FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Dating or Engaged–with Purpose: Sean Perron & Spencer Harmon

with Sean Perron, Spencer Harmon | September 27, 2023
Play Pause

Want to do relationships differently? Authors Sean Perron and Spencer Harmon point you in the right direction for dating, engagement, or marriage with purpose and depth.

I did not realize how absent-minded I was until I got married, when there was another person counting on me. [Laughter] I remember one time I thought, “I'm going to help make the spaghetti.” This is in the first three months of marriage. I'm in there stirring the spaghetti, thinking “Look at me. I'm such a great husband!” Then my wife comes in after me. This still happens today. She looked up, and there was spaghetti sauce on the ceiling. -- Spencer Harmon

  • 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.

Authors Sean Perron and Spencer Harmon point you in the right direction for dating, engagement, or marriage with purpose and depth.

MP3 Download Transcript

Dating or Engaged–with Purpose: Sean Perron & Spencer Harmon

With Sean Perron, Spencer Harmon
September 27, 2023
| Download Transcript PDF

Spencer: I did not realize how absent-minded I was until I got married, when there was another person counting on me. [Laughter] I remember one time I thought, “I’m going to help make the spaghetti.” This is in the first three months of marriage. I’m in there stirring the spaghetti, thinking “Look at me. I’m such a great husband!” Then my wife comes in after me. This still happens today. She looked up, and there was spaghetti sauce on the ceiling.

Ann: Noooo!

Spencer: She said, “You’re a tall guy, but how did you even do that?”

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 or on the FamilyLife® app.

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: We have Spencer Harmon and Sean Perron back in the studio with us. You guys have written this really interesting trilogy, I guess you’d call it.

Ann: Yes, yes.

Dave: You’re like The Lord of the Rings, you know?

Ann: There we go.

Spencer: That’s right. He’s definitely Gandolf.

Sean: Just like Lord of the Rings.

Dave: He’s Gandolf? [Laughter] We talked about it yesterday, Letters to a Romantic. I love that title. By the way, okay, I have both of you here. Who came up with the title?

Spencer: I think it was you.

Sean: I think it was me also. Yes, I’ll take credit for that.

Ann: Look at that, Sean!

Dave: Way to defer!

Ann: Yes!

Dave: If you missed yesterday, both these guys are married; four kids and almost three?

Sean: Yes, that’s right.

Dave: And now we know what the third one is.

Sean: That’s right.

Ann: And you’ve been married nine and eleven years.

Sean: Yes.

Spencer: Yes.

Dave: So Letters to a Romantic: On Dating, On Engagement, and On Marriage. You know, we could separate all three. We talked a lot yesterday about dating, and that’s why Ann’s story of our own sons—

Today, let’s talk about engagement, maybe marriage. We’ll see where it goes. But as you think about dating—we didn’t even bring this up yesterday: what’s the goal? For a Christian that wants to honor God in dating, is it even biblical? What’s the goal?

Spencer: The way I define it in our book is dating is “exploring with purpose whether or not you should get married” with somebody. Here’s what I mean by that. There’s an exploration dynamic in dating, right? You don’t go on your first date with a girl and say, “Okay, here’s my 15 questions to figure out if you’re going to be my wife.”

Sean: Yes, please don’t do that.

Spencer: That’s a great way to not get a second date.

Dave: Yes.

Spencer: But there’s an exploratory element of this. “Hey, we’re getting to know each other. Can we laugh together? What do you believe about life? What are your friends like? We’re just spending time together and having fun together.”

Ann: “Where are you spiritually?”

Spencer: “Where are you spiritually? I want to know what your walk with the Lord is. Where do you go to church?” All of those things. There’s an exploratory element that requires some freedom, but it’s always governed by purpose, right? We don’t date just for the thrill of knowing, “There’s a pretty person that likes me,” right? That’s selfish, and that’s not loving your neighbor as you love yourself.

