Why Spiritual Health Matters for your Marriage
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Dave and Ashley WillisDave and Ashley Willis spent thirteen years in full-time church ministry before joining the XO Marriage team to build stronger, Christ-centered marriages. With XO Marriage―the largest marriage-focused ministry in the world―their books, blogs, podcasts, speaking events, and media resources have reached millions of couples worldwide. Dave and Ashley speak at all XO events, host The Naked Marriage Podcast and regularly create new marriage resources. They also co-host the MarriageToday broadcast...more
Like physical health, your marriage’s spiritual health determines resilience & strength for what hurtles your way. Authors Dave & Ashley Willis cheer you on.
Why Spiritual Health Matters for your Marriage
Dave: I remember sitting, two weeks before our wedding, in the Chicago ballroom, downtown Chicago, at the FamilyLife®Weekend to Remember®—engaged; listening to the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, talk about how important the spiritual part of your marriage is—do you remember?
Ann: Oh, yes. I thought, “Dennis Rainey is the most remarkable speaker. This conference is amazing.”
Dave: You know what I remember?—is from that day on, you wanted me to be Dennis Rainey; that’s what I remember. [Laughter]
Ann: I totally did.
Dave: It started right then and there.
Ann: Yes, that is when it started.
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 FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Again, 14 days from [then] we’re getting married; and I remember thinking, “Oh, the spiritual part of our marriage—
Ann: “We’ve got this.”
Dave: —will be the easiest.
Dave: “It won’t even be something you have to work at.”
Ann: “We love Jesus; it’s so natural.”
Dave: And then we got married.
Ann: And what happened?
Dave: I had no idea, number one, how hard marriage would be; number two, how hard it would be to connect together spiritually. It was really a struggle for me.
Here we are—41 years later—and I’m/it’s still a struggle in some ways.
Ann: I think/I really think that I judged your spiritual walk, and I had expectations that you were going to be Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine. [Laughter] I was like, “Wait; what is happening right now?” I was always thinking: “Oh, you should do this,” and “You should do that.” I feel like it was more me than anybody.
Dave: Oh, good; I’m going to blame you then too.
Ann: You can!
Dave: I think it was all you; no! I mean, the conference was phenomenal.
I will say this: the conferences are still going on. FamilyLife’s still does the Weekend to Remember—
Ann: Yes, we’re on for this spring.
Dave: —over 40 years. This spring we have 60 booked, which is amazing after we got through COVID. Here’s the good news: you can go to one of our spring conferences for 50 percent off.
Ann: Okay, you guys; did you hear that?
Dave: That’s a two-for-one deal.
Ann: Your registration will be half off; that’s remarkable.
Dave: What’s really cool is you can pick any city you want—there’s probably one near you, or if you want to go to a destination—it’s Friday night through Sunday morning. Again, we went as an engaged couple; so you can go as a dating/engaged couple; you can go as newlyweds; you can go as couples/be there, 30/40 years married. It will literally—
Dave: —maybe save your marriage; if not, I guarantee it will enhance your marriage.
Ann: —two-and-a-half days; we’ve had people actually hand us their divorce papers at the conference, saying they came as a last-ditch effort; and this changed their lives. It’s pretty remarkable of how God shows up and you hear God’s game plan for marriage.
Dave: So go to FamilyLifeToday.com. You can sign up there or call FamilyLife: 1-800-FL-TODAY. I’m telling you: it will be one of the best things you ever do.
Another best thing you’ll ever do is listen to this show today—
Ann: That’s right. [Laughter]
Dave: —because we’ve got Dave and Ashley Willis back with us again. Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Ashley: Thank you all.
Dave Willis: Thank you.
Ann: You’re/how many years have you been married?
Dave Willis: Twenty.
Ashley: Twenty years, yes.
Ann: And you’ve written like 25 books? I don’t even know what’s happening right now. [Laughter]
Dave Willis: I don’t know.
Dave: And you’ve got four sons.
Ann: You have a podcast—
Dave: —called Naked Marriage.
Dave: We’ve already described Naked Marriage does not mean you sit in a room, naked; it is all about vulnerability and naked understanding. It’s just beautiful.
This book, Naked and Healthy, first of all, we’ve talked about it a little bit. How did you even come up with the idea of “healthy”? Because you’re talking about mental health; you’re talking about spiritual health and physical health. Today, we get to talk about the spiritual part. But where even did the concept come?
