Enjoying Marriage in the Midst of the Grind
Would you call your marriage fun? Pastor Ted Cunningham reflects on his fun-loving engagement and marriage to his bride of 17 years, Amy, but admits that the early years of matrimony weren't without their challenges. Ted talks about the difficulty he had of opening his heart to his wife, especially about his struggle with lust. Once he overcame his fear, however, they began to experience authentic, true joy.
About the Guest
Ted Cunningham reflects on his fun-loving engagement and marriage to his bride of 17 years, Amy, but admits that the early years of matrimony weren’t without their challenges.
Enjoying Marriage in the Midst of the Grind
Bob: Pastor and author, Ted Cunningham, believes that there are a lot of little things in marriage that often cause conflict—that if husbands and wives would simply handle correctly, they could be a real source of joy instead.
Ted: We want to find every frustrating aspect of marriage and find a way to decide how to enjoy that: “We’re done changing each other,” We’re done fixing each other,” “We’re done blaming each other,” “We don’t want to be plugged into one another as a source of life. We want to plug into the true and only source of light—Jesus.” The best marriages on the planet—where a husband and wife are both plugged into the true and only source of life and giving to one another the overflow—that’s the type of marriage we want.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, October 2nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Ted Cunningham believes that we can make our marriages more fun than they currently are. We’ll talk about how to do that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. You know, there have been times when Mary Ann and I have been with young couples, doing premarital work—just getting them ready for what’s coming up with a wedding—I have often tried to stress the fact that marriage is hard / that marriage takes work—that you’re going to have to be committed. And Mary Ann, after a while of me doing this—she’ll stop and she’ll say, “You know, it’s—
Dennis: Try to tell them it’s good too? [Laughter]
Bob: “It’s a lot of fun too. [Laughter] We like it! I mean, you do have to remember that ‘Yes, it is hard / it does take work’; but there is some real joy that comes in being married.”
Dennis: There is; and that’s what we are all about, here, on FamilyLife Today—every day, hopefully, bringing the principles of Scripture to your home to help you apply them in your marriage / in your family. I just want to say, here at the outset—just a “Thank you,” to a number of Legacy Partners who make this broadcast possible.
I want to name a couple of them: There is Elaine, who lives in Smithville, Missouri. There is Alyssa from Van Nuys, California. There’s Eloy and Natalie from Covina, California—and Eric and Tonya from Colorado Springs. I want to say, “Thank you for making this broadcast available to literally hundreds of thousands of marriages and families, all across the country.”
And I want to introduce our “Show Me State” partner for the broadcast today. [Laughter] Ted Cunningham joins us on the broadcast. Ted, welcome to the show.
Ted: I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.
Dennis: Ted is from Branson, Missouri, folks—now, if you didn’t know where that was, that’s 30 miles south of Ozark. [Laughter]
Ted: Now, they’ve got it!
Dennis: Sure! That’s where I grew up—a sleepy little town when I was there, Ted—13/14 hundred people, both in Ozark and Branson.
Bob: Do you have a theater? You have your own theater there?
Ted: Not myself, personally, but there’s—we’ve got a lot of them / a lot—country music capital of the world. [Laughter]
Dennis: Ted is a graduate of Liberty University, and he is also a graduate of The Dallas Theological Seminary.
Ted: The Dallas Theological Seminary; yes.
Dennis: Don’t you like that?
Dennis: He is married to Amy since 1996, and they have two children. He has written a book called Fun Loving You, and it’s really built around a Proverb—Proverbs 17:22: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” You really believe that; don’t you?
Ted: I do. And I believe the message that has found its way into the church—it goes something like this [speaking with heavy voice]: “God gave you your spouse to drag you down and drain the life out of you so you can be more like Jesus.” [Laughter] And I’ve got to be honest with you—it’s what you shared at the beginning there, Bob—we’re giving this: “Marriage is hard—it’s difficult / it’s painful.
“You need to choose—whether you want a good quality of life or marriage—because to have both at the same time…” Our young people are really avoiding marriage because of this message.
Dennis: You’re not writing another Laugh Your Way to a Great Marriage—not that there is anything wrong with that—but that’s not what this book is all about. You just believe that what’s taking place in the heart—that a cheerful spirit is really important in having and sustaining a great marriage.
