Skip to main content

When CMR Meets The NFL Pt. II

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.

Chris Grace: Welcome back to the Art of Relationships Podcast. Tim, we've been talking with different guests at times, and we have Dave Wilson from back in Detroit Area, a friend of yours.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, love Dave. Dave and Ann Wilson are good friends. They've been speaking with Family Life for a long time. They're a dedicated couple. They're co-founders of Kensington Church outside of Detroit, a 14,000 person church on multi-campuses. It's just amazing what the Wilson's have accomplished. They've shared a lot about their marriage in a wonderful book called "Vertical Marriage: The One Secret that will Change your Marriage," and Dave's going to talk about that a little bit.

Let me just mention one thing. We got a chance as a CMR to come out there, Dave. As you know, we partnered with Chris Brooks and did what we call a Neighbor Love Initiative Conference where we go to communities that maybe can't afford to go to a family life conference, and gave away our conference virtually for free. Chris Brooks is wonderful. That was a huge contact from you in Kensington Church, and thank you for setting us in the right direction with Chris. What a great event that was, and you might be interested to know, Dave, we're now doing that in Los Angeles with a group called OC United. We're setting up these marriage conferences, and it's just a great way to get the word out, and we know you and Ann are absolutely dedicated to doing that.

So you wrote a great book, "Vertical Marriage: The One Secret that will Change your Marriage," but in it you tell the story, and I've heard this story before, but it is just an interesting story of how two people can be in the same marriage, yet view the marriage in radically different ways. So I was wondering if you could tell the story about you and Ann. It was an anniversary, wasn't it?

Dave Wilson: Yeah, it was our tenth year anniversary, and I honestly thought we were doing fabulous. On a scale of one to ten, I would've told you that my marriage is a ten; if not a ten, then a 9.8 guaranteed. And I actually thought Ann, I can almost guarantee she agrees, she'd say the same thing. So we go out on this date. It's a long story; it's the first two chapters of the book so I won't give you all the details, but bottom line is I thought I was giving her the greatest date of her life. I had ten roses delivered to the table, one at a time, at this really, really, by the way, upscale, nice restaurant. I don't spend a lot money on food, so I was going big time for my wife. The waiter would bring over one rose and we'd talk about year one, and then he'd bring over the second rose and talk about year two. So it was romantic. We were talking; you know how women love to talk. And so it was perfect, I thought. It really was.

And we got through the tenth year, and then we're driving home, and I had one more surprise, and that was I pulled into the parking lot of this middle school where we were about to start Kensington. We hadn't started Kensington yet, but we had been meeting as a core team. Most of that was without Ann because she was pregnant with our third son. And so I was at all these meetings and I wanted to show her, "This is where, in a few months, we're going to start out first service at our new church." And I said, "Let's just pull into the parking lot." It was about midnight. "Let's pray and ask God to do a miracle and build a great church out of this school." And then I thought, "Let's park." I'm laughing because I'm hoping you and your listeners know what parking means.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yes.

Dave Wilson: I envisioned us in the back seat in just a few minutes steaming up the car. By the way, this was a Honda Accord, so it was a little tight. So anyway, I don't remember praying actually. We probably prayed for three seconds, and then I turned to kiss her, to make my move, and she turns her head away. And so I thought she didn't realize I was trying to kiss her, so I try again. With no doubt, she turns away and doesn't want to kiss me, so I do what every guy does at that moment: you ask the question. "Is anything wrong?" Thinking that there was nothing wrong, she just didn't want to kiss me at that moment but would want to kiss me. But when I asked her, "Is anything wrong?" She said, "No, nothing's wrong." And I said, "Well I tried to kiss you twice, but it seems like you don't want to kiss me. Are you sure nothing's wrong?" And then she goes, "Well, there is something wrong."

And I said, "Well what's wrong?" And she said, "Well, to be honest, I've lost my feelings for you." And it was... honestly, I had no idea. I was looking at her like, "What in the world? What?" And I knew in that moment, because the way she said it, it was pretty serious. I knew I needed to listen, so I just said, "What do you mean you've lost your feelings for me?" And she started to talk about my schedule. I'm gone all the time trying to start this church, I'm on the road with the Lions leading Bible studies, I had four or five different jobs going. "You're gone, I've got two little boys at home; I'm exhausted." She really walked through. I was bitter, then resentful, and now I'm just numb.

