FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Exercising Your Marriage

with Dr. George Kenworthy | January 20, 2006
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Today on the broadcast. hear some sound marital advice from Dr. George Kenworthy, senior pastor at Wayzata Evangelical Free Church and author of the book Marriage Makeover. Listen as George tells couples how to exercise their marriages by taking God at His word.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Today on the broadcast. hear some sound marital advice from Dr. George Kenworthy, senior pastor at Wayzata Evangelical Free Church and author of the book Marriage Makeover. Listen as George tells couples how to exercise their marriages by taking God at His word.

  • 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.

Dr. George Kenworthy tells couples how to exercise their marriages by taking God at His word.

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Exercising Your Marriage

With Dr. George Kenworthy
January 20, 2006
| Download Transcript PDF

Trainer: Oh, hey, Bob, how are the exercises coming?

Man: Oh, man, this workout routine you've got me on – it's killing me, man.  I can't do this much.  I mean, the strength you need to do this stuff – it's unrealistic, that's all.

Trainer: Bob, don't wimp out on me now, buddy.  That's why you asked me to be your personal communication trainer, right?  You wanted to get into shape.  So let's try it together, okay?

Man: All right. 

Trainer: Let's try this – your wife comes home – ready, go.

Man: [groaning like he's exercising] Ohhhhh, hello, honey – yyyoouuu look great.  You look –– ohhhhhh– I can't do this.

Trainer: All right, let me show you one time, and then you can do some repetitions, okay?  I know it takes intense training.  Okay, move over there a little bit – "Hello, honey, you look great.  Is that a new dress?  I love your hairstyle today.  I'm excited to stay home with you tonight so that we can talk about the kids and their schoolwork.  Can I help you with the groceries?"

Man: You're amazing.  I didn't know that was humanly possible.

Trainer: We'll, you'll be in shape soon enough.  Just keep trying.  Okay?  Ten repetitions – go.

Man: Hello, honey, you look great.  Is that a new dress?  I am excited to stay home tonight so I can wwaaatcch the ballgame.

Trainer: Ohhhh.  Maybe we need to start with something a little easier.

Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  Dennis?

Dennis: Bob, you're a bit of a body builder. 

Bob: I do not even want to know where this is going – I'm a bit of a body builder?  Well, let me just say this …

Dennis: You walk up the steps to get to your office, don't you?

Bob: My own temple has been expanding.  I've been building my body, and we just put on an addition, as a matter of fact.


Dennis: Well, I was going to ask you, as a bodybuilder, what you do if you have a weak muscle?

Bob: If you have a weak muscle, I think just take the week off.  That's exactly what I would do.  Why strain it any more?  Is my general philosophy.  You know, it's weak, it just needs rest.

Dennis: Okay, in all seriousness, if you have a weak muscle, we all know you exercise it.

Bob: That's right, you've got to work it out a little bit.

Dennis: You put a little weight against the muscle.

Bob: A little tension against the muscle.

Dennis: That's right, and even though it doesn't kind of make sense that if you have something weak, you force it to exercise.  But that keeps it from – what's the word – atrophy?

Bob: Atrophy, that's right.

Dennis: From shriveling and becoming even weaker.  Okay, now, if that's what you do for a weak muscle, what do you do for a weak marriage?

Bob: Well, if you follow the example, you work it out, right?

Dennis: I would think it would be something like that.  Let's ask our guest on our program today …

Bob: Kind of a marriage kinesiologist, isn't he?

Dennis: I think he's a bodybuilder.  He's a pastor.  Get it?  Bodybuilder?  There you go, I wanted to make sure that one didn't go over your head.  Anyway, Dr. George Kenworthy joins us on FamilyLife Today.  George, welcome back.

George: It's good to be back again, Dennis, and it's always great to be around people who are interested in building the body.  You guys have been working hard at that.

Dennis: And if you're going to build the body, you really have to build marriages.

George: Absolutely.

Dennis: And you've written a book called "Marriage Makeover – Minor Touchups to Major Renovations," or it could be subtitled "How to Take a Marriage That Needs to Get Stronger and Make it Truly Strong," or "How to Take a Weak Marriage and Strengthen It."

