The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“Build a Healthy Marriage, Be a Better Leader“
February 3, 2020
Intro: What’s one thing that can inflict so much emotional pain that it can significantly hinder your leadership effectiveness? Today, listen to one of the world’s leading experts on having a healthy marriage and better relationships overall.
Female: This is the Flourishing Culture Podcast. Here’s your host, president of the Best Christian Workplaces Institute, Al Lopus.
Al Lopus: Welcome to another episode of the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where our goal is to equip and inspire you to build a flourishing workplace. We are here to help you eliminate workplace distrust, improve your employees’ experience, and grow your organization’s impact. And before we meet our special guest today, I urge you to subscribe to this podcast. As a result, you’ll receive our action guide. It’s our gift to help you lead your organization’s culture to the next level. To subscribe, simply go to bcwinstitute.org/podcast. Hit the Subscribe button, and receive our free action guide.
Also, if you could share this podcast with others, and rate it, it would really mean a lot to me. Thank you.
And now, let’s meet today’s special guest.
If you happen to be married, I have a personal question for you. Have you ever noticed how a lingering frustration or a serious unresolved issue in your marriage can eat at you at work and even impact your leadership? Well, believe me, I’ve experienced this, and I know I’m not alone. How to build a healthy marriage is what my guest is all about today.
Les Parrott and his wife, Leslie, have spent the past 30 years helping others build healthy relationships. Les is a prolific author, a speaker, and psychologist. And he’s a number-one New York Times’ best seller. And their books—his books, along with Leslie’s—have sold over two million copies and more than two dozen languages, including the bestselling and Gold Medallion winner, Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts. Les has been on CNN, FOX, the Today show, and in many other programs. We really have the pleasure of welcoming Les Parrott to our show today. Les, welcome to the Flourishing Culture Podcast.
Les Parrott: Thanks, Al. Great to be with you. It’s a real honor.
Al: Les, you’re quite acquainted with Christian-led organizations and the church. Give us a little background on the importance of relationships and how it emerged in both your growing up and through your career as a professor, a speaker, and author. I mean, you’ve got quite a background. Tell us a little bit about it.
Les: Well, I did grow up in a home that understood Christian leadership, but my dad was a university president, as was his father. And I have two older brothers, one of whom is also a university president at a Christian college, and the other’s at another Christian college as the vice president. So we understand Christian higher ed in our family, for sure, and Christian leadership.
I can tell you that when you ask the question, how does relationships factor into the whole milieu of Christian leadership, it’s the hub of the wheel. I mean, we don’t have anything if we don’t have relationship. And so that’s why we’re so passionate about it. It’s not just marriage, but we do a lot of emphasis on marriage. A lot of our books have been written on that topic.
And we have a BHAG, a big, hairy, audacious goal. I’m guessing every leader that is listening to us has a BHAG, too. And ours is to see the divorce rate reduced by a third in our lifetime in local churches. That’s what we are passionate about. And I’m sure of us, some of the listeners out there are going, “Well, good luck with that. That’s never going to happen.” And I can tell you, I’m more optimistic about that than ever. We have, as a professional community, the know-how, the tools to really make a dent in that process.
And by the way, Al, did you know that for every single percentage point that we reduce the divorce rate, for one single percentage point, that positively impacts the lives of more than a million children. Think about the ripple effect that would have. Think about, even if we reduce the divorce rate 10 percent in local churches, what kind of generational impact that would have. It would have a ripple effect. It’d be one of the greatest social revolutions the church has ever seen.
And so, anyway, that’s our passion, that’s our vision, and that’s what gets us up in the morning, along with our team, to do that. And it’s all about relationships, the hub of the wheel.
Al: Well, I like that, Les. Reduce divorces by a third in our churches.
When you and your wife, Leslie, began this process, you were really interested in helping mentor engaged, even less-experienced couples. When did you start that process?
