Like the way each brick contributes to the foundation of a house, healthy habits sustain a strong marriage. While it’s good for couples to travel on weekend getaways or take a long vacation, true change occurs when spouses embrace those seemingly small moments for connection.
In this interview, Dr. Randy Schroeder describes practical habits to help couples navigate expectations in marriage, build emotional closeness, and resolve disagreements. Whether struggling through a difficult season or experiencing a wonderful time together, you will find helpful and practical takeaways.
And I always ask couples when was the last time you had a 10 minute eye to eye? Heart contact, consistent eye contact with each other, purposely focused eye contact without any distractions cellphone the other M. T. V. Off. Almost every couple that comes to see me will say we can’t remember. Welcome to the focus on the family broadcast helping families thrive john the normal wear and tear on a marriage can take its toll and it can be anything from financial worries to getting the kid’s homework done. Just the routines can really wear down your relationship with your spouse. And many of these stressors are unavoidable. We get that. But there are some things you can do that are what I would call regular maintenance that really help your marriage thrive and that’s what we’re going to talk about today. It’s not the situation where you’re in some serious trouble. This is more the tuneup activity that we all need and we all can do right if you’re in trouble with your feeling like we’re in a crisis we can’t pull up give us a call. We have really a terrific team of carrying counselors. 800 the letter A and the word family as you said though, jim this is more of a tune up for couples and I think it’s gonna help a lot of folks feel like they’re closer. As I said, we have dr randy schrader here. He’s a pastor, former seminary professor and Has been a marriage and family counselor for over 30 years. His book is going to be the foundation of our conversation today. It’s called simple habits for marital happiness, practical skills and tools that build a strong, satisfying relationship randy. Welcome back to focus on the family jim and john, it’s great to be with you again, I really appreciate you and focus on the family for promoting biblical values and supporting marriages and parents and families. Just thank you so very much for having me again. Well, it’s a treat actually. And I was telling the team as we were getting ready for the program. You have a really good gift which is to bring everyday metaphors into the marriage situation. So you make it rather easy. I think to remember little principles that really do help your marriage and we’re gonna unpack those today and I’m looking forward two people hearing more from you in this marriage area. In fact you’ve canceled thousands of married couples. So that’s where you get your expertise from. You’ve got stories galore. Um what are some of those top skills that you need to make a successful marriage? Great question. And it always begins Jim and john with I think expectations, the big expectations impact relationships, The habits determine the quality of our life and our relationships including marriage. And so what happens before marriage? Jim and john are couples are meeting each other’s expectations over and over and that feels good, you know, to have your expectation that over and over and so they decide to get married because they want that gratifying relationship for the rest of their life. And what happens though after marriage, often couples stop expressing. There are expectations that they so much desire and requesting different things, expectations from their spouse and they forget it’s all about the biggie that, that before marriage there is a goal to make the other person happy and making the other person happy says, hey, I’m gonna kind of assume expectations and meet expectations. And then after the first couple of years of marriage couples fall into complacency, complacency is the dreaded disease for every marriage taking on spouse for granted, taking the marriage for granted and they forget about meeting each other’s expectations. And so then they need to request those expectations. Sometimes expectations can be. Um boy they’re conflict oriented. I’m thinking of Gene and I, one of our early conflicts and it was around this area of expectations was if I went to the movies with my guy friends like I wouldn’t saw terminator, she wasn’t happy about that because that’s not a properly rated movie. I was shocked like terminators just, you know, good old robot violence. But that was something that she thought, wow, you know, I wouldn’t expect, you know, decent christian man to go and enjoy that. So we had to kind of work through that. Like what is what is appropriate in that way. And that kind of took me by surprise a little bit and that is a good point jim because we all have our own dictionary of words and how we define them. And so uh it’s important to make sure expectations are specific and then you talk about what’s reasonable, what’s realistic are they? Godly words and behaviors that need to be meant to make an emotional connection for a couple. And uh, but it still comes back to the biggie expectations and talking about, let me ask you to you in the book, You have uh an example of a couple that have been married 32 years and you know Gene and I’ve been married 35 how long? 37 congratulations. You’re at 45 right? 