Ashley: We just, in the couples that we worked with over the many years we’ve done marriage ministry, we just saw this tendency of couples, not having health in all of those areas, and how really both the husband and wife are individuals, who have their individual health; but also, it affects the marriage collectively.
When one of us is struggling with mental health, it’s going to affect the other. When one of us is really not feeling good physically, it’s going to affect the other. Sometimes you both are dealing with those things; sometimes you both are having mental health or physical issues.
We just wanted to talk about: “What does it look like in us, individually, striving towards better health; but also, in our marriage, having a healthier marriage? How do we navigate that?” Because sometimes, when we’re not on the same page on our health journey, it can cause a lot of fights. We talk about that: we talk about how you can grow healthier physically, mentally and spiritually as an individual; but also, how, in that journey, you can also grow stronger in your marriage.
Dave: Let’s talk about the spiritual; because I know a lot of couples probably feel like: “We’re in different places. We’re not compatible, spiritually. We may be in physically, and mentally, and emotionally; but this area, there’s a little gap or a disconnect.” What do you say?
Obviously, we’ve already said, it’s a really important part of your marriage. But what do you say to a couple, who feels like, “I’m not able to connect on the same level or a different level than my spouse”?
Dave Willis: I would say, first off, it’s really worth the effort. Our culture’s given us this myth that, as long as you’ve got chemistry/as long as there’s physical connection, then that’s all you really need. That alone is the recipe for a terrible relationship.
Ann: They would probably say, “And if you have a spiritual [connection, then] that’s just a great bonus.”
Dave Willis: Yes.
Ann: It’s not at the forefront of their thinking.
Dave Willis: It’s not. But really, it needs to be the foundational part. Of the three, it’s the most important. Jesus tells the parable of the storm coming, and “Where’s your life built?” You’ve got to build your life on the rock. If you don’t have that foundation, the storms of life are going to blow you over.
Within marriage, it’s building that house together on the rock—which is your faith in God/His Word—being unified in that, because storms of life are going to come. Sadly, a lot of couples don’t realize how spiritually disconnected they are until a storm comes along, and really knocks them off the foundation. They realize, “I thought we were just doing pretty good; but we were on autopilot, and the spiritual aspect of our lives—our faith in Christ/our being rooted together in Him—had just not been a priority.”
Ann: I’m going to read that Scripture, because it’s one of our favorites.
Dave Willis: Yes, read it; read it.
Ann: We just love this. It’s at the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7. It says this:
Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it
You guys, I want you to talk through that. You’ve already been doing it, Dave; but walk us through the importance and how you’ve probably seen so many houses fall, over the years of ministry in marriage.
Ashley: Right, and I think—you know, we always say, too, when your house—you can have all the those winds hitting your house, and it can even crumble on the rock; but the rock’s there to support you. I think, even in our health journeys, we can feel that. We can be like: “Man, it’s another diagnosis,” or “It’s another thing with my mental illness is flaring up again; I’m having those anxiety attacks again,” or whatever it is.
I think, even when we go through that, when we have a spiritual health in our life—when we’re building our house, so to speak, on the truth of God’s Word and our relationship with Him—we can get through anything. We really can.
I think a lot of times, where the spiritual aspect really comes to light—it’s one of the big ones is when we’re going through troubles—but also, I find this, when couples have children, because they’re not sure what role faith is going to play in raising those children. So many times, couples reach out to us, and they’ll say, “I know I definitely/I kind of strayed away from the church for a while; but I really want to come back to the Lord, and I want to raise our children in the church. But my husband” or “…my wife is saying, ‘Well, just you and the kids go.’”
Ashley: It really grieves the spouse’s heart, who’s going to church; and the spouse at home is like, “You’re weird. I don’t even want to do that. I was raised like that. It didn’t seem real to me; I don’t want any part of it.” So you start to see that conflict rise there.
The reason we wrote this book about health, and especially about the spiritual side of it, is that it really is, I believe, the most important aspect of our health. Because again, it’s the thing that can get us through all those other times when we’re having trouble in the other areas.
When you’re going through this, I think it’s really important to just talk openly and honestly about really where you are in your spiritual journey; and don’t be afraid. You’ve got to get naked, so to speak, and be vulnerable about it. If you are doubting God, don’t be afraid to go to your spouse and say, “Listen, I long to feel the way you do about the Lord, but this thing happened to me…” or “I’ve just had these doubts, and I don’t know what to do with them; so let’s talk through that.” I think that’s where you start to see couples really get a better understanding of each other; but also, really kind of grow in the Lord when they can be that honest.