Les: Well, Leslie and I, we had—just to go back 30 seconds of this story—we actually started dating in high school, all through high school. We dated all through college. And then we got married after college, and then we went to graduate school. We went to college in Chicago and moved to Los Angeles to go to graduate school and seminary. And in spite of all those years of dating and even having the same name, Leslie, we never had any kind of pre-marriage counseling, and so we had kind of a rocky road, our first year of that. But we went into our graduate program with six years of graduate school, then we moved up to Seattle and began teaching at Seattle Pacific University, Christian university. And I was also doing a postdoc fellowship at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and so was working in the head-injury unit and the burn unit at the local hospital. And in the context of all that, some students at the university said, “Hey, you guys,”—Leslie’s a marriage and family therapist; I’m a psychologist—they said, “Hey, you guys know a lot about relationships because of your training. Why don’t you come over to our resident’s hall and give a talk on how to fall in love without losing your mind.” That was the title they had. And that was in February, our first academic year. And they didn’t know us. We were new to the campus. They just knew that this was kind of a field that any psychologist should be able to talk about. I said, “Okay, we’ll be there. What, when, and how many should we expect?” They said, “Well, if everybody shows up, maybe 25 people on the floor will be there. And it’s at ten o’clock at night on a Thursday.”
And so we showed up on this late night gathering of students, and there was a line out the door when we got there, of hundreds of students. And we said, “Man, I wonder what’s going on here.” And well, it turns out the word spread that there was going to be a talk on how to fall in love without losing your mind, and all these students showed up for this little talk. And it just was a pivot point for us. The need was so palpable that we said we’ve got to do more for these students.
And so that spring we held an event. We raised a little bit of money, and we held this event called Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts. Once again, the turnout was just phenomenal, way bigger than we ever anticipated. And we did it the next year. And couples were coming from outside of our own campus, and pastors started sending couples to the event and so forth. And by the third year, we thought, “Whoa, this is really gaining some traction. We better write a book on this.” And so we wrote our first book together called Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts. And little did we know that we’d be on nearly every broadcast that you can imagine, from Oprah to Tom Brokaw and everything in between, talking about how to enjoy life-long love and get started on the right foot. And now more than two million couples have gone through that program.
So it’s really quite a blessing to know that we’ve touched so many lives in this capacity. But it all came out of that passion of not getting the help we needed and then recognizing there’s so much good research that, really, we want to put the cookies on the bottom shelf, as they say, and make it accessible and then intertwine biblical wisdom with that. And it just seemed to be a winning combination.
Al: All right, Les, I’m going to put you on the spot here. Give us three or four of those relationship essentials that you teach and in the Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, especially for our young leaders here. What would you suggest?
Les: Well, we talked about some of the myths of marriage in there, but I think the one I’d like to highlight is that it comes down to this truth, and that is that your marriage can only be as healthy as you are. In other words, if you want to have a thriving, healthy marriage that goes the distance, focus on who you are in the context of that relationship. So many times, we kind of get caught up in techniques and strategies, and those are all important—how to communicate, how to resolve conflict, how to bridge the gender gap, all that is vital. But it begins with understanding, this person that I’m married to is not designed to make me whole. They’re not designed to make up for all the things that I’m lacking. That’s the work that I do on my own with the Holy Spirit in my life. And I stand on that foundation of love, God’s amazing grace, that allows me to give that to other people, including my spouse.
And so many times, as a psychologist that works a lot with couples, I get so frustrated because it’s always the finger pointing, it’s always the blaming. And man, if we would have just had this, or we never got this break, or what have you. And it really comes down to—and if you want to say it in kind of a negative way, a marriage can only be as healthy as the least healthy person in it. That’s why it’s so vital. In fact, our next book—the next book that Leslie and I have coming out is called Healthy Me, Healthy Us. And after all these years of writing more than a dozen marriage books on conflict and communication and sex and all the rest, we really kind of are coming back full circle to realize none of that really matters if you aren’t working on who you are in your relationship with your heavenly Father as you bring yourself into this relationship.
So when you say what’s a word of advice, that’s where it starts. We can go from there. That’s where it begins. That make sense, Al?
Al: Yeah. That makes total sense. Your marriage can only be as healthy as you are. I believe that in my bones. That’s a really good lesson.
