Is your marriage in a rut? Pastor Ted Cunningham shares some sound advice for getting your marriage out of the doldrums and back on the happy track. Ted suggests intentionally filling your partner's "love jug," but not until first connecting into your real source of love and fulfillment, Jesus Christ.
About the Guest
Ted Cunningham shares some sound advice for getting your marriage out of the doldrums and back on the happy track.
Bob: What are you looking for your marriage to provide for you that marriage was never intended to provide? Here’s Ted Cunningham.
Ted: I encourage couples to do this all the time—point to one another and just simply say the words: “You’re fired. You’re fired! You are no longer the source of my life. You will no longer be the one I look to as my source.” So, start by defining—for a lot of
guys—it may be their job; it may be the bank; it may be, you know, their identity and what they do—it’s a spouse; it’s a child. Unplugging from them is the first place to start before you can plug into the true and only source.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, October 4th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. For your relationship with your spouse to be all that God wants it to be, your relationship with God needs to be all that He intends for it to be. We’ll talk about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. I remember you talking once about a nautical phenomenon that was related to marriage. Do you know what I’m talking about? I’m talking about the doldrums. Explain to our listeners about the doldrums.
Dennis: The doldrums is a spot near the equator. I’ve actually read books about this, and I’ve actually lost weight reading books that have talked about how hot it can be near the equator in the doldrums. [Laughter] Sailing vessels feared this; because they could sail right into the doldrums, where there was no wind for weeks/months—you would run out of supplies. It could literally sap the life out of you. It was a place where, weather-wise, they couldn’t predict it / anticipate it; but they knew it was there. It can kill sailors; and in marriage, it can kill a relationship.
Bob: You’re just dead in the water, literally, because you’re not going anywhere.
Dennis: We get in ruts. There’s another illustration—we get in a rut and we don’t know how to get out, and so we’re in the marital doldrums. Every couple needs to avoid them. When you find yourself in them, you’ve got to get a plan to get out. Our guest today has written a book to help you do just that. It’s called Fun Loving You: Enjoying Your Marriage in the Midst of the Grind.
Ted Cunningham—we’ve really enjoyed having you on the broadcast. Welcome back.
Ted: Thank you for having me.
Dennis: Ted is a pastor in Branson, Missouri. He and his wife have two children, and they both met one another at Liberty University. They’ve been married since 1996. Your marriage had to sail into the doldrums at some point over these years. Do you remember a time when you were there?—the grind got to you where, you know, you were in need of finding somebody to pull you out?
Ted: Yes; I use the illustration of a love jug. That’s an Ozarkian illustration. [Laughter]
I do; I picture my heart like a love jug. This is Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” When you’re connected to your spouse, as the source of life—waiting for them to fill you up / waiting for them to give you what you think you need—it becomes a toxic poison and a reservoir that no one wants to drink out of.
I even keep, now, a love jug—it’s just like a clear banquet jug—underneath our counter at home to teach this to our kids.
Dennis: What’s a banquet jug?
Ted: Just like a water jug, you know, that you would see at a banquet—that they refill glasses with.
Ted: I just like to keep that—so, when I pull it out, I’ll ask the kids, “What is it?” They’ll say, “It’s the love jug.” I’ll say, “What does it represent?” They’ll say, “It represents the heart.”
“Who is responsible for your love jug?” “I am responsible for my love jug.” “How much are you responsible?” They say, “100 percent.” Then, I love to fill up the water. You know, I grab the hose from the sink, and I’ll fill it up all the way; because our goal is to be as full of God’s love as possible, so you have something to give other people.
Early in marriage—and, again, I keep going back to that early first seven years—you’re not connected to the true and only source. You know the true and only source of life is—it is 1 John: “God is love. We know and rely on the love Jesus has for us. We love because He first loved us.” Really, we’re not practicing that; because I’m waiting on my spouse to give me something.
What I love to do is fill that jug up with water. Then, I go to the cupboard; and I just put out a bunch of glasses on the breakfast bar or on the kitchen table. We do this a lot in our home—whenever I sense co-dependency coming into my marriage or into our home—co-dependency is just that excessive emotional reliance on another person. I start filling up all the other little jugs out of my love jug. I have one for Amy; I have one for Corinne; one for Carson; one for my parents. I have a little shot glass for my mother-in-law. [Laughter] I have coffee cups for members of the church.
