For the special "Love Day" that we just celebrated,
I wanted to share a great book and interview to help with your marriage,
whether great or on the rocks.
I recently caught up with author Daniel Tocchini, author of US: A User's Guide. I was captured by the spill on the back cover:
Daniel Tocchini doesn’t want to improve your marriage. He wants to transform it. Or, rather, to show how some simple changes in your marital conversation—the way you talk to yourself and each other—can open your relationship up to God’s transforming power.
Drawing on his personal experience and stories of couples he has coached, Tocchini offers a wealth of practical guidance to help you learn to live your marriage “in the light”—talking honestly, listening generously, confronting tricky issues, tuning in to each other’s needs and yearnings, and breaking free of the self-centered “consumer thinking” that infects us all. Innovative, insightful, and thoroughly biblical, Tocchini’s approach has helped thousands in his popular seminars. Whether your marriage is in deep trouble or just coasting along, you’ll be amazed at what happens when you finally read the User's Guide that God intended.
What couple doesn't have those 'tricky issues' to deal with? What couple doesn't wish that the preacher handed them a "Marriage Manuel" when they said their "I Do"s. I know I wish I would have been given one instead of the hideous bookends I received!
I wanted to pick Daniel's brain.... here's our conversation!
To start, I always have our authors tell us something about yourself that most of us wouldn't know. It's just a fun way to get to know you!
As a kid I was very big, 5 foot 5 inches in first grade. I used to get beat up quite a bit from upper class men as far up as the 6th grade, until one day I refused to take it any longer. I still got beat up, just not as much and before long my nickname was Duke. My wife met one of my grammar school friends at a class reunion and he called me Duke. She dragged the story out of me and has called me Duke since. My sister adds insult to injury by calling me the same name and now my nieces and nephews call me “uncle Duke.”
How long have you been counseling couples?
I don’t consider myself a “counselor” in the sense of a therapist. I am a coach and I have been coaching couples for about 20 years. The difference between a coach and a therapist are quite distinct. I don’t take a “therapeutic” approach to resolving issues that arise, no diagnosing in terms of psychological conditions and dynamics. Nor do I place the emphasis that I have notice many therapists put on past experience. I focus on the future a couple desires and how they are relating to their current reality in relationship to what they say is a future worth having. Should the past arise, as it always does, we work with it from the perspective of how they are relating to it in relationship to the future they say matters to them.
How did you get started into this ministry?
My marriage was a mess and we had a very difficult time finding counseling that made a difference for us.
Aileen and I have been together for 35 years. The first 10 years of our lives together were about as dysfunctional as it could get. I led a double life. I was a drug dealer and owned a business in Aileen’s home town where I met her.
As you can imagine the first 10 years of our lives together were extremely difficult as my double life came into the light.
As God graciously reconciled our lives together we learned things that we kept saying, “why doesn’t somebody talk about this with couples?” We began to reach out and speak into some of our close friends lives and it had a powerful impact on them. Eventually our friends were referring their friends to us and we would supplement out income by coaching couples and inviting them into conversations we realized weren’t being had in most counseling situations. We developed a number of approaches that were designed to discover who people were, what they aspired to, what they feared and most of all how they related to themselves and those around them. We invited them to consider that neither they nor their spouse had to change nor did they have to fix their problems or get their lives to fit some religious preconception of how they thought they individually should look or how they should look together.
In 1992 we founded a personal ministry we called Mashiyach Ministries, which later became The Association For Christian Character Development. I had developed a training that was focused on spiritual formation or transformation. I wanted to provide a spiritual gymnasium where people could go and work with the difference between being able to recite a doctrine about a spiritual principle like forgiveness and how they actually lived it out in their lives. After all, this seemed to be my greatest struggle and when I talked to my friends I noticed it was a challenge for them as well. The scriptures that God had given me in the process of recovering Aileen and my life together was Isaiah 61 and Lamentations 3:40. The gym was to be a place where people could examine their ways and return to the Lord.
The ministry took off faster than we ever imagined and we developed a marriage gymnasium as well and since then our work took off.
Was it something you'd say you saw yourself doing?
No, I had no idea this was going to be my calling. Remember, I was a drug dealer and somewhat of a gangster living a lie with my wife when we first met. I saw myself as a fraud and in no way did I ever think I had anything that would benefit another person, especially a marriage. After all as a young man my marriage was a disaster.
Even now when I meet some of my old cronies, they ask what I am up to. When I tell them I am a minister or chaplain and that I have a ministry they immediately ask me in a hushed voice, “Ok, what is the racket?” They can’t believe that this is what I ended up doing.
I always walk away from those conversations with such gratitude because to me it is a testimony of God’s power to transform (make new).
What made you want to write a book?
