FamilyLife Today® Podcast

5 Ways to Stop Sabotaging Your Marriage: Ted Lowe

with Ted Lowe | October 27, 2023
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Are there ways you're shooting your own marriage in the foot? Author Ted Lowe knows 5 bad habits that could stealthily undercut all the closeness you crave--and 5 ways to stop them.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Are there ways you’re shooting your own marriage in the foot? Author Ted Lowe knows 5 bad habits that stealthily undercut the closeness you crave.

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5 Ways to Stop Sabotaging Your Marriage: Ted Lowe

With Ted Lowe
October 27, 2023
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Ann: Okay, let me ask you something.

Dave: I’m a little scared. I don’t know what you’re going to ask.

Ann: Do you feel like you’ve ever sabotaged our marriage? [Laughter]

Dave: Oh, my goodness. My first thought is, “I sabotaged it countless times every year.”

Ann: Really?

Dave: Oh, in things I’ve said or done. In 42, now 43 years, yes, I think I’ve sabotaged in many ways.

Ann: I think every couple has.

Dave: I think you’ve sabotaged it more than I have. [Laughter]

Ann: Probably.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: I honestly think, “Man, if I had done better in year one,—”

Ann: –yes—

Dave: —“year five, and year ten, we could be—”

But here’s the thing, I also, when I say that out loud, feel like the grace of God has been so good.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Here we are sitting—I look at you, and I love you more than I ever have.

Ann: Me, too. The good news is, we learned the hard way so many different ways that we can maybe help other people not sabotage their marriage [Laughter] the way we have.

Dave: Today, we’re going to talk about five ways to stop sabotaging your marriage.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: And we’ve got the guy to do it. Ted Lowe is back in the studio with us.

Ann: We’re so excited, Ted, [that] you’re here.

Ted: Thanks, guys, I’m excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

Dave: You’re over there thinking, “What in the world are we really going to talk about?” [Laughter]

Ted: No, I’m kind of loving watching you guys talk to each other like this. [Laughter] It’s super refreshing. It’s not like what I experience on a regular basis.

Ann: Oh.

Ted: Well done.

Dave: How many years have you been doing marriage ministry?

Ted: I’ve been doing marriage ministry since 2001.

Dave: Four kids?

Ted: Four kids.

Dave: Oldest is?

Ted: 23; youngest is 13.

Dave: Wow!

Ann: Tell us a little about what you’ve done over the years.

Ted: Yes. I started in the marriage space when I was hired as the Director of Married Life at our church. We’d been married six years at the time, and we weren’t even that great at it, but I was creative, so I think they thought, “Hey, he’ll figure it out.” [Laughter]

If nothing else, I was enthusiastic, so we started then. We created marriage events once a quarter at our church; sometimes six times a year. That was a lot of fun! Then I started a thing called, where we created marriage resources. In the middle of that, I was speaking and writing. And I just started with an organization called Family First, which helps families to love well. A little bit of speaking and writing, the fun stuff.

Dave: You are the guy to tell us how to stop sabotaging our marriage.

Ann: We’ve interviewed you before [about] your book called Us in Mind, so maybe you’ve heard some of this, but I think these are going to be really good.

Dave: Yes, one of the things you mentioned in Us in Mind: How Changing Your Thoughts Can Change Your Marriage is, five intentional thoughts. So, I’m guessing you would say, and I agree: “If you do these, you’ll stop doing these.” Like the first one, “remember who I am,” I think we often do the opposite. We don’t know who we are and that destroys a marriage. How does that destroy a marriage?

Ted: Yes, like we talked about the last time I was with you guys, our thoughts are not our actions or attitudes. I know I sound repetitive, but our thoughts are not our actions or attitudes, but they lead to both. What I found after doing this for a really long time, and I didn’t even do the math on it until a couple of years ago, is most of us aren’t thinking about what we’re thinking about. We just trust our thoughts, as if they’re going to always lead us in the right direction, and as if they’re always true, and as if they’re always helpful, and as if they’re always kind.

So, the book kind of revolves around that. It revolves around, “Okay, how do we become more intentional with our thoughts? How do we boss our thoughts instead of our thoughts bossing us?” The first one was to remember who I am. I think one of the things that’s been the most powerful for me personally, and ultimately for my marriage, is remembering Whose I am. I think we can complicate Jesus and God in so many ways, but just to go back constantly that we are His child; that we are His. I feel like there’ve been a few times that God has whispered things to me (not audibly, but just in my heart): “You’ll become a man in your world as you become a child in mine.”

Ann: Hmm.