46 46. I mean that is great and that’s something I think we three men are committed to our marriage is right, but a lot of young couples would look at us and say, wow, how’d you do that? How did you get through all the expectation issue? This particular couple at 32 years had some major unmet expectation issues describe what was going on. Well they went to their pastor and they were very faithful christians. Uh they had adult Children that were married out of the house and uh, and they both jim and john had contacted lawyers, they absolutely wanted divorced. A big, a big range 25 to 35 years is a lot a lot of couples getting getting divorced. So what, what was going on there. Well they just, there was no unfaithfulness but they just weren’t happy. They were not meeting each other’s expectations without knowing how to make the expectations known. And so they came to see me uh with every premarital couple uh jim and john with every couple in the first couple of sessions, I talked about expectations and I talked about being specific. Oftentimes what I’ll do, I’ll have a couple make a list of their top 10 expectations for their marriage. And so I explained expectations to this couple in the first session because they were in a crisis. And then I asked them for the next seven days, will you please? And I think requests are better than commands which are sentences. Will you please ask one expectation of each other every day doesn’t have to be thing big. Will you please put your shoes in the closet when you come home? You know, will you please put your clothes in the laundry rather than throw them on the floor? So 14 total expectations. They came back the next week and they both had smiles on their faces and they said we want you to know. We contacted our lawyers and told them we’re putting our divorce on hold and we want you dr schrader to give us the specific practical words, behaviors and guidelines that lead to a satisfying christian marriage. Alright, so we write down our expectations I guess big and small. Those things that are going to irritate you. And and I would say the other aspect of this is don’t assume your spouse knows what your expectations are That that is so true. And I would say 99% of the time June when my wife Jenny doesn’t meet my expectations or I’m disappointed in our marriage. My first thought is, you know, she let me down. But then I look in the mirror and I asked myself randy, did you let jenny know, will you please do this? Will you please do that? Almost every time the answer is no, I forgot to make my expectation known. But my initial thought being an imperfect center is, you know, want to blame her, but it’s my mistake. I didn’t let her know my expectation in the same way for my wife with with me, you know, she needs to let me know and they need to be specific, you know, when couples make a list of their top 10 expectations primarily, you know, because I do have premarital couples to, they’ll say go to church. Well that’s a good expectation. But what church, you know, how often are you going to go to church once a month? Once a year christmas and easter every sunday. So it’s good to be specific with those ex expectations. Yeah, that’s good. Alright, we have that down now. We move into the idea of practical wisdom and those good wisdom habits, you you identify for? What are those for? I I really wish I had called them stay in love habits. These they are fall in love habits that need to become stay in love habits. And so what do all couples primarily do? Well, they go on a variety of dates and they do a lot of fun things together all the time and they also look into each other’s eyes and they make a heart connection. They talk hours and hours primarily and again, they’re meeting each other’s expectations and then primarily they give each other lengthy hugs and lingering kisses and those four fall in love habits need to continue jim and john after marriage, Unfortunately after the second or third year of marriage, I would suggest to you have no scientific facts, 95% of couples stop doing the fall in love habits and that’s what causes their hearts to go cold, what causes them to drift apart, What causes them to stop making their expectations known as well? And you know, the, the challenge there, it seems almost too simplistic. I’m sure some couples that are listening that are in some trouble, um, you know, they’re not where they want to be. Again, not serious and and we’re here for you, if you’re in a more serious situation, give us a call, our counselors are here and john will give those details in a minute. But even for, you know, again, the