FamilyLife Today® Podcast

From a Pretty Good Marriage to a Great Marriage

with Dr. David Clarke | January 3, 2008
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Would you describe your marriage as "pretty good"? Today on the broadcast, Christian psychologist Dr. David Clarke talks with Dennis Rainey about turning a good marriage into a GREAT one. Find out how to rewrite your marital script by climbing out of your ruts and finding common bonds.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Would you describe your marriage as "pretty good"? Today on the broadcast, Christian psychologist Dr. David Clarke talks with Dennis Rainey about turning a good marriage into a GREAT one. Find out how to rewrite your marital script by climbing out of your ruts and finding common bonds.

  • 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.

Would you describe your marriage as “pretty good”?

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From a Pretty Good Marriage to a Great Marriage

With Dr. David Clarke
January 03, 2008
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Bob: Sometimes something really simple can really mess up a marriage relationship.  Dr. David Clarke remembers when one of the rules of the house changed, and nobody told him.  It all had to do with a bar of soap in the shower.

David: For 10 solid years it was whoever was in the shower last, and it came down to a sliver, the person that got in next – it could be me, it could be Sandy – had to replace the bar.

 One day, all of a sudden, she changes the rule.  Said nothing, you know, so I replaced the bar that one time, I thought, "All right, fine.  I'm a good guy, I love my wife, I can do this one time."

 Four or five bars later I said, "Honey, what's going on?"  She said, "Dave, you don't want to go there."  She starts listing all the things she does in the home, so couldn't I at least replace the crummy bar?

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, January 3rd.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  And I know you're thinking, "Come on, this is no big deal," right?  In some marriages it turns into a huge deal.  Stay tuned.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  I remember when we were interviewing Coach Bill McCartney a number of years ago, Coach McCartney, of course, was coach of the Colorado Buffalo football team.

Dennis: Took them to the National Championship.

Bob:  That's right, and then he went on to found Promise Keepers, and I remember he was on the platform at a Promise Keepers event one time, and the speaker asked the question – how would you rate your marriage?

Dennis: Right.

Bob: And then he asked, "How would your spouse rate your marriage?"

Dennis: I think, actually, that was me that asked the question, but he always gave Gary Smalley credit.


Bob: What I remember is that Coach McCartney thought he'd probably give his marriage, I don't know, and 8 or a 9, a pretty good score.

Dennis: Right.

Bob: And then he thought, well, Lindy would probably score it a little lower than that – a 6 or a 7.

Dennis: Right.

Bob: And then it hit him.  Now here's a guy who is ready to take his football teams to the national championship, and he stopped and thought, "Why would I settle for an 8 or even a 9 in my marriage?"  And yet you look around at Christian marriages, and there are a lot of folks who would say, "Eh, 7, 8, 9, and they're okay with that."

Dennis: Right.  They settle in for mediocrity, and they never, ever get out of that rut and never experience what our guest on today's broadcast talks about in his book, "The Total Marriage Makeover."  Dr. David Clarke joins us.  David, welcome to the broadcast.

David: It's great to be here, Dennis.

Dennis: David is a counselor, an author, a speaker, and is a trained Christian psychologist.  He got a degree at Dallas Theological Seminary; also went on to Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in Portland.  He and his wife, Sandy, have been married since 1982.  They have four children, and he has written this book, "The Total Marriage Makeover," and, David, in your book you talk about five different types of marriages, and that all of us are in one of these categories.  What are those five?

David: The five are the "pretty good marriage" – millions of marriages in that category.  "The dead marriage," and these are kind of – you don't stay "pretty good" forever.  You're going to slip into the "dead."  Then it's the "I want a divorce marriage."  Then there are "new marriages," something starting that's brand new, and then, finally, "the great marriage."  That's where God wants all of us – the great marriage.

Dennis: Go back to the pretty good marriage.  Wouldn't you think that most of our listeners would categorize their marriage relationship as pretty good?

David: I think they would.  Probably 80 to 90 percent would say, "Yeah, we're okay, we're fair."

Dennis: That's where people start out.

David: Right.

Bob: And what's wrong – I'm thinking, okay, pretty good's not bad.

Dennis: But back to your illustration, Bob, with Coach McCartney …

Bob: You want to have a great marriage, everybody wants to have a great marriage, but I think you think, "Okay, the reality of life is 'pretty good' is all you're going to get."

David: Yeah, people have been sold a bill of goods, and I think Satan is behind that, our culture is behind that.  You really can't expect anymore than "this is the way it is."  That's how a woman is, that's how a guy is, we're okay.  That's not what God says.  God makes it clear in the Word He wants us all to have a terrific marriage, and He tells us how to do it.  So that's why I wrote the book.  This is how to have a great marriage.  Don't settle.

