The Elephants in the Room
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Kevin and Marcia MyersKevin and Marcia Myers have been married for nearly forty years and have four children and two grandchildren. Kevin is the senior pastor of 12Stone Church, one of the largest churches in the United States. A gifted communicator, influential leader, and strategic thinker, Kevin planted the church in 1987 and has grown it to eight campuses. Kevin mentors pastors and church planters, speaks at churches and businesses around the country, and serves on the General Board of the Wesleyan Church as well...more
Are there any patterns in my life which are negatively influencing my marriage? Authors Kevin and Marcia Myers say that addressing those “elephants” can breathe new life into your relationship.
The Elephants in the Room
Dave: One of the things that I really, really underestimated when we got married was thebaggage that you brought in.
Ann: I was going to say you had a lot of baggage. [Laughter]
Dave: You didn’t hear me; I said, “…you brought in.” [Laughter]
Ann: I know; you had a lot of baggage,—
Dave: I did.
Kevin: Great lead in.
Ann: —and I did too.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Think about it. If you would put our childhoods and our families of origin on paper, a counselor would look at us and say, “You’re going to have real struggles.”
Ann: Then you put on top of that—that: “You’re 19 and 22,”—like, “What are you thinking?!”
Dave: We think we don’t need help.
Ann: “But God…”
Dave: It’s like we were carrying a whole airplane cargo thing down the aisle and then into marriage. [Laughter] Again, I don’t think it showed up for us for a few months, if not even a year.
Ann: I really thought, “I love Jesus so much all of my baggage has disappeared.” He’s so gracious in that, instead of letting it disappear, He brings it back and says, “Oh, I’d love to shape you,” and “I’m going to allow some of that baggage to shape you; or you can ignore it, and it will just wreak havoc on [your] lives.”
Dave: Yes, God actually—we found out—actually used all that for good. It was not good—there was a lot of evil in there—but as He redeemed it—
Ann: —He opened the bags and began to heal.
Dave: He helped us open them; yes.
Dave: We’ve got a couple with us today that wrote a book that really deals with that. Kevin, and his wife Marsha, Myers from Atlanta, Georgia; well, suburbs of Atlanta; right?
Kevin: Right; exactly.
Dave: Twelve Stone Church; four kids.
Kevin and Marcia: Thank you.
Dave: Yes, welcome to FamilyLife.
You’ve got kids and grandkids. You’ve got a big church; you’ve got a full life. Then, on top of that, you write a book called The Second Happy: Seven Practices to Make Your Marriage Better than Your Honeymoon.
Talk about this; because we’ve talked about the “A” Zone, where we all have hopes and dreams. We get into the “B” Zone, which is the real struggle; and a lot of people go—I love it; you’re such a pastor—go to the “Q” Zone, which is “Quit”; right? [Laughter]
Dave: We don’t want to go to the “Q” Zone; we want to get to the “C” Zone.
Again, if you don’t know what we’re talking about, get the book or listen to the previous broadcast; because it’s great stuff. But talk about this: What is the “second happy”?
Kevin: Everybody has that marriage moment, when you exchange the “I do,” with such deep romantic love.
Ann: Yes, you feel.
Kevin: Yes, you guys have said it: “No one loves like we love. [Laughter] We are forever.”
Kevin: Somewhere along the line, the majority of us fall out of that love, feel like we’ve made mistakes and wonder: “Is there any hope? Do you have to move on?”
We applied that to our house. You fall in love with a house—you buy it; it’s a fantastic house—then after a while, you see its flaws. That doesn’t just happen with physical houses; it happens with relationships. You see its flaws; and pretty soon, all you see is its flaws. Then you just put the house for sale, sell it, and go buy another one you fall in love with. We do this with houses, and we exchange them.
We did this with a few houses ourselves until our last house—we’d lived in for ten years, and we were tired of the flaws—then we had the standard American next-thing: “What if we renovate?” We started renovating the house that we’d been in for ten years, and we fell back in love with the same house. We re-did the kitchen; we re-did the basement; we did some things in our bathroom. We re-did the house and discovered that there is a second happy in the same house.
Well, we’ve also discovered that in marriage. You can find a second happy, and it’s more rich; it’s a deeper companionship. It’s everything you hoped was possible, that you lost after the honeymoon. But you don’t get there by accident. What we decided—we hope it’s helpful—is be honest about our journey and the things that you wouldn’t easily see, from the stage or being a neighbor, that went on at home that we had to work through. That’s how we get the seven practices.
