FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Loyalty, a Source of Conflict

with Tim and Joy Downs | September 11, 2007
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Husbands and wives value different things. These differences often cause conflicts in marriage. On today's broadcast, communication experts Tim and Joy Downs, authors of The Seven Conflicts, talk with Dennis Rainey about the virtue of loyalty and its influence on conflict in marriage.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Husbands and wives value different things. These differences often cause conflicts in marriage. On today's broadcast, communication experts Tim and Joy Downs, authors of The Seven Conflicts, talk with Dennis Rainey about the virtue of loyalty and its influence on conflict in marriage.

  • 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.

Husbands and wives value different things.

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Loyalty, a Source of Conflict

With Tim and Joy Downs
September 11, 2007
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 You and your spouse can attend one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences taking place in cities all across the country this fall.  You can attend at a special rate for FamilyLife Today listeners.  If you register before Sunday night at midnight you can save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee, and we're going to make available to you a copy of Dennis and Barbara Rainey's brand-new book, "Moments With You."

 It's a daily devotional like the bestselling book, "Moments Together for Couples," and it's not out in bookstores yet, it's coming very soon.  In fact, I think we're expecting it before the end of the month in bookstores.  We're going to make a copy of that book available to you, and we're going to offer you the special savings for FamilyLife Today listeners if you register for one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember conferences this week.

 Now, again, we need to hear from you before midnight on Sunday so that you can take advantage of this special offer.  You'll save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee, but you have to identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener to take advantage of the special offer so probably the first thing you need to do is find out when one of these conferences is coming to a city near where you live, and you can do that online at, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY.

 And then once you know when the conference is coming, and you're ready to register, you can register online and as you fill out your registration form, you'll come to a keycode box.  Just type my name in there – "Bob" – and that way we'll know you're a FamilyLife Today listener, and you can save the $60 per couple off the registration fee and get the book from Dennis and Barbara, or call 1-800-FLTODAY, mention that you listen to FamilyLife Today, and we'll make the same offer available to you that way as well.

 Again, the offer expires Sunday night at midnight so let us hear from you today if at all possible.  If you have any questions, give us a call or go online at, and we're talking about marriage this week on FamilyLife Today.  We're talking about conflict in marriage.  One of the things that can create conflict in marriage is when there are questions about our loyalty to one another.

 I think every wife is wondering when her husband gets together with other guys, what is he saying about me behind my back?

Rachel's Husband: Some time ago some buddies of mine and I, we all got together.  It was just the four of us, just the guys, you know?

Rachel: Now, there's a recipe for disaster.

Rachel's Husband: We started talking about how all of us had met for the first time.  We went around the table sharing our memories until we came to my friend, Mike.  He recounted our first meeting, and then everyone turned to me and waited, but I just sat there.  Finally, Mike said, "You mean to tell me you can't remember anything about the first time that we met?"  I said, "Oh, please, I get enough of that from my wife."

[men laughing]

Rachel: This is why men should never be allowed to meet in groups.

Rachel's Husband: It was a funny line.  I mean, everybody howled.  Mike thought it was such a great joke that when he was back at my house one time and Rachel and I had him over for dinner, he told it to her and, guess what?  She didn't think it was funny.

Rachel: Can you imagine that?

Rachel's Husband: Rachel thought my little joke was at her expense.  I told her I wasn't laughing at you, honey, I was laughing with you.

Rachel: And I explained to him that to be laughing with someone, two people have to be laughing.

Rachel's Husband: I told Rachel it's no big deal.  Sometimes when men get together, they make little jokes about their wives.

Rachel: I said, "I know.  Sometimes wives do the same thing, and whenever their husbands hear about later, it bothers them, and it should."

[musical transition]

Bob: That sounds like it might have actually happened at some point in time to some real people, do you think?

Dennis: I think it did.  In fact, I have it on – well, it's actually in a book – "The Seven Conflicts – Resolving the Most Common Disagreements in Marriage," written by Tim and Joy Downs, and they are here in the studio.  Tim and Joy, that's your story, isn't it?

Tim: I'm afraid it is.

Bob: And you're sticking to it, right?

