How To Marry With Confidence

In light of today's divorce rate, one of the biggest questions couples will ask before saying, "I do" is how can they be sure they're marrying the right person and if their love is the kind that will last a lifetime? In this episode, Dr. Chris Grace and Dr. Tim Muehlhoff sit down with the experts, Drs. Paul and Virginia Friesen, and discuss their book Before You Save the Date: 21 Questions to Help You Marry with Confidence


Transcript 

Tim Muehlhoff:

Welcome to the Art of Relationships podcast. My name is Tim Muehlhoff.

Chris Grace:

And I'm Chris Grace.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Today, we're going to talk about a topic that we get all the time. We teach a class of roughly 230 undergrad students. It's a blast. We get a chance to do it with our wives. Probably one of the biggest questions we get all the time is, "Hey, I do want to get married some time in the future, and in light of today's divorce rate and marriages that seem to be imploding, how in the world can I make sure that I'm going to marry a person and this thing is going to last a lifetime?" So, we decided to bring in some guests that have written about that. Chris, why don't you introduce our guests.

Chris Grace:

Yeah. All the way from the East Coast, we have Drs. Paul and Virginia Friesen. We are so glad to have you guys here with us. This is going to be awesome.

Paul Friesen:

We're delighted to be with you.

Chris Grace:

One of the cool things that you guys have is you lead a number of ministries. You have the Home Improvement Ministry. You guys speak at conferences everywhere. Internationally, you talk about marriages and parenting and this ... And you have an ongoing ministry with professional athletes. Tell us a little bit about that as we get started.

Paul Friesen:

Well, it was about 17 years ago. A person came from Seattle to the Patriots and said, "Where's the couple's study?" The chaplain was a single guy; he said, "We don't have one." He said, "Well, you should." He said, "Well, I'm single, don't know anything about marriage; but there's this couple at our church that know about marriage, they speak on it." So we started that 17 years ago and have been doing it. We just did it last night, had 30 people out. Some of them strong believers. Some who have faith in their background, but not following right now. Others who have no faith at all, but they want to know how their marriage or their relationship can be strengthened. As we talk what God's design is, a number of them have come to faith through the backdoor, that way.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's amazing. Have we mentioned the team yet?

Chris Grace:

No, I think you ought to go ahead and tell us. What team is that?

Tim Muehlhoff:

What team is this?

Paul Friesen:

Well, it's the New England Patriots, because we live in Boston.

Chris Grace:

Okay, awkward pause. Cause we have a Bronco fan.

Tim Muehlhoff:

And we have a Detroit fan, which is pain and suffering.

Chris Grace:

And now we have Patriots.

Paul Friesen:

Well, we have no conflict cause neither of you are competition to us this year, so ... That'll be fine.

Chris Grace:

And that's the Art of Relationships' Podcast!

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah, good to have you guys here.

Chris Grace:

One of our shortest shows. What a great opportunity.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That is great. That's super. That really is good.

Chris Grace:

Yeah, we'd love to hear a little bit more about that as we go on. Maybe we'll even have kind of a second podcast at some point, talking about some of the amazing things that can happen when you work with athletes. Right? Professional athletes, in particular. The impact you guys are having there. We had the Detroit Lions chaplain on here recently, and he got to spend some time visiting about that. So, we might approach that, but what do you want to talk about?

Tim Muehlhoff:

The topic with him was God and the Problem of Evil. [crosstalk 00:03:00] Lion's chapel.

Chris Grace:

I thought it was suffering.

Paul Friesen:

That's painful.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yes, it was. No, we love Detroit. We do love Detroit, but oh my. We've gone through some ... Hey, the Red Wings though, Detroit Red Wings. Come on. They're awesome. They're awesome.

Chris Grace:

You guys have authored over ten books on marriage and parenting, including the focus of what we want to talk about today, which is this ... Before You Save the Date is the title. Twenty One Questions to Help You Marry with Confidence. You talked about Gary Thomas in here. He wrote the book Sacred Marriage. He said this book may be one of the most important books you'll ever read. Tell us why you guys have written this book, and let's talk a little bit about it. There's talk about compatibility, questions that you should ask ... How did you guys get to this point where you thought this was something that people needed to hear about?

Virg. Friesen:

We've actually just passed the forty year mark of our own marriage.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Oh, congratulations.

