The Power of Prayer
About the Guest
How does prayer affect marriage? Research professor Scott Stanley talks about the power of prayer in marriage. Scott shares how praying for your partner strengthens your relationship and your commitment to them. When you pray for your marriage you are asking God to intervene and for Him to show you how you can better meet the needs of your spouse, and God loves to answer that.
Scott StanleyScott Stanley, Ph.D., is a research professor and co‑director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver. He has published widely with research interests including commitment, communication, conflict, confidence, risk factors for divorce, the prevention of marital distress, and couple development. Along with Dr. Howard Markman and colleagues, he has been involved in the research, development, and refinement of the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (...more
Research professor Scott Stanley talks about the power of prayer in marriage. Scott shares how praying for your partner strengthens your relationship and your commitment to them.
The Power of Prayer
Bob: You’ve undoubtedly heard people make a case for living together before marriage—saying, “You wouldn’t buy a car without taking a test drive; right?” Author and researcher, Scott Stanley, says, “That’s a flawed strategy when we are talking about human relationships.”
Scott: The problem with this strategy is that it is harder to break up when you are living together than when you are dating. Everything else can be identical in your relationship—in terms of your behavior / whether you are a good fit for each other—all of that can be identical. When you move in together—sharing a single address—you have made it harder to break up.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, July 16th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. If you’re goal / your ambition is to stay married to the same person ‘til death do you part, we’ll talk about some strategies that can help you fulfill that goal today.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
Dennis: Bob, let me ask you a question.
Dennis: I want you to give me your honest feedback on this statement. It is made by the guest on our broadcast today—Scott Stanley. Scott, welcome to the broadcast. I’m sorry I’m setting you up here to see what Bob thinks about your comment. He says this— [Laughter]
Bob: I hope we agree.
Bob: I hope we agree.
Scott: Me too.
Dennis: Scott says this, “One of the surest ways to pray more effectively is to focus on asking God to change you, not your mate.”
Bob: Yes. [Laughter] Yes. Yes. I don’t think there is any disagreement there. The key words were “pray effectively” because, honestly, as we say at the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, we don’t show up at the getaway to talk to your spouse. The only person we are there to talk to is you—
Bob: —because the only person that God’s Spirit is going to change in you is you. And that’s where you’ve got to start.
Dennis: And we’ve got a guy who has—well, he has had God change him. We’re going to find out how in the coming moments. Scott Stanley—who is the author of A Lasting Promise—he is the father of two sons / been married to Nancy since 1982.
And let’s cut to the chase, Scott: “How has God changed you, since 1982, when you made a promise to Nancy and you began this journey with her called marriage?”
Scott: The number one thing that comes to my mind that happens in our marriage is that I get—this is important—humbled / not humiliated. There’s a big difference. Humbled but not humiliated—because I learn stuff from Nancy. She points to—I’m always surprised at just the way God can teach me something and help me see something that I didn’t see.
I was telling Nancy, the other day, that she has been so much wiser than me at several critical junctures.
She had so much a better a bead than I did on what was best for our kids—
Scott: —what was best for our two sons. In all those times, I was initially resistant. She nudged, and pushed, and made the point. I think one of the ways that God has changed me in marriage—and this is one of the ways that commitment changes you in marriage—is you’re with this person through so much time and so much change—you learn to really respect each other for going through the journey and what you can learn from this other person.
Dennis: You mentioned that you were humbled / not humiliated.
Dennis: What’s the difference between the two?
Scott: If you have a healthy relationship, with some emotional safety and commitment, you are going to be humbled. You’re going to learn stuff. You’re going to have to change because, if you are getting your way all the time, there is something wrong in your relationship. It’s humbling to learn. It’s humbling to listen.
What is different about humiliation is—one is grinding down—and the other one is belittling the other one as showing contempt for the character of the other. That is a great destroyer of marriages. That is super-damaging, and that’s—nobody is getting better, healthier, or growing closer to God from humiliation—but humbling is powerful.
Dennis: Okay, Bob, how about you? How has God changed you? You and Mary Ann have been married—
Bob: We have been married 35 years, this year.
