About the Guest
Licensed marriage and family therapist Laura Taggart knows what it's like to despair over your marriage. Taggart explains how the wheels fell off her marriage around year 13 when her husband decided he'd had enough of her criticism and left for a brief time. That's when Taggart knew she and her husband had to do something different for the sake of their marriage and their children. Taggart talks about conflict she sees couples having, and explains how marrying later in life often leads to high expectations, and later, high disillusionment.
Laura TaggartLaura Taggart has been a licensed marriage and family therapist for nearly thirty years. As director of marriage and family ministry at Community Presbyterian Church in Danville, California, she founded a highly successful marriage mentoring ministry to help young couples develop a solid foundation for their young and often struggling marriages. A popular speaker at conferences and retreats, she has also taught as an adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary.
Laura Taggart knows what it’s like to despair over your marriage. Taggart explains how the wheels fell off her marriage around year 13. Taggart talks about conflict she sees couples having.
Dennis: —yes; that’s good.
Bob: I’m wondering if you—
Dennis: —should last; it should.
Bob: Stop it! Wondering if you can identify: “What was the most challenging year of your marriage?” Was it year one?—or was it—I know a little about your marriage—you got married in ’72.
Dennis: You know too much about my marriage after 26 years in the studio.
Bob: I know ’76, four years in, was a challenging year.
Dennis: I would have to say that was the most challenging year. I wouldn’t characterize that our marriage was ever in trouble; we just went through a lot of tough stuff.
My dad died. The ministry of FamilyLife® started, and nobody knew what that was; and we didn’t know what it was, frankly. Barbara had a heart that took off beating 300 beats a minute—had to be rushed to the hospital, near death. Our son had surgery. I mean, it was one thing right after another over an eight- to ten-month period. I have to tell you—both Barbara and I were on our heels, but our marriage had been formed on the Rock.
Dennis: So, the floods came, the winds blew and beat against that house, and the rain did as well; but because it was built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, our marriage was still standing at the end of that year.
Bob: Yes; you think about it—we have been, for the last 42 years, helping couples know how to build a marriage on a firm foundation—couples who have attended one of our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. The getaway is all about understanding God’s design for a marriage relationship.
I mention that here because, this week and next week, we are encouraging FamilyLife Today listeners to join us at an upcoming getaway this fall. We’re going to be in more than three dozen cities all across the country. If you sign up this week or next week, you will pay half price for your getaway registration. We’re making this offer available as a way to nudge those of you who have never been to a getaway: “Come join us for a weekend to invest in your marriage.” If you’ve been to a getaway but it’s been a while, why not come back for a refresher and join us? Again, you sign up this week or next week, you’ll save 50 percent off the regular registration fee.
You can find out when we’re going to be in a city near where you live or find a good weekend for you and travel to one of our getaways. All of the information is available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can register, online, and take advantage of the
50 percent savings; or you can call if you have any questions and register by phone: 1-800-FL-TODAY is our number.
The offer is good this week and next week only; so come on out and join us for a Weekend to Remember getaway, whether your marriage is in a good place or you are struggling a little bit. I think every marriage goes through a season—whether it’s relational or related to circumstances we’re going through, where we’re just not getting along with one another.
Dennis: Right. We have a guest today who is going to help you divorce-proof your marriage, specifically your young marriage. Laura Taggart joins us on FamilyLife Today. Laura, welcome to the broadcast.
Laura: Thank you. Great to be here.
Dennis: When you say, “…Young Marriage”—
Bob: How young do you have to be to qualify? [Laughter]
Dennis: —I was going, “Now, wait a second here!”
Laura: So, young marriage—I’m thinking under 15 years or so married. Typically, I’m looking at that demographic set that’s into their mid-thirties or so. The book is really, I think, relatable to any marriages; but I really wanted to focus on those young couples because they’re struggling so much today.
Bob: Yes; the challenges I’m talking about—
Bob: —I’m thinking of the research I’ve seen that says, “The first seven years can be challenging.”
Bob: Then, the empty-nest can be kind of another—
Laura: Yes; yes.
Bob: —challenge setting.
