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Loving Well is a terrific goal for marriage and you'll hear how to improve the relationship with your spouse on today's episode of Focus on the Family. Thanks for joining us. Your host is Focus President and author Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller. Dave and Ashley Willis have been in studio with us several times but they are also conference speakers with a ministry called XO Marriage and we're featuring one of their very lively presentations today and they have a lot to share so let's roll with it, John. All right, well here are Dave and Ashley Willis speaking at an XO Marriage Conference on Focus on the Family. We are honored to be here. We're going to talk to you today about really what we believe as we study the Bible, as we interview and have talked to a couple so much older and wiser than we are about three keys that are foundational for building a stronger marriage. But before we get there, I want to give you a little public service announcement and that's this.
It's something your spouse knows about you that you might not know about your self and it's that it's really hard to be married to you. That's right. Now this isn't all your fault, okay? This is our theory. A lot of this is your parents' fault.
If you were messed up before you got into the marriage, I'm going to do a quick survey, just a little interactive exercise to just kind of see where we are. How many of you, like us, we're both firstborns, how many of you were firstborns in your family? Yes. Put those hands up real quick, you know. Yes, a lot of strong and confident people, you know. Most presidents are firstborn. We raise those hands fast. But here's the thing we firstborns don't talk about for all our confidence. We are hard to love and it's because we're messed up. But it's not your fault. It's your parents' fault. When your parents brought you home from the hospital, they had no idea what they were doing. They had no idea.
It's amazing we even survived. And then this is what happens. They start having other kids and they feel like they need to make an example out of the firstborn, right?
To scare the other ones. So firstborns are hard to love. Yes. But then we come to who's the baby? Who's the baby in their family?
Yes. You're like, look at me. I'm the baby. I love attention.
I love attention. And you know, of course, babies in the family are even more messed up than the firstborn. Way more messed up.
You know this, right? And it makes you a little hard to love because, you know, your parents, by the time you came along, they were just so exhausted. And they just let you eat pizza for breakfast. They let you stay up way later than your siblings. I mean, they probably rocked you.
They rocked you like a crazy long time until you were like in high school. I mean, we do these weird things with the babies. And so it makes us a little bit hard to love, right?
Yeah, it does. You babies, we love you. Jesus loves you, but you're hard to love. Now, how many of you are a middle child? Yeah, a couple of you cheered, but most of you were like, no one's ever asked about me before.
Am I allowed to raise my hand? I never, mom and dad never noticed me, you know. And you guys are, of course, the most messed up. And it's not your fault. It's really not your fault at all. It's that your parents, they didn't even know you were there. You know, they spent so much energy on the firstborn and then they baby the baby, they might've had some kids in between.
They're not even sure. You know, you go to their house right now, there's not even a picture of you. And I'm so sorry. I mean, I'm so sorry that you had to endure that. I'm not even going to ask about you only children because you've raised your hands three times already.
You have. That's true. And so the truth is we all bring some baggage into the marriage. And honestly, birth order really has nothing to do with it. It's just a funny way of pointing out that all of us come to marriage with some things that make us difficult to love, some blind spots we have. And some of it is the result of our own quirk. Some of it's the result of our own sin, our own choices that we've made. And some of it's the result of things that have happened to us that are completely out of our control. And yet God tells us to love at all times. And people usually need love the most in those moments when they deserve it the least, don't they? And God gives his very best to us. He sent his son to us to die for us while we were still sinners.
He gave his best when we were at our worst. And then he says, and that's how I want you to love each other. So before we jump into these three keys, we want to give you one Bible verse. Because if you're like me, and sometimes you only remember one thing at a time, we want to give you that one thing right here at the beginning.
Because if you do this one thing, then I'm convinced instantly, you know, marriage will improve. And it's one little verse. This can be the life verse for your marriage. And it's a short one.