There’s a purpose that’s always governing what we’re doing in our exploration, and that purpose is marriage. “Can I marry this person?” And when we think about marriage, we’re thinking about it biblically. “Are you someone who is trusting in Jesus Christ? What role and how much authority does God’s Word have in your life? What’s your vision for your life? What do you want to do? Where does the local church play into your life?” All of those things are governing the way that you explore things.

Ann: And some people are listening and thinking, “I just wanted to have fun! What was all that?” [Laughter]

Spencer: Yes.

Ann: But you’re saying there should be a purpose behind it, because marriage is pretty important.

Spencer: Yes, that’s right, and ultimately we can’t be selfish, right? Many of us are so worldly in how we think about dating. We think, “The point of dating is for me to have the maximum amount of fun and pleasure as possible.” That’s incredibly selfish to say! What if the point of marriage were to love and serve this person, and explore whether or not you could get married for the glory of God?

Sean: Yes. “Whatever you do, whether you eat, drink, or go on a date, or if you eat and drink on a date, do it all to the glory of God.”

Dave: Is that true pleasure? Is that your definition?

Sean: It is. “Glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” I think when you do that, when you lose yourself and you have pleasures at the right hand of God, Psalm 16 talks about [being] filled with joy that is unspeakable and full of glory. The happiest being that exists is God. God is happier than anyone has ever thought about.

“Heaven is a world of joy. Heaven is a world of love,” Jonathan Edwards says, so we will spend an eternity getting to know this happy God. Because happiness originated with God, it was His idea, then we are happiest when we are loving Him, when we’re enjoying Him, when we’re knowing Him.

Dave: One of the things you mentioned—again, as you talk, I’m thinking, “You did kiss dating goodbye?” [Laughter] “Or you didn’t?”

Sean: Yes and no.

Dave: You guys sort of grew up—you’re a little young, but that was right as you were probably little boys coming in—

Sean: Oh, no, that was big. It was big.

Spencer: Yes.

Dave: So you kissed it goodbye, or you kissed it hello?

Sean:  I think it’s a mistake to understand dating as a whole category as sinful.

Spencer: Yes.

Sean: But it all depends on what you do with it. The purpose of dating is to pursue marriage, so if you’re dating selfishly, if you’re dating aimlessly, then you’re going to wind up in a cul-de-sac of brokenness and pain and heartache that you can’t get out of. But if you use dating to glorify God, I think that’s possible, so that’s why I say “Yes and no.” [Laughter]

We didn’t jettison the entire concept, but we are seeking to be purposeful and intentional and biblical on how we go about it.

Ann: You guys have done this right. As I look at you, I should say you’ve done it biblically.

Spencer: Okay.

Ann: Your dating experience, your wedding experience—

Dave: Engagement.

Ann: Then you get married. You’ve been married a while; you have kids. Is there anything you wish you would have known going into these first, even, five to ten years? “Oooh, I wish somebody would have said this to me.”

Spencer: In the marriage book, I wrote the first chapter, and I remember sitting down, thinking, “How do we start this thing? How do we—?” I wrote this sentence, and that’s the first thing that popped into my mind when you asked this question: “Marriage is an experiment in exposure.” Let me explain what I mean by that. I did not understand how much marriage was going to expose me, like in my heart, right?

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Good and bad.

Spencer: You walk into marriage and you know—we did premarital counseling so we know in theory: “Hey, you’re going to go into marriage and listen. You’re going to see your own sin.” But then you get into marriage, and you get this 3-D picture of your sin, and it’s everywhere you look, because you’re living life with another person.

Ann: Oh, that’s good. At least you saw your own sin. I’m like, “Look at his sin!” [Laughter]

Spencer: I think that it is my pride, though, that actually motivates that answer, because I think you go into marriage thinking8 “Well, I think I know the ways that they need to grow.”

Ann: Yes.

Spencer: But then you realize, “Wait a second. I’m the common denominator in all our problems.” [Laughter] That was a shocker. That was something that I had to really wrestle with.