You experienced [challenges] early in your marriage.
Laura: Oh, yes.
Bob: Wasn’t it year seven for you?
Laura: It was year seven; yes. We had a very, very difficult time. My husband had been building his career, and I was home with kids. He was sacrificing a lot of time away from family, and we were just—I was at a place where I was not handling it very well, and I was angry. So, we had a really difficult, difficult season there.
Bob: Was there a crisis point in there where you confronted one another and you said, “I don’t know if this is going to work”?
Laura: Well, there was a crisis point. I was in this season of disillusionment, and being critical, and what-not. Actually, it took until about year 13 until finally my husband had pretty much had enough of my complaining and criticism. He decided he was not going to put up with that anymore, so we had a real crisis right there.
Dennis: Did he draw a line in the sand?
Laura: He drew a line in the sand in the sense that he left for a very brief time. It was like a couple of days; and that was really a wakeup call for, I think, both of us to say, “Hey, we need to do something really different than what’s going on.”
Dennis: Had you had your two children at that point?
Laura: Oh yes; yes.
Dennis: So, there were children involved; and he had left/he bailed out.
Laura: He left for a couple of days—he needed to clear his head, and he was trying to maneuver. His dad had passed away as well. He was in a place of, really, kind of reevaluating his life/his identity. It was a season of uncertainty for sure.
Bob: So, as you work with couples in distress today, which is a part of what you do—you’re involved in marriage ministry in Northern California—
Laura: Yes; yes.
Bob: —not only a writer, but you headed up the Marriage and Family Program at your local church for years.
Bob: As you’re talking to young couples today, you can empathize with what they are experiencing; because you experienced some of it yourself.
Laura: Yes; I have been in those places of despair; and yet, gotten to the other side of that despair and can see how someone would bail in the midst of that.
Yet, the sweetness of working it through and working it out is something I can also attest to.
Dennis: Laura, there used to be what was called the Seven Year Itch, which sounds like what kind of happened to you guys. Your husband starting scratching and didn’t finish for another six years. There—it seems to me that the Seven Year Itch has been cut in half.
Laura: Yes; that’s a really good way to put it.
Dennis: Are you seeing that?
Laura: I am seeing that. I’m seeing young couples are, early, getting very disillusioned. I think they come to marriage with more idealized expectations; and when it doesn’t work out as they think it should, they begin to think: “Have I married the right one? Maybe, I should cut my losses now and find that more ideal mate.”
They really struggle when they start to have conflict; they don’t know what to do. They don’t feel—have skills to work through that. Also, they think it shouldn’t be like that. They have a belief that: “Really, we shouldn’t experience this kind of conflict.” I do believe it’s getting younger and younger that people are getting disillusioned when that conflict hits.
Dennis: And that conflict is being fed by a number of cultural things that you shared with us before we came into the studio. What are you seeing in your practice with young people today?
Laura: Yes; what I’m seeing is that they are coming in with a lot of anger / a lot of unresolved issues. They find that their belief that things should be easier has caused them to not have the tenacity to work it through. For instance, they may come in, and they’ve developed this pattern of distance and cutoff—they don’t know how to bridge that. There is a growing resentment—they’ve developed resentment quite quickly, actually.
In the mist of that disillusionment, they’ve also adopted some of the values of the culture, which says: “Hey, we shouldn’t be having these problems. If you found your real, true soul mate, it should be easier. They shouldn’t expect change from me. They should be able to accept me as I am.”
If there is any complaining, they—oftentimes, it moves from complaining, which is completely legitimate in any relationship, to criticism and contempt; because, when the differences surface in an early marriage, they are scary. They don’t have the thought that: “Well, we just—we’re going to be different. We’re going to accept those differences.”
When they don’t agree with me, or they have a different vantage point, or they come from a different set of values, then, when the conflict surfaces, they feel like: “Oh, I need to make that go away. I need to make the differences go away.” So, they begin to do the criticizing or the withdrawing—the contemptuous behavior. They begin to just get into high degrees of conflict, fairly early, because those differences are not okay for them—they are really quite scary.
Bob: We jumped right into the heart of marital conflict here.