Ann: That’s really good. As you’re talking, I’m thinking, “That’s exactly what we’re hoping for the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway.” We really hope: “You might have a great marriage, but we can help you to get it better,” or “You might be really struggling, and you can get to the second happy.”
Dave: It’s in, some ways, a renovation weekend; because you sort of look at what you’ve built and you realize, “Man, we’re struggling; we can do better.” We give you tools and, really, a tool bag to say, “We’re going to help you do it.”
Ann: —to renovate the house.
Kevin: Right; right.
Dave: Some of you are like, “How do I sign up for this?” I’m going to tell you right now. You can get half off if you go to FamilyLifeToday.com right now; sign up for a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway anywhere you want. You can go to a destination; you can go to your own city—there’s probably one near you—and go for the weekend, Friday [evening] to Sunday [noon]. I’m telling you, you will get a second happy. I can’t guarantee it, but I can almost guarantee it.
We’ve literally seen God do miracles. One of the last ones I spoke at, a guy came up and said, “Rip up my divorce papers.” They were getting divorced; they were going to the lawyer on Monday. And God showed up, and they started a second happy.
We started talking about what we brought in—baggage—you talk about this in your book. You have a very interesting chapter called “Evict the Elephant.”
Ann: Well, I have to read this, Dave, because I thought it was so interesting. You’re saying: “If a couple really wants their marriage to be all they want it to be, and ultimately all God intends it to be, they need to do what a lot of couples are hesitant to do. They need to learn how to address and evict the elephants in your marriage.”
Now, I didn’t think that’s what you were going to say. [Laughter] “…evict the elephants”?—what in the world is that? What is that?
Kevin: Well, everybody’s probably heard the phrase: “There’s an elephant in the room.” All that means is, if we’re sitting here together, and an elephant walked in and sat down on the couch, and nobody reacted—we treated it like that’s normal—it would be so bizarre that it would put the whole room in pretense.
Kevin: We’re not admitting the truth. Something odd—something dysfunctional—something undoing to the environment is in the room. Then, of course, the elephant’s eventually going to do his business; and that gets left in the room. [Laughter] If you don’t acknowledge the elephant, you don’t acknowledge the mess they make either; so you end up living in pretense.
Ann: What do you mean by that “pretense”?
Kevin: Let me give an illustration that leads into our family. I’ll do it from family of origin. Let me start. My parents got married in high school—pregnant, left high school, didn’t finish—got married. Dad wasn’t highly motivated, so they lived poor. I was number three, and they were twenty years old when they had me: three kids; twenty; poor; uneducated; no high school graduation.
They came to faith in Christ three years later. But my dad had all sorts of baggage, so we lived one way at home and one way at church: two different lives. When we went to church, there were times he would say, “Straighten up; we’re at church,” which means: “You don’t bring the truth of what’s going on at home to church.” We don’t tell the truth, so we live in pretense; and pretense ruined my life.
Eventually, they divorced; and my two older brothers and my dad left. I’m left with Mom and my younger sister. I mean, you can’t do that to a 12-year-old boy and not unravel his life: baggage comes with that; wounds come with that; emotional dysfunction.
No family is perfect, so every family has dysfunction. But those are the things that undo the quality of companionship. You can’t get to an experiential oneness unless you travel through pretense/unless you’re honest about the elephants in the room and begin to evict them. Sometimes, you don’t even know what they are. That’s what we mean by the framework for the conversation.
Ann: Marcia, did you have any elephants?
Marcia: Yes, I would say that I did. We laugh, because my family was far more consistent—Christian—pretty much showed me both at home and at church was the same.
But I think partly I maybe got a little self-righteous just because I thought: “Well, our family’s perfect,” and “We’re perfect, and I can show you how to be perfect,” or “They did it the right way; therefore, what I do is the right way as well.”
Ann: You had a sense of pride.
Marcia: Yes, I would say—wouldn’t you say that was probably it—
Kevin: Yes, yes.
Kevin: And that was a breakthrough for us.
Dave: Kevin said that pretty quick. [Laughter]
Marcia: He did; didn’t he?
