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Make Marriage A Fortress | Gary Thomas #595

On the Regular version of today’s show …

Gary Thomas joins me as we discuss his newest book, Making Marriage A Fortress.

We talk through the stories of couples who have faced or are facing different kinds of struggles in married life.

It’s not a question of if your marriage experiences struggles but when.

To learn more about Gary Thomas check out his site https://garythomas.com/

And read more from him here – https://garythomas.substack.com/

On the Xtended version …

Gary and I talk through the concept of the addiction model and how can we help God’s people be more real and honest with each other.

Enjoy the show!

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CALL US 214-702-9565

or email us at feedback@sexymarriageradio.com

Announcer: You are listening to the regular version of Sexy Marriage Radio, smrnation.com.

Corey Allan: Welcome to the show. My name's Dr. Corey Allen, alongside my wife Pam. Each and every week we spend time exploring what makes marriage work, what makes us go-

Pam Allan: What does make it work?

Corey Allan: Deeper,.What helps get through things that are troublesome to us all? How does this whole married sex thing happen better or easier or, I don't know. What's going to come out of this show today is it's not if there's troubles in your marriage, it's when, because there's even the biblical reference, one of the main scriptures implied in there about marriage is there's going to be trouble if you're coming from a scriptural bent.

Pam Allan: Okay, then consider it pure joy.

Corey Allan: Thank you from James. Well, this is one of those things that we love to have the opportunity each and every week for the nation to help frame their conversations that go on and maybe help their marriages propel them forward and face things a little bit differently and better. If you're new to the show, you're looking for a simple way to tell your friends about SMR, check out the starter packs. These are collections of our favorite episodes organized by topic and they help get you an idea of everything that goes on here at the show. So go to smrnation.com/starter and if have some feedback for us or something you want us to address, let us know. 214-702-9565 or email us @feedbacksexymarriageradio.com. Coming up on today's regular free version of Sexy Marriage Radio is a conversation I had with a friend and guest that's been on several times, Gary Thomas and he has a new book out called Making Your Marriage a Fortress.

Pam Allan: Nice.

Corey Allan: And so we get into discussing the stories that people have gone through. He's always been gifted at finding people and hearing their stories and then relaying those to help give an idea of this is what's going on, descriptions of things that happen in marriage and how do we see our way through. What can we learn from those? And then the extended content with today, which is deeper, longer, and there are no ads, you can subscribe @smrnation.com/smracademy. We get into a conversation about rebuilding your fortress system. Things have gone on that were just bad, addictions, pains, trauma, betrayal, et cetera.

Pam Allan: That can be rebuilt on.

Corey Allan: And you can rebuild it. And I also jump on the idea of the addiction model. Don't know if I'm totally on board.

Pam Allan: Okay.

Corey Allan: So a little tease for the terminology. Plus, how do we help try to create an atmosphere at our churches and in God's kingdom where we can be more real and authentic. All that's coming up on today's show. Well, it is always a pleasure to welcome a friend of mine. Now I think I can safely say that Gary, but also pastor author, extraordinaire who's got tons and tons of work out there in the world. Gary Thomas is joining us today on Sexy Marriage Radio. So Gary, it's always a pleasure to be able to connect with you and chat about things that you've got going on, things that'll help marriages, things that help people. So thanks so much for being with us today.

Gary Thomas: Well, thanks for having me, Corey. And the fun thing about SMR nations, I can picture a lot of the people I'm talking to, so-

Corey Allan: That's true.

Gary Thomas: That's not normal. But having been on the calls with y'all, I know some of the people that'll be listening in.

Corey Allan: That's awesome. Yeah. Shameless plug for the Sexy Marriage Radio Academy right there, that's what Gary is alluding to. But so Gary, you've got a new book that just came out, Making Your Marriage a Fortress, strengthening your marriage to withstand life storms. And you've got a whole slew of work out there. I've read several, I've even mentioned in the past Sacred Marriage. I took odds with you on that because I wanted to steal that idea and had that idea and but you had already gotten it done first. So well done. But I wanted to at least... How did this one come about? Because I'm always... I'm fascinated how writers land on the work that they choose and ultimately produce. So how did this one come to be?