Bob: And I would say that the biggest change in me is that, over the years, I have seen more instances of selfishness kind of drift to the top of the cauldron. I think some of that has been skimmed off a little bit more than was there earlier-on in our marriage. There is some more deference, some more dying to self, and some more valuing of the “us-ness” over the “me-ness” in our marriage.
Dennis: And that’s what I was going to say was true in my own life. Forty-one years of marriage has taught me how selfish I am.
And it has also taught me that you can’t love another person the way God has commanded us to love, and the way they need to be loved, and be selfish simultaneously.
Bob: This is what I find fascinating about the book that you’ve written that we’ve been talking about this week—A Lasting Promise—and the work that you do, as a researcher. You’re involved with the University of Denver. You do research—scholarly research that is scientifically-valid. I mean, other people, who don’t share your worldview, can look at your research and go, “That’s good research.”
You’ve got a chapter in your book about the importance of prayer in a marriage relationship. I’m thinking, “So, do these other guys, who are validating your research, look at Chapter 3 on prayer and go, ‘Huh?’”
Scott: Some of my colleagues and some of the people doing the best research on prayer are secular.
Some of my colleagues have understood that for a lot of people—most people on the planet pray. These are very highly-respected marital scholars, who started to think: “Maybe we should understand more about prayer and marriage. Maybe we should understand more about how to encourage people to pray for their mate.”
What I’ve learned in talking with them—in terms of the importance of emphasizing this—a lot of times—and you guys know this—in the Christian world, when people think about prayer—the first thing in marriage—the first thing that comes to mind is “Alright, let’s find a time each day where we can have our quiet time and sit down together and pray together.” There are couples that can do that and do that really well. My parents were one of those couples.
There are a lot of couples, for whatever reason—multiple determined reasons—they cannot do that; but one of the things that we stress is about how you—regardless of what your mate does or even what your mate believes—how you can pray for your mate. One of the studies that I talk about in the book—
—they showed that one of the things that happens—when you have somebody praying for their partner, it strengthens their commitment to their relationship.
Now, think about this. Just—I don’t want you to forget God, and you’re not about to—but leave that out of that for a moment and just think about that, as a researcher, who maybe doesn’t even believe in God. What are you doing when you are praying for your partner? You are reinforcing, within yourself, your sense that “I am committed to this person for long-term.” Why would you pray for this person deliberately, and intentionally, and repeatedly if you weren’t really having a sense of commitment to them? So, it reinforces and strengthens. And they can show—you get people praying for their partner—it strengthens their commitment to that person.
Dennis: Prayer says, “I care about you.” It says, “I want to protect you.” Prayer says: “I’m looking out for you. I’m concerned about your future / about your well-being right now—how I can, perhaps, ask God to bless you and return good to you this day.”
Barbara and I have been praying for over 41 years in our marriage—everyday.
And we’ve missed a handful of days in those 41 years; but we pray for and with each other in the marriage relationship. You tell a story about a couple who were praying for better communication—actually, the husband, Gil, was asking God that they might be able to better communicate with each other.
Scott: So, think about what happens here when Gil’s doing this. As Gil prays for his relationship—and specifically, he’s praying for better communication—not only can God intervene and work through Gil and work through his wife; but Gil is actually saying: “Show me stuff. Show me where I’m harsh with her. Show me where I don’t listen. Show me where I can be more gentle in showing her that I understand and that I care,”—not only is he asking God to intervene directly—he’s priming himself. He’s making himself more aware by praying and showing his willingness to do the kind of things that will completely change how the two of them communicate.
Dennis: And what happened when Gil prayed?
Scott: He changed. He started to be more gentle. He starts to listen more. One of the lines I really enjoy in the book is—goes something like this, “If you pray for God to show you how you are being a doofus in your marriage”—technical term; okay?
Bob: Doofus. Yes.
Scott: It’s from the Greek. [Laughter] “If you are praying for God to show you where you’re making some mistakes—where your game is not so good and what you’re doing in your marriage—He’s going to love to honor that prayer because that’s a prayer of humility. That’s a prayer of genuinely asking God to ‘help and show me something.’ I’m not asking God to make her better for me. I’m asking Him to make me better for her.”
