Naked and Unashamed
About the Guest
Are you good at resolving conflict? Marital researcher Scott Stanley emphasizes that a couple's ability to work through conflict together is determinative of a couple's success. But commitment, he says, must be the foundation. Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed, and that safety and security is what all couples long for. To achieve that, husbands and wives must be committed to God first, then to each other.
Scott StanleyScott Stanley, Ph.D., is a research professor and co‑director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver. He has published widely with research interests including commitment, communication, conflict, confidence, risk factors for divorce, the prevention of marital distress, and couple development. Along with Dr. Howard Markman and colleagues, he has been involved in the research, development, and refinement of the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (...more
Marital researcher Scott Stanley emphasizes that a couple’s ability to work through conflict together is determinative of a couple’s success. But commitment, he says, must be the foundation.
Naked and Unashamed
Bob: Some people think that if forgiveness has been offered and received in a marriage relationship, then trust should automatically be restored. Scott Stanley says that’s not the case.
Scott: In Scripture, it’s always clear—reconciliation is hinged to responsibility. So, I can forgive somebody; but I can still withhold reconciliation. If they’re not changing—if they’re not taking responsibility and it’s a serious behavior—in fact, you see this in Scripture—1 Corinthians 5 is a great example of it—it may even be wise for me to withhold the relationship until this person changes. But that doesn’t mean I’m running around trying to hurt them back.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, July 15th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll talk today about what the Bible has to say about real forgiveness and about reconciliation. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Before we came in here, I was talking with our guest today. I was telling him about the first time I ever heard him on another radio program. You ought to introduce him, but I should tell you the story because I don’t know that I’ve ever told you the story.
Dennis: Well, Scott Stanley’s here. He is the author of A Lasting Promise. He’s a researcher and co-directs the Center for Marital and Family Relationships at the University of Denver. Scott, welcome back. I can’t wait to hear what so pierced Bob’s mind so many years ago. [Laughter]
Scott: Me, too. I’m very curious.
Bob: Well, back in—it was actually 1996—I remember it very clearly. You and I were together in Seattle, Washington, getting ready to speak at one of our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways up there.
Bob: I was driving through the streets of Seattle on my way to the convention center, where the event was being held. I had Focus on the Family® on. Scott, you were a guest with Gary Smalley on Focus on the Family. Do you remember this?
Scott: Yes, mid-90’s.
Bob: I’m listening; and I hear Gary Smalley say to Dr. Dobson—he says, “What Scott has discovered—if you do this one thing in your marriage, it will revolutionize your marriage.” I’m thinking to myself: “I’m about to speak on marriage—I better know what the one thing is”; right?
Bob: So, do you remember what the one thing is?
Scott: I don’t remember what the one thing is. [Laughter] I don’t remember a lot of one things! [Laughter]
Bob: Here’s what you said—
Bob: —and, you know what? I thought—first, I thought, “That’s right!” And then I thought, “Well, duh,”—I mean no offense.
Bob: But a lot of what you find in the research you do—you look at the research and say, “Well, duh!” Don’t you?
Scott: I started to write a paper once—I didn’t finish it, but it was going to be on this very point—called “Duh Findings” [Laughter] because a lot of the really good stuff—
Dennis: It’s like discovering gravity. It’s there.
Scott: That’s right; that’s right.
Bob: So, here’s what you said. You said that: “A couple’s ability to work through conflict together and resolve conflict is the number one predictor of long-term marital success.”
Bob: And I thought to myself, “Well, duh.”
Bob: If we can, as a couple, when we’re on different pages, come together and say, “Okay, how can we deal with our differences?” that will go a long way to making for a great marriage.
Scott: Absolutely it will go a long way! I would actually say two things now. We talked about commitment—commitment, communication/conflict—that’s where it’s at in terms of research. You look in those two dimensions and you know a lot about how a marriage is going to go.
Bob: If a couple is committed to one another—that’s healthy and that’s in place—and if they can communicate and resolve conflict, there in a pretty good place.
Scott: Big stuff.
Dennis: And back to the “duh” factor for just a moment. It’s kind of a “duh” because the Bible begins with the story of a marriage. When He wraps this whole thing up and packages it for us to be able to digest it, He says, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother.”
