Opposites attract, but later they attack. Those are the thoughts of award-winning authors Tim and Joy Downs as they discuss how different obligations and expectations can stir up conflict in marriage.
Opposites attract, but later they attack. Those are the thoughts of award-winning authors Tim and Joy Downs as they discuss how different obligations and expectations can stir up conflict in marriage.
Bob: Let’s say you’re about to go out to dinner with some friends, and your husband puts on a shirt that needs to be ironed. You say, “Let me iron that.” He says: “Nah, don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal.” You say, “No, let me iron it.” He says: “No, don’t worry about it. It’s okay.” Who’s right in that case, and who’s wrong? Here’s Joy Downs.
Joy: We think, “If my husband’s shirt is wrinkled, and it’s not kept up”—we think that’s a reflection on us—that “I’m not ironing his shirt,” or “I’m not taking care of him,”—when, in fact, that’s the way he wants to wear his shirt. It has nothing to do with the way that I care for him. I’ve had to let go of some of those things, saying: “You know what? If he wants to leave his shirt hanging out—if he isn’t dressed up as much as I think he should be, I’m just going to let that go.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, September 4th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. How do you decide, in your marriage, what kinds of things you just let go and what kinds of things you need to have more conversation about?
We’re going to talk about that today with our guests, Tim and Joy Downs. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Can you think of any of those “Who are you?” moments that you’ve had in your marriage, where you’ve looked at Barbara—she’s acting a particular way or something—and you just go, “Who are you?” Do you know what I’m talking about?
Dennis: Oh, I do. I do. I think I mentioned it earlier; but since we became empty nesters, it’s like, all of a sudden, we’ve begun to say: “We are really, really different.
“You really don’t like to cook. What happened? All those meals that you used to lavish on the kids and me—what’s—
Bob: That season has ended in your marriage—is that what you’re saying?
Dennis: Like a soft June breeze, baby—I’m telling you.
Bob: Maybe it’s time for you and Barbara to sign up for a Weekend to Remember®marriage getaway—get away for a weekend together.
Of course, that gives me an opportunity to let listeners know about the special offer we’ve got going on this week and next week for anybody who does want to sign up for a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. It’s a buy one/get one free offer, this week and next week only. It’s good for any of the 14 Weekend to Remember marriage getaways coming up this fall.
Or if you want to go ahead and register for the spring, and take advantage of the buy one/get one free offer, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link at the top of our screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” There is all the information you need there about the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. You can register, online, to take advantage of the buy one/get one free opportunity.
Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY if you’ve got any questions or if you’d like to get registered over the phone—1-800-FL-TODAY.
We’ve got getaways coming up in Florida, in Texas, in California—Colorado, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Tennessee, Iowa, South Dakota, Idaho. Then, of course, next spring, they are all across the country. Take advantage of the special offer, this week and next week—buy one registration / and your spouse comes free. Get more information at FamilyLifeToday.com, or register online; or call 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
You can count on the fact that one of the things we will spend some time talking about, at the getaway, is how different we are and how we need to love one another in the midst of those differences.
Dennis: We are different, and we marry because we are different. We have Tim and Joy Downs with us in the studio to talk about their book—and I love this title—One of Us Must Be Crazy… and I’m Pretty Sure It’s You.
Tim, Joy, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Tim: Good to be back. Thanks, guys.
Dennis: Tim and Joy have spoken at our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways, now, for 25 years. Tim was only 12 when he first started speaking at our events. [Laughter] They have three children; and they live in Cary, North Carolina.
When I read your book, I was thinking about this—I thought, “What couple in public life most characterizes two people who are dramatically different?” I’m going to read you this interview, where CNN’s John King recently asked this couple—he said: “I love you both. Can you show both Houses of Congress your secret for compromise?” Mary Matalin responded: “Well, we’re not a democracy in our marriage. We’re an enlightened momarchy. That’s what we are.”
Dennis: Momarchy. That’s what she called it.
Bob: “Mom’s in charge.” [Laughter]
Dennis: Her husband—James Carville—now, listen to this—this must be the secret to their marriage: “I don’t have a position on anything domestically. So, I just say, ‘Yes,’ and then go on and do it. I mean it! I would say the three ingredients to successful marriage are surrender, capitulation, and retreat.” [Laughter]
Joy: Oh, my!
