FamilyLife Today® Podcast

David and Meg Robbins: Marriage when You’re Not Getting Along

with David and Meg Robbins | September 12, 2022
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When you're not getting along in marriage, what's your plan? FamilyLife President David Robbins & wife Meg offer God-sized solutions for what divides us.

  • 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.

When you’re not getting along in marriage, what’s your plan? On FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson host FamilyLife President David Robbins & his wife Meg, who offer God-sized solutions for what divides us.

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David and Meg Robbins: Marriage when You’re Not Getting Along

With David and Meg Robbins
September 12, 2022
| Download Transcript PDF

David: There’s this analogy of two wells that we go back to often:

As you come out the door of your life, you’ve been prone to go to this well that’s right here in front of your front door, theoretically speaking. You draw from it for nourishment; you draw from it to make your life work—your coping mechanisms—you draw from this water that’s always been there. It represents our sinful nature; it’s how we make life work, on our own strength.

But some day, some environmental protection guy comes and goes: “Do you not know that this well’s completely contaminated? It’s killing you! Let me tell you: across that hill—I know you can’t see it—there’s another well. There’s a well; you’ve got to trust it.” It takes faith to go over that hill and draw from it. It is a well of living water, and it represents the Holy Spirit.

Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.

Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at or on our FamilyLife® app.

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.

Dave: Do you remember that time you told me you were my Holy Spirit? Do you remember that?

Ann: I did not say that!

Dave: You’d always say that you said you were like the Holy Spirit.

Ann: That’s like blasphemous; I wouldn’t say that! But I did say—

Dave: No, you said, “I am your Holy Spirit.”

Ann: I said, “I’m helping the Holy Spirit. I’m the Holy Spirit’s helper.” [Laughter]

Dave: So you do remember, though.

Ann: Yes; but I didn’t say, “I am the Holy Spirit.”

Dave: Should I bring out the video to prove that you said—

Ann: I never said that.

Dave: No, you actually didn’t. I think it’s funny to say that she said she was my Holy Spirit—because you know what it does?—it gets her mad at me. [Laughter] And here we are, right now!

Let’s talk about, a little bit, of what that would look like with David and Meg Robbins, who are back in the FamilyLife Today studio; you just walked right over from your office. Welcome back!

David: It is so good to be here, guys. Fun to see you.

Meg: Thanks.

Dave: You sort of did walk over from your office. You have an office a couple hundred yards from here?

David: That’s true; yes.

Dave: I could probably throw a football that far. [Laughter]

David: I’m so impressed. I just want to say I’m so impressed with you, Dave. [Laughter]

Dave: That’s all I was looking for. Let’s close in prayer; we’re done. [Laughter]

David and Meg are here. They come back every once in a while. We love it when you’re here, the president of FamilyLife.

We’re talking about the Holy Spirit because it is one of the most powerful, in my opinion, talks of the weekend at the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. I know you guys have been working on that talk!

David: Yes, we have one coming up this weekend. When we were talking with you guys, of having studio time set apart, we were like: “Let’s bring what we think is the most important/kind of the crux of the Weekend to Remember. You can’t live it out without God’s power for oneness. Let’s talk about it together.”

Meg: Yes; I think, for us, even when we go all the way back to our college days when we first were introduced to the power of the Holy Spirit, and why God even gives us the Holy Spirit, it was hugely transformational. I think, as we’ve seen that play out in our marriage, we realize we really do believe, and experience, that it is the most powerful tool we have to experience oneness in our marriage.

David: Let’s also be honest: we really just needed to talk this message to ourselves.

Meg: We’ve needed the Holy Spirit this week.

Dave: I’m glad you guys need it. [Laughter]

Ann: Talk about that because I think that people understand this—they hear, “Yes, the Holy Spirit lives in me,”—and then, we get in marriage situations that are difficult; and we’re thinking, “How do I do this again?”

Meg: Right; the phrase that’s coming out is not always what’s supposed to be the fruit of the Spirit, out of my actions.

David: Yes; we were lying in bed two nights ago, having one of those conversations, where you’re like, “Gosh, this is how the day is ending. Let’s stay awake and do this,”— and recounting the weeks of just life that adds up—we went from a FamilyLife event that had us away from our kids, and then Meg went home early; and then, we were apart; and then, Meg got sick. You got—

Meg: —Covid.

David: You got Covid.

Meg: That was my first time to have it, actually.

David: Yes; that led to a season, where we weren’t cultivating oneness, and real conversation when you were so tired.

We’ve had two guests come in—right now, actually, my parents are watching in the studio—they’re here, right now,—

Ann: I saw them.