Because if you're like me, you got kind of ADD and you like short verses that pack a bunch. Let's go to Corinthians chapter 16, verse 14. And it says this, do everything with love. Do everything with love. Now our world has taken that word love and it said it's just an emotion.
It's a feeling that comes that goes, you can fall into it, you can fall out of it. But as you look at what the Bible says about love, love is a commitment. Love is rooted in action. And love is something that we're commanded to do for one another. So everything the Bible says about love do that for your spouse. The Bible says love is patient, love is kind. How would your marriage look different if you were always patient and always kind to your spouse? The Bible says that love never gives up. So what would your marriage look like if you both had that mentality that said we are never going to give up on each other. The Bible says to speak kindly, to forgive. If we just do what the Bible says, that sometimes we're more likely to do for strangers and coworkers and people throughout the day than we are for that person that should matter most. And so if we'll just love and realize that love is not just this empty emotion, but love is this beautiful action that the Holy Spirit empowers within us to give freely, especially in those moments when our spouse might not be particularly lovable, then our marriage can transform. So with that in mind, we're going to jump into, we believe are kind of the three foundational ways to put that love into action. So what do you want to lead off here?
Absolutely. So number one, and this is huge, always be honest with each other. Secrets and lies are the enemies of intimacy. There are no secrets. There's no hidden bank accounts.
There's no secret cell phones. There's no friends on Facebook they don't want their spouse to know about. There's nothing that we hide from our spouse because when we do this, we don't have the kind of marriage that God wants us to have.
Yeah. The level of your honesty is always going to determine the level of your intimacy in marriage. And the moment you find yourself keeping secrets from your spouse, then you're already outside the bounds of that covenant that God created. Your marriage is no longer naked.
I think God intentionally painted the picture of that first marriage before there was sin, before there was anything getting in the way and he told us they were naked, not just to paint the picture of the importance of physical intimacy in marriage, but to paint the picture, as Ashley said, of being naked emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Nakedness is a picture of saying, I've got nothing to hide from you. There's nothing up my sleeve.
I'm not even wearing sleeves. There's nothing that I'm hiding from you. And so if you want your marriage to go to that next level, then take what we call the secret free guarantee. It's saying, I'm not going to keep anything from you and there's no question that's off limits. You can ask me anything and I want to do my best to give you an honest response.
You can ask me anything. And the first time that I start stepping out of bounds and making a purchase that I don't want you to find out about or having a conversation that I hope you don't find out about, then I'm going to recognize I'm out of bounds and I'm going to confess that and I'm going to fight for trust in our marriage because trust is the foundation of every healthy marriage. And so we've got to fight for that kind of transparency. And it's true, you know, what really having trust starts with being vulnerable with one another, but that word vulnerability has kind of gotten a bad rap in our culture. You know, we live in a culture that says trust no one, don't even trust your spouse.
And when you go into marriage, you need to have a secret bank account or something just in case it goes wrong. And this even happens among Christians, among Christians who, you know, we know the guy that designed marriage. We know what he says about marriage, and yet we get so afraid to completely be vulnerable with our spouse. But God designed us as vulnerable creatures. You know, we're designed first and foremost to be vulnerable with God. We don't hide things from God.
He knows it all anyway, but he wants us to come to him and to give it all to him, to surrender everything to him. And as far as human relationships go, marriage is the biggest place, the biggest relationship we can have where we can be vulnerable with one another. And when we are, it just binds our hearts. And like Dave said, it's really the first step to intimacy. And you really can't have the kind of physical intimacy that God wants you to have in marriage without having vulnerability first. And so, you know, if we're not willing to be vulnerable with our spouse, we still have that desire. And so what we'll find is we'll be vulnerable with someone else. And like Dave said, we'll step out of bounds of the marriage. We'll have maybe a person at work that we find easy to talk to and we step out of bounds and we start sharing our hearts with them instead of with our spouse. Or maybe we form a codependent relationship with one of our children. I know people who are more vulnerable and open and honest with their children than they are with their spouse.