The whole point is that I get down to just an inch or two of water in the love jug. I put this almost-empty love jug on the counter; and I tell the kids: “Your dad’s, sitting around, waiting for all of these other people I’ve poured into to pour back into me—that’s co-dependency. That’s waiting on them. They’re not my source of life.”
I say: “I love you guys, but you’re all limited supplies. You’re very limited supplies.” I remind them of the day we got that dreaded news—I don’t know if you remember waking up to this horrible news that Twinkies went bankrupt.
Bob: Oh, yes.
Ted: Do you remember that?
Bob: That was a bad day.
Ted: It was a dark day.
Dennis: Yes; it was.
Ted: It was a dark day.
Dennis: You couldn’t fry them or anything. [Laughter]
Ted: We do that in the Ozarks too.
Dennis: We do! [Laughter]
Ted: But I remember just hearing the news that we wouldn’t be able to get Twinkies anymore. What was my first reaction? —desperation!
Ted: “I’ve got to get to the store!!” I hadn’t had a Twinkie in 20 years; but my first thought was: “Ohhh! We need a Twinkie!” That’s what happens with limited supplies—you live in desperation. I don’t want to be desperate with people / I want to serve people. I want to pour into other people with zero expectation of them pouring back into me.
When your marriage gets stuck in the grind—when you get stuck in the grind—you sit around with an empty love jug, waiting for everyone and everything to give you some form of happiness, some form of pleasure, some way to find fulfillment. It’s just not where you’re going to find it—they’re all very limited supplies. I want to be connected to the true and only source of life.
As Pastor Andy Stanley says: “My job is not to fill you up. My job is to empty myself.” I want to empty myself into my marriage and into my children. I don’t want to place them in the grind—they’re not the grind—they’re relationships that God has given me to go through the grind with.
Bob: But the way you empty yourself without getting empty is by making sure you are continually being refilled from the Source; right?
Ted: Connected to the Source. We love the verse: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” We use that verse to speak of evangelism and to speak of the exclusivity of Christ, but we forget it’s our way to stay connected to the Father.
Jesus is God’s love language. Gary Chapman has talked about love languages for years—the way we give and receive love. Jesus is the way God gives and receives love. So, I have to know His Words—I obey His Words; I keep His commands; I stay connected to His Word—He is the Source.
I have something to give, because He is unlimited. He is unlimited; and I can pour, pour, pour, pour, [and] pour. If you meet someone who’s toxic, they are someone who is connected to the wrong source—they’re living on empty and they’re drinking this—I call unresolved anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick. They’ve been in the grind for so long—connected to the wrong source for so long—that every person in their life is one more thing to take something out of them.
Dennis: So, you’re talking about how to defeat the grind / to keep the grind from just chewing you up.
Dennis: Practically, how do you stay connected to Jesus Christ?
We’re talking, right now, to business guys, who are frantic in the midst of pursuing a career; moms, who are running errands with kids—relentless errands—maybe, they’re trying to work as well.
Bob: They’re feeling empty, and they’re feeling stuck in the grind.
Bob: And marriage is not a source of joy. It’s just something they’re hanging on to.
Ted: Well, because—and I’ll go to the mom for just a second. The mom has been told that’s what good moms do—they live on empty: “Drain yourself. Give everything to the kids. Just wipe yourself out.” But it’s always in the best interest of your spouse / your children—everyone in your life—for you to be as full as possible. It’s in the best interest of everyone!
I think—where the business guy, listening, goes: “Okay; I know! He’s going to tell me to pray / read my Bible.” The problem is—there’s something you have to do before that, and that is unplug. Like, I mean, make the decision.
Ted: We talk a lot about making decisions. Again, that doesn’t flow from chemistry or compatibility—that flows from your character. You have to make the decision and look to your wife—I encourage couples to do this all the time—point to one another and just simply say the words: “You’re fired. You’re fired! You are no longer the source of my life. You will no longer be the one I look to as my source.”
Start by defining—for a lot of guys, it may be their job; it may be the bank; it may be, you know, their identity and what they do; it’s a spouse; it’s a child. Unplugging from them is the first place to start before you can plug into the true and only Source.
