Dr. Kevin Leman: We tend to marry outside of our birth order, and that’s a good thing because, simply, marrying outside of your birth order increases the probability of success in marriage.
End of Preview
John Fuller: You’re going to hear more from Dr. Kevin Leman today on Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: Every time Dr. Leman’s with us, I mean, he knocks it out of the park. Yeah, his sense of humor, his stories, his practical applications, uh, all make for a great conversation. He’s known as the birth order guy, and he has some strong insights on how the order in which you were born affects your personality. His groundbreaking book, The Birth Order Book, uh, really helps you better understand yourself and how birth order plays a role in who you are. Today, we’re coming back to a program with Dr. Kevin Leman about improving your marriage relationship by knowing more about your birth order and your spouse’s birth order. Uh, this was really fun and eye-opening.
John: It was and, on previous programs, as we’ve talked with Dr. Leman about birth order and how it influences us as individuals and as parents, this was the first time we talked with him, though, about how that birth order affects the marriage relationship. And Dr. Leman is an internationally known psychologist, radio and television personality, educator, speaker. Uh, he’s written over 50 books on parenting, marriage, and family living, and we’re going to pick up the conversation as he describes how he developed an interest in this concept of the birth order.
Dr. Leman: Well, I was sitting in a college classroom and, uh, I studied … I’m an Adlerian psychologist, not that I expect anybody to even know who Alfred Adler was, but he was, uh, he was a friend and a colleague of a guy named Sigmund Freud in Vienna, and, in public debate, they found out they were very, very different people. Uh, for example, Freud would say you smoke cigarettes today because you were fixated, at the oral stage of development, on your mother’s breast. Alfred Adler would say you smoke ’cause you’re stupid (laughing).
John: A little straighter.
Dr. Leman: I liked him right off the bat (laughing). But I was sitting in a college classroom and my professor, uh, was talking about the first-born child and he described the first-born as organized, doesn’t like surprises, reliable, conscientious, a list-maker, an achiever, there’s a right way to do things. I said, “Oh, my goodness, he just described my sister.” And then he went to the middle child, opposite from the first-born, yeah, check, uh, hard to pin down, plays off of what’s ever above in the family, a mediator, a negotiator, huge with loyalty and friendships, and I thought, “Oh, my goodness, he just described my brother.” And yet my brother was an A-student like my older sister, okay, so he was the first-born male, let me point that out, as well as the middle child, okay?
Jim: So both attributes.
Dr. Leman: Yes. And then he went to the baby, and that was the clincher for me, (laughing) attention getting, uh, fun-loving, never met a stranger, could sell dead rats for a living (laughing). Well, listen, one of my claims to fame is I talked my way into Disney World.
Jim: That’s pretty good (laughing).
Dr. Leman: Now check this out, not one ticket, not two, but nine.
Jim: Don’t tell Disney World.
Dr. Leman: I, I won’t. I, let’s keep this a secret, but I’ll tell you-
Jim: Okay, have you ever paid them back for that (laughing)?
John: A lot of publicity right there in the making. (laughing)
Dr. Leman: Well, really, I mean, uh, babies have the skill to sell dead rats for a living (laughing). In the business world, your CEOs or your presidents, your accountants, your engineers, are your first-born children. Anything where technology pays off huge, you’re most likely to find the first-born. Your entrepreneurs in the business world, Donald Trump, Steve Forbes, Bill Gates Jr., I mean, I know he’s a college dropout, but the guy did pretty good, he’s a middle child. So middle children tend to roll differently than the rest of the flock. Babies, charming, could sell dead rats for a living, like I said, uh, got away with murder, most likely to retain their pet’s name. Her name might be Mary Lou, but the, everybody still calls her Buffy, you know. Uh, so it’s interesting to me how all these cubs come out of the same den and yet they’re all unique. Now, today, we’re having smaller families, so we have a lot of only children, who are step-cousins, so to speak, to the first-borns. They’re everything we said the first-borns are, only put the word super in front of it, super conscientious, super reliable, super … you know. They’re little adults by age seven. And so a lot of families, like we, we have five kids, but we’ve got an only child in that five. Well, how do you do that? Well, there’s variables that affect birth order.