Ted: Absolutely; and it is decisions that you make. I’m always honoring the seniors in our church and in our town. Branson, Missouri—we minister to millions of tourists a year; and the majority of them are seniors. They came to our town—I’m using these words to define them—duty, sacrifice, commitment, loyalty, honor. They knew how to make decisions to stay committed.
As Dr. Jeremiah says, “Integrity is sticking with your commitment after circumstances have changed,”—I love that!
The older generations learned how to stick with marriage, and they made that decision out of their character. I believe the decision to enjoy life together flows from the exact same place that the decision to stay married for life comes from—and that comes from your character.
Bob: I’m guessing you’re just one of those positive, upbeat kind of guys, generally. I mean, somebody who writes a book, Fun Loving You, is probably just a guy who is a half-full-glass kind of guy; and this was easy for you.
Ted: Believe it or not; no.
Ted: I probably—I’m a Type-A / hard-charging: “Let’s get it done”; but: “We can have fun while we do this. We want to enjoy life together.”
I tell the young guys in our church, all the time, who are finding their romance in porn / their adventure in video games—I tell them: “Listen, guys, you don’t have to choose between life and a wife. You can have both at the exact same time. Don’t go with the culture that says, ‘Marriage is going to be miserable.’ Don’t even allow, maybe, the model that you grew up with—before your very eyes, every single day—be the decision for your marriage.
“You can decide the quality you are going to bring into marriage.”
We love this term—compatibility. It’s become the new socially-acceptable term for: “We choose no longer to get along.” When I hear someone say, “We’re not compatible,” what they are really saying is: “We’ve made the decision to no longer get along.” Compatibility flows from character; you know? Enjoying life together is a decision that we make, and I believe both husband and wife can make it.
Dennis: Your romance with Amy, I’m afraid, is a little bit like a storybook romance that occurred at Liberty University—it was love at first sight.
Ted: It was a blind date—I remember Smith Mountain Lake. I was the Junior Class President at Liberty. We go out on the lake—my friend set this up.
Bob: Are you saying she was lucky to get a date with you?—is that what you are—[Laughter]
Ted: She was. [Laughter] About halfway through dinner, I looked at my buddy, who set the blind date up; and I said, “I’m going to marry this woman.”
Ted: He said, “You can’t decide that this early!”
Dennis: You said that half way through the dinner?
Ted: Half way through dinner. And how many people can say blind date with Dr. Jerry Falwell and Macel Falwell? Not a lot of people get to have their first dates—[Laughter]
Bob: That’s right; that’s right. So take me back to the date. You were—where were you?—Smith Field?
Ted: Smith Mountain Lake—it’s where they filmed that movie, What About Bob?
Ted: I was in charge of the cruise; so I was pretty stressed out of making sure everything goes off well. It was the cruise that Dr. Falwell happened to be on. But ringing in my head were his words that we heard—I can’t tell you how many times, in Chapel at Liberty. He was pro-dating—I mean, big-time pro-dating / he was pro- marriage. He would step up and say: “If, young man, you leave this school without a wife, there’s something wrong. [Laughter] Look around. Guys, this is it! You need to be dating.” He said—this one I loved: “If you have your eye on a young lady, who’s dating someone else, but that guy doesn’t have enough commitment to ask her to be his wife—
—you can move in on it. [Laughter] No problem—you tell him.” [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, it was love at first sight for you?
Ted: Yes. [Laughter] It took a lot of convincing—nine months—it took me to convince her.
Dennis: She didn’t have that good of a time on the first date.
Dennis: It was kind of a dud for her.
Ted: She didn’t, but let me tell you what I did. I took every single balloon—every Mylar balloon / there were probably 40 or 50 of them—off of that boat. I asked her roommate to put them in her room. When she came back from Chapel the next day, her room was just stuffed full of the Mylar balloons from the cruise, with a note saying: “I had a great time. I’d like to take you out again.”
Dennis: And she thought, “Why would I want to do that again?”
Ted: Yes. [Laughter] I wasn’t fun on the first date—I will tell you that.
Bob: What was it—halfway through the first date—that caused you to say, “This is the girl I want to marry”?