Dennis: And, then, when you do plug into the Source, practically, how do you do that?
Ted: I have to make sure that, before I leave the house every day, I’m full. Before I begin interacting with people each day, I want to know and be reminded of the true and only Source.
Jesus said this in John 14: “If you love Me, you’ll keep My commandments.” You can’t keep His commandments unless you know His commandments—so, you have to stay connected to His Word as well. He says, “My Father will love you, and we will come and make our home with you.” So, to stay connected to Jesus keeps you connected to God. To stay connected to Jesus, you stay connected to His words.
So, to know the words of Christ / to meditate upon the words of Christ—to understand He is your Source—the earlier the better—on the drive to work, before work, at work, all throughout the day. If you can’t be reading, you’re meditating / you’re thinking upon the Word, connected to the only Source.
And this is what we do with our kids; right? This is why we do devotions, as a family. You want them to understand the love jug principle. You send them to school, or you send them to work, or you send them to the sporting event, understanding: “Your coach isn’t your source. The other players aren’t your source. The sport isn’t your source. Jesus is your Source, so let’s send you out of this home as full as possible.”
Dennis: I like what you’re saying there. And later on, in John 14, it says—these are Christ’s words He’s speaking here: “Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, He it is who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him.” And this is the part I really like here—it says, “And I will manifest myself to Him.”
Dennis: God—Almighty God—will manifest Himself to you. I’m going to tell you—that’s what fills the jug.
Dennis: When you’ve met God—when you’re seeing Him at work in your life, in your soul, in your marriage, in your family—and it doesn’t always / it’s not always visible—but when you’ve encountered Christ, you can see the springs of life flowing from your heart.
Ted: Yes; and I think that’s why we start with unplugging, because I think we’re so crowded today / we have so many voices. There are a lot of voices we need to turn off / we need to mute altogether and turn up some voices.
When someone comes to me and says: “Pastor, why do I not feel connected to God? Why do I feel like my prayer time is wasted time? Why do I feel like I come on Sunday and I get a little charge; but, man, by Monday, I’m just—there’s nothing.”
Well, again, I can tell you to pray; I can tell you to study; I can tell you to go to a Bible study; but it is a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute understanding of who the Source is and knowing who the Source is, and removing the distractions and unplugging from people, places, and things as the distractions.
Dennis: I want to illustrate this. Barbara’s been struggling with some back pain. This morning, a friend sent her a verse, which Barbara read to me. So this is how we started our day, to your point—it’s Psalm 68, verse 19: “Blessed be the Lord who daily bears us up, who daily carries our burdens,”—with us / for us. He reminded us of that this morning. Now, that’s a great way to start your day! I was facing some burdens / Barbara was facing some as well. We were reminded, by Scripture, of the truth that this life is not all about us. It’s about someone else’s glory, not ours. It’s not about our happiness, but it’s about what He’s up to both in us and through us.
So, I came to work this morning, saying, “Okay; God, help me know how to be used by You in the lives of those I touch today.”
Bob: So it sounds like what we’re saying here is: “If your marriage is in the doldrums—if it’s stuck in a rut / if you’re just kind of getting through it—it sounds like we’re saying: ‘You need to examine your relationship with Jesus first. To get your marriage better, you’ve got to ask the question, “How’s your relationship with Jesus?”’”
I’m thinking about a pastor in The Art of Marriage® video series that we put together, who is talking about conflict with his wife, at year ten, in their marriage. He said: “I realized that, if I was going to get my relationship with her right, I had to get my relationship with God right. The problem with my relationship with her was my relationship with God was out of whack.” Is that where you start if your marriage is languishing?
Ted: One hundred percent. Again, it’s this idea of unplugging. When I’m plugged in to Amy as the source of my life, however she wakes up / however her day goes, so goes my day.
Parents have this same problem; right? We have the problem, as a parent—we’ve fallen for this faulty input-output theory of parenting.
Ted: We believe that whatever we put into our child is what we’re going to get out of our child. [Laughter]
Dennis: That’s dangerous, right there!
Ted: That’s just not true! So: “You’re only as happy as your most miserable child,”—as the old saying goes. You’re going: “No, no, no!” You unplug; because: “I don’t want to raise co-dependent children.”
