FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Responsibility, a Source of Conflict

with Tim and Joy Downs | September 12, 2007
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How does responsibility contribute to marital conflict? Find out by joining us for today's broadcast when Dennis Rainey talks with long-time Campus Crusade staff members and authors, Tim and Joy Downs, about the role of responsibility in conflict.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • How does responsibility contribute to marital conflict? Find out by joining us for today's broadcast when Dennis Rainey talks with long-time Campus Crusade staff members and authors, Tim and Joy Downs, about the role of responsibility in conflict.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

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

How does responsibility contribute to marital conflict?

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Responsibility, a Source of Conflict

With Tim and Joy Downs
September 12, 2007
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[clock ticking]

 There it is – the sound effect of the clock ticking in the background is because this Sunday at midnight the special opportunity to FamilyLife Today listeners have to register for one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences is going to expire.  For the last week and a half, we've been offering FamilyLife Today listeners an opportunity to attend one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences, and we're going to be hosting these in more than 60 cities all across the country this fall.

 You can attend at a special rate.  You and your spouse will 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, which is called "Moments With You."  This is the follow-up to the book, "Moments Together for Couples," that was a bestselling book, and it's not available yet but as soon as it's available, we're going to get you a copy.

 In order to qualify for the special rate and to get a copy of the brand-new book, you need to register for an upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference before Sunday night at midnight.  In fact, our phones have been very busy the last few days, as folks have been calling to take advantage of this special offer for FamilyLife Today listeners, and all you need to do is call 1-800-FLTODAY to register.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  Make sure to mention that you're a FamilyLife Today listener, and you want to take advantage of the special offer.

 You can also register online, if you'd like.  In fact, you can get more information about when the conference is coming to a city near where you live on our website at  If you are registering online, as you fill out the form, you'll come to a keycode box.  You'll need to type the word "Bob" into that keycode box, again, to take advantage of the special offer for FamilyLife Today listeners.

 You'll save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee, and we'll get you a copy of Dennis and Barbara Rainey's new book, "Moments with You."  The offer expires …

[clock ticking]

 … there's the ticking again – it expires this Sunday night at midnight, so let us hear from you, and we hope you have a great weekend as you attend one of these conferences in a city near where you live this fall.

 And we are talking about marriage this week.  We're talking about what causes conflict in marriage.  One of the things that can cause conflict is when one person is more of a stickler for the rules than another person.

Rachel: [from audiotape.] Jake and I once took a temperament test to help us understand our different personalities.  Each of us had to fill out a 70-question survey …

Rachel's Husband: Which is more than my personality wanted to do in the first place.

Rachel: Our answers were evaluated, and we were told that we each had a basic temperament type, and that this temperament type predicted what we would do and say in different situations.

 My type was called the most sociable of all types. 

Rachel's Husband: Mine was called "incurable," but at least not contagious, at least that's what Rachel called it.

Rachel: Mine said "this temperament type has a well-developed sense of tradition and takes the rights and wrongs of the culture seriously.  People with this temperament type often feel a strong sense of obligation and responsibility.

Rachel's Husband: On the other hand, I was described this way – "Only statements that are logical and coherent carry weight.  People with this temperament can seem a little arrogant."

Rachel: You can imagine some of the conversations we've had.

Rachel's Husband: Like?

Rachel: Like – are you going to wear those pants?

Rachel's Husband: What's wrong with them?

Rachel: They're white.  You're not supposed to wear white pants in the winter.

Rachel's Husband: Who made up that rule?

Rachel: Everybody knows that.

Rachel's Husband: I don't know it.

Rachel: This from a man who wears tennis shoes to church.

Rachel's Husband: And your point would be …

Rachel: Look, I don't make up these rules.  You're just not supposed to wear white in the winter, that's all.

Rachel's Husband: So someone I never met makes up a rule that makes no sense to me, and I’m supposed to follow it?

Rachel: Why don't you wear your underwear outside your pants while you're at it?

Bob: Who did make up that rule about white?

Dennis: You know, Barbara's been telling me those rules for years.

Bob: Now, wait, I saw a picture of you …

Dennis: … now, don't start …

Bob: With a white belt and white shoes …

Dennis: I know where you're going, but that was before I was married.

