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Marriage Report Card

with Dennis Rainey | August 23, 2004

What grade would you give your marriage? An "A"? Maybe a "C"? FamilyLife President, Dennis Rainey, encourages husbands and wives to honestly evaluate their marriages before it's too late.

What grade would you give your marriage? An "A"? Maybe a "C"? FamilyLife President, Dennis Rainey, encourages husbands and wives to honestly evaluate their marriages before it's too late.

Marriage Report Card

With Dennis Rainey
|
August 23, 2004
| Download Transcript PDF

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Man: How long have we been married?  Well, let me see now, I guess it's been about …

Woman: … we've been married for seven-and-a-half years.  Sometimes it's been really rough.  Actually, almost since we got back from our honeymoon.

Man: Most days I get home from work, she's on the phone with her mother.  I mean, her mom is just everywhere.  It's stupid.  And you ought to see the phone bill.  If you're looking for the problem, look at her mom.  She's the problem.

Woman: The problem is his job is like a mistress.  And then when we go to his parents, for example, he's a different man – like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Man: Come to think of it, I can't talk to her about anything because she's just always changing the subject.  We don't talk.

Woman: We just don't talk.  He won't open up.  He doesn't tell me how he feels.  I feel like his secretary knows more about his life than I know – and he's so romantically challenged.  Like last Valentine's Day, he tossed a card at me and said, "Happy Valentine's Day."  And then he went off and watched golf on TV.

Man: Don't even ask about the bedroom.  I mean, I don't even know why we sleep in the same bed anymore.

Woman: Okay, you're asking about my sex life?  When it comes to sex, anymore I just feel used.

Man: Yeah, sometimes our marriage – I don't know.

Woman: Sometimes I just – I wonder if one of these days he's just not going to come home.

Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  I'm Bob Lepine, along with the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and that is a pretty sober look inside what is probably the condition of many of our marriages, Dennis.

Dennis: I think if you could go to the average church in America, you would find couples who – well, they'd hoped for intimacy, they had hoped to be able to achieve it with this other person, and yet the Lord isn't the builder of their house.  Psalm 127:1 says, "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it."  And I think today what happens in marriage is he kind of starts going his direction, and she starts going her direction, and what looks like a healthy marriage is really nothing more than two very successful people doing their own thing.

 I'm going to borrow an illustration here that Barbara uses at the FamilyLife Marriage Conference when she speaks to the wives.  She holds up a – well, it's sewing pattern, and I've got it right here in my hands.  This is a Butterick sewing pattern for a dress, and Barbara used to sew when she had time years and years ago.

 But in this packet is pattern that she's cut out, and there are – you can just see it here – there is the bodice, and there's a sleeve, you know, and there's the back, a piece of that.  And there are big pieces and small pieces of tissue paper that form a pattern.  And from that pattern, you fit it all together, after the pieces are cut out, and you begin to sew some of those pieces together.  Others have buttons, others have hooks, zippers, to fit together to make a whole dress.

 And she says that's how it is in marriage.  God has created a master pattern for husbands and wives that, when followed, will create a whole, usable, beautiful marriage.  And, you know, that's why we get married, Bob.  We don't get married to be pieces.  We don't get married to be isolated.  We don't get married to be alone.  We get married to defeat that feeling of loneliness and to have harmony and fellowship and peace in a relationship with a real person.  And it's that motivation that God built into us from the very beginning that has caused you singles to begin to be attracted to each other, to date, and then to move out to the risky territory of saying, "I'm going to commit my life to you."

But every marriage – now this is very important – every marriage has a pattern.  It has a plan.  And the issue is, do you and your husband – you and your potential mate – do you both have the same plan and the same pattern?  Because if you don't, if you're building this marriage out of two different plans, two different patterns, that relationship will never become all that God intended.