Ted: I don’t want my children being raised to think: “My joy in life flows from how well Mom and Dad are doing,” “My joy in life flows from how well my brother / my sister are doing.” No; your joy in life is from the Lord.
Bob: So what do you do if you are finding your joy in life in the Lord and your spouse isn’t?
Ted: Okay; well, a couple of things happen. When your marriage gets stuck in the grind, we always start, number one, with unplugging from the spouse as the source of life; because right behind that is examining your heart and the condition of your heart—because there are only two conditions of your heart—right?—it’s either open or closed; okay?
A co-dependent person has a closed heart; right?—they’re connected to the wrong source. The only way that they’re going to receive something from you is if it brings happiness to them; or they’re going to blame you if it brings, you know, any criticism, or toxicity, or negativity toward them. You have to ask the question, first and foremost: “Is my heart open to receiving from the only Source of life?”
I know this sounds simple, but you only have one heart. When you close your heart, you automatically isolate from other people; because you don’t want to hear it. You don’t want the back-up singers coming into your life or into your marriage, who are going to speak truth into your life and who are going to encourage you. I tell folks in our church, all of the time, “When you have a closed heart, connected to the wrong source, and you’re isolating from biblical community, this is the time you need to plug in to biblical community.”
Ted: You know, I have fun with this—I’ll say, “We need to go to the older generations.” You know, in our church—we’re a multi-generational church.
I tell the moms: “You know, some of the moms—right now, you have anti-bacterial product hanging all over your purse. You need to go to the grandma in this church, who raised their kids, and when they picked up a cigarette butt and chewed on it, it didn’t bug them. [Laughter] Their kids lived—the same person who allowed their kids to go on vacation and sleep in the back window of the car, you know, while you strap your kids in like they’re going to outer space.”
Bob: Yes. [Laughter]
Ted: You know, there are some things you need to be reminded of—because Scott Stanley from the University of Denver—he puts it this way: “Everybody falls in love with the front end of the puppy.”
Ted: You think about that. Every single person I know has a back-end marriage story. They have a difficult, painful story that they can tell you: “Here’s how we weathered it.” So, you can’t isolate from others when your marriage is stuck in the grind. Press into the biblical community, not as a form of co-dependency, but as someone who can call you out on a closed heart and a wrong source.
Dennis: Your book is a great exhortation to get right with God and to find your love jug filled up with the right stuff, by the Holy Spirit, coming from the Scriptures; okay? But that’s not all your book is about. You fill it with practical questions that are meant to dislodge a couple from the grind, in the midst of the doldrums, and help them experience joy, happiness, and encouragement in the midst of even some tough stuff.
What would you begin to share with a couple, who is listening to us right now, and they’re saying: “Okay; I think we’re okay on our hearts being filled up with Christ. We struggle with that, but we’re okay there.” But their marriage has lost the zest—the grind has ground it out of their relationship. What would you say to them?
Ted: We talk a lot in the book about dating. Again, you said the practical part of helping them get out of that rut and the doldrums. One couple in our church wrote me a letter—they said, “We went on the ‘laugh date,’”—it’s 52 questions.
We started getting the couples in our church to really get passionate about dating again. So, if you go to our church website, it gives you ten date ideas just to get your dating idea muscle going in figuring that out; but then, we have you download 52 questions.
I got a letter from a lady in our church, and she said, “We were on the ‘laugh date.’” All those questions and conversation starters are meant to do is get couples engaging in conversation to bring about laughter—there’s nothing deep / there’s nothing ultra-spiritual—it’s just: “I’m going to ask you a question. Give me the answer, and we’re going to laugh.” Well, they started to be a disruption in this restaurant. They were laughing so much, and out of control at times, that the waitress had to say: “Hey, listen. I just need you guys to…” I mean, think about that! [Laughter] I would love to hear a story that Dennis and Barbara Rainey were kicked out of a restaurant because they were laughing too much.
Ted: I mean, that’s a great story!
Bob: By the way, let me just say, quickly—
Ted: They have been kicked out of a restaurant. No; I’m joking. [Laughter]
Bob: We’ve got a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com to the “laugh date” and all of the dates you’re talking about on your website.
