EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Mad About Us (Bethany House) by Gary J. Oliver, Ph.D., and Carrie Oliver, M.A.
When I pick up a book I wonder, What qualifies this author to write on this subject? Does he or she have some understanding as to the plight of my life? Will this book be relevant to me? You might be asking similar questions about Mad About Us, yet another book on marriage. Who are these people, where did they
come from, and what do they have to offer me?
Who We Are
As we write this book Gary and I have been married for twenty-six years, raised three sons, changed jobs and moved four times, acquired several degrees and a daughter-in-law along the way, walked through cancer, and lost one of our sons.
Over the past thirty years Gary has conducted over one hundred weddings, and we've provided premarital counseling for more than one thousand couples and marriage counseling for well over five thousand couples. We have taught marriage seminars and healthy relationship classes and written articles for various magazines. We have studied communication, conflict resolution, the differences between men and women, emotions and godly ways to express them.
We come to you with this book straight from our hearts and experience. You see, we are a real couple that, like you, has conflicts and differences that continue to catch us by surprise! Both Gary and I are still amazed and puzzled by the way we think, act, feel or don't feel, communicate, and generally do life very differently from each other. Sometimes we like the differences and sometimes we get mad—frustrated, lonely, hurt, distant—when differences and conflict surface.
Why We Wrote the Book
Aside from our differences and ongoing frustrations, we have grown an intimate marriage and believe you can do the same. We cannot imagine life without each other. Sometimes we can imagine a day without the other, but life—no way! We want that for your marriage too.
Without exception every couple we have worked with began their marriage with a proclamation of their love and a commitment to stay together until "death do us part." That's how we started ours. We all talked about our dreams for a lifetime
of love, trust, safety, security, and deep levels of intimacy.
In many cases the couples we have worked with talked about being madly in love or mad about each other. Unfortunately the reality is that once a couple gets married the "mad" that was a synonym for passionate love often becomes a synonym for unhealthy frustration. That frustration can easily turn to an unhealthy anger that discourages hearts, divides couples, and often destroys relationships.
The tragedy is that it doesn't take long for the "mad about each other" to turn into mad at each other and for the relationship to go into a downhill slide. There are a gazillion reasons why some marriages fall apart while others survive but are characterized by mediocrity. However, the vast majority of those failed or mediocre marriages have at their core the inability to understand differences, deal with the emotion of anger in healthy ways, and engage in healthy and constructive conflict.
What's in the Book for You
This is a book about intimacy. It's a book about restoring the positive passion that we all had at the beginning of our marriage journey. Our hope is that this book will help you to enjoy a long-lasting and mutually satisfying marriage relationship characterized by intimacy. Our goal is that after reading this book you will better understand how dealing with anger and conflict can lead you to that intimacy. Over the years the many couples we've worked with have taught us that if we don't understand how to deal with unhealthy anger and engage in constructive conflict, we will never experience the deep levels of intimacy that led us into marriage in the first place.
Mad About Us seeks to offer hope. If we had to put into one word what has brought us through a marriage that has lasted twenty-six years it is hope. We have never lost hope for a better tomorrow and a better marriage. The hope comes from a belief system that says God can change my heart and my perspective and I can learn new ways of understanding God's Word, myself, and my spouse. The good news is that we can always learn something new, or even better, recommit to that which we already know.
We have never lost hope, even as we've both walked through cancer, and even after we lost our son Matt. We have both had tremendous pain, confronted fear, and wondered about tomorrow, but we have never given up hope. I received an article on hope early on in my diagnosis, and I have clung to the words of that article. Hope is what sustains us to live on this earth whether we are struggling through difficulty or things are going well. I have come to love my God deeply as He has walked this road of cancer and grief with me. Writing this book is a blessing and privilege for me and one that I treasure as I share with you the hope God has for you in any area of struggle in your life, even in your marriage. Won't you cling to hope as well?
Reading this book you will contemplate what God had in mind when He created us in His image. He designed us to experience intimacy. Have you been afraid of anger? Are you easily frustrated? Do emotions seem to be a foreign concept? Or are you a person who can't seem to round up all the emotions you feel, overwhelming yourself and those around you? Does the word conflict make you run in the opposite direction? You can learn new ways of understanding anger and expressing emotions that can be helpful both to your spouse and to you.
