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Wouldn’t it be nice to have maintenance check-ups to make a marriage run more smoothly? Dave and Ann Wilson talk with Ron Deal about practical thoughts on creating marital sparks and keeping the fire alive.
Bob: When it comes to taking good care of your marriage, there’s more required than simply knowing the right thing to do; you actually have to do it! Here’s Ron Deal.
Ron: My wife and I know how to dance. On the FamilyLife® cruise every year, we’ve learned how to ballroom dance. We get a little better at it/a little better at it; but you know, during the pandemic, we didn’t dance a lot. Like we find moments where we do, but it’s kind of like you need something to kickstart that. Just because you know how doesn’t mean you will.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, January 28th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. So maybe some of us need to dust off our dancing shoes or whatever it is that promotes us-ness in your marriage. Maybe we need to find some ways to draw closer to one another. We’re going to talk more about how we do that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. There’s this illustration I’ve used for years; I’ve said to couples, “How would you think of your marriage differently if I told you, on the day you got married,”—if I told you this; I said—“‘I’m going to give you a car the day you get married,’—
Dave: “I’m in!”
Bob: —“but here’s the thing”—
Dave: I’d like a car for my wedding gift.
Bob: —it’s the best; it’s a top model car; it’s the car you want—
Ann: Ooh; okay.
Bob: —“Here’s the thing: ‘It’s the only car you will ever have for the rest of your life.’”
Ann: That’s good to know.
Bob: “Knowing that”—I’ve said two things—“number one, you are probably going to do a better job of taking care of this car from the get-go, saying: ‘We better do the scheduled maintenance,’ ‘We better make sure we do everything we need to do.’”
Dave: “Better not let my wife drive it.” [Laughter]
Ann: I was thinking that we would need bigger than a two-passenger vehicle.
Bob: Yes, you’re probably going to need—not a Ferrari roadster—but a minivan to start with, or maybe a Tahoe or Suburban, depending on how many kids you’re going to have; right?
Ann: Right; and you’re right: we wouldn’t miss any of the maintenance services.
Bob: You’d get the maintenance done; and if something went wrong with the car, and you knew this is the only car we’ve got, you’d take it in and get it fixed because that’s your only alternative. Rather than thinking, “I wonder if it’s time to trade the car in,” you would go, “I don’t have a choice; this is the car I got.”
Ann: Right; then I would say, “Did you get that lifetime warranty on the vehicle?” [Laughter]
Bob: But that’s the point of marriage: if we thought about our marriages that way and thought, “This is the marriage I’m supposed to have for the rest of my life,”—so knowing that—“I’d better take better care of it from the beginning; and when something goes wrong, I don’t have an alternative. I’ve got to go get it fixed, because this is the only one I’ve got.” Rather than thinking, “Do I swap this one out for another model?” I fix this one. It’s the one I’ve been given for the rest of my life. If couples would think that way about marriage, don’t you think that would cause them to start to view their relationship differently?
Ann: I think so.
Dave: I know so. That’s a great analogy, Bob; who’d you steal that from?
Bob: I have no idea, [Laughter] but all great analogies have been borrowed from somewhere; right? You know that as well as I do.
Dave: All work and no plagiarism leads to a boring sermon. [Laughter]
Bob: We’ve got our friend, Ron Deal, joining us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome, Ron.
Ron: Thank you. I’m glad I work for a God who doesn’t mind if I plagiarize right out of His Bible. [Laughter]
Dave: That’s a good response.
Ron: And matter of fact, He encourages it.
Bob: Anybody who’s ever spoken or preached knows this: the first time you quote somebody you say, “As my friend, Ron Deal, says…” Then the second time, you say, “As I’ve often heard…” [Laughter] Then the third time, you say, “As I always say…” [Laughter] That’s kind of how that whole thing goes.
Ron gives leadership to FamilyLife Blended®, and is a writer and a speaker, and is here with us today because we’re talking about a fundamental issue; and that is, “How do we do the work of regular oil changes, and tune-ups, and tire rotations, and alignments—all of that stuff—on a marriage relationship so we can keep the marriage out of the shop and have fewer breakdowns along the way?”
Ron: Prevention is worth a pound, if not a thousand pounds, of cure. I had a professor in graduate school, who used to say, “You know, marriage is like the grandfather clock at the end of the hallway. If you don’t go down there and wind that thing up every once in a while, it just stops working.” Man, I have never forgotten that/like, “That’s part of what we do—is wind up our marriages.” Marriage is, by nature, entropic; it will drain itself of energy unless we go down there and wind that thing up.