Dennis: And then his wife Mary said: “Spoken like a true liberal—what a martyr! Faith, family, and good wine—that’s how we do it.” [Laughter] You know, they really are interesting. James Carville was one of eight kids. I think Mary Matalin was an only child. One is a Republican / the other is a Democrat. They couldn’t be any more different; and yet, they got married.
Bob: And they’re still married.
Dennis: And they’re still married!
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: Now, the premise of your book, Tim, is that we all marry because we’re different and that attraction occurs; but we have to learn how to handle conflict because our differences are ultimately going to rub one another the wrong way.
Tim: Well, exactly. It’s been said that “Opposites attract; but then, later on, opposites attack.” The things that we thought were cute and romantic prior to marriage—inside marriage and, especially, once kids come along—they are sources of conflict. James Carville may find it possible to surrender and capitulate at every point. Most people in marriage are not comfortable doing that—we all care about things.
Bob: Things like whether your son is wearing a bicycle helmet when he goes off to ride his bicycle; right?
Tim: Yes. There you go.
Bob: Do you want to explain how this was an issue in your marriage?
Tim: Well, I never wore a bicycle helmet when I was a kid. So, here comes our son, Tommy. He’s a little boy. He wants to go out and ride his bike. Joy says, “Make sure Tommy is wearing his helmet.”
I say, “He doesn’t need to wear his helmet. He’s only riding around the block.” Joy says, “Well, all the accidents occur within one block of the home.” I say, “That’s because all of the bike riding occurs within one block of the home.” Joy says, “Well, what if he falls off and lands on his head?” I say, “Well, then, he’ll learn not to fall off and land on his head anymore.” It just spirals downward from there.
But the point of it is—I’m thinking: “I never wore a bicycle helmet. I want my son to fall off the bike, pick himself up, get back on the bike, and learn from failure.” Joy’s got this petty thing about wanting our kids to actually survive childhood. [Laughter] She doesn’t want them to turn out like me!
Dennis: Well, actually, it was a battle kind of between your sense of adventure, and wanting your son to press the limits, and Joy’s values of safety, security, and protection.
Joy: Exactly. For a number of different things, these same arguments would come up—and I thought it was just an issue of “Tim didn’t care.” What it looked like to me is—he didn’t want to bother getting the helmet for Tommy and taking it to him so he could ride his bike.
There would be different things that would come up later. I’d say, “Honey, make sure he has his umbrella,” or “…his jacket,” or whatever the case. Tim would be like, “Oh, he doesn’t need to bother.” I thought that was an issue of not caring, but it wasn’t that. It wasn’t until we really discovered what we really valued. When he said, “No, I just want them to have the freedom that I had when I was a child,” that made so much more sense to me. Then, I didn’t put a value that he was wrong for his view on that. I knew that was a good thing for our children. We still differed, but we were able to discuss it in a much more logical way.
Bob: Some of these differences—and not all of them are this way—but some of them do tend to run along gender lines. I think it’s probably more common for the dad to be the one who’s saying, “He doesn’t need a helmet,” and for the mom to be the one saying “Oh, yes, he does!” It goes to, again, what we value. Of course, in your case, you had another child who was battling leukemia.
The safety of your children got heightened, at that point, and security became a huge issue for you.
Joy: It was huge—it was huge. I couldn’t control a lot of what was happening in that child’s life. So, I wanted to make sure I could control as much as I could in the other children’s lives—
Joy: —which is kind of a false pretense in some ways, you know? I still have to learn to let the Lord guard my children. They are His children, ultimately; and I need to respect my husband. But that came from conversation. That wasn’t just a light bulb experience—and then, we just “Okay, no more arguments from then on,”—it just helped us understand what the roots of our disagreements were.
Tim: And we call that issue security. It’s one of the seven fundamental issues that divide people. One person, in a marriage, values security more than the other one does. People need to understand that this takes different forms.
For example, one of the most common topics of disagreement in marriage is finances. We think one of the reasons people can’t make any headway on financial arguments is because they’re not arguing about money.