Ted: Yes; it was watching her interact with those around her. We were at a table that probably had eight or ten folks sitting at it—and just watching her conversation and interacting. I had seen her around campus; and I just knew: “Hey, this is it. This is it,”
—so, I made the decision that night. Then, this one thing—I love sharing about relationship formation—that, you know, you have to involve other people in the decisions, at some point. And so—[Laughter]
Bob: Yes; you can’t just decide—
Ted: Yes. [Laughter] So, I asked her 6’2’’ full-blooded, Norwegian father, “Can I marry your daughter?” To which, he responded, “You betcha!” [Laughter] I said, “But only under one condition”—because I had—I was graduating, and Amy had a year left. I said, “I’ll marry her before her senior year if you allow me to pay for her senior year of college.”
Ted: To which, he responded, “You betcha!”
Dennis and Bob: “You betcha!” [Laughter]
Dennis: So, there has to be a great story—if a guy delivers 40 balloons to his, not even girlfriend, to just a young lady you’re trying to impress. You had to go all-out on the proposal. How did you propose?
Ted: Okay; see, now, that’s not a great story / that was a tough one. I was planning on proposing at Disney World, right there at the Castle—
—a big family vacation after my college graduation—but I couldn’t, because I hadn’t asked her dad yet. I’m just one of these old-school guys, who just believes you’ve got to have the blessing of the father. So, we bypassed a Disney proposal for an Italian dinner proposal in Fremont, Nebraska—that’s where it came.
I wish I could tell you it was something really spectacular, but it was one of these—you know, I was going to be an associate pastor in South Georgia. She was going to stay there for six months—do all the wedding planning. We were going to get married, go back, and start life. So, it was engagement one night, gone for six months the next, and back for the wedding.
Bob: Wow! At least, you did it in Johnny Carson’s hometown. [Laughter] I’ll give you that—right?—Fremont, Nebraska. [Laughter]
Dennis: So, you all have been married since ’96. Ever had a dark moment in those years?
Ted: Yes; I would say the first seven years—like most couples—
—were the toughest. Those were the: “I’m going to blame you for all of my unhappiness. I’m going to blame you for everything going wrong.” Most young couples—and we were in this same boat—plugged into one another as the source of
life / dependent on one another for happiness, and joy, and fun, and—
Dennis: So, you couldn’t have written the book, Fun Loving You, at the end of those seven years?
Ted: Yes; I was instructed to not write a book until, yes, you had been married, at least, ten years: “You’ve got to be married, at least ten years, before you write any sort of book.” Yes; so, those first seven years—I remember the first time she was in bed, reading a book on how men think—not a real thick book—you can read it in about a night. [Laughter] And I remember her turning the pages—it was Shaunti Feldhahn’s book, For Women Only.
Ted: And she is turning the pages, and I just remember her getting mad—I mean, frustrated. She puts the book down; and she says, “I’ve got to ask you a question.” And I’m like, “Ah, this is not going to be good.”
We’d been married, just at seven years; and she goes, “I want to know—have you ever struggled with lust towards another woman?” Now, let me teach all the listeners something; alright? You start acting as though you didn’t hear the question. [Laughter] I said, “Huh?!” And she said, “Have you ever struggled with lust toward another woman?” Tactic two—you act as though you didn’t understand the question: [Laughter] “What do you mean?” And then, I knew we were going there.
And the three parts of a man’s heart—there is that public part / we’ll share with the stranger on the street. There is the private part / we’ll share with family and friends. But then, there’s that third part that we don’t let anyone in / we don’t want anyone to know about—we try to hide from God, Himself. And I just knew that we were going to have this long conversation about the way men think and how her, at that time, 29-year-old husband, you know—
Dennis: You were a graduate of a theological seminary.
Ted: Yes! Still keeping the secret—right?—of how men think. So, Shaunti and I are friends, now; but we weren’t for years.
Bob: You finally did come clean with her and say, “This is what goes on”?
Dennis: But let’s talk about, for a moment: “Why do men avoid opening up their hearts to their wives?”
Ted: Yes; safety—they don’t feel safe. I have to be in a judgment-free zone before I’ll share.
I’ve been to men’s events. I really struggle at a lot of men’s events when I hear guys or speakers say things like this: “Let’s just admit it, guys; there are a lot of things we can’t share with our wives.” I always cringe and kind of bristle when I hear that—going, “Hey, do we really want that message out there that there should be things that I share at a seven o’clock men’s prayer breakfast that I can’t share with my wife?” I would rather give the message that: “Let’s create safety in the home. Let’s create an environment where I can share openly / my wife can share openly with me.”
