Why Your Marriage Needs Your Limitations: Kelly Kapic
Spoiler: You're no superhero. Could your marriage be better for it? Author Kelly Kapic explores how embracing limitations can lead to powerful intimacy.
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Spoiler: You’re no superhero. Could your marriage be better for it? Author Kelly Kapic explores how embracing limitations can lead to powerful intimacy.
Why Your Marriage Needs Your Limitations: Kelly Kapic
Kelly: Recognizing limits is not about saying we can’t grow, and it’s certainly not meant as an excuse for sin. It’s meant to recognize, “Oh, I’m really dependent on God, others, and the earth, and there’s a goodness in this dependence.” But when sin is affecting those things, then it needs to be addressed.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Dave: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: So, I have this thought, and I want to see if you agree.
Ann: Oh, no!
Dave: I think we did it; I think almost every married couple I’ve ever seen has done this: before marriage, we overestimate our spouse’s goodness.
Ann: Oh! [Laughter]
Dave: After marriage, we overestimate our spouse’s badness.
Kelly: That’s brilliant!
Ann: For sure, because before—
Dave: “That’s brilliant!” I was just told I was brilliant. [Laughter] That’s my goodness.
Ann: Before marriage, we see all the good. We notice everything. We’re just reveling in the goodness of our “to-be” spouse. Then, after marriage, you’re right. Suddenly, all we see is the negative. I think that’s pretty common.
Dave: Yes, that’s why I brought it up, because I’m reading a book called, You’re Only Human. It made me think of that concept, when you apply the limits of our humanness to marriage. We’ve got Kelly Kapic in the studio with us. Welcome back, Kelly.
Kelly: Thanks! Great to be with you.
Dave: I mean, you’re over there laughing about this comment. [Laughter] Obviously, you didn’t say that in your book, You’re Only Human. In fact, let me read the subtitle, because I think, [with] what we talked about yesterday, we need to apply to marriages: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design—right away, you go, “Wait, wait, wait! What do you mean our limits reflect God’s design?”—and Why That’s Good News.
So, you’re laughing, because—have you done the same thing I have?
Dave: You’re a professor, and you teach college students in theology, but you’re a husband and a dad. So, have you done that in your marriage?
Kelly: Oh, yes; in all kinds of areas, right? But I do think marriage is one of those things where, you know, my wife and I now, for twenty years or so, will do what we call a “Young Married Class.” We’ll take a year, and we’ll meet with about five couples once a month. The reason we call it “Young Married” is, we don’t do newlyweds, because they don’t have a clue! [Laughter] It’s like, “Don’t waste your time!” Right?
Dave: Exactly! [Laughter]
Ann: You have to get them in the reality phase.
Kelly: So, we’ll let their pastors do, you know, the premarital counseling and stuff, and then, once they’re married, it’s like, “Okay, now we can talk!”
Kelly: And we do. We have these homework assignments like, “Go out to a greasy spoon restaurant and talk about [this].” But I think you’re exactly right. Part of it is, you know, when you’re dating, you’re slowly revealing more and more of yourself, because you can’t hide it.
Kelly: But then, in marriage, all of the sudden, it’s just there. And there’s a reason, biblically and otherwise, this imagery of nakedness is powerful, because there is something both beautiful, when you’re embraced, and super-vulnerable, if you’re not, right? That’s not just physical; that’s in our whole selves.
Dave: Yes, and as we know, marriage especially is so intimate.
Dave: And I’m not talking about the sexual part of it.
Kelly: Right, right.
Dave: It’s so intimate that, biblically, we’re called to be “naked and unashamed.”
Dave: Not just physical nakedness but revealing our full self.
Dave: And then, when we do, I think that’s where we see, “Oh, my goodness! They have a lot of limits.”
Dave: “Limitations—I didn’t see that before.”
Dave: “If I had seen that beforehand, I’m not sure I’m sitting here right now.” [Laughter] Some do walk away because of that. Others are like, “Okay, I have limits, too. What would it look like for us to become one and embrace each other’s limitations?”
Kelly: Yes, yes, yes.
Dave: So, talk about that in terms of You’re Only Human, because “you’re only human”really, in some ways, drives us away from one another, and it could be something that drives us to one another, right?
Kelly: Yes, I think it’s meant to drive us to one another, right? The idea is that these two become one. I think you’re right; it’s actually not just about sexuality. It’s much deeper; but there is this—vulnerability is the place where intimacy can happen. There’s no other option but risk.
Ann: It’s so risky.