One of you values security more than the other. So, one of you is a saver. You want to make sure you have enough for tomorrow, not just for today. Until you can talk about money in those terms, you’re never going to reach a compromise.
Dennis: I was having flashbacks, as you were talking, about some discussions with Barbara about fixing some things up on our house. You’ve nailed me. Barbara’s value is beauty—she likes aesthetics; you know? I mean—the home I grew up in—my dad let the yard die in July and August because—
Bob: A whole lot easier to take care of if you just let it die. [Laughter]
Dennis: —he didn’t have to mow it. Now, I don’t know if it ever caused any conflict between my mom and him; but I always kind of marveled at that—how he got away with that—because I couldn’t. Barbara likes the green grass. She likes the beauty—the aesthetics.
Bob: You know, here’s what’s interesting to me—whether it’s a bicycle helmet or the grass—some of these things can escalate into marriage-threatening issues.
There are couples, today, who are dissolving a marriage because of differences like this. Why is it that differences can escalate, on our emotional scale, to the point where we go, “We just can’t live together anymore”?
Tim: You know, there are two reasons, Bob. One is because they accumulate. We differ on the sidewalk, we differ on beauty, on security, on money, on—pretty soon, you have this changing view that: “We’re not even alike. We’re not even compatible anymore.”
I think the other one is just sort of that emotional component, when you start assigning motives to the other person’s value: “The reason you think that is because you’re lazy or because you don’t care. You don’t value the home.” When I’m not assigning negative motives to your behavior, that’s when we start to kind of de-escalate.
Dennis: You talk about all kinds of areas in a marriage, where we’re different, that cause conflict. I found one that was interesting—was the subject of responsibility and caring.
How can responsibility and caring cause conflict in a marriage?
Tim: Well, responsibility—we break down into obligation and expectation. What we mean by that is: “What am I obliged to do? What ought I to do?” and, “What do other people expect me to do?”
For example, when your dad was letting the grass die, it’s because he didn’t care what the neighbors thought. But your mom may have cared very much about what the neighbors thought. She may have had a different opinion about whether that grass should go dead or not. In a marriage, it’s common for one person to value the opinion of other people more than the other person does. That’s a source of conflict.
Dennis: I heard you use the word, “ought.” Now, is that a dangerous concept in a marriage—the word, “ought”? Does that complicate things?
Tim: Sure it does because it’s part of your dream. Your sense of “oughtness” is: “This is how things should run. We are supposed to do that.”
Joy and I have had a lot of disagreements, over the years, about what fashions should be, what my table manners ought to be like, what the neighbors are thinking of us. I just think differently about those things than she does.
Dennis: Let’s go back to the table manners piece. [Laughter] I’ve had this problem with Barbara too. What’s the deal with table manners and Tim?
Joy: It’s more like—leg up on the table and Tim. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s a very comfortable way to sit.
Tim: A minor thing.
Bob: It’s a very comfortable thing!
Dennis: Now, are you talking about at home or when you go out to eat?
Joy: Well, it used to be out to eat too. [Laughter]
Bob: You did break him of that after a while.
Bob: Well, here’s the interesting thing about “ought.” We are assigning a moral value when we say, “ought.” We’re saying, “Putting your leg up on the table is immoral.”
Dennis: “Socially unacceptable.”
Bob: —“It’s wrong on everybody’s radar! There’s not a person, other than you, on the planet, who would think this is acceptable”; right?
I mean, when you say, “You ought not do that,”—we got to pull back and go, “Show me the rules on that.” “Well, I can show you Miss Manners.” I go: “Who cares about her? Where did she ever get to write the rule book in the first place?” We’re really talking about values. What—
Dennis: So, you like having your foot up on the table too? [Laughter]
Bob: I do. I like slouching in my chair—
Joy: I was going to say, “I’m outnumbered here.”
Bob: —and I like two elbows right here—
Tim: Yes. Yes.
Bob: —so that I can get my hands on the food quickly and conveniently.
Dennis: Okay, Joy. Defend yourself.
Joy: Oh, ladies, where are you? [Laughter] Well, that’s true. It isn’t a moral obligation for you to do that, but I think what we’ve learned is—what I’ve learned is—those arguments do not hold any weight with Tim. I’ve heard all of those before—you know: “Who says that? Where is it written?” Even if I would show him where it is written, it doesn’t matter to him. He doesn’t care who writes it.
