Dean Inserra: When the Problem is Your Spouse
When you suspect your marriage problem is actually your spouse -- what then? On FamilyLife Today, Dave & Ann Wilson host author Dean Inserra, who plunges into what to expect from marriage when it goes wrong.
About the Guest
When you suspect your marriage problem is actually your spouse — what then? Author Dean Inserra plunges into what to expect from marriage when it goes wrong.
Dean Inserra: When the Problem is Your Spouse
David: Before I pass it to Dave and Ann for today’s show, this is David Robbins, president at FamilyLife®. We’ve had this very unique opportunity this month for a matching-gift challenge, where any gift that’s given to FamilyLife is doubled.
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Dean: Love, now, is a feeling in our culture. You’ll hear a couple say, “We just fell out of love.” Well, that’s impossible, because love’s a choice. Every wedding I officiate at, I have this one line I always say—I really think it’s important—I’ll say, “Feelings got you to your dating life. Feelings may have even got you to your engagement photos. Feelings possibly could have gotten you to this day, right here at the altar. But you know what gets you to a 50th wedding anniversary?—choosing to love each other every single day.”
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 FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
I think one of the surprises about our marriage, in the beginning, is we just weren’t happy. [Laughter]
Dave: Yes, that would be a surprise, especially since we thought, going in, what probably every couple thinks, “We will be the happiest married couple ever, because—
Ann: —we love Jesus.”
Dave: —“we love Jesus; we love each other; we’re going into fulltime vocational ministry. How could it go wrong?”
Ann: “Why wouldn’t Jesus bless us and give us happiness in our marriage? Isn’t that what He does?”
Dave: Again, we don’t need to go into our story, because our listeners have heard it too many times. But six months in, you’re [Ann’s] saying the biggest mistake in your life was marrying me.
And here’s what we often haven’t gotten into about that part of our story: is that we both—I’m not even sure that we talked about it at the time—but we both sort of blamed God: “We’re following Him; we’re obeying His will;—
Ann: We felt called to be married.
Dave: —“we’re not happy. Isn’t that what God does? God’s about happiness and happiness in our marriage.” That’s sort of/we thought, maybe, the goal of marriage.
We found out: “No, God has a bigger vision than that,”—not that that’s a bad thing—but it is not the goal.
Ann: God’s goal for marriage is much more than happiness.
Dave: Yes; we’re bringing this up because we’ve got Dean Inserra back with us today. And he didn’t write a marriage book about it, but you sort of did.
Dean, welcome back to FamilyLife Today, first of all. Thanks for being here.
Dean: It’s great to be back.
Dave: Yesterday, we talked a little bit about your book, Getting Over Yourself; which you know, that would be a great title for a marriage book. [Laughter]
Dean: Definitely; that could be the essence to a strong marriage, that line right there.
Dave: I know; I mean, if every spouse understood that.
Let me read your subtitle—it is not a marriage book—but we’re going to talk about how it applies to marriage, because it is about theology. Man, marriage is about theology; and our theology [at the beginning of our marriage] was not God’s theology. But your subtitle for Getting Over Yourself is Trading Believe-in-Yourself Religion for Christ-Centered Christianity.
Again, you’re a pastor of a church in Tallahassee.
Ann: You’re married to Krissie; you have two sons and a daughter.
Dave: Yes; so this is stuff you’re living in as a pastor—theology—what you teach/what other churches teach.
Yesterday, we talked about the new prosperity gospel; you sort of explained the theology. Give us a 30-second reminder of what that is.
Dean: The new prosperity gospel, which I’m asking people to get over—to move on from it, and to really be careful and be warned over—is the idea that God exists for your self-fulfillment, for your personal potential, for your perceived greatness, to make your wildest dreams come true and, ultimately, to make you happy. Like that’s God’s purpose: He’s a life coach; He’s a genie; and He exists, basically, for your personal happiness.
Ann: We should have met with Dean before we got married. [Laughter]
Dave: Yes; you know, you just sort of described what a lot of us—and by the way, in the church as well as out of the church—think when we get married and, really, in anything.
As we talk about marriage today, you think God is going to make us happy in our marriage because we’re following Him. What is wrong with that perspective?