Dennis: So, what does this look like in your marriage?
Scott: The way that this works in my marriage is—I pray deliberately, now, for me to be better able to show Nancy my appreciation for the things that she does that are really amazing and that are important.
I want to give you an example.
I’ve been thinking about this for a time. I’ve been becoming more mindful of this. I told her very deliberately, just the other night—I wasn’t making the opportunity for this, but it was in my head. It came up from something I was reading. I gave her very specific examples of things that she’s done for our boys that amaze me—the things that I wouldn’t have seen. I think it’s very important and powerful for her to hear that because she’s a mom, and it’s a big part of her identity, and it’s completely true. Now, it can be true and I can be not so aware of it and never say anything about it; but it’s a lot more powerful if it’s true, and I’m aware of it, and I tell her I see it.
Bob: I want to ask you about—again, the title of your book, A Lasting Promise—I want to ask you about couples who are maybe praying for one another but haven’t made the lasting promise. In our culture today—you know this—more people are getting to the altar after having lived together for some period of time than vice versa; right?
Scott: Absolutely, correct.
Bob: So, cohabitation is just an assumed part of how life goes for the average person growing up in our culture today. For years, there has been research that that’s not healthy for a marriage. In recent months, there has been new research that says that it may not be as bad as it was.
You’ve been around this research for a long time. What would you say to a couple that comes to you and says: “You know, we are thinking about, maybe, moving in together. We think we might want to get married someday, and we thought this would be a great way just to see are we really compatible with one another”?
Scott: We published a lot of studies on this. It’s an area where we do a lot of work. Let me just hit a few of the highlights. Of course, cohabitation’s very prominent / very common now. Probably, about 70 percent of couples are going to live together now before marriage.
Another big change—in some ways, it’s even more disconcerting than that.
What we are seeing now is an increase in what I call a cohabi-dating, which is cohabitating without even any expectation that it might even lead to marriage. It’s just becoming an increasing pattern of the dating sort of world, where: “We are going to live together awhile; and then, I’m going to move on to another.” Technically, we call it serial cohabitation.
Dennis: I think that’s important to just stop and unpack for a moment. Cohabitation implies that a couple is kind of taking a test drive—with the idea that they may get married.
Bob: But there is a new form of it—you’re saying—where people are saying: “We’re just renting the car for the weekend. Then, we’ll turn it back in when we’re tired of it.”
Scott: That’s right. So, there are both forms of that. And then, the other form—where one is thinking, “We’re heading toward marriage,” and the other doesn’t even have a clue—not thinking that way.
Scott: It is like: “It’s great to play house with you. I didn’t know you were thinking more.”
So, here is the number one thing—now, just think, as a researcher, for a moment. Then, we can think about things theologically. The number one thing that people don’t understand about cohabitation—so there is decades of research that show that couples who live together first actually don’t do better in marriage.
And there is some equivocation, now, in studies—not ours because we break it down in a better way in terms of the things that we look at—but notice that, even in the studies where people are saying now, “There is no risk,” nobody is actually saying—or rarely will you find a researcher saying, “We’re finding that there is a great advantage to it,” which is very interesting because, for four decades, you got research that shows that marriages, on average, don’t do as well when they start out living together.
This is the number one thing young people believe they can do to give their marriage a better shot. The problem with this strategy is that it is harder to break up when you are living together than when you are dating. Everything else can be identical in your relationship—in terms of your behavior / whether you are a good fit for each other—all of that can be identical. When you move in together—sharing a single address—you have made it harder to break up before you have really clarified that you want a future together.
Dennis: What may happen, at that point, is—a couple may move in. They may have a child or two—
Dennis: —and now, we’ve got the makings of a family. One person is not feeling settled in the relationship, and they’re wanting out.
Scott: Right. You can see this five years later / ten years—the implications of this—fifteen years later / five years later—when it’s tough, and you’ve got the kids, and all—maybe, you have walked the aisle—you’re married now—but one of you may be sitting there, secretly inside, not maybe even fully-acknowledging it: “I never actually really chose this,” because the other fact about cohabitation is that people tend to slide into it instead of talking about it: “What does it mean?”—“Make a decision.”