I’m an internal processor, so there are no loud explosions of anger with me. All of this stuff happens inside of me, and I’m wrestling with the Lord. “I am not as far along as I thought I was before we said, ‘I do.’” It was a humbling experience for me, and actually motivated a lot of what we wrote.

Ann: Yes, I bet.

Spencer: “Okay, we have to do this all over again. We have to figure out how we apply the gospel of Christ to all these different areas, all these different firsts of marriage. How do we apply it here?”

Dave: Was there one that jumps out? Because when I think of me, and this is 42 years ago, I was shocked at how selfish I was, and I was even more shocked at how much more selfish she was than I was. [Laughter]

Ann: I was shocked at how selfish you were, too! [Laughter]

Dave: I knew I was selfish. Like you said, then it was 3D. Do you have something like that? “I just didn’t realize I was this bad?”

Ann: And mine was pride. I didn’t realize how prideful I was.

Spencer: This is going to sound really funny, but I did not realize how absent-minded I was until I got married, when there was another person counting on me. [Laughter] I remember one time I thought, “I’m going to help make the spaghetti.” This is in the first three months of marriage. I’m in there stirring the spaghetti pan, thinking, “Look at me. I’m such a great husband!” Then my wife comes in after me. This still happens today.

She’s looking around, like “I don’t know how it’s humanly possible for you to make such a mess.” She looked up, and there was spaghetti sauce on the ceiling. [Laughter]

Ann: Noooo!

Spencer: She said, “How is there spaghetti sauce—how did you even--you’re a tall guy, but how did you even do that?” She was very, very gracious with me. The other thing, I think, was I did not realize that there was a lot of fear of man and people pleasing in my heart, because when you’re a man and you get married, God is calling you to lead, and to be courageous, and to have a vision, and to set direction, and to lead your family according to God’s Word.

I realized there’s still just a lot of fear there. There’s a lot of timidity that I had to overcome and say, “Okay, this precious woman that God has given me is counting on me to lead us spiritually.” And then we had kids right away. We got pregnant three months into marriage. It was like, “Okay, now there are these sweet little people that are looking at me for leadership, too, and I need to lead this family spiritually.”

There was fear that I had to overcome and grow in courage in the Lord in doing that.

Dave: Yes, that’s real.

Sean: I realized that I was on a different time schedule than Jenny. By saying that, that’s part of my sin. I realized that my time, the way it needed to work, was the correct way; and the way that she wanted it to work was not aligned with mine. That’s a small thing, but it’s the small things that add up. And if you don’t keep short accounts with one another, if you’re not continually seeking to confess, “Oh, I blew it just then;” “I was trying to rush you out the door;” “I was delaying, dragging my feet, because I didn’t think we needed to be there on time.”

If I don’t confess that right away and say, “Would you please forgive me? That was arrogant. I shouldn’t have said that. That was sinful. I was harsh. I was rough. I wasn’t gentle.” When you keep short accounts, it serves your whole family. It serves the Lord, it serves the church, it serves the people you’re around because people know, “Oh, they’re not harboring bitterness. They’re not keeping wrongs. They’re real. They’re trying to confess their sin. They’re trying to repent,” and that’s what the Lord wants—for us to honor Him. So, the small things do add up.

I thought of one in engagement, though. This is a bit of a curve ball. You asked what you wished you knew in advance. I did not anticipate the onslaught of bad advice I would receive. I was struck over and over again with people’s opinions. There are so many opinions. Everyone has an opinion about everything, which is why we wrote a book.

Spencer: Which is exactly why!

Sean: Yes, we have opinions, too! [Laughter] I had people come up and say, “You know what? You guys seem happy now, but just wait until the day after you’re married!” I’m thinking, “Well, what happens the day after you get married?” I’d say, “Well, that was really weird, Jenny. These people—something bad must happen the second day.”

