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Today we are joined by author Gary Thomas as he discusses his new book, When To Walk Away: Finding Freedom From Toxic People.
You can learn more about Gary and his books here – http://www.garythomas.com/
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Announcer: You are listening to the regular version of Sexy Marriage Radio smrnation.com. You've turned on Sexy Marriage Radio where the best sex happens in the marriage bed. Here is your host, Dr. Corey Allan.
Corey Allan: Welcome back to another episode of Sexy Marriage Radio where we're having straightforward, honest, we go where you want to go, conversations because the Sexy Marriage Radio Nation helps set the stage for wherever, whatever, however, we may go with this whole topic of marriage...
Pam Allan: It's quite fluid.
Corey Allan: ... and sex. This is listener driven radio. And so because of that fact, we say thank you to the Sexy Marriage Radio Nation for calling in and emailing in regularly with your questions and your topics and your ideas.
Pam Allan: Yeah, there has been a lot of good emails coming in lately. I'm looking forward to the coming weeks and what's going to be out there.
Corey Allan: And if you want to jump in to help frame this conversation, (214) 702-9565 is how you can do that with a voicemail line, or feedback at sexymarriageradio.com is how you can do that with the email route because everything that comes in we do try to answer the things offline, or they become in the queue for topics. It really just helps us as the hosts here, alongside my wife, Pam as always to speak into what helps you as members of the Sexy Marriage Radio Nation because we want marriage to be fantastic for you and yours this holiday season and then beyond. But, as we get into today's episode, I'm really excited about the content today.
Pam Allan: Yeah, you are. It's the holiday season, so we're going to give you the whole show for free today.
Corey Allan: Yes, we are.
Pam Allan: Everybody gets the extended content today.
Corey Allan: Yes, we are, so more on that in just a moment. A great tease, Pamela.
Pam Allan: Oh, I jumped into it to early.
Corey Allan: Perfect, though.
Pam Allan: We're good.
Corey Allan: I need to take care of a little bit of a technical side first because I've mentioned before that we've had different issues going on with the back end of Sexy Marriage Radio, and just some of the little technical nuances that have been going along with the feed, or some of the different parts of the code within the website and so over the last month, we've been building a whole new site. The plan is, is this things goes live Monday the 16th of December.
Pam Allan: Yes, go check out the new website after Monday.
Corey Allan: Hopefully.
Pam Allan: Right, hopefully. Okay, hopefully, hopefully.
Corey Allan: The next time we're on the air we'll give you an update on where everything stands. But, all that is to say, Sunday, Monday, there could be some issues that you might see little pings coming on your feed, or in your inbox, so some different things as things move from one server to another and new code takes over old. There is just different things and nuances that'll come up. And so, I just wanted to let everybody in the Sexy Marriage Radio Nation know that, hey, if things double up for the short-term, I apologize ahead of time. But, it'll all clear itself up and then we're going to have a brand new nice and shiny place that everything is going to be taking place from on the web.
Pam Allan: I'm excited for that.
Corey Allan: I'm very excited about that. And then, as my wife just teased, today's guest is Gary Thomas author of 20 books, one of which is Sacred Marriage, which is a fantastic read. But also, on for today's episode he has a new one that just came out called, When To Walk Away. This content is such value for everybody that, that's why we're going to just let everybody have this, the whole show.
Pam Allan: Right, we wanted everybody to hear what he has to say about this whole thing, so I hope you enjoy it.
Corey Allan: Right, so today's episode as a Christmas gift from us to you.
Pam Allan: There you go, Merry Christmas.
Corey Allan: I guess you could say. If you're not a normal extended content listener, you're going to get the whole show this time because it's that good a content.
Pam Allan: Yeah, it's so worth listening to.
Corey Allan: Coming up on today's, both versions, of Sexy Marriage Radio is, Gary Thomas as I just mentioned, and a conversation that I got to have with him on his new book, When To Walk Away: Finding Freedom From Toxic People. We're hoping that you enjoy it. And so, if you want to get a little even more information about him or the extended content in the future go to srmnation.com and you can join the Academy or the Extended and get even more that will help you, so all that's coming up on today's show.
Corey Allan: Well, joining me today for Sexy Marriage Radio is a guest I'm excited to talk to. It's one whose been on my radar for a long time because I mean, low and behold, Gary you've got over... you got 20 books or so out there, so it's not like you're new to the writing world, and I've read several. But, you got a new one coming out, When To Walk Away: Finding Freedom, or actually, it's out. Let me re-catch that one. When To Walk Away: Finding Freedom From Toxic People. That's where I want to land with you, Gary. So, Gary Thomas welcome to the show.
Gary Thomas: Thank you for having me, Corey.
Corey Allan: I'm so glad that we're finally getting to connect because even just the prep we were talking before I hit record, we got a little overlap in the way we think, it seems.
Gary Thomas: I think so. I think so from what I've heard.
Corey Allan: Yeah, so this could be a fun conversation. But, give me the culmination of how this work, this last book that you've got out right now, came to be, to start. Let's start with that. Then, we'll go deeper into it.