Kevin: I’m telling you: it was a major breakthrough,—
Ann: —to discover that and admit it?
Kevin: —because she wasn’t wrong. She wasn’t wrong; she grew up that way. But just because you live better, the moment it goes to self-righteous, it’s undoing, and off-putting, and distancing. Good kudos for her; because she eventually had the courage to see it, own it, and identify it before I ever could.
Marcia: I think, just in relationships, you both come from a different place. When you get married, you’re marrying a whole bunch of things; some of them are good and some of them aren’t so good. But I notice that people always want their traditions to come into the marriage and not the other person’s traditions: “My family was right, and your family was wrong.” When actually it’s more like a lot of times they’re just different. We have to decide how to blend them together.
Dave: [Laughter] I’m laughing because I married the same woman.
Marcia: Yes! [Laughter]
Dave: I’m like, “Are you not going, ‘Wow, that is it’?”
Dave: I mean, I remember you saying, as a little girl—and they have a great family; her dad was my high school baseball coach—
Ann: We didn’t grow up with faith, but they were just good people.
Dave: Yes, they were really good. In our city—it was a town of about 40,000—they were known as the family, like: “You want to be like the Barons.”
I had all kinds of elephants—they were standing up in the room: from alcohol to adultery to girlfriends to abuse—it’s all there. Then her family really was a model, but it became a problem in our marriage.
Ann: But I also had sexual abuse in my family. But—
Dave: That’s the secret.
Ann: —I didn’t know that was even an elephant. I thought/—
Kevin: There you go.
Ann: —I just thought, “It’s in the other room; it’s not in this room.” And it was in the room, stinking all the time.
Dave: What do you do when you start to identify, “We’ve got some elephants”? I love your cartoon.
Kevin: Isn’t that amazing?!
Dave: Tell them that.
Kevin: We put—you have the stick-figure families on the back of a car; and sometimes, you have the pets with them.
Ann: Yes—on the window, the stickers.
Kevin: —on the window, yes.
Marcia: —the mom, and the dad, and the kids.
Kevin: —the little white sticker on the back, with the mom, the dad, the kids. How many kids and, then, whatever—
Ann: Yes—maybe the soccer ball.
Marcia: Yes, yes, yes.
Kevin: —so what’s your sport: how many. Whatever—your pets: you’ve got a little dog, a little cat—whatever.
We put a family of four: a stick figure dad, mom, two kids; and then we put an elephant. [Laughter] What we were really saying is this: “If you embrace the elephant as a family pet, here’s what you have to care about, Dave. You’re not going to do anything to evict an elephant until you understand what eventually will be destroyed because of the elephant.”
If you don’t take the life of King David in the Old Testament, who decided, at a certain point of success, that he wasn’t going to go back out to battle—send everybody else—end up in an affair; hide it—welcome to the elephant in the room—then indirectly, but by his own hand really—murder the husband; marry her; have the kid. What did he begin to do? Pretense, pretense, pretense.
Then, later on—when his own sons did the same kind of thing—I won’t get into the long story about Amnon with Tamar and his other son, Absalom—all of it, there’s pretense. And then David covers it up; does nothing about that. David’s greatest sorrow was what broke between [him] and Absalom, and it was because a family let the elephants become the family pet.
The moment you realize the destruction of elephants in the room, you’ll have the courage to evict them.
Dave: Yes, that’s good.
Kevin: Wherever you are in your marriage or family, everybody brings some baggage/everybody brings some elephants with them. If you don’t address those and evict them, it eventually will be the source of great damage.
Dave: Whatever elephant you’re struggling with—it could be sin; it could just be generational in your family—but you’ve got to understand what you just shared is going to go down.
I’m thinking of a mom and dad listening right now. I just want to remind you: “What you’re struggling with in the dark—and you think, ‘Nobody will ever find out’; and they may never find out—but I’m telling you, even as an older dad/now, a grandfather, that sin goes into your family, even though it’s private.
Marcia: Yes, so true.
Dave: “You start to see your sons and daughters: ‘They’re struggling with what I’m struggling with, and they don’t even know that’s my struggle.’”
Kevin: That is correct.
Dave: I can see it; and it’s like—then the elephant becomes—nobody’s going to talk about it: “I’m not going to tell them,” “I’m not going to let them…” You have to—right?—not only talk about it but, then, to evict it. You’ve got to start with: “What’s the elephant?”; right?