Bob: Because he didn’t write it.
Joy: He didn’t write it. Yes.
Dennis: “Who’s the authority here?”
Joy: Right. And so, that’s part of his personality, actually—when you take personality tests—that’s part of his personality. What we’ve learned to do, over the years, is—I have to say, “Honey—that would embarrass me if you do that.” Then, he wants to please me. He does care what I think most of the time. So, I have to phrase it that way. I have to say, “You know, I would really be happy if you didn’t wear your shirt tucked out,” or, “I would be happy if you didn’t sit this way or do this just because it embarrasses me.” Then, he’s fine with that—it’s not a logical argument. It’s just: “Okay, I’ll do it for you—not because it’s right—but because I want to please you.”
Bob: And sometimes, it will get to: “And I would be happy if you would figure these things out on your own instead of me having to tell you these things all the time.” [Laughter]
Dennis: You’re sounding like—
Bob: Okay, maybe this is hitting a little close to home; okay? [Laughter]
But frankly, we need to help one another, over a period of time, because, again, instinctively, this just feels right to me. I might need some nudging gently, over a period of time, like: “That would really help me.” Don’t expect me to figure it out all the time—just be kind and keep coaching me; right?
Joy: Right. And there are times, frankly, where I just let it go.
Tim: Oh, yes! I love to hear that!
Joy: Well, I think how—you know, “What reflection is this on me?” I think, as women—to be honest, in the old school, so to speak—we think it’s a reflection on us if my husband’s shirt is wrinkled and it’s not kept up. We think that’s a reflection on us—that “I’m not ironing his shirt,” or “I’m not taking care of him,”—when, in fact, that’s the way he wants to wear his shirt. It has nothing to do with the way I care for him.
So, I’ve had to let go of some of those things, saying: “You know what? If he wants to leave his shirt hanging out—if he’s not dressed up as much as I think he should be, I’m just going to let that go.”
Bob: Recently, Mary Ann pointed something out to me that I’m kind of semi-aware of; okay? There are times when we’ll be sitting with a group of people. I will take my arm and just kind of rest it on my head. I’m sitting back in the chair—right—and my arm is just up over my head like this.
Dennis: I’ve got one of these too.
Bob: And she said to me, “Do you have any idea how that looks?” Of course, I don’t because I can’t see me with my arm up over my head. I don’t have any idea how that looks; right?
Tim: And your leg’s on the table anyway. [Laughter]
Bob: But I’m feeling very comfortable with my arm on top of my head and my leg up on the table.
Dennis: That’s right—yes, that’s good.
Bob: So, she points that out to me. It’s not that I don’t care—I just have never really been aware. It’s been such a habit for me that she needs to point it out on more than one occasion in order for me to finally develop some awareness and go: “Oh, okay. I see this.” Now, it may come to a point where I go: “Yes, I know what it looks like.
“I don’t care what it looks like.” Then, we need to talk about whether I’m just doing it in the living room by myself or whether there are other people over at the house.
Dennis: Or whether it’s back to what Joy was talking about: “That embarrasses me. You’re not looking attractive doing that.” Barbara pointed out that, when my head and chin go in my hand, sometimes, I’ll push my finger at the point of my nose and just push it up like this. [Laughter] I guess it’s comfortable—kind of like your arm above your head or something.
Bob: Most of the time you curl your index finger right over like a mustache. Did you know that?
Dennis: Well, that’s an improvement because I used to push up on my nose, and Barbara was afraid my nose would start growing that way. [Laughter]
Tim: I can see why you guys do radio instead of television. [Laughter]
Bob: But I think it’s helpful for somebody to see just what you’re pointing out here. It may be that it’s not an issue that I don’t care—I just am oblivious to that. The fact that I’m oblivious doesn’t mean that I don’t care.
Dennis: Yes. That’s what I want to ask you, Tim.
In an area that’s important in a relationship—where maybe it’s a chore, a responsibility of paying the bills, or maybe it’s affection in the marriage—maybe one person is not that affectionate—how should the person, who does care about that, process their spouse apparently either being unaware or not caring?