Ann: Okay; I’m liking the clock better than the car; yes, I’m liking it!
Bob: What?! What’s wrong with my car analogy?
Ann: Well, I’m at the table with three guys, so that would be typical; but I’m kind of liking the clock.
Dave: Can we make this more like a football illustration? [Laughter]
Dave: You’ve got to practice; you’ve got to train a—no. Here’s what I was going to say though—in both of you, when you talk about winding the clock or an oil change—I think a lot of us, and I think listeners might be doing this right now, thinking: “Yes, my wife needs an oil change,” “My husband needs an oil change.” You’re not thinking about the marriage as much as the person.
Ann: Or you’re thinking “I’m always the one to wind the clock.”
Bob: Good point.
Dave: Yes; so I mean you do want to take your eyes off the person, whose got all these weaknesses, and [you think] you don’t have any, and say, “Okay, we both have weaknesses.” The clock is the marriage/the car is our marriage: “How are we going to maintain that?”
Bob: And when you get a new car, there is a booklet that comes with it that’s got scheduled maintenance in it. They tell you—
Dave: That’s in there?
Bob: —6000 miles/12,000 miles you’re supposed to do this…
Ron: Look in the glove box; it’s there.
Bob: If you’ve got the clock, you know that once a week, or whatever the rotation is for you, you got to wind it up or it is going to break down.
When I got married, we did not have anybody say, “Here’s what the maintenance schedule for your marriage should look like…” I just figured it was kind of in self-maintenance mode—that we would, by virtue of being together, we would grow closer—that’s what happened when we dated.
I want to ask both of you: “Why is maintenance in marriage harder than maintenance in dating was? Why is it that, when we’re dating, we just kind of naturally/the energy is there, and we’re together, and we go. Then you get married, and then all of a sudden, it’s like: “Leave me alone; I want to watch this,” and “Give me some time.” Why is that the case?—do you know?
Ron: Well, the biochemical warm fuzzies that drive us to pursue somebody—be infatuated with, desire, want to pursue them in a relationship—that lasts for about
18 months. That’s energy; it’s a constant dose of amphetamine, if you will, to your heart and to your energy to pursue the other individual.
Ann: —which you’re saying, “18 months.”
Ron: Eighteen months is about how long that infatuation drive/biochemical thing lasts.
Bob: It could be shorter. Some of you—it runs out pretty quick—right? [Laughter]
Ron: Other people age when you start. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s right; or how many kids you have in the first 18 months, things like that. [Laughter] All kinds of life factors can crash that amphetamine drive pretty easily; but if you’re just in a normal situation, there’s a point where we say, “The honeymoon’s over”—and that’s what/when we say that phrase—we’re saying, “The amphetamine kick isn’t there like it used to be.”
Ron: My wife and I know how to dance. On the FamilyLife® cruise every year, we’ve learned how to ballroom dance. We get a little better at it/a little better at it; but you know, during the pandemic, we didn’t dance a lot. Like we find moments where we do, but it’s kind of like you need something to kickstart that. Just because you know how doesn’t mean you will. Us-ness requires a kickstart; sometimes that’s a biochemical thing that’s driving you towards that [as in beginning of relationship]; but most of life, I think it is about conscious choice/that we say: “How can we invest time and energy?” and “Let’s dance a little bit.”
Dave: There’s a physics law—tell me if I’m right—second law of thermodynamics says what?
Bob: It’s the law of entropy: that everything that is in motion is going to run out of energy, eventually, unless you’ve got something to push it along.
Dave: Yes; I remember being in a college class/physics and learning that law and never thinking that applies to relationships, but it does.
Ron: Yes. Us-ness is entropic—unless you go down there and wind up the clock—right Ann?
Ann: Yes. [Laughter]
Dave: And as we’re talking, we should know that, going in: [as newlyweds,] we’re at a high right now—this is passionate; it’s new; it’s wonderful; it’s fresh—it’s not going to last. When you start to feel that go—it isn’t like, “Oh, we’re in trouble,”—it’s like, “Oh, this is normal.
Dave: “This is what’s going to happen. And to keep that even close”—maybe not all the way back to where it once was—“you’re going to have to wind the clock; you’re going to have to do a check-up.”