Dean: I think it’s the idea that marriage, first, exists for our personal happiness—where we see in the Scriptures—I think marriage exists more for our holiness. If God’s big plan for our lives is to make us more like Jesus, then why would His greatest institution, outside the church—that being marriage—be anything but that?—the process of trying to be like Jesus. We were having lunch together; and I told you: “If you want to see how selfish you are, get married,” “If you want to see how really selfish you are, have kids.” [Laughter]
Ann: That’s true!
Dean: I think marriage is part of the sanctification process; but ultimately, marriage is what He uses to point us to Himself. It’s a visible portrait—marriage is—of the invisible reality of the relationship between Christ and the church. For us living that out, as human beings and not God, it’s a daily commitment, in covenant to each other, because of the covenant that God has made with us.
Dave: Now, does God not want us to be happy in our marriage?
Dean: I think He definitely wants us to be happy in our marriage; I think He sometimes defines happiness differently than we do. Our view of happiness is very confined to an American/Western idea of this sort of human flourishing in the moment; meaning, things are exactly as I want them to be—that I have this feeling, right now, of happiness in the moment—and if it’s not that, then something must change.
In the new prosperity gospel, when it comes to marriage, what is happening is this message comes regularly that you just do more of what makes you happy. You can walk into different businesses; there will be a sign on the wall: “Do more of what makes you happy.” But Christians will put some God language on top of that and say, “God wants you to do more of what makes you happy”; so it sounds spiritual/it sounds more kosher.
In the new prosperity gospel, you can say one of the biggest offenses is doing what they call “settling.” They usually say: “You are settling for less than God’s best.” How that’s usually translated in life is you think settling means that, right now in this moment: “I’m not happy, and I don’t have what somebody else has. I’m not miserable; I’m just not happy in the moment. This is hard, and I have friends out there that aren’t having to deal with this. Yes, I love my spouse; yes, I love my kids; but is there a way for me to find happiness in this moment?”
The messaging is: “Get rid of anything that is keeping you from being happy.” In their mind, who is that person? It’s the symbol of what’s mundane in their life, which is their spouse, even though they’re not mad at their spouse; they’re not going to say anything bad about their spouse. They’ll say, “Oh, he’s a great dad”; “She’s a great mom, but we just got married a little bit young. We never had a chance to actually explore and just sort of find ourselves.” And here it comes: “We just settled, and I think God has somebody out there that’s better for me that would make both of us happier.”
That is happening in churches. I didn’t paint some false sort of—
Ann: That’s happening everywhere.
Dean: That’s happening all the time. Of course, in the world, we should expect it to happen; but in the church, it’s happening over and over again. In the name of pragmatism, and not wanting to offend anybody, we’re not talking about this in the pulpit; because it represents so many people that are sitting in the pews.
Dave: What would you say to a spouse that would come to you, maybe as a pastor, and say, “You know, I’ve been married five years,” “…ten years,”—it doesn’t matter; pick a number—and they say, “I feel like I married the wrong person.” You know they’re saying that because, “I’m not as happy as I thought I’d be with this person.” What would you say to them?
Dean: First, I would want to know: “Has there been abuse?” “Has there been adultery?” “What is actually happening here?” If none of those things are taking place, then I want to know—if they claim to be a Christian—something as simple as: “Where are you getting this idea from? These thoughts that you’re having/these feelings that you’re having, why are you letting these things form your understanding of marriage rather than the Scriptures?”
I think we have to make sure that we communicate that marriage is a forever, in this life, covenant; and God does not give us the option, outside an exception clause that Jesus would give about adultery that was not able to be reconciled for whatever reason—obviously, that’s a last resort in just my personal opinion—and if you think the biggest problem in your marriage is your spouse, and the only solution to it being solved is getting out of the marriage, I would just suggest to that person that they have absolutely no idea of what marriage is supposed to be, as designed by the Scriptures.
I don’t think marriage is supposed to make you miserable either—it’s God’s institution; God designed it—He’s the author of life, and He gave us marriage. If that’s true, as my uncle used to tell me, “If it’s going to be forever, it might as well not be miserable; so let’s start doing the work of that.”
I think one of the biggest barriers to our sanctification/to being more like Christ is our own personal selfishness.