I want to pull back a little bit and go to how relationships are forming differently today than the way they were formed when we got married.
Laura: Yes; yes.
Bob: It’s not that our day was idealized—I mean, we had our own issues—but young people are marrying later today.
Laura: Yes; correct.
Bob: They are marrying with different expectations and different ideas about what marriage should be; aren’t they?
Laura: They are. They are marrying later. They are pushing it off—they are marrying, typically, in the late-20s/early-30s. When they put off marriage that long, you would think that they have spent time finding the one that they want to marry—they have a little more realistic view of what marriage should be—but actually, they tend to be more idealistic, because they’ve put it off. They think they’ve found that one they’ve been searching for, so they have these high degrees of expectations as they enter in.
They also have the whole issue of technology and the influence of a culture that says: “You should have answers fast. You should have quick solutions. You want to keep your options open too.” There is always this pursuit of what is novel, and new, and keeping options open. Young people—often, they don’t like the idea of being bound to a decision; they want to have the ability to change their mind.
The idea that—of the influence of technology is: “We really don’t want to think about doing the hard work of it. We want a more quick solution.”
Dennis: Just Google® it.
Laura: Just Google it; yes. If the answers aren’t there, then, maybe, there isn’t a problem worth working on; you know? It’s kind of like they begin to invite the options into the relationship; so that’s difficult.
Bob: As you are sitting down with a young couple today who has the idealized picture—
Bob: —the fairytale isn’t working out the way they imagined it would—there’s stress or conflict in their marriage. One of the things you tell them is: “They need to rethink marriage from the ground up.”
Bob: In fact, that’s really the first third of your book—
Laura: It is.
Bob: —Making Love Last—is: “We need to think about marriage differently”; right?
Laura: Yes; right. One of the ways we need to think about marriage differently is the idea that my mate/whoever I marry is going to make me happy. That thought has a problem for two reasons.
One is: “The mate is going to be imperfect, whoever they are.”
Laura: They are going to be disappointing you no matter what.
Laura: So, that’s the first thing that point of view misses.
The second is: “’They are going to make me happy,’ is about me—they are going to make me happy. Whereas, marriage is not about you—it really is about us now and making marriage work.”
So, I think that—also, the issue of compatibility—I think people think, “A happy marriage is a marriage where we are compatible—where we have similar interests, where we have similar likes and dislikes, where we think alike.” The truth of the matter is: “Marriage means you’re going to have to deal with incompatibility.” I love what Tolstoy says about that—he says, “The key to marriage is not about compatibility. It’s really about what you’re going to do with the incompatibility,”—so learning that we are not going to be thinking alike.
That whole soul mate notion has this idea that: “If I find that perfect someone, they are going to think like I do. They are not going to expect me to change in anyway. They are going to be accommodating themselves to my needs—they are going to fit my life.”
When they don’t do that, then there are issues; and they feel surprised by that.
Dennis: There are a number of folks that think marriage may be outdated and “Why get married at all?” Comment on that.
Laura: Right; and that’s not uncommon, especially among our younger millennial demographic. My comment about that would be: “I think you have a very low view of marriage.” God’s picture of marriage is really about the deepest levels of intimacy you can experience—it is emotional intimacy, sexual intimacy, spiritual intimacy / all combined—and that in the context of a committed relationship of marriage.
“The marriage commitment allows there to be enough safety in the relationship—
Dennis: Yes; right.
Laura: —“that you can, then, start to be truly vulnerable with one another and truly yourselves with one another. As long as there is nothing to hold you together—there is no marriage commitment / there’s no marriage covenant—there is always this insecurity in the relationship that robs it of the level of safety necessary to build that kind of committed, covenant, deep level of intimacy in marriage.”
Dennis: Comment on this, if you would—because you’ve had to see this and you have to have a few opinions on it—I just wondered with couples who cohabit: “How does that really work? Isn’t it a fear-based relationship, where you’re constantly having to be on your toes, performing, doing things just right, for fear the other person is going to be out of here or tell you to leave?”