Ted: Kids are always looking for approval, looking for worth, looking for value; but I feel like when I remember who I am, I’m already a man here. You know, when you’re His child, you lean back and you trust Him to be Him and you to be you. He’s way bigger than us, and that’s really, really good news. He adores us, right?

We listen to critical thoughts more than Him, and I think it breaks His heart. The thought I had before, too, is it would be like our kids coming home and telling us what a bully had said to them all day—

Ann: —yes—

Ted: —and then looking at us and saying, “Hey, you know all the things you told me my whole life, I believe the bully more than you.” That would break our hearts, so I know it’s got to break the heart of God. “Why don’t they listen to how much I love them?” So just the simplicity of that is somebody saying, “Oh, I am so loved, I can breathe.”

Ann: There was a girl that I worked with—she came to my house; she had tried to commit suicide three times. It was after her freshman year of college where she had an injury and couldn’t play soccer anymore. She couldn’t perform at the level that she had once performed. So, she sat down on my couch, and I asked her, “Who are you?” and she said, “I’m a soccer player.” I said, “That’s what you do, but who are you?” and she said, “I have no idea. If I can’t do that anymore, I don’t know who I am.”

So, I shared the gospel, because that’s what gives us our worth: what Jesus did for us. She ended up, a few weeks later—she gave her life to Jesus. Here’s what we think when we do that: “Now, I’m free. I can live in this!” But, for years, she had been believing the thread in her head, so it takes practice.

Ted: Sure.

Ann: What I saw was that–I went to this conference with her, and she’s amazing! She’s beautiful. She’s smart. She’s funny. She adds so much to every group she’s with, but as we’re in this group, all of a sudden, she’s with us in physical form, but her mind is gone. I remember pulling her aside, and I said, “Where are you?” She said, “I don’t belong here. I’m not good enough to be with these people. They don’t understand who I am and what I’ve done.”

That’s what you’re saying. I felt like, and I remember lifting her head, and I said, “Jesus knows who you are. He knows that you’re here. He loves you. This is who you are. You’re a daughter of the King! The Holy Spirit lives—the God who created the universe lives—in you. We need the fullness of who you are. I need the fullness of who you are.” And I love that that’s what you’re saying, Ted. If we don’t know that, we become lost in ourselves.

Ted: [Guitar playing in background] I didn’t know this show had music.

Dave: It’s just comes in out of nowhere.

Ann: It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it? [Laughter]

Ted: I’m not really sure what’s happening. but I’m sort of loving it.

Ann: It’s exciting, isn’t it?

Ted: It is! Are you guys bringing in puppies next? [Laughter] I don’t think I could be any happier than I am in this moment. [Laughter]

Dave: Everything’s better with music behind it, right?

Ann: It is.

Ted: You know what? It is.

Dave: I mean, this is a chorus we’ve all probably heard, that came out years ago. You know, at church I play bass. I didn’t usually sing, but when the singer would sing this lyric, I would tear up because it’s our identity. It’s what you’re saying, and you know what it is, “I’m no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.” I mean, it’s a simple phrase and yet, I don’t know if you remember the bridge, “I am surrounded,” think of that, “by the arms of the Father. I am surrounded by songs of deliverance.” I mean you could go on.

Ann: “Songs of deliverance.”

Dave: The reason I would tear up is [that] something in my soul was saying, “That’s who I am.” That’s who we are.

Ted: Yes.

Dave: And that, when you bring it into your marriage, you’re right. It’s not going to sabotage your marriage; it’s going to build.

Ted: Well, that song is based off the verse that chapter is based off: “The Spirit I gave you—”

Ann: —really?—

Ted: –-“is not that of a slave that lives in fear.”

Ann: Yes, that’s good.

Ted: How great is that? The Spirit, capital “S.”

Ann: The Spirit.

Ted: The Holy Spirit has brought about your adoption into sonship. “You’re safe. You’re adopted.” I’m doing all the dad stuff. I remember, I’d say to our kids when they were little, “That’s a big people problem.”

Ann: Yes.

Ted: “You don’t have to worry about that. You go be a kid. That’s a big people problem. I’ve got this.” Especially our daughter, she was anxious. “No, no!” And I think sometimes. “No, no, Ted. This is a God problem. This is not for you. You just go. You feel loved and live loved.”

Ann: That’s good.

Dave: Yes, that’s good stuff. So, that’s just one.

Ann: That’s a good one, because when we remember who we are, we bring the best of ourselves to the table with our kids and with our marriage.

Dave: Number two; if you want to sabotage your marriage or your family, see the worst. You say see the best.