Dennis: I have to read what you wrote about this.  You said, "This marriage, that is, 'the pretty good marriage,' is unsatisfying, draining, and, frankly, boring.  It's nice to be content, comfortable, and stable, but is that why you were married in the first place?

David: Right, I don't think so.

Dennis: And your point is no.

David: Huh-uh.

Dennis: We need to move on to something different.

David: Right.  I tell couples all the time, you are – after a first session – I say you are boring each other to death.  You're boring me.  Is this what you want?  "Well, no."  Well, I can tell you how to get – actually, God can tell you – I'm just kind of the mouthpiece – God has shown us the way.

Bob: And what is it that causes couples to be in a pretty good marriage.  Are they just settling for dissatisfaction that they shouldn't be settling for?

David: I think it happens to all of us.  It certainly happened to Sandy and I.  You're infatuated.  That part of the relationship is fantastic.  Everything the person says is unbelievable.  I've got a rock in my show.  "You're kidding."  I mean, it's just insightful.  "Bugs Bunny is my favorite character.  "Mine, too," I mean, everything is great.

Dennis: Right.

David: Sandy could close the car door on my hand, and I would say, "Honey, no problem, I love you."  I look at my crippled hand, from now on, I'll think of you."  I mean, we're great!  And then, of course, you get married, and then it starts to break down.  "We are very different," "You annoy me," "I didn't realize this about you."  Then we have a baby – disaster!  Where babies are, romance dies.  The marriage is suspended.  Everything is about the baby.  We can't resolve conflict, nobody ever taught me how to be a leader in my home, I don't know how to communicate on a deep level.  I mean, it breaks down.

 So, somewhere in there it becomes "pretty good."  And so I think everybody is faced with that.

Bob: You realized you were at "pretty good" when you got in the shower?

David: That's exactly right.  Yeah, the bar of soap in the shower.  When the bar gets down to a sliver, of course, you've got to change the bar.  Well, for 10 solid years – it was close to eight and a half to ten – whoever was in the shower last, and it came down to a sliver, well, all right, the next person, and you were able to use it, and then, of course, it was okay, then the person that got in next – it could be me, it could be Sandy – had to replace the bar.  Well, just 10 steps away in the closet, Sandy would always stock the bars – Irish Spring is what we use, well who cares?

 Anyway, one day, all of a sudden, she changes the rule.  Said nothing – I knew from the day before that it was down to a sliver because I'd used it, and I knew that she took a shower that morning – the night before – she would have to replace the bar.  I thought, well, my life is perfect.  I get into the shower, I got the water going, and the sliver is still there!  I've got to get wet, I've got to go out and get another bar.  I thought, "What's going on?"  I could have confronted her at that point, but I didn't.  I felt I could outlast her, you know, so I replaced the bar that one time, I thought, "All right, fine.  I'm a good guy, I love my wife, I can do this one time."

Bob: You really sacrificed there, didn't you?

David: Thank you, Bob, you recognize that.  It was a push.  Our marriage was hanging in the balance.  Anyway, we go through that bar, and it happens again!  She refuses to change the bar.  She did not replace the sliver.

Dennis: Now, tell me the truth – was she doing this intentionally to get your attention?

David: You know what?  Sandy never does anything by accident.  So as we talked about this later on, she had decided that she just didn't want to do it anymore, and she felt like I wasn't doing enough in the home.  That's where Dennis going, that's exactly right.

 And so couldn't I at least replace the crummy bar?  Well, she didn't say this to me, but I got the message after several weeks, of course.

Bob: After several bars.

David: Fine.  I made the mistake of confronting her.  Four or five bars later I said, "Honey, what's going on?  You know the way we used to work!"  She said, "Dave, you don't want to go there."  She starts listing all the things she does in the home, and then the things that I did.  Mine was kind of short.  I said, "Oh."  So starting with the bar I began to do much more in the home.  I figured, "Boy, this could get worse if I don't get going here.  What's next?"

Bob: The interesting thing is – little annoyances like that kind of grow and fester, and there are couples today who are looking across the table at each other in not a "pretty good marriage" but a "bad marriage" or an "I want out marriage," and when you start to peel it away, it's about who is changing the soap in the shower, right?

David: It is – you're not folding my underwear the right way – it's the small things.  Or the thermostat wars – all these little petty things that when you're in love and you have passion mean nothing.  You overlook it, you don't care.

Dennis: You actually have a list in which you call the "battle of the petty."

Bob: Yeah, these are pretty funny.