We talked about this earlier—“and he shall cleave to his wife.” That’s commitment. “And they shall become one”—one flesh. Then the passage concludes with “and the man and his wife were both naked and they were not ashamed.” That’s really the progression of how a marriage was designed to progress—from leaving to cleaving / commitment, to becoming one, and then getting on with this process of being completely transparent and honest with another imperfect person and not being ashamed.
Yet, as we do this, we’re going to hurt each other. That points out the reason why we must resolve our conflicts.
Scott: That passage / that verse—“being naked and unashamed”—I think is actually the most hopeful line in all of Scripture about marriage. You think about all of the changes in marriage, and divorce, and the fragility about marriage in our culture.
What I think is so powerful about that—and is the best hope for marriage—is people want that. They want what’s expressed in that one line. They want that kind of safety—emotional safety—in their relationship, where they can be connected and be who they are. What you see with Adam and Eve is that they have that—whatever all that means, you know, at that point in the story. Then you can watch, in a pretty powerful way, how it falls apart in Genesis 3, in terms of what happens to Adam and Eve.
We all live in that post-Fall—sort of post-Genesis 3—world, where we want this; but it is a challenge to achieve that in marriage. But it is what we want, deep in our heart.
Dennis: If we want that transparency, Scripture really teaches that marriage is a cord of three strands.
Scott: Yes. What I like about that concept—I don’t know how many people tend to think about that, but you see that in Ecclesiastes—I think that is an image of the idea that marriage, fundamentally, involves me, you, and God.
It’s three of us being woven together in terms of what God wants to do in marriage. I think it makes a very powerful sort of bond when you really have that together, as a couple.
Dennis: You research people from all walks of life—some who have a relationship with God and others who don’t. Do you see a marked difference between marriages and families who know God—walk with Him, experience Him, and talk with Him daily—and those who don’t?
Scott: Let me take apart the two parts of your sentence because the answer to your question lies in it. Do I see a difference between those who know God or say they know God and others? I don’t see a big difference there. The walking part is where the big difference comes in. We all know—you see the statistics that come up a lot in the church—about people in the church having just about as much divorce as those outside the church—and there are controversies about that data.
What’s clear in the research—just saying you’re a believer, or a Christian, or nominally involved in something like that—you see in the research a slight edge for those marriages. You see a slight edge for people who are—researchers call it “religious.” They don’t usually measure clearly things about faith—and Christianity and stuff—but there’s a slight edge there.
Where the big edge comes is when you see two people who are in some way—and there can be many ways to do this—practicing their faith together. That’s where the big edge comes. I can’t tell you exactly how big it is; but if you get closer to measuring the walking instead of the talking, then you’ve got some power in terms of how a marriage is going to go.
Dennis: Yes. It seems to me, today, that that’s where couples are missing it. They’re beginning the marriage relationship and they’re not inviting the One into the marriage who actually created the blueprints and who is the One who wants to walk with them through all of the experiences, all the issues, all the barriers, all the hard times they’re going to face in their marriage relationship.
Bob: At the same time, you say in the book that it takes more than simply having a healthy relationship with God for your marriage to work out. So, two people who say, “As long as we love God, we’re going to do fine in marriage,” it would say, “Not necessarily.”
Scott: Yes. And, you know, in the book, we have a lot of very specific skills and strategies. That’s intentional because I think we all agree—you can have somebody who’s exactly in the right place in their heart with God—you can have, in the best case, two people who are in just the right place. That doesn’t mean they know what to do. That doesn’t mean they know how to handle a conflict, how to set a goal, how to clarify expectations, how to invest or sacrifice for one another.
None of that necessarily comes. In fact, I would say that, in today’s culture and society, so many people grow up now in homes that are broken or where their parents, maybe, never even married on one side—you know, one was just taken off.
People have come from such diverse backgrounds and so many different forms of broken homes or difficult homes now that you can’t assume people know much of anything about how to do a healthy relationship, even if their heart is perfectly in the right place about wanting it and being willing to do it.
Dennis: One of the things you talk about in your book is what’s called “The Crazy Ladder.”