Bob: Or you could say [mimicking Arnold Schwarzenegger] "If you are soft and flabby in your marriage, we want to pump you up."  How's that, huh?

Dennis: I'm looking on the back here, did he endorse this?

Bob: No, there's nothing there.

Dennis: I don't think he did.  Anyway, George and his wife Joan have been married since 1969.  They have three children and, George, you really do believe that there is a very simple solution if your marriage is weak – something that we all need to do.

George: Yes, there is.  I think what we need to do is take God at His word, what He says we need to do, and then to trust that God is a great, big, powerful God who desires to intervene in our lives still today.

Bob: But you know there are some folks who, using this example, would say, "Well, my martial muscle isn't weak, my marital muscle is torn, it's broken, it's ripped into – I don't think there's any hope left for my marriage.  I think it's time to just pronounce a benediction and move on and start over."  You've had couples come into your office who are at that point.  In fact, it's interesting to me that they'd even come to your office, because they're pretty much saying, "This is what we think.  Will you give us your blessing so that we can get on with our lives," right?

George: Yes.  There's a story that is not in the book.  We originally thought we would have it in the book, but then it's for the next book, I guess.  But this story of a gal who was in a Greek New Testament class that I was teaching.  So she's studying the Greek New Testament with me with a group of other individuals and, at the same time, struggling in her marriage.  And I knew that, so I said, "Barb, if there's a point at which I might be able to be helpful to you, I'd love to do that.  I care about you."  And she said, "Well, George, I don't need that right now because my husband and I are seeing other counselors.  I have mine, and he has his."

 Well, after about six months of their seeing the counselors, I think it was a Sunday afternoon, I got a frantic phone call from her, and she said, "George, can you come over?"  I said, "I'll be there."  So I came by the house and discovered that she had just learned that her husband was having an affair, and she didn't know what to do and, of course, he is the man with the hand caught in the cookie jar, and that's probably a weak illustration for what the case was, but guilt was all over his face and so on and, again, I made the offer.  And now he really felt trapped and said, "Okay, we'll come in to see you."

 So the first session where they came in, I looked at him and said, "So tell me" – we'll call him Jack – "what's the problem in your marriage?"  And he said, "The problem is, George, I don't love Barb anymore.  I don't think I've ever loved Barb, and I'm in love with another woman.  The other woman is far more attractive than Barb, she's a much better communicator than Barb.  The fact is, I'm a doctor, and she is a nurse, and Barb's been involved in a whole other profession, and we can't relate to one another."

 And now, with Barb sitting at his side, he said this – "The other woman is a lot better in bed than Barb."  And you could just watch his wife squirming as he was saying that, and my heart was breaking, and I'm beginning to think, "Okay, George."

Dennis: What did she do, seriously? 

George: She just sat there.  She sat there.  She didn't do or say anything at that point.  And I looked at them and, of course, some of your listeners might say, "Well, now I really know you're nuts," but I repeated the same three questions that I ask of every couple.  I said, "Jack, tell me, do you believe that there is a God?"  He said, "Sure, George, I believe that there is a God."  And "Are you willing to apply the principles of God's Word to your life and to your marriage?"  And he said, "Well, now, George, I don't know if you've heard me.  I can do that, but I don't love Barb anymore, I'm not sure I ever did.  I'm in love with this other woman."  I said, "That's all right.  I know the pain that's part of that.  I just want to know will you answer the question?  Would you be willing to apply the principles of God's Word to your life and to your marriage?"  He said, "Well, yeah, I think so." 

 And then I said, "Jack, will you pray that the spirit of God give you the strength and the energy that you don't have in and of yourself to accomplish this marriage makeover?"  And he said, "Well, yeah, I could probably do that."  But he said, "Now, George, before we continue, you need to know this – my wife and I have been to two marriage counselors" in the city where we all lived at that point, "and the last marriage counselor is a Ph.D. and a Christian, and I asked him this question – how do you know when your marriage is dead?"  And he answered, "You'll know it's dead when it's dead."  And then Jack looked right back at me and said, "George, I think my marriage is pretty dead."

