FamilyLife Today® Podcast

How to Make a Marriage Work

with Chip Ingram | May 30, 2019
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So many people marry for what they are going to get out of the marriage, rather than for what they are going to give as they supernaturally lay down their life for the other person. Author Chip Ingram explains the difference between a marriage covenant and a marriage contract, and talks about the biblical definition of love vs. the culture's idea of love. Ingram reminds us that conflicts and challenges are normal in any marriage, but they don't have to break up the union.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • So many people marry for what they are going to get out of the marriage, rather than for what they are going to give as they supernaturally lay down their life for the other person. Author Chip Ingram explains the difference between a marriage covenant and a marriage contract, and talks about the biblical definition of love vs. the culture's idea of love. Ingram reminds us that conflicts and challenges are normal in any marriage, but they don't have to break up the union.

  • 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.

Chip Ingram explains the difference between a marriage covenant and a marriage contract. Ingram reminds us that conflicts and challenges are normal in any marriage, but they don’t have to break up the union.

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How to Make a Marriage Work

With Chip Ingram
May 30, 2019
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Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, May 30th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. How can we get from a self-focused/self-centered orientation on marriage to the kind of marriage where we are regarding each other as more important than ourselves? We’ll spend time talking about that today with Chip Ingram. Stay with us.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re talking about something pretty important this week; aren’t we? We’re talking about how to make marriage work. I’m thinking folks should recognize: “Well, this is FamilyLife Today. I guess that’s one of the things we talk about regularly”; but this is critical—not just for our happiness—this is critical, as we’ve said, for our culture/for our flourishing, as people. We’ve got to figure out how to make marriage work; our survival depends on it.

Dave: Yes; and I think, as we know, so many people don’t think it works. They’ve given up—they’re marrying later; they are not getting married. They’ve looked at our generation’s marriages and said: “It doesn’t work. Show me that it does.” That’s what this book talks about.

Ann: People are desperate for answers. They’re looking for hope, and they don’t know where to find it.

Bob: Well, we brought the Answer Man in today, and that’s Chip Ingram. Welcome back to FamilyLife Today.

Chip: That’s an intimidating introduction. [Laughter]

Ann: Ooh, I like—the Answer Man.

Chip: The Answer Man.

Ann: Yes!

Chip: Well, I’m thrilled to be here; and God does have the answers. I’m glad to pass along some of them as best I can.

Bob: Well, the reason I referred to you as the Answer Man is because Dave Wilson told me that he’s stolen most of what you’ve written on this subject and preached it at his church; right?

Dave: It works, man—I tell you.

Chip: Amen. [Laughter]

Dave: I know good stuff, and Chips stuff is good.

Ann: It’s really good.

Dave: I did give him credit—I always did.

Bob: Chip is a pastor, and an author, and a speaker. He heads a ministry called Living on the Edge for years; gave leadership to Walk Thru the Bible; and has written a book called Marriage That Works, where he’s going to help all of us understand what it is that makes a marriage work.

As we’ve already said, that’s something that a lot of people really have questions about. There are a lot of people, who are 24 years old today, attracted to somebody, thinking, “I would like to be married,” but they have zero confidence that, if they were to have a wedding, that that they could sustain it; because they have not seen it modeled well for them.

Chip: Really true; and I think—not only not modeled—is you, at least, get a little bit of training in a job; and you know your expectations. If I’m going to, you know, work—at Google, or Microsoft, or eBay, or someplace like where I live—boy, I mean, it’s really clear: “This is role. This is what we want you to do. Here’s your skill set.” The profile that they go through to align that person—you go into marriage—it’s like—

Ann: We don’t have job descriptions; do we?

Chip: No; we don’t. Well, at least—we actually do

Bob: Yes.

Chip: —but we are unaware of them.

Ann: Yes.

Bob: We’ve ignored them; we haven’t paid attention to them.

You know, your old professor, Howard Hendricks, used to say: “In the city of Dallas, if you want to be a garbage collector, you have to go through a three-week course in order to learn how to be a garbage collector.” He said, “If you want to get married, you just go down to the courthouse, pay $35 and grunt; and they’ll give you a license for that. [Laughter] It takes more training and expertise to be a garbage collector than it does to be a husband or a wife.” Yet, this is what society is founded on.