Virg. Friesen:

Thank you. So we were deeply passionate about marriage, about the goodness of God's design. And in a world that's increasingly confused about the goodness of that design, we just find that it doesn't matter where we are in the world, whether we're in Africa, or Italy, or the west coast, or the east coast. Everywhere, people are struggling with questions about marriage. How do you make it work? Nobody gets married hoping to get divorced. But we know that in all too many cases either divorce happens, or deeply unmet needs and expectations happen in marriage. For many who even stay together and honor the covenant, they're not experiencing what they really had hoped they would experience. So we're very passionate about helping couples before they walk down the aisle to deal with as many of the questions, as many of the issues as they can, realizing that there are things that you can never know about marriage until you're there. But we think we can do a much better job at preparation.

Tim Muehlhoff:

And I know both of you have a doctorate. You studied this area. Both of you have experienced this for over forty years. You have children. And what has happened is, you guys have just seen a need. You've traveled everywhere, seen this. So we're really interested in exploring that notion. What's the passion? What's the interest? Why do this? What brought it to this point where you said, we've got to get out there? What are we missing? What could you tell the people listening to this podcast about relationships and about finding that perfect person?

Paul Friesen:

Well, you know we spend a lot of our time on the other side of the aisle with couples who are really struggling. So often, they'll say I never saw this coming, or we just loved each other. We thought it would just be fine. Or ... I had a little niggling that that was it, but I figured once we got married it would be fine. We even have couples who ... I remember a couple; they had been living together for two years. He is from another country, and they came to see us. And we said, well if you get married, where do you think you'll be living? And, they said oh, we've never even talked about that. I knew them well, and I said so you've been having sex for two years, and you haven't even talked about where you'll live? Those sorts of things prompt ... People say, oh we're in love, but they don't talk about issues that may really challenge that love after they're married.

Virg. Friesen:

And we really believe that as the marriage goes, the world goes. There's just a huge connection between the Great Commission, between effecting this world for Christ, and how our marriages actually are lived out. So, especially for those who have a Christian worldview, we're deeply passionate about helping them wrestle with these, because God really does have great intentions for the institution of marriage. For it to be a change agent in this world for the good.

Paul Friesen:

I think there is such confusion, even about what this is. We were in a group, and people were introducing themselves. A couple introduced themselves, said, "we've both been baptized. We're solid Christians." And we found out they were living together, sleeping together. There wasn't even a pause in that. It wasn't like, we shouldn't be doing this. It's we both love Jesus. We both love sex. This is great. We've just found that people are just biblically illiterate in much of this and then end up doing damage rather than benefiting the relationship.

Chris Grace:

So as you guys travel around, you find different parts ... You have ministries that have been on the east coast, international ... Where's the greatest pain and problem? Where are you finding disconnect? Is it everywhere? Is it with our young people in particular? Is it something that you're now catching ... Or is this kind of across everything in our culture in all different age groups? What is your biggest concern? What are you finding out there?

Virg. Friesen:

Well, I think it crosses all of the age groups. It's fascinating to us that we have couples now who come to see us early in their marriage, which is shocking. We've been doing this for forty years. It used to be, we wouldn't see couples until they had been married for seven years, ten years, twelve years. Now we're getting couples within the first year of marriage, the second year of marriage, who are already believing that their marriage is collapsed beyond repair. But we also have an amazing representation of those who've been married for twenty and thirty years, who are tired of not having their marriage not be what they wanted it to be, and they've hung in there because the church says they should, because they know it's best for their kids. But now, those reasons have sort of evaporated. The kids are gone, and they really feel that we've either got to figure out how to be married or we're done with this marriage. I feel like we're, in one sense, reaping the consequences of what was started, obviously from the beginning of time, but I'm going to mark it in the sixties.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

Virg. Friesen:

Right?

Tim Muehlhoff:

The sexual revolution.

Virg. Friesen:

That's exactly right. The sexual revolution, that widespread availability of birth control. All of that has really impacted ... And I think we're reaping that. I think that that's what the fields are full of now.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Research is really bearing out both of your observations. We used to call it the seven year itch. It's what traditionally we'd say. Now research is showing that divorce, if it happens, is happening within the first three or four years. And then we get the Al and Tipper Gore affect, what you're talking about on the latter end, is once the kids are raised, and that project's over, now they turn back to the marriage. And it's been so neglected, and it can be even for good reasons. We were focusing on the kids, and once we got them situated, now we look back on our marriage, and there's nothing left. There's nothing to build off of.

