The Seven-Ring Circus
Do you ever feel like your marriage is like a multi-ring circus? You're not alone! On FamilyLife Today, join hosts Dave and Ann Wilson as they talk with authors Jackie and Stephana Bledsoe about the purpose in seven different rings, what they looked like in their marriage, and how common they are to every marriage.
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Jackie and Stephana Bledsoe talk about the purpose in seven different rings, what they looked like in their marriage, and how common they are to every marriage.
The Seven-Ring Circus
Bob: I don’t know if you’ve thought about this, but you’re going to be married to somebody different, ten years from now, than the person you’re married to today. I mean, they may have the same name, ten years from now, the same driver’s license; but as Jackie Bledsoe points out, they’re going to be a different person.
Jackie: Stephana’s not the same person that I married in 2001; I’m definitely not the same person. We try to figure out: “How do we continue to learn that? What are the habits that we can do to continue to figure it out, so we don’t drift apart and say, ‘You know, we kind of grew apart; I don’t really know him,’/‘I don’t really know her’?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday March 30th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. If you’re going to be different ten years from now, and your spouse is going to be different ten years from now, how can you make sure you’re growing together in that process?—that you are still one? We’re going to explore that today with Jackie and Stephana Bledsoe. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I think all of us can kind of look at our marriages in stages or phases; don’t you think?
Bob: Everybody kind of travels; we don’t travel the same journey.
Ann: But we usually start out in an infatuation stage.
Bob: Right; and there is kind of a “reality” phase; we talk about this at the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway.
Bob: There’s that euphoria; and then there’s the: “We’re getting married.” Then there’s: “Oh, it’s different than I thought it was going to be.”
Bob: And then there’s: “Oh, you’re disappointing me.” I mean, we all kind of move in and out of those phases and have to figure out, when we’re in the middle of that, “What do we do?”
Dave: You know what I do at the Weekend to Remember? You’ve probably—we’ve done, what?—a couple of these together?
Bob: We’ve done these together, yes.
Dave: I always sing songs during that part. [Laughter] Because, at the weekend, we talk about a romance phase—
Dave: —which moves to the reality phase, which moves to the renovation phase; you know.
Dave: And when I was teaching that, it reminded me of a Stevie Wonder song, which we all know—it became a commercial—[singing]: “I just called to say, ‘I love you.’”
Bob: That’s the romance phase.
Dave: That’s romance; you know?
Dave: But then, after a while—it could be six months/it could be six minutes—but you get to reality. It’s like, “I just called to say, ‘I’m wondering about you’”; [Laughter] right?
And then the third one—the renovation phase—is, at some point, you’re like, “I just called to say, ‘I’m going to change you!’!”; right? [Laughter] I guess we’re laughing because it’s cute, but it’s true.
Stephana: It’s true, yes.
Ann: It is true, yes.
Dave: Almost every couple encounters those phases at some point.
Ann: And yet, every couple thinks, “That’s not going to happen to us.”
Bob: Right, right.
Ann: But it does! And it’s normal.
Bob: We’ve got some friends, who are joining us this week on FamilyLife Today, Jackie and Stephana Bledsoe. Guys, welcome back.
Stephana: Thank you so much.
Jackie: Thank you!
Bob: Jackie and Stephana speak at our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways, along with us. They live in Indiana; parents of three children. They’ve written a book on The 7 Rings of Marriage.
You’re really talking, in this book, about phases or stages that we go through. You see there’s kind of a predictable pattern that moves from romance to reality to renovation—some of these things—right?
Jackie: Yes; and you know, when we first shared this, it was really just our marriage story. And there were so many couples, like, “Oh! That’s what ring we’re in right now. We’re right there!” So then, after the fact, we realized, “Yes, this is common for many couples to go through.”