Dean: Like Jesus said things like: “Pick up your cross and follow Me [Luke 9:23] Paul said, “I die daily [1 Corinthians 15:31]. Jesus: “Deny yourself.” That’s a theme throughout the Scriptures. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church [Ephesians 5:25].” How did He love the church?—He didn’t just say He loved the church; He died for the church—right? These really strong images of self-denial: marriage is the constant practice of that. And I would conclude that joy is found when we’re doing things the way Jesus has prescribed for us to do things, even though, in the moment, it might not feel okay to us.
I think, right now, the biggest crisis I’m seeing in marriages—even more than things that are real things like pornography, and adultery, and abuse—even more than that, what I’m seeing is people buying into this “Best life now” idea and thinking that they would be so much happier if they just had somebody else—that kind of “Grass is greener…” is the old way of saying it.
Dean: But how the grass is greener is becoming a reality in their lives, and other Christian people are even fueling it. And we’re all doing it in the name of Jesus, which God’s not going to be mocked; and He cannot be happy with what we’re seeing take place right now.
Ann: I’m just thinking of some of the hardest moments of our married life, and I’m thinking of our hardest moments in parenting. I don’t think anything has quite shaped me the same as those hard moments. Because those moments make you fall on your face before God: “Jesus, I don’t know what to do, and I need You desperately. I need Your guidance; I need Your wisdom.”
If we’re going to go to the path of: “I just want to be happy,” I’m thinking, if we wouldn’t have faced those hardships, we wouldn’t be the same people that we are: because I think it just grows us; it takes us deeper. When you look at biblical characters, and the pain and suffering some of them went through, it was devastating; and yet, that’s when God shaped them, and He used them.
Dave: I think what you’re saying, Dean—it’s what you say continually in your book—is when your eyes are on yourself, and you keep looking to yourself; or even in a marriage, maybe to your spouse for your happiness—you’re looking in the wrong place. That’s what your whole book is really about—Get Over Yourself—it’s a great title for that’s what marriage is going to do: if you’re not going to get over yourself, you’re not going to be happy in marriage. But if you get over yourself, and you say, “I’m not going to find life and true joy in my spouse, as wonderful as she is or he is. It’s going to be in Christ.” That’s where true joy is going to come, and it’s a deep joy. It’s not a worldly joy. Is what you’re saying?
Dean: Yes, and I would never, for even a moment, suggest that these new prosperity churches are telling people to get divorced; that’s unfair and that’s untrue. What I’m saying is the messaging about ourselves carries over to every area of life. Then, in your marriage, you think: “It’s all about me, and my potential, my dreams, my happiness.” Then you believe it’s God’s will for you then to get out of that situation; because He wants you to be thriving, by your own definition of personal thriving, not by His definition. You really do think that He exists for you, in the moment, to be as happy as you want to be.
Ann: Talk about you and Krissie. You’ve been married how many years?
Dean: I’ve been married for 18 years.
Ann: Has it all been butterflies, and romance, and—
Dean: No. [Laughter] Our biggest struggles have been that we’re from two completely different backgrounds—not good or bad—just very different. Our parents—just different—not good or bad/just completely different. Some of our biggest adjustments are two completely different backgrounds, which really marriage is; right?
Dean: “For this reason man will leave his father and mother and come together with his wife and cling to his wife [Matthew 19:5].”
Dean: So that’s the outworking of that taking place; that’s one of the great beauties of marriage. I think why Paul calls it a mystery, in Ephesians 5, is you have two folks—with two completely different backgrounds, two different experiences/life stories—coming together as one. It really is an amazing story.
What makes our marriage work is that we just really try, daily, to battle selfishness. I tell people: “I ask the question regularly, ‘What would it be like to be married to me?’” and be well aware of that.
Krissie truly is probably the most unselfish person I know. She does not let things get to her. She has this demeanor to her that has this real humble posture to her—I have to be careful I don’t take advantage of that—because she doesn’t get worked up; she doesn’t wear emotions on her sleeve; she doesn’t make mountains out of mole hills; she doesn’t go 10 out of 10 on the freak-out scale. Anyone who knows her would describe her that way: very calm/very steady.
I’m very much emotions on your sleeve—intense/full speed ahead—so I have to be careful I don’t take advantage of the fact that she/that God made her the way she is. In our marriage, that means me being aware, regularly, of the fact that we are just very different and how that’s a good thing in God’s design. We just have to, regularly, decide together that we’re not going to let the outside Instagram® world influence our family. We love social media—we’re on social media; we love Instagram—we’re not going to let that be normal for us; we’re going to let it be fun for us.