Gary Thomas: Well, it was forged out of my ignorance, my naivete and my own struggles, and a friend pulling me out. I was naive as they come in the sense that I thought I had this idealized view of life in ministry. That if I was surrendered to the Lord, walking in obedience, listening to scriptures, trying to hear God's voice that all these encounters I would have people would be wonderfully transformed, overcome by logic, the Spirit of God, whatever. And so, when that didn't occur, I would think, well, where did I go wrong? Did I not speak in love? Did I not speak the truth? Was I not hearing God? Was I not sensing the spirit correctly?
Gary Thomas: And so, then when I was in a... dealing with what I believe is a very toxic person where I was being lied about and then found out there had been a long campaign against me, where I'd only spoken well of this person, I didn't understand what it would be, knew I might have to interact with them in the future. And so, I have a friend reminds me somewhat of you, Corey. He's been a family and marriage therapist for 35 years, knows scripture, loves God. I don't know what to say? Do I confront him with what I know? He really surprises me many times. He very much surprised me this time. He says, "Gary, my recommendation is you not engage him at all." "Why would you say that?" And then he said, "Go to the Book of Luke, count how many times Jesus walked away from someone after an encounter, or let someone walk away from Him and He didn't chase after them." I know I'm speaking to a counselor here. I'm not clinically OCD, but I live in the neighborhood right next store to it.
Corey Allan: Same zip code, yep.
Gary Thomas: Yes. So, the counselor says, "Go to the Book of Luke," and I've got to go to all four gospels. I counted 41 citations where Jesus had an encounter. Now, some of those refer to the same incidents. They're not all toxic encounters. I realize how blinded I was to the reality that we have to play defense in life. It's not all offense. There are some people who are out to hurt us.
Corey Allan: Absolutely.
Gary Thomas: And any interactions with them that we do, they'll use as ammunition, not for reconciliation, not to seek understanding, not for relationship, but to tear down, to hurt us. They get a satisfaction out of tearing people down. I'm speaking as a Christian, that I think the Bible gives us not just permission, but commands to stay away from those kind of people. That was completely new to me.
Corey Allan: Yeah, well, and it's also not something we, you don't hear talked about. That's what hit you, right, is this idea of whoa, hold on, there is another possibility. There is another option. I don't have to just serve, serve, serve, serve, serve until there is nothing left. Ah, I love that. That's really why I was reaching out to you for this is because the framework you've got with this work really puts it together well. I mean, several of the things I've read of yours, particularly, Sacred Marriage put together the concept of what's going on really well. I even mentioned to you earlier when I first read, Sacred Marriage. I was a little mad at you because I was like, ah, someone got to the idea first. But, it's still just seeing it as, okay, there is something else we can do that is empowering to ourselves.
Corey Allan: And so, you mentioned it at the beginning and it's even in the sub title of how to find freedom from toxic people, we got to start there with defining that word because I can hear, and I imagine this is a fear of yours, I can hear people will take something, oh, and now I got permission, now, oh, because I can label it this way. And so, how do you define that? Let's start with that.
Gary Thomas: Well, and that's the challenge because it takes me three chapters and some sub chapters to get through it. But, I would go back to what I said before. All toxic people are difficult, but not all difficult people are toxic.
Corey Allan: Well stated.
Gary Thomas: Some difficult people are wounded, they're hurt, they're obnoxious. They might disagree. They might be forceful. They might be very different from me. I have more of a quiet, let's get along personality. It'd be easy for me to describe somebody who is forceful as toxic because they threaten me. But, that's being narcissistic, right. So, a toxic person it someone who really basically wants to hurt you. They want to undercut you. They get satisfaction from conflict. They don't want to resolve conflict. They want to foster it. It makes them come alive.
Corey Allan: I get it.
Gary Thomas: [crosstalk 00:11:15] three categories I use in the book. Not every toxic person is one of these. But, they tend to be controlling. I will get you to do what I want you to do whether I pretend to be your friend, whether I intimidate you, whether I threaten you as an enemy, whether I gossip about you to bring others to coerce you, you will do what I want you to do. I believe that's evil to try to control someone. They often have a murderous spirit, and that seems melodramatic. My wife warns me about that. But, I'm using it in a metaphorical sense.
Gary Thomas: If you look at someone who's destroyed the office environment, who's destroyed your peace, they've murdered your joy, they've murdered your confidence, they murder churches, they murder family gatherings and they seem to enjoy that, that's a toxic individual. They would be bored in a healthy office environment where people are working together to get their work done. To them, that's boring. A healthy marriage of encouraging each other, that's boring. They want something else that's sick.
Gary Thomas: And then the third thing I say is, loving hate. Again, I'm writing as a Christian here. Is it okay to get into a lot of scriptures?
Corey Allan: Please go. Yeah, go there.
Gary Thomas: But, I use the Book of Colossians where Paul says this is what a healthy person does and this is what a toxic person does. Not using toxic as a label, but I think it's fair. But, he describes toxic people as those who are filled with anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language and lying. They're the most energetic when they're angry. They're the most creative when they're lying. They use filthy language to tear people down. They have malice, ill will. I want to hurt you. I want to destroy what you're doing.
Gary Thomas: And then the positive, what we should be modeled in Christ is compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience and love. Now, all of us can act in a toxic-way.
Corey Allan: Absolutely.
