By Briana Stewart, utahvalley360.com
Provo couple says strong marriages raise strong families
Although for the past year we’ve had Gary and Joy Lundberg on our list of story ideas to research, the Provo couple got brought to our magazine’s front burner when they were nominated for our Happy Couples Contest. And after spending an hour with them, there’s no question as to why they are considered a happy couple. They finish each other’s thoughts, banter playfully back and forth and laugh warmly at life’s unexpected twists and turns. But their happy marriage is no accident.
In the last several years, Joy and Gary have become family relationship experts. Gary is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and Joy, an experienced writer, helped him write their nationally published books “I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better,” “Married For Better, Not Worse” and “On Guard!” And the couple has no plans of slowing down.
Joy and Gary regularly sponsor marriage retreats, have produced multiple CDs and often travel throughout the country teaching their concepts. Their main emphasis is that happy marriages equal happy families, which means the couple has made a living of turning marriages into teams and houses into homes.
We recently chatted with the couple about their experiences and their “suggestions” for happier family relationships. Here’s a portion of our conversation.
UV: How did you become experts on marriage?
Gary: We got married.
Joy: (laughs) Yes we did.
Gary: And second of all, we stayed married. That’s a key factor.
Joy: Too many people get married and get divorced and somehow think they know how to counsel people about marriage. They need to know what it takes in the long run.
Gary: The staying married aspect is vital, or else they become experts on serial marriage.
Joy: But our experiences with our own family combined with his professional experience have taught us a lot. You can’t be married for a long time and not learn a lot. You also learn a lot when you have children. And you learn what to do when Plan A doesn’t work.
UV: Which is what?
Joy: Plan B.
Gary: Or plan C, D, or F.
Joy: We wanted a big family, but as it turns out I couldn’t have any children. So then you go to Plan B. We adopted five children. It’s wonderful how they grow up and create little duplicates of themselves.
UV: What made you decide to write your books?
Joy: We first started when people began inviting us to do firesides because of the music I did with Janice Kapp Perry. But then with Gary’s expertise they began to invite us to speak to the youth. We traveled all around the United States, and it just kind of grew from there. Gary developed a concept that was significantly helpful to us and his clients, and that’s how we began teaching.
Gary: But then people would say, “Is this written down?” So Joy said, “Gary, write the book!” I would sit down for a couple years and make a half-hearted effort at it because I was not a writer. But then Joy came and asked if it would be helpful if she wrote with me.
UV: How did you get involved in the marriage retreats?
Gary: A number of years ago we were contacted by a bishop in Plymouth, Idaho.
Joy: We had not done marriage retreats or cruises at that time, but he said, “Please come and help us.” And he hired us to do an overnight event at a resort.
Gary: Now don’t call that place a resort. It was not a resort.
Joy: It was a rustic resort. And it was very fun. It ended up being a real success in helping people.
Gary: The sleeping accommodations were more of a dorm room with futon bunk beds.
Joy: Which meant the couples had to be creative. It was very cute. And it brings you closer together.
Gary: In that group, there were some couples who were in various throes of divorce.
Joy: We knew about these couples going in, and we didn’t even have to ask who they were it was so obvious. But by the end they were holding hands. And up until the last time we checked, they are still together. From then on we started personally sponsoring marriage retreats, and we have done it for the past five years.
Gary: People come from all over the country. It’s been a very rewarding experience. We believe in a light, positive approach.
Joy: We have a lot of fun, and we help them fall in love all over again. Well, at least that’s our goal.
UV: What is the secret to a successful marriage?
Joy: Sticking to it, and keeping your mate at the top of your list. That’s a very important key – looking for the positive and downplaying the negative.
Gary: There are so many things that go on in life that divert you from putting time into your marriage. And when I’m dealing with couples having difficulties I ask them what they do for fun. Ninety-eight percent of the time I get back the answer of nothing.
Joy: How boring is that!
Gary: They do nothing to keep their marriage alive. Even just little things like making sure you use the words “please” and “thank you.” Those are the first two words that leave a marriage, and they’re very powerful.
UV: And how does that affect their relationship and families?
Joy: It’s a disaster. When people get married, children and work can sometimes push the spouse off the top of the list. But children are emotionally healthier if they see a mom and dad who love each other and go through life’s difficulties together. When children see that their parents are together, they feel very safe and secure. Even if parents have different opinions, they need to act together.