 And, of course, as a believer, knowing I don't know everything that God knows, either you turn a little bit at that point, but then I believe what I think is true, that God can do a marriage makeover for anyone.  So we started.  And we began applying the principles that are listed in the book – the one things that are in each chapter they begin to do.  He still was seeing the other woman for a period of this time, and then God got hold of his heart, and God did a miracle for this couple.  And as they talked – this was now 12 years or so ago – they talk today about their marriage, they now can communicate love to one another in ways they never could before, they've become one another's best friends, and both of them will say they have a much better relationship today than they ever thought was imaginable, certainly better than they ever thought they had.

Bob: From what you're saying, it sounds like when he first showed up, Jack really wasn't all that interested in a marriage makeover.

George: No, he wasn't.  He didn't think there was any hope for a marriage makeover for him, and he was sure that when he told me what the psychologist had said, that I would give up with him.

Dennis: George, you mentioned, as you were talking about their story, that at the end of each of your chapters, you have the one thing – I'm holding a finger up – the one thing they need to do as an application point of what they've been reading about in each of thee chapters.  Can you give us an illustration of what that looks like?

George: Yes.  Years ago, one of the one things, it was a communication date, and I prayed about what kind of communication date couples should do and, of course, the couples I see tend to be like these that I have been describing.  So I had a professor in one of the seminaries that I attended who gave a sheet that he thought would be helpful for couples who wanted to work on their marriages.  The title of the sheet was "Irritating Listening Habits."  And what you're supposed to do is identifying the irritating listening habits of your spouse.  That was one resource I had, and with my couples, I realized that is not going to work because these people know all the irritating things, and for me to help them identify more points of irritation was not the way to go.

 So I came before the Lord and said, "Lord, give me something that I can use for these couples."  So the design was that – there's three steps in the process.  The first step in the process is for the husband and/or wife, whoever starts, to say, "I felt your love for me this last week when" – now, already, couples like Jack and Barbara might stop me and say, "Well, I don't even love my spouse."  And I would say, "Okay, well, that's all right.  But if your spouse were to do something that you like this next week, what would be the kind of thing that your spouse could do that you'd say, 'Well, if they did that, I would like it,'" you know, short of moving out, which, if we're trying to save their marriage isn't the best thing to do.

 So we identified those things that their spouse can do that they would like, and I may sit down with a husband and wife and say, "Now, if your wife says if you did this, she'd like it, so, Dennis, would you be willing to try that this week?"  And I get a commitment from him.  It's either yes or now.  I'll do it or I won't do it.  And then we make it as measurable as we can and do the same thing with the wife.  Give me something specific and measurable that you can do that your spouse would like.

 What we're trying to get at is create loving acts that will then convince me, "I think my partner is trying, at least, to love me."  So we identify those sorts of things and then we hold them accountable for it the next week.

Dennis: What you're talking about there is finding out what your spouse needs.

George: Absolutely.

Dennis: And then moving to meet those needs.  I was recently leading a Bible study with a group of men, and I gave them an application out of my Bible study for the week about loving your wife, and I said, "Okay, guys, I want each of you to go home and ask your wife right now what her top three needs are.  Now, frankly, I don't think that's real profound.  Barbara and I have talked about that a number of times.  But what's profound for me and what's profound to a man who has never thought about asking that question of his wife is different.  And those men started coming back to me saying, "Man, that was revolutionary.  I have never even thought about asking my wife to tell me what her top three needs are.  I can't wait to ask her.  I can't wait to do it."  And a lot of time – this is what you're saying, George, and I want to make sure our listeners hear this – a lot of times it's a simple question that's turned toward the positive that enables couples, husbands and wives, to just to begin to relate over something other than a negative, over something in the ditch, the irritations, how we communicate or what we say that irritates the other person.  Instead we talk about what are those things that are going right?  How can we love one another better?

Bob: You know, I want to make sure our listeners understand, as you talk about these communication exercises or about these one things that you encourage folks to do – the power to transform a marriage is not in the exercise.  That's really just the first part of what you do on this communication date, right?