Dave Robbins: —visiting while we have four different kids’ sports over four days. There’s just a lot going on and there’s been a lot of factors.

Two nights ago, we were going, “You know what? We need to submit our hearts to the Holy Spirit to soften where we’re at.”

Dave: I’m glad that you guys had that revelation; because we came off sort of a similar week, and we didn’t think that. [Laughter] II should’ve been thinking: “We need to surrender this to the Holy Spirit.”

We literally, nine days ago, buried Ann’s dad; it was a wonderful celebration, 92 years old.

Ann: —but still emotional too.

Dave: He had 12 grandsons, 26 grandkids. We got on a plane Sunday night, late, absolutely exhausted. I didn’t realize how emotionally and physically—because there’s grandkids—and we’ve got little grandkids, crawling in our bed in our hotel room. [Laughter]

Then we go speak to an NFL conference all week, from Monday to Thursday; and then, went and did a marriage conference for one of our FamilyLife donor couples in Raleigh.

David: Wow; packing it in.

Dave: Preached Sunday, and here we are back. You talk about needing a source of power that we don’t have.

Ann: I think that’s pretty typical for most families; don’t you think?—

Meg: Yes.

Ann: —like it’s the grind that’s hard—

Meg: —running on empty

Ann: —yes, kids are sick; people are sick; yes.

Meg: Yes; it’s busy—all different stages of life—I think we experience that. Probably, when you’re in your stage, you think, “Oh, this one’s the hardest/the most taxing.” But I don’t know that we’d look back and say, “Those were the easy days.”

David: Yes; the circumstances will change, but the grind will always lure us into the mundane and into depending upon ourselves, really.

Dave: Yes; so let’s talk about the power of the Holy Spirit.

Meg, you mentioned it—we had a similar experience—it was my college days. I was pretty new in Christ—so I wasn’t more than a year and a half—but no one had ever taught me to understand what the Holy Spirit’s role was/the power of the Holy Spirit. It was revolutionary when I went through the blue [Cru®] booklet.

Ann: You guys, the blue booklet changed my life—

David: Right; that’s old school right there; yes.

Meg: Yes!

Ann: because it would have—remember, it would have the filling of the Holy Spirit—and the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience…—it goes through all those.

But then, it had the opposite—I remember looking at the opposite, which is anxiety, anger…—I’m like, “Oh! That’s all me. I guess I’m not walking according to Holy Spirit power.”

How do we do that? What’s it look like in a marriage?

David: I would say, first and foremost, it isn’t these grandiose moments. I think, a lot of times, when we think of the Holy Spirit, it’s these really big highs—and sometimes, that can happen—where God’s presence feels so close it overwhelms us. Actually, being empowered day by day with the Holy Spirit becomes a moment-by-moment continual conversation of putting Him in charge, not us; surrendering to His way, not our way.

Meg: When I was growing up, I was aware of the Holy Spirit, and knew that we should have access to Him; but I don’t think I realized how the Holy Spirit works to convict us of our sin when we’re out of line. I think that’s what we were experiencing the other night: I was feeling convicted, for sure, because I was not living out of the power of the Holy Spirit; I was snapping and frustrated.

Not only does the Holy Spirit convict us—but if we respond, and are quick to repent and confess those things, and choose instead to invite the Holy Spirit to take over—it’s like a surrender; it’s like: “Okay; this is where I’m out of line, but I can’t do this on my own.”

I think, for a lot of years, in the beginning of my walk with the Lord, I was striving a lot and trying to be something or obey—which obedience is important—but I think there’s so much more power in making more room in our heart and our life for the Holy Spirit to sit on the throne and truly take over. “Do I trust?”—it’s an act of trust and surrender, and getting myself more out of the way so there’s more room for the Holy Spirit to live in me.

David: Yes; I think about the daily in our lives, and Galatians 5:16 comes to mind: “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives, then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.”

What’s true is that we still have a sinful nature until we get to heaven—for those of us, who are in Christ, we will not be able to sin again someday—but as we sit on this side of eternity, we still have our sinful nature; but a new nature has been put inside of us. God, not only forgives our sin, He puts into us His Holy Spirit/His righteousness that empowers us to live out this Christian life. Tony Evans talks about: “The Christian life isn’t a difficult life; it’s an impossible life.”

There’s this analogy of two wells that we go back to often:

As you come out the door of your life, you’ve been prone to go to this well that’s right here in front of your front door, theoretically speaking. You draw from it for nourishment; you draw from it to make your life work—your coping mechanisms—you draw from this water that’s always been there. It represents our sinful nature of—it’s how we make life work, on our own strength—we’ve got to make life work somehow.