tune up kind of attitude, it sounds almost too simple, randy, that really, it’s just like spend 10 minutes I’d I talking hug for 10 seconds. Give a 12th kiss you know and then make sure you’re dating your mate. If I do those things I’m gonna have a great marriage seriously marriage. And that’s a good question. Jim. Marriage takes a lot more than fall in love habits and to stay in love habits. But if couples are not doing those I kind of call them the foundation right they’re not going to be emotionally connected. And the I would ask your listeners jim and I always ask couples when was the last time You had a 10 minute eye to eye? Heart contact, consistent eye contact with each other purposely focused eye contact without any distractions. Cellphone the other M. T. V. Off Almost every couple that comes to see me will say we can’t remember we can’t remember the last time we spent 10 minutes because couples are you know they may cook dinner together. Clean up the uh dishes together but it’s just passing eye contact just to look into each other’s eyes. Like the three of us are doing just doesn’t happen after the second or third year of marriage. That complacency sets in. Yeah and this is some great stuff from dr randy schrader. Good handles, very memorable content categorizations from him. The book is called simple habits for marital happiness, practical skills and tools that build a strong satisfying relationship. Get your copy when you’re online. The link is on your screen or call 800 the letter A and the word family randy you describe in the book, uh, something I’d really not connected, but it’s the attractiveness of politeness and that, you know, I hadn’t thought about it that way. I just think of being polite is the right thing to do. But the attractiveness of being polite to your spouse. After the first few years of marriage politeness kind of drops out and being extra polite saying please and thank you and you’re welcome. And uh, if there’s a sneeze, God bless you. But when couples are spouses have affairs, it’s often because uh, the other person is so polite and kind to them. In fact, I mentioned in my book husband who had an affair and he said to me, he said the other woman wasn’t really that attractive, but she was polite. She gave me compliments. She looked me in the eyes for a lengthy period of time. So we just talked about, yeah, let’s cover two simple habits for resolving conflict. I mean, these are just all like you said, john great handles that you could rapidly put to work and hopefully folks will get a copy of the book because there’s so much we’re not going to be able to cover. But the first idea of resolving conflict is to stay inside the nines. Now, you’re gonna explain this and I’m gonna come back and say, can we make it inside the eights because I’m a morning person and not a night owl, but go ahead. Well, I actually was gonna, I’m glad you said that jim. And I can tell you this one simple yet very effective guidelines has saved hundreds of marriages. I had hundreds of couples say this one guideline, staying inside the nines will prevented them from getting a divorce. And I’m gonna explain that. But yeah, so what inside the Nines means is there’s never a serious discussion before nine in the morning or after nine at night? When I ask couples, when was the last time you had a big blow up? Almost 100% of the time, they’ll say before nine in the morning or after nine o’clock at night. Now, jim you mentioned the eights and one of the things, one of the things I love about you jim is your sense of humor. But yeah, I tell couples massage those guidelines, you know? But the thing is when we’re tired early in the morning or late at night, our feelings are tender. And so even though I’m a marriage expert and help thousands of couples, my wife and I abide by that guideline because if we don’t have the energy, what do we do? We blame our spouses and we don’t look for solutions. So some couples jim based on your eights will say we’re not gonna have a serious discussion before 10 in the morning. We both are not energized to look for solutions? We’re gonna look for blame or we’re not gonna have a serious discussion after eight at night. Now couples will say to me Dr. Schrader, you know, the kids don’t go to bed until that time, you know, well then we can schedule discussions. Most uh, situations and not in life are not life and death. They don’t have to happen right now. But if we don’t have these guidelines, stay inside the nine and begin with what I suggest, a soft startup, harsh beginnings lead to harsh endings. What are harsh beginnings? You always, you never you’re stupid, you’re dumb. And so what I suggest to every couple when you have a disappointment and hurt if it’s inside the nines to say I need your help as christian people jim and john what do the three of us want to be helpful, We want to help. And so I had so many spouses say that one phrase allows us to not have a harsh startup, but a soft start up. And so then, you know, if it’s not a good time, the per other spouse