Ann: You guys, this is like big. What we’re all talking about we’ve all known for a while, but I’ll never forget hearing that for the first time—that this feeling, this infatuation, this love will change—because I think a lot of people think it never will. I mean, the movies don’t show it going away, necessarily; and so I think that’s important to know: “This is normal.”
Bob: And when it changes, it doesn’t mean the marriage is over or something’s wrong.
Ann: —or you’re not in love anymore.
Bob: That’s right. You’ve moved into a new phase of your relationship. This new phase—here’s the tricky part—this new phase is going to be a little harder to get things started; I’m back to my car analogy. You’ve had it for a few years, and it coughs a little bit before it starts; it doesn’t [car revving sound] before you have to get it started. But the ride is actually going to be more comfortable. It’s going to be richer and deeper when you’re in it, because it’s not so much just an emotion-fueled experience; now, there’s a deeper level of connection that’s starting to form and build in this new phase of a marriage relationship.
Ann: But Ron, is it harder because our feelings aren’t as high; and so we’re doing things out of more an act of our will?
Ron: You know, Ann, I’ve got to say, when I got married, I was a complete idiot. [Laughter] I mean, I was so ignorant and naïve about any of this that we’re talking about. I just don’t think I had any idea of what it would take to continue forward with us-ness.
There’s two ways of looking at what we’re talking about here. One way is: “Oh man, that doesn’t sound romantic or fun,” or “There’s no chemistry anymore?”—like I know that’s not exactly what we’re saying—we’re just saying the chemistry doesn’t necessarily drive you towards your us-ness.
But the other way to look at it is to say: “We’re going to mature our love. Our us-ness may have been driven by pure chemistry for a season; but now, it’s got to be based on something else than that. We’ve got to work on the engine in the car, not just put a new coat of paint on it. We’ve got to actually deal with the car/what makes it go. That’s going to require more of me than the chemistry season of life.”
Ann: What if you feel like: “You know what? I’ve been taking the car to the shop; I’ve been winding that clock—and my spouse is doing nothing—so I’m tired of winding and taking my car in. I’m not going to do it for a while. I’m going to see if my spouse has anything that they want to do in the relationship”?
Ron: Okay; but winding the clock is not your problem. The problem there is that it feels like the other person doesn’t want you as much as you want them. It feels like a lopsided relationship; and at that point, you’re not feeling chosen or cherished.
Ann: This is why we need a therapist. [Laughter]
Dave: I didn’t know we needed a therapist ‘til right now. [Laughter]
Ron: No; this is really important, because this is what we all do when we’re in those moments. We feel like the other person isn’t quite there for us, like they used to be or like we would like for them to be, then we get goofy—I mean, I do—I start doing things to try to get my wife to want to be with me: you drop hints, or maybe you get a little passive/aggressive, or you complain/you just flat-out complain: “I’m doing all of the work here, and you’re just kind of not really participating.” Really what we’re saying is: ”I just need to know that you still love me/still want us.”
Ann: And that feels super vulnerable—
Ann: —to ask that question, because it’s the deeper issue.
Ann: But to say to your spouse: “It feels like you’re not pursuing me. It feels like maybe you don’t love me”; and that’s a scary answer.
Bob: Well, it is; because they might say, “I don’t.”
Ann: “I don’t.”
Bob: And if you get that answer, you’d rather not know than to know that answer. At least, that’s how it feels at times.
Part of the reason we’re talking about this today is because we’ve had so many couples, who have been saying, “When are you guys going to have a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway again that we can go to?—because those getaways have been catalytic for us. That’s been a weekend where we’ve taken our marriage into the shop, or where we have turned on the slow cooker and really let it simmer for a while. Our marriage has been recalibrated in those weekends, and we need one of those recalibrations.”
With COVID, and with ballrooms, and spikes, we’re just not able to have the same number of getaways that we’ve been able to have [in the past]. Our team went to work and said, “What could we give to couples that would somehow be catalytic?”—something that was kind of a do-it-yourself engagement that would help them restart some of these processes—do a little preventative maintenance on your marriage. We came up with the Dates to Remember date box that couples can order.
In fact, we were thinking, with Valentine’s Day coming up, you could order this now; have your first date on Valentine’s Day. I think there are three dates in the box. You have your first date night all planned out for you with everything you need to pull it off. You have the date, and then you schedule your next date. There are, again, three in the box. So Valentine’s Day goes on—it’s really Valentine’s Day-plus-plus that you get out of this.