And that is completely out of whack. That is not what God designed. And really, it's too much to put on our kids, even if they're grown. We're supposed to be vulnerable with our spouse. So it's so important that we don't hold back. We've got to give it all and share it all and say, this is me. This is what I'm feeling.
And I'm not ashamed to share it with you because I love you and I trust you. That's absolutely right. And one thing that I think especially for those of you who are like us, who are in that season of life where you're raising young kids, and it is intense. I mean, we've got four little boys. I am exhausted. Like right now, I'm not even sure I'm awake. This might be a dream. I'm not sure.
I'm so tired. Is this happening? And we talk to couples a lot of times and they have this mentality of like, you know, we've got to put the kids first. We've got to put the kids first. And they put their marriage on hold. And they put their marriage on hold and they think someday I'm going to get around to working on my marriage.
But right now, my kids have to come first. And what happens is the kids finally grow up and move out. And this couple looks at each other and they realize they're looking at a stranger. And they realize that they have an empty nest and an empty marriage at the same time.
And so there's an epidemic of divorce that's happening among people that have been married for 20 years that have raised their kids. And they realize we were really good business partners. We were really good co-parenting partners.
But we forgot to be husband and wife. And so, yes, I'm all about sacrificing for our kids. But one of the greatest gifts you can give your children is to have the kind of marriage that makes them want to get married someday. Absolutely.
One of the greatest gifts you can give your kids is to model for them what marriage should be and to give them the security that comes from seeing a mom and a dad in a loving relationship with God and in a loving relationship with one another. And part of how you model that leads directly into number two. And it's about communication. We've talked about transparency. And this is kind of the next level of that. It's about not making assumptions.
Yes. And so number two is don't make assumptions about how your spouse feels. When we make assumptions, we limit our ability to hear and understand each other's true feelings. And there is a verse in Ecclesiastes in 10 13 where it just paints this picture so perfectly.
It says, And I don't know about you, maybe you're not as crazy as I am. Maybe you haven't made the same mistakes I have. But when I got married to Dave, I thought that when you got married that your spouse, you know, day by day just became a better mind reader and that that was just something that happens when you get married. You know, you become professional mind readers of each other.
Right. And so I started doing this thing where I would just assume that if I stomped around enough or if I rolled my eyes enough or if I, you know, kind of paused in my speaking enough, I didn't really have to tell him how I felt because we're married. He's supposed to know me. He should know, right?
I would say should quite a bit. And there usually was this attitude with him too. As a guy, I had this idea that whatever she says is what she means, even if she's stomping around. And ladies, we don't do that. I would think, well, she said she's okay. If I didn't know better, I think she wasn't.
But I'm going to go back to watching Sports Center because she said she was okay, even though she's stomping around. And it kind of got us into trouble. It did.
It did. So I kind of had to learn this the hard way and there was one word in particular that really got me in trouble a lot. And in our house, we call it the F word. And it is a four letter F word, not the one you're thinking of. This word is one we use often. But it's a cuss word. But it's a cuss word in our house.
It truly is. And that word is fine. Like I'm fine.
I mean, I might as well be cussing at him. I'm fine. Dangerous word.
We used it all the time. And here's why. Fine. It ends conversations instead of starting them, doesn't it?
Yes. Fine is like guy code for like, it's been a long day. I'm out of words.
I don't want to talk. I always say fine, fine. And you know, our wife's trying to connect with us.
And we're just like shutting her down. I'm fine. Or, you know, you would say fine and it would be sometimes asking the fact that you're not fine. And so when we realized that when we were saying fine, F-I-N-E for us actually stood for I'm faking, I'm ignoring, I'm neglecting, I'm evading. That when we said fine, that's what we were really saying. And really there was one key moment in our relationship where we realized this word is dangerous. It's causing miscommunication. And it's a word we need to remove. Do you want to relive? Yes, I'll relive it. And it doesn't paint me in a very good light.