Kelly: It is so risky!
Ann: Because you could be rejected—
Ann: —when all of your flaws are seen.
Kelly: Right; and part of what you’re dealing with in marriage is: all of our own stories and backgrounds from childhood on, we carry into marriage. So, someone might respond one way, and we give it a weight they didn’t mean, you know?
Kelly: So, we expose ourselves a little bit with vulnerability, and then, there’s panic. So, part of the challenge is, you know, we have limits and we’re sinners. Trying to navigate, “What is sin, and what is just limits,” right? I’m no good at numbers. When we first got married, I would do the taxes, and it was terrible! [Laughter] I mean, it was terrible! Then, finally, a couple of years into marriage, Tab was like, “Give me those!” You know? And it’s been great ever since.
There were certain stereotypes, I think, that without even thinking about them, I was like, “Well, I’m the guy! I guess I should do taxes!” Which is an idiotic thing! I should not do the taxes in our marriage, right?
Kelly: So, learning to depend has been beautiful. I’m like, “Oh, honey, we’re so much better because you have these gifts, and I don’t.” Recognizing limits is not about saying we can’t grow, and it’s certainly not meant as an excuse for sin. It’s meant to recognize, “Oh, I’m really dependent on God, others, and the earth, and there’s a goodness in this dependence.” But when sin is affecting those things, then it needs to be addressed.
Dave: Yes, and the question is, you know, when you are confronted or you come face-to-face with your spouse’s limitations, what do you do?
In fact, we had Abby Wedgeworth on the show a while back. She had had a miscarriage, and she was trying to have her husband empathize with her, and her comments about her husband’s limitations, I thought, were enlightening, Kelly.
Kelly: What did she say?
Dave: We’re going to play this clip.
Kelly: I want to hear this!
Dave: We are going to play it. Then, I just want you to respond, because I think what she said—you know, in the moment, I hadn’t read your book yet; but now, as I’m thinking about what she said, I’m like, “Oh! This is what Kelly could address.” So, listen to what she said, and then give us your thoughts.
Abby: We look to our husbands for leadership, but we also look to them to be fixers; to make things better for us. And sometimes, there’s just nothing that can be done to make it better. You know, part of me is like, “I forgive you.” But there’s another side that [thinks], “I don’t know if he could have done any differently.” You know? Was that really sinning against me that he was so limited in his humanity in that way, that he could not participate? I don’t think he was sinning against me. I think he was doing the best he could as a human being.
[End Audio Recording]
Dave: Yes, what thoughts do you have?
Kelly: There’s a lot there. I mean, that’s beautiful, and that’s vulnerable. I think there’s something really powerful in what she’s saying, but part of me also wants to help us think through the process. I think part of our struggle—like when she was talking about her husband—he’s not going to be the same now as he was before this. My guess is, he probably has grown in empathy - in those skills. And I do think that’s something to grow into. Yet, to not judge him by where he will be, but by where he was, is a powerful thing and a gift, right?
I think that is more hopeful, because it allows us to respect people, meet them where they are, but also be hopeful that we can grow, right? If you struggle with empathy, it is a muscle you can grow.
Ann: I love that! I wish someone would have told me that in our early years of marriage, because I think we look at our spouse and think, “Oh! This is who you are?”
Ann: Instead of, “Oh, this is who you’re going to become.” I know that one of our sons was talking to his four-year-old son, and kind of instructing him in something—I can’t remember what it was; but his four-year-old looked at him and said, “Daddy, I’m only four years old!” [Laughter] “I’m going to get better at that later!”
And our son was like, “Oh, that’s so true!”
Ann: “I need to give him grace.” I think we need to do that with one another.
Ann: You’re right. It’s a process, and God lives in the process. He celebrates the process. We can especially do that to ourselves, too.
Ann: We get so impatient with ourselves, like, “I should be better at this by now!”
Ann: It’s never like, “You know, I’ve only been working on this for a few years. I need to give myself some grace!”
Dave: I mean, how do we, you know, manage that and navigate that, in a marriage especially? Or personally, like Ann said? Because, you know, we say this at the end of every marriage conference we speak at. At the end of the conference, we remind the couples: “Listen, you’re going to go home, and he’s not going to be different.”
Kelly: Yes, yes, yes.
Dave: “She’s not going to be different.”
Kelly: “You’ll fight on the way home!”
Dave: Right. “I know you think, because of these 48 hours, he’s a totally different—” And in some ways, yes.
Dave: There’s going to be some things, but we’re trying to remind them, “Change is going to take time.”