I remember, Dennis, that week—it was like mourning a death for a week—it was not good.
Dennis: So, the truth came out—
Dennis: —that you struggled?
Ted: That we struggle; yes. And I remember first sharing this with her, going: “How did you not know this?!
“Have you—we went to Liberty!” We heard—I can’t tell you—countless talks on this; but now, it’s in her marriage / now, it’s in her marriage. She’s going, “I want to just figure this out.” Boy, you want to talk about a week or two of difficult, painful conversations. I even watched her, going into stores, looking—
Bob: —at where you were looking.
Ted: —where I was looking and where every man in the place was looking—
Ted: —like, “Where are the eyes in this room right now?”
Dennis: I want you to speak to a wife, though, who—
Dennis: —is thinking about asking the question, right now—but what do you want her to know, besides the safety issue—what do you want her to know before she asks that question?
Ted: Well, I would ask yourself this question before you ask him this question: “Am I safe? Can I, right now, be trusted with the answer that I know I’m going to get?”
Bob: Yes; if he says, “I struggle,”—
Ted: “I struggle.”
Bob: —“How am I going to respond to this?”
Ted: “How am I going to respond to this?”
Dennis: And I would agree with you; because I share a story of how, early in our marriage, I confessed to my wife I was struggling with lust.
Dennis: I’ve shared that story, publicly. I’ve had men come up to me after the message and say: “I could never share that with my wife. She would fall apart. She would think she is not enough for me / I’m not satisfied with her.” That’s the way a lot of women think.
Ted: Yes; you know one thing Gary Smalley had me do one time? He said: “Go home and ask Amy what she would feel and what she would think if she knew you were viewing pornography or if she came in and saw you viewing pornography. I want you to get that in your head, Ted.” I was probably early 30’s, and I did. I went home and said, “Amy, what would you think and feel if you caught me viewing porn?”
And to her—now, this is my wife—this is Amy Cunningham. She said, “To me, it would be no different, feelings-wise, than you having an affair.” She said: “It would be the exact same. It would be betrayal—you couldn’t be trusted.” But going back to that conversation, seven years into our marriage—it was the best thing that ever happened to our marriage.
I would tell the guy that’s telling that—because I’ve been at the conferences, where they line up, and the guy says, “I could never say that,”—but behind him is a guy wearing an ankle bracelet, under house arrest, who may be going to jail pretty soon because he didn’t deal with the lust issue. It turned into a pornography addiction, and it turned into acting out in ways that are now going to take him down a road he never planned on.
So, have the conversation because the story ends well for us—even within a couple of weeks—because Amy said, “I, Ted Cunningham, want to be your only—not number one—your only fantasy. I want to be the one that you’re thinking.” I tell people, “There is a Hebrew term for that.” The Hebrew term is Bbau-bau-chickie-bau-bau— [Laughter]—okay?
Dennis: I was reviewing—
Ted: That’s from Dallas Theological Seminary.
Dennis: I was reviewing my Hebrew, and I was going, “I don’t remember that term!” [Laughter]
Bob: Yes; but you didn’t stay long in your Hebrew class.
Dennis: No; I didn’t / I didn’t.
Ted: And I would say that part of the Fun Loving You message is:
“You have to have the hard conversation to get to the fun in almost every single area.” We put in there the “Fun Loving You” list. We want to find every frustrating aspect of marriage and find a way to decide how to enjoy that: “We’re done changing each other,” “We’re done fixing each other,” “We’re done blaming each other, “We don’t want to be plugged into one another as a source of life. We want to plug into the true and only source of life—Jesus.” The best marriages on the planet—where a husband and a wife are both plugged into the true and only source of life and giving one another the overflow—that’s the type of marriage we want.
And going back to what we opened this broadcast with is—it is difficult / it is painful—but what we need young people to see, as was shared with you, is just the joy that comes out of that.
Ted: We’re not supposed to run from the trials—we know that character, and perseverance, and hope all flow from that—so, we’re not afraid of the hard conversations. We just want couples to know that compatibility is the mingling of your differences—
—and taking those frustrating and those difficult conversations and saying, “We’re going to work through this,” because compatibility is not something you find, or test for, or stumble into—but it’s something that is built over a long period of time.