If you want to get depressed sit down and talk to a couple that is about to get divorced; their conversation is full of defeat, they claim to have never loved each other and they are certain that the other person is the reason for why their lives are in misery. After all, they have not been fulfilled or “completed” in the way they had anticipated. In fact, they are most often deeply disappointed at what they have gotten out of the marriage up until that point and the only possibility they can see is divorce. Further more if you attempt to open any possibility with them their cynicism about each other, their lives together will arise and they will let you know in so many words that you just don’t understand, they have history to prove their judgments of each other, themselves and their union.
I can so relate to this condition from my own experience. And it was at this point that our marriage began to transform. In fact, I believe it is part of the marriage process or gravity of marriage, if you will, on the journey of being transformed into US.
We do something funny when we get into this kind of despair. We look for answers. I don’t believe answers are what we need when we get stuck like this. I believe we need a new way of relating. Looking for answers is just an example of the way of relating to each other that got us into the situation in the first place. It is more of the same. e. g. we wanted somebody in our lives to make us feel good about ourselves, or to make us feel the love we felt we never received from our parents, or to support us in our life’s work, or to make us look good in a social situations or they give us a sense of being accepted or so many other answers we want form them to fill our personal voids. Looking for answers is what consumers do. We want to answer our needs and in doing so we transform our spouses and significant others into objects to meet those needs. When they don’t we get offended, angry, indignant and entitled to what we believe we deserve and what we believe the other person signed on to.
So, what does it take to navigate those difficult passages when they arise? What way of relating opens possibility when we just don’t see any?
I wrote Us to open up ways of relating to one another that the consumer mindset doesn’t automatically see or is even concerned with because it is so preoccupied with gratifying its appetite for entitlements.
Can we expect any other great marriage resources from you any time soon?
Yes, we are discussing some different options with people who have done our programs. One of them would be a DVD series on generous listening as well as a small group curriculum.
You have an awesome ministry, tell us about it.
I mentioned it in the answer to how I got started in this ministry. The Association For Christian Character Development is a non-profit organization dedicated to designing and delivering transformational interactions that dramatically affect the quality and character of individuals, organizations and communities. You can go to our website at www.accd.org
We will soon have a number of video testimonies from graduates of our programs on the site so people can have a first hand experience of the difference our trainings can make in their lives. Ninety-five percent of the people who graduate from our programs say it ranks with the top three experiences of their lives. We offer four programs to the general public, The Discovery Seminar, Breakthrough Training, US – Living In One Accord Marriage Workshop and The Transformational Relationship Coaches Academy. We have had the privilege to serve close to 30,000 people through our public training interactions.
We also develop curriculum for other organizations and communities:
We have impacted youth at risk through Straight Ahead Ministries. Our work there has been part of their effort to reduce the recidivism rate in America. That is the rate kids return to prison once they have originally been incarcerated. In America, 85% of youth who are incarcerated end up returning to the system. It is a tragic situation. Dr. Larson of Straight Ahead Ministries incorporated the Ready4Life training we designed for the organization and the initiative has reduced the recidivism rate in their programs to average of 14%.
Global Life Works www.globallifeworks.org/ Global Lifeworks strives to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in our local communities through education and partnerships that focus on health and well being for HIV positive individuals and their communities. On their page under the Seminar tab you can find a Clinical Trial about the unprecedented impact our work has had on adherence rates and quality of life for those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
Now, a little about your book:
You claim that regardless of our efforts to change each other, we will never be able to successfully improve our marriages. What hope is there, then, for transforming a marriage?
There are a couple of things I am getting at. The first is that all we can do as people on our own power is improve what we have. We add a little here and there, we get better at what we already have as well as make it a bit different than before. That is all we can do under our own power.
But, that isn’t what Scripture says God is doing. Throughout the New Testament the transforms, He makes “all things new” as in 2 Corinthians 5:15. New meaning, that it isn’t a more, better or different version of what we already have, it is “new”, without distinct from the past. I honestly believe that God’s version for our marriage is beyond what we can imagine; it is the kind of new that surprises and completely transforms the character and quality of our lives together!
And the hope we have is truly in Him and finding him in the process of navigating the conversations and circumstances we cannot control. Our hope lives in giving up trying to control our spouses, submitting to them the way we want them to submit to us and in getting ourselves vulnerable to God. Which means we will become intimate with those areas we don’t trust God to deliver. Our hope is in those tender and even broken places because it is in those places we rely on “Christ in ‘us’ the hope of glory.”
Statistics show that Christian marriages fail as much (or more) than non-Christian marriages. Why are marriages in so much trouble, and how can we help prevent bad marriages before they even begin?
I believe marriages are in trouble because of how we relate to life in general. Our culture is steeped in consumerism. Being born in the Western World I believe we have a natural expectation that life should turn out on our terms and if it doesn’t we think that there must be something wrong with us, something wrong with others or something wrong with life.