Tim: And we're sticking with it.

Dennis: And you really did value different things?

Tim: We really do.  We've found, in our marriage, that we take different approaches to all kinds of things, and yet love each other still very much.  The message of our book is, "People out there, you are going to value different things, too, and you've got to build a good marriage in the midst of differences."

Dennis: Tim and Joy have served on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1979, and for a number of years you directed the Communications Center, and you've spoken at more than 150 Weekend to Remember conferences hosted by FamilyLife, and they have also written a book called "Fight Fair," and Tim and Joy live in Carey, North Carolina, along with their three children.

 And I've enjoyed this book because it's where we all live.  Yesterday you talked about how we argue about security.  That's one of the seven most common things we disagree about.  Today I want to talk about a subject that's illustrated by the dialog – well, that you illustrated called "Loyalty." 

 First of all, define "Loyalty."  What are we talking about here?

Tim: We break loyalty down into two different components.  They are faithfulness and priority.  Faithfulness is that we want someone who will be true to us.  Priority means we want to come first in our mate's life.  It's what we mean at the wedding ceremony when we talked about "forsaking all others."  It means moving your new mate into a first place in your life.

Bob: Everybody should affirm that, and there shouldn't be any problem, Joy.  How does that lead to conflict?

Joy: Well, I think that different people have different views of loyalty and so there again you think that you're being loyal by providing for your family and by being on their team, but in some ways you may not be spending time with them.  You may be spending too much time at work, and that is a different perspective than your wife, who views loyalty as you're making me a priority, and I don't feel like a priority if you're at work.

Dennis: Well, sometimes you can show disloyalty by telling a joke or making joke at the expense of your spouse, Tim, like you did at the beginning.

Tim: I have no idea what you're talking about.


Dennis: You wrote about it right here.  But, Joy, seriously, when you heard he had said that about you, that hurt, didn't it?

Joy: It did, it did.  I felt a little off guard when our friend told us that and what hurt was, it's really not true.  I don't do this.  I don't harp on Tim about the romantic moments in our life and when we met, and so that really upset me because I felt like it wasn't true.

Bob: He was going for the cheap laugh, and you just happened to be fall guy.

Tim: A cheap laugh, but it was a good laugh.  But at the moment, you know, I didn't see it for what it was, which was an act of disloyalty.  And the fact is we do desire loyalty.  We want our mates to be faithful to us and put us into a special place.  Often, this conflict begins because someone has a greater desire for loyalty. 

 You know, people who write on communication in marriage say that one of the most common sources of conflict is the in-laws.  We would say, "You're not fighting about in-laws.  You are probably fighting about loyalty." 

 So, for example, it's Sunday, and you say, "Mom's coming over for lunch again today."  "Again?"  "Well, what's wrong with my mother?"  "Well, doesn't she have any other kids?  Can't somebody else have her over?"

 You think you're fighting about "Why don't you like my mom?"  But that's not even the fight.  The fight is why does Mom always come first?  Why is it that every Sunday she comes for lunch?  Why don't you think about us doing something together?  At the root of this disagreement is "Who comes first here?  Your mom or me?"

 Well, if you keep fighting about Mom and why Mom's not such a bad person, you're going to fight forever.  If you get down to the basic issue, you can say, "You know, you're right.  We need to take care of Mom, but we need to take care of us, too."

Bob: I've got to step in here and ask something, Tim, because I've seen some guys or some ladies who will hear what we're saying, and they'll go, "Yeah, absolutely.  You guys preach it.  This subject of loyalty, my mate needs to hear this because I'm not getting the loyalty expressed the way I need it expressed."  And what's really going on is that person has too great a need for that loyalty, and it's become unhealthy in the relationship."

 How do you recognize that and root it out and point somebody to the fact that while loyalty is a value, exclusivity is the wicked side of it?

Tim: One of the benefits of identifying the seven conflicts is, first of all, to identify your own dream.  What' makes you tick?  What drives you?  And once you realize, "Hey, I have this tremendous desire for loyalty," that's the first step in beginning to say, "You know, I've got to be careful.  My desire for loyalty can lead me to be suspicious.  It can lead me to become paranoid here if I'm not careful with this."  But I never thought about what it is before.  I thought we were talking about in-laws here.

