Your Shot at a Happy Marriage
About the Guest
Are some couples just destined to be happier than others? Not really. Shaunti Feldhahn assures couples that happiness is within their reach, especially when they enter the marriage covenant wholeheartedly, resigned to stay committed no matter what.
Shaunti FeldhahnShaunti received her graduate degree from Harvard University and was an analyst on Wall Street before unexpectedly becoming a social researcher, best-selling author and popular speaker. Today, she applies her analytical skills to investigating eye-opening, life-changing truths about relationships, both at home and in the workplace. Her groundbreaking research-based books, such as For Women Only, have sold more than 3 million copies in 25 languages and are widely read in homes, counseling centers...more
Shaunti Feldhahn assures couples that happiness is within their reach, especially when they enter the marriage covenant wholeheartedly, resigned to stay committed no matter what.
Your Shot at a Happy Marriage
Bob: Are you optimistic about where your marriage is headed or pessimistic? Author, Shaunti Feldhahn, says, “Your attitude can make a big difference.”
Shaunti: One of the things I think that is a huge issue for us in our culture is we have this idea that “Because I’m not going to be happy in my marriage—because most marriages are just kind of ‘eh’”—what ends up happening is you hold yourself back a little bit. When things start to go wrong, you start thinking, “I’m not going to make it.” You start feeling really discouraged, and you start feeling this sense of futility, and “Why would I stick this out for an unhappy marriage for the next 40 years?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, July 9th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. There are a lot of people in your neighborhood and your community who are happily married. We’re going to talk about those happily married couples today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know—one of the reasons that we’re excited that we’re going to be gathering with a lot of our friends in Chicago on August 2nd at the Allstate Arena for our I Still Do™ marriage celebration—and at the Moda Center in Portland on August 23rd and at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC, on October 4th—is because it gives us and all of those friends an opportunity to say to their neighbors and everybody else in their city: “We think marriage is important. We think our marriage is important, and we plan for this marriage to go the distance.”
Dennis: “And we stand for marriage as God designed.” I’m going to tell you something—if you haven’t been a part of an arena that has 12/15/18,000 people—there is something electric, Bob, of that many people coming and celebrating marriage.
Then, at the end of the event, we have a very, very special conclusion—actually, kind of a two-fold conclusion—that is just a triple exclamation point to the day— that I don’t think any of our listeners—if they knew what was about to happen in these communities—they’d find a way to get there.
Bob: Well, and the reason I started off talking about that is because, in addition to you and Barbara being there to speak; and Crawford and Karen Loritts being there to speak; and Dr. Al Mohler coming out to speak; and Andrew Peterson doing a concert at midday—
Dennis: Right, we’ve got drama. We’ve got comedians.
Bob: —in addition to all of that—our guest this week is going to be joining us to talk about: “What is the difference between marriages that are working and marriages that aren’t working?”
Dennis: Yes, and Shaunti Feldhahn is going to join us on stage at these events. You excited about it?
Shaunti: Oh, I’m thrilled. I’m honored to be asked.
Dennis: And she has just released a book called The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, which is really the result of a lot of research you’ve done over the past three to four years on what really comprises marriages that are content, satisfied, hopeful marriages that are going the distance.
One of the things you talk about in your book is this theme of commitment, which is what I Still Do is all about. It’s about two people who say: “You know what? We still do. We are—we’re going to stay committed for a lifetime.”
Shaunti: “…and we’re going to affirm that.” Yes, one of the things—I identified 12 of these little things that really seemed to make a huge difference. This is one that really took many marriages from being unhappy to being very happy—very—this sense of “This is the marriage—that God designed it.
“It is as it is supposed to be,” which is the kind of marriage we all want; right?
One of the things that was a very clear success factor is this—as one person put it: “We decided we are going to lock ourselves in the marriage and throw away the key.” There is such—I think, in our culture—this feeling that: “There are so many marriage problems, we have to protect ourselves a little bit,” and, “I have to protect myself a little bit,” and, “I kind of have to hold myself back a little bit, emotionally.” That is actually a death factor—that’s not a success factor. That will kill you and your marriage.