Gary Thomas: There's a family conference I was at that typifies this, Corey often if I just do a conference, I'm flying in Friday night, you do a session or two, Saturday, then you fly out. A family camp, you're there for the morning, the evening, you're talking to people, you're having lunch, you're sitting at a table before, not, it's just much more elongated. You have a lot more time. And I remember Lisa and I being overwhelmed at the stories behind these happy faces and seemingly happy families. You'd see them playing in the afternoon and then you would hear their stories when we're around the table. One woman had something I'd never heard of before, just a repeated series of seizures. It could happen several times a day. If the music was too loud in a worship set, she could go into a seizure. It impacted where they could go to church.
They had to bring their own food. If she ate the wrong ingredients, she would go to a seizure. She can't drive her daughter, anyway, you could imagine what this could do for physical intimacy. And her husband recounted a time when the seizure was so bad she was in it for three hours. When she came out of it wiped out a lot of her memory that took a long time to get back. And he was just pleading with God. Lord, please just heal her or take her, but don't ask her to keep dealing with this. He's in tears as he's telling me this, Corey, he prayed that prayer six years ago. This issue, they live with this. And then another couple entirely different situation financially they've been faithful in serving the Lord in a number of different situations, economy issues, and then COVID pretty much wiped out what they were doing.
They finally found this very cheap, really small town home that, well, that'll hold us over until we retire. And then they found out and now realize this is actually probably going to be a retirement home. We can't have our kids come stay with us. And then they find out their daughter's just been diagnosed as bipolar, which anybody that's familiar with that knows the history is not easy. Another couple was pregnant when they got married. They've been faithful. They adopted a couple of kids. They have two kids who have autism. And then they got a call from Child Protective Services, even though they're in their late forties, the child that they had adopted 10 years ago, the birth mom had given birth to another child. They like to keep them together. They said, sure that child's now two years old, is not developing the head, isn't a normal size, still can't walk or talk.
And they realize they will probably be caring for this child for the rest of the life, meaning they will never have been married without being pregnant or actively raising a child. I can give you five more stories.

Corey Allan: Oh, sure.

Gary Thomas: You hear them all the time. They often talk about marriage and the ideal, let's sacrifice, let's serve, let's forgive, let's love, let's enjoy sexual intimacy. And just being overwhelmed at the stories of these couples that have had to face incredible obstacles that aren't temporary. In a lot of cases, these will mark them very likely until they die. So I went to couples. What did you experience? What do you wish you didn't do? What went wrong? What was the wrong approach? What was the right approach? Where are you at now? And so it was this long search, Corey, of not just couples who had bad things happen to them because that's a depressing book, but it was wise couples and humble couples who could say, "Okay, this is what happened. This is where we went wrong. This is what we learned and this is what we'd tell people in the same situation."

Corey Allan: Okay. And I love it because my impression of the book and the work area is you're trying to get into this element of what is real marriage. What is real relationship? Not the idealized, not the target even. Because I think that we get caught... This has been my experience and you know me well enough with our relationship over the years now that we get caught in this dilemma of, okay, this is what I'm longing for, but this is what I'm facing. And we can't make sense of those sometimes because if I go one end, it's despair and if I go the other end, it's illusion.

Gary Thomas: And often couples are on both ends. The first chapter deals with Daryl and Stacy. He's the consummate glass half full guy and Stacy's the consummate glass half empty. And the issue they face wasn't insignificant. I mean, Stacy married Daryl because she had a dysfunctional background. She wanted a guy who would take care of her. Daryl was as strong as you could imagine. He could bench press 400 pounds. I know you work out regularly.

Corey Allan: I'm not doing 400, nowhere near.

