May 22, 2019

Growing Together Where You Used to Fall Apart

Gary Thomas — 

Now that we’re empty nesters, Lisa travels with me on most of my trips, at least the pleasant ones.

Winnipeg in February?


New York City in the Fall?

Book two tickets, please.

In our new season of joint travel, Lisa had an uncanny ability to always turn the wrong direction coming out of the elevator. She was so busy recounting a new friend’s history that she just didn’t pay attention. If our room was left coming out of the elevator, Lisa would go right. If we went into the hotel parking lot and our car was south, you could count on Lisa turning north. I became fascinated with this; you would think that at least half the time she would guess right, but it felt like, for whatever reason, that rule didn’t apply for her.

The first couple times Lisa turned the wrong way, I thought it was a simple mistake. Finally, after we had already been at a particular hotel for several nights and Lisa still took a wrong turn I said, “Seriously? Again?”

That didn’t make her feel particularly cherished (as you can imagine), so the next time she did it, I simply stayed where I was and waited for Lisa to notice.

That didn’t work so well either.

As many husbands do, I put the blame for this impasse entirely on my wife. “What am I supposed to do?” I asked. “If I say nothing, you get upset. If I mention it’s the wrong way, you say it makes you feel stupid. I can’t win.”

“It’s so easy,” Lisa said. “Just say a simple ‘this way, hon’ in exactly that tone. ‘This way, hon.’ And we’ll both be so happy.”

So the next time, that’s what I did.

“This way, hon.”

Lisa turned and smiled a gorgeous smile. “Perfect,” she said.

Now we laugh whenever this happens (as it does on virtually every trip). It draws us closer together rather than slowly pulling us apart. “This way, hon” has turned a potential conflict into a shared intimacy.

One of the keys to growing a lifelong, more intimate marriage, is learning how to turn situations that used to tear you apart into delightful times of bonding. We’ve found that the best way to do that is simply to ask each other for help. I had been married to Lisa for thirty years, but I still had to ask her, “Okay, you tell me— how do I redirect you without hurting you?” A wife may have to ask her husband, “How can I disagree with you or offer a contrary opinion without making you feel like I don’t respect you?”

Verbal slights that are often unintentional can drain the life out of any marriage, particularly when they’re part of a recurring pattern. Perhaps you could ask your spouse whether there is a similar situation in your relationship where you need to learn to say, “This way, hon.”

For instance, it took me a couple decades to learn how to wake up Lisa. Early on, I was confused as a husband because when I woke her up at the appointed time, she seemed angry at me for disturbing her sleep. But if I let her sleep in, she was angry that I didn’t wake her up. Once again, I felt like I couldn’t win.

But when I learned how to gently and slowly wake her up, how to essentially “cherish” her awake, that all changed. I had set it up so she was the problem: whether I woke her up or let her sleep in, I was in trouble. But the issue was actually the way I was doing it. Now, if I’m going to be home in the morning, Lisa never wants to set her clock because, she says, “You’re so much more pleasant than an alarm clock.”

These “this way, hon” moments take just a little bit of creativity and conversation, but they turn reoccurring harmful episodes into marriage moments that we learn to laugh about and enjoy. Take the time and learn how to grow together precisely where you used to fall apart.

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25 responses to Growing Together Where You Used to Fall Apart

  1. That’s good right there ways to laugh instead of divided us. Our struggle is a little different communication both wanting to be heard but just not really listening repeating self over and over and not getting nowhere and conversations seem to always lead to a heated fellowship and it’s so draining. Words and emotions just gets us nowhere. Need so much help my husband doesn’t listen and he basically repeats me my same words and actions very annoying plz help…..

  2. What great words of wisdom Gary. Your posts are so right on for marriages that need work. Wish this could work in our case. Very sadly, I am married to a very extreme narcissist. It took me a while to add up all controlling and manipulation and so much emotional abuse and put a name on it…..not even wanting to try anymore. Like the other writer wrote… biggest mistake and you feel so stupid to have fallen for someone like this but then they revealed their true selves after the wedding. There were signs now that I look back. Broke up with him several times and he kept using induced conversation to reel me back in…. Love that new country song out right now. I might not know what love looks like but he can only show you what love aint. Looking forward to your new book coming out on toxic relationships.

  3. Bill Tuininga May 22, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    Gary, I can so identify. I have on a few occasions just waited for my wife Lin to come out of a public washroom to see which direction she would take. Or if we were leaving an event I would invite her to go first to see how long it would take before she would ask for directions. It became somewhat of a sport – and my wife is a ‘good sport’ – but I am learning to not be a tease and to take the lead, often by just gently taking her hand. She appreciates that. And as for cherishing Lin, some days it takes more conscious effort than I’d like to admit. I certainly haven’t perfected it. Thank you for the encouragement! Bill
    PS By the way, my wife is from Winter-peg, and if I had taken a ‘pass’ on Winnipeg we would have never met. There are many good things to see and experience in this warm-hearted City, even in February. 🙂

  4. Great article. As empty-nesters, my hubby and I have had to learn how to be together again. Recently, we solved one VERY BIG communication issue of not letting hurt/irritation/anger build up by agreeing to say, “Can I tell you something GENTLY?” That is the code word for “I don’t want to hurt your feelings by saying this wrong, but something is bothering me.” So far, this has worked great. Hopefully, I learned “This way, hon….” too!

