Ed: On your 10-year wedding anniversary, you two felt very differently about your marriage. Dave, you thought your relationship couldn’t get any better, and Ann, you were hanging on for dear life and told Dave you had lost your feelings for him. Can you share a little bit about that night and how it changed your relationship?
Dave: Our 10-year anniversary was a chance to celebrate our love and life away from the kids and the pressures of ministry. I was crazy busy trying to start our new church, as well as leading the Detroit Lions ministry as the team chaplain. I was never home. Ann was leading the home all by herself and overwhelmed with raising two very busy toddlers.
When she told me that she had lost her feelings for me, I knew that I had to find out why and how. As she shared her heart about moving from bitterness to numbness, I felt a strong nudge—probably more like a shove—from the Holy Spirit, that said, “Shut up and listen.”
Ed: Dave, what made you respond with prayer rather than reaching for your planner to persuade Ann that she was wrong?
Dave: I actually was about to pull out my daily planner to prove that I was home more than Ann thought when I sensed God saying to zip my lip and just let her talk. As I listened, I heard God say one more thing: “Repent.”
I knew that God was revealing to me that my relationship with Jesus had become lukewarm. I was so busy doing ministry for God that I had left God behind. God was saying that our horizontal marriage would never be what we wanted it to be unless I put Jesus back in first place.
So I got on my knees right there in the front seat of our Honda Accord and put Jesus back in control of my life. Ann did the same, and it was the start of a new marriage for us.
Ed: You write that the secret to marriage is to go vertical. What does that mean?
Dave: Most of us go into marriage with the hope that this marriage and our spouse will bring us the happiness that we long to find. At some point, we are let down by our spouse because he or she doesn’t deliver the joy that we thought we would discover. Many conclude that they married the wrong person. We believe that they are actually looking in the wrong place. No person or thing on this planet can bring us the happiness that we desperately want.
C.S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Only when we “go vertical” and connect in a relationship with God through Jesus will we find the true joy that we are looking for. As he fills us up, we come back to our marriage not as a taker who demands that our spouse make us happy, but as a giver and a servant who has true joy from the only One who can truly give it to us... Jesus.
Ed: What are some ways you choose to go vertical every day?
Dave: In the book we write about developing some disciplines or rhythms that help us “train ourselves to be godly.” Just like getting our body in shape, we need daily, weekly, and annual workouts to get the marriage we want.
Daily - Carve out 15 minutes daily to talk about your marriage. Also, praying daily together will transform both of you.
Weekly - Date each week. Make your marriage a priority by intentionally scheduling time together away from the home and your kids.
Annually - Get away for a vacation or a marriage retreat. An extended weekend focused just on the two of you will transform your marriage. And it’s a good model for your kids to see as well.
Ed: Let’s talk a little bit about conflict resolution. How did the two of you learn how to fight? What do you tell other couples about fighting?
Dave: Where do we start? Like most couples, we’re good at fighting and bad at resolution. We first had to learn our natural pattern when it came to conflict. Ann was an attacker who wanted to dive right in and talk it out. I was a withdrawer who just got up and left the room. As a child, I watched my mom and dad fight very loudly and abusively, and it led to divorce. So I wanted nothing to do with conflict, since it usually ended badly.
The long story is that I learned that conflict, if handled well, can bring a deeper intimacy into your marriage. So here is a brief overview of what we learned and now tell others...
SHUT UP (and listen) - Behind every story is a story. You can’t resolve a conflict until you know what the issue truly is. Lean in and listen to find out what your spouse is really upset about.
SOFT ANSWER - If one person is escalating and the other follows suit, then nothing good will follow. Someone has to de-escalate. That should be you. If you respond softly, the fight will take on a whole new direction... toward resolution.
SEEK/GRANT FORGIVENESS - At some point there needs to be forgiveness. Forgiveness is “giving up our right to punish.” This may take hours or days or months, but at some point we forgive because we have been forgiven.
SURRENDER - None of this is possible apart from Jesus. We do not have the power to resolve or forgive when it gets really really tough. Jesus does. When we surrender everything to Him and go vertical, He gives us His power to resolve and forgive in a way that brings honor and glory back to Himself.