What we learned from our own story is that, early on in marriage, we thought, if there was a tough season, that was the completeness of our marriage: “This is where we’re always going to be.” We didn’t know what was coming next; you don’t know what to expect. You don’t know that the couples that start great and think, “Oh, we’ll never be in that stage,” and that couples who are in a mess are like, “We’ll never be at that stage/the good stage.”
When we realized there was something else, then we said, “Okay; now what do we do to continue growing; so we can go through all these rings and be more mature, more connected, and just have our marriage really live to bring glory and honor to God?”
Bob: We talked earlier about the seven rings and about the fact that it starts with an Engagement RING. You use that as a metaphor, and then a Wedding RING. What are the five that come after that? As we work our way through this, can you take us from engagement all the way through?
Jackie: Next, after the Engagement RING, is the Wedding RING; and then you go to the DiscoveRING. That is typically when you come together in marriage/you’re new in marriage, and you’re starting to see things that you didn’t see when you were engaged.
Ann: Oh, it’s the, “I’m wondering…”
Jackie: You’re kind of like, “What in the world?!” If we’re honest, we might be, like Stephana said, “Did I make the right decision, saying, ‘Yes,’ to this?” So that—the DiscoveRING—is an amazing and enlightening stage.
Ann: And you’re saying that’s a normal phase?
Jackie: It is!
Stephana: Yes; I think most of us show up in marriage with our best representative in the dating phase. And then, as you get comfortable, and you begin to recognize who you have for life, [Laughter] you begin to question: “Had I known this, what would I have said?”
Bob: Here’s what I think happens: we come into marriage with an incomplete picture of the other person.
Bob: We know certain things; and the things we know, we really like. The things we don’t know yet—I mean, you can’t know somebody fully in the engagement or even in the early years of marriage—these things that we don’t know yet about the other person, we fill in the blanks with what we assume is the best:—
Ann: That’s so true.
Bob: —“Oh, I’m sure you’re going to act this way,” “I’m sure you’re going to think this way,” “I’m sure this is going to be how you…” And then, you get into marriage and go, “Oh! It’s not the way I expected you to be.”
Bob: That’s the DiscoveRING phase, where we go, “You’re different than I thought you were going to be. I expected that, if this ever happened, you would do this rather than that.”
Ann: And I know that, when we were engaged, I really thought, “We’ve been so purposeful; we have shared everything with each other! I know you inside and out.” But do any of us really know each other, inside and out, until we’ve lived with one another for a while?
Ann: Because, of course, you’re going to see things. Dave and I have used, as an illustration, that we stand with one another as we’re speaking. We just have all of these suitcases lined up. We think that we’ve unloaded all of the suitcases, but there are so many that are hidden. You can’t get to those that are hidden. It’s not that you’re purposely hiding them.
Ann: You’re just not aware of it until that other person makes you bring it out. [Laugher]
Stephana: That’s so true!
Ann: And they can see/the worst side of you can come out.
Stephana: So true!
Jackie: Yes; and I would say, too, even things that were really good at the beginning: a friend says it like this: “What was once appealing can become appalling.” Some of those things that you really were attracted to, all of a sudden, it’s like, “Uh, that is kind of annoying right now.”
Jackie: I know, Stephana, you talk a lot about the way I organize things and all that.
Jackie: It looked great as an attractive bachelor. But then, when I was in marriage, it was like, “Everything doesn’t always have to be clean all the time!”
Ann: So he’s a cleanie; is that what you’re saying?
Stephana: He’s a—I remember saying to him, “I never have met a person who has more pet peeves,”—[Laughter]—everything is a pet peeve. [Laughter]
Ann: But earlier, you thought what?
Stephana: I loved it! His car always smelled good. It was organized; there was a place for everything in the car. It was great!
Ann: I was like that with Dave. I was like, “You are so laid back. It’s amazing! I am intense; I’m high strung, and you just make me chill more.”
Ann: And then, we got married—
Dave: And then it became—
Ann: —“You are so passive! [Laughter] You need to get up and go!” Yes, it’s weird.