Dennis: And I'll let you comment on the ones you want to comment about.  First of all, "thermostat wars."

David: Oh, yeah.  Sandy likes it warm at night.  I like it cold.  We have fought over that for years.

Dennis: "Night owl and morning glory."

David: Oh, yeah.  I'm a morning person.  I get up at 5:30.  I don't even need an alarm.  I'm fresh, I'm ready to go.  Sandy is just like the land of the walking dead.  In the evening, 8:00, I'm done, I'm gone, and she's just perking up and stays up late.  That's a problem.

Dennis: "Mrs. Manners and Mr. Crude."

David: Yeah, well, next?

Dennis: We know which one that is.  Number four, "pack rat and garage saler."

David: Oh, the pack rat never throws anything out– used tissues are saved and cataloged.  I mean, the whole thing.

Dennis: "The slob and the neatnik."

David: I'm the slob.  I don't care about neatness.  Why make the bed, you're going to sleep in it tonight.

Bob: Sleep in it again, that's right.

David: Bob's with me.

Dennis: "The ratty clothes man."

David: That's me, too.  I have these old high school – literally, high school and college t-shirts that I keep wearing because they're comfortable.

Dennis: So are you a pack rat?

David: No, I'm the guy that throws things out.  Sandy saves, saves, saves.

Bob: But not the t-shirts.  You don't throw those out.

David: No.  She's got bibs and kids' underwear from when they were babies.  Now, that's sick, that's wrong.

Bob: Because you've got a 12-year-old, and that's as young as it gets, and you're not planning on any more, right?

David: Let it go, honey.

Dennis: This next one – I need you to come to our house and counsel Barbara on this one – "the closet hog."

David: Oh, one of the worst offenses.  Sandy has three-quarters of my closet, and she doesn't wear half that stuff, anyway.  It's ridiculous.

Dennis: Number eight, "the incredible phone-talking."

David: Ohhh, get home from work, get home at lunch and the woman is on the phone, talking, talking, talking, and they repeat the same stories to everybody they talk to.  So you hear the same story eight times.  Then they want to tell you, and you say, "I've heard that, honey, eight times."

Dennis: Number nine, "never on time."

David: Oh, yeah, I tend to run a little late, Sandy likes to be places early.  That's been a real issue.  That was a battle of the petty for us.

Dennis: And, finally, "I'm going to die again?"

David: That's me.  I get a pain in my back, my kidneys are shutting down, I'm going to die.  I have months to live maybe.

Dennis: So you're a hypochondriac.

David: Headache, brain tumor, always.  It's always a worst case.  I went to my ophthalmologist a couple of weeks ago.  I was having trouble seeing in my right eye, and I panicked.  I've got a brain tumor.  I go in, he says, that's like a – he called it an "aura."  It's like a migraine thing.  He said, "Stop wasting my time.  People are out there with real problems."  He kicks me out.

Dennis: And so what happens is all these petty things that we laugh about, we've been chuckling here, these things begin to wear us down and slowly the pretty good marriage begins to die until it become what you call "the dead marriage."

David: Right, that's where it's going to end up.  Nobody wants that but inevitably one day you realize, "Hm, we lost it."  The passion is gone, the romance is gone, these petty things are really in the forefront.  This woman bugs me.

Dennis: And, you know, here's the thing.  Some folks would look at these differences and say, "Well, the problem is obvious.  I married the wrong person.  If I had found someone who was more like me then I'd have a happier marriage."

 But the reality is, every marriage will have its accumulated list of petty differences.  What's the difference between the couples who have them and have a great marriage, and the couples who have the differences and wind up moving toward isolation?

David: The ones that have bought and applied the total marriage makeover are doing fantastic.

Dennis: There you go.  That's it.

David: Well, they begin to do it God's way, which is you can get back if you do the right things as husband and wife, the passion returns, much better than it ever was in infatuation.  Now it's deep, now it's mature, and those petty things, actually, they're still there, but you don't care.  You are in love with that person, so you don't mind.

Dennis: Well, you know, we've laughed about this, but people do need training.  They need another set of blueprints if they're going to get out of this "dead marriage" rut and out of "the pretty good marriage" rut and find their way to a great marriage.  Unfortunately, when you don't get out of the rut, it does lead ultimately to this next type of marriage, which is "I want out of this marriage.  I want a divorce."

David: One person hits the wall – almost every couple I see, one person wants to save it, and one person says that, "I want a divorce, I want out."