Commitments are decisions. When you’re making a commitment, you’re making a decision. When you’re sliding into living together, you’re not making a decision—you’re not making a commitment. One of the things that we see, in all different kinds of ways in our work, is that cohabitation actually doesn’t tell you much about the commitment level of a couple.
Marriage tells you a lot. Engagement tells you a lot. Mutual publically-declared plans tell you a lot about a couple’s commitment; but cohabitation doesn’t really have much information in it about commitment. Very often, what happens in a lot of forms of cohabitation now—is one is thinking that “I want a future with this person. I hope we get to the altar,”—and the other isn’t thinking that. That difference in commitment is going to blow up, at some point.
Bob: Yes, I think it’s interesting for you to talk about sliding into cohabitation because if you pull back and ask, “How do most people get there?” “Well, here is what happened—we started sleeping together. Then, I started just staying over because we were sleeping together. Then, we started doing it a couple times—three times / four times a week. We just looked at each other and said, ‘It would certainly be more convenient if I had some clothes here and a toothbrush here.’ The next thing you know, I’m at the post office changing my address because I’m over there more than I am at my place. Why pay rent for my place?”
Scott: That’s exactly how it happens.
And then, that’s not a commitment. It’s not a decision—
Scott: —and “Here we are.”
Here is another finding in our study that’s very clear. In some ways, the number one worst reason to have to move in together is to test the relationship—to try the relationship. What we find in one of the studies that we published—where we asked people, “What are the reasons why you’re living together?” The couples with the worst relationships, that are living together, are the ones that say they moved in together to test the relationship.
What I will often say to people about that is: “If you think you need to test something in the relationship, you probably already have your answer.”
Dennis: Yes. There is one thing I want to make sure you get on the table here that was really an “aha” to me—and that’s the power of commitment—that it has on a relationship. And what you shared, earlier, before we came in here to talk on the broadcast—you’re talking about the fidelity factor.
Scott: One of our studies—and then, there is another study that shows this, as well.
This surprises people because you tend to think: “Okay, that couple is living together. They’ve got something going on. They must have more commitment.” Now, if they tell you they are engaged, that is going to be true. Now, again, I’m just speaking as a researcher—not about what I think is sort of biblically-right in terms of that behavior—but they’re going to be a lot stronger if they are engaged.
But if a couple just tells you they are living together, it turns out that couple—that’s just living together—is no more likely to have two people being sexually-faithful to each other than a couple that’s similar in other ways but dating. The couple that’s moved in together isn’t any more likely to be faithful than the dating couple, where everything else is similar. What living together does not say to other people—is it doesn’t actually say, “I’m off the market.”
Dennis: Yes, it doesn’t say: “I’ve chosen him. He’s chosen me. Everything else is off limits.”
Scott: That’s right. It says, “We’re sort of still in the store, shopping.”
Bob: But I’m guessing—the minds of the two that have moved in together—at least, one of them is thinking:
“We will be more faithful if we are living together,” until the temptation comes along, at least. There is this idea that “I’m getting closer to marriage by moving in.” You’re saying, “Not in terms of sexual faithfulness, you’re not.”
Scott: I think one of the big changes in relationships these days is—this generation / the young generation now—because it feels safe / but it’s not actually safe—loves ambiguity. They love ambiguity about romance and commitment. They don’t want to be declaring themselves. They don’t want to be real clear because that feels like they are going to risk more, and they could get hurt more.
The problem with ambiguity—and it shows up in cohabitation and a lot of other behaviors. The problem with ambiguity is that it greatly raises the likelihood that one of you is not nearly as committed in the relationship as the other, and you haven’t figured it out yet.
That’s one of the things that more traditional courtship structures—more traditional things like being engaged for a while—even think about, when we were all young, people went steady. They don’t talk about going steady now.
That was a way of practicing—publicly declaring commitment. People don’t do these things now except for maybe the Facebook® status thing, which is an interesting thing.