Dennis: It’s when things begin to escalate. Explain what you mean, to our listeners, by that.
Scott: This is one of my favorite new word pictures about thinking about something that we’ve studied for a long time in research. Many studies show that couples that escalate easily and have trouble getting it back wound down are in marriages that are going to struggle a lot more and have more difficulties.
Dennis: Now, when you say “escalate,” you’re talking about ramping up the emotions.
Scott: Yes; and I mean the negative, negative, negative back and forth—rising emotional intensity.
Usually that leads to things being said that are reckless. It says in Proverbs: “Reckless words pierce like a sword.” It’s in those moments that people say some very damaging things, either about commitment or about the character of the other.
I think of it as—when a couple has trouble with escalation, you can think about it as a kind of “crazy ladder.” Here’s the nature of ladders—this is what I love about the metaphor—it is way easier to go up than it is to come down. You can go up faster than you can come down. The further up you go—the less stable it is. It’s all—you know, the further you go—the more dangerous it is.
What a lot of couples do is—they go up this ladder fast. Very often, they get wrung out, if you will. They get up too high too fast. Now it’s hard to get back down. You’re unstable. You’ve got to walk it back down. Your kids are seeing this, and they’re damaged by seeing this regularly. It’s not good for the children. So, I like for people to think about getting off the crazy ladder—
—which means not going up as fast in the first place and learning some ways to get back down and rein it back in when you do get up too far.
Dennis: What do you do if you’re finding yourself beginning to climb a ladder rather quickly?
Scott: Two strategies: one strategy to really handling this is getting off the ladder sooner so that you’re only like a few rungs up instead of 16 rungs up.
Dennis: Is that: “Don’t let the sun go down in your anger,”—is that it?
Scott: It’s talking to each other—that’s what that passage talks about. It’s “a gentle answer turns away wrath.” It’s all of these kinds of basic ideas.
What it looks like is—you start to escalate—maybe one of you says something with a little too much edge—for a really skilled couple or a couple that is safe—you’ll see things like this happen. One says something negative and the other says—let’s say they criticized the other about being kind of compulsive, you know: “Why do you do that that way?! That dish doesn’t really have to go in that way. It could go in this way.”
The other could say: “There you go again!—just really riding me about this, as if this is the right way to do it!” You know—then off the couple goes.
A couple that’s more aware of the danger of escalation can get out of that faster because one might say: “You know—I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything. I don’t know why I’m picking on you about that. Please forgive me for that. Just let it go.” That’s de-escalating rapidly by just softening and making something more positive happen.
Bob: You talk in here about the whole idea of negative interpretation, which is really where you assume the worst about everything that’s going on; right?
Scott: That’s a big thing that fuels escalation—so it’s a really added problem. So not only maybe we’re not so skilled at controlling the anger and the frustration, but part of what really feeds that is that it’s very easy to take a negative view. For example, one picks on the other for how they load the dishwasher and the dishes. The other makes a big deal out of it. The more skillful couple can get out of that faster by softening somehow.
But let’s say it really escalates for a couple. Part of the escalation is, maybe, one starts to take it personally that “You won’t load the dishwasher the way I think it should be loaded.” The other strategy is you’ve got to learn a way, as a couple, to take a time out.
You can use the word “time out.” You can use some common terms that people use today like “slow the roll,” “pump your brakes,”—whatever it is—something where, as a couple, you have a way to signal: “We’re getting a little ‘out there’ right now. Let’s rein it in.” The power of this—this strategy works best if the two of you agree to use it so there’s a signal that you both understand: “Let’s take a time out. Let’s chill a bit.”
Even, as an individual, you can do this—you know: “Hey, we’re getting pretty upset right now. Why don’t we sort of wind this back down, and then we’ll come back and talk what we need to talk about in a couple of hours.” That’s very hard to do but very simple. If you really try to learn to do that, you can save your marriage a lot of heartache.
Dennis: You really can’t talk about escalating emotions and conflict without ultimately moving to the subject of forgiveness.
Would you explain what forgiveness is and what you’ve learned about it through your research?
