FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Protecting Your Marriage

with John and Debra Fileta | September 29, 2021
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How do we protect our marriages in a world that tries to pull us apart? John and Debra Fileta break down three main areas of needed protection and share invaluable advice from their own marriage.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

How do we protect our marriages in a world that tries to pull us apart? John and Debra Fileta break down three main areas of needed protection and share invaluable advice from their own marriage.

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Protecting Your Marriage

With John and Debra Fileta
September 29, 2021
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Ann: Am I good—what am I saying? [Laughter]

I think we’re living in a day and age where it’s really easy for marriages to be tempted in every way—unfaithfulness—we’re bombarded with social media, we’re connecting with people that we’ve never been able to connect to.

Dave: Are you confessing right now?

Ann: No! [Laughter]

Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.

Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at or on our FamilyLife® app.

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.

We have been really careful in putting boundaries in our marriage, but I have a good friend that just happened to reach out to an old guy that she went to college with. They had five kids, they’d been married for quite a while. Sadly enough, she kept connecting, and it ended up in an affair. That was one of our best friends and best couple friends.

Dave: Yes; it was obviously something we then walked through with them. The miracle—God did a miracle—because I literally said to you, “Even God can’t save this marriage,”—and it was a horrible thing to think—but He did; He really did. But it highlighted how critical protection is to protect your marriage—to set up boundaries—not just sexually, but in all different areas.

Ann: People/younger people think we have been ridiculous—like: “You guys are so overboard,”—because we’ve been very intentional about protecting and putting boundaries in our marriage.

Dave: Yes; so I think it’s a great topic to talk about. We have the couple in the studio—

Ann:the couple!

Dave: —to talk about it. I mean, we have Debra Fileta and her husband John. Usually, Debra’s on podcasts and interviews by herself, because she’s the author—wrote a book called Choosing Marriage—which you wrote without your husband, John. But John’s sitting over there in the engineer booth. We had lunch with him; and we’re like, “This guy has dynamite inside.”

Ann: Yes; he’s—

Debra: I don’t know how you guys pulled this off.

Ann: —he is amazing!

Dave: He’s never done this?

Debra: Never.

Ann: He’s a physician; he’s smart; he’s really wise. We’re like, “Oh, yes!”

And Debra, she’s amazing: she’s a podcaster; she’s an author. They’re both mom and dad of four kids: one daughter, three sons.

Dave: —homeschoolers—you guys are just crazy great.

Ann: Yes, you’re both homeschooling your kids.

Dave: This is fun. Welcome to both of you to FamilyLife Today!

John: Thanks for having us; yes.

Debra: Thank you for having us.

Dave: John, let me ask you, “Why have you never done this?”

John: I don’t know; I’ve lived the adventure from behind the scenes, I guess.

Dave: You guys have been married how many years?

John: Fourteen years.

Dave: Fourteen years—four kids—and your youngest is what?

Debra: Six months old.

Dave: Six months old. You do homeschool; you do write; you’re a therapist. You’re [John] an eye surgeon. How do you keep your marriage strong?

John and Debra: That’s a good question! [Laughter]

Debra: I would say it’s something that we didn’t get right in the beginning. When you first get married—even as a therapist; at the time, I was a therapist-in-training—you still don’t know what you’re doing. It takes learning and experience doing things wrong and then getting it right.

Ann: John, did you ever say, “Stop being a therapist!”? Did you ever say that?

John: I have definitely said that. [Laughter]

Debra: I’ve heard those words a couple times.

John: “I’m not a client; I’m your husband.”

Ann: Yes, yes; I would too.

Dave: I mean, there have to be times you feel like you’re getting analyzed, though. Like I shared with Debra at lunch, when I’m up preaching and I see Jack Wilson—he’s a therapist in our church—I feel like he has to be looking at me, like, “Oh, my goodness; you have so many issues.” Have you ever felt that?

John: I don’t actually feel that. And the reality, being totally truthful, she’s usually right. [Laughter]

Debra: Can somebody just give me a little clip of that to take home? [Laughter]

John: Let’s edit that one out—[Laughter]—no—but in reality, the fun is we’ve been learning together/growing together. It’s been amazing to watch our marriage transform over the past decade. We’re still learning today; it’s not like we have it totally figured out, but we’re on the journey together.

Ann: That’s really cool.

