FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Being Intentional in Your Marriage

with Dave and Ann Wilson, Ron Deal | January 29, 2021
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What do we do when we find ourselves drifting apart in marriage? Join hosts Dave and Ann Wilson on FamilyLife Today as they talk with author and Director of FamilyLife Blended, Ron Deal, about being intentional with our spouses.

  • 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.

What do we do when we find ourselves drifting apart in marriage? Dave and Ann Wilson talk with author and Director of FamilyLife Blended, Ron Deal, about being intentional with our spouses.

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Being Intentional in Your Marriage

With Dave and Ann Wilson, Ron Dea...more
January 29, 2021
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Bob: If you have a date night planned as a couple/husband and wife, are there any rules you should follow for your date night? Ron Deal thinks there are.

Ron: One of my rules right now is: “Put the phone down.”

Ann: Amen!

Ron: Nan and I have had big conversations around phones being in our hand/on the table: “How much does it divert away?” “If it dings, do we look?” We try to really discipline ourselves—and put it on silent, and put it away—and not let that interrupt our conversation.

Ann: During your whole date?

Ron: Yes!

Ann: That’s hard; isn’t it?

Ron: Yes!

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, January 29th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at Sometimes a date, as a couple, can go great—right?—and sometimes not so great. How can you improve the odds? We’re going to talk more about that today. Stay with us.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, if I had to come up with a list of some of the cardinal ideas/the big ideas that have defined what it is we talk about here, at FamilyLife®, probably at the top of that list would be the idea that the natural drift in every marriage is toward isolation; and that unless we’re intentional, that’s where we’re headed; but we need to be moving, intentionally, toward oneness in marriage rather than the drift towards isolation. That was an “Aha!” principle the first time I heard it.

Dave: The first time Ann and I heard it was at a Weekend to Remember two weeks before we got married.

You know, I was just in an inner tube on a river in Steamboat, Colorado; and you talk about drift—[Laughter]

Bob: —the natural drift.

Dave: —you’re drifting wherever that river takes you. If you don’t paddle a different way, you’re going there.

That is something we don’t understand in marriage—you’re headed toward isolation; it’s the natural drift—you have to work to stop that.

Ann: Well, we think that our feelings and love for one another will just naturally bring us together down the right path.

Bob: Yes.

Ann: We’re not thinking about the drift that’s pulling us backwards.

Bob: To recognize that it is natural for you to drift apart rather than for you to drift together, all of a sudden, when you start drifting apart, you go: “Oh, this is natural,” and “Oh, we better get intentional to start paddling back toward one another,” which is what we want to spend time talking about today.

Ron Deal is joining us again; welcome back, Ron.

Ron: Thank you.

Bob: Ron gives leadership to FamilyLife Blended®; he’s an author and a speaker. You guys all know Ron; I don’t need to explain to you who Ron Deal is.

But this idea of intentionality in marriage—couples, who fail at intentionality, wind up looking at each other and going, “How did we get so far apart from one another?”

Ron: Nan and I woke up one day, and we were in the drift. Let me tell you—it was an ugly, ugly story. Let me just say this: intentionality—you can think you’re being intentional—and still, somehow, kind of miss it or miss each other. I think, even with the best of intentions—we live our lives, and we do the best we can, and we can be serving the Lord, and doing a lot of great stuff—and then not recognize that we’ve lost touch with each other.

Bob: How long into marriage, when you guys woke up and said, “We’ve drifted”?

Ann: Yes, I want to know what happened.

Ron: I would say about 15 years in.

Bob: At this point you have three sons; right?

Ron: Yes; we have three kids. I’m a family ministry leader; I am teaching and talking, day in and day out, and doing therapy with families.

Ann: You’re an expert.

Ron: I’m an expert, and I’m doing the ministry thing. In the process, I end up coming into pride and starting to build Ron’s kingdom—shifted away from God’s kingdom—started to build Ron’s kingdom. Nan’s taking care of three kids, under the age of five, somewhere in those early years. We’re going, and blowing, and doing life; and wake up one day, and we have really drifted.

Bob: How did you realize you had drifted? Did your wife say, “We’ve drifted”?

Ron: No; it was more like, “If something doesn’t change, I’m leaving you.”

Bob: Oh, wow.

Ron: It was a big wakeup call.

At that point, of course, I saw all of the little messages that had been coming along, where she was saying: “Hey, I’m feeling disconnected,” “I’m feeling disconnected,” “Where are we?” “How are we not…” I heard all of that, but didn’t respond to that; or I sort of did, but then sort of didn’t.