Bob: Somebody should have made up that rule before you bought those clothes.

Dennis: You know, it does take marriage to sometimes tame the barbarian.

Bob: Yeah, and to work our fashion sense into us.

Dennis: No doubt about it, no doubt about it.  Well, we want to work some resolving conflict sense into some singles who may be dating or would like to be married, and who grossly underestimate the potential for conflict between two married partners.

Bob: "We'll never have conflict.  We think so much alike.  We just love each other.  Yes, it will be wonderful."

Dennis: And then we want to talk to the married folks who are on the other side of the fence who know.  Or those who know and who have moved to denial who say, "You know, we don't have any conflict, you know?  There's nothing he wouldn't do for me, and there's nothing I wouldn't do for him, and that's exactly what we do."

Bob: We do nothing for each other all the time, that's right.

Dennis: Well, we have the authors of two books on conflict – "Fight Fair," and a second book, "The Seven Conflicts, Resolving the Most Common Disagreements in Marriage."  Tim and Joy Downs join us for a third day.  Tim, Joy, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.

Tim: Good to be back.

Joy: Thank you.

Dennis: It's been good just to hear some of your dirt of how you guys have had arguments.

Tim: This is getting embarrassing.

Dennis: Well, you know, some of these little dialogs that we have begun the program with this week come out of the real life of your marriage and family.  You guys have served on Crusade staff a number of years.  Everybody knows that a Campus Crusade for Christ staff member who is paid to be good would never have a conflict in their marriage.  But you all have these conflicts.

Tim: You know, we began our book by saying, "If you're looking for a book by someone who has overcome it all and never has a conflict, stop reading here."


Joy: "We are not that couple."

Tim: We are not that couple.

Bob: It's interesting, because the premise that you've start with this week, and it's really what we've been talking about is that there are some core issues that we wind up gravitating around where conflict occurs.  We've talked about things like how we view security, what makes us feel safe and provided for and protected.  We talked yesterday about loyalty, which involves faithfulness and priority and how we need to learn how to express those ideas to one another.

Dennis: Right.

Bob: There is once concept in here that was – well – it kind of takes you for a minute and say, "What are you talking about here?"  When you talk about responsibility, how does responsibility lead to conflict?

Tim: Well, we mean responsibility in a different way.  It's not just being a mature and responsible person.  It's a sense of what you are supposed to do.  We break responsible down into two words – obligation and expectation.  Obligation is your internal sense of what ought to happen.  This is the way things should be done.  This is the right thing to do.  We're just supposed to, don't ask me why, we're just supposed to.

Bob: Conforming to social norms?

Tim: Exactly.  There are thousands of unwritten rules out there, and for some they have a great force, they have a great power.  For others, they have no regard for the rules.  Who wrote those rules?  Where did those rules come from, anyway?  But some of us are driven by that internal sense of "oughtness."

Bob: And, Joy, you took a test back before you and Tim got married that kind of measured where you were on this responsibility scale.  And those rules, those have a deep root in your heart, don't they?

Joy: They do, they do.

Dennis: She's a high justice person.  I like Joy.  Huh?

Bob: But a high sense of where right and wrong is and what's appropriate and what's inappropriate, and if you're going to care about other people, you're just going to obey those rules, aren't they?

Joy: Right, and I've had to grow in this area where I've had to see the gray areas in things.  There are gray areas but, you know, for example, I can watch something on television, and I will see, "This isn't right.  I should write a letter.  I should do this," you know, "There's something that needs to be done."

 But Tim, very often, does not see it the same way, and so I can feel weary in being the one that always seems to seek justice, like you said, Dennis, or want to see something righted, and when I see that Tim doesn't really care about that, think about that, you know, that can bother me.

Dennis: Tim, what's it like to live in a gray oblivion?


Tim: I say that's what remote controls were made for.  You see something on TV that bothers you, you switch channels.

Bob: You just change it.  You took the same test Joy took at the same time …

Tim: I did, I did.

Bob: … and the results showed that you guys were on opposite ends.  While she is seeing these social norms, you're an iconoclast – you want to go destroy the social norms.