 

So, research is really bearing out both of those observations. And that's why we're so big on ... And our listeners have heard this ten million times, that pre-marital counseling, if it's done well, can reduce the divorce rate upwards to thirty three percent. So, the good news is that pre-marital counseling can really help. The bad news is, boy there is a mess when it comes to pre-marital counseling. It could be everything from a well intentioned pastor, who sits down and has one conversation with the couple, and that's sort of we're done. That's pre-marital counseling. Or they go to a conference. We do marriage conferences, but that's not pre-marital counseling.

 

It's systematically thinking about what the stumbling blocks could be. That's why your book, I think is great to say, hey here are some questions. These are going to be interesting to talk about, discuss, but to put the work in on the front end. You're really going to reap the benefits in the marriage.

Paul Friesen:

It's interesting the two times you were talking about divorce, because I think the whole era of entitlement has hit both of those. We've raised and entitlement generation. Then you get married, and it's all about you. I think in that first year, you go, I'm not happy. It's not making me happy anymore. It's a selfish issue. I think selfishness is across the board the number one enemy of marriages today, whether it's after thirty-five years, or after three years.

Chris Grace:

You know, Paul, it feels like what we hear is that someone has a mistaken view that marriage is designed to make me happy. Right? I mean that's what it's intended to do. I find that soul mate. I become complete or whole and happy. Of course that's mistaken to begin with, but then if they believe that, then if they're not happy, the first thing they're going to say is, wait, this is no longer making me happy. You are either not the soul mate that I expected. Right? Or, something is wrong with one of us, and it's probably going to be you. That's the whole notion of selfishness. Right? And it feels as if we've created a whole number of people who believe kind of false things about relationships, and it starts from the beginning. So, unpack for us some of the things that you start with. You start with some amazing questions. Let's unpack those. You'll do something like this. Before you begin dating, how did you spend your Saturdays? It's one of the first questions you ask.

Tim Muehlhoff:

The authenticity question.

Chris Grace:

Yeah, it is. It's a great one. Unpack it for us.

Paul Friesen:

Well, a lot of pre-marital material will say given a free Saturday what would you like to do. And you say, anything as long as it's with you dear. Oh, that's just what I'm looking for. Such an unrealistic question. Unhelpful question. A better question is, before you met me what did you do on Saturday. I think we need to ask reflective questions more than prospective. For instance, if you have a baseball team who's looking for a new outfielder, you don't say what did you want to hit. What did you want your batting average to be. And he says, oh I'd like it to be five hundred. And you go, well that's great. That's what we're looking for. Nobody does that. You say, what was it. And he says, it was a hundred and thirty-five.

 

So, I think we get caught up in this, and there are a lot of reasons for it, but we get caught up in thinking this is going to be wonderful. And as long as he says the right things, or she says the right things ... And I think there's so much in infatuation that we get caught up in that we don't think realistically about does he have a job. How's she treat her mom? Just all sorts of things that go on.

Tim Muehlhoff:

But that Saturday question, that literally is what our first hiccup in my marriage with Noreen ... We've been married for twenty-six years, so we're not quite where you guys are yet. We seriously got back from the honeymoon and Saturday came. Noreen grew up in a family where her dad was a mister fix-it kind of guy, and home projects were just huge. My dad worked double shifts at General Motors. So, when Saturday came, he was done. He was physically worn out, emotionally worn out. He literally would sit and watch two college games. Then Sunday would come; he'd watch pro-games, and if you wanted to spend time with my dad, that's kind of what you did.

 

So, the first Saturday literally came. I sit down; the first college game's is going to start. I plop down with my favorite snacks. Noreen walks out with work gloves. And she goes, "Hey, like are you gonna watch that whole game?" And I'm like, well you know, there's actually another one on after this. So, that's a clash of family values and family upbringing. Weekends ... And to this day, twenty-six years later, weekends are my time to recover and recoup, and Noreen watches these horrible shows like home improvement, flip this house, the history of grout. Oh my gosh. But that's why Gottman says sixty-seven percent of all your marital problems are perpetual, because nobody's wrong or right in that situation. Side note to listeners. I'm right. She's wrong.

 

That's a great thing to say, how do you spend your Saturdays. And what's the purpose of a Saturday? I think that's a great question for them to think about and kick around.

Chris Grace:

You guys give them another question in this book. Tell us about the Word of God question and what that means, and how do you guys approach that?

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's a good one.

