TCW’s assistant editor, Joy Beth, sat down with Emerson Eggerichs, founder of Love and Respect Ministries, and his daughter Joy, of Love and Respect Now, to chat about the unexpected complications (and blessings) that come with parenting an older single. Together Emerson and Joy run The Illumination Project, a partnership that hopes to answer tough questions like these with grace, humility, and hopefully a little bit of humor.
Why is intergenerational communication about dating, marriage, and other issues so important? What do we lose if we strike out on our own without seeking wisdom from older generations?
EMERSON: The Bible says there is nothing new under the sun, so why not learn from such people who have been in the sun longer and maybe even gotten a little sunburned? It might just keep us from getting burned!
I usually talk about the 80/20 rule for relationships and life; 80 percent of life and relationships is typically great but the other 20 percent can be troubling. (Some unfortunately seem to get hit with the higher percentage of trouble.) When it comes to relationships, they usually don’t end due to the great times but due to not handling well the troubles that God foretold come (1 Corinthians 7:28). If we learn how to deal with the 20 percent we will be okay.
Older generations generally understand the troubling 20 percent better, and I found it beneficial as a young man to ask older people in my life about their marriages. I didn’t have a good example of a healthy marriage growing up, so I wanted all the advice I could get.
JOY: Even though I had a good model of my parents’ marriage I know that whenever I have gone out on my own and tried to do relationships independently of wise counsel—or “living in the dark” as we discuss together in The Illumination Project—it hasn’t been super beneficial.
Surprisingly, I know many of my peers who want advice from older people because they feel so lost navigating relationships. And for people who identify as believers, the body of Christ is designed to be a family that benefits our growth and transformation. Seeking wisdom is not to unleash people to badger us or cramp our style, so when I hear from my peers who are tired of all the “annoying” questions they get from older folks about their relationships I want to say, “Be grateful that someone cares enough to annoy you with questions” or “You know what else is annoying? Divorce lawyers.”
Father/daughter relationships are not always easy. What’s been challenging about your own relationship, and why is it worth it to push through the challenges and stay close?
JOY: I think it’s easy for girls growing up to see their fathers as perfect until proven otherwise. Thankfully, my father was around when I was growing up and has never done anything to discredit himself (other than a few wardrobe choices in the ’90s). The difficult thing for me has been when I’ve realized we might think differently on some topics. Since I have such a high level of respect for my father, I had to process what “thinking differently” from him meant.
I now believe it’s important to address our differing opinions. When we can have mature conversations on things we disagree about and practice a little bit of humility, it allows us to learn from one another. For a long time I panicked when we disagreed and tried to change his mind. Since we are both decent debaters, it often left both of us feeling discouraged and defeated.
As I’ve (hopefully) matured, differences freak me out less, and my desire is to learn from my father—even if I don’t ultimately agree. Practicing that with my father and trying to honor him even in our differences has made me more confident as a woman and as an adult. Not shying away from conversations that could get heated and learning how to listen and respond without trying to change that person will continue to help me in all other relationships. No one, no matter how much you love that person and even hold to the same core beliefs, will think and act exactly like you. It’s worth it to stay engaged, even if you’ve hurt each other in the past.
EMERSON: What shut both of us down in these exchanges most often wasn’t the topic at hand but when Joy appeared disrespectful to me and I came across in a way that was not empathetic and understanding of what Joy felt and thought. Many times this kind of relationship breaks down because a daughter reacts in ways that feel disrespectful to her dad but she isn’t intending this, and Dad appears unloving but doesn’t intend to be. We’ve seen the actual benefit of staying engaged and “assuming goodwill.” (This is an idea we discuss in detail in The Illumination Project and has been a game changer for many marriages—and relationships in general.)
What advice would you give to a single woman who doesn’t have a father figure to help her through this process?
EMERSON: I recommend looking for a godly, wise man and his wife, perhaps a couple who lost a daughter. One of the greatest ways a lady can honor an older gentleman and his wife is to seek their wisdom. Most will say, “Oh, we have little that we can tell you.” But don’t let that modesty stop you from seeking their insights. Few things will bring such joy to this couple than to know they contributed to your pursuit of wisdom. Of course, be discerning here. If the couple is the type who resorts to platitudes—like “Just pray for a husband” or “Don’t worry, you are very attractive and some man will snatch you up!” or “God’s just not done refining you yet”—then consider politely smiling and finding another couple.
JOY: Exactly. Though people and their platitudes are well intentioned, you want to meet with a couple who empathizes with loneliness, uncertainties about the future, pain from rejection, and the oh-so-small-kiddie-pool of available men.
Emerson, what do you most want Millennials or Gen Xers to understand about singleness, dating, or marriage?
EMERSON: The University of Washington identified love and respect as the two key ingredients for successful relationships. Interestingly, the Bible said that same thing about 2,000 years ago in Ephesians 5:33. No matter the generation, when a man and woman understand what love and respect looks like and they learn how to control their unloving and disrespectful reactions, the relationship will succeed. Put it this way, the killer to all relationships is the feeling that “my spouse has hostility and contempt for me as a human being.” While there are many outside circumstances that could put stress on a marriage, like illness, aging parents, or even the death of a child, intentionally shaping your marriage around the principles of love and respect could save it from collapsing. Ultimately, it is the absence of love and respect that will destroy marriage, not outside circumstances or tragedies. Interestingly enough, the University of Washington’s findings supported this idea as well.
Every generation needs to approach relationships (romantic or otherwise) asking this question: Do I have what it takes to be a loving and respectful person no matter what?
Joy, what do you most value about what your dad has passed on to you about marriage, singleness, or dating?
JOY: I love the principle from his Love and Respect book of taking notice when someone else’s spirit deflates. We usually are very aware of how we are feeling, but we are less aware of the signals from others. Some people are less overt, but it has been important for me to notice when another person goes quiet or even overreacts, leaving me wanting to yell, “Where did that come from?!” I could have been joking or even said something I thought was harmless, but the more I pay attention to people’s reactions, the better I can gauge what hurts or “deflates” them. Then I can clarify and ask what I can change about the way I communicated or treated them.
Even if I still conclude that their reaction is unfounded or they misinterpreted me, I’ve learned that it never hurts (unless you’re in harm’s way) to err on the side of humility and apologize for what seemed to deflate the other person. In relationships with men, it’s been helpful to practice saying things like, “Did I just come across in a way that felt disrespectful to you?”
EMERSON: Also, men often don’t feel comfortable saying, “That felt disrespectful” since their wives might counter, “Well, I don’t feel any respect for you right now.” That, of course, causes the male to pull back and close off. However, when a woman asks the question, “Did that sound disrespectful to you?” the man will often open his heart. This question empowers a woman. We invite every woman to try this and watch what happens. The same holds true for the man. Every woman relaxes when the man asks, “Did I just come across in a way that feels unloving? If so, I am sorry, will you forgive me?” Every woman deeply appreciates that question.
Whether or not we feel comfortable with this language, I can tell you after studying this for 15 years, it works. It just works.