I gotta be honest, as she was saying that, my sort of pattern when we get in a fight, if I couldn't leave, I would then prove her wrong. So I literally started to reach into the back seat of our car where I had my day-planner – back then it was as little notebook that had my calendar – and I was gonna pull it out and open it up and prove her that I wasn't gone as much as she was saying I was.

Tim Muehlhoff: Some listeners might be saying, "But why not do that?" How is that not a good argument in the fact that your wife made a claim and you were absolutely convinced she's wrong. How many times do you wish a conversation between you and your spouse was recorded so you could go back and replay the conversation and say, "You absolutely said this and I did not." What would've been wrong with you doing that? Grabbing your day-timer and saying, "Ann, I'm sorry, but look. I was here this night, I was here here." What would've been wrong with that?

Dave Wilson: Well, as I think back on that night, the thing that would've been wrong for us in that situation is I would've never really heard what she was saying. Because the more she talked, the more I realized this isn't even about my calendar. Even though that's where I was going to go, and it would've taken us down a rabbit trail, it was about her feeling loved and cherished, but I would've missed it. There are other times where yeah, there are facts that we need to get on the table and say, "Well actually this is," and then deal with that, but in that situation that night, oh my gosh, I was not really hearing what she was saying.

So the good thing is when I reached back to grab my day-planner, I heard the voice of God. It wasn't like an audible, the dome light in our car didn't flicker, it was no weird thing at all; it was simply the Holy Spirit of God who lives in me, lives in Ann, just a gentle whisper, and it wasn't gentle, though. It was, "Shut up. Don't say a word. Listen." And so Ann didn't even know I was reaching for my day-planner. I just pulled my arm back between the seats, and I put it on my lap, and I looked her right in the eye, and I did not say a word. I just let her talk, and as I listened, for probably five or six, seven minutes, she walked through what she was feeling. I was like, "Oh my gosh. She is not feeling loved by me." And then I heard one other word from God, and it was very clear. It was one word: repent.

Tim Muehlhoff: Wow.

Dave Wilson: Repent. And it's interesting, when God speaks to you, I knew. I knew in that moment what repent meant. It wasn't, "You're in moral sin. You're unfaithful;" I was doing none of that. Repent, in one word I knew exactly what God meant. He meant this: "You're lukewarm, you know you're lukewarm, and you're just realizing right now your walk with me is impacting this marriage. You need to be right with me, you need to get back to your first love, and when that happens, this thing can work. But until that happens, you're just going to sit here and nothing's ever going to go where it needs to go."

Chris Grace: So Dave, it sounds like that formula, then, has probably helped in many ways, and I imagine the listeners would love that. And the formula, what I'm hearing, goes like this: first thing we, probably many of us need to work on is the ability just to listen. But it sounds like beyond that, then, the next step is something even more important: it's hearing, understanding what they're saying, and then what would you say next? Taking responsibility? You did something different there. The Spirit led you to not just listen, to not just hear Ann, but to do more than that. What was that that you feel like is the most important thing or the next thing that you did besides shutting up?

Dave Wilson: Well, I learned that night, and again, I'm not sitting here saying I'm perfect at it, but I learned that night to always have one ear to Heaven, one ear to Earth. It's like one ear listening to what's happening horizontally, and another ear just tuned in, like, "God are you speaking? Are you leading me in any direction?" Probably one of the best lessons I've learned in marriage, which we do a whole section in the book on resolving conflict, is I would so often when Ann would express what she was feeling, I would attack back saying she's wrong to be feeling that way. And I look back now and I chuckle because I'm like, "Oh my gosh, how could I be so naïve to think her feelings weren't valid?" I would say, "No, you shouldn't feel that way. I do love you." And she's like, "I don't feel like you love me."

And now I realize whatever she's feeling, whatever your spouse is stating is their reality; you've got to deal with that, not what they should or shouldn't be. It's like, "Oh my gosh. She thinks I don't love her. I do love her." Other times I would've yelled at her and said, "I do love you and you should know that." And she's like, "But I don't." And now it's like, "Oh my gosh, she doesn't feel loved? Guess what? My bad. I've gotta own that and make changes so she does feel loved, rather than tell her she should feel what I think she should feel."

So that night I did not respond at all except to say, "Before we can talk this through, I need to do something." I didn't even tell her what. I just thought, "This isn't about you; this is about me. This is me repenting." And then once that's putting God in the right place, number one, then I can deal with number two. Number two is your spouse. So I honestly thought, "This doesn't really have a lot to do with you, Ann. This is me getting right with God." So I said, "I'm just gonna pray, and I'm gonna pray on my knees." Again, I don't always pray on my knees, but I just felt like my posture needed to be one of full submission.