Bob: And, you know, we've laughed about slivers of soap in the shower or about the closet or about the pack rat.  Most of the folks that you're seeing who are coming in saying, "I want out of this marriage," it's not because we can't abide by the shower or the closet.  Things have gotten deeper than that, but often it can begin there and lead toward a deeper division, right?

David: Right, because the separation starts to happen.  We spend less and less time together, we avoid each other, we don't talk, we don't go out, we don't make love, and when we do it's not too often, and it's really not too exciting.  I mean, the breakdown is just slow.  But one day, boom, somebody's done.

Dennis: This next description of marriage called "the new marriage."  Is this generally when a marriage is starting out, when a couple are first beginning their journey together and all of this is new?  Is that it?

David: Right, and it could be even a second or a third marriage, because when you're starting, you've got the infatuation, you've got the chemistry, same old thing.

 But the same things are going to happen to the new marriage.  They have plenty of passion, they've got the chemistry – "gosh, we're in love" – but it's going to break down.  They don't realize it yet.  They think they've changed partners, if they've been married before, and maybe they had reason to divorce, but now they're starting over, it's going to happen again, and they don't have the tools.

 Bob: Do couples think that a great marriage is a new marriage that goes on forever?

David: Oh, yeah, everybody believes that and culture pushes that.

Bob: But that's not what a great marriage is?

David: No – no, no, no, no.  The new marriage only gets you married.  Infatuation is designed by God to get you married, it gets the job done.  You always lose that, you're supposed to.  The culture says "give up, quit, this is not the right person."

Bob: So if there's supposed to be a difference between the new marriage and the great marriage, what does the great marriage look like?

David: Well, the great marriage is really mature love, and both partners in my mind are doing what God wants them to do.  His way always works, every time it's tried, it works.

 As a husband, I'm following His principles in the Bible.  The wife is doing her job.  We are meshing, we are talking, we're emotionally intimate, we spiritually bond.  The world knows nothing of that – praying together, sharing your spiritual life – vitally important for any great marriage.  We can resolve conflict, we're making love, we have the passion.

 I think Sandy is the most beautiful woman in the world.  The two of you feel the same way about your wives, and you're right.  If I change my mind on that and start looking around, I am in violation of Scripture.  She thinks I'm the most beautiful man in the world – haha, hard to believe.  Well, that's faith.  Her eyesight has been questioned a number of times.

 However …

Dennis: You know, at our conferences, and we hold 150 Weekend to Remember conferences each year.  We see these couples stream into ballrooms.  We see them come, and they have their notebooks in hand, and many of them do not have the foggiest idea of how ill-equipped they were when they started out their marriage to do the very thing you're talking about.

 But a couple who are in the "pretty good marriage," the "dead marriage," the "I want a divorce marriage," or the "new marriage," they're all seated out there, and what they don't realize is they are about to get equipped.  They need books like yours, they need conference experiences that give them both the same set of blueprints so they can build their house together off that set with the same architect.

 But there is hope for a couple that regardless of where they are, they can move to that great marriage achievement.

David: Oh, yeah, no question.  I see it in my practice all the time.  No matter how bad it is or how good it is, you can always get better.  Marriage can always get better.  Bill and Cathy Clarke, my folks, have been married now for 51 years, and it is better every year. They have a great marriage. 

 Sandy and I have what I call a "great marriage."  We work at it.

Dennis: Right, you've been married 25 years.

David: It's going to be 25 years in July.

Dennis: Your parents have been married 51.  Why would you characterize your parents' marriage as a great one?

David: You know, they are still in love.  They hold hands, Dad gets the door for Mom, they have this communion.  They read books together, they read the Bible together every morning.  Their emotional connection remains strong.  They wear the same clothes now – that happens when you get older, I guess, you know, the same windbreakers.  That's not really what the great marriage is about, but they love each other, and they go out on a date once a week.  They have for 40-plus years.  They still do that.

 And when we're with them, you can just see the holding hands, the glances, they're spiritually connected.  I mean, it is a mature love but it's also like a couple of kids.  Here they are in their early 70s, and they're like a couple of kids.  That's how to do it.

Bob: And, you know, as you've described them, and I'm thinking about my marriage to Mary Ann, and I'm thinking a great marriage is ultimately a choice you make to have a great marriage.  It's a choice you make to focus and to concentrate and to build.  If you think a great marriage is naturally occurring emotions that take you there, you're going to be disappointed, but I had to decide what my emotions are going to be today about my wife.  I have to decide where my feelings and affections are going to go and not wait for something just to kind of mystically overtake me and say, "Gee, where are my affections leading me today?"

Dennis: Well, what you're talking about, Bob, is you're talking about investing in your marriage relationship – all those things you discussed – focus, commitment, attention upon her and your marriage relationship demand time, energy, and they demand a daily investment.