Gary Thomas: If you added what you and I benched-pressed, we might not hit 400. 3 years into their marriage, he's diagnosed with MS. And then he goes, it's a years long thing, then he is into a walker and then a wheelchair and then a scooter and now a motorized thing and whatnot. And so what do you do when your greatest reason for getting married, you wanted a guy to take care of you is gone forever and you're kind of the person who's going to have to take care of your spouse?
Now Darryl was the glass half full. It's going to be all right, it's okay. So as an athlete, he thought, I can work through this. I can beat this. Until the doctor said, Darryl, you're making things worse. When you break your body down with this disease, it's not happening. But then Stacy told me that her half-glass empty wasn't true either. I'll never forget the time she talked about a dinner party. This is like 25 years into their marriage. Good food, good drinks, laughter, everybody's around the table. She said, Stacy, look, your greatest fear that Ms would put Darrell in a chair, a motorized chair for the rest of his life has come true. This is a great evening. You love each other, you have a good life. And then she said, Gary, my fear of MS did more damage to our marriage than MS did.

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Gary Thomas: So it's learning as a couple, you're going to face the challenges different ways, but how do you learn from each other? Daryl had to realize Stacy was right. It wasn't okay and Stacy had to learn from Daryl, it is awful but it will be okay in a lot of ways.

Corey Allan: Right. Well, that's that element of... And I don't know if I've ever really talked about this much on SMR to date yet. There's this element of anticipatory anxiety, anticipatory fear, anticipatory trauma even. Because it's that concept of how often we as humans will attribute something we think which can cause even more damage than what it actually is and what we're capable of facing and what we're... Humans are constantly displaying this of our ability to overcome... Like what you're describing in the couples you described in the book of what we can overcome, how we make sense of it, how you can turn it to something productive or growing or loving and caring. All these things that we didn't even know we were capable of doing it until we were faced with having to do it.

Gary Thomas: Where you and I have agreed most, I think in our writing and talking, I'm thinking of comparing Naked Marriage, your book with Sacred Marriage, mine, is how marriage is about growing in character. God uses marriage to help us grow to become new people. I use the word holiness, you use the word character. We're talking about the same thing. And Daryl, when he got diagnosed with MS, said he had one prayer, a two-word prayer, Heal me, heal me, heal me, heal me. And God told him, Daryl, I'm going to heal you but not of MS. I'm going to use MS to heal something even worse about you. Daryl thought, there's nothing worse about me than I'm not that-

Corey Allan: What can be worse? What can be worse than the physical thing I'm facing right now? Absolutely.

Gary Thomas: And for a bodybuilder, you get it, for an athlete, you get it. That's the worst thing. And then today, I'm amazed that when you look back because a lot of these couples have been facing these issues. Well, for Daryl and Stacy over 30 years, Stacy said she married him because he was the charismatic, take charge, light up the room, strong presence. And today she says, Gary, I don't know a more humble man and I just love being around him. I'm so inspired by him. God said, Daryl, your pride might be a bigger issue than the MS. And he took it out and Daryl has what he calls the ministry of sitting around instead of being in front of a group, sitting in a motorized chair opens up one-on-one conversations that he would've never had otherwise. It's an incredible story of faithfulness when what you hoped most would happen is dashed to pieces, put in a blender, poured down the drain, the garbage disposals turn on, and it's gone. Then how does this married couple pick up the pieces and say, "Okay, where do we go from here? How do we not turn on each other? How do we turn toward each other? How do we stay people of faith and how do we even learn to be worshipers and lovers?"