  5. Need advice, please. My husband has a wandering eye. He has conquered porn addiction and still struggles with unholy Lust for other attractive women. I’m at my limits with him now that my youngest son will be eighteen next year. I will be free to leave without a nasty divorce with children involved. I have given him a final demand. He is desperately trying, but still gives an attractive woman a good once over before looking away. It’s such an improvement from the lurking, ogling looks. Should I call him on it? It hurts no matter what he does now. He refuses counseling and I’m getting to the point that I think so much damage has been done, it’s no longer necessary to stay together. He’s a good man, but this issue has taken it’s toll on my well-being and Love for him.

    • He needs help…trust me when I say there are “under the waterline” issues here. I have been there. No it is not OK…ever. I have been involved with Samson Society for a few years and the experience has been transformative. Refusing counseling is a red flag. He is behaving like a boy, not a real man who faces his character flaws and “does the work”. He is not desperate for deep rooted transformation. He has not admitted he is powerless over this and in need of God’ and a sacred few male friends help. Counselling is a second step after he has started doing thw work of facing sexual issues (compulsive behavior) and getting healthy.

      You have said everything but in his eyes have not done anything substantive. Check out Gary Thomas has spoken on a previious Samson’s podcast. If there are no local meetings there are virtual meetings+ he needs to get into a real Sponsor/Silas relationship with another man who has walked this path and is in recovery. Otherwise you will be a “walk away wife” and it will be his loss.

    • Irene

      This is too big of a question for me to give a pat answer to on a blog, especially since you’re saying divorce is on the table. You both need much more than I can offer in this format. In response to what Larry said let me say, when it comes to the Samson Society I’m a big fan. But you’re going to need some help and support as well

    • One thing that has helped me is that I stopped going out in public with my husband. This way, I do not have any images of women in my head, that he satisfies himself with. Another thing I did was to move him out of our bedroom.

      He reached out for help with a man at church and this man justified my husbands lust and said that all men lust for other women.

      In my thinking, this man can’t help my husband and be an accountability partner, when he has the same problem.

      I read an article that said, women and men are everywhere and that we can’t not see each other. Trying to not see each other is impossible.

      The solution is for men to “see” women as people instead of “looking” at them as sex objects.

      I don’t think an accountability partner is called for even if he doesn’t lust for other women.

      Only God can convict us, and God should be the One, who we answer to.

      God knows our hearts. An accountability partner does not. No one can hide anything from God.

  6. Janet Carlson May 22, 2019 at 9:37 am

    Oh my gosh!! Have you been traveling with us?!? And the second point- of me asking my husband how I can disagree without him feeling disrespected- we just had that discussion (after an unpleasant fight first!). We’ve also learned to say “that didn’t feel loving, did I do something disrespectful?” From Love & Respect of course. Keep it up, please!! We learn a nugget from every blog.

    • Janet,

      I’m thrilled to have some blogs speak affirmation and encouragement instead of constant conviction so thanks for sharing this

  7. Brooke Abbott May 22, 2019 at 9:11 am

    Thank you so much for your article. My husband of 30 years and I have a similar occurrence of “Do you want me to help you fix it or do you just need me to listen?” I love your books and your blogs. I have learned a lot and also sometimes what you write seems like a “thumbs up” along our marriage journey.

  8. Not so easy when you’re married to a passive-aggressive spouse whose pride never let’s them admit there wrong. Just had another disagreement because he wants to do the speech at my daughter’s wedding his way rather then the way she wants. Biggest mistake of my life and not one I can walk away from.

    • Brooke Abbott May 22, 2019 at 9:14 am

      So sorry! I understand. I had a stepfather who sounds just like that. I will pray for you and your husband, that God would open his eyes to see the truth.

    • Gary L Thomas May 22, 2019 at 9:22 am


      This blog isn’t the place to do marital counseling and I’m equally hesitant to offer unsolicited advice. But the contempt dripping from your words (I’m not blaming you, just observing what’s there) rarely heals itself on its own. You sound miserable in your marriage, and maybe there are many good reasons for that. I’d suggest you consider doing a marriage intensive–not once a week marital counseling, but an intensive where a counselor or team can help you and your husband dig into the underlying issues. Focus on the Family, Family Life Today, Winshape, and The Smalley Institute all offer such programs. I hate to see any couple holding such contempt for each other. (One caveat: If the contempt is born of abuse, rather than couple’s counseling, you should seek individual counseling)

  9. Needed to hear this. I love the idea you proposed of just straight out asking your spouse, how can I do this without creating a fight or without hurting the other. No one can read minds and asking will possibly just help diffuse further situations.

  10. Gary, this is so good. I will read this together with my husband. We need to learn what you’re explaining so clearly!
    [ I’m the one who takes the wrong way usually, b.t.w.! ]

    • Karin,

      I LOVE the thought of husbands and wives reading these posts together and then talking about them. You just made my day!

      • Yes we did read the article, we do have such situations where we can put this advice in practice, we have already started to apply it… and we’re calling each other “hon” on those occasions (the Italian equivalent!!!)
        Hi Lisa… greetings from Italy! 🙂

  11. Yeeees! So good!! We just celebrated our 30th anniversary Monday 🥰. We used to get into tiffs because I felt like my hubby was making a dig about my kitchen abilities (lack of) and finally it came out that he did not at all mean what I thought he meant… so we came up with the plan for me to ask him “Is that a comment?” to which he would say “No, not at all…what I mean is…” Until the one time when he said “Actually it was!” And we both busted up laughing!! We have not had that issue since. So much like your elevator story.
    That said, Gary, YOU have contributed immensely to where we are today as a happily married couple of 30 years! Along with my other favorite author, Shaunti Feldhahn… her Kindness Challenge book which I am currently reading goes right along with this article…
    God has blessed us richly through you both… thank you for doing the hard work to write and teach. We appreciate you SO much!

  12. Wonderful!