I was talking to one couple that had gone from being very unhappy and very much on the verge of divorce to being one of these highly happy couples I was studying. He said his wife had always been advised by her mom: “You’ve got to have a little bank account on the side. You’ve got to have a little bit just in case he flakes out on you. It’s just—it’s only logical.” I asked him—I said, “What was the impact of that?” He said one word—“Death.”
Everything changed when they said—and they kind of woke up and went: “Whoa! Wait a minute! We’re actually building a wall. We’re actually saying, ‘I don’t trust you,’ and it’s creating, in our marriage, the problem you think you are trying to protect yourself from.” It’s creating that poison. It’s creating the sense that “We can’t really be all-in.”
These couples—that was one of the things that made them so happy—is that they decided to risk their happiness—they decided to risk everything, emotionally, and be all-in—be fully-committed / never say the “d-word” ever again. That kind of thing changes everything.
Dennis: I had to smile, Shaunti, as you were talking about that. You—kind of as you rolled into that, you said, “There are 12 little things that help a marriage be happy and go the distance.” I thought, “This little thing”—it’s called a ring here that I’m wearing—
Shaunti: That’s wonderful.
Dennis: —“This little thing”—
—“is one of the most frequently lost objects in baggage that is checked on the airlines that they find in these suitcases of lost bags”—wedding rings.
Bob: People who take off their ring before they fly and put it in their luggage.
Dennis: Yes, they are going on a business trip, and they are taking off this little thing before they go on the business trip. This little thing—this little reminder, right here, is really what creates the safety—
Dennis: —the walls that create the growth between two imperfect human beings who are going to hurt each other a thousand times in a thousand ways. If you can multiply, that’s a million; okay?—because there are all kinds of ways, unfortunately, that I have hurt Barbara in our 41 years of marriage.
Shaunti: But—and this is what a lot of people need to hear—but I bet there have been millions of ways you’ve blessed each other too.
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Shaunti: There are millions of ways that you guys have built a wonderful relationship. There are so many things that we can celebrate about our marriages and say, “It’s okay to aim for that.” That’s what we want to say here, with this I Still Do thing. If I understanding the theme of it, it’s celebrating this commitment and saying: “I still do because this is wonderful. I’m aiming for this great relationship with you.”
Bob: Well, when we stand up at the altar, we say, “I’m committed, no matter what—sickness, health, rich, poor, better, worse—
Dennis: Yes, we’re saying, “We’re all-in.”
Bob: —“we are all-in on this deal.”
Bob: So, to say, “I still do,” is to say, “I’m reaffirming.”
Dennis: “I’m still in.”
Bob: When we say to one another, “Look, no matter how hard this gets, I’m not going anywhere,” there is a safety. There is a comfort there. There is something that causes us to be able to go:
“Really? You would really go through hardship with me?” That’s a profound kind of love that is a transcendent kind of love; isn’t it?
Shaunti: It is absolutely what makes it. But you know the other thing that I think people need to know is—it’s not all—I love the way one philosopher put it—it’s not all big issues and heart surgery. It’s—there is beauty, and wonder, and delight in the way that God designed marriage to work. It is okay to long for that and say: “I’m having trouble now, but I believe I can get to a happy marriage. I believe that I can get to this place. Yes, it doesn’t give me an excuse to leave if I’m not there”—
Shaunti: —“but absolutely, we’re going to keep working for that because we’re in this for the rest of our lives.”
I love the way some of these happy couples that I interviewed put it. They are like: “If you lock yourself in the marriage, and you throw away the key, and you’re going to stick with your promises, no matter what, you better figure out how do it”—[Laughter]
Shaunti: —“because you want to have a good marriage for the rest of your life—not a bad one.”
Bob: When I’m talking to young couples, who are thinking about marriage—or even when I’m talking to married couples—I’ll often say: “Look, marriage is hard. It takes a lot of work.” Mary Ann will nudge me. She’ll go: “Tell them it’s nice too. I mean—tell people—
Shaunti: Thank you, Mary Ann.