can say, hey, let’s schedule this. You also mentioned, it’s important to sit next to each other not to stand and not to be across from each other. I mean, these are subtle things. I don’t know that, I would think of that, but it makes sense. And I’ll ask couples, when when was the last time you had those three negative words, a fight, an argument or a conflict. Were either one of you standing Jim and John 100% of the time, 99%,, they almost always say yes, one of us was standing. If I had the two of you yell right now, you could yell if I have you stand up and yell, you would do a better job and you would yell louder and so standing is an intimidating posture. Standing leads to poor listening, we can’t listen as well. I mean the three of us right now are not standing, we’re sitting so we can look each other in the eye and listen well to each other and so it’s essential in the business world when there’s an I need your help situation. Where do they all sit around the conference table so they can look for solutions in the marriage world. I suggest sit at the kitchen table and kind of sit adjacent because this is one time jim and john couples don’t want to look eye to eye because they’re talking about a tense topic and so, and so they need to be able to kind of look away. You know, if we’re kind of adjacent and a lot of couples will hold hands. Okay, now that may not always work with kids, some, if you have kids, sometimes they have to go to the bedroom and have two chairs there so they can be seated, but standing will lead to poor listening leads to yelling and when couples implement stay inside the nines. I need your help always be seated. It’s amazing amazing how their discussions improved, randy. I want to get through the last couple of analogies here because again they’re so good. You talk about scratches, cuts and lacerations and this is really helpful. I mean I love this, describe it so often couples want to divide things into minor infractions or major major felonies. And yet when you do that dichotomous thinking which couples need think they need to address every issue and they don’t. And so I use a medical model, scratches, cuts and lacerations, scratches if the three of us are working around the house and we scratch ourselves, you know, it’s not hurts a little, maybe a little little uh faint mark on our skin, but we know that’s gonna heal up on its own. So we don’t do anything with it. If we cut ourselves working around the house, we will put ointment and a bandage on that cut so that it doesn’t get infected. And so couples, I need to let scratches go and don’t stress out over scratches in your marriage, okay. Uh, and let those go and address cuts and then lacerations and and last laceration would for uh my description would be adultery, physical abuse, extreme verbal abuse. You know those kind of things and hopefully lacerations don’t happen too often. But couples, I need to just address cuts and lacerations and let scratches go and that makes a bit more illustration to scratches and cuts because you know, one spouse is cut is another spouses scratch what one defines as the scratch could be a cut. You know? And so they’re everything. Yeah, that can leave. Yeah, If one. Well, what does the bible say? Uh general words create life and health griping brings discouragement and so griping all the time. God is telling us in his word, don’t do that, That brings discouragement. And so we gotta let those scratches go. He is an analogy of wallpaper about the importance of apologizing and forgiving. How does that work? These are so catchy. That’s why they do work. Yeah. The if this room and I know there’s brick on the wall, but let’s say there wasn’t any break. This room was filled with steam and we wanted to wallpaper to beautify this room. Uh we could try to wallpaper until jesus returns, but the the walls will be damp and the wallpaper would just keep sliding down. So what we would need to do is open the door, let the steam out of the room, let the walls dry. And then we can wallpaper the room and beautified. Likewise in a marriage, when a marriage is struggling, the heart is filled with the steam of bitterness and resentment and apologizing and forgiving allows that steam to leave the heart so that the the heart can be beautified. The we talked about to stay in love habits. The hugs, the kisses and our heart talk, that’s not gonna stick if there has not been apologizing for giving for a cut or laceration to get that steam of bitterness out of the heart that needs to be there first. And forgiveness is the core of our christian faith. There are 100 and 25 references in the bible to the importance of forgiveness for interpersonal relationships. And so that is the glue for Brokenness, for my marriage, when it happens for your marriage for every marriage. And in that context, I think it’s really important to hit the three types of forgiveness or components of forgiveness that you illustrate? Yes, sir. So the first one jim is to say, I’m sorry I hurt you by and to use the word hurt. You know? And be