Les: It just occurred to me. One of the other things—I told that whole story about getting started. And the next year on that college campus, we thought, hey, in addition to helping these students who are engaged and dating, what about just the fundamentals of healthy relationships? And so we started a class. We called it Relationships 101. And you know enough about academic settings, you can’t just dream up a class and start teaching it. You got to get approved by the provosts and the deans and the committees and all that. And so it took us a year to go through that process. We finally got permission to teach this class.
And I remember some of the faculty and the committees would say, hey, there’s not enough rigor in what we were proposing.” And I said, “What do you mean?” “There’s just not enough academic groove to it.” I wanted to say, “Okay, well, we’ll give some information that will confuse the students, if you like.” They said, “Well, there’s not a textbook for this kind of class.” “Well, we’ll write our own.” And anyway, we eventually got this class approved as long as we taught it as an overload on our own schedule, without compensation and so forth. You get the idea.
Well, we had a room that maybe had 12 chairs in it, and it was on Monday evenings, not prime time on an undergraduate campus, especially in the fall with football and everything else. And so we just thought, well, at least we’ll get started. And I think it was maybe four hours into the first day of registration when we got notified from the registrar’s office. He said, “Doc, we’re going to have to move your classroom.” And I said, “Why? Nobody signed up? You need the space?” And he said, “No. We just realized you didn’t cap the course.” And I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “In the computer, you didn’t limit the number of students who could take it.” I said, “What’s that have do with anything?” He said, “Well, 250 students have signed up in the first few hours here. So we moved you into the auditorium, and there’s now a waiting list to get in.”
And Al, that was 20 years ago that that happened. And we taught that course for two decades, still on Monday nights, always with a waiting list to get in.
But we told those students on the very first night, “Hey, this is a pass-fail course. You’re going to get out of it what you want to get out of it. So whether you take notes or not really doesn’t matter to us. Except tonight, on the very first night, we want you to write down at least one single sentence.” And we tell them, “This sentence is going to revolutionize every relationship you attempt to build if you can allow it to kind of seep down into your spirit, into your cortex, and be lived out through you.” And they all get poised with their pencils or their keyboards for them to write down this sentence, and we finally give it to them. And here it is: if you try to build a connection with another person before you’ve done the difficult work of getting whole, or healthy, on your own, all your relationships become an attempt to complete yourself, and they’ll fall flat.” And I usually have to repeat the sentence a few times, that they write it all down, but it’s that point I just felt like it was so important to echo it because it’s so true.
If you think this other person, especially if it’s your spouse, your soulmate, they’re going to make up for everything I’m lacking, and we lean in on this person, and at first it feels so romantic because we’re leaning in, but eventually you start to pound down on this person. “Hey, this is what you’re supposed to do. This is why I signed up for our marriage.”
And so, anyway, as you can tell, I’m pretty passionate about this message. I can’t let go of it. But that idea of getting healthy is so vital, especially for leaders that are hard charging, on the move. And sometimes the priority of relationships can take a backseat to that.
Al: Yeah, right.
I trust you’re enjoying our podcast. We’ll be right back after this brief word about a valuable tool that can pinpoint the true, measurable health of your culture.
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Al: All right. Now, let’s hear more from today’s guest.
As you know, the mission of the Best Christian Workplaces Institute is for Christian organizations to set the standard as the best, most-effective places to work in the world, and we do that by equipping and inspiring Christian leaders to build a flourishing workplace. Well, we’re also well aware that if a leader’s marriage is hurting—and it’s just what we’re talking about—or on the rocks, it has the potential to affect and impact their ability to lead. And in your mind, how big a problem is hurting marriages in Christian organizations, the church, Christian-led companies? How big a problem is this? What do you see?
Les: Well, I think it’s a huge problem. All you have to do is review the last 12 months of leaders that have fallen, and so often, they’ve fallen because things weren’t healthy at home. So you look at those and maybe we say, “Oh, those are outliers,” but there’s enough of them to get our attention, right? It wasn’t just a “Oh, my goodness. What a shock. This hasn’t happened for 10 years.” It’s almost routine now that we have leaders that implode because of unhealthy relationships. And so when you ask how important is it? It’s vital. I keep coming back to that idea. The hub of the wheel. It’s at the center place of what Jesus did. I love that paragraph in Ephesians where Paul talks about how Jesus loves, and then he ends with this little three-word sentence. He says, “Love like that.”
