Unpacking the Pain
About the Guest
Can you really change your marriage in five days? Marriage and family specialists Terry Hargrave and Shawn Stoever talk about the benefits of a marriage intensive--five days set aside to really go deep into your marriage and deal with those issues that have caused you to stumble as a couple.
Can you really change your marriage in five days?
Bob: Author and marriage counselor Shawn Stoever says we live in a disposable culture. When your toaster or, for that matter, your TV is on the blink, nobody gets it repaired anymore. You just get a new one.
Shawn: That works well when your TV dies; that’s a good model to follow. But relationships and people—that’s not how we were designed to operate. But that’s the thought people have. The statistics prove that that’s not the way to do it because second marriages don’t work better than first, statistically; and third are even worse.
The common denominator from marriage to marriage is that you brought yourself into each one of them. Until you’re ready to do something on yourself, you’re not going to change by just swapping partners.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, February 22nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Shawn Stoever and Terry Hargrave believe that when something goes wrong with your marriage, in almost every case, it’s worth fixing. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, in the corporate world, they’ve got guys that they refer to as turn-around specialists—guys who you send into a company if things are headed in the wrong direction. It’s their job to get that company turned around and headed in the right direction.
Bob: I think we’ve got a couple of “turn-around specialists,” not in the corporate world, but in the marriage world, joining us today.
Dennis: We do. We have Dr. Terry Hargrave and Dr. Shawn Stoever joining us on FamilyLife Today. Shawn, Terry, welcome to the broadcast.
Shawn: Thanks so much for having us.
Dennis: You guys have never been introduced like that; have you?
Shawn: We have not; no. I’ve been asked to turn around many times in my life— (Laughter)—and leave places, but never called the “turn-around specialist”.
Terry: I’m going to give up the name “therapist” and I’m going to start going with “turn-around specialist”.
Bob: I could get you some business cards made up with that on it. We’ll talk afterwards.
Dennis: Well, let me tell our audience who these guys are. Terry Hargrave is an author. He’s Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He’s married to Sharon since 1979. They have two children.
Shawn lives in Austin, Texas, along with his wife Christina. Since 1995 they’ve been married. They have four children. He’s an author, and a speaker, and the Senior Director for the WinShape Foundation. Together, these guys have worked to create 5 Days to a New Marriage.
As I was thinking about interviewing you guys, I wanted to ask you, “How long these days last? (Laughter) 5 Days to a New Marriage.” Now, I could understand it if the days lasted for, you know, a month or so. I could believe that, but you’re talking about five literal days; right Shawn?
Shawn: Well, it’s all biblical, you know. God took a long time there at the start with those days when He created the world, so we’re just kind of taking a little liberty with time. (Laughter) No. We’re talking about literal days. This book comes out of the work that’s been done in marriage intensives. We watch amazing things happen in short periods of time.
You’ve got to have devoted effort and energy put toward it. When couples are willing to sequester themselves away for an extended period of time, they can really accomplish a lot of things.
Bob: Now, for folks who don’t know what a “marriage intensive” is, give us an idea of what that experience is like.
Shawn: Sure. If you think about it, a good analogy might be summer camp for kids. You know, youth pastors get to work with kids once a week throughout the school year; and great things happen in those youth groups. But if you ask a youth pastor if they get a chance to take your kids away during the summer for a camp experience, a one-week experience, they can do things spiritually with the kids and get them to places they never would be able to get in that 50 minutes, once a week.
It turns out—counseling and marriage therapy is the same way. We can do a lot of things 50 minutes, once a week; but there are amazing things that can happen if you actually tuck yourselves away—sequester yourself from the demands of your average day, and the cell phone ringing, and the kids coming and interrupting. You get tucked away for four or five days and really let the Lord and biblical truth sink in. Great things happen.
That’s what is happening in these marriage intensives.
Bob: Of course, I hear about that and I have to ask—kids come back from summer camp, and they’ve got what we call “the camp high”. You know? And then it starts to fade after a couple of weeks.