Bob: She’ll go—
Bob: —“remind them it’s fun, and it’s a joy.”
Dennis: Yes, it is a joy. You keep throwing this word around—secrets of a happy marriage. Unpack the word, happy, because there are some who kind of recoil against that—and maybe even others, who would go, “I’m not even sure that’s even possible.”
Shaunti: Yes, it has become a bit of a twitchy factor, I think, especially in the Christian community because—you know, Gary Thomas’s book, Sacred Marriage. The subtitle is so profound: What If God Designed Marriage to Make You Holy More Than to Make You Happy? It gets you thinking—and like, “Maybe we’ve romanticized marriage and you need to stick in with it, even if you’re not happy.”
And yes, absolutely, all that’s true. But when I talk to average people, who have heard that, their shoulders start to slump. They look really depressed. I say, “What is this about this—what’s wrong?” They are like, “Well, you’re making me choose between holiness and happiness.”
I was talking to a counselor. He said he sees people come in, every single day, with the feeling—in their marriage counseling—they’ve got two choices—to get divorced and be happy or stick it out and be miserable. He’s like, “Door number three—
Shaunti: —“How about stick it out and learn how to be happy?” There is—I don’t think there is anything wrong, at all, with saying “The way God designed marriage was for this abundant, wonderful, fulfilling companionship that is delightful.” It is supposed to mirror the relationship between Christ and His church; right? So, that’s supposed to be a wonderful thing. It doesn’t always work out that way. If it doesn’t—if you’re not happy, it’s not an excuse to leave.
But I think we’ve had this knee-jerk reaction in the Christian community that says, “We shouldn’t talk about a happy marriage.” I think people are longing for one.
Dennis: And I would say—not to counter what you said—but just to kind of round it off a little bit—I think you can be happy and holy because—
Dennis: —if you’re holy, you’re operating the way God designed you—
Bob: There’s going to—
Dennis: —to operate.
Bob: There is going to be joy in holiness. I think we do want to differentiate between what may be momentary, circumstantially-driven happiness—you know that “Hey, we’re having a good day because the sun is out, and because the bills are paid, and because you cooked my favorite food for dinner.” But there are also days when the kids are sick, and the bills are piled up, and it’s not a happy day; but we still have joy in our relationship with one another.
Dennis: And I think if Gary Thomas was here—I think what he would say—he’d say: “You know, there’s a lot about happiness that is me-focused.
“What I think God was up to when He called them to be husband and wife—to go the distance and to love each other for a lifetime—was to be reflecting God—
Dennis: —“reflecting His love, His forgiveness, His relationship—Christ and the church—to a lost world.” So, it’s really not, as you said, either/or.
Shaunti: It’s both/and.
Dennis: It really is—I think it is possible to have both/and. It’s a part of what you write about in a book you’ve also recently released called The Good News About Marriage because you kind of unpacked what’s taking place in marriages today, really, as an outflow of this covenant / this promise that we make to one another.
Shaunti: I think one of the biggest problems today—we actually put this on the cover of the book—“The greatest threat to marriage isn’t divorce. It’s discouragement,” because we have this idea—when I go around—because, you know, I’m sort of—I’m a research nerd. I will go up to random people in a coffee shop and ask them questions.
When I go up to a random person in a coffee shop and ask them, “What percentage of marriages do you think are happy?”—now, I’m not asking them if they have a happy marriage. I’m saying—“Just in general, what percentage of marriages do you think are happy?” You know the average number that I hear?
Dennis: Now, be honest.
Dennis: Don’t try play to her—
Shaunti: Now, you’ve read the book. [Laughter]
Bob: No, I’m thinking the average person says, “20 percent.”
Dennis: I was going to say, “25-30.”
Bob: Now, if you’re asking me what number I think, I think that better than 50 percent of marriages are happy marriages.
Shaunti: The average person tells me 30 percent. They are astounded when I tell them the actual average is 80 percent—that 80 percent of marriages are happy.
