FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Facing Difficulties

with Aaron and Jennifer Smith | July 8, 2019
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Aaron and Jennifer Smith knew that marriage would have its challenges, but they had no idea the depth of those challenges or how long they would last. The Smiths talk about their early struggles with sexual intimacy and their decision to persevere through the difficulties, even if nothing changed.

  • 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.

Aaron and Jennifer Smith talk about their struggles with intimacy, early in their marriage, and their decision to persevere.

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Facing Difficulties

With Aaron and Jennifer Smith
July 08, 2019
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Bob: Aaron Smith says, if you want a marriage that honors God, there’s one key principle you need to keep in front of you at all times.

Aaron: We say, “Yes,” to God even when our flesh screams, “No!”—that’s where we’ve got to get to. It’s like, “I want to say, ‘Yes,’ to God,” and there’s still a joy set before us. The goal is eternity; the goal is seeing what God wants to do in the lives around us. Then, at the end of the day, recognizing that the moment we got out of the way of ourselves—got out of the way of what God was doing—stop looking inward/stop looking at: “Oh, woe is us! We don’t have this…”—we actually start looking at what God was doing.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, July 8th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. Who is setting the primary agenda for your marriage? Is it you?—is it your spouse?—or is it God? We’ll talk with Aaron and Jennifer Smith today. Stay with us.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’ve heard enough of your story—

Ann: —you mean our fairytale? [Laughter]

Dave: It is a fairytale.

Bob: —until the ogre comes. [Laughter]

Dave: What? Who’s the ogre? “Honey! Honey! I need you to back me up.”

Ann: No; you are Prince Charming.

Dave: There you go.

Bob: I know enough of your story to know you started marriage with an understanding that marriage was about more than just your happiness. But that had to be kind of a revolutionary thought for you, even when you were dating; because most people think marriage is about “what I’m going to get out of this deal”; right?

Dave: Yes; we learned that, before marriage, by going to the Weekend to Remember®,where that was probably the first time—don’t you think?—

Ann: Absolutely.

Dave: —that we heard God has a bigger purpose than just you being happy.

But I’ve got to be honest—I still thought I’d be happy—[Laughter]—that was a pretty important purpose; then, when I wasn’t, I thought I married the wrong person.

Ann: I think that’s what happens—we know it in our head; but when we experience marriage and we’re not happy, we really do assume that: “That person I married is really messed up, and it’s their fault.”

Bob: “That should be, at least, the baseline; and ‘We’ll build all this ministry on top of that,’” as opposed to thinking, “God is the baseline, and happiness gets crafted on top of that.”

We’ve got a couple joining us today—actually, the wife’s been here with us before; the husband is here as a first-timer—Jennifer and Aaron Smith are with us. Welcome to the program, guys.

Jennifer: Hi, guys.

Aaron: Thanks for having us.

Bob: Jennifer was here—what’s it been?—four or five years ago?

Jennifer: Yes; something like that.

Bob: I just want to reference, here at the beginning of the program—if folks want to go back and hear the podcast of the conversation with Jennifer, from a few years back—really, an amazing story. Aaron, you wound up being part of it; we called you in the middle of talking with her.

Aaron: Yes; I was called in; yes. [Laughter]

Dave: You called him on the phone?

Ann: Wait; are you serious?

Aaron: Yes; oh yes.

Bob: We wanted to make sure that what Jennifer was saying was the real deal, so we called Aaron to get him to back it up.

Ann: That makes me want to listen, Aaron—they really called you.

Aaron: They called me, and I’m pretty sure I gave wrong details on the phone. [Laughter]

Jennifer: We got it all worked out.

Aaron: But yes; they told me and interviewed me about some of the stuff that we went through. This is my first time on the show.

Bob: The early years of your marriage were challenging. In fact, we’re not going to go deep into that because that’s what we covered last time you were here.

You guys may not even be aware—Jennifer, for the first three years of marriage, experienced great pain every time the two of you were intimate.

Jennifer: Yes.

Aaron: Yes.

Bob: Talk about a wedge issue in marriage. Talk about trying to figure out: “What’s the foundation of this marriage?”—when sex and intimacy is pretty much taken off the table for the first three years?—is that right?

Jennifer and Aaron: Yes.

Dave: I read that in your recent book, Marriage After God. I’m mature enough to know—I don’t want to start the conversation there—but Bob, you went right there! [Laughter] We’re going to start right there. When I read it, I was like, “I do want to know more of that story.”