But some day, some environmental protection guy comes and goes: “Do you not know that this well is completely contaminated? It’s killing you! It may sustain you for a moment, but it’s always going to beg for more. There’s nothing good in this water for the flourishing of your entire life. But let me tell you: across that hill—I know you can’t see it—there’s another well. There’s a well; you’ve got to trust it.” It takes faith to go over that hill and draw from it, but it is a well of living water. It represents the Holy Spirit.

God doesn’t just give us chlorine to clean up the old well. Actually, He says, “Left to your flesh, the flesh will always be your flesh. Your sinful nature: you cannot perfect the flesh.” He says in Galatians [3:3]: “You started in the Spirit, but now you’re [trying to perfect] the flesh.”

You can never dress up and chlorinate the water and bring life; you’ve got to draw from the other well that Jesus gives us. When we trust Him, He puts the Holy Spirit inside of us; and we can draw from His divine resources in order to live this thing out, especially the everyday realities of marriage.

Dave: What I’m thinking—David just brought up the well—I don’t know if you were on the [Love Like You Mean It®] cruise, years ago, where I did this visual; it didn’t go well on the cruise. [Laughter]

David: I was not there.

Dave: It was ten years ago, maybe.

David: Okay.

Dave: Long story short: one of the things I never understood about the filling of the Holy
Spirit—when you look at Ephesians 5, where Paul commands us, in verse 18—“Don’t get drunk with wine; it’s a waste of time and debauchery; but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Even when I was in college, and learned about the filling of the Spirit, I didn’t understand—you said it earlier—I thought it was this big high; I didn’t know that it was a moment-by-moment thing.

It wasn’t until seven or eight years ago, I went back as a pastor—I’m teaching this, thinking—“What’s the context of Ephesians 5:18?” What really, I think, it connects to?—Ephesians 5:1—17 verses earlier—let me read it to you:

“Follow God’s example; therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

I’ll read you another translation—from the ESV—It says:

“Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children.”

Now, think about this! I looked it up—“imitators of God” means “mimic/copy God”—so what’s he telling us, in the very beginning of that chapter?—our lives/our marriages, actually, should resemble Christ, which is sort of a scary thought: “Our neighbors are watching us, saying: ‘Oh, so that’s what Christ looks like.’”

Then, as you walk through the passage, you’re like, “How in the world could I ever do that?” Verse 18!—“Don’t get drunk with wine; that’s a waste of time. Be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Again, drunk with wine is—it’s funny; whenever I preach on this—I’m not kidding—guys would come up to me—this happened many times—“Hey, it didn’t say anything about beer, so beer’s good?” [Laughter] I’m like, “You’re missing the whole point!”

David: —the whole point; yes.

Dave: The point is: “Don’t be controlled by a substance like alcohol; it’s a waste of time.” But it’s a great analogy because Paul is saying, “Just as alcohol controls you, in a sense, be controlled by the Holy Spirit of God.” What’s powerful—that a lot of us miss—is the word, “be filled,” is a present participle. Anyone know what that means?—continual action.

Meg: Yes, you have to choose it daily.

David: Present tense: ongoing.

Dave: It’s like you were just saying, David. You don’t go to the well once; you’ve got to keep going back to the well. Literally, last night in bed, I thought,—and I know this is a terrible analogy—"Present participle means it happens once, but it keeps happening.”

  • You don’t go to a football game, and they don’t get in a huddle at the beginning of the game and go: “Okay; here’s 65 plays. Let’s go through them all. We’re never going to huddle again.” [Laughter] They huddle every moment.

It's the same thing we have to do: we have to keep coming back.

Here’s the analogy [during the cruise]: I’ll do it as quick as I can—I didn’t know this; I saw it done; and I’m like, “I’m going to copy this,”—the reason it didn’t go well on the cruise is because, when you do this water analogy, water spills all over.

David: It’s [ship’s] swaying; right.

Dave: It went on the stage; and the production team about died, because it’s hitting wires that are electrical. [Laughter]

Meg: Oh, no.

Ann: That is scary.

Dave: Yes; bottom line is:

Have you ever seen this analogy, where you take a glass of water/pitchers of water—like several pitchers of clear water—and you pour the water into this glass. You say, “This is our life when we give our life to Christ. The Holy Spirit of God—living water—fills us to the brim. That’s what we look like: it’s pure; it’s awesome. You want to drink it; it’s wonderful.”