I remember I was on an airplane a while back, and I read that, and I went, “Are you kidding me? How am I supposed to love like that? Love like Jesus, love at the highest levels.” But there are practical ways of doing that. And He wouldn’t have given us that if He didn’t give us the tools to really teach us how the Holy Spirit, the friend, can do that through us. It’s the best insurance against the crisis of relationship failure and leadership that I know of.
Al: Give me some ways a dysfunctional marriage can mess with a leader’s ability to lead their team or their organization. What comes to mind when it comes to the ways this can really mess with a leader and their leadership?
Les: The first thing to come to mind is when a person’s in pain, relational pain, when they’re suffering, it’s like a toothache. You can’t think of anything else until I get this tooth fixed. And I can go on with my work. I’ll try to sit down here and do some email or whatever. But man, my jaw is just killing. It’s throbbing. It’s just consuming.
Same thing with personal pain, relational pain. And what it does is basically keep us from acting out the most important relationship skill there is, in my opinion, and that’s empathy, the capacity to see the world from somebody else’s perspective. And you studied healthy workplaces for a majority of your life, and I guarantee you, you have seen this in practice. When you go to the healthiest places to work, there are places where people understand another person’s perspective and not just understand it, but can appreciate it. And when you have a leader that is so consumed in their own pain, it’s impossible. It’s impossible to see somebody else’s perspective. And that’s why it falls apart. That’s why people get frustrated. Morale comes down and everything else. And it feels like I can’t do my job well. And it’s because at the top, that leader not being able to put themselves in the other person’s shoes.
Al: That’s a great point. So what are a few of the first steps that you would recommend to a leader if his or her marriage is really disrupting their ability to work, where they really do feel that pain? What are some of the steps?
Les: Well, whether they’re feeling the pain or just wanting to move from good to great. Some people are moving from bad to better and some are moving from good to great. And regardless, my first suggestion is always increase your level of awareness. Awareness, as we psychologists so often like to say, awareness is curative once you become aware of something and you can do something about it. And so one of the—and you only know because we’re friends and you’ve heard me talk about this, that I am obsessed with the idea of an assessment. It’s like looking into a mirror. And what a good assessment will do—and there’s lots of good ones out there—will kind of hold up that proverbial mirror, and go, hey, check this out. Did you know this is how are you were coming across there?
And so we’ve spent the last many, at least a decade—20 years ago we launched with Neil Warren, his company called eHarmony. And it was part of that BHAG to lower the divorce rate. And by the way, the divorce rate for people that matched through our algorithm on eHarmony, 2.3 percent versus 50 percent in the general public. So we know a little bit about the power of what you can do through that technology.
And so more recently, we developed a tool that I’d love to see every leader go through. It’s called Better Love, and it increases that level of self-awareness. And then secondly, it deepens your capacity for empathy, what we talked about. Can I camp out on empathy just for a moment, Al?
Al: Sure, yeah. Tell us about it.
Les: Empathy, as we all know, is a capacity to put ourselves in another person’s shoes to accurately see the world from their perspective. And when you have two people doing that in a marriage relationship, it’s revolutionary. It’s transformative. Life doesn’t get any sweeter when you have two people that are intentionally working at that. And the problem is that so many of us, and I would say especially leaders, will confuse sympathy with empathy.
And I’ve told my counseling students this a million times over the years that sympathy is standing on the shore and throwing out a life ring to somebody that’s struggling in the water. Empathy is diving into that water and risking your own well-being to bring that person back to safety. And not everybody does that. In fact, that’s so rare, we call those people heroes. And I say it’s just as heroic when we do that in a relationship, when we enter that person’s world. And it is risky, by the way, it’s risky because it changes you. When you see the world from somebody else’s perspective, you don’t look at the world the same way. Oh, I had no idea. If I grew up in that kind of home, I can see how I would behave the same way. It gives you understanding.