Ann: I’m really interested, too, because—speaking at the Weekend to Remember for 30 years—this is very typical, which most people don’t think it is; because most people keep it hidden.

Bob: Typical that there’s pain?—

Ann: Yes—

Bob: —or typical—

Ann: —typical that there is pain, and—

Bob: —physical pain?

Ann: —physical pain, and there’s no one they have to talk to; and they don’t know how to get help.

Jennifer: I remember feeling so embarrassed that I even had to bring it up to a doctor.

Ann: Right.

Jennifer: It is something that’s very difficult to talk about; but I would say that, if you’re willing to talk about it, there is healing that can be found.

Bob: When you blogged about you, you, all of a sudden, were hearing from people from all over the world—

Jennifer: Yes.

Bob: —who were saying, “Finally, somebody is being open about what we’re dealing with.”

Jennifer: Yes.

Aaron: Even when we opened up about it in the beginning—the nurse/some close friends—pretty much everyone was like, “You should be fine.” We didn’t open up as much as we should’ve; but the couple times that we did, it reinforced in us that we were the only ones dealing with stuff.

Ann: Yes; thanks for being real and bringing some things out into the open—that most people are scared to do—because you’re giving hope to people.

Bob: And again, I’ll point people to the podcast. You can go to and listen to about 90 minutes’ worth of conversation on this subject with Jennifer from a few years ago.

We should tell folks that you are the proud parents of four children, so things have worked out; right?

Jennifer: Things have worked out; yes.

Aaron: Things have changed; yes. [Laughter]

Bob: Today—is that still an issue in your marriage?


Jennifer: I would say that it’s different; because having four children—kind of back to back—there were some post-partum issues, and healing there—

Aaron: —and other issues—

Jennifer: —just other issues.

I would say that our perspective and our heart toward one another, no matter what issue we face now, we just feel stronger together, as a team, because of what we’ve been through in the past—and being able to pursue one another and persist through challenges—knowing that God has a purpose for our marriage.

Bob: Aaron, your book, Marriage After God, really does get to that core issue I was talking with Dave and Ann about, which is the foundation of a marriage. You’ve recognized that happiness can’t be that foundation; even sexual intimacy can’t be that foundation. When did it dawn on you that “We’ve got to build on something other than ‘how we’re doing in marriage’?”

Aaron: Going through the difficulties in the beginning of our marriage—everyone has their own version of this story; right?—marriage isn’t easy. We have our perspective and our foundation on things like: “What’s going to fulfill me?” “What was my expectation of how my wife’s going to serve me or fulfill me?” or “…what we’re going to do, as a couple”—all those things get thrown out pretty quickly.

For us, it was our sexual intimacy; for others, it’s other things. It got to a point where I/we had to either say: “Lord, we’re going to follow You anyway, even if nothing ever changes,” and “We’re going to allow You to change our hearts. We’re going to allow You to use us and speak into us, and we’re just going to submit,” OR “I’m just going to rebel more,” and “I’m going to run away,” and “I’m going to try and find the things that I think I deserve.”

That was kind of the culmination leading up to us finding healing in that area—us realizing: “Okay, God; these things that we think hinder us and have stopped us are actually things that you want to use.” It took a surrendering—this was about three-and-a-half-ish/four years in—of saying: “Okay, Lord; if nothing changes—if I don’t get what I think I deserve, if my wife can never fulfill me in this way, if nothing’s ever the way I expected it to be—I’m going to say: ‘Yes’ to You anyway. I want what You want.”

He was pretty much able to convince me of this by reminding me of the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was Him reminding me of the Scriptures of Jesus praying and pleading with God that the cup of suffering would pass His lips. He asked three times—each time, with that, He says, “This is what I want; but not what I want, but what You want, Lord.” He gives us this example.

He’s like: “If Jesus can choose My will over His comfort; My will over His not experiencing the pain, for His bride”—because that’s essentially what was happening in that moment; He was about to go to the cross because of His bride—“and He did it anyway because it pleased God to do it.” Do I think that I’m owed something more than Jesus is owed? Do I think I have more of a right to my hurt, and my pain, and my discontentment, and my discomfort; do I have more of a right than Christ did?