Bob: Well, here’s the principle there: Every strength—
Bob: —that gets overused becomes a weakness.
Stephana: So good.
Bob: And in the same way, I think it’s good for husbands and wives to recognize: that thing that you see in your spouse that you would go, “That’s a weakness,” there is a hidden strength there that’s being overused.
Mary Ann has high standards about things; that’s a strength.
Bob: When she overuses it, she develops a critical spirit; that’s a weakness. Dave is relaxed and easy-going; that’s a strength. When he overuses it, it’s passivity. Every strength has a corresponding weakness when it’s overused.
What happens in marriage is—those strengths that we were attracted to—we start to see them up close, more regularly, or they get overused, and we go, “No, I wanted not that much salt in the stew. I wanted a little less of that.”
Ann: Well, here’s—I would take it to the next step, Bob—I would think, “It’s my job to help you be better at that! Because it’s super-annoying, so I’m going to help you not be super-annoying.” [Laughter]
Dave: And that’s the question—
Dave: —you bring it up in your book: “Should we try to change our spouse?” Because, when we start to see those, that’s our first thought—you know—“I just called to say, ‘I’m going to change you.’”
Dave: Is that a good move?
Stephana: I definitely think it’s not! We’re not going to change that adult person that we married. I think it’s more an opportunity for us to grow and to recognize that the Lord made him just the way He made him. If I can see those things in him as strengths, then I will be better off.
Ann: Stephana, how did you do that? Because you talked about that really bothering you, so what changed?
Stephana: It was really prayer—it was time with the Lord, honestly—just asking Him to see myself first. You know, that I not always see flaws in him; because I’m not perfect, and I know that. So asking the Lord to help me to have grace in my relationship with him.
Jackie: Yes; and that’s one of the beauties of the DiscoveRING as well: we kind of, accidentally, find out some of these things; but we also find out things about ourselves.
Going back to the foundation, and relying on Christ in prayer, He will start to reveal you when you’re starting to want your spouse to be changed to line up with your idea of what they’re supposed to do or not do. This is one thing that we get couples to do. We want you to be intentional about that DiscoveRING.
If you’re just going in—and early on, it’s accidental; but then, okay—because we’re just growing. We’re going to change over five, ten, fifteen years of marriage, individually; but how do you become intentional about continuing to grow closer and learn who your spouse is? Stephana’s not the same person that I married in 2001; I’m definitely not the same person. We try to figure out: “How do we continue to learn that? What are the habits that we can do to continue to figure it out; so we don’t drift apart and say, ‘You know, we kind of grew apart. I don’t really know him,’/‘I don’t really know her’?” That becomes something that we didn’t intentionally do.
Ann: Stephana, talk to the wife, who has been diligently praying for her spouse. Her husband has no desire to really work on their marriage; he thinks he’s fine. She just keeps going/she keeps pursuing Jesus. How would you encourage her?
Stephana: Well, I think the first thing I would do is acknowledge it’s tough. It’s not an easy thing to do; but if we will surrender all of what we’re dealing with to the Lord, He will give you the grace to walk through that. I just remember a season, where He gave me a Scripture; and I literally wrote it on a notecard so that I could put it on my dashboard/so that I could put it over the sink. Wherever I frequently was spending my time, I would see that reminder to me. It was Galatians 6:9; it said: “Do not grow weary in well doing, for at the proper time, you’ll reap a harvest if you do not give up.”
In that season, that was just a great reminder that He sees me. Regardless of what is happening between Jackie and me, the Lord has not forgotten me; and I need to continue to spend my time knowing that and reminding myself with that.
Jackie: Yes, she literally had it engraved on her iPad®. So when she says she had it everywhere/everywhere she could put it, she had it. I saw it; everybody saw it. I know, for a fact, in that season and all seasons, it kind of pushed her through as she continued to deal with whatever we’ve gone through in marriage.
Dave: And it is interesting—I just had this thought—we often say that we can’t change our spouse; God does that.