Dr. Leman: Big age gaps, for example, set that up.
Jim: Right. Let me ask you this question, that, that 80/20 rule, do you find that, um … because some people say, “Well, that’s not me. I’m first-born, but I act like a last-born.” Is, does that happen and how frequent is that?
Dr. Leman: It happens all the time, and the variables of birth order, you really have to understand the variables, or you won’t grasp what we’re talking about today. The variables are sex, number one. You have five kids in the family. One of them is a male. There’s something special about one child in the family, so that kid could be in the second, third, fourth, or even fifth position, it still will have first-born-like qualities.
Jim: Because of his, his or her gender?
Dr. Leman: Because of their gender, okay. Then you have age gaps. A five-year age gap between same sex kids, you would draw another line in the family, so that’s where it splits off, okay?
Jim: Well, let, let me ask you about that. So there’s five kids in my family. I’m the fifth born, the last born-
Dr. Leman: Uh-huh.
Jim: … but I’m six years from my closest sister.
Dr. Leman: Right.
Jim: They’re all one year apart-
Dr. Leman: Yeah.
Jim: … so what category would that be?
Dr. Leman: You’re a first-born son. Are you the president of Focus on the Family (laughing) or, or did I not hear John Fuller right (laughing)? Are you the boss?
Jim: Okay, yeah.
Dr. Leman: Are you the boss?
Jim: Uh, well-
Dr. Leman: Bo-, are you the boss? Answer the question. You’re on.
Jim: … I’ve got the title; I’ve got the title (laughing). I don’t know.
Dr. Leman: Do you see what I’m saying?
Jim: Actually, Jean’s, Jean’s the boss.
Dr. Leman: But do you see what I’m saying?
Dr. Leman: The gap sets those things up. Our youngest, little Lauren is very creative, uh, and very detailed oriented and she’s the baby of the family, but she’s a functional only child.
Dr. Leman: So, again, only children do logarithms in their head at age seven. I mean, they’re advanced from the rest of us.
Jim: But I would think, uh, especially, you know, in my case, I would say I, I’m average in those kind of discipline categories, but I’m more extroverted, I like, uh, people.
Dr. Leman: But that’s the influence of those sisters above you.
Dr. Leman: We’re always affected by what’s above us in the family, not what’s beneath us.
Jim: Well, let me say publicly, thank you, Kim and Dee, for that influence (laughing).
Dr. Leman: Well, and here, here’s the other thing, twins-
Dr. Leman: … twins break up the birth order. If you want to pray for a kid, a special prayer, pray for the kid that follows the twins
Dr. Leman: because the twins, whether they’re fraternal or identical, get an awful lot of attention, so people who say … I, I get letters from people, “Oh, this is non-Biblical.” I say, “Well, yeah, okay, mm-hmm, okay, Cain and Abel.” Uh, the original title on The Birth Order Book when it went to Revell publishers with rubber bands and cardboard was Abel Had It Coming (laughing) and the publisher said, “Kevin, you cannot have a title like that.” I said, “I like it. It’s got a nice family flavor (laughing). How about Jacob and Esau and a bowl of porridge?” I mean, there’s a lot of things where brothers or sisters are diametrically different personalities.
Jim: Well, that gives us, uh, kind of a good background. Let’s dial it up now. When those, uh, first-borns, middle-borns, and last-borns get older and now they’re going to marry somebody. Uh, we often talk about how opposites attract, I think in our marriage counseling here, um, similar to what you experience, Kevin, you see that that 80/20 rule usually applies. About 80% of us are attracted to people who are different from us. Talk about that magnetism and talk about how birth order plays into that attraction.
Dr. Leman: Well, let’s start with, if both of us were the same, there’d be little use for one of us, (laughing) okay?
Jim: Well, some opposites may have that thought (laughing).
Dr. Leman: But opposites do attract. I mean, as the baby of the family, I can tell you, I married Mrs. Upington. Now this is-
Jim: And where is she?
