FamilyLife Today® Podcast

How to Keep the Romance Alive: Dr. Juli Slattery, and Dr. Michael Sytsma

with Juli Slattery, Michael Sytsma, Nan Deal, Ron Deal | March 13, 2024
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What's it look like to keep the romance alive when it things are flaming out? Well, Ron & Nan Deal, Juli Slattery, and Michael R. Sytsma, PhD are here to help. They're talking about bringing back that love, having meaningful chats and noticing when things feel off.

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  • About the Guest

How do you keep romance alive when it fizzles? Ron & Nan Deal, Juli Slattery, and Michael R. Sytsma, PhD have answers. Rediscover how to bring that love back!

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How to Keep the Romance Alive: Dr. Juli Slattery, and Dr. Michael Sytsma

With Juli Slattery, Michael Sytsm...more
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March 13, 2024
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Ron: Jesus always used His power to empower other people. They were always more because of how He treated them, never less. Just think about that for just a second. There have been many situations where I paused and stopped and thought, “Okay, the way I’ve been treating my wife, talking to her, the tone of my voice, the look in my eyes—she is now less because of how I’m treating her. That is not being a godly husband. She should be more because of how I treat her.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com. This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: Today we get to listen to a talk from the Love Like You Mean It®cruise that we were on just a few weeks ago.

Ann: Wasn’t it fun?

Dave: It was awesome! We left out of Miami, and we came back to the port in Miami just in time for the Super Bowl. [Laughter] It was awesome; it was incredible. We spoke, I think, seven times total. There were great breakout sessions, keynote sessions, comedians, singers, artists, you name it; almost 4,000 people on the boat.

It was incredible, and you don’t want to miss next year. You can sign up right now, FamilyLifeToday.com, and go on the Love Like You Mean It cruise.

We were part of a panel that Ron and Nan Deal hosted—

Ann: —yes.

Dave: —and you and I, with Dr. Juli Slattery and Dr. Michael Sytsma, talking about questions from the audience. We didn’t even know what they were going to ask.

Ann: I’m not sure why we were on the panel. I was very nervous and scared. I feel like they were all experts in their field.

Dave: Yes, and their field is in the area of intimacy.

Ann: And counselors and therapists.

Dave: Yes, so we were the non-counselors sitting in the middle of the stage. You’re going to get to hear some of the questions we got to answer, so enjoy this.

[Recorded Message]

Nan: You asked. These are the questions that you submitted, and so we are going to start answering them. I’m going to start off with a pretty easy one.

Ann: Oh, that’s good.

Dave: Easy?

Nan: Just to ease you in, you know?

Ann: Oh, thanks, Nan.

Nan: We’re on this cruise. You’ve been gone for a week. I think this is a great question to ask before you get off the boat. “How do we maintain the connection that we felt on the cruise once we get home? How do we recognize when we’re getting off track, and how do we come back together?”

Dave: I think a lot of us know that there’s a real correlation between our walk with God and our relationships in our marriage. In the book of Revelation, there’s a passage where John gets a revelation from Jesus, and he speaks to churches. Some of you recognize—he says to a church, “I love everything you’re doing, but you’ve lost your first love,” and he says what? I think in our marriage we lose our first love. We lose that zeal and that passion. It could be in a month.

Ann: That can be normal, I think.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: We’re all doing this all the time.

Dave: Yes, and it happens in our walk with God. So, He says, “Repent, and do the things you did at first.” Ann and I wrote about this in Vertical Marriage. There’s the repent part, which is turn, stop living the way you are. You have to turn and go 180 degrees back. But then, what were the things you used to do when you had passion, when you were dating, and you’re going out, and when you’re first married? Probably you were talking, you were listening, there was—come on, give me a hand.

There was non-sexual touch. [Laughter] No, none of that. [Ann rubbing Dave’s head] I actually had hair then. She would rub her hands through my hair.

Ann: It’s better now.

Dave: Keep doing it. [Laughter] It might come back. Really, we’re joking around, but it really was—I know, for our marriage, and I bet you’re doing the same thing—those things go away. I rarely, but I’m embarrassed to say this, we don’t kiss like we used to kiss, right? And I know most couples don’t. It may be a peck before you leave or come home, but when was the last time you grabbed her or grabbed him and just made out?