Christ was obedient. I said, “Okay, Lord.” He humbled me—that’s the only word I can use. I don’t deserve anything, and He’s given me everything. This thing that I’m going through—that is painful, and is not comfortable, and is not enjoyable—is okay. I can still, actually, be obedient and love my wife as Christ loves the church, giving myself up for her—that was the spiritual shift in my heart.

Ann: That’s radical, especially in our culture—that’s saying: “You deserve to be happy,” “You deserve to have your needs met.” This is a radical experience, where some people could be thinking, “So am I supposed to suffer in my marriage as Jesus did?”

Jennifer, what were your thoughts? Did you go along those same lines?

Jennifer: I think his leadership in taking this revelation that God showed him about Jesus in the Garden helped lead my heart to the same perspective. I’m looking at him, going, “Okay; if you can do this, I can do this.” It set that example and helped me. Ultimately, we did love each other; and we wanted it to work out.

Aaron: Yes.

Jennifer: It’s just—we were also crumbling; so we had to make a choice that, even amidst of hard circumstances, we were going to persist together.

Dave: Let me ask you this—when you make that decision: surrender/submission—I’m listening to that going, “Wow; you talk about maturity.”

Ann: Yes.

Dave: I want to know the backstory of your walk with God.

That is a crucible so many of us get to, and I’d say a lot don’t make that decision—they’re like: “I’m out!

Aaron: Yes.

Dave: “I want happiness; I’m not getting that.”

It’s interesting—last year, we got to go to Israel for the first time.

Aaron: Awesome.

Dave: There I am in the Garden. Our guide showed us this image that I’ll never forget. When Jesus is praying: “Thy will be done; not My will. I want Your will over My will,” he said, “He’s probably looking at the gate and seeing the men coming to arrest Him.” He’s seeing that as He’s praying it, knowing that the future’s that, and “I’m choosing that even though I can see it.”

You’re almost in the same situation—you’re not seeing healing going to instantly happen. After you pray that/after you surrender, what happened? Did it all like: “Oh, now we’re good!”?

Ann: Now, you’re living the fairytale?

Dave: Or was it still a struggle?

Aaron: It was still a struggle. What changed was our perspective. It became more of a heavenly-focused perspective/more of a biblically-focused perspective. It wasn’t contingent on our circumstances any longer. It was contingent on who we were looking at and who we were yielded to. It was saying, “The things that seem like a crucible and seem big—they instantly shrink in size in comparison to who God is and what He’s done—once you yield your heart in that way.

That thing of: “I’m not happy,”—when you immediately focus on what Christ had done, and what that means for me, and what that now allows me to do and invites me to do for Him—all those other things shrink. It didn’t make them perfect immediately; it didn’t fix everything right away. I was able to approach my wife in a vastly different way; because my perspective was no longer on, “Well, she’s not giving me what I deserve.”

Now, I’m looking at her as a sister in Christ. I’m looking at her as the bride that God has gifted to me. I’m looking at her as the woman/the ministry—the person that God has given to me to pour into—to encourage, to love on, to sacrifice for.

Jennifer: Instead of being consumed with thoughts of divorce or separation, thinking that was our only answer, we prayed even more. We pursued God/pursued His Word, and clung to that hope that He gave to us for our marriage.

Ann: How would you encourage that person, who is married, that is all about that: “I want to surrender my life to God. I’m going to go for this, but my spouse is nowhere near that.” What would you encourage them with? How do they live that out?

Aaron: You brought up, in the beginning, how radical it is to be like: “What if I’m never happy? What if I’m never fulfilled? What if they never…?” It is a hard thing to say; but to be honest, following Christ—it’s a narrow way. It might cause us to not have what we want, and not get what we feel we deserve, and not be fulfilled in certain ways.

The question we have to ask ourselves is: “What do we want more?”—“Christ?—or happiness?”—“Christ?—or this healthy marriage over here?”—“Christ?—or a husband who treats me the way I think I deserve?—or a wife who gives me what I think I need?”

Once we can get to that point of saying: “I want Christ. I want what He wants for me; I want what He has for me,” it changes how we look at all of the things. When you look at the martyrs—they can suffer the way they do because of what their eyes are on. Christ was able to go to the cross for the goal that was set before Him. He saw the promise; He knew what God was doing, and so He trusted His Father more than He trusted His flesh. We have a quote in the book that says, “We say, ‘Yes,’ to God even when our flesh screams, ‘No!’”—that’s what we’ve got to get to. It’s like: “I want to say, ‘Yes,’ to God, even when my flesh screams, ‘No!’—even when it means I’m going to lose property, or health, or comfort.”