Ted: Yes, it’s something happy couples do. I don’t know if they do it because they learned it. I don’t know if it’s because their brains are naturally wired that way, but they see the best in their spouse. I do believe that we can all learn it and start to see it. Philippians 4:8 gives us a really great filter of thinking, you know? “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is right, whatever is lovely, if anything is praiseworthy,” anything. Some people, we’ve got to start there. “Is there anything?” Because people will say to me, “There’s nothing.”

Ann: Oh yes, that’s what I hear, too.

Ted: Oh, yes! Especially when they’re fired up about: “No, no. That does not work! That works for everybody on the planet but me!” I get it, but again, the verse starts with true, and you can deal with some really hard things when it’s true. Then you know what you’re dealing with, because you’re starting with the truth and not denial.

Okay, “what is true about our situation? What is true about them?” But just see the best. What I’ll say to couples is, “Let what you love about your spouse block the view of what you don’t.” Start there. What do you love about them? Because you loved something about them at some point. What’s so–I’ll watch couples that are really frustrated sitting across from me, and when I can’t get anywhere with them, I’ll say, “So, wow! You guys, boy, this is tough. How did you get together?” Their body language will change, and they start focusing. And they did see the best in each other, and the way they treated each other was so great.

You know, life is hard. It gets going fast, and we stop seeing the things. We start going, and we’re just thinking our spouse becomes a hindrance in the way of getting things we’ve got to get done done.

Ann: We start comparing our life, comparing to their life, thinking that we are doing so much more.

Ted: 100 percent! The number one time couples are fighting is when they reconnect at the end of the day. I think part of that is they come in and compare—

Ann: –yes—

Ted: –-“Oh, my day!” “Oh, my day.” There was this one lady that was such a great example of this. She said when her two kids—they’d be home, and their days were really, really tough. She said she would hear the garage door open, and the kids would [hear]. Dad would come in,  and they would race to dad and wrestle with dad. She’s [thinking], “I couldn’t get a hug out of them. Here he’s been gone all day, and they want to wrestle with him.”

She said, “It made me so angry. [Laughter] I was mad at all three of them.” Then she said—one day, she said: “You know what, I’m going to join in!” She said she just ran and dove on top of them, and she became a part of it. It was just a mindset shift. It was something that was hurting her, and it’s totally understandable.

Ann: Sure.

Ted: I mean, of course that would break your heart. Of course, it would. Of course, it’s not logical. It doesn’t make any sense; but she changed her mind set and that was the difference. It was a mindset shift to see the best in them; because usually, when we pull back, especially if someone is listening right now, hopefully they’re not in the middle of a fight, so their brains are kind of cool and calm. You can say, “Okay, let me just consider that for a minute. What do I love about them?”

Ann: Yes. Okay, we need to move—

Ted: —okay—

Ann: —because we’ve got three more to go.

Dave: Number three: intentional thought to build your marriage is: choose empathy. I guess to sabotage it is to stop choosing negativity?

Ted: I think it’s when you—

Dave: –anger?

Ted: –try to—

Ann: –fix it—

Ted: –fix them.

Ann: Yes.

Ted: Because a lot of times, we try to fix our spouse’s emotions, it’s because we don’t like their emotions

Ann: Yes.

Ted: Or they’re inconvenient. “Oh, here we go again!” And we don’t like it. It just doesn’t make any sense to us. Or we see, when someone’s emotional—they’re not usually, but—they can be talking irrationally or illogical; maximizing statements about things, and we want to fix that.

Ann: Yes.

Ted: Both men and women do it. Guys are more classic about, “Let me just fix this.” My wife told me one time after a series of this not going well; me not being empathetic. She said, “I don’t want you to fix this. I want you to feel this.” It’s so much easier just to feel it, just to sit there and look with empathy. You know with a genuine look on my face that mimics, not mocks, the look on hers, and just say, “I’m so sorry. This seems–this is—hard.”

She’s the same way. She says things like, “That’s understandable. If I were you, I’d feel the same way.” Or just, “I’m so sorry. That sounds terrible. That sounds so tough. I’m so sorry.” She used to go away with her girlfriends, and she still does once a year. The four of them will go on a trip, she and the same ladies; and they’ve done it for years. She comes back, and she says they’ll share “x. y, z.” I’ll say, “What did they say about it?” [Laughter]

“Nothing.” I wanted to talk about it. For years, I didn’t get it. “Oh, she loves that trip, because they’re so empathetic, and they don’t try to fix each other.” So, yes, don’t try to fix it. And it’s for men and women. That’s the good stuff; don’t try to fix that they love something you don’t. If your spouse–I’ll see this at the holidays. You’ve got one that loves to decorate and get [Laughter] everything—

Ann: —and buy presents—

Ted: —and buy presents—

Ann: —yes.