Ambiguity really reigns. When there is a lot of ambiguity and nothing is pushing you to declare yourself and where you are at about commitment to this person, you have—and we show this in a number of studies—you have a much greater likelihood that you are in a relationship—not guaranteed / but a much greater likelihood—that one is substantially more dedicated than the other. Somewhere along the line, you’re both going to figure that out.
Dennis: I want to invite every cohabiting couple, who are listening to our broadcast, to come to I Still Do™. You may say—
Bob: Now, yes, yes, yes.
Dennis: Wait, wait, wait—I Still Do? I want you to come and check out what the Scriptures have to say about how two imperfect, broken people can go the distance with a covenant-keeping promise—a vow—that is a powerful statement to another person:
“You are mine. I am yours. We are together for a lifetime.”
Bob: So, you want people who haven’t said, “I do,” to come to I Still Do?
Dennis: Absolutely! All of our listeners know people who are cohabiting—invite
them / bring them to I Still Do. We’re going to be in Chicago—
Dennis: —Portland, and Washington, DC.
Scott: Can I say what is so wonderful about that idea?—because, again, think about what I said—number one thing people believe that’s going to give them an edge is living together. Our number one thing to caution people about is making it harder to break up before you’ve made a decision. When you go to something like that—you’re learning about the relationship without doing it in a way that’s making it harder to leave the relationship if you find out this person isn’t the one. It’s a wonderful idea.
Dennis: It is. And you are a great researcher. I appreciate the integrity you have with all that you are doing; and I just appreciate you, Scott. Hope you won’t wait another 15 years to come back and join us again—
Dennis: —on the broadcast.
Scott: Thank you.
Bob: I’m just trying to think if there’s—if we’ll be here in 15 years— if you do wait that long. We want to encourage our listeners today to come join us at I Still Do—information / tickets—online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, where it says, “GO DEEPER.” You can find out everything you need about these three upcoming events.
Chicago—just a couple of weeks from now, Saturday, August 2nd, at the Allstate Arena—really looking forward to kicking this thing off in Chicago a couple of weeks from now. Then, three weeks after that—August 23rd, in Portland, at the Moda Center—then, October 4th, the worldwide simulcast originating from the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. Al Mohler, Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Crawford and Karen Loritts, David Nasser, Shaunti Feldhahn, Ron Deal—music from Andrew Peterson / Chris August—worship led by Jimmy McNeal. It’s going to be a great day.
We’ve got a lot planned for you—a lot of fun / a lot of excitement. We hope that you’ll come and join us. Find out more at FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, click in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, where it says, “GO DEEPER”; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
If you are online today, take special notice—Scott Stanley’s book, A Lasting Promise, which again has been revised and updated. We’ve got copies of the new volume in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. We’d love to get a copy to you. You can order online, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY and order a copy of the book over the phone.
Now, I’m thinking about the upcoming I Still Do. I’m remembering, Dennis, a message that you gave at one of our I Still Do events a number of years ago. It was a passionate call to couples to—not just to go the distance—but to engage other couples and to take the message of help and hope to them.
And here, at FamilyLife, we’ve been working to develop tools and resources that make it easier for you to do that—like The Art of Marriage® event or the Stepping Up® study for men. And with all of this, we could not do what we are doing if it weren’t for listeners to this program, who agree with the mission of FamilyLife—who also want to see every home become a godly home. You guys, who help support us—you are key partners in all that God is doing through this ministry. We’re grateful for you. We appreciate you.
If you can help with a donation today, we’d like to send you a CD of the message that I was talking about from Dennis. We’ll send it when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link in the upper right-hand corner that says, “I CARE.” Make an online donation. Or you can request the CD when you call to make a donation. Our toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can also request the CD if you mail a donation to FamilyLife Today at P O Box 7111, Little Rock, AR.
Our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about your faith and your job—and whether those two ought to mix, and how they ought to mix, and how they can mix without you getting fired. That doesn’t always work, but we’ll talk more about that tomorrow. Terence Chatmon and Bobby Mitchell are going to be here tomorrow. They are from the Fellowship of Companies for Christ International. And we’ll have a conversation with them tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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