 We think that conflict is often like approaching a tree.  All you see is 1,000 leaves.  You wade through the leaves, you grab hold of a brand, but it's just a small one.  You start tracking it back, it comes to a larger branch.  Finally, you come to the trunk of the tree.

 Well, you can't fell a tree by the leaves.  You've got to get to the trunk of the tree, and we don't think you can make headway on essential issues in marriage until you understand what they are.

 First step, figure out that it's loyalty that you're talking about.

Dennis: And you mentioned yesterday that Joy values security.  You are more on the risk-taking side, correct?

Tim: That's true.

Dennis: Today I'm taking it that Joy feels more of a value for loyalty, and you feel more of a value, at that point, for–?

Tim: Well, there's not really a – just a clear parallel for it.  It's – I may not place as much emphasis on loyalty as she does.  It's just that she feels a heightened desire for it but, you know, in loyalty what we find is it just switches back and forth.  There are areas where I long for loyalty.  There are areas where she longs for loyalty.

Dennis: Such as?

Tim: Well, for example, going home to family is one of the biggest sources of conflict, and it's because you have established your new marriage relationship, but when you go to Mom and Dad's house, instinctively one of you drops right back into your childhood role, and that leaves a feeling like, "What happened to me?  I'm out of place, I'm the fifth wheel here."  And then loyalty issues begin to kind of simmer.

 Loyalty issues are easy when one of you is playing golf five times a week, and you realize this is an obvious breach of loyalty, there's no priority here.  The harder problems in loyalty are the subtle ones that sneak up on you that you just don't see coming.

Bob: And here is where I want to step in because I learned something – and I would say I learned this later in my marriage than earlier in my marriage, and it was an interesting observation I had that there was a point where Mary Ann was starting to – she'd go out with some girlfriends, do some stuff on an evening or take a day and just kind of get away from the kids and the house and family where she's been all week, and she would come back from those times, and she was bright, she was fun to be with, she was laughing, she was relaxed.

 And rather than seeing her going out with these friends as some kind of a disloyal move, abandoning the family, I began to look at this and go, "There's a payoff, you know, she comes home fresh."  And, all of a sudden, I realized that that's some of this balance you're talking about here.  Tim goes off and spends a weekend in the woods with his buddies, and what you get back out of that may be somebody who is better able to relate to you heart-to-heart because of the time in the woods, right?

Joy: Right, exactly.

Tim: A common one for us I think would be kids.  Joy is a fantastic mother, and so she has a constant concern for the kids.  But because of that, I can begin to feel jealous of my own children, and the problem, then, is we begin a process we call "polarization" where we begin to pull apart and separate over and issue.  Or I feel like, "Okay, I don't want kids.  Just get the kids away from me here.  I'd like my wife back."  Joy senses my movements, and she starts pouring more time into the children.

 Well, then, somebody's got to take care of the kids.  We're polarizing around the kids, but it's really an issue of priority here.  All I'm feeling is I want my wife back.  I love the kids, they are important to take care of, but I want my wife back.

Dennis: Let's talk about that a little bit more, though.  When you begin to feel those things, it's typical for a man to either show his hurt by getting angry or show his hurt, as you talked about personally, by withdrawing.

 Now, my tendency would possibly to get angry and maybe show some disapproval facially, you know, one of those looks with Barbara.  What should a man do at the point where that feeling of disloyalty is coming out with his wife around the kids or around, as Bob talked about, maybe it's a hobby.  Maybe she has a career or something else that's gaining her attention and her favor.  How should he go about approaching her?

Tim: Once he realizes what the issue is – this is an issue of loyalty and it's an issue of priority – he can take the initiative at that point rather than just withdraw in silence, which doesn't solve the problem.  He can say to his wife, "You know what?  I love the kids, too, but I miss my wife.  I miss you.  So let's take a look at our schedule, and let's find ways to make sure we've got time together so I have the sense of priority, then we can pour our lives into the kids."

Dennis: But your wife says at that point, "I don't know what you're talking about.  You're a priority to me, sweetheart."