So I don't know to this day how I did it, but I turned around in the front seat of a Honda Accord and got on my knees, and the steering wheel was in my back and my elbows were on the driver's seat. And I just prayed out loud, and I just said, "God, I confess my lukewarmness. I'm so busy I haven't met with you in months. I'm running from this to that. I'm lukewarm. I used to hate lukewarm Christians, I used to say I would never be one, and here I am. And you need to be my first love and you need to be number one, so I place you back in control of my life, and help me to be the husband and father I need to be."

And I said amen, and I didn't know this but she starts praying, and I look over and she's on her knees on the front seat of the passenger's seat, and if she was here, she would tell you this because I've heard her say it many times. She said, "When I heard my husband Dave praying, I realized, 'Oh my gosh. I'm trying to find my life from him. If he would just get his act together and be the man and the husband and dad that I deserve, I'd be happy.'" And she would say when she saw me pray, she realized, "I've made Dave my God, and Dave can never give me what my God's supposed to give me." So she repented too.

Tim Muehlhoff: Well let me ask this, Dave. Yeah, let me ask this, and I've said this to Chris many times: "I cannot be your God, Chris. I just can't. I'm a fellow podcast host, we teach together, but I can't bear that-"

Chris Grace: And I usually hear him pretty clearly at that point because it's reality.

Dave Wilson: And I'm sure Chris agrees.

Chris Grace: Strongly.

Tim Muehlhoff: Hey, but let me say this. So this is a criticism, and I'm sure you've heard this speaking with Family Life, is people will say this to me: listening to your story, they'll say, "Okay, if I was married to a person like Ann, a sensitive woman who also repents in the middle of this disagreement. If I was married to a guy like Dave, who doesn't get defensive but goes on his knees and prays, well guess what? Our marriage would be great. But I'm not married to that kind of person. I'm married to a person who doesn't ever hear from God, who doesn't make time for God, and when I do bring things up, I get hit with, 'Well you do this, you do this.'" So what would you say to the couple that's listening to this saying, "Listen, I'd take your marriage any day of the week, but I'm stuck in a marriage with very little hope, very little evidence that my spouse cares about God." What kind of hope can we give couples that are not in the kind of situation you are with Ann of two people who love each other, maybe are too busy, but you also are making room for God?

Dave Wilson: First of all, I'd say great question. Chris can answer that for you. Seriously, that is-

Tim Muehlhoff: It's a hard one.

Dave Wilson: That is a hard one, and that is probably a majority of marriages I'm guessing. I mean, most marriages aren't married to an amazing man like me. Only one woman gets that. And I'd love to hear your perspective, but my first thought would be the only person you can control is you, and so the only thing you really can do is... and it's where vertical marriage really does help. It's like, "Wow. I'm not going to find what I'm looking for horizontally from my spouse. Even if they were a great spouse, I'm still going to be let down, but especially if they're responding poorly or yelling back at me or being defensive."

So the only thing I could say to anybody is man, you've got to go vertical. You've got to find life yourself, alone, from Jesus. You can't change your spouse. All you can really do for your spouse is hand them to God and say, "God, can you, will you change them, and again, you can." And they're going to make their own decisions, and they're going to decide if they're going to connect with God or not, and it's out of your control. The only way you're going to find peace is to say, "Okay, I have to find my life, I have to find my job, my happiness, my peace from my relationship with my Heavenly Father, and I'm going to go there and find life there, and then I'm going to come back to my spouse and try to serve and love even though I get nothing back." It's a selfless giveaway of your life, and it's really hard.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, the only thing I would add to that, Dave, is remember Jesus says, "My grace is sufficient for this day." I think some couples get really discouraged when they think, "This is going to be week after week, month after month. I'm going to have to be self-sacrificial. I'm getting nothing out of this marriage." But to go, I love what you're saying, go to Jesus, and "Jesus fill me with grace for today." And maybe even break the day up into two parts, three parts, to say, "Lord, give me strength this morning to be grace-filled and to love this person." I think that's the only way to tackle it, and to trust the power of the Holy Spirit, right? You just said you were crazy busy. You hadn't been spending time with the Lord, but still that voice got through to you in the precise moment that God needed to get your attention. I think we can use our loving actions as a conduit that God can speak to our spouse.