Bob: Do you see the same thing with a marriage intensive?
Shawn: Well, we sure hope not. That’s why it’s actually called “five days”. As we dig into it, we’ll explain that four days happen in kind of a marriage intensive environment; and what you do on that fifth day makes all the difference. That fifth day is a metaphor for going forward. It’s just like a summer camp experience, “What do you do when you come back to keep that alive?” The same thing has to happen in your marriage.
Dennis: Terry, you’ve been doing this for how many years?
Terry: I started doing intensive work—I’ve done marital therapy for 25 years—but doing the intensive model of therapy six years. I can really speak to that. You know, with once-a-week therapy, you’re able to protect yourself a little bit. You’re able to go for 50 or 55 minutes a week and just get back to normal life; or if I didn’t like what the counselor said that week, I can just let it go. “I’ll come back to that next week and give myself some chances to think about it.”
In the intensive format, I really have to confront it because there’s no break for me to get away from it. I really have to face the issues. That’s one of the great things about intensive-type work—it gives you the time and the place to focus on what needs to change.
Dennis: I really believe in the model. Since 1976, FamilyLife has been hosting Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways, which is not a marriage intensive, around the counseling model. It is a marriage intensive around teaching the biblical blueprints for marriage and family—aligning a couple together with the same set of blueprints; interacting around that; giving them some projects to work through.
It’s like Bob said earlier—there is this “high” that occurs in the weekend as progress is made, and realized, and people begin to benefit in their relationship; but there’s always reality on Sunday night when they go home, and on Monday morning.
Bob: And life is back to normal.
That immersive experience, that you’re describing, is a laboratory where some things can happen that—I mean, you’ve seen breakthroughs in that one-hour counseling model every week (every Wednesday) you come for an hour. There are those breakthrough moments; but I remember a mutual friend of ours, Dr. Gary Rosburg, who has been doing counseling for years. He said to me, “If I can get somebody in one of these intensive settings—”, whether it’s a Weekend to Remember or the kind of intensive you’re talking about. He said, “—that’s six months to a year’s worth of counseling that happens in that short period of time.”
He said, “We just leapfrog them in terms of their progress.”
Shawn: You really do. Even if you just multiply out the hours. If you think, 50 minutes once a week—and in that 50 minutes, you run in from different locations with your spouse and you end up maybe getting 15 minutes of really deep work in your week. We don’t have to do that in the intensive setting. You’re getting 30-something hours of dedicated work. That really does multiply out over time—but then, just the not having to go back where you came from—you stay in the bad spot, you stay in the conflict, you work your way through it. It makes a big difference.
To your point, Dennis, about the leaking as you leave a Weekend to Remember. You know, you’re out there with a lot of other couples. You’re hearing biblical truths, but you’re hearing them in a really general sense, and then you’re forced (you’re left) to apply them in your own marriage.
Dennis: Right; right.
Shawn: In the intensive setting, you’re there with four other couples, at the most; and the counselors are actually applying the biblical truths directly to your setting. You get a chance to ask a question. I know there are people out there—I’ve come to plenty of Weekend to Remembers. My wife Christina has wanted to raise her hand and say, “Hey, hey, can you apply that directly to Shawn—?” (Laughter) “—because he really screws that point up, right there!”
Bob: As you describe the intensive model, I think to myself two things: First of all, I think, “Is somebody likely to be in real crisis before they’re going to invest in that kind of an intensive setting?” and, then, the second thing is, “My wife and I, together, with three other couples? That sounds threatening.”
Bob: “I’m not sure I want to sit in that situation. You’re going to start meddling with my life.”
Terry: One of the realities about that is that couples come to us and say, “You know, I cannot imagine dealing with what I need to deal with in front of other couples.” At the end of the intensive, they say, “I can’t imagine doing this any other way.”
Terry: The group dynamic is just phenomenal. The other point that you made is absolutely right. There are a lot of couples that come to us in crisis. I would say that out of four couples that come, usually two to three of them are going to be on the edge of saying, “You know, this is our last stop before we go see a lawyer.”