Tim: That's when you talk about, "Let's look at the schedule," because a priority in your mind and a priority on paper are not the same thing.

Dennis: Joy, I want to ask you – if a husband is feeling like his wife is being disloyal, how do you want to be approached at that point?

Joy: I think the way that Tim expressed it – if he expresses, "I miss my wife.  I miss you.  I'd like to spend more time with you."  I think that's endearing to a wife.  I will say that – I'm trying to think of other wives out there who may feel like their husbands are not helping or not participating in the parenting of their children, and they might feel overwhelmed and feel like, "Well, if you would help me, if you would be engaged here, I would have more time.  I would feel emotionally free to be with you."

 So in one way I want to say it's wonderful for a man to express it, and I think he needs to, but I think that he shouldn't expect that to just be a quick fix and, "Okay, now let's go out to dinner," or do you want him to do.  It should be that he understands her perspective as well, and the whole point throughout our book is you need to communicate those things with humility and expressing your opinion and your hurts or desires.  But, overall, I feel like I would respond to that much moreso than when Tim withdraws.  Then it makes me upset with him that he is withdrawing, and I do pour more into the kids.

Bob: You touched on something there that I think is really critical because it's one of the traps that folks fall into, and that is when we're feeling what we're feeling, it may not be the best time to communicate what we're feeling.  We may need to pull back and spend a little time thinking, weighing our words, seeing where the log is in our own eye before we go talk about any of the rest of this.

 So that when we do come together, we come together in a place that has some comfort already built into it.

Dennis: Well, and some hope of there being a resolution.  This book is about resolving conflict.

Bob: That's right.  The explosions happen when we just feel and vent automatically, and, boy, it's just not the right time because you come home, and you're waiting for your wife to show a little priority for you, and she's not doing – you go, "You know, this just isn't working because you never" – and then we start right into one of these "you never" conversations.  All of a sudden, we've got more hurt that we now have to deal with.  It's not just the issue, it's the hurt that we've added to it, right?

Tim: That's right, and the seven conflicts are underlying issues.  So often when you come up with a disagreement it's a surface disagreement and it takes thought, like you said, Bob, to make the connection.  Now, wait a minute.  What is really going on here, and it does take some reflection when you finally boil it down and say, "I see, I see, I think this is really an issue of security," or "It's really an issue of loyalty."

 Then when you do talk with one another, you don't spend your time talking about symptoms, you can talk about the real disease.

Bob: When you sat down to write the book, "Fight Fair," the idea there was to help couples with some of these strategies so that once you know what the conflicts are, now you know how to negotiate your way to a peace treaty – not just a peace treaty, but to oneness in your marriage, right?

Tim: Well, exactly, because we've often said that people only fight about a subject for about a minute, and after that they fight about the way they're fighting.  We wrote "Fight Fair" to address the style of conflict.

 Our problem is we have no rules in conflict.  We call it a "game without rules."  You know, at the turn of the century, boxing was a growing sport in the United States, the problem is it was bare-knuckle, no rules, no holds barred, and so all kinds of men were dying in the ring.  Well, nothing slows the growth of your sport like all the participants dying.

 So in England, the Marquis de Queensbury decided, "Let's create some rules for conflict."  And the rules were not there to stop people from fighting, from disagreeing.  The rules were there to make sure that people could fight but live to fight another day.

 Now, in marriage, wouldn't it be great when you started to get a little hot under the collar, if a bell would ring, and a closet door would fly open, and a guy in a striped shirt would jump out.

Dennis: With a whistle.

Tim: With a whistle, and he would separate the two of you and say, "Now, you know, that's hitting below the belt there, don't do that."  But we don't have any referees in marriage, so we've got to be our own referees, and we've got to write our own Marquis de Queensbury's Rules for Conflict in Marriage.  That's what "Fight Fair" is all about.

Bob: We've got it right here, it's the Marquis de Downs rules for fighting fair. 

Dennis: You know, our children so desperately need us as parents to resolve conflict according to the Scriptures.  A conflict-free marriage is a weird marriage, but a couple who are becoming one and moving closer together are going to experience moments of disagreement and, as a result, they have to resolve those disagreements, those hurts, those disappointments, I believe, biblically.