Dave: Too many presents!

Ted: Too many presents.

Dave: Doesn’t stay within budget.

Ted: And then, you’ve got the Grinch—

Ann: —is there a budget?

Dave: Am I supposed to feel that or fix that?

Ted: Well, I don’t know. I’m not going to go that deep with it, but it is the thing [that] there’s typically one that loves all of that and the other one is like, “Are you–you’ve got to be kidding me. I mean, why do we need multiple trees?” Our house has multiple trees. [Laughter]

Ann: Of course! You have to!

Ted: I don’t get it, and won’t get it until Jesus takes me home, then I’m going to have some questions. It makes her so happy.

Ann: We heard it said—how do we say that?

Dave: “Meet emotion with emotion.”

Ann: That’s it.

Dave: “Meet logic with logic.” So, if your spouse comes to you with an emotional issue, feel it—

Ann: —empathize with it—

Dave: —don’t try to fix it.

Ted: So good!

Ann: Yes.

Dave: If she comes to you with a logical issue, it might be a time to say, “Okay, let’s talk,” right?

Ted: Yes, I would just say, if you’re giving homework for people, say, “That’s understandable” about three or four times this week, and watch the look on their face.

Dave: “That’s understandable.”

Ann: That’s good.

Ted: “That’s understandable.”

Ann: Yes, I like that.

Ted: And [be] sincere; no sarcasm. [Laughter] I have the gift of sarcasm so, not that.

Ann: Okay, what’s number four guys?

Dave: Number four: the way to sabotage your marriage would be to react. The way to save your marriage is [to] pause and respond. Is that a good way to say it?

Ted: Well, this is one of the things I learned in the research. I thought, “Oh! This is why, me included, people who want to be great spouses find themselves saying and doing again that thing they swore they’d never do or say again. Or react in that way that, in their more logical moments, they’d say, “I don’t want to react that way.”

People can respond in a way, and they’re so bewildered afterwards and, “I can’t believe I’ve done that again.” The research is really clear: when your spouse triggers you, it triggers the same part of your brain (called the amygdala) that, if you were to accidentally put your hand on a hot stove, you’d immediately jerk it away. If you were to step into the street for just a second and you hear something coming, you’re going to jerk back. There’s no thinking about it. It’s just reacting.

At the same time, your frontal lobe is going a little bit out to lunch, which is where all your logic is. So, it’s great. The amygdala is great! We’d better be glad we have it because it does so many things; but when it comes to marriage, the amygdala is too efficient. So, you react—and people react in different ways, but you react—and you forget what you want for your marriage. So, if you’re a reactor, you step toward the tension.

Ann: Oh, this is me! “You want to go?”

Ted: Oh, and if you’re married to somebody that says, “You want to go?” And they say, “Hey, I need a minute.” “Oh, no! We’re taking care of this right now while I have no logic!”

Ann: “Don’t avoid this!”

Ted: Yes. “You’re avoiding it. We’re going to air this out, and we’re going to air it out now.”

Ann: Yes.

Ted: What I love about what I’ve always done is, scripture and science are not in conflict with each other at all. They just illuminate each other.

Ann: Yes.

Ted: Even the neuroscience coming out. Way long before I got geeked out on neuroscience, scripture was very clear. So, what do you do that your brain goes out to lunch, and you’re reacting? James 1:19-20, you need to be “quick to listen,”—

Dave, Ann, and Ted: —“slow to speak”—

Ted: —"and slow to become,” look at that word become, “angry.”

Ann: Yes, that’s it.

Ted: So, for me, I had ADHD long before it was cool to have it. [Laughter] We’ve been sharing stories about losing things, that’s part of it. So, I think for us, impulse control is a thing of ADHD. I’m not teasing about that. I know people tease about that. No, clinically diagnosed, “You are this, Ted.” There’s impulse; so I’m saying, “If I can learn this,”—and I’m not always perfect my any means—"anybody can.”

So, if you can start getting into a rhythm of, when you get triggered, just don’t talk at first. Some people are listening saying, “Oh, I don’t talk. I don’t talk for six weeks.” I’m not talking about that passive aggressive. I’m talking about–I shouldn’t have called somebody passive aggressive, that’s not kind [Laughter]; I’m talking about—I’ll call you a stuffer—[the ones] that have files that you’ll pull out later. But I’m saying, for most of us, we need to take a deep breath. We need to pause, and we need to let our frontal lobe, the logical part of our brain, catch back up. The part of our brain that remembers what we want for our marriage; that remembers that we don’t want to react poorly; and most importantly, remembers who we are, remembers this person in front of us is a child of God; that remembers. Take a breath and say, “I’m going to respond verses react.” The space between triggered and reaction is where relationships are built or broken.