Dave: So, how do you navigate that when change is taking time?
Ann: Too much time!
Dave: It’s day seven; it’s day fourteen.
Dave: It’s day three years, and he’s still or she’s still—you’re frustrated.
Dave: But they are slowly changing.
Kelly: I think you can only love to the degree that you’ve been loved. So, what I mean by that is—let me back up a little bit. Think about when you were teaching your kids how to walk, right? Or Margot, my second—I’d get near a couch and kind of stand her up. She’d put one hand on the couch, and then I’d walk like eight feet back. “Come on, Margot! Come to me!” You remember those days, right?
Kelly: Kind of wobbly. And then, she finally gets the courage, and she starts to walk toward me, and then you know what happens.
Kelly: Boom! [She] hits the ground. What do I do? I walk over to her and say, “You idiot! What are you doing, Margot?!” [Laughter] Right? Now, I apologize, because my guess is, honestly, for some of your listeners, that might have triggered them.
Dave: Because that’s what they heard.
Kelly: Well, here’s what’s interesting. It’s like, you know, I didn’t do that!
Ann: Of course not.
Kelly: I walked over to my daughter, and I picked her up: “Oh, sweetie, it’s alright!” She was looking. You know, sometimes there are tears, and sometimes there are not. She’s trying to figure out—I kiss her, and I make a big deal about her knee hitting something. Then, I stand her back up, and we try it again. It’s not that I’m indifferent to her learning to walk. I knew she needed to walk; but I knew how long it was going to take, and the balance and the muscles.
How do we think God views us? Our ability to be patient with spouses, and with children, and with others often betrays what we think God thinks of us. I really think, until we come to appreciate the depth of His love and grace for us, it’s very difficult to be loving, gracious, and patient with others.
Dave: That’s good.
Kelly: And that’s part of embracing [the] process.
Dave: Yes, it is. I mean, you know, when you said that, I’m envisioning—I’ve seen, and maybe you’ve seen videos as well—the Special Olympics. Somebody’s that’s not physically able to run.
Dave: And they fall, and so often, the other competitors will stop and help them up.
Kelly: It’s so beautiful!
Dave: They’ll go over, and it’s like the want to win—I think they probably still want to win—
Dave: —but you can tell, “This isn’t about us winning. We want to help our brother or sister.”
Kelly: Yes, yes.
Dave: And I thought, “If that’s what we had in our marriage, or with our kids—”
Kelly: Yes, that’s beautiful.
Dave: “It’s going to take a long time. We’re there to help.”
Dave: It would change everything!
Ann: I remember talking to a husband whose wife was harsh to him; mean! I remember asking him later, “How’s that? Has that been a struggle for you, in terms of how you feel about yourself?” He said, “Oh, no! It makes me feel bad for her, because I know that that’s how she speaks to herself.”
Ann: “And that’s what’s being reflected. I just need to love her and teach her.”
Ann: I was like, “Oh, my goodness! You are so mature!”
Kelly: Yes, that is very mature.
Ann: Realizing, “She’s just talking to herself like that all the time. I know her past.”
Ann: “And I know that’s how she was spoken to.”
Ann: “So, I need to get her to start talking to herself the way Jesus talks to her.”
Ann: “As a daughter of the King.”
Kelly: Yes, exactly.
Ann: I was like, “Man, that is so beautiful!”
Kelly: That’s right; yes.
Ann: Let’s talk a little bit now about kids: schedules; what this looks like; is there any way, as parents, we can help our kids? Before we started our interview with you, you were talking about how you like to talk about kids’ schedules. What does that mean?
Kelly: Well, I mean, part of it is, you know, years ago I did an interview with this woman, and she had read a book called The Little Book for Theologians that I [wrote]. And I agreed to do the podcast interview partly because she had a particularly niche audience of young moms with young kids. She just got convinced that theology would matter in their lives, so she said, “Let’s do an interview.” We had a great conversation, and at the end of the conversation, she gave me what I know she thought was a softball question. She was like, “What big theological concept do you think we moms should know?” And I said, “Finitude.” She was like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” [Laughter] You know?
Dave: “Let’s talk finitude!”
Kelly: And I said, “Well, your kids are not supposed to be good at everything. They don’t have to do everything, be everywhere.” And there was this wonderful, rich conversation that came out of it. But you know, I’m speaking somewhere outside of UVA, and I hear this in Los Angeles. It’s all over the country where, starting in kindergarten, there are parents, “My kid didn’t get into the right kindergarten!”