Kevin: When you don’t talk about it, Dave, that’s when you adopt it.
Kevin: See the moment you decide not to talk about it, you adopted it as the family pet. Even if you put it in the closet, it’s still there.
Kevin: You’ve now adopted it; you might as well put it on the back of your car with the rest of your family picture and say, “Well, we’ve got elephants; and we just embrace them.”
Kevin: The destruction that comes down the road is horrific.
Ann: How did you guys address the elephant; what did that look like?
Kevin: Oh, my—[Laughter]—so many, obviously—and I brought the majority of elephants. I, eventually, was able to own that. I was eventually able to say, “Alright; we have so much baggage/so many elephants,” and we started with one of mine.
Here’s what we discovered: when one has the courage to confess there’s an elephant—so you can’t evict it until you admit it’s in the room—so then you say, “What do you do?” “Okay; look around; admit it’s in the room.”
“What if there’s 20 elephants?” Pick one; any one will do. [Laughter] Pick the smallest elephant and say, “You know, we have an elephant in the room.”
Ann: —the least painful; yes.
Kevin: Yes, that: “We can, at least, deal with the baby.” Confess it; and when you do, begin to work through it.
Anyhow, when we did—why don’t we illustrate?—why don’t we talk about the difficulty? We had two children.
In the communication process of navigating conflict, we talk about fair fights. The first section is “communication”; the second section is “compromise”; and then the third is “counseling,” and that’s when you can’t get through it. Many times, you can’t get through conflict and get to resolution; because you have elephants. I’m going to put that in a package, so people understand that we eventually/we had one thing we couldn’t get through.
Marcia: Right; we had two kids, a boy and a girl. Kevin was like, “This is great. I’ve got a boy; I’ve got a girl; I’m done.” I, on the other hand, was like, “Well, I grew up in a really big family; I love being a mom; I don’t think I’m done at two.” That was the conflict.
For years, really, we went back and forth; we would put it under the table for a while, like it wasn’t there. Every once in a while, we’d check back in: “I still want one.” He’d be like, “I still don’t want one.” So there was a constant back and forth that way.
Kevin: Yes; we ended up going to friends—processing with friends—and eventually, we went to a counselor. The counselor said, “You’re afraid of having more kids, because you’re going to fail like your father.” The next word out of my mouth was an expletive that pastors don’t use, and we left.
Dave: —because you were mad.
Marcia: He was mad; he [counselor] just cut right down to it.
Kevin: He had just said, “There’s an elephant in the room.”
Dave: You literally just got up and walked out.
Kevin: Yes, we were done.
Marcia: We never went back.
Kevin: We never went back.
Dave: Oh, you never went back?
Kevin: No; but what I realized is I had seen all my father’s elephants, but I didn’t know how to see my own. I’m not willing to have a third, because I’m not even succeeding with two; and I can’t trust God to help us with three, financially, emotionally or relationally. If we’re struggling with two—more than she knows I’m struggling—I’m not telling her.
A whole bunch of us have issues that come from the wounds of our past that make decisions in the present that nobody knows are influencing the decisions.
Kevin: If you don’t acknowledge the elephant, you don’t know what’s influencing the decision.
I had to begin to say, “Look, I’m concerned about this.” And then her elephant in the room was finance. She came from a financially-stable home. I came from wreckage; we had already gone through bankruptcy, growing up, more than once. We were poor—and government subsidized housing; food stamps when I was in high school—I mean, I/there is something in me that gets affected by that. And now, we’re planting a church; it’s not working. We have two children; she wants another one: “What is wrong with you?”
Marcia: I was like, “Well, I mean, we always had enough.”
Ann: You’re thinking, “We’re going to trust Jesus.”
Marcia: Yes; exactly!
Ann: That’s what I would have said.
Marcia: “Why worry about it?”
Kevin: I love that answer.
Marcia: I mean, we got into trouble every once in a while; but we always worked it out; you know? I mean, “We’re not going to starve to death. It’s going to be fine.”
But I had to come to grips—what we had decided if we’re going to go forward—and there’s a whole other thing about how we came to that decision. But we finally decided that we would have another one, but we had to make an agreement. So the agreement—part of it was that I was going to take over the finances—because he didn’t want to do it anymore. I was like, “Oh, I can do this; this is going to be so easy.”