Ann: That’s so similar to our story.

Bob: It sounds like your ten-year anniversary, yes.

Ann: I’m thinking, “Is this fairly typical?”—where, as wives, we feel like, “Oh, he started dating his career, and I’ve been left in the dust.”

Ron: Absolutely.

Bob: Or a husband’s like, “Oh, she started dating the kids.”

Ann: Oh, why do you have to say that? [Laughter]

Dave: There you go!

Bob: Because it’s true for wives, who can/they’re so focused on what’s going on with the kids that they don’t have any emotional energy left.

Ann: Husbands feel left out.

Bob: Yes!

Ron: There are a million things in the world that end becoming the third thing in the midst of our marriages. I think a lot of people today—it’s their phone—I’m not kidding. I think their phone are more important than their us-ness sometimes. The point is—I’ve been there—I think, even with intentionality, and some awareness, and some biblical roots, and being embedded in a Christian community—we can still find ourselves in the drift.

I don’t fault people, at this point, in my life. I think, early on, in my pride especially, I was judgmental about folks. But now, I realize, “Look; good-hearted, innocent, loving, God-fearing people can end up, going, “Wow, what happened to us?” That is a moment, where you wake up; but it’s also a moment, where you go, “Alright; let’s figure this out and rediscover our ‘us-ness.’”

Bob: When that happens, you have to diagnose: “Do we just need an adjustment here?” or “Do we need to take this marriage into the shop?”

Ann: —“the car into the shop.”

Bob: Yes.

Ron: Right.

Bob: Because some couples may look at things and go, “Oh, we’ll just make a few adjustments”; and no, they have deeper issues. They need to see a pastor or a counselor/get something to take care of this.

Dave: I don’t know about you, Ron or Bob; I thought that’s all I needed.

Bob: “Just tweak it a little bit.”

Dave: Yes; I mean, I’m like, “If I don’t go to work and excel there, we don’t have a house,” “…we don’t get a paycheck.” But my marriage: “My wife loves me; so if I put that just on the back burner, she’s good. But my job is not going to give me that kind of grace.”

I realized the same thing you did, Ron; it was like, “She’s been saying things, and I’ve been missing the cues.” All of a sudden, she just said, “I’m done.”

Ron: There really is a third thing in all of our relationships. I mean, your marriage, your us-ness—whatever term you want to use—is the third thing. It’s one thing for Ron to be healthy; it’s another thing for Nan to be healthy. It is a totally different thing to say, “Is our relationship healthy?”

I think sometimes we oversimplify: “She loves me,”—kind of like you just said, you know—“I love her; we’re going to be able to figure this thing out.” But I didn’t quite—I remember, in my wake-up moment, I had no understanding of how far we had drifted; and therefore, how much work it was going to take to begin to restore that/to repair that. It was a long process, and we needed support and help to get there.

Thirty-four years in, we are still working on our marriage. There is not a day that doesn’t go by, where there’s not an opportunity to explore something, or reflect back on that hard season and “What we can learn from it?” We’re always working on our marriage, because God’s always using our marriage to work on us.

Bob: We’re a few laps ahead of you, and you’ll still be working on it when you get to where we are.

Ann: I was going to say, “Won’t we always be working on our marriages?

Ron: Yes!

Ann: “Because we’ve been talking about it: we all need maintenance.”

Bob: If a couple is at a point, where they’re starting to sense that drift towards isolation, how can they diagnose: “Can we fix things just by kind of getting back to basics and starting to do some of those things we used to do?” or “We need to see somebody and get some help.” How can a couple know whether this is big or this is just needing some tweaks?

Ron: The analogy I use a lot of times is—it’s kind of like when you get the sniffles and runny nose; and you’re like: “Is this the flu?” “Is it…I don’t know.

Bob: Right.

Ron: “Could be a cold; I don’t know.” “Okay; let’s address it, and deal with the symptoms; and after about five days, if it goes away, yes, it was a cold. If it doesn’t go away, then you might need to go see a doctor.”

I tell people all the time: “Okay, let’s re-energize your relationship. Let’s get back to doing some of the things you used to do. Is there some stuff you need to talk through? Okay, right; let’s do that as a part of this.” Just, you know, assume it’s a cold; but if that doesn’t seem to help, well, then you might need to consult a pastor, a counselor, somebody who can really help you look at it more deeply than you can do on your own.

Bob: This might be where a couple would say, “We ought to go to one of those Weekends to Remember® and do something that’s big and catalytic.” By the way, we just have a handful of those happening this spring, but there may still be a seat available at one or two of them. You can go to our website,, for more information about that.