Kelly: And so all of this kind of pressure: Does my kid need to learn manners by thls age? Do they need to do this? Are they in seven sports?” And the parents and the kids are just worn out!
Kelly: And part of what’s happening is, we are catechizing. That’s what’s happening! And we’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s part of why a lot of us are so uncomfortable with quiet and silence and reflection. It’s part of what makes prayer so difficult. You know, for the average high schooler, my research shows, primarily in upper middle class public and private schools—if it’s lower income neighborhoods, it’s a little different, the average day for a high school kid is: they go to school at 7:30; they’re there ‘til 3:30; they go off to an extracurricular activity (theater, robotics, a sport); they get home at 6:30; they shower; they cram down some food. And then it’s homework or another extracurricular until 11:30 at night, every night. And they’re dying!
I am serious! There is not a college I know of, when I go around and speak—I have not been anywhere where they say, “Yes, we can keep up with the mental health issues of our kids.” And I’m not saying that’s the only thing. There’s Covid and all these other things; but this is a massive thing! These students will keep up, and then the wheels come off. I had a student—because I’ve been talking about these things publicly for a while, a college student—said, “Let’s have lunch.” So, we had lunch.
She takes a piece of paper, pushes it across the table, and every hour is a block for a seven-day week: 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And she says, “On here, I’ve color-coded”—you know, for the anal-retentive listeners, they’ll love this, right? [Laughter] “I’ve color-coded every hour on here, and I’ve tried to put in all the things that people I respect (pastors, parents, professors, and people like you) say I should do. So, it’s like, you say I should sleep eight hours a day. You say, ‘Sleep matters!’ So, she puts that in there. It’s like black.
And then, “I should read my Bible a little bit, because I’m a Christian, and pray a little bit.” She put that in there. “You say I should have three meals a day, and not just shove it down, but maybe talk to people.” So, that time. Then, “time in class, and this much time out.” And you’ll see where this is going. It actually became literally impossible for her to do everything that was expected of her. That same story can be told of someone who’s in business at 35 years old.
Kelly: Right? Or a parent at 28; whatever it is! And there is an irrationality to the shame and guilt we feel. So, part of it is, to think through, “What does flourishing look like? What do we want from our kids?” I think it does betray, sometimes, what we really want for our kids is this American dream of financial prosperity, and not necessarily flourishing before God, others, and the earth; some of those things.
Ann: How did you deal with this, because you’ve got kids?
Ann: How did you not fall into that same trap? Because all of us are on that carousel, and we don’t know how to get off.
Kelly: Yes, yes. I mean, we certainly didn’t do it perfectly, but one of the things we did do, which was hard, was we said, “No.” [Laughter] You know? It’s interesting, when I talk about finitude and limits, everyone’s like, “Oh! Let’s talk about rest!” They love it. Then, finally, at the end, they’re like, “Okay, how do we get what you’re talking about?”
Kelly: “and everything we’re doing?”
Kelly: The reality is, it’s painful. By and large, it’s not learning to say “no” to bad things. The hard part is learning to say “no” to good things. I teach at a Christian college, and this is one of those test cases. On Sunday—and this is not about legalism, right?—but just following the biblical pattern of one in seven days; one day of rest in seven: students will feel guilty if they don’t study on Sunday. That tells you something’s off, right? If they think they need to be working like that every day, that is going to drive them into the ground. That’s not a biblical pattern!
Work is a good gift from God, but so is rest, right? And we’ve got to learn rhythms and some of those things. So, part of it is, do you encourage kids to rest? I mean, I remember my kids, at different times, would come and say, “Oh, I’m bored,” and my wife would say, ”Perfect!” [Laughter] “We’re getting somewhere now!”
Ann: But how?
Kelly: Because this is where creativity comes from. She would not constantly fill them and say, “Okay, now do this!” It was like, “Go find something to do.” You know, we had some woods near us. It was like, “Go!” And there is something about creativity and space, but it’s super-hard, as a parent, to say, “No.”
Dave: Yes, and I think what you said is a great word for families.
Ann: Me, too.
Dave: You don’t even know what I’m going to say?
Kelly: No, I don’t. I’m nervous. [Laughter]
Dave: When you said, “you’ve got to learn to say, ‘no’ to good things.”
Kelly: Oh, yes.
Dave: I don’t think that is something families are considering, and I know there are listeners saying, “Yes, but you don’t understand!” I know. I can remember a soccer coach calling me.