Bob: I think that's a great illustration, too, because oftentimes a husband and wife are concerned about the details, all of the little things, what the buttons are going to look like or what kind of lining there is going to be, and they've never sat down and really wrestled with the basics, the core of God's plan for marriage.

Dennis: Yes, and, you know, marriages are made of the little things.  This pattern that Barbara would use to make a dress is made up of all kinds of little pieces.  And those pieces are not insignificant.  I wouldn't want to communicate that little choices we make along the way, as husband and wife, are insignificant.  The key thing is, though, that those small choices are a part of a bigger plan that wasn't created by any man; that wasn't cooked up by a man and a woman just because they were madly in love; it wasn't just feelings that brought them together, but there was a God who brought them together, and there is a God who created this pattern; a God whose pattern needs to be consulted if we are going to achieve what He intended for our marriage.

Bob: I think most of our listeners would look at their marriage, and they would say, "I think we're following God's plan."  I mean, at least mostly, you know?

Dennis: Well, you know, I think a lot of Christian couples have settled in, and they settle for less in certain areas that I don't think God wants us to settle for less in.  I think He wants us to really strive and fight for His ideal and what He wants for us.  One such area is spiritually.  I think a lot of couples really desire that God be a part of their lives.  I don't think that they are desirous of God being their lives.  They've not come to conclusion that He is the builder of marriage; He is the builder of relationships; He is the one who must be Lord and Master.

 And I think a lot of Christian marriages that are in the church today contain wives who long, who desire to share the spiritual realities of God at work in their marriage and in their lives with their husbands.  But they don't know how to get into that discussion in a practical way.

Bob: I think there are husbands who even would understand the responsibility to lead their wives spiritually and to be praying together and to be studying the Scripture together, but they don't know how to move their life in that direction.  They're a little afraid of stepping out there.

Dennis: And no one is showing them how to do it and, you know, frankly, a young man getting married today who has been single, he's heard about needing to lead a young woman spiritually, but he asks the question, "What does that look like and who is doing that and who has shown me how to do that and what is that?"  Is that praying at meals?  Is that taking my wife to church?  And certainly those things are a part of it, but that is not all that God intended in a relationship between a husband and wife.

Bob: Well, so as you consider Christian marriages today, and you evaluate where they are spiritually, what kind of a letter grade would you give the average Christian marriage?  Are they getting an A minus?  Are they getting a B-plus?  B-minus?  Where would you grade them?

Dennis: D-plus.

Bob: Whoa.

Dennis: Below average – I think they're just a little bit above failing.  I think most Christian marriages only share snippets of spiritual truth, only share little bits about God and about His work in their lives over their lifetime, and I think if you understand the Scriptures of who God says He is, He is a God who commands us to pursue him as a deer pants after water.  He challenges us to long for the pure milk of the Word, and to feed on it regularly, and then share that intimately in a marriage relationship.

Bob: Well, and I have to think that the only reason that a husband and wife are satisfied with that D-plus is because they look around, and the rest of the class is scoring below them, and so they figure, "Well, at least we're better than average."

Dennis: Well, that's what gets a lot of couples in trouble.  I think they can always find someone who is in worse shape than them – or at least appears to be in worse shape than them.  And, you know, that's not my desire – to be average or above average.  I want to be what Ray Stedman used to refer to as "normal."  Normal is what God created you to be. 

Bob: Okay, well, if that's how we're doing spiritually, is there a way to bring our grade up?

Dennis: Yes, you go back to the plan.  You go back to what God laid out for us as the fundamentals of what a Christian marriage is all about.  He is the one who designed marriage.  And so what you do is, you go back to the Scriptures as the source of truth; as the beginning point for how two selfish, sinful people – how those two people can interact with one another and take the pieces of the pattern and make it work and fit it together.  And that's, in fact, what we're going to be doing in this series, is to really equip you, as a listener, with God's plan for how you put the pieces of the pattern together to make your marriage all that the Master Designer intended.