One of the things you say is that we’ve got to recognize that how marriage works is counterintuitive. The way we think it’s going to work—the way we would naturally kind of reflexively approach how we get to oneness in marriage—is not the way that it’s going to work.

Chip: Yes; I mean, our intuition in every relationship—we’re human—is: “What can I get? Meet my needs. Love me.” We’re attracted; and usually, opposites attract: “Meet my needs, and I’m in this as long as you meet my needs,”—that’s a social contract. God’s counter-intuitive design is—this is going to sound so crazy: “I want you to make the other person’s needs your goal. Love them. Be a giver instead of a getter. Become sensitive and a student of them, and make their life work.”

That sounds good; but number one, it’s impossible apart from supernatural help; but that is His design. I think behind that design is—it really is supernatural. There is something so beautiful when you meet a couple that are outdoing one another in really caring for one another.

We were joking earlier that I am a selfish person. Even after 40 years—I’ve changed a lot—but I’m still, down deep in my heart—apart from giving God the opportunity to work through my life, I’m going to be selfish. So, that counter-intuitive approach is really difficult, but it’s what makes it so exciting. It’s what—you know, Jesus said: “Give and it will be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, back into your lap. Whatever measure you give, it’s given to you in return.”

So often, people quote that—it’s not a financial passage—the context: it’s a relational passage. When you give to the other person, God does amazing things; but boy, getting to understand that and do it, now, there’s the journey.

Dave: Well, talk about the—you mentioned it—the covenant sort of versus the contract; because we live in a contract era, and it’s transactional. Covenant is a whole different deal. Talk about what that means for a marriage.

Chip: The Hebrew word for covenant means “to cut.” It’s the idea, actually, of blood flowing. There are a number of covenants—whether it’s Noah, or Abraham, Moses, or Jesus/the new covenant. There’s a vow, and there are conditions. There is a sign; then, it’s ratified by blood.

A covenant is making the most serious guarantee—it’s the point: “I am going to keep my word, and I would rather die than break my word.” I think someone has said, “It’s an irrevocable commitment to an imperfect person.” When you go into it like that, your mindset about how you address everything changes, Dave.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: What happens when the person that you’re married to—you made the vow—they don’t fulfill the covenant? They are not loving you—they are not serving you; they are not even invested in the relationship at all—or your family or kids—nothing. How does that spouse respond?

Chip: With, first, great pain—usually with anger—often, they feel like: “Just forget it! It’s never going to work.”

I will say that one person can change a marriage. I would say/my wife would say—I think she did. We got to a huge impasse, and I think it was our commitment to the Lord; but I think, when you are in that situation, one, it’s really, really, really hard; and you need some outside support and some encouragement; but then I think it’s choosing.

We live in a day where so much of what we see and hear—that love is this feeling, and my expectations, and I feel good. I like the definition of love that is: “Love is giving another person what they need the most when they deserve it the least at great personal cost.” That’s where the rubber meets the road. I often say: “When Jesus was in the garden, He did not, emotionally, want to die for me. He didn’t feel good about what I needed most.”

Bob: In fact, He was praying, “Father, if it’s possible—

Chip: Yes.

Bob: —“take this cup from Me”; right?

Chip: Exactly: “If there is a Plan B that, in Our infinite wisdom, We didn’t think of—let’s do it now.” The fact of the matter is that love really is a choice. I think the choice to endure—to get help—and I think, sometimes, it is: “Honey, this isn’t working. We need help. We need to go to counseling,” or “If you won’t go, I will because I’m not going to stay in this situation the way it is currently operating.” Those are tough times, and sounds like you all have been through some of those as well.

Ann: We have; and you and Theresa went through some real difficulties, early in your marriage. How did you get out? You put God first—you said that—

Chip: Yes.

Ann: —but practically speaking, what other things did you do?

Chip: Okay; well, number one, we went to counseling. Second, in counseling, what we realized was we had tons of baggage. I didn’t understand her; we couldn’t communicate. I had expectations that were completely idealistic, and we believed lies.

I believed, if things weren’t feeling great, I must have married the wrong person. I believed marriage should be easy if you’re really in love. I believed that, if you love Jesus, then God will just magic-wand it; and you’re going to have awesome everything. The opposite of all that was what I was experiencing.