specific, I’m sorry I hurt you by calling you and am I’m sorry I hurt you by forgetting to do that important action. And and that’s the first step. Probably though the most important is the second one, which creates humility. Will you please forgive me? Uh, and that can be a tough one because it takes a lot of courage. A lot of humility for someone to ask, will you please forgive me? And then the 3rd part is to always use the forgive word couples should never say no problem, that’s okay. I’m over it. Whatever we always need to use the forgive word and forgive others as we have been forgiven. Now there’s two phrases I suggest I forgive you or with God’s help. All work at forgiving you with God’s help. All work at forgiving you. It’s gonna apply more to lacerations or uh deep cuts. The bible says God forgives and forgets. We only forgive. And so I really recognize now what’s important because forgiveness is a process for us as human beings, is to say with God’s help, I will work at forgiving you basically every day. And so those are the three parts. I’m sorry I hurt you by asking, will you please forgive me? And when there’s a troubled marriage, when I do it in my office, you know what word is often left out? Please, politeness is gone. Remember we just talked about that? They say, will you forgive me? And I’ll look and ask, remember, what will you please forgive me? Well, there’s so much here randy. If you think of the habitual uh, center in that situation and you know, there has to be balance in that that people need to be responsible. We don’t have time to cover all that I do want to address. Uh, and I think from the wife’s perspective if I can speak for gene, but that that concept that maybe the wife feels like she is trying, she is putting in the effort. What we’ve talked about today may provide some additional tools that she hasn’t thought about, but it’s a very uneven effort. I’m giving 100% and he’s only given 20%. What does she do with that angst? So she doesn’t get the humidity or the steam of bitterness. Wives are very committed to learning and growing healthily most typically. Yeah, I should say. Generally speaking. Yeah, you’re right jim most typically and uh and husbands not so much. Okay. And so I have 90 simple yet effective habits in simple habits for marital happiness that most of them can be read in two or three minutes so that although a husband doesn’t want to read, they’ll take two or three minutes to read about. Stay inside the ninth to always sit and couples, I tell you, jim and john a lot of times will do this doing there are Diehard talk. They’ll take one simple yet effective habit three times a week and just keep growing. So you’re saying relax a bit, Let the process take place and encourage him to read two or three of these with you on a regular basis. Exactly. He can pick one out. She can pick one out and if it’s too weak and just say, hey, let’s talk about this. This is specific words and behaviors and guidelines that we can use and let’s just talk about it and it doesn’t take that long and, and he’ll get on board with that, but he won’t get on board with. Here’s a great big with a lot of with a lot of guys with a lot of diagrams and a lot of concepts and a lot of philosophies and this is explanation of marriage. They won’t get into that. Well, randy, this has been so good. And uh man, I hope this gives you an inkling of the tools and the resources here and Randy’s done such a good job distilling what he learned through his PhD and really grabbing the core things from a christian perspective, which I also appreciate Randy. We want to be biblically based here at focus on the family and use those principles that really do help in the human relationship of our lifetime, which is the one with our spouse. So thanks for being with us. Thank you again for having me and God’s richest blessings on your lives and your marriages and your families as well. Thanks so much. And of course we have wonderful resources including Randy’s book, simple habits for marital happiness. We also have a marriage assessment tool. It’s free. You can come and take that and it will point out some areas that you’re doing great in in some areas that you might need some additional work. And I’m sure Randy’s book will augment those additional areas you need some work in but get in touch with us. If you can give us a monthly gift, we’ll send you a copy of randy’s book is our way of saying thank you. And if you can’t afford that, we get it. A one time gift would be great. And we’re committed as christians to helping you. So if you just simply can’t afford it, we’re going to trust others will take care of the cost of that. So call us, get in touch with us. We will get it out to you because we want your marriage to be strong. Our number is 800 the letter A and the word family. 802 326459. Or click the link on your screen and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, Thanks for joining us today For focus on the family. I’m john fuller inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in christ