Q&A: Christian marriage ‘edu-tainer’ on vulnerability and intimacy

Contributed Photo / Jay and Laura Laffoon give comedic, Christian-inflected presentations on love and marriage.
Contributed Photo / Jay and Laura Laffoon give comedic, Christian-inflected presentations on love and marriage.

Through their Christianity-inflected comedic marriage ministry, Jay and Laura Laffoon seek to help couples work through everyday conflict zones like money, intimacy and family life.

The Seventh-day Adventist Collegedale Community Church was going to host the couple's Ultimate Date Night edu-tainment event a few days ago, but according to Pastor Greg Hudson, the Laffoons had to cancel for health reasons.

Before the cancellation, Jay Laffoon -- with an under-the-weather Laura Laffoon nearby -- spoke with the Chattanooga Times Free Press by phone from Michigan about intimacy, vulnerability and what it's like to have your marriage be part of a performance.

Q: Over the trajectory of your marriage, what's a specific challenge that persisted for a while?

A: Money was a big one for us. I grew up very understanding how to manage money, and Laura did not. That's not necessarily her fault. It's just her family was a little different when it came to things like budget.

And so we had a lot of conflict in our marriage early on over, "How much are we gonna spend at Walmart? And do we really need all that stuff at Walmart?"

When it comes to charitable giving, I have some very strong feelings about what we need to do. And she was like, "You're kidding, that's a lot of money that we're giving away."

And I'm like, "Well, it will come back to us. I promise you." And it's been fun, because she's learned. She handles our family finances now. A real growth in our marriage is a) for me to trust her to handle the family finances, and b) for her to take that responsibility.

Q: What about intimacy? What's an example of something that you guys have had to figure out?

A: Expectations. That's the big word when it comes to intimacy. I thought when I got married, we would be intimate all the time, it would be just one great big party. And Laura came from Atlanta -- very prim and proper household, very southern household.

We had to do a lot of communicating about what our expectations were in the intimacy department -- because when those expectations go unmet, or unresolved, it can lead to hurt and resentment.

One of our sayings is, "If you can't communicate in the bedroom, you're going to have trouble communicating in every other room of the house." So you've got to be able to talk about those things, even though for most people it's a little uncomfortable.

Q: What's a way that you feel like just society -- maybe schools -- could do a better job, preparing people to have those conversations? When I think back about sex education in fifth grade or whatever, it was just like, anatomy.

A: I think the school should be a great support to the mom and dad. Those conversations need to come from mom and dad first. That's difficult because kids are gonna be like, "Mom, oh my gosh, no way."

Every fifth grader is curious about, "How does this all work?" And it was designed to work very wonderfully. But it goes so far beyond the anatomy, into that connection. Helping kids understand that this is a connecting point, on a deeper level, on a mental level, an emotional level, on a spiritual level -- there is a real connection when intimacy is agreed upon and appropriate between a husband and a wife.

Q: As a reporter, there's a sense in which there's always the potential of using real life in my work. Do you struggle with that? It's like, "Oh, we're having this fight." And it's like, "Well, we can use this."

A: We just had a thing the other day. I was wooing her, and she says "Get away from me. I don't want to get sweaty in my pajamas." I'm like, OK, that's kind of funny. And we can develop that.

Sometimes it's an immediate, "Hey, Alexa, add this to illustrations," or, "Hey, write this down." And we'll have little notebooks around the house.

It all goes through the editing process, and most of it doesn't make muster, but you find that piece of gold every once in a while.

Q: Looking back, do you think the religious institutions that you grew up in could have better prepared you for the challenges of forming a deep, meaningful relationship with someone?

A: Oh, my goodness, yes. The church, in part, is there to support marriage and family. And when you talk about marriage and family in the church, it can get very dicey very quickly.

What about the widows? What about single people? What about divorced people? What about same-sex marriages in the church? We care deeply about all of those people. How do we address it and make it real instead of running away from it?

Not all churches run away from it, that's for sure. But it's really a touchy situation. The church is basically: "Sex is bad. Sex is bad. Sex is bad. Oh, now you're married. Sex is good."

How do you flip that switch?

Q: Let's say I'm like a pastor and I want to de-stigmatize talks about sex or open up space for that kind of discussion. What recommendation do you have?

A: Maybe a few Sundays before, say, "You know what, on this Sunday, we're going to have a PG-13 discussion about marriage and family. And if you're not comfortable with your kids hearing some of this, we understand. But it's important, and we're going to address it."

Q: No one's perfect. How do you navigate that disconnect between this cultural narrative of "the one," and the reality I'm assuming you face in your marriage?

A: I mean, that's literally, the narrative out there -- that I'm looking for the woman of my dreams. Well, that woman doesn't exist. But what Laura and I have believed is -- as a man, I am trying to be as much like Christ as I can. Now I fail terribly. If I'm trying to be like Christ, I am everything Laura needs, and if she's trying to be like Christ, she's everything I need.

Again, we fail miserably at this. But that's our goal -- not to look for the spouse of our dreams, but to attempt to be the spouse of someone else's dreams.

Q: What is a specific way you're trying to be more like Christ?

A: I'm the son of a minister who was in the military. Wrap your head around that. I can really bark loud and quickly. One of the things I've worked on constantly in our marriage is my tone of voice. And even more so now, as we've got grandkids, and we're empty-nesters, I really am working on talking to Laura as I would like to be talked to. It's classic Golden Rule stuff.

Q: Going back to something you said earlier: Maybe there's a subject you were reluctant to bring up, and finally, you just say it. What changes? What happens between you and your wife in those moments?

A: One of the biggest things in marriage is to build trust. When you're approaching a subject that you know is going to be difficult, you're now entering into some very big trust issues. And trust is not built overnight.

Trust is like taking a sheet of paper and placing it on a pile. And the next day, you take another sheet of paper, and you place it on that pile. And maybe some days, when you're talking about something vulnerable, or you're broaching a subject that's going to be difficult -- that day, you're putting three sheets of paper on that pile.

Now, you're not going to notice it growing overnight. But a year from now you're gonna have a stack of paper that's noticeable. That's what these conversations do. It builds that trust.

Contact Andrew Schwartz at aschwartz@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.

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