When we went to counseling—I’ll never forget our counselor—he was a pastor. He had us write down the lies on cards. Then, at the bottom of the card/3 by 5 card, we actually colored it in red; and we wrote/made a stop sign. Then, we flipped it over; and there was a truth.

Ann: What were some of your lies?

Chip: One of the lies was that, if you really loved one another, the marriage shouldn’t be difficult and painful. We actually—with the book, we came up with 20 truth cards; because I reviewed them for 2 years on the couch, with my wife, out loud as we went through counseling.

Ann: You read them out loud?

Chip: —together.

Ann: Wow.

Bob: You were reprogramming the bad data—

Chip: Exactly right.

Bob: —that had been imprinted on to your hard drive. You had to go back in and say: “We’ve got a lot of bad code here. We need to write new code.”

Chip: Exactly.

Ann: I’m guessing you didn’t even feel like doing that sometimes.

Chip: Oh no; no. [Laughter] It was like—it really was a choice; because: “I made a covenant, and it’s not working. This guy says this is the problem,” and I had to admit it was true. Trying hard doesn’t necessarily change behavior like—try, try, try, try, try hard; it’s in the renewing of your mind.

Bob: So, if you love each other and love Jesus, marriage should be easy—if that’s a lie, what’s the truth?

Chip: The truth is: “In marriages that work, couples believe that conflict and challenges with finances, in-laws, sex, children, and communication are normal; and they result in heart-makers, not deal-breakers.” So, you just realize those are the things that—when you get them out on the table, and you learn some skills, and you realize you’re different, and you talk them through, and you forgive and accept one another—“Okay; yes; your parents make me nuts,” or “Wow, my expectations of sex were really different than yours,” and all those things are—over time, they are heart-makers.

I see couples—you have to make time. If you don’t know how to communicate, we have three little questions that we learn—I put them in the book—and three times a week, like, after dinner, we would sit down and you ask these three questions. You ask them, and then you can’t talk; so you say, “What do you wish?” The person just—it was really hard—you like put duct-tape on your mouth. Then, she says, “What do you wish?”—and she can’t interrupt. “What are you concerned about?”—and then, you do the same thing. Then, the last question is: “What are you willing to do?” And there’s a rule: “You don’t have to do anything.”

Those three questions we did three times a week; but in that time, you’re not talking about the problems. You’re not talking about work; you’re not talking about the kids. Here’s what happens—your mate says, “Here are all the weights that I am carrying,”—they don’t all have to be serious—“and here is where you could blow some wind into my sails.” In 15 minutes after dinner, even when the kids are small: “Hey, just go play; go play.” Then, “What are you willing to do?” “I’m willing to take over the homework for all the math and the science, because I feel like that’s weighing you down.”

You know, my point is—there are some tools that you can learn, and you grow.

Ann: When our kids were little, Dave would come in the door; and he’s exhausted; I’m exhausted. We have three kids under five. He needed a break; I needed a break, and we would fight about that.

Dave: I needed a break more—there’s no question. [Laughter]

Ann: There’s always that time that you think, “My life is much harder than yours.” Then, you get in this competitive mode; but I’ll never forget when Dave said: “How would it be for you if I just, when I came home, I gave you an hour? Go do what you want—go work out; go to the gym; go—just get away.” I wanted to fall on my knees and cry, and that made me want to give back, like: “How can I serve you? What can I do for you?”—just that gesture, and it wasn’t easy because you were exhausted.

Dave: It was—I remember figuring that out—just like you said, Chip—and thinking: “This is a godly response. This isn’t what I want to do. My flesh doesn’t want to do it. This is honoring her unto reverence for Christ.” I did it, not even really caring if it was going to respond in her loving me back; but yes, it really was a sacrificial act that I’m glad, now, looking back—it changed our marriage.

Chip: I would go back to your comment about “What do you do when your mate isn’t responding?” This is how one person changes a relationship. You actually see a need; you don’t feel like it—you do it. It’s not like: “You know what? If nothing happens…” There were times I chose to do something for Theresa—and I’m sure her for me, a lot more—“This is my act of worship for you, whether anything happens or not.” It was in those kind of things that, wow—I mean, the response was like, “I wish I would have known this, like, five years ago!”; right?