Dave: One of the things you wrote about in Choosing Marriage—but you’ve also together—I’ve found you’re passionate about this idea of protecting your marriage. I love your chapter title, “Always Use Protection.”

Debra: Right.

Dave: Obviously, we’re tongue-in-cheek on that one. But talk about protection: “How do you protect your marriage?”

Debra: Yes; first and foremost, I wouldn’t be able to write these chapters if I didn’t have a spouse, who is helping me live them out. You don’t just write it; you have to live it.

Dave: Yes.

Debra: So this is something that I think we’re both passionate about.

Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart.” It doesn’t say: “Guard other people’s hearts,” or “Other people should guard your heart.” We’re responsible for protecting what God has given us, and that’s our marriage.

We’re deliberate about that in a few ways; right?

Ann: What’s that look like, Debra? You have some principles. Start us off with how you teach this.

Debra: Yes; I would say three main things. We can kind of talk about them in order:

  • We protect our emotions.
  • We protect our interactions.
  • And we protect our time.

Those are the three—what I like to say “the Intruders”—because that’s where we’re most susceptible to making a decision that’s not healthy or going down a path that’s not good for our relationship.

When it comes to our emotions, you realize that there are so many opportunities to either miss sharing your emotions with one another or ending up sharing them with somebody other than your spouse. We try to be really intentional about making sure that we give the first fruit of our emotional connection to one another.

Ann: How do you guys do that? Especially now—you have four kids; you have a six-month-old—right now, you’re probably just surviving some days. So how do you do that?

John: I think now it looks like we’re very deliberate with how we interact in our time. So by 9 p.m., we’re finally getting all the kids in bed. Kids know it’s mommy and daddy time after that—there’s no coming in the bedroom—I don’t care who’s hiding in the closet; you know? [Laughter] It’s our time, and they know that our room is kind of our sanctuary.

We’re very deliberate about spending time together. It’s easy to hop in bed, turn on the TV, turn on Netflix®.

Dave: Oh, yes.

John: That’s the quick, easy, relaxing way. But it’s being deliberate about: “Hey, let’s talk a little bit.”

Debra: Tell them about our Sunday night ritual.

Ann: Yes, this is good.

John: Yes; something that we started, early on in our marriage, that I would actually say totally transformed our marriage and has made it incredible—and has transformed me, as a man; and in every way, has made me better—is our Sunday night check-ins. Every Sunday night at 9 p.m.—initially, I had my iPhone® alarm pop off—9 p.m. comes; we have to check in.

Ann: I love that you set your alarm.

John: Yes!

Debra: Otherwise, he wouldn’t remember. [Laughter] That’s how I knew that he was being intentional about this.

John: Yes.

Ann: So your alarm goes off—

John: Our alarm goes off; we hop on the couch. The first time we sit there, there’s a lot of crickets going off. [Laughter] It was really—

Debra: —especially for you; right?

John: Yes, it was really awkward!

Debra: I’m used to the emotional conversation.

John: Oh, yes; it was super awkward. I mean, I talked more in ten minutes with her than I probably shared my emotions my entire life.

Dave: Really?

John: Yes.

Ann: Did you ask some great question, Debra?

Debra: I don’t recall that I did. I think it was just having these big-picture check-ins: “Let’s talk about how we’re doing emotionally,” “Let’s talk about sins and struggles.”

We were at a place where we were both defaulting to unhealthy patterns and not connecting well. It’s like: “This isn’t going to work for either of us; this is not a good place. We can’t just let our marriage be on auto-pilot and just see what happens.”

Ann: Yes.

Debra: So we were like, “We need to be deliberate about connecting.”

Dave: John, did you find yourself—because I’m thinking, “Okay; if I’m you,”—and I’ve been you—I’ve felt exactly those things in different times in my life. If I was being really honest, I would be saying: “I’m scared,” “I’m afraid,” “I’m stressed,” “I don’t know if I can do it,” “I don’t know if I…” Is that the kind of things you started talking about?

John: Yes.

Dave: Just saying that out loud is like, “Oh, man, this is going to be helpful.”

Ann: If Dave said that to me—did you feel like this, Deb?—like that’s endearing—

Debra: It is.

Ann: —that vulnerability and that going deep.

Debra: It is. If there’s any bitterness—he’s working too much; or I have too much on my plate; [he’s] in medical school, I’m home with the kids—that sharing dissolves that. It invites you into their heart. I mean, I feel like it’s an endearing thing; because it’s an invitation to: “Come and experience what I’m experiencing. Let me share this with you.”