Your kids hate it, but you made out. [Laughter] It wasn’t sexual. It wasn’t leading to anything else, but “I really do love you, and I really want to hold you.” And maybe not even kiss, but just hold. I went too far. But those are the things you used to do. Look at me. I’m holding her hand this whole time.

Ann: I know. I like it. This is fun.

Dave: Yes, are we going to do this?

Ann: Is it because Juli and Michael are here, too? [Laughter]

Dave: Trying to impress the counselors! [Laughter]

Nan: I do, too.

Dave: Go, honey. [Massaging Ann’s feet] Here’s what she loves right here. [Roaring laughter] Oh, when I touch her feet—

Nan: —oh, yes, yes.

Dave: —I am not kidding.

Ann: This is amazing! [Laughter] Many of you like this.

Dave: This is foreplay right here.

Nan: Forget the hands.

Ann: This is like the late-night one. It could get a little—[Laughter]

I think, too, when we come back from anything significant, whether it be a vacation or a conference, I try—we try—to be intentional about our conversations. It’s easy to talk about nothing but kids or grandkids.

Dave: Schedules.

Ann: Yes, schedules. But just to say, you have notes. Dave is really good at taking notes. Just even going back to what you learned or heard or something you might have jotted down in your mind or on your phone, just talking about, “What did you think about that? What did you feel about that? What was your best session? What did you hear that you would like to really live out?” I think those are always good—

Dave: Okay, we’re done talking, but I will say this: when I say, “Let’s talk about what the speaker said tonight,” I don’t know if your wife is like this guys. It lights her up.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: It’s like she’s chasing me around the house after that. [Laughter] It’s unbelievable, because it’s spiritual in nature, and it’s romantic to her. Is it true for you, ladies?

Juli: Yes.

Ann: What else are they going to say? [Laughter]

Nan: “No, not at all.”

Ann: “That’s not attractive.”

Nan: I think, too—and I didn’t say this one in the first session, but I think we can still be creative when we get home. I don’t need to come on this cruise and wait for somebody else to hang a gift on my door. I can hang a gift on the door at home and surprise him.

Juli: Wow.

Ann: Nan, this is good stuff!

Dave: Way to go!

Nan: I mean, I can get creative. We have not watched TV since we’ve been here, and we will go home and get in a rut.

Ann: Yes.

Nan: We could have a three-course meal—not every night, sorry. [Laughter] But you know, why not cook something like that together? We could do those things, but we don’t. We get in a rut, we get busy with all this and that, and we could still get creative. We don’t have to wait for the FamilyLife cruise staff to hang something on our door, so whoo! I’m on my soapbox.

Dave: Juli just got Mike a gift.

Juli: I did, yes.

Dave: And it wasn’t hanging on the door.

Ron: What was it?

Dave: He’s sitting right there.

Juli: I wanted to surprise him. There was this thing he told me that he wanted, and I thought, “I really want to surprise him,” so I bought it last week, and I put it in one of the FamilyLife bags that they put on your door. [Laughter]

Dave: Oh, nice.

Juli: I was trying to arrange it so that I wouldn’t be in the room when he got in the room, and it looked all official. I think I got you, surprised you, right? Yes, there you go.

Ron: That was very nice, very nice.

Ann: Good job, Juli!

Juli: Thanks, yes. Part of that question, too, was, “How do we know when we’re getting off course?” Boy, is that a great question.

Dave: Yes.

Juli: You guys are from the Motor City, so I’m going to use an example you’ll like.

Dave: Alright!

Juli: There you go. Is that good that I said that?

Ann: Go, Juli. Yes.

Dave: The Motor City!

Juli: Okay, so a lot of times you get a check engine light or a change the oil light on your dashboard. Sometimes, you ignore that, and you keep driving the car to the place that it breaks down.

Dave: That would be me.