Dave: Let me ask you this: “If you’re the spouse that’s going to church, or wanting to pursue a spiritual walk, and your spouse isn’t, how do you talk about it? Maybe they’re adamant; like, ‘You go. It’s not my thing; it’s never going to be my thing’?” Maybe you started the marriage thinking that: “We were going to be somewhat compatible here”; but you realize: “Wow, we’re not.” How do you navigate that?
Dave Willis: We get a lot of those messages. If you’re listening, and you’re in that dynamic, we pray for you; because I think that can be such a lonely place, when you’re the believing spouse, and you feel like you’re trying carry that alone—and the most important part of your life—your faith in Christ isn’t something that your spouse will share with you. It’s so hard to have complete intimacy when the most important part of your life is something that they’re not willing to participate in.
The Bible gives us some good practical instruction on here in Paul’s writings in the New Testament. To kind of summarize what he says, it’s to keep loving them; to try to win them over with your good deeds [1 Peter 3:1]. Nowhere in there does it say: “Beat them over the head,” “Preach at them,” “Tell them that they’re terrible,” “Guilt them into it.”
But it’s: “Love them,” “Serve them,” “Be kind to them,” “Let them know you’re praying for them,” “Let them see through you’re an authentic, but imperfect, example”—because none of us are perfect—but your authentic example that you really believe what you say you believe and you’re doing your part to live it out. Talk about the difference it’s making in your life; and what you’re learning; and how you’re growing; and how you’re praying for them; and how, some day, you’d love to be able to share this with them. But do it in a way that is inviting and that is—the Bible also says be willing to give/to testify to the reason for the hope that you have—but do it with “gentleness and respect.” That’s
1 Peter [3:15] that says that.
Be willing to say what your faith is about, and why you believe what you believe, and why you’re doing what you’re doing; but do it with gentleness and respect—and not that animosity, or anger, or frustration of like—“Well, if you would do it with me, life would be so much easier.”
Be kind and, sometimes, you’re going to have to pray. While you are praying for your spouse, pray, “God, give me the right attitude with my spouse; help me be a reflection of Your love and grace instead of just my own flesh getting in the way and my own frustration getting in the way. Let me really love them the way You love them, Jesus. Let them see that/a glimpse of that through me.”
Ann: I love what Andy Stanley said about this. He said that your spouse should be able to know how much God loves them by the way you treat them.
Dave Willis: Oh, that’s good.
Ann: When I first heard that, I thought, “Wait, wait; what?” And he said “If your spouse has no idea what Jesus is like, they should be able to think, ‘The way my wife’ or ‘…my husband loves me, if Jesus loves me like that, then I want to know Him.’”
But we tend to be, and this is me, I tend to be like, “You should do this, and you should be getting in the Word.” And I’ve done that with our kids, too; especially with teenagers. I remember I was like, “You guys, we should be in the Word, and let’s do this.” It was like I pulled out my ball bat; and I was like [stern voice], “Here’s what we’re doing now!” [Laughter] I realized—they’d have this glazed look in their eye—like, “Here she goes again on her soapbox.”
But then, as I was praying, I felt like God was saying exactly what you’re saying, Dave: “Show them; show them how much you love Jesus. Don’t tell them what they should do. Let them see it in your own life.” So I just started saying at the dinner table, naturally/it wasn’t contrived, like, “Let me tell you what God’s showing me today. Let me tell you about how I was in the grocery store, and I paid for this lady’s groceries today; because I felt God say that I should.”
Dave: She does that all the time. [Laughter]
Ashley: I love it.
Ann: But I’ll have these stories of these God encounters. That’s when I remember our kids were like, “What did you do?”—like—“Are you crazy, Mom?” Like I’d stop on the side of the road for somebody that needed help if it was a woman, or things that I felt like God was stirring in me—not to condemn or to think, “Oh, she’s so amazing,”—because I also shared my struggles.
I think, too, as a couple, to talk about your faith journeys: “What did your faith look like, growing up? How did you come to believe or not believe? What happened in your life?” I think that reveals a lot. Do you guys/have you found that too?
Dave Willis: Yes.
Ashely: Absolutely, and it’s about that vulnerability—being willing to talk about it, but not judging each other—because, a lot of times, we do come from very different backgrounds.
I’ll just say ours: Dave grew up in a home, where he went to church every Sunday; probably a lot of Wednesdays; was heavily involved in his youth group. And I grew up in a home that I would consider faith-friendly, but not necessarily a Christian home. We were CEOs; we’d go Christmas and Easter Only.