Tim: They need to express the fact that that feels uncaring to them. They need to get it down to those terms. Here’s a classic way this happens in marriage: I walk in. Something doesn’t look quite right with Joy. I ask her, “How are you doing?” She’ll say, “I’m fine.” It will be one of those kinds of verbal hints; you know? She says, “I’m fine”; but it’s obvious from the tone of her voice she’s not fine.
Bob: “And I’m expecting you to figure it out without me having to say it.”
Tim: She’s expecting me—
Joy: Oh, well that’s not fair! [Laughter] Men always characterize it that way.
Tim: That’s right, though.
Joy: But we want to know that you care before we actually tell you—that’s the whole thing.
Dennis: You want to make sure we care enough to go digging to find out what’s going on.
Joy: Exactly. But it’s really portrayed as “Oh, you just want us to read your minds”; and that’s really not it. We’re really just trying to fish out there a little bit to see if you really care. Because what happens, frequently, I think—for women is—we start into what our problem or situation is, and we feel like our husband heard two sentences; and then, he was—
Bob: —somewhere else.
Joy: —golfing; you know?
Bob: Well, and let me just say, “You better care,” because, if you don’t care, there’s going to be trouble later on; right?
Tim: That’s exactly right. When you don’t care, you start a second disagreement. Whatever that issue was—there’s another one on top of it. Our spouses want to know: “Are you willing to engage? Are you willing to dig deeper?” That’s what the caring disagreement is all about.
Dennis: I’m thinking about our discussion today; and I’m thinking Ephesians 5: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The assignment for husbands—love your wife—care enough to ask the questions / care enough to look past the differences—and love your wife.
Bob: First Peter 3: “Live with your wives in an understanding way”; right?
Dennis: Right. And then, at the end of the same passage, it commands wives to see that she respect her husband. Ladies, your differences—a lot of them—can be overlooked in a marriage, where you are respecting your husband—he knows you respect him. Even though you’re straightening up his clothing—as Barbara does for me—I know that she’s looking out for my best interest. I sometimes do wonder, though, what I look like when I’m on the road without her. [Laughter]
Bob: Do you wear your shirt tail out, or do you wear it tucked in?
Dennis: I wear it tucked in. [Laughter] I haven’t had the courage to try that yet. Anyway, I think we need to go back to the basics, though, and just say: “You know what?
“We need to love one another, respect one another, and receive one another as God’s gift to us in a spouse.” That means accepting the differences. That’s why you married him or why you married her.
Bob: Embrace the differences.
Dennis: Celebrate the differences.
Bob: It’s a whole different perspective. When we can get that perspective, it can make a difference in our marriage. It’s one of the things we talk about at the Weekend to Remember marriage getaways—how we deal with differences, how we value and appreciate, and how we learn to receive our spouse as a gift from God.
Of course, I mentioned earlier—we’ve got a special offer, this week and next week, for listeners who would like to attend one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. We’re going to be hosting 14 of them this fall, and then, more than 50 of them in the spring. If you want to register now—either for a fall event or for a spring event—you can buy one registration / you pay for yourself—and your spouse comes free. It’s buy one/get one free offer.
It’s good this week and next week when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
Register online or when you call 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.” We have Weekend to Remember marriage getaways happening this fall in Florida, in Texas, in California—Colorado, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Tennessee, Iowa, South Dakota, and Idaho. And then, we are in dozens of states this spring.
If you’d like to find out when a Weekend to Remember is happening in a city near where you live, or a city you’d like to travel to, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link at the top of the page that says, “GO DEEPER.” The information is right there about the Weekend to Remember.
You can sign up now and take advantage of the buy one/get one free opportunity; or you can call if you have any questions: 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.” That’s the toll-free number—1-800-358-6329. Let us know that you are interested in coming to a Weekend to Remember. We’ll answer any questions you have. We can get you registered over the phone.
Again, the special offer—the buy one/get one free offer—is good this week and next week. So, get in touch with us quickly and plan to attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about loyalty—the priority of loyalty in marriage and “How can we be loyal to one another when we are so different?” We’re going to talk more about that with Tim and Joy Downs tomorrow. Hope you can tune in 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 will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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