Would you like a deeper experience of intimacy in your marriage? We would like to show you how to move through conflict and anger to that intimacy, a safe place to be both real and vulnerable, a place to discover more about yourself and your spouse.
We pray that from a renewed hope you will be changed and that your intimacy with your spouse will be greater and deeper than you have ever experienced. As you begin to read this book, and better yet apply what you read, our hope is that you will be inspired, challenged, and even changed with time.
And They Lived Happily Ever After
On a beautiful December day in Nebraska, in a gorgeous church setting, Gary and I stood before a crowd of people and said our marriage vows to one another. Lovely things like, "I will love you unconditionally. I will honor and respect you and be with you in sickness and in health." We had beautiful praise and worship music, took Communion, and lit our unity candle, symbolizing becoming one. It was a magical, dreamy, one-in-a-million day. I don't think Ken and Barbie could have done it better!
Like many couples, by the second day of marriage we began to discover that we were very different from each other. During our engagement we saw each other only on the weekends, giving a glimpse of the best of who we were. On the second day of our marriage we began to feel emotions that we had not felt yet with each other. I noticed that Gary could get distracted, it seemed, very easily. I felt rejected because he was not paying attention like I thought he did when we were dating and engaged. He noticed that I had more opinions than before, and the opinions seemed to be the opposite of his own, leaving him feeling disrespected and unheard. The result? We felt insecure and misunderstood. The "mad about each other" became just "mad."
We have dreams when we commit to marriage. We have expectations that we have found our soul mate, our prince or princess. We dream of making a safe haven where we can be vulnerable, accepted, understood, and loved. We desire friendship, companionship, and sometimes partnership. But real-life marriage doesn't always measure up to our dreams, and we often become disappointed and angry.
Miraculously, God created man and woman in His image (Genesis 1:27). Isn't this wonderful to contemplate, that each and every one of us is walking around with the image of God? Oh to grasp this truth and live it out rather than live as the fallen, sinful beings we became when wrong choices were made.
God had something good in mind when He brought man and woman together. He said that it was not a good thing for the man to be alone. He brought forth the woman from the man and gave them to each other (Genesis 2:18–22). Marriage is a place where we have the opportunity to feel close to someone else, so close that loneliness does not overwhelm us. God created the sexual experience for a man and woman in marriage to enjoy with delight and freedom. Pure pleasure. Another place to feel safe, vulnerable, and not alone.
God also designed the marriage relationship to reflect who He is. Because we are made in His image, because we are in relationship, we now can show the world what intimate relationship looks like. Marriage is both a reflection and a microcosm of a personal relationship with God. Marriage is a place to become more holy and to demonstrate holiness to a fallen world.
God's design for marriage is that we would experience intimacy with Him and then with each other. Do not be discouraged if you are reading along and find that this does not ring true in your marriage! Remember that thing called hope? If everyone had cooperated in the garden of Eden and followed God's rules, there would be no need for any marriage book on the market! But we all know that is not what happened. Sin entered the world and sin entered marriage. When this took place, the man and woman began to hide from each other. They hid their bodies, their hearts, and their minds. If they did it right there with God so close to them, even to His calling out in an audible voice, "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:9), then it is not surprising that we do the same in our world today, not exactly the garden of Eden.
Ever After, But Not Always Happily!
In our fallen world, we continue to experience the effects of what took place that day sin entered into the picture. We began to hide from God and from one another. Intimacy was invaded, and we were left with two ways of coping. We have found as we work with couples, and in our own marriage, that these two ways are hiding and blaming. Pretty close to what Adam and Eve experienced that day! They hid from God, and lots of blaming took place. "She did it, God, and you were the one who gave her to me," Adam proclaimed (see Genesis 3:12). The snake got a bad rap, and everyone started hiding themselves with those fig leaves.
A couple sat across from me in a recent session and I listened to the same story that I hear over and over again. Jason resists coming home at night because he feels Melissa does not meet his needs and blames him for much of her emotional turmoil. She says that he doesn't pay enough attention to her, all he cares about is himself, and he only plays with the baby because he is supposed to. Meanwhile he feels that she is only in touch with her own feelings, completely misunderstands him, and does not encourage him as a husband, father, and provider. They argue, then retreat. Nothing is resolved and intimacy is hindered. The "happily ever after" us becomes the "mad at each other" us.
Oddly, this same scenario has been going on for centuries, and we are not doing anything much differently to change it. We continue to deal with conflict and differences in the same ways that Adam and Eve did back in the garden.