And sympathy is merely having that emotion that you project onto that person. Still a valuable human experience to sympathize, but it’s not always accurate. And we sympathize with our heart, we analyze with our head, and empathy brings both our head and our heart together, like two wings of an airplane. To get empathy off the ground, you’ve got to analyze the objective, take a step back, size up what’s going on and get the big picture, as well as still have your heart into the process, to feel with that person, but feel accurately with that person. That’s the gift of empathy.
And I’ve often said if I could have this fantasy of giving a wedding gift to everybody that gets married, I give them a box of empathy or a can of empathy. Can you imagine if we could manufacture it and you could spray empathy on your relationship? You’re in the middle of a conflict. “We need some empathy.” [spray sound] It’d change everything.
And that’s not only true in a marriage relationship. It’s true in board relationships and employee relationships and everything else. It’s difficult to exaggerate the value of empathy. That’s what our Better Love assessment is designed to do: increase your level of self-awareness; deepen your capacity for empathy.
Al: And Les, you have several assessments—I noticed at least three on your website—that you use as kind of a way for people to really come to better understand where they are in a relationship with your spouse.
Les: You want me to walk through those a little bit?
Al: Well, why don’t you just mention them? I know I shouldn’t have said spouse, because I know there’s one that’s before you get married. Yeah. What are those three assessments? I happen to love assessments. That’s what we do. So let’s talk about assessments.
Les: Well, I understand your love for it because it is transformative on so many different levels. The first one that we developed a few years back came out of that book I mentioned, Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, and it’s called SYMBIS. That stands for Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts. And we now have a network of literally hundreds of thousands of certified counselors, pastors, coaches, chaplains, trained and certified online through our course, to use that assessment.
And so a couple that’s thinking about marriage and insert their little zip code into our website and find a certified counselor and take that assessment. It takes about 30 minutes to answer questions. It provides a 15-page report, that’s infographic driven, to the facilitator that can kind of unpack that.
We know from our research and independent research that when a couple will do that, their chances of divorce are lowered by 31 percent. And that’s pretty good, right?
Al: Yeah, that’s great.
Les: I mean, who wouldn’t want that kind of interest? So, that’s the first one, the SYMBIS assessment. And by the way, our facilitators over the years have said, “Hey, I’m starting to use this with other couples that are already married.” And so it also turns into what we call SYMBIS+, which is Saving Your Marriage Because It’s Sacred, plus sign on there. And so it’s for any age, any stage now. So that’s the first one.
The second one is what I just mentioned a moment ago, and that’s Better Love. And that’s just direct to the couple out there. It’s thirty five dollars, they go to betterlove.com, and it takes about 10 minutes to answer a series of questions, gives them a little 10-page report and a little customized action plan. I just love it. I tell Leslie, every day it’s Christmas at our house because I get to wake up and read the emails that came in over the last 24 hours on couples that found some real help through that process. So that’s betterlove.com.
And then the third one, any educator out there that might be listening to us might be interested in this. It’s called yada.com. And yada, as I’m sure you probably know, is a Hebrew word used over nearly a thousand times in scripture, and it means “to know.” And in our case, it’s to know yourself—self-awareness; to know others—relationships; and to be known by others—vulnerability. So yada, yada, yada. We’ve all heard that Yiddish phrase. And the Yada assessment is really for college students, for single adults, and we wanted to go upstream. If we’re ever going to be successful in this BHAG, we knew it wasn’t just helping them launch lifelong love; it was helping them make wise decisions in the most defining decade we ever had—that’s in our twenties. And so the Yada assessment does that—helps them on friendships; helps them not just on their life, but understanding their own personality and their own passions and vision statement for their life and all that kind of thing. So we have lots of college campuses out there where the whole incoming class of freshmen will take the Yada assessment, and it’s pretty cool to see.
Al: You know, we’ve had spiritual directors on our podcasts that have given us great encouragement to practice regular spiritual disciplines. And I’ll bet you have some suggestions on how to develop a deeper, healthier relationship with your spouse, through some ongoing practices. Do you have anything that you’d suggest?