Why you have to protect your emotions is because it is such an intimate part of who you are. If your spouse isn’t receiving that part of you, who is?—is it your mom?—your sister?—your best friend?—nobody?

Dave: —or somebody outside that’s inappropriate; yes.

Debra: —somebody else. That’s where it begins: is having that comfort level to just be honest about how we feel.

Dave: At the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway that we do at FamilyLife, we talk about Level 5 communication—where 1 is sort of superficial—but 5 is like: “I’m going to go and open my heart.” You’re going there.

John: Yes, yes.

Dave: Was that a struggle?

John: It was unnatural.

Dave: Yes.

John: My body’s like, “Okay, this is Death-Con Five. [Laughter] High alert here!”; you know?

Part of it, too, like we confess to each other; we confess sin. At first, it’s really awkward to say things you’ve done wrong.

Ann: What’s that look like?—“Hey, it’s time for you to confess your sin”?

Debra: No.

Dave: You can’t ask them about their sin; is that what you’re asking?—“Hey, tell us about your sin!”

Ann: No; I’m just saying, “How did you get into that?—like: ‘Oh, it’s your turn,’ ‘Now, it’s my turn.’”

John: Yes.

Ann: How did you decide that?

Debra: You just begin to realize that it’s easy to live in a way, where you don’t fully know each other, unless you’re intentional about asking those questions.

I am a therapist, but I was a newbie therapist at the time. It’s not like I had this extraordinary set of skills that the average person doesn’t have. It was just a matter of: “What does it look like to connect with my spouse and to share my heart?”

James 5 tells us: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you can be healed.” I had accountability in college with some girlfriends: “Why can’t we have it in our relationship?” and “What does that look like for each of us?”

Ann: That’s good; I love that.

Dave: Does this mean there are no secrets?

John: There are no secrets now; we’re open with everything. I mean, it started early, like—if I had an inappropriate thought or if I looked at a woman inappropriately—I told her. You know what happens when you confess those things?—you get freedom from them.

Debra: Yes.

John: I realized: “If I have to tell her these things on Sunday night,” you’re highly motivated, during the week, to choose the right thing.

Ann: Oh, it’s accountability!

John: Because you realize: “This is what I’m going to share…” “This is how I’m going to feel…” “This is how I’m going to hurt my wife, and it’s going to make me feel horrible,” and “I’m wrong in doing this.” It helps you become—that’s why I say it’s transformed our marriage/made me a better man—because you live in freedom/joy. And then the fullness that you get to experience of being fully-known, fully-loved, fully-accepted is deeper than anything you could imagine. It’s unbelievable.

Dave: Now, are there things that you think shouldn’t be shared, like emotionally, or too far?

Debra: Well, I always tell people that if your life is like a book, chapter by chapter, make sure that your spouse knows the summary. They don’t have to know every sentence and every detail.

Let’s just even talk about that example of: “I had an inappropriate thought.” Well, I don’t have to know who it was, and what you were thinking, and all the nitty-gritty details. Or something in my past: I don’t need to know exactly what you did and how you did it. I just need to have a general idea of where you’re struggling, and you need to have a general idea of where I’m struggling. It’s accountability, and it’s also freedom.

I think there’s something here for the church, as well; but what if it started in our marriages; you know?

Dave: Here’s a question for you—you’re a therapist, so I’d love to hear your thought—a husband tells his wife, after he’s prayed one night, “I just prayed to God I’d rather be dead than married to you.” [Laughter] Should he say that?

Ann: This was our conversation our first year of marriage. [Laughter]

Debra: Were you the honest one?

Ann: Yes.

Dave: I said that, and the second it came out of my mouth—this is in the first nine months of our marriage—the second I said it—I said it because we’re supposed to be totally honest; I don’t want to hide anything. As soon as it came out, I looked at her—when I saw her face just drop—I was like, “That was stupid.” That’s one of those things that I didn’t need to be that specific about it.

Debra: Sure.

Dave: I really had just said that, because we were really struggling.

Ann: You were annoyed too.

Debra: That’s the difference. I’m not sharing my honest opinion about what he needs to work on and change and what I don’t like about him.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: That’s good.

Debra: This is an honest assessment of me: “What I’m doing,” “What I’m struggling with,” “Where I’m at.”