Ann: I love that you said it’s an act of worship; because when your spouse doesn’t deserve it and you don’t want to, you are doing it unto the Lord; and He’s celebrating; He’s watching. He’s saying: “Way to go! That does bring Me glory,” and “I see your obedience.” There’s something to that that gives you meaning when I’m cleaning the toilets and I’m, you know, it’s like, “God sees this,”—it’s something encouraging.

Chip: I think He gives favor—you know, God blesses obedience. I think, when He sees you loving in ways with no expectation and it’s hard—yet, you don’t feel fulfilled, and you do it unto Him—and by the way, the key is perseverance.

Dave: Yes.

Chip: My verse, Hebrews 10:36, says, “For you have need of endurance, so that once you have done the will of God, you might receive what is promised.” The word is hupomeno. It means to be under pressure from stress. It’s how God changes us; but I think there are a lot of people that want: “Hey, you know; man, I’ve been kind to him for three days in a row, and he’s still a jerk,”—[Laughter]

Ann: Yes!

Chip: —or vice versa. The quick fix—it really isn’t—it really is a journey.

Ann: I had a woman come up to me to have Dave and [me] sign a book that we had written. She pulled me over to the side; she whispered in my ear, “Hey, I want you to know I finally get it.” I said, “What do you mean?” She said: “I’ve been married 35 years. Probably the last 32 years, all of I’ve done was gripe and complain, in my head, about my husband. He’s not a believer. He doesn’t notice me; he doesn’t come to church; he doesn’t do anything; he really doesn’t help with the kids; but the more I’ve grown in my walk with God, I’m seeing him different. I’m seeing how God made him and God put some good things into this man. For the first time in my life, I’ve been telling him: ‘Look at you! Look at how you are such a hard worker. You’re so faithful.’” She said, “I’m finding this joy that I’ve never had in my marriage.” I thought, “Wow; that is miraculous.”

Chip: That really is.

Ann: Yes.

Bob: It’s also counterintuitive, which is what we’re talking about; because, if we go with our gut on marriage, the Bible speaks to that—there is a way that seems right to a man, and the end there of is—what?

Chip: —death.

Bob: —death. So, if you go, “I’m just going to go with the flow in marriage,”—instead of that— we’ve got to not be conformed to the thinking of this world but be transformed by the renewing of our mind. I’m going to Romans 12, because I know you’ve lived a lot in Romans 12.

Chip: You bet.

Bob: But that idea of being transformed by the renewing of our mind is foundational to everything; isn’t it?

Chip: The end of that verse says, “…so that you can”—actually—“test and experience God’s will—the good, acceptable, the great will of God.” That’s what He wants for people—He wants us to have great marriages. He has a plan, and it is counterintuitive.

It’s like: “Hey, try being selfless instead of selfish. How about honoring Me instead of idols?” It requires a lot of hard work; but as we’ve all shared—wow, the reward is beyond your wildest dreams; because marriage is the context in which children thrive. I mean, if you did nothing for your kids—I mean, if you didn’t let them go to school, if you never—I guess you have to feed them—[Laughter]—but if you didn’t do anything for your kids and they saw two people love each other and love God genuinely and richly—

Bob: Yes.

Chip: —all that psychological stuff that I had to study about self-image, and social skills, and all of the things that really make people successful in life—they really pick up, intuitively, from folks who love each other.

Ann: That’s so true. I just saw this couple the other day—they were debating whether they should do public school, homeschool, private school. They were so worried. They don’t want their kids to ever play with anyone else—they are so protective—yet, their marriage is so destructive. They are yelling at each other; they are calling each other names. I don’t have the relationship that I could speak into them; but I told Dave—like, “They put so much energy into protecting their kids; and the best way to protect their kids is to love each other,—

Chip: Amen.

Ann: —“and to let their kids see that,”—that brings such security.

Do you think that the generation coming up—that’s dealing with so much depression/so much anxiety—are our marriages affecting that?

Chip: We did some research at Living on the Edge to find out why 68 to 70 percent of our evangelical, Bible-believing kids are leaving the faith 5 years afterwards. If you want kids to really walk with God, here are three things: Number one, their parents live out their faith authentically. It’s not something—they go to church, or just believe the Bible, or send you to a Christian school, or—I mean, there is a dynamic, living relationship in the home.