Virg. Friesen:

So that question is, is my boyfriend or girlfriend's life truly governed by God's word. That comes early in the book because we really believe that establishing a foundational awareness of convictions is critically important, before you really advance in a relationship. Unfortunately, you both know that biochemistry is working against us here, because the minute that infatuation or that attraction happens, the oxytocin is being over produced, and the effect is has on us is making everything that we want to look really good and gloss over the things that we don't really want to see. So, when it comes to the Word of God, we had an interesting e-mail from a young man who said, "My girlfriend and I have been dating for several months now. I'm really committed to not having pre-marital sex, and so we've had this conversation. Should I be concerned that her position is, well, I don't agree with you, but I'll go along with you?" He said, "How should I respond to that?"

 

We thanked him for writing, because we thought this is a thoughtful young man who wants to get it right. We said we see a caution flag there, because you're being driven by believing that God's word is authoritative, and that it's clear that the sexual relationship is for the covenant of marriage. Her willingness to go along with you, but not agree with you, indicates that she doesn't have the same view of God's word.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah, that's huge. So, I love this question, but we teach at Biola University. The question would be met with, immediately, does your boyfriend care about the Word of God. Does your girlfriend care about the Word of God? The answer would be immediately, yes. But the follow up question needs to be, and you know that how? How do you know the Word of God is important in this person's life? I think those are the kind of follow up questions we need to answer, is what evidence do you have that this person is committed? Right? I mean the Patriots are going to say, "Hey are you committed to football?" And I'll know that on what you did with your off season. So I think we need to really press couples to say give me evidence. How do you know your boyfriend cares about the Word of God and that it governs ... How would you push a couple when it comes to those kind of issues?

Paul Friesen:

You just brought to mind, we were speaking at another Christian college, which I won't mention the name. In a small group gathering, at night, a girl came up after we talked about sexual purity, God's word as authority, and said, "My boyfriend and I are having sex, because he said the word fornication isn't really clear in scripture, what it means." You just see that he's taking her down a path, and using scripture actually to do it. One of our questions is, is this boy, is this girl, is this guy, is this gal taking you closer to Jesus or taking you away? Not just can you give the Sunday school answer, but how is your physical relationship? How are other things that you're involved in?

Virg. Friesen:

One of the statements we often make is that behavior follows belief, or behavior reveals belief. You can say an awful lot of things. Oh yeah, I really believe in God's word, etc., but you're behavior's actually going to reveal that.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah, that's good. I'll never forget this. We were on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ at a university, and we both were working with men and women. Noreen was working with this one sharp, sharp woman who wanted to go into full time ministry, and married a man who had all the right answers, but didn't live it out. I'll never forget, now she had small kids, and I'm at the mall, and I take her kids so that Noreen can have a conversation with her. Now she's doing ministry part time, and her husband has basically said, "I'm not opposed to you going to church or taking the kids to church. I'm just not into that. I'm not going." Just the sound of her crying echoing in that food court, because she wants to go for it. She wants to be there and do ministry, and he's like not against it, but not for it.

 

That's where I think the track ... I remember in your book, somewhere you said four season. Right? Explain that. I love that idea of four seasons.

Virg. Friesen:

Yeah, we really encourage couples to not even begin to discuss the m-word until they've gone through four seasons. Now that has a lot of meaning to us from New England. Right? Because we actually see, it's a little harder for southern Californians to grasp, because you have one season. We get that. But, basically, it's saying give yourself a whole year. Because within a calendar year, you're going to go through birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, seasons. Seasonal Affective Disorder. All sorts of things. You're going to go through baseball season. You're going to go through the World Series, the Superbowl. You're going to get insight into each other that different parts of the year will help you identify. When you shortcut that, I'm just telling you, too many surprises lie in wait. They're often not great surprises.

 

I remember a young woman that I was mentoring met the guy in September. He proposed to her in January in front of a large women's conference, and their wedding date was set for June. So not even a year where they would be tying the knot for life. She's in my office in March crying hysterically. I said, “What happened?” She said, "Well my birthday was last week, and I can not believe how badly he missed." And I said, “Well why didn't you see that coming? And she said, "Well, I hadn't had a birthday yet, and nor had he. So all of my expectations were predicated on what I've grown to expect. I love birthdays. It's like my day of the year, and he didn't show up at all for it." That caused a huge conversation, which obviously they were both carrying family of origin patterns into it. Birthdays were no big deal in his family. They were a big deal ... But that's one of the reasons we say give yourself a full calendar year. Go through it all, and see how you live life.