But it never fails—one or two of those couples are going to be in the ballpark, where they say, “We know that our marriage can be better. We know that we can take our marriage to a different level.” So, it doesn’t just have to be couples in crisis. Any couple can take their marriage to a new place.
Bob: So, some folks are coming in just for a tune-up. I mean, it’s hard to think that there would be couples who would say, “I’m going to take five days to go invest, just because we want to get it better;” but there are couples who are that proactive?
Terry: Yes, and it’s not just exactly a tune-up—it’s that they know that, even if they have a good marriage, there’s something central in their marriage that’s keeping them from being one—keeping them from being an “us”.
Dennis: And to that point, I’ve made this statement to couples in a counseling setting, as well. I’m not a formal therapist; but I’ve looked at them and said, “You know? When a couple gets all four wheels off in the ditch, they need a wrecker to pull them out of the ditch.” That’s what I view a counselor doing, one-on-one or one-on-four, with a group of couples. He helps pull that marriage out of the ditch and back on the road. Then, he gives them some skills to be able to move forward and to deal with and address what put them off in the ditch in the first place. Then, to have them anticipate additional issues that they’re going to face in the future. That’s what a marriage intensive can do. It proactively addresses these issues.
Bob: And, Shawn, as we talk about doing this in community, there’s actually benefit to it. I know for Mary Ann and me, as we get together with other couples and talk about issues in our life and our marriage, there’s some relief in that because all of a sudden, we don’t feel like, “Oh, we’re the only ones who go through these issues.” We don’t feel so separate or like it’s so crushing. These other couples have some good ideas that they share with us. There’s something about the power of getting together with other couples and being able to work through these things together. God uses that; doesn’t He?
Shawn: Absolutely! I think it’s a strategy of the Enemy that when you are in your deepest crisis, you look around and you only see two options. You see some couples in crisis that just throw in the towel. You say, “They gave up. Why shouldn’t we just give up?” Or you look the other direction, and you just see couples that look like they’re laughing and happy, and having fun. You feel like, “I’m the only one here stuck—that really wants to work on it.”
So you go to one of these experiences and the next thing you know, there are other people. It normalizes what you’re going through. There are other people trying to find hope. There are other people trying to get the four wheels out of the ditch. Just that commonality—having somebody beside you—does a lot for a couple.
Then, Terry mentioned a lot of the other benefits; but I tell you one of the biggest blessings, I think, is that in traditional therapy, if you’re the only couple there, it’s just human nature to have your resistances up in counseling. You’re going to resist some of what’s being said to you. You’re going to be scared to fully expose yourself.
When you’re sitting in a group and you’re relaxed, and the counselors are working with another couple across the room, those same things aren’t in place. You’re kind of just relaxed and listening. You can experience what Terry said. You can think, “Oh! Maybe that’s what my wife’s been saying to me. Now that I’m watching it happen across the room, it kind of makes sense to me.”
Dennis: Terry, I want you to just introduce us to a couple who came to one of these marriage intensives. Talk with our listeners about what their issues were as they came, what they dealt with, and what the hope was on the other end. Not that this is an “end all, be all”—the total solution to life. It’s another brick on the wall that you’re building as you’re trying to build a godly home.
But just introduce us to one of these couples so we can better understand the kind of person that would come to one of these intensives.
Terry: Sure. You know, a couple that came to an intensive that had been married for 18 years. They had two great children. They both agreed that they had remarkable children, but they would also both agree that they had never been one together. From the get-go, they started having struggles. He had come from a background where he felt like he had a domineering mother who was always on his back, and was always trying to tell him exactly what to do, and how he should become. He felt like, just to get some air, he kept withdrawing further, and further, and further away from relationships.