Number two, the child, early on, isn’t sitting around the table with someone feeding them all the time; but they develop their own personal relationship and walk with God in some way.

Number three, instead of being a participant, they actually are serving in the church. They experience God’s grace working through them; and maybe, they are in junior high, helping a three-year-old; or maybe, they are in high school, helping a junior higher; or they are building a house in the community for Habitat for Humanity or something. When kids experience God and see it, they can go away to school; and they understand there are a lot of other worldviews, but the reality has gripped their life.

When it’s a set of ideas that Mom and Dad believe that aren’t really challenged in my little world, and the first sociology professor starts talking about everything that Christianity is—and bad, and ugly, and wrong—and all your friends are sleeping with each other, pretty soon, it’s a lot easier to be an agnostic.

Dave: Yes.

Bob: I think the point you’re making is: “Our marriage matters to more than just us and our happiness. There is a lot more at stake in how we do in marriage. And if you love your kids, then you’ve got to figure out how to make marriage work. And if you care about the culture and the future, then you’ve got to make your marriage work. There is so much more at stake here.”

Dave: It is so what Chip’s been saying all day—it’s like: “It’s not about me.”

Bob: Yes.

Dave: It really isn’t. That’s hard to admit that. It’s bigger than me—it’s a legacy; it’s a generation. I mean, it’s almost like you’ve got to step back every day and say: “I’m not just trying to be happy here. I am, literally, building something that could last for generations. It’s that powerful to make my marriage work God’s way.”

Bob: Well, if you want to find out how to make a marriage work, one way to do that is get a copy of the book Chip has written called Marriage That Works. We’ve got it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. In fact, I’m just sitting here thinking about how this book parallels and connects with the book that the two of you have written, called Vertical Marriage. There is a lot of overlap here, but I think couples would benefit from reading both books together.

We’ve got copies of both Marriage That Works and Vertical Marriage in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order either or both books from us, online, at; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order. Again, the website:; or call to order Marriage That Works by Chip Ingram or Vertical Marriage by Dave and Ann Wilson. Call 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

Now, here in the closing days of the month of May, we’re asking FamilyLife Today listeners to consider making either a one-time gift or becoming a monthly Legacy Partner. We have a matching gift that is in place at the moment, and we’re trying to take full advantage of all the funds that are available to us—$645,000 in that matching-gift fund. So, we’re asking you to either make a one-time gift or become a monthly Legacy Partner.

If you do become a monthly Legacy Partner, your donation is going to be matched, dollar for dollar, for the next 12 months every time you make a donation. In addition, we’re going to send you a gift card so that you, or someone you know, can attend a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway.

The President of FamilyLife® David Robbins is here with us today. David, it’s interesting to see who some of our Legacy Partners are.

David: Yes; we like covering things that relate to every home out there.

Bob: Yes; every family/every relationship within an extended family; you’re right.

David: Absolutely. So, one of our Legacy Partners said this: “FamilyLife has been a tremendous blessing to me. Even though I’ve been single all my life, I’ve been blessed; and I have passed on a lot of information to family and friends; and I’m still waiting and continuing to be blessed by FamilyLife Today.

Bob: When you hear “passed on information,” that’s what gets you excited; isn’t it?

David: It does. I mean, I really do believe, Bob, that families are the most—one of the most untapped resources on the planet to help fulfill the Great Commission and cause societal change. I love it when people are growing from isolation closer to God/closer to their family; but it doesn’t just stop there. It actually leads toward impacting others. Nothing gets me more excited than seeing someone pass on the way they have been transformed and helping the transformation of someone else.

Bob: Well, we want to ask you to be a part of what God is doing through the ministry of FamilyLife—either make a one-time donation or become a monthly Legacy Partner—and help us take advantage of this matching-gift opportunity. You can go to and donate, online; or sign up as a Legacy Partner, online; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation. Again, please pray that we would take full advantage of this matching gift; and whatever you can do to help make that happen, we would be grateful.

And we hope you can join us back, again, tomorrow. Chip Ingram will be here again, and we’ll continue our conversation about marriages that work—talking tomorrow about a husband’s responsibility to nourish and cherish his wife and a wife’s responsibility to affirm and support her husband. That’s right out of Ephesians 5. We’ll talk about it tomorrow. I hope you 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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