 

You'll have insights that are going to serve you the rest of your life, or that will help you avoid making a big mistake.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Does age play a factor? So, I like the season. Personally, I like two years. I like to see the seasons twice, to go through the whole thing twice. Does age ever play ... Do you look at someone who's nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, and would you deal with that couple differently than you would somebody in their mid-twenties or something like that? Is there an age that your antennas just kind of go up?

Paul Friesen:

I think at the younger age, especially, there's no rush to get married.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Right.

Paul Friesen:

That's one thing. But, then, you're still changing, and I think it's great to take a little extra time. I think somebody in their thirties, it may be a little less. They know who they are. They're sure of themselves. But even in your comment, Tim, about your wife and the gal she was talking to. We remember a couple, a woman said, "When I go to church, my boyfriend goes with me. But when I'm travelling, he doesn't go to church. Should I be concerned?" And we said, yeah. But you don't see that unless you're ...

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's right.

Paul Friesen:

Over a long period of time. The only time he comes to Bible study is when I'm there. That sort of thing.

Chris Grace:

Hey, let me ask another question. One time, back in college I remember deciding that for me it was more important to look on the inside of a person, and so there was a very nice, Godly young woman. For me, I was thinking to myself, this will be very important to make sure that I'm basing this attraction and my interest on somebody who really ... The inside is there. They're sweet; they're kind. But, I'll be honest with you, there wasn't a whole lot of physical attraction at the time, and it didn't last long. I thought I was doing the right thing. So, one of the questions you guys ask at some point, is should attraction play a part in this decision. What do you think? People ask that all the time. This is a great person, but there's just not really much of a spark there.

Paul Friesen:

Oh, absolutely. In the book we talk about four C's. Conviction, character, compatibility, and chemistry. Most people get into relationships through chemistry. She's good looking. He is. They hit it off, relationship and physical involvement. And, they're compatible. They both like rock climbing, but that's about as far as it goes. We want to go the other way and say it starts with convictions, then to character, compatibility, but chemistry is important. Don't walk down the aisle without it, if you don't have it. My dad said, "It's what is on the inside that counts." And I thought, man I'm going to marry somebody who's Godly, but ugly. I couldn't conceive that God would give me somebody who's beautiful on the outside and the inside. But you can't read Song of Solomon without saying God actually believes that this whole romance thing is good. But, certainly in the whole are of chemistry, how are you guarding that area?

Tim Muehlhoff:

The problem with Hollywood is that chemistry skews the whole list. It's so powerful and so all-consuming, and that opposites ... It doesn't matter if you're completely opposite, that love really does take care of those differences, and it gets skewed. And the physical intimacy skews it in so many different ways. But, hey I love that, that chemistry is important. I mean my wife was so attracted to me, I finally had to say to her, hello, I have a mind. Hello. I'm not sure why Virginia's laughing right now. I'm not sure why she's laughing. Hey, listen, you've got twenty one questions. We have covered a grand total of ...

Chris Grace:

Maybe three.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Two. Three! So, why don't we have you back, and let's uncover some more of these questions. They're great questions.

Chris Grace:

Our guests today have been Drs. Paul and Virginia Friesen, authors of the book, Before You Save the Date - Twenty One Questions to Help You Marry with Confidence. And you're right, Tim, we haven't really got to all the questions. Let's do it again, but here's a offer we'd like to make. If you would like to own a copy of the book, we'd love to send you one as our gift. Just send in a donation of ten dollars or more, and you can request a copy on our website, cmr.biola.edu. One more time, cmr, Center for Marriage and Relationships, cmr.biola.edu. Send in a donation, ten dollars or more, and we will send you this amazing book.

 

Paul and Virginia, you guys are great friends. It's been a pleasure to have you on our podcast today, and thank you for being here.

Virg. Friesen:

Thank you.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Go Lions.

Chris Grace:

To our listeners today, as always, remember there's a lot of resources available for you. Check out our website, same place, and we'll talk to you guys next time on the Art of Relationships. Tim, thanks for being here.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Hey, great to have you guys.

Virg. Friesen:

Thank you so much.


The Art of Relationships Podcast

The Art of Relationships podcast, hosted by Dr. Chris Grace and Dr. Tim Muehlhoff, is centered on helping you build healthy relationships and marriages. In this podcast, Chris (director of Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and professor of psychology at Biola University) and Tim (professor of communication at Biola University and author of I Beg to Differ), weigh in on how to navigate the complexities of relationships in our culture with biblical wisdom and scholarly research. Listen to get practical insights on relationships, dating and marriage that can be applied to all relationships  — family, friends, co-workers and others.

 

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