Tim: For me, if I don't see the logic or reason of the rule, it has no power over me.  I don't care about outside authorities.  Where did they come up with these rules?  Who put them in charge?  I want to know, does it make sense to me?  And the fact is, a lot of our norms don't necessarily make sense, it's just the way things ought to be done.  We've agreed that they ought to be, and that's a source of conflict, then, inside marriage.

Bob: And it can be more than just whether you're wearing white pants in the winter.

Tim: Oh, absolutely.  Let's give another example here.  We think this is the difference between principles and pragmatism.  Some people are principle-oriented.  Dennis, that's what you meant by being justice-oriented. 

Dennis: Right.

Tim: For that person, when an issue comes up, their first question is what is the right thing to do?  In fact, it's probably the only question that comes up, because once they know the right thing to do, you just do it.  Either you do it, or you don't.

 A pragmatic person asks, "What's the easiest thing to do?  What's the straightest line between two points?"  Okay, so we're driving through a neighborhood, the sign says 35 miles an hour, I’m driving 50.  Joy says, "The sign says 35 miles an hour."  I say, "Well, nobody's around.  What the sign is saying is 'don't kill anybody and drive at a reasonable speed.'"  And Joy would say, "No, the sign says 35, it's not asking for your interpretation."

Dennis: And so the ensuing conflict occurs, Joy?

Joy: Well, yes, now I try to keep my mouth shut.  You know there are some things that you argue about and some things I just think, "If we get a ticket, we get a ticket," you know, but there are times where I've said those kinds of things, and then I realize, you know, he's a grown man, he knows what I think about that, he knows …

Bob: Yeah, but I bet your pray imprecatorily, "God, send a ticket to judge him and teach him the wickedness of his ways."

Joy: Well, I can let go of this one, but there are ones that I don't let go of, and I do remind him, you know, I do.

Bob: Like what?

Joy: Oh, what are some things?  For example – this is a small one, I mean, this isn't a big issue and some people will say, "How petty."  But sometimes the things that he does in restaurants, the manners that he has, you know, picking things up with his fingers that I think you should not pick things up with your fingers."

Tim: How else do you eat soup?


Joy: You know, there are things that I just say, you know, "Honey, when you're with me, would you mind not doing that?"  And I have to give him the freedom "that is with me."  You know, I'll say, "When you're with me, that's a little embarrassing."

Dennis: Joy, what you're talking about here is a minor deal like eating soup with your fingers, but for some women right now who are married to husbands who – well, maybe they are breaking the law, a more serious matter – what would you say to them because this can produce a conflict of enormous proportions.  I mean, if a wife confronts a husband around something that's very serious like not paying bills on time, and they're going to turn off the lights at your house …

Bob: Or he's keeping marijuana in the bedroom, and it wouldn't just be him who might go to jail if the police come.  How do you handle that?  What do you tell a wife who says, "This is wrong, and he shouldn't do that."

Joy: Well, I would say that you need to pray and ask God for wisdom first, and then you should seek help from a pastor, from a mature Christian friend that would help you discern what the next steps are.  But certainly in the cases of breaking the law, that is not acceptable to the Lord and especially if you're in an abusive situation yourself, or you're being harmed yourself, that's not acceptable to the Lord, and you need to get help.

Tim: It's important to say, too, that sometimes issues cross the boundaries of the seven conflicts.  So in a situation like that, that's a security issue.  "I feel at risk, I could go to jail."  It's a loyalty issue, "I want to think of you as a faithful man, but you flaunt the law, the written law, and yet say that you're faithful to me.  I don't know how I can trust you anymore."  I mean a number of different issues come to bear there, and you need to confront them.

 By responsibility here, we're dealing mostly with those unspoken norms that – they're not clearly written down in a lawbook somewhere.  It's just a sense of "oughtness."

Dennis: Tim, there is a book written about manners and etiquette.

Tim: Yeah, but who is she?

Dennis: Who wrote that book?

Bob: Who is that lady and where did she get those ideas?  See, Tim and I – I have to step in here, because we have a little kindred spirit on this one.  Here, high five, man.  Tim and I – Dennis and Joy kind of gravitate toward these social norms and these rules.  And Tim and I are a little more on the other side, and so I just want to step in here and ask a question, Tim. 