It makes so much difference for people to know that the norm in marriage is people are enjoying being married and that if you don’t—if you’ve got an unhappy situation right now, one of the other studies we looked at—
It said, “If you will stay married—if you will stick it out for five years—the 80 percent of those people who are the most unhappy in the marriage—just by sticking it out for five years—became the most happy level of marriage.” That is this huge encouragement to say: “Okay, I’m not there right now; and I want to be. Most people can get there. So, I will too.”
Dennis: Okay. So, I’ve got another tough question for you.
Shaunti: Yes, sir.
Dennis: Alright; if 80 percent are happy, why are there 10 million people cohabiting?
Shaunti: Oh, I’ll tell you exactly, right now. I mean, when I’ve interviewed the people who are cohabiting, they are cohabiting because they think they’re not going to be happy in marriage. So, why bother getting married? They assume that most marriages are “eh” kind of miserable—the fire goes out after a few years. So, “Why on earth would I want some of that?”
So, telling them—I’ve seen this reaction from some of these cohabiting people, when I tell them: “You know, that’s actually a myth. Most people are enjoying being married—not everybody—
Shaunti: —“but most.” I can actually tell—it doesn’t necessarily change their decision right then, but it starts the cogs turning. They start seeing happiness around them instead of seeing unhappy people.
Bob: Yes, I mean, here is what it sounds like a cohabiting person is saying: “If we have everything marriage has to offer, without commitment, we’re going to be happier than if we have everything marriage has to offer, plus commitment. Commitment is a saboteur to a marriage relationship.” That just doesn’t make logical sense to me—that, if I know you are committed to me, all of a sudden, my happiness is going to go down.
Shaunti: That is the reason why this myth is so dangerous—because it’s not true—because, once you commit, you become happier. All the statistics have found it. You commit to this person for better, for worse, richer, for poorer, sickness, and health. It changes the dynamic. You become safe. You can risk it all. You can be yourself.
The people who are living together—because they’re so worried about that—usually, those are the relationships that have more of those unhappiness issues. Once they commit, it’s suddenly like, “Why did I wait so long?”
This is amazing how marriage is designed. I think we need to get that message out because one of the biggest problems that you guys fight, every day, here at FamilyLife, is the problems that come from fatherlessness, the problems that come from a lack of family formation, the problems that come—not because marriages form and break up always—but because they never formed to begin with.
Dennis: That’s exactly where I was going. I was going to say there is another benefit to this we’re not talking about. It’s just not about happy marriages. This is about, ultimately, getting your children a picture of what a real relationship looks like and a real commitment that can go the distance and last for a lifetime—
Bob: And that they can feel secure and safe inside of.
Dennis: It’s where morals are learned. It’s where spiritual life can be caught and taught. These are not minor issues. This is the bedrock of what a Christian marriage and family are all about.
Shaunti: And the cool thing is it is not as big of a risk as people think. The true picture of society is that most marriages—when you make that commitment—most marriages are strong and happy for a lifetime. They’re not necessarily perfect. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have problems, but most marriages are strong. They last for a lifetime, and they are happy. Okay, so, knowing that, “Jump in.” Knowing that, be willing to say: “You know what? If they can do it, I can do it too.”
Bob: Okay, I’ve got a different question for you: “Is it true that people in the church are divorcing at the same rate as people outside the church?”
Shaunti: No, that’s one of the biggest myths that has been perpetuated on the Christian community. It drives me absolutely bananas. When—I mean, believe me, I’ve said all these wrong statistics from stage too.
Dennis: So, I mean, do we need to call George Barna right now and just confront him and—
Shaunti: No, no, no!
Dennis: —just ask, “What in the world he’s doing?”
Shaunti: No, see, here is the problem. I’ve actually talked to George about this. [Laughter] I’ve actually talked to George about this because it is one of the biggest misunderstandings.
When I looked at the actual study—the Barna Group was never studying people in the church. What they were doing—Barna is very, very good. They’ve developed this skill set at calling people on the phone and asking the “Are you a Christian?” type questions. The people who answered that they had a Christian belief system—which is the majority of people in the United States—those people had the same divorce rate as people who said: “No, I’m not a Christian. I’m a Muslim,” or, “…I’m a Buddhist,” or, “…I’m an atheist.” Those two divorce rates were the same.
