. He's got his FamilyLife®manual, Weekend to Remember. He sees me, and he takes it and throws it as hard as he can at me—hits me in the chest. It falls to the floor; he walks out of the ballroom. Ann was sitting there; she goes, “I don't think that guy likes you very much!” [Laughter]
And I go, “Yes!” She goes, “Do you know him?” And I go, “I never talked to that guy all weekend.” I pick up his manual; I walk out in the lobby. He's sitting on this big couch. I stood there and I go, “Hey, you mad at me?” He goes: “I'm not mad at you! I'm mad at my wife!”—that's what he said.
And I go: “Well, you have a funny way of showing it. Here's your manual. You want to talk?” He goes, “Yes.” I sit down, and guess what he says? He says—just what we're talking about—he says: “During this session, I turned to my wife and I said, 'This morning, when we were separated with the men, talking about being a husband and a dad; and you gals were talking about being a wife and a mom, God spoke to me. I'm a new man. When we get home tonight, you're going to have a new husband/a new father to the kids.'”
I go, “That's awesome!” And he goes: “I thought so; but my wife said: 'You're a bum. You've always been a bum. You'll be a bum tonight; we both know this—whatever.” He goes, “I got mad; and there you were, and I threw my manual.”
What was she doing?—it's what we all do.
Bob: She's thinking, “I was right.”
Dave: Yes, and her eyes were on him; and we all do that. It's like you've got to walk out of that ballroom and say: “It isn't about her,” “It isn't about…It's about me. ‘God, will You change me?’”
And ask God to change her; right?—or change him—“But I can't; that has never worked: ‘So I've got to have God change me.’”
Bob: Undoubtedly, we're talking to husbands or wives—or both right now—who are isolated: who have said things to hurt one another, who have pulled away from one another; and they don't know how to fix it. I think we start by saying: “First of all, rather than trying to fix your spouse, say, ‘Lord, what do I need to fix?’” Jesus said this in Matthew 7, when He said [paraphrase]: “You're really good at the speck in your spouse's eye, but what about the log in your own eye? Take that out.”
And then secondly: “Are you going to apply what the Scriptures have to say about how you are supposed to treat your spouse?—not what your spouse is supposed to do for you—but what you are supposed to do to be the husband or the wife that God's called you do. And will you double down on that and say, ‘Okay, that's what I'm going to focus on—not what you're doing wrong—but what I'm doing wrong, and what I can start to do better.’”
Somebody listening may go, “Yes, but I'm only doing 10 percent wrong, and my spouse is doing 90 percent wrong.” Okay, you work on your 10 percent. The Holy Spirit can do a better job at working on your spouse's 90 percent than you can.
Bob: You work on your 10 percent, and you pray for God to do whatever He needs to do in your spouse's life. But don't be thinking, “I've been praying, and God's not working.” Just be about your stuff and, then, get a copy of the book that Rob has written, called With These Words: Five Communication Tools for Marriage and Life. You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the book is called With These Words by Rob Flood.
Now let me point you to a couple of Scripture verses that I think are good verses for us to meditate on in these days as we continue to see events unfolding in our world and wonder what’s going on. The Bible tells us we are to rejoice in hope. This is Romans 12:12, rejoice in hope. We need to meditate on our hope and find our joy in that hope. And it says, be patient in tribulation. Let’s be patient and kind with one another. And be constant in prayer. It goes on to say, contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
I know we are practicing social distancing and we’re trying to be smart and wise. While we do that, and we should be doing those things, let’s make sure that we are continuing to care for one another, to be connected to one another, and continuing to renew our minds with God’s word so that we can live faithfully as God’s children during the current pandemic.
Pray for us at FamilyLife as we are making changes based on all that’s going on in our world and we are praying for you. For those of you who listen to FamilyLife Today and support this ministry we are grateful for our ongoing partnership and together we are going to face what we are facing with hope. Okay?
Now tomorrow, we want to talk about how a gentle answer really can turn away anger; the Bible says that's true. Rob and Gina have experienced that; they're going to join us. I hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, with some help from Mark Ramey. 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.
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