Gary Thomas: When somebody is trying to control me, I'm tempted to become controlling back. But, the difference for a toxic person is, they feel at home. It's the coat they want to wear. They feel comfortable and it's who they are. Those are the people I found interacting with them just, it never results in reconciliation. It just wastes my time and threatens my integrity. It lets them play their sick game.
Corey Allan: Yeah. There is two things that come into my mind listening to those definitions, Gary. The first one is a marker of after an interaction or an exchange, or a day at work, or a visit home because it's not just who we live with, this is who we live among, right. It's almost like, if I find myself repeatedly after leaving a situation that might be toxic and I'm asking myself, "Why do I always get into that kind of situation? Why does this always happen there?" I mean, to me, that's almost like a little bit of a warning of, ah, I might need to go a little deeper to look at, what are the components of the people that are involved? Because I also love the framework you're talking about of, that all of us are capable of toxic behaviors, but that doesn't necessary label us as toxic because it would seem like the person that has exhibits some of those behaviors where we rage, or we're anger, or we are controlling for about some aspect, but we recognize it and we have some repentance and remorse.
Corey Allan: You know what? I need to do better on that. You're right. The way you're framing toxic to me, I love the dark side of people when it comes to the clinical side of the work and then we talk about it on the show at times of going to the dark side in marriage because there is an element of normal marital sadism that happens among us. I almost hear toxic equals sadist. That you enjoy the demise of others. That's toxic. I mean, that's cruel. That's evil, exactly, I mean, through and through.
Corey Allan: Okay, so if you're talking about toxic, now as this applies to with the relationships that we have, I want to do this, I guess almost concentric circles, like a bullseye, but let's start outer and go in almost like mountain climbing because I can already hear some of the members of Sexy Radio Marriage Nation going, "Oh, I think I sleep with a toxic person," right. I don't want to go there yet because I think my hunch would be your counsel is going to be a little different depending on situation because that's what mine would be too of like, all right, context is king. So, how do you start this if you're recognizing it with friends, co-workers, neighbors, the guy on the bus, just some of the easier quote unquote, "levels?"
Gary Thomas: Right. Here is the grid I want to use, I want to be a person because I believe it's what God calls me to be of compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience and love. But, if I'm interacting with someone who haunts me when I'm no longer with them and I'm trying to understand the crazy, because toxic people are also masters at gaslighting, making you feel crazy for speaking the truth, if I have no peace, if my blood pressure is going to go up if I see they've responded to something online or I get a text message, I get ready, kind of flinch before I even see it, that tells me this is not a productive relationship. That's not healthy to engage in that, but it is by degree.
Gary Thomas: My wife had been trying to get me to go on an elimination diet for years.
Corey Allan: Yours too?
Gary Thomas: I finally did.
Corey Allan: Yeah, yours too?
Gary Thomas: Yeah.
Corey Allan: Nice.
Gary Thomas: The listeners probably know, but if they don't, the idea is you get these blood tests. The doctor tells you, "Well, this is causing inflammation." So, you avoid those foods for three weeks and then slowly reintroduce them. The question is, how sick do you have to let something make you, your arthritis flares up, sinuses, you get foggy brain, before you say, I just shouldn't eat this anymore. Other people can eat this food. It's just not healthy for me.
Gary Thomas: And so, I'm not qualified, I don't have your credentials, Corey. This is where my friend that said it, he goes, "Gary, you don't have a PhD." He goes, "You would never be able to do a root canal even though you really care about [inaudible 00:17:49], they're really hurting. You wouldn't even try to do it." He goes, "You don't know the labels. Is this person acting in a narcissistic-way, or is he a classic narcissist? Is she bipolar or is she just different or weird? And so, you don't have to do that."
Gary Thomas: It's just like the foods, it's not poisonous, but it's making me sick. If this relationship is keeping me from healthy relationships and the work that I believe God has called me to do then I think it's like avoiding the toxic foods. I'm just going to say, I don't have to label you, but it's not healthy for us to interact. You and I come together, it's not working, so let's just go our ways. Look, any healthy person, and I think if I said this to you, Corey, look, we do this, let's just agree to disagree and a healthy person says yeah, that makes sense.
Corey Allan: I get you. Yeah, I get you.
Gary Thomas: The toxic person, you're on their list, right. They're going to do a blog post about you. They're going to do a program. They're going to bring in other people who will agree with them that the problem is me. The more you try to defend yourself, you're playing their game. It's a waste of time.
Corey Allan: Okay, so-
Gary Thomas: Go ahead, sorry.
Corey Allan: At the risk of opening up something and I'm not, I'm just going to do it because of the comedic value of this, but what you're describing with that is the political system going on in America right now of it's so polarized and everything is a threat. But, if you think about it, that's almost the way we become a society. That you're talking about, we feed off of each other rather than, let's be adults about this and realize, hold on, what's really going on because I think that gives you a better litmus test of what's really going on in my relationships?
Corey Allan: Because I love the framework of, you know what, it's not healthy for me in this environment. And so, I'm going to remove myself and if they go crazy over that, that's great data to know. That was the right choice. And if all of a sudden maybe that wakes them up and they adjust some things, maybe they were just in a bad situation and that causes enough change that then they get their act together, start standing up, dealing with life better. And now, low and behold, you both have a better relationship because you're both better.