In fact, it makes me look quite crazy and like a toddler. And it happened when we were moving. And at the time we only had two small kids. We had moved to Florida. We had been in temporary housing for a while. And then we finally got a house and it had just been a hard move. And for any of you who've ever moved, it can be really hard, especially with kids. And when you're adjusting to a new job, a new town and you miss home, it's just really hard. And it kind of is what I call a sandpaper season. It's like everything is just rubbing you the wrong way. And that was what it was for me during that time.
It was a sandpaper season. So I was kind of on edge anyway. And we ended up getting in this house and I'm putting it together. And normally that's something I love to do. So one morning I'm putting up a curtain rod and I'm walking up the ladder and I'm using the drill. And it's just not quite going in there like I had planned.
And it's like, I can't quite get it square and I'm struggling with it. So I'm stomping up and down the stairs. And in walks Dave, fresh from the morning. And he's like, hey, sweetie, how's it going? And I'm like, fine. And so then I stop Mike up and he's like, well, good, because, you know, I was thinking about going on a run and it's just such a beautiful day. And I'm like, OK, whatever.
You know, those are two other words that are hard. And so he goes on his run and the whole time he's gone for like 30 minutes, I'm thinking, how dare he leave? I mean, I clearly wasn't fine.
Clearly was not fine. And he's out there running and feeling the wind through his hair and feeling the sun on him like this and he's blissful. And then he's blowing off steam. I mean, he's just having this great time. It was so good. And I was thinking, I'm so glad Ashley's fine because this feels amazing. And I mean, she's just great letting me do this. And I'm just fuming.
Maybe you're not crazy like me, but I was literally having an argument with Dave in my head at the time and I was like winning it, totally winning this argument. And so he comes home and I'm just raring to go. I'm ready. And he's like, oh, good run. Yeah. Comes in and he's like, oh my goodness, sweetie, the curtain rod's still not up.
And I'm like, whip my head around. Okay. I don't remember this part of the story.
Yes. Just to interject real quick. I know like it's bad, but to give you the full backstory to help you understand how I could have been led to the conclusion that she didn't want my help is that I'm terrible with tools. We're like the reverse stereotype. She came from a home where her dad could fix and build anything. The show MacGyver is loosely based on her dad's life.
Like he could just fix it, do it. She thought all guys were like that. And like she married me, I don't even know which end of the hammer to use half the time. So she's really good at this. And most of the time when she says, I got this, it's a nice way of saying, you don't know how to do this.
You're going to put holes in the wall. I'm just going to do this. And so I thought this was one of those times. And I misread the situation. I literally whipped my head around and I said, I can't even look at you right now. Where I replayed the whole thing in my head.
And I'm like, oh, I misread that. I honestly realized in that moment how completely ridiculous it was for me to expect him to read my mind and that I was storming up and down the ladder like a toddler. And I realized, oh my goodness, my husband was listening to my words and he really thought I was fine. And I could have just told him I wasn't. I could have just asked for help. And so I apologized to Dave. He graciously accepted my apology. And we realized that we just need to use our words.
We tell our kids all the time, use your words. But for some reason, when we're married, we like stop using words sometimes. We just make all these assumptions. What really happens when we start making assumptions like that with one another is communication breaks down.
The vulnerability breaks down. The intimacy breaks down. And you just have these two people passing day to day and not really engaging in a real marriage.
They're more like business partners or roommates. And God doesn't want that for us. God wants us to have this union, this beautiful partnership with one another. And so we have to stop making assumptions.
No, it's so true. And that changed the way that we communicated. And when you change your communication and you get real and you get honest and you get thoughtful and you get consistent in your communication, then everything goes to the next level.
And that takes us to kind of the final of these three pillars. And this one I think is really the most important because there's gonna come times in your marriage when you are struggling. And many of us in this room are struggling right now.