Ann: Oh, that’s good.

Ted: It’s right there in that space that we’ve got time. So, I think for most of us, when we look back on those times we regret, that turned into these nasty arguments, it is because, in that triggered moment, we said something we should not have said. My wife told me one time, “When you’re angry you find your words. When I’m angry I lose them.” That’s a gift I wish I could return. But what I’ve learned is, if I’ll just pause and I’ll take a breath, and don’t say anything with anything; not with your body language, your face. I mean, you know, 80 percent of communication is nonverbal, right, if not more?

Dave: Yes.

Ted: So, just take a breath and give it a second to remember how you want to be and how you want to respond; and start to listen. Be slow to speak and don’t become angry; the spouse you don’t want to become.

Ann: That’s simple and yet hard; something we need to just start practicing.

Ted: Yes.

Ann: I need that one.

Dave: Alright, last one!

Ted: Alright.

Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Ted Lowe on FamilyLife Today. Ted is going to be back in just a second to share with us the fifth way to stop sabotaging your marriage. But first, Ted has written a book called Us in Mind: How Changing Your Thoughts Can Change Your Marriage.

This book gives you five intentional thoughts that can transform your marriage. You can get a copy of it at, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” You know, earlier this week we had on Stephen Viars, who talked about how to powerfully impact your community by giving some proven practices for community-based outreach ministry. That book is going to be our gift to you when you partner with us financially at FamilyLife Today. You can go online to, or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.” You can feel free to drop us something in the mail, too, if you like. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, Florida 32832.

I want to ask you to pray for the Weekend to Remember® marriage events that are happening today through Sunday in Cleveland, Cedar Rapids, Pittsburgh, and Coeur d’Alene. You know, with over 40 Weekend to Remember marriage events happening across this country, it’s still happening between fall and spring, and there’s still time to find a location near you. You can go to, find a location, and sign up for the event with your spouse. Okay, here’s Ted Lowe with the fifth way to stop sabotaging your marriage:

Dave: Love first. That’s how you build a marriage.

Ted: Yes.

Dave:  You sabotage by?

Ted: I think you sabotage by scanning the relationship for what’s fair and whose turn it is. You know, this is like “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Everybody goes straight to the love and respect verses, which are great. Back up a few verses: “Submit to one another.” Submit–in other words, I’m going to put your needs ahead of my own in this moment. In other words, I’m going to go first. I’m not going to try to figure out whose turn it is. I’m not going to determine what’s fair. I’m just going to go ahead and love first.

It really makes sense from a spiritual perspective to say, “What do we do with the ultimate act of submission?” That’s when Jesus looks at Abba and says, “If there’s any other way. But if not, not my will, but your will.” It was the ultimate act of submission that demands a response. When you’re married, it’s these constant little reminders of, “If He can do that, then I can pick up my daughter when it’s not my turn to pick up my daughter.” [Laughter] “If He can do that, I can be kind when I don’t feel like being kind. If He can do that–“ It’s this thing of “I’m going to submit. I’m just going to love first.” And people say, “I’m afraid I’ll get taken advantage of.” You might, but let me ask you something: when somebody loves you that way is your knee jerk reaction to take advantage of them, or “I’m going to see how I can leverage this to my benefit?” Or are you drawn to do the same?

Ann: Yes.

Ted: There are no promises! You know, I can’t make promises your spouse is not going to  keep, but I don’t think there’s anything that’s going to draw your spouse closer to you than when you just go ahead: “I’m just going to go ahead and do this. I’m going to love first.” I ask on social media, “What’s one way your spouse loves you first?” Apparently, it has a lot to do with coffee [Laughter] and dishwashers. I don’t know what that is about, but it is about coffee and dishwashers for some reason.

Ann: These have been so good.

Dave: Yes, and I can guarantee—I’m making a guarantee: you do these five, and you will build a marriage.

Shelby: So, let’s face it: marriage, sometimes, is just hard; maybe you’re in a tough place right now. Well, make sure you join us next week with Jonathan Pokluda as he talks about conversations on sin and virtue, exploring the concept of sin, the role of pride, and the antidote to it all. He will also be filling you in on our new resource Art of Marriage®. It will help you enrich your marriage, facilitate meaningful conversations, and grow in your relationship with your spouse.

You won’t want to miss all the details next week, November 1st. It’s going to be a night of marriage enrichment that you can register for right now at or at the link in our show notes.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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