Gary Thomas: Yeah. What's helped me, Corey is writing about this makes me not want to be toxic. You mentioned the political aspect, we won't get into specifics, but what's astonished me very recently, having a conversation with someone where I'm stating facts and they're stating why those facts don't matter. And really, when you disagree over facts you're not going to come to a conclusion.
Corey Allan: No, no, you're not.
Gary Thomas: And so, where I found a way to get out of that, controlling is a sign of toxicity. The God I worship is, to me, astonishingly uncontrolling even though I believe He's always right.
Corey Allan: Absolutely.
Gary Thomas: And if He forced me to do what He wanted me to do, I think in my limited mind I think might be better off. But, in the Old Testament I go by, God says through Joshua, "Choose you this day whom you will serve." The example of Jesus walking away from people, even people that He loved. With the rich young ruler said He loved him, Jesus looked at him and loved him. So, He cared about this person, but when the person walked away, He turned to His disciples who wanted to hear what He had to say. Well, let me explain to you what went on. He didn't go to the rich young rulers and say, wait, come back. He said, okay, you turned me down. You chose money over me. Okay guys, this is why he chose money over me.
Gary Thomas: And so, it freed me up, Corey that I don't have to control anyone. I don't have to adult kids. I don't have to control friends. What I need to do is say, here is the truth as I see it. If you want to interact with it, let's keep talking. If you say, no, that's crazy, or I'm of the devil, okay, go ahead. Go read somebody else's books. I'm not going to chase him around quoting. I'm not going to chase him around preaching. I just felt the freedom because it's what Jesus is. It's what God does. Here is what I believe to be true. If that makes you angry, goodbye.
Gary Thomas: A Rorschach test for me was Jesus in Matthew 7:6 when He said, "Do not give what is holy to dogs, or cash your pearl before swine, or else they'll turn and tear you to pieces." I got to admit, Corey, I always, for decades, I think I read it saying, no, no. Jesus wouldn't talk that way. It wasn't until I got this that He accepted there are toxic people. That's not a Greek word, so the Bible doesn't use that language, but in examples He does. His freedom to walk away, He's telling His disciples, you've got a great message, a life-giving message of love. Some people won't receive it as love. Instead of letting them tear you to pieces, be more judicious. Don't go there if you know what's going to happen. If I walk into some places and start preaching truth out of love, they will hate me for it. I think Jesus there is giving me permission. I don't have to do that. I don't have to play that game.
Corey Allan: Yeah, because too often don't we get caught up in this whole idea, well, I'm supposed to still love, which means I'm supposed to open myself up to constantly getting pummeled, right. And in reality, maybe not, I can still love them from afar. If they're going to treat me poorly, I don't have to constantly subject myself to their treating.
Gary Thomas: A great analogy that might help, very good-hearted people, a lot of people I think who listen to your podcast probably want to help others. They see themselves as a life saver. They have something they want to share with others, not to control others, not to find their way to heaven or to get a notch on their belt, but because they really care about people.
Gary Thomas: So, one of the lessons that they teach lifeguards in, around water is self-defense. The reason is that when you're trying to save a drowning person, they may end up drowning you. They panic. They pull you down. And so, you have to learn how to defend yourself. If you want to save others, you have to first defend yourself because by definition if you go down, both of you drown.
Gary Thomas: This is spiritual life-guarding where you have believed you have something to share of value to others, but you have to defend yourself not in a selfish-way. But, if you let two people take pieces out of you all day long, there is not going to be anything left of you to give. Your self-confidence is going to be blown, so you can't speak with confidence. You have no peace. You have no joy. Who wants to listen to someone devoid of peace, joy and self-confidence?
Corey Allan: Right. It's funny you should say that because I actually used that very analogy with a client this morning. That she keeps getting in situations where, man, they're all pulling her down. She's got to recognize fighting them off is a viable option because if they don't want to be saved then you can't. You're powerless to it, if they're especially in that kind of a state.
Corey Allan: Okay, so moving up the mountian, all right. Now, we're moving into the world because you're talking about toxic friends, co-workers where the walling off, the separating, the I just won't come around your cubicle, I won't come over to your barbecue, some of those are a little easier.
Gary Thomas: At a family gathering, I'll walk into the next room.
Corey Allan: Right, so what do you do when you get a little bit closer to home though and you're talking about, not necessarily immediate family, distant family you can get away from because you only see them once a year and you know going in, all right, I'm going to just try to not catch the family disease as little as possible this time. But now, you're talking about toxic parents, toxic kids, toxic siblings, this is a different animal.
Gary Thomas: Yeah. Well, two examples around the holidays. One, if I know there is going to be a toxic relative at a family gathering, I wouldn't want my kids to not be around my parents because of one toxic individual. But, when I see that person exhibiting their toxicity, I would walk away into the next room and find someone to encourage. I'd want to start a healthy conversation, maybe listening to a parent or a grandparent, encouraging a nephew or niece, talking with another couple. I would just say, I'm not going to play your game, because some people, they're looking for someone who didn't vote the way they voted, doesn't go to the church they go to, doesn't read the books they read, and they're going to tell you why you're less of a person because of it. I'm just going to say, you know what? I'm not here to play that game. You enjoy it, but that doesn't mean I have to. I want to have a healthy conversation. So, that's walking away.