Les: I need to listen to those because I got to tell you, Leslie and I struggle on that front. It’s something that we work on, and it seems like different seasons. We’ve been married for 33 years, but we have had different phases of kind of our spiritual walk. But here’s what I can tell you. And we did this early on. We wrote this little book called Becoming Soul Mates, and it’s a devotional for couples. One of the fun things we did, it’s 52 little meditations on marriage. And each of them has a one-page entry from a spiritual leader of some kind. And it might be a pastor that you would know—John Norberg, for example. Or it might be, I don’t know, somebody like Tony Campolo, or it might be somebody like, you name it, Dave Ramsey, and so forth, in different fields. And we just ask them, how did the two of you walk together with God in your marriage in a way that’s beneficial? How do you do that? And what we discovered is nobody does it the same way. Every couple seems to find their own path on that. And that was kind of a relief to Leslie and me because we kept thinking, we’re just not doing this right. We try to pray together, and it’s a struggle. And we ended up sending messages to each other through our prayers. “Dear Lord, help her be a better wife.”
And then, I remember somebody gave us a One Year Bible when we got married, where you read a little from the Old Testament, a little from the New Testament. And I think we got through the first six chapters of Genesis before we gave up on that together. And here we were, two vibrant Christians. We’re going to seminary. Both of us. And yet we just couldn’t fall in step on that. And I remember at one point it was like we were having a little tussle, who got to read first because we were doing this just before we fall asleep. And the person that read first could kind of doze off while the other person is reading from the New Testament. It wasn’t the most life-giving thing to us.
So these days, like I said, we’ve been through lots of phases on that. But these day, one of the things we do, there’s a lake in Seattle. It’s called Green Lake. It’s just about three miles to walk around that thing, takes about 45 minutes. Most weeks, we walk that lake at least once; typically more, depending on the weather. And that is a time to recharge our spiritual batteries. We pray while we walk. We talk about things that matter to us and things that we’re learning, things that we’re reading in God’s word. And that’s what’s working for us these days. So I guess when you ask for advice on that, I’m open to advice for our own relationship.
But I would also say, find your own way. Don’t think there’s the three things you’ve got to do. I just don’t think it’s cookie cutter. Find your own way.
Al: Yeah. Kathy and I find when we get up in the morning—I’ll get up before she does. I’ll have a little devotional, and then we have a conversation, and I make her three cups of tea. That’s the time in the morning we connect and enjoy conversation over tea. That’s really been a good experience. And then we might go out for a little bit of a walk at that point. But yeah, that’s been a great experience.
You know, one of your books got my attention, Les. It’s called Fight Night; How to Fight Fair. And my adult daughters say that my wife, Kathy, and I really didn’t do a good job of showing them how to have a fair fight. It’s great to have adult daughters that kind of reflect on their childhood. In your book, you outline how you have a good fight, a fair fight, and finish in two rounds—not 15 rounds, but two rounds, you can finish it off. How do you do that?
Les: Well, Leslie and I, we’ve written a lot of lot of books and certainly a lot on marriage. And we realized our publisher was saying, you guys have never written on conflict. And we thought, yeah, because we don’t do it well. We’re not going to write about it.
But most of our books, we really do feel like we write for ourselves. And in fact, we just revised and updated a book that we did some years ago called Your Time-Starved Marriage. I remember how that book really changed the dynamic of our relationship when we began to understand our time styles and so forth. And so all these books do that.
And when we—our publisher was saying, you need to explore conflict, I think. And so there’s a fellow here in Seattle, where we live, and his name is John Gottman. And John has really done probably more yeoman work on understanding conflict in marriage than anybody on the planet. He’s been studying it for 40 years, the University of Washington. He’s retired now, but we learned a lot from John, and we began doing our own research and understanding the dynamic of, at least conflict in our relationship, and then began to see that’s kind of universal in so many relationships.
And so we wrote this book. It’s called The Good Fight. And these days we go out—it’s our most common kind of speaking engagement. We call it Fight Night, as you mentioned. And it is two rounds. The first round is why we fight with the person we love the most. And we start with why, because if you understand why you fight, it leads to a stronger how. And that’s round two is how to fight with the person that you love the most.