It’s not me assessing him. It’s easy to be honest about assessing my spouse: “Here’s what you have to work on.” But the key to freedom, I think, is learning to give that honest assessment to ourselves, taking the plank out of our own eye before we take the splinter out.

Ann: It’s that vulnerability of exposing—“This is who I am, and it’s not pretty,”—and having our spouse continue to receive us is the gospel.

Dave: I think it’s really cool that, what you’re modeling for us and every couple, can be done by anybody. I mean, part of me is like, “You’re a therapist, so you’re really good at this.” No; any husband and wife—if they have the guts and the courage to say, “Let’s do a check-in and be honest,”—this can really change their marriage.

John: I think a great starting point is you look at your own life and think about: “What’s one thing I want to do better in? What’s one thing I want to get better in?” If you’re a parent, who gets super angry, choose that. Just check in that week, say, “I struggled with anger this week with the kids; I responded this way…” or “When you told me this…”

I think, if you look at yourself, we each have one thing that we usually struggle with or tend to go to. That’s a great starting point.

Ann: That’s good.

John: It’s not going to magically change one day;—

Dave: Yes.

John: —it’s a process of years and years. And then it’s also building in the accountability: being open about things.

One of the things that we talked about for protecting your interactions—Deb and I are very deliberate about—I haven’t deleted my internet history the entire time I’ve had my computer for seven years. She has total freedom: she can look in my phone; she can look in my computer. I have nothing I’m afraid of her seeing.

Ann: We’ve gone from guarding your emotions; now, you’re looking at how you guard your actions.

John: Yes, your interactions.

Debra: —your interactions with people.

Ann: Your interactions; okay.

What about you, Deb? What’s that look like? What else do you guys do?

Debra: You know, just even in the ministry world, you’re meeting a lot of people. There are so many opportunities to connect with people of the opposite sex; so we’re always cautious about not accepting invitations, where we’re going to be alone with someone of the opposite sex. I mean, it’s really not a big deal to throw in a third party; and it’s not even because we’re worried, or we don’t trust each other. Some of it also is just so that there’s no opportunity for anyone else to think something might be happening that’s not.

Ann: Not even giving a hint.

Debra: Not even a hint of an opportunity or a misunderstanding, so we’re just really careful with our interactions. If there’s someone I’m interacting with on a regular basis via email or texts, I’m always telling him what’s going on; he’s always telling me. We loop each other in. I mean, in marriage you’re one; so seeing that in the context of your interactions with people—it isn’t weird to cc him into an email—because we’re one.

Ann: Dave and I do that all the time; I’ll just include him on the text if it’s with another guy. I’m like, “Hey, Dave’s on this.” It’s just become a habit for us; some people think it’s ridiculous. But you’re right—we’re one, and my world is Dave’s world—and we don’t want to exclude one another from that.

The last one, you talk about time—like guarding your time—what’s that look like?

Debra: This is the trickiest one, and I think something that we struggle with the most in the world. Because within seconds, you can be on your phone in the same room but doing completely different things—John can be playing chess; I can be on Instagram®—and the time passes just like that. I think protecting your time is one of the most important things that you can do for your relationship.

Ann: We really struggled with this, just because screen time is so accessible. It’s in our hands: we can work; we can do emails; we can play games. We have found that to be isolating at times. You’re saying the same thing.

Dave: How do you do it?

John: I think it’s realizing that anytime you say, “Yes,” to something you’re saying, “No,” to something else. Just be aware of the choices you’re making.

With technology, I try sometimes—I’m guilty of this; I’m on my phone in the evenings, checking things—but being deliberate about: “Okay, this next hour through dinner”—or whatever—“I’m going to put my phone on the desk.” There’s nothing really urgent I actually have to get to; you know? I don’t need to know this fact on Google® immediately.

Debra: The other thing, too, is just learning to do things together, like our hobbies: instead of having separate hobbies; doing things that we both like.

I did a survey of a thousand married couples, and over 50 percent of them said they have separate hobbies and interests. Think about how much time is spent in separate things, with the little time you have, that you could actually be doing something together.

We’ve learned to take up things that the other likes, or learn about something that the other person likes, or do something together that’s new for both of us, and just kind of learning to guard our time in that way.

Ann: I felt like I should probably start playing golf; ugh!! [Laughter]

Dave: You don’t have to play golf.