Bob: Well, before you lay out the pattern for us, if we're doing below-average work in the spiritual area of our marriage, how are we doing in other areas?  Are our grades a little better there?

Dennis: Well, let's take the emotional area.

Bob: Okay.

Dennis: I would have to say – I'd give us a D.

Bob: Man.

Dennis: A D.

Bob: We're doing worse there than we are spiritually?

Dennis: I think so.  If you can't share together in the spiritual arena, if you can't talk about the truth of God's Word and interact around the things of God and what He's doing in your life, then I think you are also going to be hampered emotionally as to how deep you go in your relationship with one another around things that you feel.  Because God created us as men and women in His image, and part of His image are the emotions.  We have emotions that reflect who God is, and a lot of married couples have experienced romantic love, love around an emotional feeling, but their marriage, Bob, is stunted, emotionally speaking, because they've never been able to find the safe grounds to be able to share in the emotional area of a marriage.

Bob: You're talking about the average Christian marriage at this point, right?

Dennis: Yes, I think a lot of Christian couples are afraid – not merely of the spiritual area, but they are also very afraid of emotions.  They don't know what to do with them because, again, they may have grown up in a home that didn't express emotions.  They aren't even in touch with their own emotions.  They may be in denial.  They may feel like they're married to someone who doesn't have emotions.  Well, that's not true.  They just don't express them.  They have emotions, they just have not developed in their personality in such a way to be able to express them freely in that relationship.

Bob: There are a lot of husbands who are listening to you at this point saying, "You've got to meddling.  You're sounding like my wife.  She keeps wanting to have more emotional connectedness, and I don't know what she's wanting."

Dennis: But, you see, Bob, that's why, again, you go back to the Scriptures and what we were going to be talking about in this series, Genesis, chapter 2, verses 18 through 25, where God is talking about two people who leave, who cleave, who become one flesh, and who are naked and unashamed.  They experience a sense of being known and knowing another person that occurs because of a commitment – first of all, a spiritual commitment with God and, secondly, a commitment that's expressed to another person where that person feels safe.

And I know at this point, there are a lot of our single listeners who are leaning into the radio going, "That's what I want.  I want a safe relationship," and, for that matter, there are a lot of our married listeners who are saying, too, "You know, I yearn for that."  But what happens in a marriage, I think, is it becomes unsafe.  It becomes emotionally unhealthy to share certain things, because you get punished.  And so you learn, after you get burned a few times, I'm not going to venture off into that area.  And so our hearts are not connected.  We're not one, as God called us to become one, but instead of following the pattern of Scripture, which calls us to that oneness, we end up separating our hearts, and we become isolated.

Bob: Well, if we're scoring a D-plus in the area of our spiritual relationship, we're at a D in our emotional relationship – is there anywhere that you can point to and say, "Well, we're doing okay in this particular area."

Dennis: Well, frankly, Bob, if you're a D-plus spiritually, and you're a D emotionally, what possibly could there be that would be above average in a relationship?

Bob: I guess that's a good point.

Dennis: Let me just summarize what we've talked about here today, and people may think I'm being too hard, at this point, on today's Christian marriages, but, Bob, I don't think I am.  I think Christian marriage today needs a jolt.  It needs a wake-up call.  It needs to be challenged to say, "Are we experiencing all that God intended?"  And if we aren't, why is that?  If I'm a husband, and I've not taken responsibility on something, then why haven't I?  And if I’m a wife, and I'm dragging my feet, then what do I need to do?

 There are just three points I want to make here.  First of all, I think a lot of Christian marriages are functional but disillusioned.  I think they are doing the Christian things; I think they are there at church, but there's a lot of discouragement about marriage, in general, and family, and it's why the divorce rate is the same inside the church as it is outside the church.

 Secondly, I think there's a lot of Christian couples who have become satisfied with being just a little better than average.

Bob: We aspire to too little.