Dave: I still 100 percent agree with that! But at the same time, as you’re discovering things about yourself and about your spouse, God wants to use us as a vehicle or an instrument to help our spouse become like Christ.
Dave: Like when I was sitting on the couch, watching something; Ann’s in the kitchen. I was watching something that her brother and I have a common relationship with a person that was playing in this game/this sports game. Ann says to me, “Hey, you should call my brother, Jim, and talk to him about this at half-time; because Jim would love to hear what you’re talking about.”
Now, I’ve got to be honest! If she had said that to me 20 years ago, I would be like, “What are you telling me to do? Why are you telling me to call somebody?!” But she has believed in me for so many years, and spoken life to me—
Dave: —and trusted me, and loved me, that when she said it, it wasn’t a condemnation. It was an idea—
Ann: —like, “This will be fun.”
Dave: that made me want to go, “She’s right!” In some ways, I look and I go, “I’m changed!” God did this, but she did it; because she spoke enough life and belief into me that I didn’t see it as a harsh word anymore, like, “I hate how you don’t think this way.” It was like an encouragement.
I pick up the phone, and he’s like, “Whaaat?! I can’t believe you called me! I’m loving talking to you about this!” I would have never done it without that little bit of prodding. I thought, “You know, God does use our spouse to change us if we do it in a way that is received by our spouse.”
Stephana: Right; yes.
Bob: If you’re talking to a couple, in the DiscoveRING phase of marriage, and they’re discovering things, where they go: “This is not what I hoped for,” “This is not what I expected”; what’s their best strategy in that phase of marriage? How do you get through that? Do you just keep your mouth shut, and pray, and put the Scriptures all over your house?—or do you confront things? What do you do?
Stephana: I think it starts with a conversation with your spouse, recognizing that, first of all, you’re on the same team. You’re not trying to hurt them.
Ann: Do you say that?
Stephana: I think you do; I think you do. You have to have that safe place to have conversations that may be more difficult. We call it: “Speaking the truth in love.” You might even quote that/say, “I need to have a moment to speak the truth in love to you,” so that that can be prefaced and received. But I do think you have to have those conversations and be able to say, “You’re not perfect; I still love you.”
Jackie: Yes; right. There’s an illustration a pastor counseled us with that kind of helps you get a perspective on what’s happening. I think that’s one thing that we’ll tell couples is: “Okay, here’s the perspective.” It uses a hammer and a chisel as the illustration. He’s making a sculpture; there’s a guy who’s creating something. God is wielding the hammer. Sometimes, you are the chisel; and sometimes, you are the hammer.
If I’m the hammer, God is going to use me to hit Stephana, as the chisel, to make this thing He’s trying to create in us together/this marriage. And then, sometimes, it flip-flops; she’s the hammer. God’s still wielding it. He uses both of us to create something greater in marriage that we would have no idea [of], but it hurts sometimes; it’s painful!
If you’re the hammer, even though you’re hitting, you’re still getting some pain/you’re getting some contact. When you’re the chisel, definitely, you’re getting hit by something hard every single time. It’s like, “This is uncomfortable, Lord!”
Ann: That sounds terrible!
Jackie: It does! [Laughter] It does. [Laughter]
Ann: And it is hard sometimes; isn’t it?
Jackie: It is hard.
Bob: But the outcome—
Ann: Yes, is beautiful.
Bob: —which is what you’re aiming for. You’ve got to recognize, “We’re aiming for something that is bigger and more beautiful; so yes, we’re going to go through some painful periods.”
Bob: But doesn’t the Bible tell us that suffering produces character?—
Bob: —that when we press through these—I’ve never forgotten somebody we had on FamilyLife Today,years ago, who said, in the state of Oklahoma, they had done some surveys. They went to people, who had filed for divorce, but had not gone through with it. In every state, there are people who file—
Bob: —and for whatever reason, don’t go through with it. They went to these people, at least five years after they had filed, and they said to them, “Today, how would you rate your marriage, on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the best ever and 1 being terrible?” And 83 percent of the people, who had filed for divorce five years or more earlier, said, “Our marriage is a 4 or a 5.”