Dave: I have three boys, and he wanted my youngest on his team. This kid was a really good athlete.
Dave: He ended up going to the NFL for a little bit. So, he had it!
Dave: He was like, “He’s got to be on my team!” I said, “Okay, what’s it look like? What’s your schedule?” It was like ninety games! I said, “He’s not going to do it.”
Dave: He said, “You’re going to miss out?! He’ll never get a college scholarship!”
Dave: I mean, I think he was seven, you know? [Laughter] Or six years old! This coach was sort of yelling at me.
Kelly: Yes, yes.
Dave: “You don’t understand how sports work!” I said, “I work in the NFL. I’m an NFL chaplain.” But it was a “no” answer.
Dave: I’m not saying we did it perfectly.
Ann: Dave, I remember those conversations.
Kelly: They’re so painful.
Ann: As a mom, I remember feeling, “But, but, but they’ll be behind!”
Ann: “Kids could make fun of them. They could be bullied!”
Ann: You know, we go through this whole scenario. So, I love that you said, “No.” I don’t know if I would have had the courage to.
Dave: And I just want to encourage families listening—dads, moms, blended families: Make the hard call!
Dave: It feels like they’re missing out on something. I think, what you said earlier, and in your book you talk about “rhythms.”
Dave: Vulnerability, gratitude, and rest. You talk about rest. Rest is a trust issue. Because when you rest, you’re not working. So, you’re like, “I’ve got to trust that even though I’m taking a day to not—I’m going to rest and be creative. I’m going to reenergize.” “I’m not going to fall way behind.” I walked in a mall last weekend, when we were doing a marriage conference, on Sunday afternoon to get something to eat. Chick-fil-A was there. I thought, “I want to get—” “Ohhhhh, it’s Sunday!” [Laughter] “Why are they closed??!” You know, that’s what I was thinking. On the other side, I’m like, “Wow! Look at that!”
Dave: An organization that has said, “You know what? We’re going to trust God to supply the finances we need. We’re not going to be open.” Every other one’s open!
Kelly: Yes, yes.
Dave: And I’m not saying all—but I thought, “Families need to be doing the same thing.” It’s a hard call, but it’s the right call. Your family will be better; your kids will thrive. And you’ll have a better marriage if you’ll decide to make a hard call and say, “You know what? The answer’s ‘no.’”
Ann: I remember saying to one of the high school girls I was working with, “Here’s your assignment for the week: sometime this week, I want you to go for a walk.” She was like, “I don’t have time. I have practice; I have to study!” You know, she was trying to get into a big university. I said, “Don’t study that night, even if it’s for 30 minutes!” “Just go for a walk. Don’t scroll; don’t take your phone unless you’re going to listen to worship music.”
Kelly: Right, right.
Ann: “But just go for a walk and let there just be silence.” And that was so foreign. She kept saying, “You don’t understand! This final that’s coming up—” And I think we, as parents, have the ability to say, “Hon, the final—you’re going to do great.”
Ann: “It’s going to be okay. I know you need to study. I know that’s important, but it’s not as important as you are; as having space; as just being able to breathe.” And I’m sure you’ve found that with college students.
Kelly: 100%! But there is—I love that you guys are emphasizing this—a word to those parents: if you say it to your kids, you have to be ready to actually believe it.
Dave: And do it!
Kelly: Because she might not get an “A” on the test.
Kelly: And I think this is where our values do get betrayed. So, it’s easy for us to tell the kids, “Hey, you need to relax!” But actually, they’re getting all these other signals from us that they’d better never relax, because they need to get this goal. So, it is a call to them and to us, and those are scary things for parents.
Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Kelly Kapic on FamilyLife Today. Good stuff today! Do our actions, our posture, and even our mannerisms around our kids match our words and exhortations to them? You know, working with young people for over 20 years now, I’ve found that they have the ability to read between the lines quite easily and discover what we actually believe based on how we live, not only by what we say.
This was incredibly helpful content today from Kelly Kapic. Kelly has actually written a book called You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design, and Why That’s Actually Good News. In this book, Kelly explores the theology behind seeing our human limitations as a gift from God rather than a deficiency. This book is our gift to you when you partner with us financially here at FamilyLife.
You can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, the number is 800-F as in “family,” L as in “life,” and then the word, “TODAY.” And feel free to drop us something in the mail, too, if you’d like. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL 32832.
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Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are back again one more time with Kelly Kapic as he helps us to speak truthfully about our strengths and weaknesses; how we can delight in other people and look for their gifts. That’s tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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