But we sort of think, at that moment: “I’m never going to sin again; my life’s going to be totally different.” Guess what the reality is? We still struggle, and we still have a nature that still tends towards sin. So here’s what you do:

  • you take—sometimes, it’s anger—and you take ketchup and squirt it in there [glass];
  • it could be envy—(and it’s mustard/whatever you want to do);
  • you’ve got temptation and darkness—(so you get soy sauce or something really dark) (You start throwing relish; I mean, I throw everything in there.) [Laughter]

Next thing you know, you have a clear glass of water that looks like mud. I always say, “By the way, I’m going to drink this.” They’re like, “No!” [Laughter] “So how do you clean up your life?” All of us get there; and we’re like: “This is not the life I want to live! I have more anger in my life than I ever thought I would have after Christ. I have temptation I give in to.”

Here's what we think: “Go to church,” “Clean it up,” “Read the Word,”—again, all that’s good; but it doesn’t do it—if you back to Ephesians 5:18, it’s: “Keep being filled,”/it’s moment by moment. I never knew this would be the reality: but if you take a pitcher of water, and you pour—one, two, three—just keep pouring water in there, it flushes it out/completely out, to the point of where you drink that water.

David: It flushes it out; wow.

Dave: That is what I think we miss: “Every moment of every day, I have to keep letting the Holy Spirit of God flush me out; because I don’t have the power, especially in my marriage, to love her/to love him the way they deserve.”

Ann: Here’s the problem, though, Dave—I hear that, and I’m like, “Yes! Yes,”—and even Meg, when you were saying you and David were getting into some stuff, and you were feeling convicted—have you guys ever done this?—[Laughter]—this will show my sinfulness.

Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with David and Meg Robbins on

FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear where Ann was going with that in just a minute.

But first, obviously, you hear us talk, often, about marriages and how that foundation affects everything else in our lives. One thing we think we all agree on is that great marriages don’t just happen; they’re built with intentionality. We’re always drifting in marriage: either away from each other or, together, toward God.

Here's the great news for your relationship: FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember marriage getaway is back with a full schedule of events, throughout the country, this fall. Even better, right now through Monday, September 19, registrations are 50 percent off; so jump on this chance to intentionally pull closer to each other and God. Get two registrations for the price of one, now through September 19, at

Alright; now, back to Dave Ann with David and Meg Robbins and Ann’s confession of what she sometimes thinks about Dave.

Ann: I’m thinking, “Dave needs to be filled with the Holy Spirit! [Laughter] He needs to go down to that other pond over there and get filled!”

Dave: And she has told me that. [Laughter]

Ann: As I said, because I’m your helper!

Dave: “You’re absolutely wrong; you’re the problem.”

Ann: So what happens, when we feel we’re so angry—because we think: “This is my spouse’s fault,”—do you feel that conviction? Do you know what I mean?

Meg: Yes; or sometimes, I even am in that place, where I feel that—I’m so frustrated at David—thinking, “This is all his fault. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if you hadn’t said this…”

Ann: Right; exactly! There’s this pride in me that thinks/in that moment, I think, “I am so much more spiritual than Dave.” [Laughter]

Dave: Hey, you know, I think this is a woman thing; two women are beating on me. [Laughter]

David: Come on, Dave; that’s true. [Laughter]

Ann: You never feel this way, Dave.

Dave: No, never.

David: I think what’s always true is that the Lord goes: “And I’m going to start with you first.”

Ann: Yes.

David: You know, I think that’s often.

Dave: Don’t you hate that? [Laughter]

Meg: Yes; I think what’s hard is—that moment, where I realize the Holy Spirit is wanting to start with me—but: ‘Am I willing?

Ann: Exactly.

Meg: “Am I willing to humble myself?”

First, I think it starts with my little conversation with the Lord—“Okay; I am obviously in the wrong here too,”—no matter how we got here or what the issues are.

Ann: Or even asking yourself—and I feel like God does this—“Why are you so angry?” He did that with Cain: “Why are you so angry?”

I can point my finger: “Because/did You hear what Dave just said?” or “…what he did? I think it goes back to—I like what you started with—that repentance and confession.

Dave: How do you do it? I’m thinking there’s a listener or two: “I’ve been there. But I don’t know: ‘How do I let the Holy Spirit change that hard heart and prideful spirit in me?’”

Ann: “How does He pour that in and clean out the [dirtiness]?”

Meg: I can so relate—I was laughing when you were saying that, Ann—but I, totally, was there the other night. I didn’t even want to have the conversation, because I was still really frustrated.