And then I had people say, “Oh, you know what? You’re going to do great the first six months of marriage; just wait ‘til year one. In year one, that’s when all of the hordes of Satan come and visit your home.” [Laughter] I’m thinking, “What is wrong with everyone? Everyone is doom and gloom, prophesying the world’s going to end at some determined point in the relationship, in marriage.”

I thought, “You know what? I need to figure this out! Is that true? Is that what they’re saying? Is there really something that happens at year five, or something that happens at year whatever, that makes this really bad?” The answer is no; the answer is we’re sinners, and that’s going to happen at any time. But praise God for the gospel, that has mercy and grace to fill us up so that we can change. We don’t have to be stuck in our sinful preferences or sinful idiosyncrasies. We can really grow and change over time.

Ann: Mmm, that’s good.

Dave: Yes, I was thinking I had no idea—and I didn’t really deal with it for more than five years—how harsh my words were. She told me, but I didn’t believe it. I didn’t see it, and it’s a long story. I had a videotape catch me on tape, and I saw it for the first time. A few years ago—maybe you know the name John Gottman. Do you know that name?

Sean: Yes.

Spencer: Yes.

Dave: —a Jewish man, who’s a writer and a student of marriage relationships, especially conflict. He put a name on that I had never heard before. He says the worst thing that can happen in a marriage is contempt. He calls them the “Four Horsemen.” One of them is criticism; we criticize our spouse. He says contempt is when you criticize your spouse with a sense of arrogance, “I’m better than you. Why are you such a —?”

I had contempt, and she saw it and would point it out. I couldn’t see it, and I was shocked when I saw it. It was ugly, and it was hurtful.

Sean: Yes.

Dave: If I [hadn’t] had a wife to be able to sharpen me and speak truth in love, and she did—sometimes not in love, but she spoke truth. [Laughter] Many times with grace and love; but if I hadn’t seen that, I don’t think we’d be sitting here today.

Sean: Yes.

Dave: That’s one of the beauties of marriage, too, because God gives you a partner who is going to help sharpen you to become like Christ, which is our ultimate goal. That’s the beauty of marriage, but it’s also the agony, because it’s hard, isn’t it?

Sean: “The wounds of a friend are better than the kisses of an enemy.” You want your wife to be kissing you all the time, but also your wife needs to be able to point out your sin, and point out, “Hey, you know what? I think this is an area you can grow in Christ,” and she can do it in truth and love, but it’s a real blessing; it’s a real help.

Ann: Let’s talk about this a little bit, because you guys talk about it in your book, in your Letters. You talk about the importance of going to church as a couple. Why is it so important, do you think, that young and old married couples are in the church?

Spencer: The church is where all the action is. If I had everybody remember a phrase, it would be that one: the church is where all the action is in God’s plan. God is saving a people from every tribe and tongue and nation, and He’s including them in His people, the Church, which is His family. What’s really striking is that almost every piece of marriage advice in the Bible is written in a letter in the context of a church, right?

Paul writes about marriage in Ephesians five, the passage that’s always read at every wedding. Who is he writing? To a bunch of Christians in a church. I Corinthians 13: it’s written to a bunch of Christians in a church. The Bible’s advice assumes the church for romance. It assumes it throughout, because that’s where all the advice comes.

Here are a couple of things: if I’m talking to a couple and they ask, “Alright, tell me why I need to go to church in my marriage? Do we really need to prioritize this?”

Ann: “We can just watch it on TV.”

Spencer: Yes. “Do we really need to do this? It’s a lot. It’s our one day to sleep in. What do we do?” I want to say to somebody, “Okay, first of all, do you want your marriage to grow in a way that honors God?” Most Christians are going to say, “Absolutely.” I’m going to say, “Okay, listen. At church is the place where you are going to be hearing the Bible preached regularly, and your relationship needs to be built on the truth of God’s Word.”

“The Bible says that the church is the pillar and buttress of truth. It holds it up in the culture, and it holds it up for us to see in our relationships. The second thing is that the church is going to be the place where you’re going to be in relationships with other Christians who [Ephesians 4:15] are going to speak the truth in love into your life.”