Bob: The couples, who had persevered through the hard times—this is, really, you go from the DiscoveRING phase to the PerseveRING phase. It’s the couples who persevere in the hard times—who get through them/get out on the other side—and say, “We’re in a better place—we’ve grown; we’ve learned—the hammer and the chisel did its work. We’ve got something more beautiful and more glorious here.” Oftentimes, it’s just couples saying, “Okay, let’s get through this together,” and there can be glory on the other side of this.
Ann: I think all of us would agree: “Our marriage looks nothing like it did at the beginning.”
Ann: Aren’t you guys—wouldn’t you say the same?
Ann: And it has been through those hard moments of the chisel and the hammer that has formed something beautiful.
Bob: And aren’t we glad?—
Bob: —that our marriage doesn’t look like it did in the early years; right?
Ann: Yes; we may not be glad in the moment—
Ann: —but man! I’m so thankful that God can use those tough times to shape us.
Bob: Yes, yes; I’ve shared this before; but there was a season in our marriage, early on—we’d been married for five years—for a variety of circumstances, we were living in a new city in a house that—I’d bought this house that Mary Ann had never seen before—it was just/it was not a good season. She was pregnant with our second child; she’s depressed.
I’m coming home at night and wishing I didn’t have to come home at night. I’d been at work all day; I come home: she’s miserable; she’s unhappy. I remember there was a night I was out in the backyard, talking to God—and just kicking the dirt—and going, “I am not going to get a divorce, because I can’t—and I won’t, and I shouldn’t—but I understand why people want to.”
Bob: To be in that place, where you go, “I don’t want to be here. This moment is not pleasant.” Now, I can look back on that, having been married, coming up on 42 years, and go, “Was that hard?”—yes. “Did God work through that?”—absolutely! “Am I glad we’re together today?”—for a million reasons, I am! “Did I feel that way in the backyard?”—no! I just thought, “I want this moment to stop, because this is unpleasant.”
And that’s—again, we’re back to the enduring in hardships—which once you discover: “Oh, it’s not going to be the way I thought it was going to be,”—then there are going to be some things you’ve got to endure, but perseverance pays off.”
Ann: You know, as we’re talking, I’m thinking, “Oh! I would love every engaged couple to hear this conversation!” Wouldn’t you?
Stephana: Yes, yes.
Ann: Because this is the reality. It’s not going to be easy—it’s not, maybe, what you think it will be: “Oh, this is wonderful; and I’m always going to love you,”—but it’s more beautiful.
Ann: And it’s the reality of marriage.
Stephana: Yes; I think that is what our hope is—that couples will see that there are more rings—that they can be filled with hope/that they can go through the hard rings and get to other rings. I think that’s the point: we didn’t realize that there’s more to this. We just thought, “This is where we’re going to be.” And also, that we were the weird couple going through this, like, “We’re the only ones.”
Jackie: Yes; “We’re the only crazy couple who experiences this type of stuff.” [Laughter]
Bob: Whenever we’re doing premarital counseling, I will say to couples, “Now, it’s going to be hard.” And Mary Ann will say, “It’s going to be great!” [Laughter] And I will say, “Yes; it’s going to be great, and it’s going to be hard.” And she’ll say, “But it’s going to be great!”
Bob: And both are true.
Stephana: It’s true.
Jackie: Yes, yes.
Bob: We want couples to understand: “There’s real greatness and joy; you will love being married. And there’s going to be some hard stuff/maybe some of the hardest stuff you’ve ever faced as a human being.”
Dave: Yes; I know that there’s a Christmas movie I want to watch every year. Ann, what is it?—she never wants to watch it—
Ann: No, I do like it; it’s called The Family Man.