Ann: That was me; yes, our family.
Ashley: Yes, but it was friendly. I mean, I could talk about God. Once I came to the faith, at twelve years old, I’m grateful I had parents who would drop me off at church to go to youth group.
You know, the way that my parents—and I want to say this to anybody, listening, too, who has a spouse, who doesn’t yet believe in Jesus—if you are bringing your kids to church, and they get involved in things at church, it’s a great opportunity for your spouse to go and to see what God is doing in your child’s life. You never know if that’s going to actually bring them closer to the Lord. That’s actually what happened with my parents and, also, many of my friends’ parents—is they would come—and they would see me sing in the show choir at church, or they would come and help me volunteer for whatever activity we were doing. Don’t count God out on them.
I think we’re thinking, “We’re the ones; it’s our responsibility.” We do play a role; but God loves them more than we even love them, so just pray for them and know that God is who started that good work in them/that little seed. You’re a big part of that little seed; He’s going to continue to work in them.
I love what you said, Ann. I think making faith and following Jesus as real, and just real right before their eyes, and not using Christian-ese—like a language they don’t understand that they’re like, “That’s weird; they’re part of a cult,”—just being very real and talking about what God is doing in your life. It shows them/it kind of is giving them that little: “Taste and see that the Lord is good,”—and just pointing it out—like: “See what God has done; I was praying for that for us,” “That financial breakthrough; I’ve been praying for that. You heard me pray for that.” Just pointing it out and saying, “God is with us,”—not being weird about it—but just saying, “Look, God’s working,” and then leave it there; because God’s going to do the rest.
Dave: Talk about your spiritual relationship in your marriage; because I know there’s couples listening, like, “We are both believers. We do go to church together; but sometimes we struggle to connect as a couple, spiritually.” We call it in our Vertical Marriage book, “Going vertical.” How do you guys do that?
Dave Willis: There is something really intimate about praying together. Couples, who aren’t doing that, I feel like they’re missing out.
I was reminded about this—how intimate it can be—my parents right now, who are kind of faith heroes of mine, and heroes for a lot of ways/a lot of reasons. You know, my dad’s been through just a terrible year-and-a-half—he had a near-death heart incident; and then he had a cancer diagnosis, and he had to deal with that; and then, right out of that, he had a staph infection in his knee that basically has crippled him for the last year, where he has been in terrible pain. He hasn’t been able to walk, and it’s just been a really painful process to get that under control. He’s finally coming out of it.
But in kind of the worst part of it—where he was in this agonizing pain, and he’d be laying on the couch, and he’d had whatever pain medication he could have for the day, and there was nothing else he could do, and he’s just in agony—I would hear stories from him and mom about them, just holding hands, and with tears in both their eyes, them just praying these heart-felt passionate prayers together for God’s strength. Them talking about those moments now, as painful as they were, some of the most intimate moments of any kind they’ve ever shared in their marriage.
I feel like, when a couple will bring whatever they’re facing to God—the gratitude in their heart for what’s going on; or the gut-wrenching pain of: “We don’t even have the words, Lord. But just we’re going to hold hands and cry out together and call out to You,”—sharing that, in faith, and knowing that Jesus is right there with you in the midst of it, it’s going to do wonders. It’s going to take probably one spouse—
Dave Willis: —initiating.
Dave Willis: If you’re the spouse [who] maybe is a little bit more comfortable in that area, then be the one to initiate. And then just be so supportive of your spouse in that journey as they pray, like, encourage them; and just talk about what it meant to you to hear them talk to God; and how it brought you closer to the Lord in that moment, and closer to your spouse too. Really encourage them in that, and build that up, instead of making your spouse feel bad for not praying as much as you or whatever. Build each other up, and those moments can be really special.
Ann: I think, too, for women—I know that I went through a phase of being bitter that Dave wasn’t initiating—and then I would think, “Oh, well, he’s the leader; he’s supposed to initiate prayer.” Who wins in that?—like Satan has just won. I wouldn’t pray; and Dave wouldn’t pray; because he’s asleep, feeling great about everything; and I’m sitting over there, feeling bitter about the whole thing.
Instead of doing that, I remember, as I was complaining to God—like, “There He fell asleep, and we were supposed to pray,”—I remember God just nudging me, like, “Why don’t you just pray? He fell asleep; go ahead and pray.” I’d feel like, “Oh, yes; God got that victory,” because I’d just put my hand on Dave; prayed out loud. He didn’t mean to fall asleep; you know, he just fell asleep.