 There are some people whose lives are just so uptight and controlled by these rules that they just don't experience the real joy of the Lord, you know what I mean?

Tim: The freedom, yes, the freedom.

Bob: The freedom in Christ, and how can we help those people get past their sense of "oughtness" to a place where they have the liberation that we have found?

Tim: Well, there are medications available now.


 Joy made a great point here, and it has to do with where we go wrong in responsibility arguments.  Because one person has a great sense of "oughtness."  What we tend to do is argue the logic of the rule – no, you don't eat barbecued chicken with your fingers in a restaurant, and here is why – this is why it's logical, this is why it's important.  You know, you will never resolve that, because you're arguing about the rule.

 You need to do what Joy suggested, and you need to say, "Look, it embarrasses me when you do that.  Will you do something for me?  When we are together in a restaurant, would you use your knife and fork to eat your barbecued chicken?

 You know, we are motivated to please one another in marriage, even the person that isn't rule-oriented is still motivated to please their mate, and on that basis I'm happy to do what Joy wants, I'm just not going to agree that this rule makes sense.

Dennis: But, Tim, have you ever felt picked on about this?  I mean, tell the truth.  I mean, in the process of how many years of marriage?

Tim: Twenty-two.

Dennis: Twenty-two, got it right.  Twenty-two years of marriage, have you ever felt like maybe Joy was, well, just kind of "Leave me alone." 

Tim: It isn't from Joy, but, you know, if you're not rule-oriented, you always feel picked on because you feel like people are always telling you how you need to do things and to get in line, and there's something that just rubs you the wrong way.

Bob: I know Mary Ann and I have experienced this around – we started the program with fashion sense today and wearing white in the winter.  There are sometimes when I'll step out of the closet wearing something, and she'll just have this look.  She doesn't even need to say anything.  And there's part of me that bows up a little bit and goes, "This is what I want to wear."


Tim: Bob, that look is a preview of coming attractions.

Bob: I understand completely.

Tim: It's the look you're going to get when you walk outside.

Bob: But here is what I've found, and it goes back to the principle you're talking about here.  Do I want to wear what I want to wear because I want to wear it, or would I somehow minister to my wife in a way that shows respect and value to her if I said, "You know, I would like to appear in a way in public that you feel proud of how I appear?"

 And this has been kind of an interesting deal, because if it's me, and we're going to church, I'm okay with shorts and tennis shows, you know, for the Sunday night service.  I'm okay with that.

Dennis: You are?

Bob: Yeah.

Dennis: Okay.

Bob: Maybe not Sunday morning, but I can do it for Sunday night, I'm okay with that.  Mary Ann is probably not okay with shorts and tennis shows.  Now, the question is – which do I value more – my comfort and my prerogative or my wife and her sense of feeling comfortable with me?

Dennis: I don't want to give you a rule, but I do want to read you …

Tim: The Holy Scriptures.


Dennis: I do want to read you what Paul said, because I believe there is a law of the universe, all right, that talks about some higher calling than our freedom.  Romans, chapter 12, verse 10 – "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love, give preference to one another in honor."

 And, you know, if you have two people in a marriage who are truly devoted to one another, and it's not a matter of keeping one another's rules, it really is a matter of honoring the value in esteeming Joy when she's right, because you just know, Tim, in your heart that even though you live in the gray that she's right."


Tim: We talked about obligation, which is your internal sense of what ought to be done, but expectation is your sense of what other people expect of you.  So should you cut your grass when it's a little too long?  One of you thinks, it's not that big a deal, wait until the next week.  And the other one is thinking the neighbors expect the grass to be cut.  It doesn't matter to you, it matters a lot to them.

 This is your sense of what you think other people are looking for.

Dennis: What God is trying to do in all of our lives around these differences is He's knocking the edges off of all of us so that we really recognize how much we need each other.  Tim and Joy were put together by God not because of some cosmic humorist who is trying to make a funny point, but who is trying to merge two people together as one to His glory.