Dr. Leman: Mrs. Upington, of course, is my pet name for my first-born wife, who loves restaurants with four and five forks (laughing). There’s a right way to do things. She was color-coordinated at birth, I believe. But, you know, I can still remember, as a young husband-to-be standing at that aisle as she walked down the flower-strewn aisle, we spent $29 for flowers at our wedding, it was a big affair, and I remember looking at her little daisy she had, to this day, she hates daisies, but I didn’t realize that underneath that bouquet was a rule book, and first-borns tend to be the rule-makers.
Dr. Leman: First-borns are good at spotting flaws. That’s why they’re good engineers and good accountants. Astronauts in outer space, of the first 23, 21 first-borns, two only children, not a middle or a baby in sight. So here I am, baby of the family, now I knew nothing about birth order at that point, very, very little, but I didn’t realize that what happens in marriage is that, when two people marry, it’s not two, it’s at least six.
Jim: How do you get that math?
Dr. Leman: Because you marry your in-laws and you either reap the benefit of what happened in that family, or you pay for it. So it’s not only your bride or your groom’s birth order, but what kind of family did they come out of, was there a critical-eyed parent there? Now we talked about age gaps, gender, we didn’t mention physical handicaps or mental handicaps, but that’s part of the variables. But put a critical eye, and that means a person who can spot a flaw at 50 paces, in the marriage and you got trouble because they’re going to be a flaw-picker. That person isn’t going to feel like they’re loved. Women in particular, who thrive on affection, need to know that their husband has their back at every moment of their life, okay? And many of us, as men, who aren’t great wordsmiths, but we’re great critics, can take the spirit of a woman and just level it with just a word or a look. So-
Jim: That’s the majority of the relational component, isn’t it?
Dr. Leman: It is.
Jim: When you describe that, that’s most marriages.
Dr. Leman: I, I wrote a book called Smart Women Know When to Say No and I contrast the controlling male and the pleasing female. It’s a very neurotic relationship and, like a moth to a flame, these people find each other out. So there’s opposites that attract that aren’t good, healthy marriages because one person does all the controlling and the other is beaten over the head like a baby seal.
Jim: Let me ask you this, some people are listening thinking, “Okay, this sounds good. This sounds psychological and I get it. Where is God in this whole thing?” Why did He design us like this so there’s only so many emotions that we can feel, there’s only so many attributes that we have, there’s only so many positions in birth order that you can be? And he puts that all together and then you’re attracted to your spouse and yet, in most marriages, you have to learn to be selfless. Is it fair to say that, if you put Christ at the center of your relationship, He can, uh, smooth out some of those rough edges?
Dr. Leman: Well, that’s what you hear all over the Christian kingdom, just put Christ at the center of your life. The problem is, if you’ve married a woman who came out of a very dysfunctional family, who didn’t have a loving father, number one, she’s got all kinds of issues with God because she-
Jim: So it’s going to take a lot of sandpaper (laughs).
Dr. Leman: … she doesn’t even see God as the loving father. She sees Him as the critical-eyed person. She runs on guilt. Now I know I’m stepping on some toes when I say these words, believe me, but we tend to, in the kingdom of God, come up with these little platitudes and so, yes, you want to rely on God for all things. If anything is going to overcome this great dysfunction in a family, it’s the love of Jesus Christ in one’s life. What I’ve learned is it takes people sometimes decades to get to that point where they really understand that the sin, I’m going to commit next week, you know what, Jim and John, it’s already forgiven. See, Go-, Jesus came to this Earth to put an end to religion, to put an end to religion, not start a religion. You know, it’s all about a relationship. So, yeah, I mean, I can tell you, I don’t know how people make it without God in marriage, if that’s the question. I know people do, but I don’t know how they do it. Uh, because there’s times when you’re, you have this intimate union with this person where you want to either UPS them to a far-off land (laughs) or or kill them.