And, you know, it’s fun. It’s kind of part comedy show and part seminar, in a date-night experience for couples. And so it’s like we’re just getting ready to do one this weekend at a church. And so that’s always a good time.
But conflict is the price we pay for a deeper level of intimacy. Let me say that again. Conflict, if you know how to fight a good fight, it actually becomes the price we pay for a deeper level of connection. So the goal is not to avoid conflict; it’s to know how to use conflict to bring you closer together. And we do that through different ways. In the seminar, we talk about your fight type. If you can kind of identify really how God made you when it comes to conflict, it goes a long way to increasing empathy, because now you’re not judging each other. And it really can help you kind of heighten your capacity to put yourself in each other’s shoes.
And by the way, in that assessment we mentioned, the Better Love assessment, we even highlight for each couple what we call the hot topics, because there’s certain issues that are hot buttons for couples, and they’re all different. It might be money or chores or raising children or priorities or schedules or communication or whatever it might be. And sometimes just seeing that can help a couple go, yeah, that’s our scripts. That’s what we have. That’s why we have so many fights. Something is unresolved around this particular topic.
And so there’s a wealth of information. There’s so many practical things that you can do to improve how you fight. We love talking about it.
Al: Yeah. Well, I love that phrase: conflict is the price we pay for a deeper level of connection. That’s fantastic.
Let me ask you, for top leaders in Christian-led organizations, as we’ve heard over the last couple of years, moral failure or having an extramarital affair can not only bust a marriage, but could be a career stopper. What does your research, and perhaps even a favorite story, say that leaders can do right now that would reduce the chance of an extramarital affair by a Christian leader?
Les: Okay. So lots of things come to mind. The very first thing comes to mind is when the grass looks greener somewhere else, that’s when you need to start working on your own lawn. That means you start watering your own lawn. So if the grass is looking greener someplace, it’s an indicator that you’re not investing in this relationship. That sounds kind of pithy and kind of flippant, but it really is true.
Let me also suggest something that I learned from one of my leadership mentors long ago, even when I was still in graduate school. John Maxwell has been so kind to me along the way. In fact, John and I were out to dinner once, and I said, “John, you make everybody”—you know John, who’s written all these books, right?
Al: Oh, I do, absolutely. Yeah.
Les: Yeah. And the server came and took our order. And the way John interacted with the server, when he left, I said, “John, you make everybody feel like a million bucks.” And he goes, “Hey, that’s a book title,” because I don’t think John has ever had a thought he hasn’t published. And I said, “It is a good book title.” He goes, “Let’s write that together.” And so we did. It ended up being called 25 Ways to Win with People.
But one of the things I learned from John early on in my marriage was not to give Leslie my leftovers. And what I mean by that and what he means by that is that especially as you’re a hard-charging leader, you go through your day, and you have wins and you have losses and you have excitement and you have depression and you have whatever, and all these cool things that happen to you because you have this life of a leader that involves a lot of activity, and go from this meeting to that phone call and this interaction and so forth.
And what happens is you talk about that with your team and your colleagues at work, and by the time you get home, it’s just like, “What’s for dinner? Hey, where’s the mail? I’m going to look at the paper. Just give me the clicker; I want to watch TV,” and you just kind of collapse, right? And what he’s saying and what he taught me is don’t give your wife the leftovers. Check in with her. When something exciting happens, don’t let her be the twelfth person to find out about it. Let her be one of the top three people to learn about it in your life so you still have the excitement in your voice and can touch base, whether it’s a text or a quick phone call or what have you. But don’t give your spouse the leftovers.