Maybe you're not necessarily struggling in your relationship with each other, but you're struggling in some part of your life. I mean, we live in a broken world that has a lot of struggles. I mean, Jesus never promised us a life without struggles. He just promised that we would never face them alone. He said, never will I leave you or forsake you. But he also said in this life, you will have troubles.
He wanted us to be ready. And in marriage, we have the opportunity to face those troubles and those struggles together in partnership. And sadly, we see so many couples who kind of look at their issues as those are my problems, those are her problems, and we face them individually.
And that's not what marriage is. It has to be unified that we're gonna face this together. And it leads to this final principle.
That's right. Number three says, never let your spouse face a struggle without your full partnership, encouragement, and support. And a verse that goes along with this is Galatians 6, 2.
It says, carry each other's burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ. And Dave and I are no stranger to struggles. And we like to really talk about this when we go to conferences because we want you all to know that you're not looking at a couple up here that's never had a reason to divorce or a reason to have a communication breakdown. We've had some struggles of our own. One in particular that I wanna share with you is when I went through a four-year battle with anxiety and depression.
And it started a little bit after we got married and we were having a lot of trouble with some family members kind of infringing on our marriage, which is a whole other issue that could have a whole other talk. But it ended up lingering with me and I was just dealing with anxiety and depression. And it was like those commercials you see for medication for these things where it has like a little person with a cloud over their head and it's raining and it's like this dark cloud and it's following them around wherever they go.
And that's exactly what it feels like. It was like this heaviness over me that I couldn't shake off. And there were days where I had trouble breathing. It felt like something was sitting on my chest and I couldn't even figure out exactly what it was that was causing me to be so sad or so anxious, but it just got bigger and bigger. And I would pray about it and I wouldn't feel the release necessarily.
And God would get me through the day, as He always does, as our sustainer. But I just could not shake it off. And I finally was very real with Dave about it. I mean, I'm sure he could sense that something was wrong with me. And there would be nights where I couldn't sleep, where I would wake up and feel physically ill and I'd run to the bathroom.
And my mind would just be spinning with lies because that's what Satan does when he's trying to mess with us. And he sure did a number on me. He would tell me things like, Dave's gonna leave you because you probably did something wrong to feel this way anyway. And you're damaged goods now. I mean, you're not even the woman you used to be. You're not fun anymore. He doesn't feel like he married, that his wife is there anymore.
So he's probably gonna leave you. Oh, and you know what? You must not be a really a strong Christian because no strong Christian would have anxiety or depression if they really believed. I had all these thoughts weighing on me day in, day out.
And there would be nights where I would wake up and I just knew that I needed prayer. And I would wake Dave up sometimes like 3 a.m., 4 a.m. And every time you all, every time I woke him up, when I know he was exhausted, I know he had to go to work really early in the morning. He never once said, you know what, Ashley, this has been going on long enough. You need to just put on your big girl pants and you need to handle this yourself. Or he never once said, you know, I'm just really tired of this.
I'm exhausted. Can you just call somebody? Call somebody else, call your mom. Maybe she can pray with you. He never once said, you know, this is really your problem.
It's not really mine. You know, I've told you everything I can tell you, so you just need to handle this on your own. Never once, never once, not one time, and I woke him up a lot. Believe me, I woke him up a whole lot. Every time I woke him up and I asked him for prayer, he would grab my hand, he would pray with me as long as it took. And these were sometimes some long prayers and prayers full of tears for me and a heart racing just because I could not get relief. And Dave would pray with me and I would feel the relief come over me. And then I would sometimes say, you know, sweetie, I just so appreciate your prayers and I'd understand if you want to leave me because I would have those lies. I would have those lies in my mind. And every time he would look me straight in the face and he would say, I love you more today than I have ever loved you even on the day that I married you and I am staying with you. I am never leaving your side. And he would say that to me every time, every time.