Corey Allan: And that's so beautiful about this work Gary, is the idea that it's an individual thing playing out relationally at the same time. I mean it's both kind of facing and shaping each other as I deal with whatever I'm having to face, where the couples that you describe dealing with whatever it is we have to face because this is where it gets so complex, is somebody going through some struggles or somebody going through something of their own making or an external thing that we face like MS. That's an external thing that you face, betrayals, external things that you face that are also of your own making. And so it's just... There's elements of things that are like, we're both still having to simultaneously address whatever that is and not take it out on each other, like what you just mentioned, not blame, not attack, not just crumble and cave in and give up. I mean, because I think that's it. We get tested in life. I mean, there's even the statement, I think that it applies to your book. It's not if your marriage faces trials, it's when, and it just depends on the severity. I mean, the only difference is on the continuum because it will happen.

Gary Thomas: And what was so amazing about Daryl and Stacy is how it drew them together and part of it is Daryl's attitude. He told me on account and I've used this with so many other couples, I will use it for the rest of my life. He talks about how MS has probably taken away 80% of what he used to be able to do physically. So at night he's getting ready for bed, he can get his body up onto the bed with his arms, but his legs, he just can't. Stacy has to come and move his legs over and he says, "And part of me used to think, I'm just going to let Stacy do it. Why bother? If I can't do everything, I got to get her help anyway. Why bother?" And then he said, "But I was praying too and I was convicted. I want to do a hundred percent of the 20% I'm able to do.
I'm not going to say if I can't do everything, I'm not going to do anything. And so when I was talking to a guy who had prostate cancer surgery and obviously, impacted what could happen in the bedroom, it's so easy for a couple to say, if we can't do everything, we're not going to do anything." And I would say, "Hey, do a hundred percent of your 40%, maybe you can only do 40% of what you used to do. Maybe you can only hug naked. Do a hundred percent of that." And it was just such an inspiring thing to me that it makes him thankful for Stacy. She is there to pull my legs over and he thanks God for a wife who does that instead of getting bitter at what life has taken away, he says, "I don't want to be a negative angry old dude. I want to be a guy who worships God and is thankful for his wife." I was blown away at his faith.

Corey Allan: No. I mean, what you're describing to me Gary and to the audience that's listening is this idea of it's... I term it as it's calling upon the courage of people. It's calling up on our ability, our resiliency to face life. And obviously, a relationship with God is an incredible increase of ability to do that. But I refer to the couples I work with and my clientele are largely some of the most courageous people on the face of the planet because they have the courage to face their issues, right? When they get right down to it. Because that's the way I describe it just like you do on a couple of different instances in the book is the couples that have gone through real struggles with sexual connection. And it could be vaginismus, it could be anxiety, it could be PE or ED or all these different things that each side could face. But when they have the courage to face it, they may not actually achieve pain-free, easy anxiety free penile-vaginal intercourse, but they create a sexual intimate life that no one else would understand because they figure out a different way through and to what they're after, to connect. That it's not just an act, it's a being with each other and yourself.
And I think that's encouraging for everybody in a lot of ways if we can look at it that way.

Gary Thomas: And it goes back to... You recently did a show on the four things that sort of typify your approach in ministry. I know it won't be the next one because you tape others in advance. But it's dealing with your own issues is really, and I think of a couple that had different libidos, a woman who basically she had the higher libido than her husband and it was impossible for her until she dealt with those issues, not to take it personally. Now her husband was not a low-libido guy. He was up for three or four times a week. She just wanted it not necessarily every day, sometimes twice a day if she felt like she really needed it. And she realized he has other ways of showing he loves me other than wanting to be sexually intimate with me in that moment.
And it wasn't until she dealt with those issues that existed long before she met, much less married her husband, that they were able to make this difference between them Not a burden but she gets it now, okay, I'm able to receive his love even if it's not sexual and it's made such a huge difference in their marriage. But it's people that dealt with it like Stacy dealing with their fears, Daryl dealing with his, I'm a husband because I'm strong, I can protect my wife. Emily, dealing with what appreciation means, sexual availability, all of these things, they had to go back to who they were before they got married to recognize this is impacting our marriage negatively, now to go forward, I've got to deal with my stuff before we deal with our couple stuff.