I think it’s really important that, if God presses it on your heart, just initiate. And if you have a spouse [who’s] not a praying kind of person—maybe they don’t even have faith—still, there is something so sweet about your spouse putting their hand on your shoulder at night, saying, “Jesus, thank You for my spouse. Thank You that he’s a good man,” or “…she’s a great wife,” or whatever. You’re praying positive words over them.
Dave Willis: Yes, yes.
Ann: That just does something to melt the heart and make you responsive to God, because God is always loving us.
Dave: Yes; I was thinking, you know, where we started was Matthew 7. It’s really interesting, when you look at that passage and think, “Okay, what did Jesus say the wise man does compared to the fool?” I’ve read it at church over times and tried to see if people notice I took something out; nobody ever notices. I’ll say something like this, “Matthew 7 is amazing; it says ‘Everyone who hears these words of Mine is like a wise man who built his house on the rock,’ and nobody realizes that’s not what He said.
Dave Willis: You have to put it into practice.
Dave: He said, “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does them or puts them into practice,”—that’s the difference. Because I think we think the spiritual part of our marriage is: “Go to church; get in a small group,”—which, obviously, is awesome; it’s wonderful—but then, we’re like, “Okay, that’s it; we’ve got the spiritual thing. We go to church once a month,” or “…twice; we’ve got the kids in the kids’ program,”—never thinking—“Wait, wait, wait; wisdom is I’m going to apply what—I’m not a hearer—I’m a doer.”
Everything you are talking about right now is like: “No, let’s put this into practice. Let’s pray together,” “Let’s not talk about it/not listen to it; let’s do it.”
Dave, you said, in a previous program, “Start today.” I remember you saying, “Start today.” I thought, “What a great word,” because there’s a couple listening right now, who’s, “Okay, I’ll start that next month.” No;—
Dave Willis: —start today.
Dave: —today. Maybe it would be the first time you ever prayed with your spouse to go vertical/to bring the spiritual part. And there’s a husband, I know, going, “But I don’t really even pray out loud. I don’t know how to pray.” I’ve said many times: “Here’s a prayer. Grab her hand and say, ‘Help! Amen.’” [Laughter]
Ashley: Yes, there you go.
Dave: You sort of think, “Well, that’s not a prayer.” Oh, yes; we know that Jesus is rushing to any husband or wife, who pray, “We need Your help.”
Dave: And that prayer will grow. It will morph into something maybe longer, and who cares if it does or doesn’t. But that’s just laying a foundation to say, “Let’s just start there.”
I got to say this: thank you, you guys; the last three programs with you are going to help so many people. You’ve already helped us. Thanks for being on FamilyLife. It’s great to have you here.
Ashley: It’s our honor to be here.
Dave Willis: Thank you, guys. Thanks for what you’re doing. We love it.
Bob: I have talked to so many couples, over the years, who neglect or minimize the issue of spiritual intimacy in their marriage; and then, when they start to experience marriage struggles or challenges, they’re baffled, “How could things have gone wrong in our marriage?”
I often point back to this issue of spiritual intimacy as the strong foundation that is poured in a healthy marriage that helps the marriage weather all kinds of storms. In fact, it goes back to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “If you build your house on a rock”—you build your marriage on a spiritual foundation—“then, when the storms come, your house will stand.”
Dave and Ashley Willis have been our guests this week, talking with Dave and Ann Wilson about the issue of spiritual intimacy, physical intimacy, emotional intimacy in marriage. The book they’ve written is called Naked and Healthy. It’s a book we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can find out more online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Order a copy from us if you’d like, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy. Again, the book is called Naked and Healthy by Dave and Ashley Willis.
And then don’t forget, this week is your last opportunity to sign up for one of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways and save 50 percent off the regular registration fee. We’re making this offer available to regular FamilyLife Today listeners this week. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and find out when one of our two-and-a-half-day getaways is coming to a city near where you live. Map out a weekend this spring, where you can join us; and then register now. Again, you’ll save
50 percent off the regular registration fee when you get in touch with us.
There’s more information online at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can register online, as well; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY if you have any questions. Don’t miss this opportunity to do something that will strengthen your marriage and to save a little money at the same time. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and register for a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to explore what it would look like for a husband and wife to be living life on mission together as a couple. David and Meg Robbins will join us. We’ll hear a little of their story. I hope you can tune in for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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