 And you can't expect to have a great relationship if you're only putting a nickel in every day.  If you want to reap heavily at the end of your life together, then you need to invest liberally today.  Do the little common courtesies that, yeah, they may only be a nickel – opening the door, pulling the chair out for her, holding her hand, serving him, getting him something special – a cup of coffee like he likes it – but those are the investments that make up a relationship to let the other person know "I care about you.  You're important to me.  Your needs are a part of my attentiveness every day."

David: Those are choices made every day, and if you do, boy, does it pay off.  There's nothing worse than even a pretty good or a miserable marriage – it's so horribly draining.  All of life is affected – nothing better or more invigorating than a great marriage.

Bob: Well, you made a point that I think is a profound one for us.  You talked about how your wife is the most beautiful woman you know, and mine is as well, and yours is as well, and how she thinks you're the most beautiful guy, the most handsome guy she knows.  Again, that can be a choice you make.

 The choice is not to look around and say, "I wonder who is more beautiful?"  Because Hollywood will give you someone to look at.

David: Always somebody new, too.  Every couple of years, a new crop.

Bob: But the issue is to look, instead, at the wife and say, "I've decided you're the most beautiful."  I mean, there is no objective standard for beauty.  We can't say, "Who is more beautiful – this woman or that woman?"  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?

Dennis: Yeah.

Bob: So you can make the decision – my wife is the most beautiful woman I know – I've decided that, and I don't need to look anywhere else because I've made the choice.  She's the one.

Dennis: Barbara and I were married in 1972.  You can kind of do the math and figure out that that means we're not pups.  We're not just starting it out, you know, we're moving into some – the time of life when there's some wrinkles …

Bob: Yes?

Dennis: And you can't always exercise and get rid of everything, you know?  It's there.  Life has a way, gravity does, of just kind of pulling it all down, you know? 

 So, anyway, I was looking at her the other day, and I did look at her face, and I thought, "She really is a magnificent-looking woman."  And you can turn on the television, and you can see a model who has been airbrushed to perfection.  In fact, this morning before I came to work, I had the "Today" show on watching some matters that were taking place in our nation, and there was an advertisement, and they had a woman who I would like to know how many hours she stood in front of the mirror and …

Bob: Put the make up on?

Dennis: No, it's paint.  This is serious paint.  This had to be serious paint, but she looked beautiful, and it was under perfect light, perfect conditions, but the problem with a marriage is it's not taking place with perfect light, perfect conditions.  It's talking about something that's taken place since 1972 that's had high mountaintops, great, great times, but also some dark, deep valleys that lasted for a long time and, Bob, I think what happens today is what David talks about in his book – couples are getting up and starting to throw the towel in over so many different things that, frankly, start out to be quite trivial.

Bob: And before long they wind up needing a total marriage makeover, which is what you talk about in the book that you've written, which we have in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  If any of our listeners today have said, "You know, our marriage has some of those things going on.  Those are some of the issues we need to address."

 Go to our website, click the red button that you see in the center of the home page that says "Go," and that will take you to an area of the site where there is more information about David Clarke's book, "The Total Marriage Makeover." 

 Again, our website is, and you can click the red button that you see on the home page, right in the center, it says "Go" on it, and you can order a copy of Dave's book from our site, or you can call us to order a copy at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  If you call, somebody will make arrangements to get a copy of David's book out to you.

 Also, if you can help with a donation of any amount for the ministry of FamilyLife Today, we'd love to send you a copy of the new devotional guide for couples from Dennis and Barbara Rainey.  It's called "Moments With You," 365 daily devotions, a page that you can read together each day.  It gives you something to talk about, something to pray together about, and it helps you build a stronger relationship with one another, a stronger relationship spiritually, emotionally, it just helps keep you connected.

 We'd love to send you a copy of this book as our thank you gift when you make a donation of any amount this month for the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  You can make that donation online at, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY, make the donation over the phone.

 If you're donating online, you will come to a keycode box as you fill out the donation form.  Just type in the word "moments," and we'll be sure to send you a copy of this devotional book for couples, "Moments With You," or if you call 1-800-FLTODAY and make your donation over the phone, just mention that you'd like the new devotional from Dennis and Barbara Rainey.  Again, it's our way of saying thanks for your partnership with us.  We appreciate your financial support of this ministry.

 Tomorrow David Clarke is going to be back with us.  We're going to continue to talk about what we can do to do a little sprucing up, a little freshening of our marriage relationship.  I hope you can be back with us for that.

 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.  We'll see you back tomorrow 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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