In our dating, engagement, and marriage, the most crucial parts and moments of our dating, engagement, and marriage were punctuated with couples from our local church speaking into our life. When we were deciding to date, there were older couples who loved God who were speaking into that and giving us counsel. When we were about to get married, there were Ward and Heather, who were speaking into our life, helping us think through conflict, and they were a part of our church.

They were seeing us on Sunday, and they were seeing us on Tuesday, and they were there when the conflicts were happening. They were seeing all the ugly stuff that was coming out. They were there, and they were applying God’s truth to our life. And now we’re married, and look, we’ve written books on dating, engagement, and marriage. I would say, at least once a year, Taylor and I are trying to figure something out in our marriage, or we’re in a conflict in our marriage, and we [realize], “We can’t figure this out. We need help.”

We call an older, godly couple, and we say, “Hey, we need to talk.” They say, “Okay, you need to talk. Let’s set something up.” “No, we need to talk tonight about this! [Laughter] “Seriously.”

Dave: “We’re in your driveway.”

Spencer: “We’re coming over right now to talk about this. This is urgent. We have to get on the same page.” I’m just saying that is the gift of the Body of Christ. The real question is not, “Why should we go to church?” It’s “Why would you not?” When we know what God’s design is, why would we want to prioritize anything else in our life over this incredible gift that God has given us? It’s not perfect. It will hurt you sometimes, but it will also build into your marriage for a lifetime.

Sean: A screen doesn’t know you. A screen is just a screen, but people in the church, to what Spencer is saying, they know you. They can speak and say, “Oh, yes. You do have a blind spot. Oh, yes. You have a booger in your nose.” [Laughter] “Oh, yes. You have something on your face. Let’s get that off. Let me help you out.” And you say, “Oh, wow, I do! Thank you. I needed that.” It’s a real gift the screen just can’t give.

Spencer: We need to build into our lives places for our marriage where we can’t hide. If we hide, we will not thrive, and we will not glorify God in the way He wants us to. We were built for the Body of Christ. One of the things I would say to a couple if you’re thinking about this right now is, if you’re a believer, God has made the church to be a blessing in your life.

But then He’s made you to be a blessing in the life of other couples. You do not know the people who you are meant to be ministering to right now, that are not being ministered to. You don’t know how God’s going to use your story. You don’t know how God’s going to use where you are right now, in five years, to bless somebody who’s going to be where you are. Avail yourself of that.

Ann: You guys are talking about more than just attending a church for that hour and then leaving, and then not having anything to do with anybody; a small group. You’re saying this is your local body of believers that you’re invested in, that you’re spending time in, that you’re serving and loving. You guys are both in a church. You’re pastors.

Spencer: Yes.

Sean: Yes.

Ann: So, this is your soapbox.

Sean: This is it, yes.

Ann: Yes, this is it.

Dave: We speak—we have for almost 40 years now—at marriage conferences around the country. We do our own Vertical Marriage weekend, and we do the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember®. You guys know this. From the beginning to the end, we’re always saying, “This conference won’t change your marriage. What you do after will.”

“We’re going to give you great, biblical—God’s Word—but if you don’t do anything after, you’re not going to be any better in six months. You may be better for a couple weeks, but six months later you’ll [say], ‘That didn’t work.’” I’ll never forget. I was speaking to athletes in Iowa. This was decades ago, and I’m walking through this hotel lobby with this 6’6” Iowa college basketball player, and this woman is sitting in the lobby.

She yells, “Hey, you!” We both look. I don’t know this lady; he doesn’t know this lady, Just sort of to be nice we ask, “Are you talking to one of us?” She said, “Yeah, the bald guy.” W walk over, both of us, and I say, “Do I know you?” She said, “I went to a marriage conference three years ago in Des Moines. Did you speak? It was FamilyLife.”