Dave: —The Family Man with Nicholas Cage.
Jackie: Oh, yes!
Dave: And I’m not recommending it—there are some things in there I would not recommend—but it hits my heart. Again, the whole gist of the thing is: you have Nicholas Cage, this single man, who’s living the life in New York. He’s got the cars, and the penthouse suite, and women, and money, and a big corporation. It’s a glimpse/the whole movie is like: “This is what might have happened if you had married your college sweetheart.”
Dave: But they didn’t, so they give him this glimpse that he’s married with two kids and a little house in New Jersey. By the end of the movie, he’s like, “This is what I missed!”
Dave: Every time I watch it, I tear up; because I think of my mom and dad. You know, it’s like they walked away from that; and I was the son.
Dave: I think it hits me probably stronger than most, because it’s like I think couples lose the vision of what it can be if they hold on/—
Dave: —persevere, and they fight for their marriage; there’s something that is beautiful. Again, it’s hard!
Jackie: That’s right.
Dave: It’s really hard, and it never gets not hard. It’s always going to be difficult, but to keep that vision that there’s something worth fighting for: “I’m not going to walk away. I’m going to hang in here.
Dave: “I’m going to keep the wedding ring on.
Dave: “And I’m going to fight for it, because there’s something beautiful that I can’t even see yet; but if I hold on…”
And Ann and I are there; I think we all are. It’s like we’re living The Family Man vision.
Dave: We’ve got a glimpse: “It’s real, and it’s worth fighting for.”
Ann: And I think, Dave, the key, too, is holding onto Jesus. I mean, we’re holding onto Him as we’re holding onto one another. I think that’s the key.
Bob: You’re making me think of Andrew Peterson, who wrote a song called Family Man. He says: “I’m a family man; traded in my Mustang for a mini-van. This is not what I was headed for when I began. This was not my plan, but it’s so much better than.”
Stephana: That’s good; that’s true.
Bob: That’s the vision you guys cast in the book, The 7 Rings of Marriage. We’re making that book available to our listeners this week. Any FamilyLife Today listener, who can pitch in to help with the ongoing costs of producing and syndicating this daily program—keeping our website up and operating, all of the resources we produce, the events that we host—you make all of that possible when you say, “I like what FamilyLife® is doing, and I want to see it continue. I think this is important for me, for my family, for our community.”
If you can say, “Amen,” to that, then go on our website today and make a donation; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate to the ministry. Ask for a copy of Jackie and Stephana Bledsoe’s book, The 7 Rings of Marriage: Your Model for a Lasting and Fulfilling Marriage. It’s our thank-you gift when you donate today. Again, you can donate,online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to donate at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
By the way, thanks to those of you who get in touch with us and who donate. We really do appreciate hearing from you. It’s always nice to hear about how God is using FamilyLife Today in your life, in your marriage, in your family. Thank you for sharing that with us when you get in touch with us.
Now, I want to remind you about an event that we have coming up about three-and-a-half weeks from now. On April 24th—on a Saturday—it’s the 2021 Blended & Blessed®event, hosted by Ron Deal. It’s for couples: who are in blended marriages/blended families, or maybe you know somebody who is, maybe you have a ministry at your church to blended couples, you have a heart for helping blended couples. This event is a one-day online event to talk about how we can help strengthen the marriages and families of blended couples in our world.
There’s more information about this one-day livestream event. It’s taking place, again, on Saturday, April 24th. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to find out more. If you’re in a blended family, or know someone who is, pass this information along to them; plan to join us on the 24th for the one-day Blended & Blessed event.
And be sure to be with us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to talk about the outer rings of marriage—about the phase we should all be aspiring to—the stage of marriage, where we are ProspeRING and where we are MentoRING others. We’re going to hear more, tomorrow, from Jackie and Stephana Bledsoe. I hope you can be with us as well.
Thanks today to our engineer, Keith Lynch. We got some extra help from Bruce Goff, again, today and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We we’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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