Gary Thomas: In another instance, it might mean not showing up if it's the parents. I was working with a guy. His parents were both abusive when he was growing up. His dad was physically abusive, drank too much, verbally abusive. His mom was verbally abusive. When he became a Christian, they laughed at him, "Yeah, we'll see how long that lasts." He'll admit, he wanted his faith to hold just to prove his parents wrong. It wasn't the best motivation, but it was like-
Corey Allan: I get it.
Gary Thomas: ... no way are they going to [crosstalk 00:27:30].
Corey Allan: Hey, I mean, spite is a legit thing.
Gary Thomas: So, when he had his own kids, they realized, you know what, we have a second chance with our grandkids. And so, they came to him and said, "When do they get to do a sleepover," and he said, "They will never be in your house." He said it in an honoring way and he shouldn't. He didn't see improvement. His dad was still drinking. "They're not going to be around you without me," And then his dad, "I thought you were a Christian? Christians are supposed to forgive. You haven't forgiven me," which he was using as a weapon. He didn't care if son acted like a Christian or not. He was trying to use the fact that his son was a Christian to control him to get his son to do what he wanted him to do.
Gary Thomas: And so, I think in some instances it's like, you know what, we have a limited number of Christmases and Thanksgivings together. I'm not going to wreck my kid's Thanksgiving out of my guilt that I think I have to honor toxic parents. There are other times you can get together with your parents, or maybe you get together with your parents without your kids. So, I think you have to, with wisdom apply it, is this the best holiday for my kids? And if it's not, then I don't think we let our kids be sacrificed because we're guilty. Our parents might think less of us if we don't do what they want us to do.
Corey Allan: Right, because again, this whole thing that you're talking about in this work and a lot of things you've written too, it's a framework, right? This isn't a one, two, three, here is step-by-step because life does not unfold that way. Spiritual life doesn't unfold that way outside of the one step of just acknowledging, believing and then, man, there is a lot of different variances of where that goes next for each individual person, right. So, it's looking at this through the lens of all right, how do I live up to what I need to, confront what I need to, call out what I need to for those that I care about and to those I care about, and then you see.
Corey Allan: Because I love the framework. This is what I use, Gary is this idea of, when we have to deal with tough situations, we to often, we want to play it all out. I'll do this. They'll do this. I'll do this. They'll do this. And when you're dealing with tough issues, which especially happens with toxic people, you're talking about I'm going to make a move and then I'm going to see what their move is. And then, I'll respond to their move. I don't know what that will be because I don't know what their move will be yet. And so, that's the move of, "You know what, Mom and Dad, you're not going to be around my kids without me." "Well, what do you mean?" Well, that's a perfect opening to say, "Let me tell you my rationale." And if they want to hear that, honor it, we might have a possibility. And if they want to dismiss it, there is my answer, right.
Gary Thomas: I love that.
Corey Allan: Let's just break it down and make it a whole lot simpler.
Gary Thomas: What you're saying, Corey leads right into marriage because when I'm working with a couple and you feel like there might be some real toxic situations, which I think is the very much minority, a lot of issues can be dealt with and repentant of and reconciled, but when you think you might be dealing with toxic, you're like, well, is the divorce biblical? I'm like, you know what, you're months away from having to decide that. The first question is, are you safe and how do you get safe? Second, how do we begin to confront the behavior if they're safe? How do you confront the behavior and set up the time? But, people jump to that. "Well, if I get divorced, I don't know what I'll do financially." I'm like, "No, no, no, no, no, no."
Corey Allan: And it paralyzes you.
Gary Thomas: Yeah. "We're a long way from that. Let's decide what we need to do this week." For me, that first question always is, are you in a safe place? And then, making sure they are because you might see signs that they don't see. But, then you deal with all the issues. But, I totally agree with you. We tend to jump five miles down the road without realizing [crosstalk 00:31:48].
Corey Allan: We do that in more than just marriage because back to the parents for a second. You get caught up in this whole, if I'm in an environment that truly is toxic, but yet I'm sitting there thinking, if I've got a biblical world view of I'm supposed to honor my mom and dad, right, and now I can't get beyond that. I mean that's where you're talking about controlling. It is amazing to me, it needs to be talked about more probably, is the idea of how spiritually there could be a controllingness that's used.
Gary Thomas: Oh, yeah. Oh, absolutely.
Corey Allan: And there is spiritual abuse that takes place and it's like, whoa, hold on. That's just the same thing you're railing against, you're doing it. But, it's recognizing, we could get caught up in this, "Yeah, but if I stand up to mom and dad, they're going to write me out of the will and I won't..." all these kinds of things and it's like, maybe. Maybe they won't. This is earning yourself. I use this framework with almost everybody I work with, Gary. It's just a different terminology. But, when I get a client that is stuck, and I've said this on the air on a lot of different episodes, I'm not sure what my next move is. To me, my next move is, what earns my self-respect, right?
Gary Thomas: Ah, I love that.
Corey Allan: Because that's what I'm seeking for because if I don't have that no one else will respect me. This is a higher level operating. This is a move into my world better and teach people to treat me differently rather than me trying to get them to treat me differently, right. And so, let's stay in the marriage world because you teed it up because this is the culmination of Everest, if you think about it. The concept you're talking about, how do you see it play out in marriage because it's a huge deal.