Laura: Right; well, you know, I did a survey of 256 young marrieds for the making of the book. Thirty percent of those I polled had cohabited before they got married. The reasons they gave for cohabitation was this issue of compatibility: “I want to see if we can work it out. I want to see if we are compatible. I want to see if we can make it,”—so: “This is sort of a trial run.”
What they don’t realize is that, in the trial run, you’re going to find all these incompatibilities/all these imperfections of the other person.
If that is your basis of marriage—that I’m not going to find those—you will never enjoy a committed relationship. It’s when you commit and you begin creating that kind of safety that marriage provides—do you, then, learn how to embrace the imperfections of your mate and then enter into the transformational experience, I think, God intended marriage to be for all of us with that.
Bob: I want to go back to year 13 in your marriage, where your husband has taken a couple of days for a sabbatical—
Dennis: [Laughter] I don’t think I’d use the word, “sabbatical”! [Laughter]
Bob: Well, you guys were at a point, where you were wondering, “How do we thrive in this?”
Laura: Yes; yes.
Bob: You said it was a little bit of a wakeup call for you.
Bob: What was the “Aha” in that moment for you that you two think differently about your marriage?
Laura: Well, I remember, while he was gone, I went downstairs. I was sitting on my sofa—I was just crying out to God. I was just—I was angry: I felt like, “I didn’t sign up for this.”
I felt like, “God, I’ve been trying to do what I thought You’d asked me to do.” I was just kind of feeling sort of resentful, actually. As I was sitting there and pleading, I heard, not audibly; but I heard deep in my heart Him say to me: “Laura, get out of My way. I have got Gary.” It just kind of was like: “Whoa! Really?!”
I realized that I had been laying expectations on him of what I thought I needed; therefore, then, I got really disillusioned. I had developed a really critical spirit. I realized in that moment that: “Hey, Laura, He’s got this. Do you trust Him? Are you willing to have hands off and let Him do what He’ll do with Gary?” That really was a huge wakeup call for me; such that, when Gary returned, it was like I was receptive to my own growth.
Dennis: Spiritually speaking, what role did God have in bringing you two back together to start again?
Laura: Well, everything; because, when I sensed God saying that to me, I—my hands—literally, I kind of released him; so I trusted God more. I realized I put my husband first. This is the state—you know, we talk about the stages of marriages in the book. The initial stage—you have this dream of the way it’s going to be; and this is why it’s hard for young couples. You’ve got this dream—so you have all these expectations around who your mate needs to be and what your life is going to be like.
That second stage of marriage, which is disillusionment, is when the wheels come off the dream, and you realize you are living with this real person, who has his own imperfections or her own imperfections. That disillusionment stage is where all the conflict comes, because those individual priorities and personalities start to reemerge—that were submerged in that dream state—because you’re just trying to make the we work.
When you begin to see your first disappointments and disillusionments and: “This isn’t what I signed up for,” and “This isn’t who I thought I married,”—and you begin to develop ways of making the differences you’re experiencing go away. You use your tactics—
—you withdraw from them, you get critical of them, or you get contemptuous or defensive. You’re just trying to get those differences—that are scary—to go away.
This was the beginning for me of being able to say: “Let go, Laura. You’re not going to fashion Gary. You’ve got to leave the fashioning of Gary to God and just trust.” It moved me into a space of needing to trust God and not hold Gary so tightly and realize: “He’s not my all in all. I need to turn to the one who is sufficient for me and stop thinking it’s my husband.” Once I did that and turned my eyes to Him, I focused more on my growing relationship with Him and kind of left Gary to Him.
Dennis: At the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, we have a pivotal moment on Saturday morning, where we speak to both the husbands and the wives about receiving your spouse as God’s gift to you in their differences—
—in their limitations / in their weaknesses.
Bob: —their flaws; yes.
Dennis: Yes; exactly. The point is: “Will you trust God that He knows what He’s doing when He put you two together in the first place?”
You say: “Now, wait a second! We weren’t even acknowledging God when we got married back then.” I’ve got to tell you—even for the person who is out in the spiritual tulies [out in the sticks] and they are not paying any attention to God, the tulies are not outside of God’s control.
