The Parrotts

Les Parrott and his wife, Leslie, are the founders of the Center for Healthy Relationships at Olivet Nazarene University near Chicago. Les is a professor of psychology at Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington, and Leslie is a marriage and family therapist. The Parrotts speak in more than 40 cities each year from churches to Fortune 500 companies. Their book, “Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts,” was a New York Times bestseller.

Can you share your No. 1 piece of marriage advice?

Les and Leslie bring in 35 years of marriage experience themselves and have counseled countless couples.

To say the least, Les has learned a lot about relationships over the years.

“I’d say one of the most important things I’ve learned is it’s difficult to exaggerate the value of mutual empathy,” he said. “It changes everything in the life of a couple. The more they understand each other, how God made them and become self-aware of that, it’s really the on-ramp for seeing the world through your spouse’s perspective. It’s putting yourself in their shoes.”

How can conflict be healthy for couples?

It’s not “if” a couple has conflict, but “how” they approach conflict.

“Most couples think, ‘If we’re really in love, we would never fight,’” Parrott said. “That’s just unrealistic. My favorite Scripture on conflict is Romans 12:18, which says, ‘If it’s possible, try to live at peace with one another.’ You can try to give it your best effort, but you’re going to have conflict. The goal is to have good fights that bring you closer together and steer clear of bad fights that tear you apart.”

However, Les said the initial cost of conflict pays long-term dividends.

“Conflict is the price we pay for deeper intimacy,” he added. “If you know how to fight a good fight, it can bring you closer. A bad fight is often when somebody feels like a winner and somebody feels like a loser.”

What is the process for healthy conflict?

The first step is understanding you and your partner’s fighting style:

1. Competitive: Wants to win, expressive, less flexible.

2. Collaborative: Expressive, more flexible, but can avoid the central issue.

3. Conciliatory: Peacemaker, avoids addressing problems, internal processer.

4. Cautious: Thoughtful, guarded, less expressive, but also less flexible.

These fight styles create spouses with high/low “expressiveness” and high/low “flexibility.”

One can be either high/low, high/high or low/low.

“The second step is how flexible are they when it comes to their own agendas,” Parrott said. “The agenda can be about anything, like which restaurant to go to or how you put dishes in the dishwasher.”

Finally, couples shouldn’t get angry with their partner for coming into the boxing ring as a different style fighter, but allow that to draw them nearer.

“When two people are fighting and have different tactics or strategies, it doesn’t matter if they’re the opposite or the same, the name of the game is empathy,” he said.

Talk about the significance of topics and timing.

Five hot topics occur in a typical marriage: money, sex, work, parenting and housework.

“Couples will have certain hot topics they’re prone to have more fights in,” Parrott said. “You need to identify those. For one couple, it might be in-laws, for another, chores around the house or money. Of course, we fight about all these things, but there are certain ones that will top your list. They can become marital scripts if you don’t find a solution to them.”

Conflict is about being cognizant not only of the topic, but also of its timing.

“Conflict is a little bit like a buried time bomb,” Parrott added. “You just never know when or what’s going to set it off. There’s no predictability in it, so we need to know it’s always a possibility even when things are going well. Anytime someone isn’t in a good space and needs to gather their thoughts, or they’re hungry or tired, I would wait. It’s always fair for someone to issue a timeout and give a deadline for when to come back together to talk.”

What is the “Better Love Assessment”?

“Leslie and I realized we could bring the same kind of technological magic to couples that are already matched or married,” he said. “It really looks at how God designed the two of you as individuals and the chemistry between you so you can leverage this information between you in improving conflict, communication and intimacy that comes with a Godly marriage.”

The 15-minute assessment is available at www.betterlove.com. After completion, couples receive a report giving a customized roadmap to lifelong love and a fun and practical action plan.