Gary Thomas: Life changed for me. I had spent decades trying to help people keep their marriages together. Listeners may not know, Sacred Marriage has a sub title is, What If God Designed Marriage To Make Us Holy More Than To Make Us Happy, not instead of happy and because we pursue holiness we actually protect happiness.
Corey Allan: Absolutely.
Gary Thomas: But, it does talk about every marriage being difficult in its own way and how there is a divine purpose behind the difficulty in who we've become. That we are shaped by the difficulties. Without the difficulties, we wouldn't be shaped into the people that we probably want to be and certainly that I believe God wants us to be. Though, it's about not running from the difficulty of marriage, but admitting it. And then, lifelong love was about building intimacy together. And so, my whole life has been, how do we keep marriage together? And then Cherish, which is more recent, which... I mean, I'm just, I'm thrilled when I tell people to tell us.
Gary Thomas: It's rare for me to do a marriage weekend when I don't have somebody come up to me and say, "We are married today because we read, Sacred Marriage. We're still married this year because we heard you speak on Cherish [inaudible 00:34:48]." I mean, I love that.
Corey Allan: Those are fantastic statements.
Gary Thomas: But, in a few cases that I think friends and pastors and counselors need to be more discerning, I would come across a guy that is trashing his wife, terrorizing his wife, controlling his wife and saying things like, "You're just a piece of crap." Only, he wouldn't say crap, but I don't. And then the question just came to me, and it could go women to men to, I'm not trying to be sexist here.
Corey Allan: Absolutely, [crosstalk 00:35:24]. This is non gender specific. Yeah, this is non gender specific.
Gary Thomas: I'm acknowledging the men married in tough situations. But in this case I'd just say, why does he want to be married to a woman who is so awful, who is a piece of crap, as he says, that makes him so unhappy? I realize in a couple occasions, he gets a sick thrill out of terrorizing a woman and marriage preserves a platform for him to do that like nothing else. To "save the marriage," quote unquote, I'm saving a platform for a great evil to be launched on this person. It blew my mind. I'm like, okay. Because I believe as a Christian, when two people are repentant before God, they invite the Lord into their hearts, that any marriage can overcome any issue.
Corey Allan: Absolutely.
Gary Thomas: I've seen terrible things overcome. But, when marriage is seen as an opportunity to terrorize someone, I think they're taking what is holy and using it for evil purposes. And if you have to take that weapon away, I think you should. It's a whole nuclear thing. Nuclear energy can heat up a city and it can destroy a nation. And so, it's the same thing where is this being used for good or for evil? If it's being used for evil, we need to treat it that way, not as if we're attacking the good use by saying it has the potential evil use.
Corey Allan: I like that Gary because this is one of the things an old pastor friend of mine at the church we were at prior actually did a sermon and I applaud him because he tried to tackle the whole concept of divorce, right. As a preacher, that's hard to tackle because you can't come down one-
Gary Thomas: In 30 minutes?
Corey Allan: Right.
Gary Thomas: Oh, yeah.
Corey Allan: Yeah, in a short timeframe. But, it's also one of those, wow, can I come down hard on one side, or another because you get into this whole, I'm condoning. For whatever reason, it sounds like I suffer from some of the same naivete illness you've had in your life. I've got that in my areas too. That for some reason, his framework of, okay, God is not in favor of divorce. He wants marriages to survive. He wants them to thrive.
Gary Thomas: Absolutely.
Corey Allan: But, He's also not in favor of bad marriages, right. So, it's like, which bad do you want, right. I mean, isn't that kind of a good way to frame life in some regards of like, hold on, just because I'm gutting it out that's-
Gary Thomas: That's not honoring God.
Corey Allan: ... yeah, that's not more virtuous necessarily. But, I do also like that you're touching on, because this is what I see in the framework and how I view a lot of the work I do with clients is, we got to reign in our evil. For most of the population, it doesn't run rampant, right. That's not a majority of people. We're capable of it. Absolutely. But, it doesn't run rampant. But for the times it does, man, you got to come at that different. You got to come at that strong. And the first step, just like what you're describing is, you got to call evil, evil. You got to name it, right and deal with it head on. If you're recognizing that in your marriage what's... Again, let's do this kind of almost step-by-step because let's not go all the way down. We'll file the paperwork now. No, it's not necessarily that.
Gary Thomas: It goes back the same way with parents, if we go back to that, but we'll stay with marriage. You honor your mother and father by treating them as if they're healthy, right. Because if my son called me and said, "Dad, for the sake of my marriage, I really can't come over for Christmas," it would break my heart, but I'd be proud of him. You're being a good husband. You're putting your wife first. That's what I want you to do, so I would affirm it. So, if a parent or a spouse responds in an unhealthy-way to healthy decisions, that's on them not on you.
Gary Thomas: So, I think in a marriage, I just say, I'm not going to play the toxic game anymore. I'm not going to fight you. We're not going to have conflict in an unhealthy-way. I'm not going to engage in toxic sex. I'll do healthy expressions. I'm not withholding in a malicious-way, but just I'm not going to be engaged in something that's going to be demeaning. I'm not going to let you control me. And usually, if the person really is toxic, this isn't always true, Corey, but I think eventually they're going to leave because they need to be toxic. I'm not playing that. Now, I am not blaming anyone who is being treated in a toxic-way that you're being treated in a toxic-way because it's your fault.