Scott: Forgiveness—interesting, to me—I mean, there’s a lot of research now on forgiveness, in the last 15 years or so, actually, in terms of researchers becoming very interested in the concept. Of course, historically, it’s mostly religious people and mostly Christians. It’s talked about a lot in Christian theology.
The essence of forgiveness is giving up your perceived right to get even. If you feel like this person has done something that may by, objectively, very clearly true. They’ve done something that hurt you. It could be little or it could be big. There are examples of both that we talk about very clearly in the book. The essence of a problem with forgiveness is the sense of “Now you owe me because of that.” Jesus, when He talks about forgiveness, uses—or the Greek word we have in the New Testament that records His teaching is—apeimi.
It really means to remit—to give up / to refrain from exacting punishment. That’s what forgiveness is.
Part of where we get in trouble in our relationships is that it’s hard enough to forgive well when you understand forgiveness really clearly. It’s virtually impossible when you start to layer in concepts that really aren’t related to exactly what forgiveness is. For example, we start to think forgiveness is forgetting: “Well, you still remember so you haven’t really forgiven me.” Well, if you’ve really been hurt deeply, you’re not going to forget. So forgetting is not part of forgiveness.
A lot of people fear that “If I forgive my partner—big or small / whatever it is—I’m going to convey to them that their behavior was just fine.” That’s not what forgiveness is either. You can forgive somebody—you can decide you’re not going to hold them one down. You’re not going to try to get even—and, at the same time, have them still be responsible for their behavior—be responsible for change—need to be, maybe, committed to some big changes in the relationship—
—part of the reason why it’s important to separate those out. It’s very clear theologically, is that you can differentiate between forgiveness, which is me giving up my right to hurt you back, from reconciliation.
Scott: Reconciliation—in Scripture, it’s always clear—reconciliation is hinged to responsibility. I can forgive somebody, but I can still withhold reconciliation. If they’re not changing—if they’re not taking responsibility and it’s a serious behavior—in fact, you see this in Scripture—1 Corinthians 5 is a great example of it—it may even be wise for me to withhold the relationship until this person changes—but if we start to put a lot of our energy into “How can I get you back?” or make sure that this is remembered because “You owe me,”—that wipes out the opportunities for intimacy and being “naked and unashamed.”
Bob: Well, and I’m guessing that the research would validate—if your strategy is: “I’m going to get even and make them pay,” you’re not headed in a good place in your marriage. Nobody says, “I’m going to do that and my marriage will be better as a result of that.”
Scott: That’s right. “I’m going to hold you one down forever, and we’ll forever be on a different level in this relationship,”—and we’re supposed to walk together and have intimacy?
Now, here’s a challenging secret—this comes out of the research. This is a great example of the good research findings on this—and this is hard to do. If you are really committed to forgiving someone else, the most powerful thing you can do to change yourself is to try to have empathy for what they were going through or what was going on in their life when they hurt you.
Scott: That’s hard to do!
Dennis: That’s very hard.
Scott: That’s very hard.
Bob: So, to make it a concrete example—a wife has been unfaithful to her husband—he learns about it. You’re saying forgiveness is saying, “I’m not going to punish you for this offense.” He’ll never forget that. I’ve never met a husband who said: “Oh, yeah! I’d forgotten all about the fact that my wife was unfaithful 20 years ago.” You don’t forget that.
Scott: You don’t forget.
Bob: Right; but he gives up the right to punish. Now, you’re saying—to get closer, if he can start to have empathy—if he can start to go, “You know, given what she was going through at the time, I can understand how that happened in her life,” that’s going to have an impact on their relationship together?
Scott: That’s the most powerful pathway for it to happen. Let’s take infidelity as a specific example, but you could apply this to anything in marriage. The way I like to explain that to couples is that you have a garden together—great imagery in Scripture and in the Song of Solomon—you know, you have a garden together.
In some way, it’s probably the responsibility of both of you—it could be much more one than the other—that certainly happens a lot—but in some way, it’s both of your responsibility—what the state of that garden was. When that weed started to grow, and somebody nurtured that weed, and let it grow, and didn’t pull it—that’s totally on that person—the person that was unfaithful let that happen—let their marriage be damaged in that way.