Well, he found out that he was pretty lonely. When he met his wife, he was so attracted to her and so enamored with her, he thought, “This surely is the woman that I can share my life with.” She was a great woman, but she had an unreliable family life. Particularly, her father was an alcoholic. He was unreliable to the family, so she learned, at a very early age, that if anything was going to get done in the family, she was going to have to do it. She was the one who took care of herself. Her mother was too busy with her own unhappiness—so she managed her own life.
Boy, they really saw one another as—she really felt like this guy was a stable guy who would never get into alcohol, and drinking, and carousing around. He looked at her saying, “This is a rock-solid woman who will help me get my life together.” They married and, of course, you can see what happened. She really wanted to direct him. He felt like, “Oh! This is just smothering to me!”
He started withdrawing. The more that he withdrew, the more that her heart cried out for somebody to love her—somebody to be with her. They started this cyclical pattern of just drifting further, and further, and further apart.
Bob: Did they have contempt for one another, or was it just indifference toward one another?
Terry: They came to the point—you know, that’s one of the things, Bob—that I’m glad you mentioned. Couples that we see that are in real, real trouble—there are of two types. Basically, one is that they just have contempt and they fight all the time.
Terry: But, you know, the greater majority of couples that we see—and generally, around 60 percent of them, are ones who are just so sick and tired of seeing one another. They do fight, but they don’t fight every day. They just have fights that never, ever get resolved. The way that they think they resolve it is they just leave each other alone and live separate lives.
This couple was one in that latter category who had just drifted apart so much. They only had one big fight once or twice a month, but it was a central fight—a devastating fight—where they would say things like, “You never have cared about me!”; “You’re always pushing me around!” They would say such damaging things to one another. They had such contempt, that they just turned each other off.
Bob: A couple in that situation will look at where they are and they’ll say, “I don’t have feelings anymore for my spouse—”
Bob: “—and I can’t remember when I did. I can’t think back to the last time I did. It seems obvious this is a dead marriage. When something’s dead, you should bury it and move on.” Isn’t that how most couples are thinking, Shawn?
Shawn: It’s certainly how our culture views things today—that when something’s over, it’s over; and you need to move on to the next thing. Unfortunately, that works well when your TV dies and you need to go down to Best Buy® and buy another one to replace it because they’re actually cheaper and better now than they used to be. It works well with automobiles and things. That’s a good model to follow; but relationships and people—that’s not how we were designed to operate.
Dennis: You’re not going to trade one in and get a better one?
Shawn: No, but that’s the thought people have. Obviously, the statistics prove that that’s not the way to do it because second marriages don’t work better than first, statistically; and third are even worse. The common denominator from marriage to marriage is you brought yourself into each one of them. Until you’re ready to do something on yourself, you’re not going to change by just swapping partners; but that is the mentality. That’s really why we went with the title New Marriage—just this thought that, “We want you to have something different.”
Another thing that I see a lot when couples call me and say, “Are we candidates for an intensive?”—like that couple Terry was just describing. They’ll say, “Will this really help us?” The last thing they want to hear is, “We’ll give you some tools to help you survive what you’re already in,” or, “You know what, you’ve made a covenant relationship before the Lord; and you’re going to have to honor that. We’re going to teach you how to honor that. We’re going to show you what real commitment is about.”
Those aren’t words that resonate with people today. What resonates with people is when we say, “What if we helped you have something you’ve never had before in your marriage? What if we helped you get to a place that you never even thought possible with the spouse you’re married to today? What if we let you dream or free associate about what you would want marriage to look like two years from now, and then we worked our tails off to help you get to that?”
All of a sudden, you start getting people inspired and motivated a little bit. They say, “Okay. I don’t think you can do it; but if you could give me a new marriage, I’d be willing to come spend four or five days to try to find out if that’s possible.”
Dennis: So, Terry, what happened with this couple in the intensive?
Terry: Well, you know, every couple that we work with—we find that central, cyclical pattern—that “old self” pattern that Ephesians 4 talks about—that pattern that they lock themselves into, that they thought was absolutely essential, that they actually thought was good for them. With the man—he thought that he was good to withdraw. That was much more positive than getting in to a fight. For the female, she thought, “It’s good for me to control. That’s how I keep life together.”