And then I’ll give one other tip that is so important just to keeping your relationship healthy that’s so easy to do as a leader and something a lot of us don’t do, and again, just because we’re just hard charging. And so when you come home—and this comes from our book, Your Time-Starved Marriage, by the way, the single most-important minute of your marriage can change the entire tone of your evening together. And that single most-important minute, most of us just brush by it every day. It happens every 24 hours. And it’s that 60 seconds that we have when we first walk in the door and we greet our spouse. And whether it’s hollering down the hallway or into the kitchen or what have you, “Hey, I’m home,” whatever. Instead of just that kind of cursory connection, if you will literally have a tender touch—only takes 60 seconds—a tender touch, maybe a hug, maybe a kiss, and eye-to-eye contact. How are you doing? How was your day? That little 60 seconds, the research shows, really sets the tone in that relationship to begin to build up kind of a guard against faltering in the relationship. Something so simple. Now, there’s lots of other things that you need to do, of course. But that one is just so easy, I thought any leader can grab on to that and actually put it into practice every day.
Al: I love that, Les. Thanks. Those are two really good tips.
Once a leader has a moral failure—this is a moving down the process—the impact on the organization can be devastating. And you know what devastating looks like. You’ve done some very interesting work on the on-site support in the aftermath of worldwide disasters, like 9/11 at Ground Zero and Chernobyl. What can Christian organizations learn from your experience—sounds like very interesting experiences—after a devastating event like a top leader leaving after a moral failure? Do you have any thoughts on that?
Les: Well, yeah. Not that I’m the world’s expert on this by a long shot, but what I can tell you is that when that takes place, there is so much secrecy, so much cloak-and-dagger talk, and it really takes somebody to step up and clear the air and answer questions and be forthright and be transparent as much as is appropriate. And that’s one thing. So that’s just the basic—communication. So many times, the rumors get crazy, and people, they don’t know exactly, but “I heard this,” and you know how it goes. And so if you want to be healthy and in the aftermath of some disaster like that, a moral failure of a leader, clarity and openness is a good place to start.
Al: Yeah, that’s great.
Well, Les, this has been a great conversation. We certainly appreciate all we’ve learned today, and loved listening to your tips, particularly we love your BHAG: to reduce the divorce rate by a third in our churches. What a difference that would make. And for not only couples and their families, but for generations to come. We love tips you’ve given us, especially your three assessments—SYMBIS, Better Love, and Yada—and given us tips on even have a better relationship with our spouse by having a really solid and good, healthy relationship with ourselves. I love the conflict is a price that we pay for a deeper level of connection with our spouse, with a couple of tips on what to do to keep our relationship with our spouse healthy.
When you really look at the bottom line, is there anything else that you’d like to leave us with, kind of a one final thought?
Les: Well, Al, I can tell you I’ve done a lot of interviews over the years. I don’t know anybody that has more succinctly summarized all the ground that we just covered together. So kudos to you on that.
And I guess the only closing thought I would have is one maybe you left off your list there, and that’s empathy, that capacity to see the world from another person’s perspective, to put yourself in their skin, to look out through their eyes. If I could press a magic button for every leader that’s listening to us right now, it would be to have Amazon show up at the front door, with a big box of empathy, because it is transformative for cultures, for organizations, and certainly for one-on-one relationships.
And by the way, I don’t know anybody that has done more good on that kind of a front to help people aspire to healthy, thriving organizations than you have over the years. And I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that here as we’re closing out our time together. You have done such a phenomenal piece of work and helped countless people through the work you’ve done in all these organizations. And I go to a lot of them because I speak in a lot of them, and I see it. So thanks to you on that, too.
Al: Yeah, well, thanks, Les.
Ladies and gentlemen, Les Parrott, who along with his wife Leslie, are New York Times’ bestselling authors and popular presenters on how to build healthy, strong marriage relationships. Thanks, Les, for sharing your wisdom, insights, and stories, and thanks for investing yourself in everyone who’s been listening and benefiting from all you’ve shared with us today. And let’s hope we’re one step closer to reducing the divorce rate in the church by a third. So thanks, Les, very much.
Les: I appreciate that. It’s been an honor to be with you. Thanks.
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This program is copyrighted by the Best Christian Workplaces Institute. All rights reserved. Our writer is Mark Cutshall; our social-media assistant is Solape Osoba; and remember, a healthy culture drives greater impact and growth for your organization. We’ll see you again soon on the Flourishing Culture Podcast.