John: Well, here at Focus on the Family, we want to help you in your marriage. We want to help you thrive and, uh, Dr. Kevin Leman is our guest today on the program and, uh, if you’d like to find more, we do have details about his book, The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are, over at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And, uh, I encourage you to call us today, make a donation of any amount, and we’ll send the book to you as our way of saying thanks for standing with us and supporting this family outreach. Our phone is 800-232-6459, 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Uh, Kevin, let’s get practical. Let’s talk about those combinations and put some meat on the bones of what we’ve talked about. Talk about two first-borns who marry. Uh, is that typical? What percentage of the population would that represent?
Dr. Leman: Not typical.
Dr. Leman: We tend to, uh, now I’m speaking in generalities, we tend to marry outside of our birth order, and that’s a good thing because, simply, marrying outside of your birth order increases the probability of success in marriage.
Jim: So opposites attract really does apply?
Dr. Leman: Oh, they do, yeah. Now, when you have first-borns and first-borns together, they spend a lifetime, it seems like, should-ing on each other, (laughing) “You should do this. You should do that.” They’re the great improvers. Okay, they see something that’s out of place and they immediately go over and straighten it up.
Jim: So what are some tools that you would recommend that they could, uh, do it better?
Dr. Leman: Well, the division of labor is really important, “I’m going to take care of this, and you take care of that. Now we’ll report back and, and trade notes.” I always tell women at my seminars, “Where, where are the first-born women?” and I see all these hands go up. I say, “I got a great suggestion for you. Have a wallpaper party, and just invite your first-born girlfriends to help you wallpaper a room, and here’s my prediction, by 11:00 in the morning, you’ll have blood on the floor (laughing).” Why? Because you have all these people who know exactly who life ought to be. So you’re a first-born and you’re talking to your first-born wife, okay? Now, lots of times, you might just say, “All right, listen, this is what we’re going to do,” then go (laughing) … the hairs go up. I mean, the ears are back. “Hey, honey, um, I’d like to ask your opinion about something that I’ve really been struggling with.” Now the ears are open, the heart’s open, you’re on the right track. So, when you say put some meat on the bone here for us, those are the kinds of things you learn to say to your bride or to your groom.
Jim: Well, there are so many combinations, Kevin, and we can’t cover them all, but, uh, let’s go through a couple more.
Dr. Leman: Yes.
Jim: Let’s talk about first-born and middle-born.
Dr. Leman: Pretty good match. Why? Because middle children never had their way at anything. No one ever said to a middle child, “Honey, what do you think we should do?” They were submerged by the first-born, little Miss Bossy, little Miss Goody Two-Shoes, or Mr. Great Student in School, and little Schnooky, the baby of the family that got away with murder (laughing). So middle children are a little bit like going down to the blood bank and finding a universal donor ’cause they go with about everything.
Dr. Leman: A middle child is a good match for a baby. A middle child, uh, is a good match, a great match, for either an only or a first-born. They add balance in a very natural way. They never had Mom and Dad to themselves. They negotiated for everything they ever had in life (laughing). So-
Jim: And they’re comfortable with that.
Dr. Leman: … so that’s a good skill to bring into marriage, so hooray for the middle children.
Jim: They’re the ones that keep peace.
Dr. Leman: Right. They’re the peacemakers, they are.
Jim: Le- let’s talk about the other combo, the oldest and the youngest.
Dr. Leman: Well, that’s a naturally good, uh, combination. It really is. A first-born and baby, uh, an only born and baby are very good. I remember coming home from CBS television in New York and I said to Mrs. Upington, I said, uh, “Hey, you never said if you liked my spot or not,” and she said, “Oh, you were good.
Jim: That communicates a message (laughing).
Dr. Leman: Oh, yeah, that, that’s what you call a spit in your soup, by the way, “Oh, you were good.” So that just sets me up to say, “All right. What’s the problem?” And she’s, this is a quote, this is so embarrassing to say, (laughs) she says, “Did you have to blow your nose in your tie, really?”
Jim: Oh, my goodness (laughing).