Ann: That conference has changed thousands of marriages.

Bob: —tens of thousands over the years; absolutely.

It may be that you need one on one with a pastor, or a counselor, or someone in your community who can give you some focused attention and help; or it may be that you just say, “Okay, let’s read a book together”; or our team has just come up with this new date-box kit called Dates to Remember. So many couples were saying to us, “The Weekends to Remember, limited seating—we need one of those—but we can’t get to one of those now.”

We said, “Well, let’s take the date nights from a Weekend to Remember, and let’s make that something you can do on your own, in your home, that’s fun and engaging.” Each date has a game that you play together as a couple, a video that you watch, some discussion that happens afterwards, and then there’s an opportunity to pray together. It’s designed to be simple and easy to execute but to get you having conversations you would not otherwise have to get you to start making some of the adjustments in your relationship that can patch up some of the problem spots that may have occurred. Now, all of a sudden, you’re working intentionally to pursue us-ness/oneness rather than just accepting the natural drift toward isolation.

I know you, Ron, work with blended couples regularly. Are date nights—or these times of engagement—is this tougher in a blended marriage than it is in an intact marriage?

Ron: Yes; sometimes you’re dating in a crowd with a blended family, so there are considerations that go along with that. I also think, for some couples, dating can actually be problematic a little bit for blended couples, early on in their marriage. In a biological family, when a couple goes out, it gives a great sense of security to the kids that: “Mom and Dad love each other,” and “Look at them smile.” Life is as it should be when that’s the case.

When a blended couple goes out, sometimes the children are envious of that and jealous of that: “Hey, he’s spending time with Mom; and we’re not. It used to be us that got to be with her.” That can sometimes create this competition between stepchildren and a step-parent, for example; but it’s still the right thing for a blended couple to do. They do need to be mindful of the kids’ feelings about it, and not throw it in their face, for example; but yes, going out still nurtures their us-ness. That’s so important, because they have to lead the blended family from their marriage.

I recently had a conversation with Mike and Jana Haney for the FamilyLife Blended podcast. We were talking about habits of healthy couples in blended families, and they were talking a little bit about their challenges in doing dates.

[FamilyLife Blended Podcast]

Jana: We dated for several years without involving our children, and we had some reasons for doing that. Then, when we got married, we would have these plans for the weekends with our children; and we would have trouble. Things wouldn’t go right; we would have issues come up. We would come to the end of the weekend, and we would be disappointed. We would be like, “Oh, that didn’t go right. I just wanted to have a perfect weekend.” Then we started realizing that that was just totally wrong to think that way.

Ron: You were building it up into something.

Jana: We were building it up!

Ron: Yes; into: “Boy, we’re going to have this fabulous weekend. The kids are here: we’re going to do this; we’re going to do that.”

Jana: It was never going to happen.

Ron: You couldn’t achieve that.

Mike: Right.

Ron: And then you felt like you were a failure?

Jana: Well, we just felt like it was never going to happen. This is when we were dating. We started doing things together with our kids: we would make a plan, and it wouldn’t work out. Then we stopped trying to make those times with our children perfect when we were dating, and we started focusing on what went right.

We started counting all the things that went right. We discovered that we could come up with a whole lot of moments that went right, and so then that’s what we started focusing on. We would still look at what didn’t go well, and we would talk about what small changes we could make; but then we just started focusing on all the good moments. That was how we started counting everything.



Bob: What I love about that is the idea of focusing on what goes right, because how many of us have had date nights that did not go right?

Ron: Oh, yes; yes.

Ann: I’m just going to say, “I’m really famous for going on a date night and pointing out all the reasons we’ve had a bad week, relationally.” No wonder Dave didn’t want to go on a date with me anymore!—[Laughter]—like, “Oh, this is going to be fun; Ann’s going to critique how I was the entire week.”

I love this: they focused on the positives.

Ron: Yes; what I really like about what she was saying is—I mean, I was listening to it, as a husband, just now—

Bob: Yes.

Ron: —I’m thinking, “It’s sometimes intimidating to go on dates. There’s so much pressure; and now, I’m not having any fun. I’m uptight!”

Bob: “We could have a fight before this is all over”; right?

Ron: Exactly!

Dave: Yes.

Ron: The date can be ruined by my anxiety, all of a sudden. But if you relax and go, “Wait a minute; wait a minute. There has to be some nice moments. Quit judging it on: ‘Was it 100 percent awesome?’”

Bob: Yes.

Ann: Great point.