Bob: So, if our listeners are interested, they can come to FamilyLifeToday.com; and we’ll take them right there. They can tap into what you’re doing there.
Ted: Yes. The waitress comes over and asks, “What is going on over here?!” The lady started to explain to the waitress what was going on. The waitress sits down next to them in the booth to engage now in this conversation and says, “I think my husband and I would really enjoy something like that.”
We never put these dates out there for outreach or for evangelism—that was never our goal. It was just to get the couples in our church engaging one another with laughter, with play, with fun, with adventure / dreaming and all of that.
She said: “Ted, I reached into my purse, and I had two other dates. So, I had another 104 questions that I handed her and said, ‘I can print out more when I get home.’ I told her where to get it.” She said, “The waitress left our table on top of the world, totally excited and ready to do it”; because laughter is contagious.
Dennis: It is.
Ted: So, when you see a couple in love and enjoying life together—whatever age or season of life—I encourage you to engage.
Press in and ask, “What in the world is going on?”—like I did with that couple in the Tough Mudder, or a senior couple in Branson, or a couple on a laugh date. I think we can start something that really helps couples break out of the stuck-ness they’re in—in the grind.
Dennis: I think couples are looking for hope. They’re looking for practical help, which is what you provide in that. I just want to encourage them to get a copy—maybe a copy for a friend—of Fun Loving You. It’s a great book. It is filled with practical, as well as the core, bedrock, spiritual issues that help set people up to do what’s right.
I really appreciate you being on the broadcast today.
There is something else they can do too.
Bob: Yes; you are talking about a getaway; right?—going to a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway; right? I mean, this is a way that a lot of couples have told us they’ve injected a little fun, a little romance, [and] a little time away together—that’s refreshment for a marriage.
That can bring some life back into a marriage that has gotten routine. And all of us have those seasons in our marriage, where we’re so busy with other things that we miss each other. So, two-and-a-half days, where the two of you are away and you’re focused on one another—that’s a great refresher for any marriage relationship.
We’re right in the middle of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaway season. In fact, this weekend, we were in Augusta, Georgia; and we’ve got events taking place all around the country throughout October and November and into December. You can find out when a Weekend to Remember is coming to a city near where you live. Simply go to FamilyLifeToday.com for the information or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. We can answer any questions you’ve got about the getaway.
We also want to recommend you get a copy of Ted Cunningham’s book, Fun Loving You. It’s available from our FamilyLife Today Resource Center as well. You can order from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Or you can call 1-800-358-6329 to order. Again, that’s 1-800-FL-TODAY—the website to order is FamilyLifeToday.com.
You know, here at FamilyLife, we believe there are a lot of pressing issues in our culture today—a lot of issues that need to be addressed—but if we could focus on only one issue, that would have the biggest impact on everything else, we believe that focus would be on our marriages and on raising our kids. We believe that our mission to effectively develop godly families is what can change the world. That’s why, every day, on this program, or at our events, or through the resources we have available, or with what’s available online at FamilyLifeToday.com, all of it has as its fundamental purpose a desire to effectively develop godly marriages and families. That’s our mission, here, at FamilyLife.
And we appreciate those of you who provide the fuel to make that mission happen more often in more places with more people. Every time you make a donation to FamilyLife Today, it’s like you’re buying a tank of gas so that FamilyLife Today can go a little further. In fact, when you make a donation to FamilyLife Today, you enable us to reach tens of thousands of people all around the world with practical biblical help for marriages and families.
We’re grateful to be partners together in this endeavor. In fact, we’d love to send you a copy of Dennis Rainey’s brand-new book, which is called Choosing a Life that Matters. The book is our thank-you gift for a donation of any amount. You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation and request Dennis’s new book. Or, if you’d prefer, you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223.
Again, ask for Dennis Rainey’s new book, Choosing a Life that Matters; and we’re happy to send a copy to you. Thanks again for your partnership with us.
And we hope you can be back with us again tomorrow. We’re going to talk about what moms and dads can do to help their sons thrive—what you can do with a young son to help him experience all that God wants for him to experience. Barrett and Jenifer Johnson will be here tomorrow, and we’ll talk with them about that. I hope you can be back with us 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’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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