Juli: Yes, that would be you, and it’s the same way with your marriage. There are signs that say, “Hey, slow down.” “Check the oil.” There are signs like there’s tension in your relationship, you’re not communicating, sexual intimacy is not happening, you have frustration towards each other. Guys, sometimes your wife is the check engine light. She usually is going to be more sensitive to that lack of connection.

If she says things like, “I just don’t feel close to you,” or “We’re not talking,” you might just want to drive and say, “Oh, we’re fine.” But when you get those indications, don’t wait until the crisis happens. Pull out those notes or even reach out to a counselor and say, “Hey, we have to get back to some of those basic things that got us into a better place.”

Dave: That’s good.

Ann: Let me ask you in a follow up—

Dave: —look at that, look at that. She’s just taking over. I love it.

Ann: —for you guys, if your wife said to you, “I don’t feel like we’re connecting. I don’t feel like we’re doing well,” what’s the next step for the average guy? What should be the next step? [Laughter]

Michael: Those are two different questions.

Juli: Yes. [Laughter]

Dave: Which one do you want?

Ron: That’s exactly right. Go ahead, Michael.

Dave: Welcome to my life right there. What do you want, should?

Michael: The answer to the first one is probably the wrong thing; the answer to the second one may be right.

Ron: Well, I’ll just tell you what I would do. My old self, my flesh, would get defensive, because what I would hear is blame, right?

Dave: Yes.

Ron: And that’s the thing I have to manage in me. Now, I don’t think this is necessarily every guy, but I do think it’s easy for us to hear a complaint as criticism, and instead, we need to try to stay objective a little bit, step back from it personally, and listen and try to hear what’s around it. What does it mean? What is it that you want? What do you desire instead of what’s happening? and turn off my defenses, so I can turn on my ears. That’s me, that’s what I have to do.

Michael: Juli and I will talk about curiosity tomorrow. It’s shifting into a curious stance of, “Okay, what’s going on for you, and how can I understand that?” Because if I step in to do what I think is right, it’s probably not going to be, but the two of us can figure it out together.

Ron: I think one of the oddest things about complaints that we have for one another in our relationship is this thought: if you can slow down yourself long enough to realize that when they make a complaint, whatever it is, it is really a request. They’re looking for more of you, they’re looking for more “us-ness,” more togetherness, safety, connection, touch, communication, heart-to-heart. Whatever that is, they’re asking for more rather than saying, “You’re bad.” But if you don’t put your defensiveness away, you never can get curious about what it is that they’re really asking for.

Michael: But that’s really tough to do, though.

Ron: Yes, it is.

Michael: I don’t know that that’s very human. I’m going to go into that defensive stance, and how do I shift into—it requires me to believe; to believe in who you are and listen to the heart. I tell couples all the time, “Can you listen to the heart of what your spouse is saying? Their skill is really bad. The skill in which they’re trying to communicate it is not working. It often does come across critical and condemning, but what is their heart asking for?”

Ron: So, you’re saying even though the packaging may be really ugly—

Michael: —really bad.

Ron: —there may be something inside worth—

Michael: There’s always something in there worth listening to. You wouldn’t have married them if they weren’t truly—there’s something precious in them. We lose track of that when my defensiveness and feeling criticized rises up. My humanness comes out. But if I can believe in them, then I can start to lean in and hear what they’re saying, and then I can shift into a curious stance, create space that invites them to step in and unpack. That’s tough to do. That’s a lifetime of discipleship that I’m still figuring out.

Nan: We had a number of questions about submission; questions like, “How do you submit to a husband that doesn’t seem to recognize his part, and his tone is harsh and disrespectful of his wife’s voice?” Or “He uses the Bible or his position in the home to get what he wants?”

Juli: Yes. Boy, let me just preface this by saying this is such a complex and deep issue that we can’t possibly do justice to the topic, even if we spent the rest of this panel time discussing it.

Michael: Because we can’t speak to the specifics of each case.

Juli: Right, and not only the specifics of each case, but the complexity of what submission is in the Scripture—

Michael: —right.

Juli: —and how that is played out today. So, I want to say that, for this couple that’s asking a question like this, don’t just take this one answer, but get some help. Get some resources. I wrote a book called, Finding the Hero in Your Husband that really deals with some of the complexity of this.