George: Yes, yes, it is.  There are two other parts to the communication date.  So the first part then is we'd ask the question, "How do you feel loved by your spouse in the last week?"  And there are a lot of dynamics that happen with that that I'm looking for.  I'm looking for when a husband says to his wife, "Sweetheart, I felt your love," if you use the word "sweetheart," or "I felt your love for me this last week when" – it feels good, as a spouse, getting some "atta boys" and "atta girls."  It's different than the irritating listening habits, so it's good to see that.

 The second thing I'm look for is a little bit of behavioral conditioning.  If a husband says, "You know, I really appreciated this last week when you gave me that back rub."  And that's the kind of thing I hear.  You know, "You made me the pie, you iron my shirts," it's little things that I hear in these sessions.  But what's going to happen is that for the wife that really wants their marriage to work, she's probably going to bake another pie next week, or she's going to give another backrub or rub his feet or whatever it is.  And so she's going to start loving him in a way that he knows is her effort to love him.  So now it's undeniable.  He can't be saying, "My wife isn't doing anything to show her love for me," because we've identified what are those action steps that if she does are steps of love.  So that's important because so many of the couples I see would argue their husband or wife doesn't love them at all, and now at least we can say, "Well, they're doing this," so they're trying.  They're trying to speak your love language, they're doing these acts of love.  So, anyway, that's the first step.

 The second part of the process is that I ask them to share with one another ways in which they believe they need to improve.  One of the challenges that I face with couples is that usually a husband can say, "My wife's got all these problems.  I know she needs to improve, and she's got all these weaknesses," and it may be hard for him to identify his own.  Or for the wife to be able to say, "You know, my husband is this big jerk.  He's got all these problems, but it's hard for her to identify her own."  Or it's just there's a complete communication breakdown, and there's no sharing of any needs or weaknesses.

 And so what I ask them to do, starting with the husband usually, is I want you to share with your wife some area of need.  Normally, I caution them, especially in these difficult marriages, don't talk about your needs to have a wife that's more loving.  You can't use your wife's name, you can't talk about her, but maybe there's somebody at work that is just driving you nuts, and so you say, "I want you to pray for me because Jim is just driving me nuts at work."  Or maybe it's your own walk with God.  You're in a dry period, and so you tell your wife, "Pray for me, because I'm in a dry period spiritually, and I know I'm not where God wants me to be," so whatever it is, you share honestly about where you are, and then the wife will do the same thing.

 And then also in this step, after week 1 or week 2 when they've been sharing this, and we've been praying that God show up, they share the victory.  "Well, you know, I asked you to pray about my relationship with Jim at work, and God answered in this way.  I heard a song, I read Scripture, someone talked to me, and it's so much better.  Thank you for praying."  Now, we do that so that we can monitor that there is growth.  The couples that I see, if they are convinced they're going to stay stuck in the same spot all the time, well, then, it's hopeless.  But if we can measure the growth by virtue of our growing in Christ, well, then, we can say, "Well, we're on the right track here." 

 And then, of course, the third part of the exercise is they pray.  They thank God for the ways in which they've been able to show love and receive love from one another, and then they pray for one another's weak areas that they've identified, they thank God for the ways in which they've experienced growth, and then just take that all before the Lord, praising Him for what God is doing in their marriage.

Bob: You know, I think it's important for our listeners, as we've talked through this exercise, to understand that the transforming power for a couple's relationship is not in that exercise.  The transforming power is the power of the Holy Spirit.  But as couples participate – it's kind of back to what you were talking about, Dennis – you go to the gym, you get on a few of the machines, you do a few of the reps, and all of a sudden things start to happen.  You go through some of these workouts that you're calling couples to, and at some point in the middle of that faithfulness, that obedience, the Holy Spirit shows up and says, "I'm going to do something here," and things change.

Dennis: I want to make two points very clear here.  First of all, if you're going to take that weak marriage and exercise the muscle, like Bob was just talking about, there is something that is almost scientifically provable.  Well, it happens every time you take a muscle that hasn't been exercised in a long period of time, what happens?  There is soreness 24 hours later because of lactic acid.  I don't know what lactic acid is, but I know what it feels like when I haven't been exercising. 