Corey Allan: Right. And that's the whole mechanism of growing up in marriage or becoming holy in marriage, developing character in marriage because it's a mechanism that I can't escape. If I bring in a commitment to a marriage, I can't escape it. So I want to help just to help kind of frame this conversation Gary, if we're talking about... Obviously, the thing I love about the work that you do more so I mean, now how it's evolved, I just think of first reading Sacred Marriage many, many years ago and then several since, you are much more into the stories of people and having them help be examples of a principle or an idea or here's how they did this. And it's not that it'll work for everybody, but it can help provide hope. Absolutely. But some of the main principles that I think I want to help people grab ahold of, if this is the only thing they get of your work and this is the only chance they hear of Sexy Marriage Radio even, what are some of the main principles they can latch onto when they do face trials or help reframe a marriage or a life that's not going according to plan? And it's just something else I can... What's my anchor in the storm?
And that's kind of what you're describing is that this is something I can fall back on to see me through.

Gary Thomas: Yeah, the underlying premise, Corey, is that the storms are going to hit just because the storm hasn't hit you yet, something's going to hit you. You don't know if it's medical, you don't know if it's child-related, you don't know if it's financial, vocational, could be depression that catches you by any number. It is going to happen. Nobody has been married a quarter of a century and hasn't faced some real hits. And I open about the whole thing about, because we didn't have a hurricane in Houston the first five years we were there when they talked about Harvey. I thought, oh, yeah, we've heard that before until, okay now it's real. So I would say three things real quick then if you know the storm is coming, three things. First, you got to get strong individually. A strong marriage and you've stressed this so often in your podcast is two strong individuals that can support each other because you're going to be weak at different times.
You're going to respond differently. One of the guys I interviewed was Doug who had a sexual addiction for a long time. He was exposed, he thought it was the worst day of his life. He later said it was the best day of his life because he threw himself into getting strong. He was in a 12-step group making the calls, working with a licensed counselor, even went through quarterly clinical polygraph examination so that his wife could ask him anything. And he got stronger. 18 months after he was in recovery, his daughter's diagnosed with cancer and it was potentially life-threatening. She's in the hospital, his wife is with her, he's at home with the boys. And he told me, Gary, we wouldn't have made it if I wasn't in recovery because I wouldn't have been there for my sons. I couldn't have been there for my wife.
And then just the fear in his eyes. I wouldn't have been there for my daughter when she was facing death. I would've been acting out. I would've dealt with the insecurity by pulling away from my family. You might get away with a bad habit or just something unhealthy on the side with money, with food, with mindless diversion. And when the weather is perfect you can manage marriage, parenting, and your little thing on the side. But when the storm hits, you won't be able to do that. So get strong now. The second thing, and this will sound like a cliche for a pastor, but I believe it to be true, Timothy four eight says, "The word of God is living and active. It is a miracle of insight and power and encouragement." And I talked to these couples when they talked about one woman who lost her only child and found such hope in second Corinthians five, eight to be absent from the body as present with the Lord.
The hope she has picturing her son perfectly serving God in his glorified state. She was sad that she's not with them, but she's overwhelmingly joyful about what he's doing right now. It's not empty words to her, it's a living hope. Or the couple that had severe financial crashes still to this day entering retirement with virtually nothing to show for it. But instead of turning on each other, which financial problems often do, she's learned to support her husband. I asked her how, she quoted Psalm 23:1, "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall lack nothing." She says, "I don't lack because my husband's a good businessman or he foresaw COVID or he figured it out. The Bible says I have hope because God is my shepherd. I won't lack in my old age." And again that word was holding her up. I think we should be like bears preparing for hibernation with the word of God, soaking it in, memorize it, so that when it's there, we need it.
And then the third thing, we need community. We're not meant to face this alone. We know we need each other as a couple, but couples need couples. When Joe and Janelle lost their only child, she only had to make one call and a lifetime of being in small groups and choir and involved in church, their home was filled with people supporting them, encouraging them. And Janelle grabbed the shoulders of one of her closest friends and said, "I know 70% of people who lose a child will lose their marriage. Don't let that happen to me." 18 months later when they had the worst argument of their married life and Joe the husband was really hurting. She knew somebody to call from the church, "Y'all got to go get him. I don't know what to do. We're at our wit's end." And they did and they survived. So you need community.
And Doug, who I mentioned to had the sexual addiction, said something that really made me sad as a pastor. He said, Gary, "When I go into recovery, I know everything about a guy's character, strengths, and weaknesses. I know the last time he sinned, I know the situation in his marriage. I don't know his favorite sports team, I don't know where he works. I don't know what neighborhood he lives in. I usually don't even know his last name. I might know his phone number if we're in that kind." He goes, At church, it's the opposite. I know a guy's favorite team. I know what neighborhood he works and I know where he works. I can guess how much money he has. I don't know anything that's really going on with him. And I just wish that church could find a way to help people who aren't in recovery recognize the need for relationship.
Like people in recovery recognize the need for relationship because we all need it. We're all recovering from something, frankly. Don't have to be full-blown addiction, but there are things that we need to deal with. But there's just something about somebody who's had an addiction destroy their life. They can't beat it on their own and they said, I need you. And so they build those relationships. And as couples we can get by if everything's fine and nothing's terrible being distant from other couples, just the two of us. But when you face some of the storms these couples faced, you need community and it's too late to start building community at that point. You need to make a phone call, not have a plan to spend a year getting to know people.