Ann: It’s like Valentine’s month. [Laughter]
Bob: Exactly; each of these dates—there are four components—there’s a game that you play together; it’s an interactive, fun, spontaneous game. There’s a video that you watch, and then there are questions that you interact over as a couple. Then there are some prayer suggestions for you. Your date night gives you a chance to have some fun, to learn, to grow. We’re really trying to set you up for conversations you would not otherwise be having. Those conversations/that’s where the mechanic, who is the Holy Spirit, comes along and says: “Okay, we can adjust this; we can tweak this,” “We can make this so that the ride is better,” “We can rewind the clock so that it chimes next week.”
Ron: We’ve been married 34 years; and in the beginning, we had conversation that lasted hours, and hours, and hours. But let me just own something: once you get to know the basics of this person that you’re married to/once you’ve spent a lot of time together, when you’ve talked about lots of things under the sun, sometimes you kind of look at each other and go, “What else do we talk about? What else do we talk about that’s not work?—that’s not the same old subjects?”
To me, having something like this, that sparks conversation in a fun way, it’s kind of like a game; that’s always fun. That is often what Nan and I need. We just need a spark to move us in a certain direction and then the conversation can erupt and take off.
Bob: You can get a preview of this/look at it; go to FamilyLifeToday.com. All of the information about the Dates to Remember date box is available there. You can order it from us online. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. And whether it’s this date box—this is just one way to try to, catalytically, get you going in terms of regular marriage maintenance.
I don’t know about you guys: “Did you start with a game plan? Dave and Ann, did you have a/like when you got married, did somebody tell you: ‘You should date once a week,’ or ‘…once a month,’ or ‘You need to do something’; and did you do that at the beginning?
Dave: Yes, I remember the first time we heard about a weekly game plan was at the Weekend to Remember, sitting there as an engaged couple. We sort of laughed, you know, when—
Ann: —Dennis said it.
Dave: —Dennis Rainey said married couples should date weekly. Again, it wasn’t “It has to be every seven days”; but it was a regular: “We got to pull away and focus on our marriage.” We laughed, because we’re like, “We’re an engaged couple; we’re dating every day,”—and you think—“When you’re married, you’re together all the time; you don’t need to date.”
Well, actually, we now know. It’s really interesting—we put this in our Vertical Marriage book—because so many people would say “Okay; if you’re going vertical in your marriage, that means you’re putting God first. You add a little God to your marriage, and everything works out?” I go, “Okay; that’s not what we’re trying to say.” It reminded me of something I heard Rick Warren say, decades ago, about your spiritual life; and we can all relate to this: “If you want to grow in your relationship with Christ,”—I’ll never forget, in a sermon, he said—"you need to divert daily, withdraw weekly, abandon annually.”
I’m an acrostic guy; so I’m like: “’D’ squared,” “‘W’ squared,” “’A’ squared.” He was just saying, “It’s like a workout. If you’re going to change your body, every day, you’re going to do something.” He’s saying, “Divert daily means you’re busy/you’re crazy; you’re going to pull away for five or ten minutes/maybe thirty minutes, and you’re going to get in the Word of God; because ‘I want my spiritual life to grow.’”
Once a week, there’s a principle in the Scripture called Sabbath: “Withdraw weekly means once-a-week rest: focus on your walk with God. Stop doing your regular work and focus once a week.” We violate this command by the way—Ten Commandments.
Then once a year: “Abandon annually is: ‘Go to a retreat/go to a spiritual retreat. Men go to men’s retreat; women go to women’s retreat; go to a couples—whatever—pour into it.
I thought, as we were writing Vertical Marriage: “Oh my goodness! It’s the same in your marriage.” If you want a great marriage, maintenance looks like: once a day—we just changed it a little bit—we said, “Pray together”; so there’s a daily thing.
Once-a-week date. Again, I know sometimes that’s impossible; but get a rhythm, where you pull away, you grab this date box or whatever you need to do to go out and say, “We’re going to spend a couple of hours, at least, once a week; and we’re going to work on our marriage.” That’s maintenance.
Then, once a year, get to a Weekend to Remember/get to a marriage retreat. You’re going to be changed. That’s going to keep that car running pretty good; right?