Every time. And you all, if it wasn't for God sustaining me through that time and for a husband who prayed with me time and time again and was with me in my corner. And then eventually he helped me take the steps necessary to get some really good Christian counseling. If it wasn't for all of that, I would not be standing here today. It looked very bleak for me. I felt very alone before I shared it with my husband and let him come into this dark place with me and be my partner.
But when I did that, everything started to change. And I'm just so thankful. I share this story because I'm so thankful that Dave was there for me because I do see so many couples who are struggling where maybe one couple is dealing with depression or cancer or a really bad work situation. And I see them struggling alone and I see their partner feeling like they can't do anything. But let me tell you this, you may not be a counselor. Maybe you don't know the answers, but the best thing you can do for them is get in their corner with them in that dark place and stay by their side till you're able to both walk into that light out of that dark corner.
And you will be so glad that you did. So just be there for each other. We have to be there for each other because we will face struggles like Dave said. So we have to face them hand in hand.
You have to face them hand in hand. And you can't always pick your struggles, but here's what you need to remember. Every struggle in your marriage, every struggle in your life is going to become a story someday. It's either going to be a story about how you got stronger, how you leaned on each other, how you grew in your faith and how you came out stronger on the other side, or it's gonna be a story about why you gave up. The couples with the strongest marriages, with the happiest marriages, they aren't the ones that never had a reason to give up. They're the ones who just refuse to give up through it. They refuse and they kept on going and they kept on going and they chose for their story to be one of victory, to be one of coming through the hard times out the other side, one where God was at the center of it all, even in the midst of something that you thought, I don't know if we're gonna make it through this. When you come together and you lean on God together and you refuse to give up, He can do the miraculous and we see it every day.
He's still in the business of raising dead things and bringing them back to life. And He does that not only with people and with sickness, He does it with marriages. He does it with marriages. And so if your marriage is struggling, I don't think it's any accident that you're here. And it's just my hope and prayer that you will hear something and you will let it seep into your heart and you will know that God wants you to stick it out and that you have something amazing on the other side of this that you really can't even see right now, but it's something that only God can do and He wants to do it for you and your marriage today. What a transparent message from Dave and Ashley Willis today on Focus on the Family. I'd agree, Jon, and that's what they're advocating for, transparency in our marriage relationships as well. Developing that level of open and honest communication with your spouse is something we should all be striving for and I don't always do it that well.
Jean would attest to that. And we are almost out of time today, so let me just remind you that if this program brought up some issues that you'd like help with, please give us a call. Our friendly staff would be happy to listen to your concerns, pray with you, provide a resource or two, and if needed, they can request a call back from one of our Caring Christian Counselors. That's a free service that we provide thanks to the donor community that support Focus. And if things are going well for you right now, can I ask you to consider if Focus on the Family has had an impact on your life, to give accordingly so that we can together help others. We're a nonprofit ministry and we rely on the support of those who benefit from our broadcast, podcast, magazines, and all the other resources. And when you make a donation of any amount, we'll send you a copy of the book written by Dave and Ashley Willis called, Naked and Healthy, Uncover the Lifestyle Your Mind, Body, Spirit, and Marriage Need. And that will be our way of saying thank you for partnering with us in ministry.
Get your copy of the book and a free audio download of the content, the entire presentation, when you follow the link in the show notes. Or call for details, 800, the letter A in the word family. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to this Focus on the Family podcast.
If you would, please take a moment and share this episode with a friend and leave a rating in the app. I'm John Fuller inviting you back next time as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ. I was convinced that nothing could change what was going on in our marriage, and I didn't want to try anymore. But my commitment to God helped me try one more time. We went to a Hope Restored Marriage Intensive, and it was life changing. The counselors created the safest environment we could imagine, so that let us really talk. We're on a much different course now, and I believe we received a miracle that week. Receive your free copy of the book, which will be available on our website. Hope Restored dot com.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-18 17:59:03 / 2023-01-18 18:12:26 / 13