Dave: A very, very good book.

Ann: I love the book.

Nan: It’s a great book.

Juli: So, here’s what I will say: Submission is about power, okay? Submission is about asking the Lord, “How do I use my power wisely?” I’m going to talk to women in particular right now. In our flesh, it’s natural for women to say, “I want to use my power in such a way that becomes degrading to my husband.” Proverbs 14:1 says, “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish one tears hers down.”

Left to our own devices, we as women sometimes will become very destructive in our words and in our posture and our attitude toward our husband. So, submission is counsel to us in the Scripture: “Be wise how you use your power, because you can tear your husband down. You can tear down the potential that God has put within him.”

But notice that God wants you to use your power, and there are times in every marriage, and particularly in marriages where boundaries need to be set, that you need to stand up and stand for what’s right. That’s why this is such a complex topic. But I want to say that submission is more about the posture of your heart than it is a role or a particular thing.

It's about first submitting to the Lord. “God, what is wise and godly in this situation?” and then using your God-given power in a way that builds up rather than tearing down. But when it becomes as complicated as this kind of question, you really do need outside counsel to help you kind of tease out the specifics of the dynamics here.

Michael: And to speak to the men in this kind of a case, if we are lording it over our wives and demanding her submission, we’re missing the mark. We’re living in sin, because that is not what Christ called for. He called for us to be submissive. We know the passage: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself up for her.” So, if we are taking that stance, we’re the one that is living in sin. But it’s not her place to point out my sin. That’s probably going to be done on her knees as she prays and God breaks me, but I have to allow myself to be broken.

Juli: Yes, but it may be her job to set the boundary.

Michael: It very likely is going to be, and it’s the right thing to do.

Ron: Yes. Mark 10: “They lord it over, but not so with you,” is what Jesus said to His followers.

Michael: Right.

Ron: Jesus always used His power to empower other people. They were always more because of how He treated them, never less. Just think about that for just a second. There have been many situations where I paused and stopped and thought, “Okay, the way I’ve been treating my wife, talking to her, the tone of my voice, the look in my eyes, she is now less because of how I’m treating her.”

That is not being a godly husband. She should be more because of how I treat her. That’s always what happened when Jesus interacted with people; He used His power to make them more; what they couldn’t be without what He did for them. We are all more. We have forgiveness, we have grace, we have hope. That’s more, never less, so that’s the test, guys. When we look in the mirror, [we] ask, “How am I treating my wife in this whole submission thing?” I need to look at what I’m doing and how that’s impacting her.

Dave: I would just add from a husband’s side, I know Ann is going to talk about this tomorrow with the women, but she has done that for me, made me more, so it goes both ways.

Ron: It does.

Dave: Many of you know our story, but for years it wasn’t that way. It was more she tore me down and critiqued, and I deserved it, but I became less. I actually sort of pulled away to where people were saying I was a good man. This is the most incredible, life-giving woman in the world to me. I have become the man I think God has called me to be because of her belief in me, so it’s a transformation.

That’s what she’s going to talk about tomorrow. I want to come up on stage and say, “Ladies, listen! This is a journey that is hard to do, but man, it brings the best out of your man.”

Ann: I’ll just add. That’s really nice.

Dave: It’s true.

Ann: Thanks for saying that. [Rubbing Dave’s head]

Dave: Awww. [Laughter] You have a thing with my head right now!

Ann: It’s like I am strong, like super strong, and I will say Dave has been amazing. If he would go big on me and be demanding and say, “This is what we’re going to do, because I’m the head of the house and you need to submit,” I would just buck against that so much, especially when I was younger, because I didn’t know the Scripture, I didn’t know Jesus, and I was worried. I was so fearful that I would become like my mom.

There were so many fears behind that. But his love and his belief is what makes me want to follow him. It’s so compelling when your spouse is listening, and you’re partners. It's so beautiful and biblical.

Ron: Yes.

Ann: But it’s hard. It’s hard.

Ron: Two words: gentle and lowly. Isn’t there somebody on the boat who wrote a book about that?

Ann: Oh, good one.