Bob: And you talk, Joy, about recognizing some of the pride and self-centeredness in caring too much about what other people think and yet, Tim, as we've already said, maybe you don't care enough about what other people think.  You're not doing what Romans 12 calls you to do all the time in being deferential with others so that you say, "You know, the higher priority for me really is to care about another person and how I minister and serve them than whether I am comfortable with the rule or not.  If Joy wants me to put dark pants on because it's winter, I can do that."

Tim: That's right, and then once again we have to resist that instinct to polarize and pull away from one another.  It's easy for me to say "Don't give me any rules," and for Joy to say, "Well, then, I'm keeping them all."  Instead, we need to realize we both have to move towards the fence, and there are areas where rules are not important, and she can let go of them, and there are areas where I need to think about other people and how I look and things like that.  We both have to compromise.

Dennis: Well, I just read about this hero in the Korean War who received a medal because he attacked a bunker singlehandedly and literally grabbed a grenade out of the air and threw it back at the enemy and got them.

 And I think about how marriage can be something very similar, where you can grab words out of the air that your spouse is throwing at you and throw them back at them and hurt them because of who they are.  Maybe they are too high justice, and they live too much by the rules, or maybe they live in that gray twilight zone like Bob and Tim and wear shorts to church.

Dennis: I'm still trying to get over that, Bob.  But, you know, the outcome is not a pretty outcome.  The bottom line is it can be the explosion of a relationship that ultimately ends in either emotional divorce or legal divorce of two people who didn't get married to hurt each other, but who got married to experience peace and hope and happiness.

Bob: I'm only talking about Sunday nights in the summer.


 Okay?  That's all I'm talking about.

Dennis: We're going to get some mail about this.  In fact, I think what we need to do is put a shot of you on our Internet site.

Bob: No, we're not doing the shorts shot on the Internet site.  I'm sorry, that's been vetoed by the webmaster.  They're trying to attract people to the website.

 I'll tell you what we are doing on our website, though, is we're making available Tim and Joy's books on the subject of conflict.  The book, "The Seven Conflicts" is available in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and you can go online to request a copy of that, or the book, "Fight Fair," which is kind of a workbook for couples to work through principles for resolving conflict.  And, again, they're both available at

 When you get to our home page, click the red button that says "Go," and that will take you to the area of the site where you can get more information about both books.  You can order online, if you'd like, or you can call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, and we'll make arrangements to have these books sent out to you.  Again, the website if, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY.

 And, don't forget, when you get in touch with us, this is the last week that FamilyLife Today listeners have to take advantage of the special offer that is available for attending one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences where Tim and Joy Downs may be speaking this fall.  You're going to be speaking at a couple of these conferences, I think.

 I'm going to be speaking at one up in Bellingham, Washington, in November.  We have more than 60 of these conferences being hosted in cities all across the country this fall, and FamilyLife Today listeners who sign up for a conference this week will save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee and we'll make available a copy of Dennis and Barbara Rainey's new book, which is called "Moments With You."  It's a daily devotional that is a sequel to the book, "Moments Together for Couples," that was a bestseller from a number of years ago.

 So you'll get a copy of Dennis and Barbara's new book, and you'll save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee if you sign up this week for a Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference and if you identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, which means when you call 1-800-FLTODAY to register, just mention that you listener to FamilyLife Today or if you register online at, when you come to the keycode box type my name in there.  Type the name "Bob."  We'll know you're a FamilyLife Today listener.  We'll subtract $60 per couple from your registration fee, and we'll make arrangements to get you a copy of Dennis and Barbara's new book.

 Now, as I said, the offer expires Sunday night at midnight, so we need to hear from you very soon to take advantage of this special offer and, by the way, some of the cities where we're hosting these conferences are nearing sellout.  So if you want to attend, you need to register today.  Online at or call 1-800-FLTODAY and make plans to attend one of these upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences when it comes to a city near where you live.

 Well, tomorrow we want to talk about another source of conflict in marriage.  We want to talk about the whole issue of expectations and what happens when we don't meet one another's expectations and we begin to think, "I wonder if she really cares about me?"  We'll talk about that tomorrow, I hope you can be with us for that.

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