Dr. Leman: She says, “People read your books. They look up to you. You’re a respected a psychologist and, there you are, blowing your nose in front of Harry Smith at CBS.” I said, “Well, honey,” and I explained to her, I said, “The floor director was giving us the wrap, okay? I know Harry did not see that signal, and so Harry went to ask a question, in fact, we were talking about birth order that day. He said, ‘Dr. Leman, we never got to your birth order. What’s your birth order?’ Well, the guy’s counting down with fingers, you know. I mean, we’ve got 10 seconds. So I took my tie and feigned that I was blowing my nose and that this communicate that, uh, a baby of the family would do anything for a cheap laugh.” Well, Mrs. Upington did not appreciate her husband’s humor, let’s just put it that way, but she straightened me up lots of times. But I would tell you, in reverse, that a Saturday night dinner at our house starts on Thursday and I’m the one that helps lighten her up with things because she takes things way too seriously, okay? And, uh, she needs me, to put it bluntly, and I think that’s the message with the first-born and the baby, that we really need each other ’cause the first-born can be too perfectionist. Remember, perfection is slow suicide.
Jim: Is it possible for, uh, a child that’s in the middle … I mean, Jean, last-born daughter, but, uh, she tends to have first-born attributes of a bit of perfectionism. Is that typical?
Dr. Leman: It can happen all the time. Once you get to a large families and, again, today, uh, a large family is a family of four, for Pete’s sake, but you have those families that are eight, nine, 10 kids, within the family, there’s at least three sub-families in all probability.
Jim: Just because of the age grouping?
Dr. Leman: Because of the age grouping or the sex or some, one of those attributes, and I think that’s what made The Birth Order Book sell well over a million copies because everybody’s got a birth order and everybody understands that all the cubs came out of the den, same den, and yet they’re very different.
Jim: Uh, so let’s also include some of those things … we talked about first-borns who marry and some, uh, things they can do intentionally to communicate better. Uh, talk the other birth combos. How does, uh, a last-born and a middle child, in a marriage, how do they communicate better?
Dr. Leman: Well, last-borns have to understand one thing, that they’re not the only person in the union, (laughing) and I’m here to tell you, that’s what us babies are good at (laughing). There’s times I’m ashamed of how I think, ashamed of how I act, ’cause it’s so easy, as a baby, to think about only yourself.
Jim: Center of the universe.
Dr. Leman: We practice what we call natural tithing in the Leman family, which means, if we see a need in someone’s life and we could help meet that need, we do that. That’s really good therapy for me, just to give things to people without anything coming back. And I think babies, in particular, have a harder time being a good husband or a good wife because they tend to be, by their nature, too self-centered, and you have to be other people centered. Middle children are great at other people-centered and that’s why, I mentioned earlier, middle children are tremendously loyal, they have friends outside of the family, which is key, outside of the family. Usually, if there’s a kid that’s ostracized in some way from the rest of the family, your best guess is it’s that middle child. So you learn to communicate, like a youngest to a middle, no one ever asked a middle child, “What do you think?”, so you always want to be making sure that you’re tapping into the feelings and ideas and concerns that your middle child spouse has. On the other hand, as a middle child, you have to understand this spouse needs a few, uh, fish thrown their way, like, uh, like you throw a few fish to a seal, “Arf, arf (laughing).” And us little babies need strokes.
Jim: Kevin, that is good advice. Let me, let me ask you this, so many, uh, young people are waiting to get married, um, so we have more 20-something singles and 30-something singles. Uh, they’ll hear this too. Thankfully, they’re listening to Focus on the Family and I’m grateful for that. How do they apply that? I would think a first-born applying what they’ve heard in, in the broadcast, uh, could take a real technical approach and begin, uh, their search for a spouse and that could be the topic of discussion-
Dr. Leman: Great question.
Jim: … “Where’s your birth order (laughs)?”
Dr. Leman: Listen, that is such a good question. For all of you who are looking for Mr. or Mrs. Right, listen to what this old man has to say. This one ought to get right to the heart of the matter. Does this person love God? If a person really loves God, if they really love God, they’re going to do what the Bible tells them to do and they’re going to be a good husband and good wife. You’re already on first base. Now does this person you’re marrying have a temper. Uh-oh, yellow flag big time. Now why would I pick on temper? Because temper equals control, and that’s why I say to all you parents who are listening, you got kids who, when they lose, they throw a temper tantrum and stuff, you better deal with that stuff right up straight right now, quickly. And so it really gets back to, uh, does he love God, does she love God, does this person have a temper, and what’s the relationship like between this woman you’re going to marry and her father? “Well, he was abusive.” Well, get ready for a long road, a tough road, in that marriage, okay?