Ron: That’s the posture, right? Then the other one is the message we had last night from Brian and Stephanie about respect.

Dave: Yes.

Ron: That whole I Peter 5 passage starts with, “Treat each other with respect,” and that may look a little bit different in different relationships, but that’s the heart of it. Go back and listen to that message again and see if there’s not something there.

Michael: All of them are simply about reflecting who Christ is, being Him, acting like Him. Christ was profoundly invitational; we’ll talk about this tomorrow. But the only people I see Him being harsh with were those that were using His word to wound others.

Nan: Yes!

Michael: He was harsh with them.

Ron: Wow!

Michael: But everybody else, He was profoundly invitational with.

Ann: Yes, that’s good.

Michael: And He was always creating space that drew them, that wooed them, to get them to follow Him.

Nan: Yes.

Michael: And a husband or a wife that tries to lord it over, those are the people that Christ was harshest with. Let us not be that person.

Ron: Amen.

[Studio]

Dave: We’ve been listening to a portion of a talk that we gave on a panel on the Love Like You Mean It cruise. Boy, I tell you, what Michael said right there at the end, I don’t want to be that person.

Ann: They had so much wisdom with the questions that were presented to them. I just appreciate them giving some clarity, because so often, we don’t know the steps to take, we don’t know the answers to the questions that we have about our marriage, about our intimacy; so the wisdom that they brought was helpful, not only to our audience but to you and to me.

Dave: Yes, I think the audience was very appreciative of the wisdom. A lot of it, not all of it, but a lot of it was in the area of intimacy, and this is a topic that’s often hard to talk about. It’s easy to make jokes about.

Ann: We were joking about it, because it’s so awkward sometimes, especially as we even talked about, getting older and what that looks like.

Dave: I don’t know how much our audience or our listeners want to hear about that, but it’s real, and some of our listeners are struggling with those issues as well. So, all I can say is—

Ann: —sign up for next year?

Dave: Yes. I was going to say, if you missed it, you missed it. It’s one thing to hear it today on our broadcast, but it’s a whole different deal to sit in that room and to walk on those decks and get off at ports of call around the country.

Ann: Yes! Don’t you want to sit and hear that talk, and then the next day you’re in the Bahamas?

Dave: With that iced tea, sitting with the sun coming—and the other great thing that happens on the cruise is, you meet some incredible people. I can’t tell you how many people I ran into that were with another couple and said, “We met five years ago on the cruise. We live in different states, but we’re still best friends and talk every month, and we do this cruise together.”

Ann: Every year.

Dave: Every year. Again, you can sign up. FamilyLifeToday.com is where you can find the link to sign up for the Love Like You Mean It cruise in 2025.

Ann: I think 30 percent of the cruise ship is already filled, so call today; go online today at FamilyLifeToday.com. Sign up for the Love Like You Mean It marriage cruise.

Dave: We will be there, and we hope to see you.

Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson on FamilyLife Today. They give glowing reviews, obviously, for the Love Like You Mean It cruise. I’ve been on it, too. It’s incredible! So, what if today, right now today in mid-March, you did something that covered you, that booked you for Valentines Day in 2025? What if you had next year’s Valentine’s Day already covered? Do you think your spouse would appreciate an eight-day cruise over that period of time?

I don’t know your spouse, but I’m guessing that would be a total win for Valentine’s Day, unless of course they’re afraid of luxury cruise liners, the ocean, warm weather and all-you-can-eat soft-serve ice cream. But for everybody else, we’re sailing from February 8 to 15, 2025 out of Miami, Florida. Like Dave said, you can book right now at FamilyLifeToday.com.

This is going to be the lowest price that will be available for this sailing, and we expect it to sell out. So, don’t delay. You can go the link that’s available in the show notes or you can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the “Love Like You Mean It” banner. Or you could give us a call to make your reservation at 800-358-6329. That’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

Did you know that Jesus consistently cares for you, regardless of how you might be doing right now? Good or bad, apathetic or sincere, Christ loves and pursues you right here, right now. Tomorrow, Dane Ortlund is going to be unpacking what that means for you, and I can’t wait to hear more from him. That’s coming up tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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