But after we started talking to them about that central pattern, they began to realize, “That’s the heart of the dragon. That’s the ‘old self’ that’s really preventing me from growing as an individual and growing together.” We teach them some skills about how to get at that heart of the dragon—to start cutting that cyclical pattern out and giving them a new pattern that they can look into—a “new self” pattern.
That couple, by the second day, had tremendous hope that they could really do this. For the first time, they understood what the problem was. They weren’t having 40 or 50 fights during the year; they were having one fight 40 or 50 times. So, when they argued about the kids, or the finances, or how they’re spending their time, it was just that one central issue—basically, him withdrawing; basically, her controlling. When they got some leverage on that and got hopeful on how to undo that pattern, then they began to pay attention to the skills of saying, “How do I pay attention to really connecting with my spouse, and really nurturing them, and really connecting in a meaningful way?”
That turned them around into a new pattern. They started practicing that. They left like they had never left before. I’ll never forget this couple walking out of the intensive saying, “For the first time in our lives—when we walked down the aisle after we were married, we hoped we would be one. For the first time in our marriage, walking out of this place, we are one.”
Dennis: You just described the ultimate issue in every marriage, whether it’s a crisis marriage, a marriage that’s just got some issues that need to be addressed, or a good marriage that needs to be made better. The heart of the dragon, as you described it, is self. It’s our propensity to look out for number one. That really is why Jesus Christ came. He didn’t just die on a cross to get us into heaven. He went to the cross to forgive our sins and give us the hope of heaven; but also put the reality of our surrender in our souls so that two imperfect people can live together in the most intimate of all relationships. They really can experience oneness.
You take two people whose necks are bent before Jesus Christ—they can get there. It may be tough. It’s not going to be easy. It’s not this “happily ever after” story, like Hollywood pumps out; but two people, who are willing to bend their wills and their necks to Jesus Christ, and ask Him to give them a new marriage—it can and does happen.
Bob: You guys have taken your experience in working with couples in these intensives and have come up with a resource for all of us to help us work on our own issues in marriage. The book you’ve written is called 5 Days to a New Marriage. In the book, you outline the same kind of pattern you take couples through as you get together with them.
We’ve got the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on Shawn Stoever and Terry Hargrave’s book, 5 Days to a New Marriage. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call us toll-free 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”. When you get in touch with us, we’ll make arrangements to get a copy of Shawn and Terry’s book sent out to you.
Now let me ask you a question, “Are you in the habit of being grateful—saying, ‘Thank you’—to folks who help you on a regular basis, whether it’s somebody who bags your groceries at the grocery store, or a coworker, or even to one another in marriage? Do you express your appreciation for your spouse on a regular basis?”
You know, we ought to be grateful people. That ought to be one of the things that characterizes us as followers of Christ. I hope you know how much we appreciate those of you who pray for us and who help support this program by making donations from time to time. We could not do what we do without that support. It really is a partnership; and we appreciate the part you play when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and make an online donation, or you call us and make a donation over the phone.
Every donation is important. We appreciate you partnership and your support of this ministry. In fact, this week, we’d like to say, “Thank you.” There’s a CD we’d like to send you that has a message from our friends, Tim and Joy Downs. It’s a humorous message about marital intimacy and about our differences when we come together as husband and wife in the sexual dimension of marriage.
When you make an online donation, this week, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I Care”, that you find there. When you make the donation, we’ll send you a copy of the CD from Tim and Joy Downs. If you make your donation by phone, be sure to ask for the CD from Tim and Joy Downs. Again, we’re happy to send it to you; and we are grateful for your partnership with us, here in the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
We hope you’ll be back with us again tomorrow. Shawn Stoever and Terry Hargrave are going to be here, and we’re going to talk with them about the specific steps they take couples through as they meet with them in these marital intensives. I hope you can be here 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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