 And our children desperately need to see us do that.  They don't need to see us yell and tear at one another.  They need to see us call a timeout and say, "Now, Mom and Dad are having an argument, okay?"  Time's back in.   "Now, sweetheart, let's deal with this the way we should deal with it."  And if you do that, what we would raise for the next generation is not perfect children who will be conflict-free, it will be children who will know how to handle conflict biblically.

Bob: And I think of 1 Corinthians 10 where it says "whatever you do, whether you eat or drink or whether you have a fight with your mate, do all to the glory of God."  And, Dennis, I keep thinking if couples would come back and say, "Okay, here is where we are.  What would glorify God in this situation?"

Dennis: Yeah, what would honor Him?

Bob: Right there, you're going to drain a lot of the yuck out of the situation.

Dennis: And if you would just close your time in praying together – just a simple act of both bowing your necks before a Higher Authority, the Ultimate Rulemaker.  I mean, in a very real sense we have had one who stepped out of eternity and who did put on a striped shirt with a whistle, and He showed us how to live, He showed us where the boundaries are, and He taught us how to have peace with God, and He taught us how to have peace with one another.

 There is no shortcut here.  It demands that you die to self, and that you yield to Jesus Christ and you be obedient to the Scriptures and allow the Holy Spirit to fill, control, and empower you as you relate to one another.

Bob: And I know that there are some folks listening, Dennis, who think, "Well, I'm trying to do that, but I don't think my spouse is trying to do that.  I'm trying to be yielded to Christ, but my spouse is not a Christian."

 In fact, one of the things we talk about at the Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference on Sunday afternoons is what you can do to try to help resolve conflict even if your spouse doesn't seem to be interested in trying to resolve conflict.  It's one of the things the Scriptures talk about, and at the Weekend to Remember we try to give couples practical biblical help for every area of marriage – things like communication, sexual intimacy, we talk about God's purpose and plan for marriage, we talk about the things that threaten intimacy and oneness in a marriage, and we talk about this issue of resolving conflict, which is a key issue for many couples.

 Of course, this week we're encouraging FamilyLife Today listeners to register for one of these upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.  We're going to be hosting them in more than 60 cities all across the country, and if you register this week and identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, you will save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee, and we're going to make available to you a copy of the new book from Dennis and Barbara, which is called "Moments With You." 

 This is a daily devotional, the sequel to the bestselling book, "Moments Together for Couples, and we're happy to make a copy available to you if you register for one of the upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences this week.  You can get more information about when the conference is coming to a city near where you live by going online at or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY and, again, if you register this week, you will save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee.  But to take advantage of that special offer for FamilyLife Today listeners, we need to hear from you before Sunday night at midnight.

 So call 1-800-FLTODAY, mention that you listen to FamilyLife Today, or register online at, and if you're registering online, when you come to the keycode box, type my name in there.  Just type "Bob."  That way we'll know you're a FamilyLife Today listener, and you'll get to take advantage of the special savings opportunity, $60 per couple, off the regular registration fee, and we'll make arrangements to get a copy of Dennis and Barbara's new book to you as well.  But, again, we need to hear from you before midnight on Sunday.

 So call 1-800-FLTODAY or go online at and plan to attend one of the upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences when it comes to a city near where you live.

 And when you get in touch with us, you can make arrangements to get copies of the books that our guests, Tim and Joy Downs, have written on the subject of conflict in marriage, the books we've talked about this week.  One is called "The Seven Conflicts," and the other is called "Fight Fair," and both of these are very helpful books for couples as you try to work through some of the rough edges that all of us experience in marriage – the things we've talked about today.

 You can request copies of these books online at, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY to request a copy of either of these books, and we'll make arrangements to have the books sent out to you.

 Well, tomorrow we want to talk about another source of conflict in a marriage relationship, and that is what happens when one person in a marriage seems to be more responsible than the other person?  Or, to put it another way, what happens when you are fun-loving and relaxed about life, and your spouse just seems all uptight about everything.  See what I'm talking about?  That's what we're going to talk about tomorrow.  I hope you can be back 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 tomorrow 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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