Bob: See, I think the media image of how you get to “Fun Loving You” is: “It just happens naturally,” and “There need be no hard conversations, and no struggle, and no work.
Bob: “It just happens.” And when the spark is there, it’s fun; and when the spark goes away, you go find somebody else to have fun with. What you are saying is: “There is a deeper fun than just the trivial ‘Hey, we had an enjoyable evening together.’ There is a fun that comes from oneness—
Bob: —“that’s deeper than any other kind of fun there is.”
Ted: Yes; if you think about the eHarmony and Match.com commercials—I know they are geared toward singles—but I always wonder about the husband, at home at night, watching television in a frustrating, painful marriage—watching that commercial, and taking that message, and applying it to his life, saying:
“Well, there’s the problem—we never took a test. We’re not compatible”—
Ted: —and “I think we were like that, at one point. We enjoyed one another like that, and I would like to get back to that,”—but here is the disconnect—“In order for me to enjoy life like that again, I will never be able to do it with her.
Ted: “I’m going to have to find somebody new.”
Bob: So, the guy who is watching that commercial and thinking that, what do you say to him?
Ted: Well, again, we are from the Ozarks. So, I’m going to use my word pictures from the Ozarks:
Ted: “Where the grass is greener, there is a septic leak; [Laughter] and it is nasty.” So, for a good time—call home / stay home. Let us show you how you can take this frustrating/painful marriage, right now, and get to a place where you are enjoying life together again—because I believe it’s possible.
Dennis: It’s not a matter of trading in one model and finding another—
Dennis: —one that’s better, because every model is broken. That’s what people don’t really get.
I’m glad you mentioned commitment because I do think that’s where it starts—
first, to Christ / secondly, to the Scripture—because, as you’ve written in your book and as I read through it, it’s really about going to the blueprints of Scripture and doing your building off the same set of blueprints, as a couple. That’s a winning recipe for a couple building the right kind of home.
But I think, also, one of the reasons why couples don’t go the distance today is they don’t anticipate these kinds of moments when there is a hard question—one you can’t answer or one where the truth is going to hurt. Then, the other reason they don’t go the distance is because they don’t know other couples, who are willing to admit a story like you just shared.
Dennis: I had to talk to my wife about lust; okay? It was uncomfortable / I didn’t want to go there.
Dennis: And because they don’t hear authentic people, they get locked up into isolation—they think: “I’m the only—I’m the only person in the world that feels this way. We’re the only couple that is going through this. This is all wrong!” And they quit / they quit early—
Dennis: —way too early when marriage is made for people who run a marathon—long distance. You’ve got to hang in there, and you’ve got to run through the valleys. And it’s not always going to be as the title of your book says—it’s not always going to be Fun Loving You.
Dennis: There are going to be some moments—Barbara and I have experienced them—there are going to be some moments that are tough / they are just tough.
Bob: Well, that’s why the subtitle of the book is Enjoying Your Marriage in the Midst of the Grind—because there can be grind in marriage. But if you’re intentional, as a couple, you don’t let the little things that grind you down turn into huge irritants. Of course, we’ve got copies of Ted’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I would encourage listeners go online to get a copy of the book and learn what Ted and Amy have done in their marriage. Again, the book is called Fun Loving You. You can order it, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order—1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website—
—FamillyLifeToday.com—or call to order at 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, our goal, here, at FamilyLife is to equip couples to effectively develop godly marriages and families. We believe godly marriages and families can change the world, one home at a time. So we want to provide practical biblical help and hope for your marriage / for your family. We try to do that every day, here, on FamilyLife Today; we try to do it on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com; the resources that we create; the events that we host—all of them have that same goal in mind.
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Today, if you’re able to help with a donation, we’d love to say, “Thank you,” by sending Dennis Rainey’s brand-new book—it’s a book called Choosing a Life That Matters. It’s all about what really matters in life. It’s all about the choices we face and how we can make wise decisions that will establish a foundation for our life on which marriages and families and, really, all of life can be built. You can get a copy of Dennis’s new book when you make a donation of any amount today. Go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com to donate; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation; or you can mail you donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about how some of the little things that bug us about each other / some of the little nuances that cause some irritation in marriage can actually be a source of great joy and fun in your marriage. You think that’s possible? Ted Cunningham is going to be here tomorrow to explain how we make that happen. I hope that 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 host, Dennis Rainey, 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.
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