Ron: You know, we’re just too hard on ourselves that way. “No, wait a minute; there has to be some nice elements to this. It’s going to contribute to our us-ness, and that’s okay.”

Bob: Yes; so if you’re coaching couples about dating/going out together—having a night, where you’re going to focus, “It’s just the relationship,”—maybe you’ve done it before, and you run out of things to talk about or it hasn’t gone well—are there any rules you would say, “Keep this in mind as you have your date night”?

Ann: I want Ron to talk about the rules. [Laughter] Let’s talk about the dating rules!

Ron: Well, I just want to mention—Ann just gave a great one—“Don’t go on a date and talk about the bad things going on in your relationship.” [Laughter]

Bob: “Don’t make it a toxic waste-dump of a date”; right?

Ann: Yes!

Ron: I will say that, in the grand scheme of life, sometimes on dates, that’s the only time you have to talk about things going on; but in general, we want to try to avoid that.

One of my rules right now is: “Put the phone down.”

Ann: Amen!

Ron: Nan and I have had big conversations around phones being in our hand/on the table: “How much does it divert away?” “If it dings, do we look?” We try to really discipline ourselves—and put it on silent, and put it away—and not let that interrupt our conversation.

Ann: —during your whole date?

Ron: Yes!

Ann: That’s hard; isn’t it?

Ron: Yes; after eight o’ clock at night, we’re doing that.

Ann: You are?

Ron: Yes.

Bob: Here’s what’s hard for me in those—and Mary Ann and I/we have negotiated this—there are times when I can put the phone down, and I can try to give her my undivided attention; but I’m still wondering: “What was that about?” “What?—it just buzzed.”

Ron: Turn the ding off or put it in the other room, Bob.

Bob: Yes; still I’m thinking, “What’s going on in that other room?” [Laughter]

We’ve found this rhythm, where it’s like we’ll have a conversation; and we’ll say, “Okay, time out; check your phone.” We’ll go through that, then we’re back together.

Ann: Is that enabling you?

Bob: She’s okay with this! She checks her phone too. [Laughter]

Ron: Okay; so here’s the takeaway for the audience listening right now; and that is, you and your wife co-created the rules around when and how we access our phones. Every couple may have a little bit of a different answer; but if you negotiate it, and talk it through, and you can decide together—“Alright, this is acceptable for us,”—then it’s probably a pretty good plan.

Ann: I like that.

Dave: What matters in that moment on the date is focused attention. We don’t get a lot of focused attention, because we have busy lives. It’s not a bad thing—kids running around/toddlers—

Ann: Yes, especially with kids.

Dave: —you’re busy moms—it doesn’t matter—but at some point, you have to say, “This relationship matters so much I need to be not distracted,”—whether it’s a phone, or a TV in the background, a sports game going on; I’m bouncing a ball while I’m talking to you—it’s like, “No; focus in here.”

Bob: Yes.

Ann: I’m guilty too—I’m teasing—but when the phone is going off and it’s my kids, I feel like, “Oh, this is a priority,”—you can’t get on the phone—“but this is the kids.”

Bob: We have also had seasons in our marriage, where something is going on, and I know our regular routine is going to be disrupted. I think back to when I was overseeing The Art of Marriage® video project. I was traveling a lot to get video for that, and I was working extra hours to put this whole project together.

Going into the project, I remember Mary Ann and I sitting down and looking at what the next three months were going to look like: how much travel I was going to be doing/when I was going to be home. “We both agree this is the right thing to do,” and “Yes; it’s going to be hard, so let’s just covenant here that we’re going to get through these months, and then we’re going to build on the other side of that an extended period of time, where we’re shutting everything out, and we’re purposing to come back together.” At the end of a long season, where we know we’re going to be apart, “Let’s build in to get back together.”

Dave: And yet, at the same time, during that season, you still can’t completely check out.

Bob: You can’t; no.

Dave: I used to look at Ann, at the beginning of the football season as a chaplain, and say, “Hey, is there anything you want to say to me for the next four months?”

Bob: —“before January”; yes.

Dave: I’m kidding, of course; but it is a busy, busy time.

You were doing that [video]; yet still, somehow, you have to be checking in.

Ann: I was going to say, “The key to what you and Mary Ann have done is you’ve talked about it together—

Bob: —a head of time.

Ann: —‘This is going to be happening,’—even—‘Let’s touch base, even as this is going on, to make sure we’re doing okay.’”

Bob: Yes.

Dave: I have to add this—because this is our life—we’ve had that discussion many times; at least, I have: “Honey, it’s going to be really crazy for the next couple months; but when that’s over, we’ll have a season.” Then we get to the rest season,—

Bob: —and you don’t have the season.