Dave: “This is awesome.”
Marcia: “I cannot wait to show him how to do a budget.”
Marcia: Well, I was so wrong; I made such a mess of it. There wasn’t enough money. I thought we would be able to save, but it truly was difficult. He wasn’t wrong about that.
Ann: He had something to be fearful about.
Marcia: He had something to be fearful about, exactly. Once I figured that out, I was like, “Oh, I am putting pressure on him,” especially when you know that: “When you have a third child, you’re probably going to get a bigger car; you’re going to want a bigger house.” I’m going to want all these things, and I’m going to just think they should appear.
We kind of came to the realization that: “We’re going to stay where we are; I’m not going to ask you for a new house or a new car. But I am going to get what I really want, which is another child.”
Ann: That was your compromise.
Kevin: Her work world shifted; and “She’s going to stay home, and be with the three,” and “We’re going to live on whatever we make, and we’re not going to put pressure on the church.” Because that’s what happens a lot—people get mad at the church—pastors get mad at the church or whatever the case might be. People do it in their own business—they get frustrated—somebody feels the pressure.
We’re making this sound fast, but this took some time to navigate and confess what was affecting the decision. I had mine; she had hers. I think hers was finance; mine was all the emotional risk, and to trust God to provide and navigate that. We came to the other side by evicting these elephants.
Dave: Addressing them was the hardest thing ever; evicting them was even harder. And yet, here’s our story; and I know yours is exactly the same. You didn’t only have one more child; you had two. [Laughter] So God blessed in an amazing way.
The only way you get to the second happy, where you get to what you’re hoping it would be at the beginning, is with the gospel. There’s no other way.
Kevin: There is no other way.
Dave: Jesus meets you. He creates environments, where the elephants appear; and He says, “You’ve got to deal with this,” and then He gives you the power to deal with it.
I actually got to the point, where I could experience forgiveness in my life toward the elephants/toward the sin that was generational in my family. God redeemed it; and now, He uses it to help others, like He’s using you and your book and your process. The things you went through, and the things you were able to deal with, are now a blessing to others.
I know there’s a couple listening, saying, “We can’t get there.” Yes, you can. You can’t without Jesus, but you can if you’re willing to surrender. Again, you can’t surrender your spouse; but you can only surrender you. But if you’re willing to say, “I will surrender,” and start the journey to the second happy, He will get you there; He really will. Today’s the day to start.
Bob: I love Dave Wilson’s point that the hard issues we face in marriage/in our lives, they’re not too hard for Jesus. He knows the issues, and He can help us overcome: find victory, find strength, find hope. He can bring beauty from ashes.
When God is at the center of your marriage, the elephants in the room—that Dave and Ann Wilson have been talking with Kevin and Marcia Myers about—those elephants can be addressed; our lives can be new; our marriages can be new. That’s the theme of the book Kevin and Marcia Myers have written called The Second Happy: Seven Practices to Make Your Marriage Better than Your Honeymoon. We’ve got copies of their book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the title of the Myers book is The Second Happy; find out more online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Then let me encourage you to make a commitment, as a couple, to spend a weekend this spring focusing on your marriage. Get away from the kids, from the distractions—from everything else—just the two of you focusing on one another, talking about God’s design, God’s plan, God’s purposes for your marriage. I don’t know of a better way to do that/a better place to do that than at the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. We’ve got three or four dozen of these events happening in cities all around the country this spring. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to find a link that will give you information about where and when we are hosting these getaways in a city near where you live.
If you sign up right now for an upcoming getaway, you will save 50 percent off the regular registration fee as a couple. Great incentive to make the plan now and join us this spring for a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. This special offer expires in about a week-and-a-half, so take advantage of it today. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information, or you can register online. If you have any questions, call us: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number. We hope to see you this spring at a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
Now, tomorrow we’re going to continue the conversation about marriage. Debra Fileta is going to join us to talk about how couples can be prepared for the hard seasons that are almost inevitable. I say “almost” because I’ve talked to some couples, who would just say, “Oh, it’s been a picnic for us”; but that’s not typical; right? All of us have experienced hard seasons in our marriage. How do we get ready for those, and how do we know what to do when we’re in those hard seasons? We’ll hear from Debra Fileta with Dave and Ann Wilson tomorrow. I hope you can be with us.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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