Dennis: That's right.  We are not going for the gold.  We've settled just to run the face – not really finish it and win.

 Third, I think many Christian marriages have settled into a spiritual routine where God doesn't exist.  Did you hear that?  It's a spiritual routine where God doesn't exist.  It is a lack of experiencing God day in and day out in their marriage and in their family and in their lives and, as a result, they are growing spiritually stale.  That's not what He intended. 

Bob: I know throughout this series, as we begin to understand God's plan for the marriage relationship, we'll also find some ways that we can bring our grades up in these areas.  But can you give us some pointers on how we can be moving in the right direction and maybe at least get where our dad won't give us a whipping when we get home with our report card.

Dennis: Yes, let's just take each of these three areas and give a practical point or two under each one.  First of all, spiritually – I think if a couple could just make a commitment to start praying together and start reading the Bible together, just a verse a day, just get into The Book, just read The Book, just talk about the Book, do anything about The Book.  You know, there's a phrase that says "A dusty Bible will lead to a dirty life," and I think a lot of Christians have dirty lives because they're not into The Book, and they're not talking about it in their marriage. 

 And, you know, I think, Bob, that's what God wants us to do.  He wants us to get in The Book, to read The Book, read the Bible.  Secondly, He wants us to interact around the truth of the Bible, around real life.  And, third, He wants us to pray together.  And that practical application of truth will bring about a changed life and a changed marriage.

Bob: Your book, "Moments Together," is designed to encourage couples in that direction – to give them a framework and easy-to-use guide for making that happen.  And, as our listeners might imagine, we have it available in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  If you'd like to receive a copy of the book, we'll get you information on how you can have it sent directly to you.

Dennis: Let me just interrupt at that point to say this is just the beginning place where a couple need to begin to grapple with God's plan and begin to pray together and experience Him together.  Certainly, Christian marriage is far more than praying together or reading the Bible together and sharing a devotional together.  There is much more of life that God intended for a couple to share and of Him over a lifetime.  But it is a beginning step.

Bob: Was there ever a time when your grades were kind of low in this area?

Dennis: That's pretty personal.  Yes, I would have to say early in our marriage Barbara gave me an F.

Bob: An F?

Dennis: That's right, and it wasn't for faith.  We'd been married for a while, and if she was here, she would share this openly; in fact, does at our FamilyLife Marriage Conferences, much to my shame.  She said, "I really expected Dennis to read the Bible, to lead us in prayer, to have a quiet time every day with me," and all these spiritual disciplines that – well, she had all these expectations, Bob.  I mean, you know, she's not perfect.  Well, it proved that neither was I.  And I didn't fall into what she envisioned and, frankly, she was deeply disillusioned and disappointed with me, and that was a time in our marriage we had to move through those disappointments, that disillusionment, and begin to hammer out what was my responsibility, and it was a bit of a – maybe a wake-up call for me, as a young man, to say I needed to assume some spiritual responsibility here, and I'm glad to say I am farther down the road today than I was.  I still have a way to go in leading her and my family spiritually.

Bob: Do you think couples, understanding these basics about God's plan for marriage, can begin to revolutionize, can begin to help bring the grade point average up to passing grades?

Dennis: Amos 3:3 says, "How can two walk together unless they be in agreement."  And I think one of the most fundamental ways we can be in agreement is to have a pattern – the pattern of God's Word that we are building our marriage from.

Bob: Yes, you know, over the last 25 years – 25-plus years now – there have been tens of thousands of couples who have found that pattern for marriage as they've attended one of our Weekend to Remember conferences.  And this fall we've got conferences happening in cities all across the country, where couples can come together to learn what the Bible has to say about God's design, His blueprints for building a strong marriage, about the kinds of disciplines that ought to be a part of our marriage.  And I just want to say these are fun, romantic getaway weekends for couples.  We have really worked hard to try to make sure that the couples who attend are getting good, solid information, but they're getting it in an environment that is full of fun and spiritual refreshment – just a great getaway for your marriage.