Corey Allan: And that last point you're making is where I want to go in just second in the extended content because I do want to try to talk about... As a pastor and a therapist, let's unpack what is it that makes it such so troublesome. And it's such a struggle for God's people to get to that reality with each other and the realness and the authenticity and the vulnerability as a kingdom together. So Gary, thank you so much. Obviously, Making Your Marriage a Fortress, you can find it any bookstore out there, but how else can they find you, Gary, just so they can find the wealth of information and your schedule and be able to keep up with you?

Gary Thomas: Well, my website's garythomas.com. I'm interacting mostly on Substack now, which is garythomasbooks.substack.com. There's a free chapter they could look at from the book if they want to see, where does it go? And that again is a garythomasbooks.substack.com.

Corey Allan: Perfect. Well, Gary, thank you so much. And I love the fact that you just keep churning out work that is helpful to where people are. And this is for sure a part of that list. So thank you very much again, man.

Gary Thomas: Well, and let me just give a plug to the other listeners, join the academy. See, I can listen to the next part of this because I'm already a member, so we'd love to have you. It's been great, Corey, just learning from you. You do have an angle that I don't hear other people talking about or writing about and I read and listen to just about everything. So looking forward to the conversation on the other side.

Corey Allan: Well, thank you. That was a perfect setup, so thank you.

Pam Allan: So what stands out to me in this is that it's not the, if you're going to have struggles, it's when you're going to have struggles.

Corey Allan: Yeah. Because how many things do we have happen in life? One that are beyond our control, some that are of our doing, and it's going to wreak havoc or at the very least, create some struggles and hurdles in our relationships because circumstances happen that we get a diagnosis, we get some tragedy, we get something, and it impacts us.

Pam Allan: Or we make a bad choice.

Corey Allan: Absolutely. And then it just becomes this element of how do you start to see more and more of it's magnifying our relationship, it's magnifying us or it's destroying us. And I think that's a great kind of framework he's using through this whole book, in this conversation. It's just that idea of it can enhance us. Because he even made a comment, if you're only capable of doing like 40% of what you used to do in your life because of a diagnosis and it's a debilitation, well, do a hundred percent of that 40%. That's still adding value and being involved in your marriage, even though things change. Because as we all age, that impacts us. I can't play the role I used to play. Well, that's all right. Play a hundred percent of the role that I can play now. That's what matters.
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