Ann: How do you do that?—especially with teenagers in the house—how do you make that not be normal?
Dean: I tell my oldest son—he’s the only one that has Instagram—we let him get it when he went into high school. We tell him, regularly, when he’ll show pictures/show things that are going on, I’ll say, “Hey, man, just remember that’s not necessarily real life. That’s not really how life exactly is.”
Our posture in our hearts, when our hearts are really being fleshly, is that we want to project something to the world; or we want to show people that: “I am this way…” “I have these things…”—those type of postures we like to project. I say, “Just know those things are very fleeting.” I just have a constant conversation with him about it. I want him to be able to enjoy social media. His friends are on it at school; I want him to be able to participate in that, and have fun, and all of that. I just want him to, regularly, know that it’s dangerous; it can really lead you astray.
Instagram actually is usually the trigger, and really the red flag, that I see in our church or in our community—people I have relationships with—when I know their marriage is in trouble; because all of a sudden, it will kind of be a progression. Then all of a sudden, you start seeing that one of the spouses, all of a sudden, gets obsessed with wellness. I think wellness is important and it’s a good thing; and I need to be a little more serious about it personally, just to be honest. [Laughter] I think it’s a good thing; but when it becomes almost a religion—and everything becomes about the gym, and about health, and about how they look; and then it’s regular selfies, and they’re always very pretty in the picture/very nice looking—maybe, for a guy, it’s muscles in the gym type of idea. All their friends start replying, like fire emojis [Laughter]: “Stunning,” “Beautiful,”—all these type of things.
All of a sudden, that becomes a new reality in their life; and their spouse, all of a sudden, is never in the pictures. It’s always girls’ night; or it’s always “Guys’ trip this…”—and I start going—not that there is anything wrong with a girls’ night—but when it’s four nights a week, you’re going, “What’s going on? Why don’t they want to be home ever?”
I had a story, where I had a guy come in; and I didn’t know him very well. We were acquaintances, and he asked if I could meet with him. He came, and he sat down; and we made small talk for a minute. He was a little nervous; I had been following on Instagram because we were acquaintances. I followed his wife on Instagram; I followed this guy on Instagram. He said to me/he said, “Yes, I wanted to come and talk to you today. I wanted to make an appointment. I need some advice.”
I said, “Is this about your wife?” He goes, “How do you know that?” I said, “Man, I don’t mean to sound weird, or sound creepy; but we follow each other on Instagram. I’ve just been seeing the progression on Instagram, and I wondered if something is going on.”
Now, they’re divorced sadly; because she really thought that he just wasn’t fun enough; he wasn’t outgoing enough; their lives have gotten boring—that they have friends that want to have more fun—and that he doesn’t go out enough, and he doesn’t do all these things. They have kids at home; he works a long job.
As a result, her reasoning for wanting to get divorced simply was that it wasn’t very fun anymore; and she wasn’t happy. I even tried to give him some pointers, like: “Try to do this at home…” “Try to do that at home...” It just didn’t matter; because, in her eyes, he was the object of this mundane and boring life.
Wisdom of today would say, “Then leave,”—rather than—“This, being my husband that I made a covenant with,” and “Let’s work through this together and figure out how we can actually have a marriage that brings joy and is flourishing.”
Dave: I think, in some sense, you have to step back and say, “Okay, if happiness isn’t the goal, from God’s perspective for our marriage—not that it isn’t a goal—of course, we want to be happy—Dean, what would you say God’s goal is for marriage?”
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Dean Inserra on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear Dean’s response in just a minute; but first, I wanted to let you know about a special group of people, who help make conversations like today’s possible. They’re called FamilyLife Partners. Partners are a generous community of people, who believe in our mission and give financially every month.
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Alright, now, back to Dean Inserra on God’s goal for your marriage.
Dean: I think it’s two things:
- One, to make us more like Christ.
- And then, to project our relationship with Christ to the rest of the world; so that the world can know what self-sacrifice really looks like/what mutual love looks like; and actually, to help redefine, for the world, what love means. Because love, now, is a feeling in our culture: “I feel this way; therefore, it’s love.” You’ll hear a couple say, “We just fell out of love.” Well, that’s impossible; because love’s a choice.