Bob: Exactly. I remember we’d had maybe three or four kids, and MaryAnn threw a flag on the field, and she said, “Look, we have got to have a timeout every day”; because we weren’t having it. We were busy; she was swamped. The idea that she had, that we started to implement, was—when I would get home, before anything else happened after I got home, we would have our 10 to 15 minutes of what we called couch time—everything would stop, she and I would go sit on the couch, and we would debrief about our day—talk about whatever had come along/about what we needed to do—it was just a reconnect time. We didn’t pray in that moment, but there was relational reconnecting that was happening.
Dave: In a sense, you’re pulling up that dipstick on the oil and—
Bob: —saying, “How are we doing?”; exactly.
Dave: —said, “How are we doing?”
Bob: And the kids would always try to come in and interrupt it. I mean, they want: “Dad’s home; let’s play,” “We want attention.” We would say to them, “No; Mom and Dad are having couch time right now. This is our time, not your time.”
Ann: What great security that brings to your kids. Maybe they don’t recognize it, at first; but ultimately, they’re seeing a marriage that: “This is a priority.”
Bob: They started to respect and honor that. Then of course, after we’d huddled for that ten minutes, then when we broke the huddle, she would go back to making dinner and I’d go play with the kids or do something. Then we could go and engage in the rest of the evening, but we’d had our huddle-up moment/our reconnect moment. Something like that, on a daily basis, is a part of marriage maintenance.
Ron: You know, one of the things I’m thinking about, as we talk about this, is seasons and circumstances. I know, in our 34 years, there were seasons where we could not date once a week, twice a week, once a month; we couldn’t afford it. Kids around our ankles; we never lived where there were grandparents—it was always on us—and yes, we’d try to find friends: “Hey, we’ll babysit for you if you’ll…”
But let’s just talk to people for a minute, who are going, “Yes, we just can’t do that,” for whatever reason—maybe job loss; maybe caring for an aging parent that is 24/7—and you just/it’s really difficult. I think the spirit of what we’re saying here is—it’s not so much about getting out and spending money as it is about finding time to nurture that us-ness. It doesn’t have to be dramatic. It doesn’t have to be necessarily—you know, for a season, it could be a small investment of time—the 10-minute chunks at the end of the day or sitting watching a movie on Netflix on Friday night. I think that’s important; at least, I did.
I don’t know if other people, hearing this message, sometimes go legalistic on it and they think: “Oh, man; we’re bad,” “I’m a bad husband; I’m not leading well, because I don’t take my wife out on a date.” I think what we need to remember is it is about investing time, and being intentional, and just nurturing your us-ness.
Bob: One of the things about the date box that the team put together here is this is not something that you have to spend a lot of money to go do something to make it happen. You can do this after you put the kids to bed, and you’re in your bedroom. You play the game, sitting on the bed, and you watch the video, and you can talk right there.
Dave: I think that’s one of the great things about the date box is—it’s catalytic to get you to do things you might not naturally do.
Dave: I guarantee you this: ”It’s going to have you talk, and your wife is going to love to talk—
Ann: Yes, she will.
Dave: —“on this couch.”
Ann: You guys, the thing that I remember most about that first Weekend to Remember conference that we went to was I remember Dennis Rainey saying, “We are either moving toward oneness or isolation.” I remember thinking: “Wait; you mean I have to really work to get to oneness?” and “If we don’t, we’re going to slip into isolation?” That really motivated me to think, “I need to do something to keep us moving forward”; and this is something.
Bob: That’s why we’re encouraging listeners to be intentional. If the date box/the Dates to Remember date box can help you with that, get this sent to your house and plan to use it Valentine’s Day or before Valentine’s Day. I mean, there are three dates in the date box. This is kind of a recipe for pursuing oneness in your marriage. We’ve distilled down some of the best learning we’ve had over 40-plus years of doing Weekends to Remember. Since a lot of couples haven’t been able to come to a Weekend to Remember, because we haven’t been able to host them, we thought, “Let’s take the learning from the Weekend to Remember and send it to people’s homes.”
You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and order the Dates to Remember date box. If you have any questions about it, check it out, online, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can also order by phone. But plan to be purposeful and invest in time together as a couple. Again, find out more about the Dates to Remember date box, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order: 800-358-6329—that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, we’ll continue this conversation. We want to talk more about how we can be purposeful and intentional/how we can lean in and pursue oneness in our marriage relationship. Ron Deal’s going to join us, again, tomorrow. I hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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