Blaming is a very large part of how we function as human beings in most of our relationships. (If you are parents, you see it happen all the time with the kids. One sibling is constantly pointing the finger at the other sibling.) We simply do not want to take responsibility for our behavior, and it rarely occurs to us to sit back and try to understand the heart of our spouse. We are not intentional about how we listen to them even in their emotional experience of hurt or anger or fear. If we are completely honest, once we start to feel the emotions, we begin to focus on our need at the moment and how our spouse should be meeting it or at least listening to us.
We can become good at hiding when we find that blaming doesn't get the results we wanted, so now we just don't share at all. Trouble is, we are still experiencing emotions at some level and we sacrifice intimacy with our spouse when we hide our heart from their heart.
But "happily" is still God's plan for us! He desires for us to experience love, friendship, and deep intimacy, but we must come to grips with what is going on in the ever after that is not so happy, and the sooner the better. If we don't, we become disillusioned and defeated and feel as if our expectations were all for naught! This can set us up for a lifetime of marital defeat rather than marital bliss.
Differently Ever After
What is it that we just don't get? God created us male and female from the beginning. Our differences are part of His design. But it seems when sin entered the world, the differences that were once helpful to intimacy became hindrances to intimacy. We can see that our body structures are very different on the outside. That is a good thing! What we react to are the major differences on the inside. We may even blame each other for being different.
The female brain is constructed very differently than the male brain. Females live in the relational and emotional hemispheres of the brain fairly consistently.1 This is due to more connectors between the right and left hemispheres. A female secretes higher levels of oxytocin, sometimes called the "bonding" chemical.2 This chemical is secreted at greater levels during childbirth to aid in the bonding process between the mother and the child. Females reach out to bond in their relationships due to higher oxytocin levels.
Men, on the other hand, secrete very little of this chemical; it is most likely to be at higher levels right after having sexual intercourse. While testosterone drives the male in their sexual desire, they do feel very bonded after sex due to the rise in the oxytocin level. A woman wants to bond before sexual intercourse, while a man feels bonding afterward. We would become less mad about this whole sexual dilemma if we just understood these simple differences as male and female and sought to meet each other's needs. Husbands, bond a little with your wife, and wives, have sex with your husband, and you will both get an oxytocin high! We know it is not that simple—we live in the real world like you do. But if we recognize and appreciate our differences, we can avoid doing the same thing that does not work over and over again.
Entire books have been dedicated to teaching on the male and female brain and chemical differences. Our "happily ever after" is affected when we don't understand that men are more compartmentalized in their approach to life and relationships and emotions, while most women are constantly working out of a relational- and emotional-thinking process. This is why men do not remember emotional experiences as well as women do. They may remember facts about sports events or what is happening on Wall Street, but what our tears were about two weeks ago may elude them.
A woman's brain has been shown not to rest at all, while a man's brain will need mental naps. Beware, ladies, to watch for the stare on his face. He may be taking a mental nap, giving you the signal that a deep emotional connection and conversation is not going to happen! If you don't want to get mad and frustrated or hurt, then wait until that brain of his is awake and alert and trying to make the switch to the relational compartment.
Testosterone is a major player in the male. A man has thirty times more testosterone than a woman has. Testosterone drives the sexual desire and may increase competitiveness and aggression. As we mentioned, women secrete oxytocin, which drives them to bond. In conflict a woman may try to bond with her husband. She does this by trying to talk, relate, get her emotions out, and often because she does not understand the differences, she may expect him to function in similar ways. He has to actively work at going to the compartment in his brain that is relational, emotional. He often does not understand this about himself and perceives her advances as pressure to perform. Often this scenario results in misunderstanding, sometimes leading to anger and frustration.
There are gender differences, but we are also different in the ways we see or approach our world because of our personalities. We know we have different personalities; we may even say, "My spouse has a lot of personality!" What we liked about our spouse and his or her personality can become a frustration after the marriage vows when we try to make everyday life work.
I like details and the experience of the here and now, while Gary likes vision and dreams and planning for the future. I remember in the first year of our marriage Gary started talking about taking a trip to Europe. We had absolutely no money. I had been on a plane only one time, and that was to California for our honeymoon. Now he was talking about flying to England, spending two weeks there and then another two weeks on the continent of Europe, for a total of a month. I felt fear from the tip of my head to the bottom of my toes. Where were we going to get the money? Would we have jobs when we got back? How would we drive around? And where would we stay? Who is this man? I did not join him in this crazy dream. Every detail of why we could not possibly do this came to my mind and out of my mouth.