 You can find all the details about the upcoming conference season on our website at FamilyLife.com or give us a call at 1-800-FLTODAY.  You can register over the phone.  If you have any questions, someone on our team can help you with answers.  Again, the toll-free number is 1-800-FLTODAY or go online at FamilyLife.com and plan to attend a Weekend to Remember conference this fall.

 When you get in touch with us, let me also encourage you to consider getting a copy of the book that Dennis and Barbara have written called "Moments Together for Couples" – a daily devotional that's designed to help couples build a strong foundation in their marriage through the practices, the disciplines, as you just said, being in The Word together, praying together on a regular basis.  This is a devotional guide that has been used by thousands of couples year in and year out to build a stronger marriage, and you can order a copy of the book when you contact us here at FamilyLife.

In fact, anybody who orders that book, along with another book that we'd recommend called "Sacred Marriage" by Gary Thomas – you order both of the books together, and we'll throw in, at no additional cost, either the CD audio or the cassettes of this series that we're doing on God's plan for marriage.  All the details are on our website at FamilyLife.com or, again, if you need more information, give us a call at 1-800-FLTODAY and let us give you some tools to equip you to build a stronger marriage.  Again, the phone number is 1-800-FLTODAY and our website is FamilyLife.com.

You know, this fundamental issue about God's plan for marriage is something that is being reconsidered in our culture today and, frankly, we're concerned about how it is being reconsidered.  We're concerned about those who would seek to redefine marriage according to personal preference as opposed to the timeless definition that is found in the Scriptures and that has served as a bedrock of all civilizations throughout history.

We are teaming up here at FamilyLife with Chuck Colson and the Wilberforce Forum to encourage churches all across America in September and October to speak out on this issue of God's design for marriage.  We're hoping that pastors will devote anywhere from one to four Sundays in the next few weeks to address the biblical plan for marriage.  And there is a link on our website at FamilyLife.com to a whole host of resources that are available for pastors and churches to help equip you, to make it easy for you, to speak to your congregation about this very important issue in our culture today.  You can download a pamphlet that we've created called "Preserving the Family."  A number of churches have used this to pass out to people in their congregation.  That's one of the things that's available when you come to our website at FamilyLife.com.

But we want to ask you to talk to your pastor, or if you are a pastor, would you consider setting aside a few Sundays in the coming weeks to address this critical issue in our culture today?  And if you need more help, resources, come to our website at FamilyLife.com or give us a call at 1-800-FLTODAY.  FamilyLife exists to try to effectively develop godly families who will change the world one home at a time.  And this is one of those times when godly families need to stand up in the culture and say, "We're going to stand for what God's Word has to say about marriage and family.

And let me say a word of thanks to those folks who help support our ministry financially – it's your support that helps make possible these kinds of initiatives – this partnership with Chuck Colson and the Wilberforce Forum – the other issues that we feel compelled to address in our culture today, pointing people back to the Scriptures when it comes to marriage and family relationships.  So let me encourage you to get in touch with us either by phone to make a donation at 1-800-FLTODAY or you can donate online at FamilyLife.com, and we hope to hear from you, and we hope you'll pass the news along to your pastor about the national preaching initiative that we're hoping thousands of churches will participate in in the weeks ahead.

Well, tomorrow we're going to continue to look at God's design for marriage, and there are couples, I'm sure, who think, "Well, we're just going to settle for having an okay marriage," and yet that's not what God intends for any of us in our marriage.  We'll talk more about that tomorrow as we look at what the Scriptures have to say about God's blueprints for marriage.  I hope you can be with us for that.

On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you 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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Fun, engaging conversations about what it takes to build stronger, healthier marriage and family relationships. Join hosts Dave and Ann Wilson with FamilyLife Today® veteran cohost Bob Lepine for new episodes every weekday.

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