What’s amazing is—sometimes, those things turn out for good, and happiness, and joy; and sometimes, they don’t. But you know what?—there’s still a joy set before us. The goal is eternity; the goal is seeing what God wants to do in the lives around us. Then, at the end of the day, recognizing that the moment we got out of the way of ourselves—got out of the way of what God was doing—stop looking inward/stop looking at: “Oh, woe is us! We don’t have this…”—we actually start looking at what God was doing.

We’re just going to start saying, “Yes,” and being obedient over here and being obedient over here; and “Oh, He wants us to step into this,” and “He wants us to do that.” Things became much more clear, where He was leading us—

Jennifer: Yes.

Aaron: —instead of being so inward-focused on ourselves.

Bob: Jennifer, at what point in your marriage did this surrender moment happen?

Jennifer: It was about at the end of four years.

Aaron: Yes.

Bob: There had been, already, some relief in terms of the intimacy issues you had experienced—yes or no?

Jennifer: The intimacy got restored or healed after this point.

Aaron: Yes; nothing changed before that [surrender].

Jennifer: The spiritual surrendering happened before.

Bob: So, as you were facing this, one of the things you were saying is, “This might mean a marriage without sexual intimacy.”

Jennifer: Correct.

Aaron: That was the conclusion I had to come to.

Ann: Wow; so paint a picture of your marriage at that point. What were you feeling? What experiences were you going through at that point?

Jennifer: This is the dramatic entrance of the start of The Unveiled Wife book. We’re sitting in church that day, thinking that our marriage is going to be separated; we’re contemplating divorce.

Aaron: We’re both, individually, thinking, “Divorce.”

Ann: Wow.

Jennifer: Yes; I thought, at lunch, that’s when it was going to happen. But instead, this happened—him, Aaron, telling me about this kind of vision he saw about Jesus in the Garden. Then you, also, going through this situation and having to surrender everything and embrace what God has for us. That was just—

Aaron: I would say, up until this point, we had treaded the waters of our marriage as long as we could on our own strength, trying to stay afloat. On the outside, we had been missionaries; and we love each other, and we’re good friends, and people love us, and I served here and served there.

Ann: Everything looks good on the outside.

Jennifer: Social’s media’s so tricky because, based off the pictures we were posting—or anything like that—people would think we had a great marriage. But really, we were suffering on the inside, which I think a lot of people are probably there—stuck in isolation.

Ann: Yes.

Aaron: It was at the point of giving up. I feel like God—that’s, often, where God wants us to be.

Bob: When you say you were thinking about divorce—I remember our conversation—you were thinking about it, because you loved Aaron. You were thinking he should not have to endure a marriage, where he cannot have intimacy with his wife.

Jennifer: Yes; I wanted the best for him, and I thought I wasn’t the best for him.

Ann: It’s almost sacrificial—you’re saying.

Bob: Yes; yes. There was a heart there to serve your husband.

You were, really, wondering, Aaron, if you could survive, as a husband; weren’t you?

Aaron: Yes; I had lots of wicked thoughts in that season—allowing the lies of my circumstances to justify my thoughts and my actions—and thinking: “Man, I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m tired. Nothing’s changing.” I was mad at God: “I thought I did everything right for you!” I felt like He owed me something. I know you, Jennifer, went through similar feelings with God.

He wasn’t done with me; He wasn’t willing to let me go.

Bob: You talk in the book about how, during this season, you were satisfying yourself through pornography. A lot of people would hear your story and go: “This may be one of those exception clauses, where that’s okay; because you can’t have intimacy in marriage. Maybe this is an okay outlet for you, as a husband.”

Jennifer: That’s how you first justified it.

Aaron: Yes; we often tell people, “Don’t let your spouse’s actions dictate your own obedience.” That’s what I did—I allowed my sin to happen, thinking: “The one place I’m supposed to get intimacy—I can’t even have that, so what am I supposed to do?”

You know what? To be honest, this was an issue with me before we were married. It was an issue into my marriage; it had nothing to do with my wife. I used our situation to justify it/to allow myself. That’s a lie, also, that I believed—that I had these sexual needs that need to be met: “I’m going to find them elsewhere.”

Actually, I have a sexuality that was designed for marriage. When we have all of these perspectives—that are fleshly perspectives, not spiritual perspectives—then we think they can be met otherwise, and they can’t. That’s how I thought.