Jim: But understand it. That’s a good thing.
Dr. Leman: You have to understand it, yes, but, uh, it’s like making a cake, Jim. In one of my books, I talk about Daddy attention deficit disorder, and it’s like making a cake. If you make a, I’m not much of a cake-maker, for sure, if you make a cake and you leave out one major ingredient, I got news for you, the cake is going to fall. It’s not going to be a good cake. Now, again, I’m stepping on a lot of toes here ’cause there’s a lot of women and men who have grown up in a home where the critical eye reigned and you were put down, you were discouraged, you weren’t encouraged, you were just hammered, and, in fact, in many cases, you were at least verbally abused, but sometimes physically abused. Think of the kind of husband you need to have. You want to pray for something? Pray for a husband that’s near superhuman because he’s got to come around and just love you. He’s a guy that needs not ever demand anything from you and just to accept you so that you have a chance at loving this husband that you’ve fallen in love with. And, when you reach for imperfection and understand how broken you are, and, “I need this man, I need this woman in my life,” that’s the point where you have the intimate connection to realize that this person loves you whether you have morning breath that could kill a cockroach at four and a half feet or whether you have a habit that drives you up the wa- … I mean, that’s what’s great about just being thoroughly married and thoroughly connected. But isn’t it nice to know that God loves you despite all of your frailties that you know that’s a part of your life? That’s what’s cool about marriage, I think, that this person loves me at an intimate level, and I can connect. And, and then there’s not the performance stress, I think, on the kids. We’re creating adults. You’re not rearing kids, you’re really rearing adults, and that’s why you give responsibility to kids. That’s why you don’t let them run over you. But you’re training that son or that daughter to be a good husband or a good wife.
Jim: Well, and that’s what’s so wonderful. We have to, especially again, I would say to the Christian community, we have to celebrate our differences and understand how to deal with the, uh, the noise and the, uh, the pain of being different. So, Dr. Kevin Leman, author of the book, The Birth Order Book, uh, we’re grateful to have you here. Thank you for being with us.
Dr. Leman: Oh, my pleasure. Thanks.
John: It’s always good to have Dr. Kevin Leman here at Focus on the Family and it’s really interesting to think about how your birth order in your family of origin can impact you as you interact, uh, as a couple.
Jim: It’s interesting and I know, with Jean and me, uh, she’s number five out of six kids, while I’m number five out of five, but she’s that last daughter. She’s more like the middle child negotiator-type, trying to be the peacemaker, and I think my spontaneity kind of drives her a little crazy (laughing). I learned early in our marriage that I can’t just say, “Hey, let’s go do this or do that,” because Jean needs time to plan it and that’s where the birth order lines up for Jean and me. Uh, you know, Focus on the Family cares about you and your marriage. We want your relationship with your spouse to be thriving along with your relationship with Christ.
John: Yeah. We have so many resources to help you in that. Uh, that’s one reason we created the Focus on the Family Marriage Assessment. It’s an online tool. It’s a quick little quiz you can take, uh, maybe five, six minutes long, and you’ll get immediate results, uh, to help you have some insights on how you’re succeeding in your relationship and maybe an area or two that needs a little bit of work.
Jim: I always love that, a little couple of areas to work on (laughs).
John: Yeah, always some improvement.
Jim: You know, another great place to start is to get a copy of The Birth Order Book by Dr. Kevin Leman. It’s packed with solid insight and wisdom like you heard today and, in fact, when you make a monthly pledge today, of any amount, we’ll send you a copy of The Birth Order Book as our way of saying thank you for helping us support families like your own. And, if you can’t commit to that monthly pledge, we get that, a one-time gift donation goes a long way too. So join our support team. Do ministry with Focus on the Family today.
John: Donate and get your copy of The Birth Order Book, uh, when you’re at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back as we, once more, help you and your family thrive in Christ.