Dave: —and you just keep going.

Bob: Yes.

Dave: I’m guilty of that. She starts to think, “You’re never going to really make our marriage a priority, because you keep saying that”; but at some point, you have to put up or shut up.

Ann: Ron, are there any other dating rules you think are important?

Ron: You know, I just think it’s the discipline of doing something constructive. This date box is a great example of it gives you something constructive to talk about. There was a series of books a number of years ago—my friends Dave and Claudia Arp wrote books, 10 Great Dates—it’s essentially what they did.

I’ve learned that, if I go on a date with my wife, and I have one thought-filled, probing question/just one question I’m going to toss out at some point in the evening—and it’s a little bit about us-ness, or it’s a little bit about our future together, or something that’s really constructive about our relationship—

Ann: Give us an example.

Ron: One example was: “What are we going to do on vacation?” and “How can you and I get some extra time, after the kids have joined us on vacation?”—right? That’s months, in advance, thinking through that a little bit.

A recent one was sort of similar to that. Annually, you should get away as a couple—and retreat and spend time together—it was simply, “When and how can we do that?—“circumstances of our life,” and “We have things coming,” and “There’s this we have to work around; and there’s your schedule and my schedule,”—that’s not an easy conversation to have, but it’s an investment. What I’m saying to her is, “You matter to me, and I really want us to get this on the calendar.”

Dave: Even something as simple as this: If Ann and I are sitting down at dinner or whatever—it could be sitting on the couch—if you don’t have the money to go out, sit on the couch, put a blanket on; you get the popcorn out. If I would say, “Okay, honey, of these five options, which two would you pick for me to be romantic with you? Hold your hand, kiss you, rub your back, talk to you, write you a love note—top two.”

Ann: —“or vacuum the house.” [Laughter]

Dave: Okay, six; she’d add one.

I mean, that right there, says to her you thought about this/you planned this; you really do want to know.

Ann: This is so good, guys. [Laughter]

Bob: Years ago, I remember having dinner with our mutual friend, Dan Allender. He told me about an anniversary date with his wife Becky. He said, at the date, he reached into his jacket pocket; and he pulled out a letter that he handed to her. In that letter he said, “I have been thinking about the gifts I see in you,”—the skills/the abilities—“what you’re really good at.” He had three things: “These are three things where I see you really shine.”

Then he said, “I’d like to help you grow in these areas.” He said, for example, “Have you thought about taking an art class? I’d be happy to watch the kids on Tuesday night; there’s one at the community college if that’s something you’d like to do.” He had a few other suggestions of things; “Is this something that you’d like to do?”

The point was: “I want to help you thrive and flourish,” and “I’ve been thinking about this, and here’s what I’m observing. Let’s talk about that.”

Ron: Everything in that says, “You matter to me.”

Ann: Yes!

Ron: That’s the meaning—that’s the important point there—but what a creative way of getting there.

Bob: Again, we’re back to having some intentionality going in; so you don’t just schedule an evening and go, “Okay, now what do we do?”

I think that’s one of the reasons the team put together this date box is to give husbands and wives a simple/follow the easy instructions, have some fun—something that will jog your conversation a little bit—

Ann: We’ve done the work for you.

Bob: That’s right! With Valentine’s Day coming up, this is a win for a couple to be able to have some purposeful, meaningful conversation together to draw you closer to one another.

David Robbins, who’s the president of FamilyLife, has stepped in here. David, as a ministry, we recognize just how essential it is for couples to have these islands/these moments of time, where they’re focusing on one another.

David: Yes; I mean, Bob, I know that in my head, and we believe that in our hearts; but I actually experienced this just a month ago, when I received the prototype of this Dates to Remember box. Meg and I went through it. I’m here to tell you—we laughed till we cried—and then we talked about this serious place and really unlocked an area that needed to be unlocked. It was a great marriage maintenance tool for us, and I am confident it will be for you as well.

Bob: Well, again, we hope our listeners will go to to find out more about how they can get the Dates to Remember date box sent to them. It’s available now; go to for more information or to order online, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY—we can answer any questions—you can order by phone: 800-358-6329—that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Ask about the Dates to Remember date box when you give us a call.

We hope you have a great weekend; hope you and your family are able, in some form or fashion, to worship together with your local church this weekend. And I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to start talking about what is maybe one of the biggest challenges we face, as men, and “How do we deal with that challenge strategically?” We’re going to talk about lust and about pornography; Joe Rigby will be here to help with that. I hope you can be here 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.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.


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