Barna did not include whether they went to church in the analysis. That was not part of the analysis—you know—partly because of the concept that going church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
He kept that out of the analysis; but it’s been misunderstood. People think he did.
What I did is—I partnered with Barna. I bought their data, and we reran the numbers, with one factor added—“Was the person in church last week?” If the person was in church last week, their divorce rate dropped by 27 percent.
Imagine the difference for somebody who’s wondering about marriage—maybe they are in a difficult marriage, maybe they are single, maybe they are living together—and they are sitting in a church. They are looking around, right now, today—they look around that church. They think: “Half of everybody in here has been divorced. It doesn’t make any difference.”
Imagine the difference to the way that we think about marriage—if they look around the church and they think: “Wow! Most of these people have happy marriages. Most of these people—their marriages are lasting for a lifetime. If they can do it, I can do it too. It makes a difference to be here.” Imagine the difference in how we think and talk about marriage if we start promoting the idea of the encouraging hope about marriage.
I mean, it really will change how marriages play out—the fact that we can still believe in marriage.
Dennis: And Shaunti, I love what you’re doing here, not only in this book, but all your research. You’re really lifting us out of, probably, some erroneous comparisons and faulty assumptions. You’re saying, with us: “Your marriage matters.”
I want our listening audience to hear me: “The nation’s marriages matter.” We want to strengthen all of the marriages in our nation, regardless of what they believe. We want to strengthen them and point them to the Scriptures and the God who designed marriage. That’s why we would really challenge our listeners: “Come join us. Let’s celebrate the first institution God created.” And it—by the way—is the last institution we will celebrate in heaven—the marriage feast between the bridegroom, Jesus, and the church, who is His bride.
Bob: I am really looking forward to being with thousands of couples at the Allstate Arena on Saturday, August 2nd. Shaunti, you’re going to be there. Dennis, you and Barbara are going to be there. Ron Deal is going to be joining us. Crawford and Karen Loritts, David Nasser—Dr. Al Mohler is going to be joining us.
And the whole purpose for this day at the Allstate Arena is to help all of us strengthen our marriage relationships—to build the kind of marriages that go the distance. And we’re just a few weeks away now from the Chicago event—Portland on August 23rd at the Moda Center and then, Saturday, October 4th, at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC—a one-day event designed to strengthen marriage called I Still Do.
You can get more information—get tickets online—go to IStillDo.com for all of the information about these events and plan to join us.
And if you’d like information about the books that Shaunti Feldhahn has written about marriage—The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages or The Good News About Marriage—go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and click the link at the top of the page that says, “GO DEEPER.” All the information about the books is available online. You can order online. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. That’s 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
You know, I was thinking back to the message that you and Barbara gave at an I Still Do event a number of years ago, where you talked about some of the challenges you faced in the early years of your marriage, and about the things you had to learn, and about the commitments you had to lean into and you had to stand firm on.
I just remember it was a powerful message and one that I think encouraged a lot of folks who heard it when they attended the I Still Do event.
We are making a copy of that message available, this month, to those folks who can stand with us and help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We’re listener- supported. Your financial support is what makes this program possible. We’re grateful for your partnership with us. We’d like to say, “Thank you,” when you make a donation this month.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click in the upper right-hand corner where it says, “I CARE.” You can make an online donation, and we’ll send a copy of the CD called I Still Do to you. Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY, make a donation, and request the I Still Do CD. Or you can write a check and mail it to FamilyLife Today. Our mailing address is P O Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. And our zip code is 72223.
And be sure to ask for the I Still Do CD when you mail your check to us, and we’ll get it out to you.
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about the issue of lust. It’s an issue that men—and women, for that matter—are having to do battle with more regularly—maybe than ever before. We’ll talk tomorrow with Heath Lambert and Jim Vander Spek. Hope you can join us for that conversation.
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 next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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