At every wedding I officiate, I have this one line I always say—I really think it’s important—I’ll say: “Feelings got you to your dating life. Feelings may have even got you to your engagement photos. Feelings possibly could have got you to this day, right here at the altar. But you know what gets you to a 50th wedding anniversary?—choosing to love each other every single day.”
It’s a choice that you make rather than a feeling. I hope the feelings’ there, too—that has to be cultivated—but if we define love simply by feelings, we’re in big trouble; because feelings aren’t reliable. I think God gives us feelings, but feelings are unreliable; so rather than listen to our feelings, listen to God.
What’s happening in these marriages is we’re believing two lies that go back to the Garden of Eden, when Eve was tempted:
- The first lie is: “I have to go around God for the things I’m looking for, not to God Himself.”
- The other lie is: “There’s more to be gained by disobeying God than there is to be gained by obeying Him.”
Dave: Yes; and it is interesting, when you think about what you said—“The goal of marriage is to become like Christ,”—which I agree on. I think it’s biblical; it’s really not about us. It’s about us revealing to the world who Christ is by becoming like Him. We all know this, but we don’t want to hear this: “To become like Christ is going to be hard; there’s going to be suffering.
Ann: It’s dying to yourself.
Dave: “There’s going to be adversity.” You’re going to have to get over yourself; right?
Dean: It’s amazing how much the New Testament deals with primarily two things: false teaching and suffering. [Laughter] When you read Paul’s letters, that’s really what the church was dealing with. Paul never promises them relief from their suffering. He points them to Christ’s return: that one day/that God’s going to make all things new. One day it will go away, and it might not be on this earth; and that God wants to use your suffering to make His glory and His gospel known to the rest of the world.
I don’t think marriage is designed to be one big story of suffering. I do believe that joy is a pursuit/something that we actually have to go after. The cool thing about marriage is you don’t have to go after it by yourself.
Dean: It’s God’s will—was that: “It’s not good for man to be alone,”—so, together, we get to go on this journey of finding joy; and then, also, sometimes fighting for joy. I think that’s part of the Christian experience, because the Christian experience was never designed to be one free from adversity. If the person you’re going to spend the most of your time with in your life, as two sinners who have been redeemed by God, but still are in this broken world, it’s going to be moments/ there’s going to be a struggle.
I think it was Dave Harvey, who wrote a book called When Sinners Say “I Do.”
Dean: That’s the reality [Laughter]—two sinners have said “I Do,”—but we’re not doing this, ultimately, for us. We’re doing it because we want to participate in God’s design for His glory and for our good.
Dave: In my mind, there’s nothing more beautiful than a wedding picture of a young couple—and it could be an older couple, getting married—it’s like their greatest day. But there’s a better picture—
Dave: —and it’s that same couple—30/40 years later.
Ann: Dave, it’s my parents, who were married 70 years—had gone through dementia, heart attacks, death of a child—to see them sitting together, at 90 years old, holding hands, having lived life—hard stuff—and yet, they did it together.
Dave: —in a covenant.
Ann: —in a covenant of marriage.
Dave: It’s a picture of getting over yourself. They didn’t stay there because they felt fulfilled; they stayed there because they laid down their lives for one another.
Dean: That should be the Christian story. If Jesus laid down His life, why would we think we’re exempt from that? That’s what’s so bizarre about all this—is it claims to be all about Jesus—but the Jesus we portray is not the Jesus of the Bible when we think anything other than the fact that it’s going to cost us our lives. It’s a daily death to self; Paul wrote, “I die daily.” It’s the same guy—who wrote “Love is patient; love is kind…
[1 Corinthians 13:4]”—also wrote “I die daily.” [Laughter] I think we need to make sure we’re clear on that.
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann with Dean Inserra on FamilyLife Today. Dean’s book is called Getting Over Yourself: Trading Believe-in-Yourself Religion for Christ-Centered Christianity. You can get it at FamilyLife Today.com or by calling 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be talking, again, with Dean Inserra about how God gives us gifts, not to make a big deal out of ourselves, but to make a big deal out of Him. That’s coming up tomorrow. I 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.
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