I said, “Yes, I spoke there, and Ann wasn’t with me. I was with another couple, and I was the single male guy there.” Anyway, long story short, I said to her, “How was the conference?” She said, “Life-changing, amazing, best thing we ever did for our marriage.” Then she got this look of despair, and I said, “Well, how are you doing now?” She said, “We didn’t make it.”

Spencer: Oh, no.

Dave: I said, “What do you mean you didn’t make it?” She said, “Well, we’re not divorced, but we’re separated, and we’re not doing well.” I said, “Huh. Can I ask you a question?” I will never forget this moment. She said, “Sure, what?” I asked, “You know when we talked at the weekend, do you remember us saying, ‘Get plugged into a local church,’ and ‘There are some resources you need to get connected with other couples?’ Can I just ask you an honest question? Did you do that?”

She said, “No, we did nothing after that conference.” I said, “Can I pray for you?” I walked away, and I remember saying to that dude, “Dude, listen to what happened there. It was a great weekend. It did nothing, because the local church is where this is”—what did you say?

Spencer: The local church is where all the action is.

Dave: It’s where the action is.

Ann: I like that, because it sounds like you don’t want to miss it.

Sean: That’s right.

Spencer: That’s right.

Dave: We’re at the end of another day. I would just say listening to a podcast is not going to change your marriage either.

Sean: That’s so true.

Dave: It’s helpful. It’s why we do it; but if you don’t do what these guys are saying right here—and we’re not saying it because we’re pastors and in ministry. We’re saying it because that’s the way God made the Body of Christ. You can watch it on a screen, you can sing a song in your living room by yourself. It’s nothing like standing beside flesh and blood people you don’t even like beside you, singing a song and then getting connected in a small group with other couples who are ahead of you.

I’m guessing you guys are now pouring into other couples behind you? That’s the beauty of the church.

Sean: Yes.

Spencer: Yes.

Dave: I’m just going to remind you, if you don’t do that, I can promise you one thing: nothing is going to change in your life. And if you do that, I can promise you something else: God will show up and do something in your life. Listen to what these guys are saying.

Ann: And let me add, Dave, too: it will change the lives of your kids.

Sean: Amen.

Ann: Get into a church that they’re preaching the gospel, that they’re studying the Word, and that you’re connecting with other couples. It’s life changing, and it’s what Jesus intended.

Spencer: Amen.

Shelby: You know, community is always a part of what it means to live the Christian life. Christianity was never meant to be a solo thing. So, if you haven’t already, find a church, get with your people, and lean in. It’ll be messy, but it will also be amazing. I’ve experienced nothing but messiness and amazingness in my church experience, and I love it. I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Sean Perron and Spencer Harmon on FamilyLife Today.

Sean and Spencer have written a collection of books. They’re called Letters to a Romantic. They’ve written it to specific areas of life, so Letters to a Romantic: On Dating, On Engagement, and then, for the First Years of Marriage. You might be thinking, “Well, that’s not me. I’m not dating or engaged, or I am not experiencing the first years of marriage.”

Well, there are more than likely people in your life or in your church or in your family that are going through that right now, so these three books could be a fantastic gift to give away to someone who’s going through that right now. This book bundle is going to be our gift to you when you partner with us financially here at FamilyLife Today.

You can go online to or give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329; again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.” Also, if you know anyone who needs to hear conversations like the one you heard today, would you be willing to share this program from wherever you get your podcasts? And while you’re there, you can really help others learn about FamilyLife Today by leaving us a review.

Tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be back again with Sean Perron and Spencer Harmon. They’re going to talk about how modesty and beauty are not contradictory to one another. That’s coming up tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.

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

FamilyLife Today is a donor-supported production of FamilyLife®, a Cru® Ministry.

Helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.


We are so happy to provide these transcripts to you. However, there is a cost to produce them for our website. If you’ve benefited from the broadcast transcripts, would you consider donating today to help defray the costs? 

Copyright © 2023 FamilyLife. All rights reserved.