Honestly, I think we got there—I didn’t even realize I was feeling frustrated, because everything was so chaotic. I’m finally out of quarantine—and then, I realize there’s so much frustration. I was totally resistant to the fact that I was part of the problem too.

I think, for me, you’re asking, “What do you do? What does that look like?” I think, for me, it’s when I finally get to that point of—not necessarily—it would be great if I could start out to David first, and say, “Okay; I’m sorry. I’m the one: the Lord needs to start with me,”—but that doesn’t usually happen.

Usually, it’s just a little prayer in my heart, letting go—I have to almost visualize myself opening up my hands: “Okay, Lord, help me to let go of this that I’m holding onto,”—and recognize my own sin: where I am, what I’m holding onto, what I’m blame shifting for—or “Do not repay evil for evil [Romans 12:17],”—I’m totally thinking, “Well, you deserve this because you did…” Just starting with a little prayer with the Lord, “Okay; I am in the wrong here too. Help me see where I need You,”—and confessing those things.

I think that starts to soften my heart to let the Holy Spirit—as Bill Bright used to say—“Exhale,” as we confess.

Ann: —spiritual breathing.

Meg: Yes, spiritual breathing: exhale things that need to be confessed. And then you’re able to inhale the power of the Holy Spirit instead/in place of those things.

David: I think what’s interesting about spiritual breathing—you’re exhaling with repentance, which is the hardest part; you’re owning your part. And then, you’re inhaling with faith: “Okay; this is what’s true...”

Two nights ago, when we were going to bed, with that tiff, my mind—where does it go?—it has a choice to spiral right back down into a negative cycle:

  • “Will we ever get out of this?” “How long will this take?” “This going to grow into a big issue.”


  • “Okay, Lord; what is true? You’ve given me a wife that, for 20 years, consistently repents and owns what she can own as I seek to own what I can own. Lord, You have given me this gift of a woman whom I want to make sure she knows she’s cherished. I’m not giving her that now in this season: ‘Okay, Lord; I repent.’”

“What do we do in order to make it really practical?”—as you turn [in repentance], and ask the practical question—a lot of times, the sentence prayers are not just, “Lord, help me!”—the sentence prayers are:

  • “Lord, let me see what’s true.”

Ann: Yes, “Show me.”


  • “Let me respond in faith and actually tell You, Lord, ‘Yes, this is what’s true; thanks for reminding me of that. This is what I want to be grateful for; absolutely.’”
  • “Thank You, Lord—that we get to have time tomorrow at this time—I want to/okay; I’m sensing You want me to go there tomorrow, during this small window we have without kids in the equation; I’ll go there. I’ll take this step of faith.”

Dave: I think we’ve said it: it is sometimes so hard. As I was listening to both of you, I thought, “What is it?”—I think it’s pride.

Ann: That’s what I was going to say.

Dave: We just don’t want to put that away. I want her to pay—I think I am right—she’s wrong. When the Holy Spirit is nudging you: “You’ve got to own your side of this,” I think it’s hard. But when we do—like you just said, and we’ve all done it—we’ve talked about a lot of defeat, but there’s a lot of victory as well.

There’s moments I look back—and it’s like I can remember walking through the kitchen, years ago, and I was so mad at her—and she was so hurting; I could see she was hurting. And I still/it was like, “I don’t care that you’re hurting, because you’re wrong and I’m right.” Then, I could feel the Holy Spirit, like: “You’re wrong here. Are you going to put away your pride, and humble yourself, and let Me work?”

It was hard, but I did. And guess what?—He worked. The fruit of the Spirit became real; there was love, and joy, and peace, and patience. And here’s the one I didn’t have—kindness!—I was not being kind, because I was so full of pride.

I think there’s a husband or wife, listening right now, and you’re holding onto that. I’m wondering if the Holy Spirit has just used this moment, to say, “Give Me your heart. I will fill it. I will give you My fruit that you can’t produce on your own; but if you let Me, watch what I do.”

 Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with David and Meg Robbins on FamilyLife Today. David is the president of FamilyLife. Dave and Ann are going to be back with them, again, tomorrow to fill us in on what to do when everything seems to be going wrong in your relationship; that’s tomorrow.

At FamilyLife, we believe God does some of His most amazing work in homes, just like yours to make a difference, one home at a time. That’s why we do radio broadcasts, and podcasts, and Weekend to Remember marriage getaways, and small group Bible studies: to help strengthen families to make an impact in their corner of the world.

You can help make an impact for even more families by financially partnering with FamilyLife. Give at, or call with your donation at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

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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