 So as you exercise your marriage, beware.  There can be some soreness as you press into some areas that maybe you're not – well, you're not used to flexing the muscles in.  God designed marriages and bodies to grow.  Ephesians, chapter 4, talks about how we are to grow up in Christ.  He is the source of growth, we're to learn how to care for one another, and that's really what Dr. Kenworthy has been talking about here all this week and in his book, "Marriage Makeover."  He's really talking about how to equip couples with practical tools to turn their heart's desire into a reality.

 And, George, I appreciate your work as a pastor and just am thrilled you've been here on FamilyLife Today with us, and I just hope that, literally, tens of thousands of couples get into this and turn some strong marriages into truly stronger ones and perhaps take some weaker marriages and turn them into strong ones.

George: That's my prayer, too, Dennis.

Bob: And I know already there are folks – you've heard about some of these folks who are getting copies of your book not just for themselves, but they know couples who are in a difficult situation, and they're passing out copies to their friends, right?

George: And elder in my congregation just came to me a couple of weeks ago, said that there was someone that he knew that we struggling in their marriage.  This couple had come to the point where they couldn't talk to one another anymore.  This elder who wanted to help them didn't know what to do, and so he gave the guy a copy of the book.  The guy read the book and then decided "My wife needs to read this," and they weren't even talking with one another.  But he got a copy for his wife to read.  She read the book.  God touched her heart as she read the book, and that couple, that are not a churchgoing couple, got together and have been meeting since then, praying together every day that God would touch them, and then they met with this elder and said, "I think we're ready to do something."  He said, "Well, now, what you need to do is to go someplace where you can get counseling like what's in this book," and so they made appointments, and they're now seeing counselors at our church that use the methods that are described in the book.

Bob: Well, we've got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and if anyone is interested in getting a copy, they can go to our website at and click where it says "Today's Broadcast."  You'll find more information about all of the resources that are available from us here at FamilyLife, designed to help strengthen marriages, and it may be that some of our listeners would want to get copies of our conversation this week on this subject with Dr. Kenworthy and pass that along.  In fact, if you'd like to multiple copies of the CD, you can order that and pass them on to friends who you know who are struggling in their marriage.

 If you order a copy of Dr. Kenworthy's book along with a 30-day devotional from Dennis and Barbara Rainey called "Moments Together for Growing Closer to God," we'll send you an audio CD with this week's conversation at no additional cost.  Again, get all the information about that on our website at  And while you're there, get information about the upcoming season of Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.  We're going to be hosting these conferences in cities all across the country this spring.  There is one coming to a city near where you live, and you and your spouse would have a great weekend together if you could get away for one of these conferences.

 Again, get more information online at or give us a call at 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can help you with additional information about resources or about upcoming conferences.

 Speaking of resources, last year we had a number of listeners who contacted us requesting a resource – a two-CD set that we have in FamilyLife Resource Center.  It features a conversation with Dr. Emerson Eggerich who wrote the book "Love and Respect."  And as we aired that interview last year, many listeners contacted us.  They wanted to get copies for themselves or copies to pass along to others, and between now and the end of January, we want to make that two-CD series available to any of our listeners who can help us with a donation of any amount for the ministry of FamilyLife Today.

 We are listener-supported, and those donations are what help keep us on the air in this city and in cities all across the country, and we'd like to say thank you for partnering with us by sending out these CDs with Dr. Eggerich.  As you fill out a donation form online, when you get to the keycode box, what you need to do is write in either the word "love," or the word "respect."  Either word will work, it will let us know that you'd like the CDs sent as a thank you gift for your donation.  Or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone and just mention you'd like the CDs, and we'll get those out to you as well.  And let me say thanks in advance for you financial support of this ministry.  We appreciate you standing with us.

 Well, I hope you have a great weekend.  I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can be back with us on Monday when George Barna is going to join us.  We're going to hear some thoughts he has about a missed opportunity that the church needs to step up and address.  We'll talk about that Monday.  I hope you can be with us.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  Have a great weekend, and we'll see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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