Corey Allan: Right, I know.
Gary Thomas: I'm trying to present-
Corey Allan: I got it.
Gary Thomas: ... a prescription for the future.
Corey Allan: No, I got it.
Gary Thomas: That I'm not going to play toxic games anymore. I had one couple. I don't like to recommend separations, but the husband was being so controlling in every way she couldn't breathe. She had divorce papers set up. Here is where I knew there was hope for the marriage. After she had this long litany of how controlling he had been, I turned to the husband and said, "And what would you say?" And he said, "Everything she told you is true." Now, I didn't say this out loud, but in my head I thought, this marriage might be saved.
Corey Allan: Yeah, there is hope.
Gary Thomas: I believe with humility and repentance God can come in, and it was. They needed to have a separation. He needed to feel the pain of his decisions. But, he realized that it was the issue and he was willing to work on it. This is years later, they have a great marriage. They have a testimony about it. He said this was the key for him. I told him, "You've got to get to the place spiritually where you don't want her to come back until you know she's not going to be treated that way anymore. You care about her so much, you wouldn't want her to return to the marriage she used to have." And that was his goal. It's not about me getting her to come back because that's controlling. I'm not going to prove my repentance to get her to come back. That's controlling. It's, I don't want her to ever live in a marriage like she lived in the first five years of our marriage. How do I change, so that we can have a whole new marriage?
Gary Thomas: Now, if he was a toxic individual who gets a thrill out of controlling a woman, he would have stayed separated. If I don't get to control her, I'm not into this. So, calling out the behavior gives a toxic person a chance to repent of the behavior. If they don't, then I think that's the first clue you're probably dealing with a toxic person who needs to learn how not to get joy out of being a horrible human being.
Corey Allan: Yeah, because he also wouldn't have answered your question the way he did.
Gary Thomas: Yes, exactly.
Corey Allan: He would have gaslit that situation of, I don't know where she's living. Now, she's having to backtrack and justify or question, or maybe, I'm not, maybe, I'm wrong. Man, we can get so sophisticated and underhanded with some of these things because that actually remind me of one of my clients that was one of the most difficult I've worked with in my career. After a two hour session, at the end, he literally turned to her and said, "I really hope you paid attention." It took everything in me to not come out of my chair after that dude because they were walking out the door and it's like, oh no. This is just not-
Gary Thomas: This is another two hours if I say anything.
Corey Allan: This just not good, yeah. It's just like, ah. But, it is one of those that, that's the hold then. The next step is what you're looking at, right because this is that idea and I like the framing of this. I'm not going to put up with the toxic treatment because it's the... even the sophistication of that wording, Gary is different then, you need to stop treating me in toxic ways, right. You got no control over that statement.
Corey Allan: But, I mean, on lesser degrees, my wife has moved to where she's got so much self-respect that if there is something going on and even if it just is I'm watching a game and she's not interested, she used to early on, "Hey, can we watch something else?" She's cajoling, manipulating, conniving, bargaining, exchanging, everything. Now she's like, "I'm really not interested in watching this," and she just walks out and goes to a different part of the house. It's like, "Okay, dang, now what do I do?" Sometimes it's like, "Sweet, I can just watch the show. I'm fine. I'll watch the game," or sometimes it's like, "No, no, no, I want to hang out with you." But, it's built on choice, which is what you're describing, right?
Gary Thomas: Right.
Corey Allan: The great marriages, the great lives are all built on choice. God was built... He built us on choice, right, because if we didn't have a chance to choose Him or not there is no love, right. There is no true intimacy, connection, bond, longing for every each other.
Gary Thomas: Yes, wow! There is a situation where I was at a women's conference and she felt trapped in her marriage. She said to me, "God hates divorce, right?" I'm like, "Well, now you're quoting scripture there, but what's going on?" She had a husband who heavy into porn, unrepentantly. Not a guy struggling with porn, the guy thriving on... Thriving isn't the appropriate word. You know what I mean.
Gary Thomas: He was demanding five things, all of which he had seen in porn. She said, "Gary, I can do four of them. I just can't do the fifth." I won't get into the fifth, but it's nothing any woman should feel compelled to do. I would recommend women not, but whatever. I think in that situation you just say, I want to honor our marriage, but I'm not going to let myself be demeaned in this relationship. I want to give to you. I want to receive. It's about mutual pleasure. That's where she's not deciding to end the marriage. My guess is, an unrepentant guy is going to say that I'm bored in this marriage and I'm out of here and you're free. But, he was still berating her, Corey because though she was giving into the four, now he's obsessed with the five. You can't win that game and a wife shouldn't feel compelled to. That's what I'm trying to say, or a husband for that matter.
Gary Thomas: I was dealing with a couple where the wife had been unfaithful, had not completely cut off the relationship with the guy. She had three reasons why she couldn't do that. I just said to her, I said, "I'm going to be honest with you. As a pastor, I never ask a spouse to share their spouse with someone else. You got to tell me if you're done with this because if you're not, my counsel is going to be very different for this person."