Bob: [Laughter] The tulies? The—
Dennis: You’ve heard of the tulies.
Bob: I think this is the first time, in 26 years, I’ve heard you refer to the tulies. [Laughter]
Dennis: It’s near Ozark, Missouri, Bob. [Laughter]
Bob: Okay; alright. I thought it was just around the corner from there.
Dennis: Yes, it is; but the reality of what you are talking about—and you held your hands open like this and up—is surrender—you go: “Lord, God, You made my spouse. I’m trying to change him/change her,”—but if you had your way to change them, you’d change them away from the very thing God intended for you—to help perfect His image in your life.
Bob: So, the question I have is: “From that turning point, at 13 years into your marriage, to the point that the two of you looked at each other and said, ‘You know, I’m really happy that we’re married,’—
Laura: Yes; yes.
Bob: —“how much time and how much work?”
Laura: It was probably a year or two later. It was not that long, because I began to change/he began to change. I mean, the shift was pretty remarkable. He knew when I let go, and he then had the freedom to be himself in our relationship. He didn’t have to live up to my expectations anymore and weather my disappointment. He could just be who he was, and who he was—
Bob: —was pretty great.
Laura: —was pretty great; and he was growing. You see, what really was a game-changer for me was to be able to see that. What is hardest for me in Gary and his personality—or his differences—might be the exact thing God is using in me to change me and my life and fashion me into His likeness.
Bob: God’s perfect gift for you.
Laura: It’s His; yes.
Laura: It’s the harder stuff that’s God’s gift to me.
Bob: That’s right.
Laura: It’s not the stuff I appreciate, firsthand; it’s the stuff I have to learn to appreciate.
Bob: One of the reasons I brought that up is because—I’ve talked about this many times here—I read a statistic, years ago, that in the state of Oklahoma, they talked to people who were on the verge of divorce / some who had filed for divorce, but they never went through with it. They checked with these folks five years later; and they said: “How would you rate your marriage?” Eighty-three percent of them gave their marriage a four or a five, on a five-point scale, five years later when they’d been thinking about divorce, five years earlier.
I think it’s important for people, who are listening—who are in the tulies, if we can use that expression: who are in distress—to know: “Listen, if you will persevere—if you will keep your focus where it belongs; if you’ll surrender, like Laura’s talked about; if you’ll deal with your stuff instead of trying to fix your spouse’s stuff—
—there can be a pretty great future ahead for you.”
I think about the number of couples who have joined us at one of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways—who came—and they thought their marriage was over. In fact, a lot of these couples came, thinking, “Okay; we’ll do this, and then our conscience will be clear when we get a divorce; because we can say we tried everything.” They come, and they find out: “Oh, there is hope still for our marriage. We can make some changes. With God’s help, we can be in a different place in our marriage than we are today.”
I just want to say to couples, who are listening: “If you’ve never been to a getaway—if your marriage is in a great place / if your marriage is struggling—come join us for a weekend this fall at one of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways and find some practical biblical help and hope for your marriage.”
Right now, we are offering a 50 percent savings for anyone who will sign up for a getaway this fall.
You can go to our website to find out when a getaway is going to be in a location near you, or you can save 50 percent on a getaway gift card if you just want to get the gift card and cash it in later. This week and next week, the 50 percent savings are available if you will register for a getaway when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com or call to register: 1-800-FL-TODAY. Wherever you are in your marriage, this is a great investment for you to make; and we’d love to see you at one of our getaways.
Let me also mention—we’ve got copies of Laura Taggart’s book, Making Love Last: Divorce-Proofing Your Young Marriage. You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order—1-800-FL-TODAY is our number. Again, the title of the book is Making Love Last: Divorce-Proofing Your Young Marriage. Order at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order: 1-800-358-6329—
—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, sometimes in marriage, when we are in conflict, stuff gets revealed from inside us that we didn’t even realize was there—some ugly stuff comes out. We’re going to talk more about why that happens and what we do when that happens with our guest, Laura Taggart. She’ll be back with us tomorrow. I hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch. We also got some help from Justin Adams and Mark Ramey. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry.
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