Consumeristic assumptions dramatically affect the character of our relationships! When we find ourselves in a difficult situation that is painful or threatening we either hide, blame or attack God and others in order to make ourselves right about who we are, what we have done or not done and to protect what we truly believe we deserve. Remember in the consumer mind the customer is always right! So, if we have to always be right, then what need for God or others is there except to use them to please us or justify ourselves?
Because of this we are great at planning weddings and horrible at preparing people for marriage. Consumers love a good party and the romantic sensations that come with a wedding. Consumers want to be “happy” but I believe we are profoundly out of touch with the spiritual disciplines required to open our lives to God’s presence, which is the only way for us to experience true joy. What God requires of us conflicts with a consumer agenda.
How can we prevent bad marriages? The key is not to go into a relationship trying to prevent anything, but to have a healthy relationship because all relationships, marriage and otherwise have the elements present to be a healthy or an unhealthy. The question is which one will we nurture? Without developing a keen awareness as to how our culture influences us in our own unique way, we will be held hostage as well as deeply frustrated by the consumer that lives inside our unconsciousness.
I believe the best way to prevent a bad marriage is to practice healthy habits of relating to others whether they are somebody we are courting or not. One of the key character traits of individuals in a healthy relationship is humility. Humility expresses itself as speaking the truth in love or another way to say it is to engaging candid conversations that strengthen us. By candid conversations I mean:
- That no conversation is too risky.
- While you are talking you are noticing the impact of your words on the person to whom you are speaking.
- As much as possible have your conversation based on facts.
- Because “facts” can mean so many different things to people humility explores the differing views of the facts to learn what may be missing in their own thinking as well as to learn how the other people in the conversations are viewing the same facts.
Finally, to assist you in taking such a stance, the next time your spouse or for that matter anybody you are talking to brings something up that causes you to want to defend, attack or hide use one of these two phrases:
- Tell me more
- You may be right
And notice the impact on the relationship.
Why is it important for spouses to come up with a vision statement for their marriage?
A vision statement provides a context for the relationship. Kind of what we want to be when we grow up together.
Aileen and I have a real simple one. We are dedicated to our love being new regardless of our age. So, when we are 75 years old (God willing) our love will be as new as it was when we first fell in love and that our grandchildren will experience what is possible for them and their children through us.
Explain why it is so important for couple talk, I mean really talk; about the past and current issues in the relationship, about the difficult things then face as individuals and as couples, about the 'broken places' in their marriage. We are taught that if we avoid it, it will just go away and be fine. What's your take?
I believe we meet God in the extremities of life and there is nothing relationally as extreme as marriage. In marriage we encounter the broken places of our lives. Those places where we feel most vulnerable because of past abuse, disappointment, abandonment or loss that only God can heal and redeem. They come up in the context of our marriage relationship and when they do they are either a threat or a possibility for deepening relationship with God and my spouse. We either trust Him there or we don’t in these times.
There is no middle ground when those things arise. If we trust Him those things come to the light regardless of how they make us look, feel or think and God uses them to draw us closer to him and one another if we allow Him the space to work. But, if we don’t trust God and we attempt to protect ourselves by hiding these broken places or by attacking others or blame God, life, our spouse and anybody else we will find ourselves in a rut that seems impossible to break out of and sooner or later it becomes a source of deep despair.
But, what if the broken places remain are gateways to the kingdom life?
Marriage is the incubation ground for the kingdom and the more we allow ourselves to enter into the broken places and depend on God the greater our faith will grow in his ability to reconcile and redeem what we have failed at and do not have the power to accomplish. I believe God uses marriage in this way to develop the character of the people who constitute the family.
Family is where we learn to make and keep promises, to acknowledge when we haven’t lived up to our word and to ask for forgiveness. Family is where we are first loved and first betrayed and where we first love and first betray those we love. It is where we learn how to trust God or not and where we begin to develop our character as citizens of the kingdom.
When a human being learns to trust in God then no conversation is too risky and they can embrace the ministry of reconciliation. They will be able to stand in chaos where God can use them to bring order and release beauty!
If you could give one piece of advice to every couple on this day of love, what would it be?
Demand less from your spouse and you will discover infinitely more of God.
Thanks so much for taking time with us today Daniel, one last question before you go. It's Valentine's Day, any special plans or traditions?
Our tradition for Valentines day is that we usually do a marriage workshop, but this year we have planned a couple of them in the Spring instead, so it will be nice to spend it alone. We have been talking about going to our favorite place to eat, Graziano’s Italian food in Petaluma. The rest will be quite spontaneous!!
I received a copy of US to review....MY REVIEW TO COME SOON!
*This book was provided by B&B Media free of charge in exchange for my honest review. This did not sway my review and opinion of this book in anyway.