One of the reasons why I teach about that is I want people to understand that there are two sorts of areas of responsibility when things are really going wrong in a marriage. Part of it is just what the individual has done that’s hurt the relationship that they’re responsible for and they’re responsible to change. But there’s usually some part that’s the two of you—that’s related to how the two of you have treated each other over the years. It can be very lopsided or it can be kind of even.
The real power in forgiveness—and this is where commitment comes back—you wouldn’t even decide to try to understand and have empathy for your mate when they’ve hurt you if you weren’t committed to really trying to get to the future with this person. So, it comes back, ultimately, to forgiveness. If I want this relationship with this person, and I really want us to be back on that level ground where we can be naked and unashamed, then it’s going to take time. Real forgiveness for real pain takes real time.
I’m going to have to really commit because I want this future with this person—to getting us back on the same page. Part of the real power of getting back on the same page isn’t excusing the behavior. It’s not saying they’re not responsible. They need to change, but it’s going to be more powerful if I’m willing to push myself to have a little empathy for how life was really difficult for them and not just for me.
Bob: And you’re not letting them off the hook if you have empathy.
Scott: You’re not.
Bob: You’re not excusing, like you said—because it feels, to you, like—if you say, “Well, I can understand how this happened,” now it’s all of a sudden like you’re waiving away their responsibility.
Scott: Here’s a fabulous example—Jesus with the woman at the well. He waives nothing of that responsibility—I mean, just totally—but He’s right there with her, sitting with the woman that nobody’s going to associate with.
Scott: You know, all of what’s embedded in that story—totally loving, totally empathetic, totally understanding—but He’s not saying the behavior’s okay. He’s saying, “I’m here with you.” What does she do in experiencing that love? She goes and tells everybody.
Dennis: Yes, she brings back the whole city.
Scott: That’s right.
Dennis: And, frankly, what you’re helping us do, here on the broadcast today, is helping us tell the story of what we want to happen across the nation in the coming months. Beginning in August, and again in October, we’re going to have three I Still Do™ events, where we’re going to elevate the national discussion around marriage and God’s design of marriage. We’re going to talk about forgiveness, and we’re practically going to give people a way to do that—not only at the event—but when they get back home. It’s going to equip them around these issues we’re talking about.
Scott, I just think these kinds of discussions are life-giving—not just merely to marriages—but also families. If we give life to enough families, we’re going to give life to our nation because marriage needs to thrive and, I think, needs to be spoken of in the marketplace much more positively today than we have in the past.
Bob: Well, we’re hoping that folks who live in and around Chicago, or Portland, or Washington, DC, will make plans to join us. The Chicago event is just a couple of weeks away, at this point—Saturday, August 2nd, at the Allstate Arena. Then, three weeks after that, we’re in Portland—that’s August 23rd at the Moda Center—then, October 4th, at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. It’s a one-day event that features Al Mohler speaking, Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Crawford and Karen Loritts, David Nasser, Shaunti Feldhahn, Ron Deal, music from Andrew Peterson and Chris August, Jimmy McNeal leading in worship.
It’s a great one-day event. It’s fun. It’s exciting. At the end of the day, you’ll walk away with a fresh sense that your marriage can be what God designed marriage to be. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link at the top of the page that says, “Go DEEPER.” There’s information there about I Still Do. You can get tickets online; or call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY,” if you have any questions about I Still Do.
And keep in mind—we have copies of Scott Stanley’s book, which is called A Lasting Promise. It’s in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. We’d love to get a copy of the book to you. You can order that, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know—the conversation we’ve had today and the I Still Do events that we’ve got planned are all central to what FamilyLife is all about. Many of you who support this ministry—you share that passion. We appreciate your partnership with us. We’re listener- supported. If you can make a donation today, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a message from Dennis Rainey—a message that really gets to the heart of permanence in marriage.
Donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I CARE,” and make an online donation. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation over the phone. Ask for the CD from Dennis Rainey when you do.
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Now, we still have more to talk about with Scott Stanley as we zero-in on the issue of permanence in marriage. We’ll continue the conversation tomorrow. I hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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