Corey Allan: Absolutely.
Gary Thomas: "I'm just going to tell you, I'm going to him what I tell him based on what you tell me now. Are you done with this, or not?" That's where I don't think we ask spouses to put up with toxic behavior. You confront the behavior. And then, I love what you said, "Then you take the next step, but let's not jump ahead. That gets confusing."
Corey Allan: Yeah, because this is also still even with the terminology of, you know what, I cannot, or I don't even like the word cannot because that even takes a little bit of the onus of there is something external making me not make my choice. I love what's the solidest way I can own what's going on with what I choose in life, right. And so, even coming at the situations with, I will not participate in this fifth thing, in your example, because I can't do it. I'm not going to do it in a self-respecting-way.
Gary Thomas: Right, she would feel destroyed. I love that self respect. [inaudible 00:47:28].
Corey Allan: It goes against me because we all have thresholds and some of them we can come pretty close to and still hold on to ourselves pretty well. But, the ones where we cross it and then we blame other people, I also have to recognize, I choose to cross it. And so, self-respect makes me start to really refine who I am and move forward into life better. I mean, to use the two terminologies we've got of to then become more holy like sacred marriage has, or to grow up like naked marriage has, in my side. But, it's this concept of seeing it as there is a process going on of human development, right, of character and wisdom being earned, being created, being developed in this thing. When I can look at it that way, I think what you're talking about here with, When To Walk Away, if I just take the step, the step I hear back on what I need to do next kind of helps point the direction I need to go.
Gary Thomas: Absolutely, yeah, yeah. And just the freedom that I can do that. I don't have to participate in toxic behavior. I can walk away. It's healthy to walk away. For me, just as a believer, to walk away is to walk toward my God who will meet all of my needs in Christ Jesus.
Corey Allan: Right, amen.
Gary Thomas: I might lose the relationship, I might lose the job, I might lose the friendship, but I'm gaining even more by walking in obedience.
Corey Allan: Right, and then the other side of it too still is, by my stepping away, I might actually gain the relationship I was looking for all along with that same person because they step up their game and now we got two full functioning human beings involved, or better functioning. Let's go with that phrase. I don't know if full functioning works.
Corey Allan: Well, Gary thank you so much for the time and for the work, man. You put out some good stuff that it's worth people checking out, so tell the Sexy Radio Marriage Nation how can they find you because I fully recommend everything you've written?
Gary Thomas: Yeah. The easiest way is through my website, garythomas.com. It's garythomas.com. That's got the Twitter handles, the Facebook handles, the Instagram handles. There is a blog on marriage. I try to post about once a week. They get information about all the books including Sacred Marriage and When To Walk Away.
Corey Allan: Perfect.
Gary Thomas: There is a book tab there. They just go down there and [crosstalk 00:50:03].
Corey Allan: Everything is right there, pretty simple to find. So Gary, thank you so much and blessings on the continued work that you do.
Gary Thomas: Thank you, Corey.
Corey Allan: So, this is one of those conversations, Pam that whenever I have a guest that comes on we do a lot of premlin before the air, off-air before I hit record. Man, I so wish I would have hit record right when we got on the call with each other because it was really good conversation just talking about our similar paths, but different. The fan that we now have in Gary Thomas of a Sexy Marriage Radio listener and I cannot thank him enough-
Pam Allan: That's [inaudible 00:50:44].
Corey Allan: ... for being on board and doing the work he does to help people.
Pam Allan: Well, it's very insightful. I mean, listening to his conversation in this book and thinking through it, I never thought through in the biblical reference Jesus' interaction with people that way. And just looking at okay, there is a time to step back from something toxic. I don't just have to grin and bear it all the time.
Corey Allan: Right, right. That's where it's particularly pertinent this holiday season as everybody in a few weeks, or maybe already have begun the whole process of going to visit family. There is all kinds of things that happen to where it's like, okay, how can I look at this through a new lens? Not that I walk away from my family. I'm not saying that. He's not saying that either.
Pam Allan: No, we don't want to encourage that.
Corey Allan: But, it's still that element of how do I go into the interactions that I have with all the people in my life with a new lens? And then, I start to look at the whole dynamic that plays out between us and what are some things that maybe I've been tolerating that are toxic that I need to address different, or better, or remove myself from those situations to start to change the dialogue and the content and how it all unfolds then because that's what will help create major shifts in your relationship patterns?
Pam Allan: It's helping you grow up, right?
Corey Allan: Absolutely it is. That's the whole thing we wan to do here at Sexy Marriage Radio is help you grow up. And so, as you go full speed ahead into the holiday season, look for the opportunities that you get to grow up, to challenge some things, to look at things with fresh eyes.
Pam Allan: That is a great way to look at it, isn't it? Sometimes we look at it a totally negative point of view. If I can look at these as opportunities to grow up and to be a better person and come from the best in you, the holidays take on a whole new meaning.
Corey Allan: Absolutely they do. Well, you guys take on a whole new meaning to us every time you take some time out of your week to spend it with us. We thank you for that. Wherever you are and however you've been listening, we hope that it's impacted you and it makes it a better day in whatever comes next. This has been Sexy Marriage Radio. We'll see you next time.