Latest project:Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy (9780785213185, $19.99, Nelson Books).
What was the yearlong journey that eventually produced Scary Close, and why did you embark on that journey?
About five years ago I hit rock bottom relationally. I had terrible dating patterns and had hurt a few girls. I knew something had to change, so I got help. Over the course of a couple of years, some guides helped me figure out some things about myself that were keeping me from connecting. As I gained my footing again, I started dating Betsy and put some of the things I discovered into practice, fearfully hoping I had changed.
Why do you say, “I’d spent a good bit of my life as an actor”?
Like many people, I felt like I played a role more than I truly allowed people to know me. I think that’s true for a lot of us, even church folk. When we enter into a tribe that values righteousness, we are suddenly tempted to act a little more righteous, perhaps, than we actually are. This creates a kind of duplicity of personality if we aren’t careful. And it’s not just religious communities. Half the Instagram feeds we follow are likely filled with carefully produced images to make the lives of our friends appear more fun or interesting than they actually are. This comes at a cost. When we pretend to be somebody we aren’t, we lose the ability to connect with others. Intimacy requires that we allow ourselves to be known, that we don’t play a role and act, but are truly ourselves.
You write, “What lies between a person and what that person wants is work.” What was the first step of your work to become emotionally healthy enough for true relationship?
I had to get help. I had to go to a therapy center [outside Nashville] called Onsite to help me figure out what I was doing wrong in relationships. I was completely unable to see it for myself.
What is one of the key things you did in the months that followed?
I started searching for the reasons I did things. I was attracted to women [who were controlling], for instance, and got some help to find out why. I was easily manipulated, so I researched manipulative people to find out what their tricks were. I started looking for the roots of my problems rather than just putting a Band-Aid over them.
At what point in this process did you meet your wife, Betsy?
Betsy and I met years before we started dating. She helped run a bed-and-breakfast in Washington, D.C., and I stayed there when I visited the White House for a task force. I liked her immediately, but she didn’t respond until years later when I got healthier. So after I got help and became a more compatible man, she took notice.
What is the central message of Scary Close?
That healthy, intimate relationships are conditional. We have to do the work and become the kind of people who can be good for others or it won’t work. And that every human being can get there with a little help. It’s what the whole human story is about: connecting. Intimacy. And the work and sacrifice required to have it.
This book is not a collection of how-to lists. How do you describe the approach you took in writing it?
I really follow a story structure in this book. Technically, in story terms, it’s a rags-to-riches story. A rags-to-riches story is usually about an immature kid becoming qualified to run a kingdom. Of course there are a million variations, but mine is: An immature kid in relationships figures things out and is able to get the girl and run the company and create the family. When I realized that was my story, I plugged the elements of my own story into that well-known structure as a way of helping the reader enjoy the book more.
What are a couple of the potential benefits to those who read Scary Close?
More forgiveness for themselves and more hope that we can all have intimacy.
How can the lessons you learned apply to relationships other than marriage?
I write in the book about parenting, running a team and so on. This book is about all relationships, not just marriage. The gist of it is we have to be willing to let people know who we are if we want to connect.
What is on creatingyourlifeplan.com? Are some of the lessons from Scary Close incorporated there?
There are three components to experiencing meaning in life, and one of them is definitely healthy relationships, so there are exercises in our life plan that help people build those relationships. Those exercises have already brought healing to thousands, including myself. So there’s some hope for us there.