Gary: It has to do with the use of resources. If you spend a lot of your energy arguing or having a poor marriage, you’ll have little or no resources to give your children. But when you have a happy marriage, there is this sharing of energies that allows you to give more to your children.
Joy: It’s a synergy thing. Two people together are just more effective.
Gary: A sense of humor is important as well.
Joy: We really try to laugh as much as we can.
UV: Do you find yourselves using your philosophies on each other?
Gary: That’s where the philosophies came from. Take our principle of validation for example. We could say, “Oh there you are using that principle again.” But you just need to accept the kindness your mate gives you by validating you.
Joy: That’s right. Instead of saying, “Oh there you go again,” you say, “Thank you so much.” It becomes an unspoken thing.
UV: Do people frequently come to you both for advice?
Gary: You’re going to get me on one of my things here. Because if you think about it, how often do you get “advice” that you actually follow? Hardly ever!
UV: That’s probably true.
Gary: So instead we’ll give people suggestions and recognize their right to choose what they’re going to do. You can suggest something and there are no strings. But we do give a lot of suggestions.
Joy: People are smart. They can evaluate ideas and suggestions, but you give advice and it comes down harsh. We had a woman call us one day after reading our book who said she and her husband had been desperate to reach their son. She said her other four children were straight and narrow kids, and they had tried everything. But then she said they read our book and realized what they were doing. They started using the principles of validation, and she said, “I’m calling to tell you that you gave us our son back. He began to see what he was doing and how foolish it was.”
Gary: We get those all the time. People say it makes such a difference with their family and their kids. And that’s why we wrote “On Guard” – for parents and their kids. We realized we couldn’t go everywhere, so we thought, “Let’s put this thing in a book.” It’s practical but fun, and it helps kids see the principles in a practical way. And while we have a lot of fun in our firesides, it’s still a very serious message.
Joy: You can’t beat around the bush with kids, so we’re frank. But we’re appropriately frank. Kids will say, “Thank you for saying it as it is.” They appreciate it.
Gary: When we give a standards night, we invite parents to be there because we want them to know what their kids are saying. And then they can use it as a springboard for discussions with their children.
Joy: Kids are very smart, but they’re also easily led. So we come on as a second witness to the parents. Parents will often say, “I don’t know why they listen to you and not to us!” But the truth is our message wouldn’t be nearly as powerful if the parents weren’t already teaching it.
UV: Do you have any favorite memories from your experiences?
Gary: It’s fun to remember our life and how far we’ve come.
Joy: This is a very sweet time, as well. We enjoy our time alone, our work together and we absolutely adore our grandkids. It’s fun to be in love at this stage of the game and still be married.
Joy and Gary’s tips for finding the right time to teach your children
Sitting around the table with the family is an ideal time for exchanging ideas and views, not chastisement. This kind of family talk is as important to your family’s emotional survival as the food being eaten is to your physical survival.
Young children seem especially open to learning at this time. They will do almost anything to delay going to sleep. They are like little sponges as they lay there in the dark, listening and asking questions.
3. Family night
Setting aside one night a week to be with and teach your children in an uninterrupted setting can have a powerful and long-lasting affect. Parents and children need to guard this time, making no other appointments, when possible.
4. Learning excursions
Occasionally, taking a child or the whole family to a place or event with a specific purpose in mind can educate. The many kinds of excursions are limitless. All you need to do is examine your child’s needs and then boldly seek opportunities to take him or her to places that will teach without you saying a word.
Source: “I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better,” by Joy and Gary Lundberg.
In addition to writing books and sponsoring marriage retreats, Joy and Gary Lundberg have other noteworthy accomplishments. Joy has written nearly 200 songs with composer Janice Kapp Perry, and Gary is a talented singer.
But as with everything they do, much of Joy and Gary’s music has been influenced by their life experiences. Gary’s solo album “Heart to Heart,” for example, is based on the teachings he and Joy have shared in their lectures. And many of the songs have struck a familiar chord.
“One of our most popular songs on the album is ‘We Got Diff’rences,’ because we know all couples have differences.” Gary says. “People relate to it, and they elbow each other when they hear it.”
For Joy, one of the most touching musical projects is the recent adoption-inspired album, “Do You Have a Little Love to Share?” As the mother of five adopted children, the lyrics she wrote with Janice Kapp Perry played especially close to home.
“The song ‘How Do I Say Thank You?’ was a song that expresses not just my feelings but Gary’s,” Joy says. “We are so grateful to our children, and it was our way of saying thank you to them. It was amazing to look at the whole adoptive process through the eyes of living it.”