Debra: Or you can both take up something new together.

Ann: That’s true.

John: It also looks really different in different seasons. When I was working—at one point in my training, 100 hours a week—we had young children under five/multiple kids under five. The reality is: “When you have no time, you have no time for hobbies.

Ann: Right.

John: “You need to accept: ‘My free time is not/I can’t go out golfing for six hours.’”

Dave: Right.

John: That’s just a poor choice [if I golf for six hours]; that’s going to separate me from my wife. So when you don’t have time, you don’t have separate time; that’s just the reality.

I think sometimes, as Americans, we try to squeeze everything in—go, go, go, go—we don’t pause and stop. That’s where we tried to be deliberate about choosing hobbies together. We’ll go for walks; we’ll go hiking. I love playing chess—random game—she learned how to play chess, so she could play with me.

Debra: I don’t love it, but I’ve learned how to do it.

Ann: Look at you go! That’s awesome.

John: I think, ultimately, this idea of trust—the fruit of it is that you end up experiencing the deepest joy, pleasure, satisfaction—greater than any of these other things appear to give you, but you get to experience in your marriage.

Dave: I think, as I’m listening, the whole idea of protecting your marriage, when you choose to do that, it builds trust.

Debra: Yes.

Dave: That’s probably the biggest thing I’m hearing—is like when you say, “My life is not mine; it’s ours. And so my interactions, you’re going to know; my internet history, you’re going to know; my conversations with other people; my time; my emotions…” That builds trust, and a marriage has to be built on trust. If I’m withholding that, that creates distrust; and then the marriage starts to fall apart.

What a great gift this conversation has been, I think, for couples. You have given us really practical—I mean, even if couples just said, “Okay, let’s start with the Sunday night” or “…Monday night,”—whatever night you want to do—

Debra: Yes, whatever night works or day.

Dave: —do a check-in—and say, ‘I’m going to be open with my heart and my life to you.’” That’s going to start something new in a marriage that could save the marriage.

Debra: Every single one is like a string/a new string that connects you to your spouse. The more you have/the more deliberate you are, the stronger your marriage is in the end.

Ann: I love that you guys have been incredibly intentional about your relationship and about your family. It’s inspiring to see how God’s using you.

Debra: Thank you.

Dave: I love having John on the broadcast!

Ann: Yes, John!

Dave: You are awesome.

Debra: Thanks for having us.

John: Thanks for having us.

Bob: I don’t know why it is that we think that our marriages will get better and better if we do nothing—if we just let them coast—that they’re going to flourish. Marriage needs intentionality, as Dave and Ann Wilson were just saying with John and Debra Fileta; and we need to protect our marriage. We need to build some protective boundaries around our relationship.

Debra Fileta has addressed this specific subject in a book she’s written called Choosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start with We > Me. We have copies of that book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order the book from us online at, or you can call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY.

I think it’s Chapter 6 in the book, where she’s titled it, “Always Use Protection: From Insecurity to Safety,” how to guard your marriage: how to protect your emotions, and your interactions, and your time. Again, this is part of Debra’s book, Choosing Marriage. You can request your copy from us online at, or you can call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY; that’s 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

You know, helping marriages thrive and helping to protect marriage relationships is at the heart of what we’re all about, here, at FamilyLife. Our goal, as a ministry, is to effectively develop godly marriages and families. We believe godly marriages and families can change the world one home at a time.

We’re so grateful for those of you who are, not only regular listeners to this program, but you’re the people who make this program possible in your community and for audiences all around the world. Those of you who contribute from time to time, or who are monthly Legacy Partners, thank you for your support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today. You need to know that today there are hundreds of thousands of people, who have benefited from this conversation, because of your generosity. On behalf of those couples, thank you for your support.

If you’re a long-time listener, and you’ve never made a donation to support FamilyLife Today, I want to invite you to join the team today and help make FamilyLife Today possible in the future so more people, more often, can be impacted by practical biblical help and hope. You can donate online at; or call to donate—1-800-FL-TODAY is our number—and we hope to hear from you.

We also hope you can be back with us, again, tomorrow when our friend, Ron Deal, is going to be here to talk about some of the very practical, very wise things couples should be thinking about if they are preparing to start a blended family/if they’re getting remarried. Ron is here with counsel on that tomorrow. I hope you can join us as well. If you know somebody, who’s in that situation, encourage them to listen in as well.

On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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