And you, even, used the situation to not have the right to say something to me or to just avoid the conversations?

Jennifer: Yes; I avoided it.

Aaron: But that’s not truth. I’m going to stand before my Creator one day and make an account for my own life, and not my wife. She’s not going to account for my life.

Bob: Was your surrender moment the turning point in terms of your pornography?

Aaron: Not exactly right away, but it was the starting point of that healing process for me.

Jennifer: Yes.

Aaron: It began the process of me walking toward freedom that I already had. This is the truth that I didn’t understand—is recognizing the truth of what it was I was doing. It wasn’t until a few years later/a couple years later—

Jennifer: —a year-and-a-half—

Aaron: —yes; that I was finally confronted. This is another conversation altogether—I was finally confronted, head-on, with what it was I was doing. That was the moment. There was a journey of slowly changing things in my life, and my wife having the courage to confront me on things, and me being able to give up and realize what I was doing.

Bob: We may need to go into that moment.

Dave: When you say, “I was confronted, head-on,” you got everybody going, “What did you mean by that?”

Bob: We’ll follow up with that conversation. I want to—

Dave: Wait, wait, Bob. Aaron’s walking out the door. [Laughter] I don’t think he wants to have that conversation. [Laughter]

Bob: You know these guys—they’re open to just being who they are.

Ann: I love that.

Bob: That’s one of the things we appreciate about you.

It’s true about the book, Marriage After God, which we are making available this week to FamilyLife Today listeners. Anybody who can help the ministry with a donation—we’d love to send you a copy of Aaron and Jennifer’s book. The subtitle is Chasing Boldly After God’s Purpose for Your Life Together. Again, go to You can make a donation to support the ongoing work of this ministry; and we’ll send you a copy of the book, Marriage After God.


By the way, when you support the work of FamilyLife Today, what you’re supporting is making this program available to hundreds of thousands of people, all around the world, every day. We’ve got people, who are tuning in online; people, who are using our app; people, who are using their Amazon Alexa devices; people, who are listening on their local radio station. These folks get a chance to hear programs like you’ve heard today because you helped make that possible when you make a donation to support the ongoing work of this ministry.

Again, if you can help with the donation, go to and donate online; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Again, the website:; and our number is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Be sure to ask for your copy of Aaron and Jennifer’s book, Marriage After God,when you donate to support FamilyLife Today.

We have the President of FamilyLife®, David Robbins, joining us again today. You heard something that kind of jumped out at you in today’s conversation.

David: Yes; that line, Bob—I loved it: “The challenge we face shrinks, in perspective, in light of what Jesus did.” Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, The Message—Hebrews 12 just kind of came into my mind as I heard that sentence. Eugene says it this way: “Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how He did it, because He never lost sight of where He was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God. He could put up with anything, along the way: cross, shame, whatever. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over the story again, item by item—that long litany of hostility He plowed through. That will shoot adrenalin into your souls.”

Jesus had an advantage; He had been there before. He knew what He was fixing His eyes on. I think that is where we can, in faith, reflect on what He did—how He persevered—and fix our eyes to Jesus in whatever we’re walking through: in our marriage, in our home, in our family, in our work situations—whatever we’re walking through, we can find hope in Him and look to Him as our example.

Bob: That’s good. Thank you for that, David.

By the way, have you heard about our summertime marriage fitness challenge that we’ve got going on, here, at FamilyLife? We’ve got available to you a workout schedule for your marriage; actually, three different workout schedules. You can go to our website and download the schedule that you want.

When you enroll in our summertime marriage workout—what we’re calling “Stronger Forever”—you will, also, be entered into a contest, where you and your spouse could win a round-trip airfare and a stateroom on the Love Like You Mean It® marriage cruise in 2020. No purchase necessary to enter. The contest began on July 1, 2019; it ends on August 30, 2019. The official rules can be found at Sign up today, and who knows?—maybe, you’ll be selected to join us, as our guests, on the Love Like You Mean It marriage cruise in 2020.

I hope you can join us back, again, tomorrow. We’re going to talk more about what it looks like to have a marriage focused on God and His glory with Aaron and Jennifer Smith. We’re going to talk specifically about one of the challenges you guys faced, early, in your marriage. Aaron, you talk about this pretty openly—about your struggle with pornography. We’ll dive into that tomorrow. I hope our listeners can be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, 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; a Cru® Ministry. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.


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