We experienced several of these scenarios in our first year of marriage. It was a blessing to us that Gary was in his doctoral program. During his program he became familiar with different personality types in a personality assessment class. This helped us tremendously as we discovered that neither of us was out to destroy the other's dreams or security or privacy. We came to our world with different personalities, and what we needed to do was understand this about each other, affirm our differences, and work through them.
It is so easy to get mad when we don't see eye to eye. Personality is a huge area of difference that most couples simply do not understand. When our spouse reacts and thinks differently than we do, we may take it personally. I was very guilty of doing this early on in our marriage. I am a feeling person, which means I make decisions based on my feelings. When Gary did not always feel the same as I did, or even worse, had some rational, logical solution to offer, I felt misunderstood. I felt as if my feelings were not being heard. He felt very similar when I did not listen to and utilize his well-thought-out, very rational solutions to my problems or our problems. We ended up blaming each other for not understanding and learned fast what not to talk about, eventually hiding from the issues. (Not happily ever after.)
Jesus Brings the Happy into the Ever After
After about fifteen years of marriage (hopefully you will get this faster than we did), we began to really see what Jesus could do in this marriage of ours. You see, having tools and skills, listening and communicating, resolving conflict, and expressing emotions are all very helpful when trying to grow a marriage. But even when we try to implement these skills, we must remember what God had in mind when He created marriage. Most Christians would say that Christ makes a difference in their marriage, but most do not function in this manner. We don't wake up in the morning saying to ourselves, "Today I will be Christ to my spouse." But we are very aware of how our spouse is not being Christ to us.
We suggest starting each day with a prayer that goes something like this: Jesus, look at me. Show me my weaknesses and strengths. How am I doing loving my partner? Jesus, if I were kinder and gentler, what would that look like? I think I might speak more softly. I would listen to my spouse today. I would say "I love you," and I would touch this person you gave me. I would say I was sorry. Because you love me, Jesus, I might even be willing to face conflict with my spouse or take responsibility for something I said or did. I might let my spouse see my heart as I am doing with you now. Thank you for this mate you have given me. Help me to see what I need to change in order to love well. I know that you love me well in spite of myself. I believe that as I do these things and as I pray this prayer consistently I can work through my emotions better. I can look at not only how I feel but at how we both feel in our marriage, and that gives me hope for a deeper intimacy.
What God desires for us is that we be transformed in the marriage relationship—that we, with each day, would look just a little bit more like Him because we spent the day with our spouse. Wow! I know for us many days did not exactly end with this type of result. The exciting news is that when we are functioning out of what God planned for us, we experience deeper and deeper levels of intimacy both with Him and each other. This is a great motivator to change and do things differently, especially when we grasp what intimacy is. Genuine intimacy goes beyond the soul mate idea. Our culture, Christian culture included, promotes the idea that we "find" our soul mate, when in fact what God had in mind is that we "become" a soul mate.
Do you want that in your marriage? Do you want to know more about God's idea of intimacy and what it means to be transformed and have a transformed relationship? That is our heart for you and your marriage. In the next chapter we'll see that God created us for intimacy, and we'll look at the components of intimacy.
You may think that "happily ever after" can't happen or that "content ever after" is the best you can hope for, but we know that God wants great joy for us in marriage, more than mere contentment. He desires for us to be vibrant, Jesus-emulating human beings in love with each other. He wants us to demonstrate to the world that marriage works, and it works because Jesus died on a cross for us so that we might have life, and life more abundantly! Jesus does bring the happy into the "ever after."
- Identify the disappointments of the "ever after" in your marriage. What were your expectations when you got married?
- What are some differences that seem to plague your relationship? Are there differences that you enjoy?
- What are some of the issues in your marriage that you hide from or have decided not to address?
- Do you tend to blame your spouse for the problems in your marriage?
- How much is Jesus allowed into your relationship? How can you begin to change the level at which He makes a difference?
- How can you become a better soul mate?
Excerpted from: Mad About Us by Gary J. Oliver, Ph.D., and Carrie Oliver, M.A. Copyright © 2007; ISBN 9780764203619; Published by Bethany House Publishers. Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.