Dave Wilson: I agree.

Chris Grace: Yeah, I do too, Tim. And I think what I would add to this is just recognize, I think Dave as you mentioned, the power of prayer, what it means, and then even some specific... I would give a person like that, if they were to ask for advice, I'd give them a couple specific things. I'd begin to say, "Pray specifically. Pray for this person that you are married to that they would begin to see and recognize God's presence. That their hearts would be opened, their eyes would become more sensitive, and ears would be able to hear the whisper of God." I would also begin to pray specifically if I had a spouse like that for them to begin to find somebody in their lives that would speak truth to them, that they would be involved in things that might bring somebody into their lives.

And there's even just that idea, too, a third thing I would say is to begin to find that in your spouse that is a positive, that is good, right? No doubt they probably work hard, and they come home and they're there, and you could begin to thank them and encourage them for the little things, because they actually may have a pretty vibrant connection with God, but you could pull that out by being real encouraging and recognizing, "Every single time we have a meal together, you pray, and I just want to thank you for that." Those are some other ways that some people may be able to get through tough days like that.

Dave Wilson: Yeah, I think that last point's so good. Ann and I are doing a date night Saturday night at our church where couples go out on a date, and they come and we're going to talk for an hour. That's what we're talking about, that affirmation and encouragement is a magnet, and you encourage anybody, they are drawn to that. One other thing I would add, and I'm sure you guys agree, and it sounds crazy to some people, but when you're in despair or when you see no hope, beg God for a miracle. Ask him for a miracle. Now I don't know what he's gonna do. We don't know. It's not "name it, claim it," yet why not ask? Ask for a miracle.

One of my best friends, John, has been in my men's group with seven of us for almost 20 years. We've raised our kids together. Just a really neat group of guys that we hold each other accountable, and they're my partners in life. About eight or nine years ago, we discovered, he told us he caught his wife in an affair. It was a bomb. Betsy's in Ann's small group. It's just she'd been living a lie for a while. Ann and I rush over to their house after he caught her. She confessed. Can they make it? We spent the night trying to help them. I got in the car on the way home, and I can't believe I said this out loud, but I looked at Ann and I said, "Even God can't save this marriage."

I should never, ever say anything like that out loud. I just had, "It's done. There's no chance. It's impossible. Not going to happen." And I would tell you today, and obviously a lot of work, a lot of things happened, but they made it. They are in a place they never were. It's just amazing. They have five sons. It's an incredible journey. Again, the struggles aren't completely.... It's just like, "Wow. I didn't think God could do a miracle; God did a miracle." He really did.

Chris Grace: That's great.

Dave Wilson: Every once in a while you need to hear a story like that like, "Hang on." Jesus showed up and he did a miracle.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's great. Hey, in your book, why don't you walk us through some of that chapters? What kind of different topics do you guys cover, and why is it situated in the book like it is?

Dave Wilson: Well we basically cover four sections. The first section is, "What does vertical really look like in a marriage?" So it's one thing to say, "Go vertical and find life in Christ;" how do you do that? So we try to answer that in the first sort of three or four chapters in that section. And then we move into what you guys know, and everybody maybe should know, the number one factor that determines whether your marriage will go the distance or not. John Gottmann, I'm sure you're familiar with his work on conflict and how you resolve conflict. So we basically spend the middle section of the book saying, "Okay, how do you resolve conflict?" Because everybody, including us, knows how to have conflict; very few know how to actually resolve it. So we try to work through, and I know you guys have written on these things as well, so we just try to work through how to manage.

One of the things I struggled with, oh, ten through fifteen years into my marriage was anger. I never understood where anger came from, and why I was angry, and how that expressed itself in our marriage and towards my boys, so I had to go on a journey to really get a grip on what I call the shapes of wrath – that's the chapter title – and understand where that came from, and a lot of that ended up with me understanding forgiveness, especially with my father, my dad. So we worked through that in that section.

Then we have a whole section on sex. It's just an area that so many couples are confused about and need God's perspective on, and also need the freedom to say, "We can enjoy this part of our marriage and it could be an exciting part of our marriage," as well as it's been a struggle in our marriage, so we were very honest about that as well.

And then the last section is really on legacy, and how to leave a legacy that's literally life changing, because I'm a guy who came from a really bad legacy: alcohol, adultery, and had to say, "I'm changing it." The legacy stops here; the new legacy starts with the Wilson name. And so that's something that's been a foundation for our marriage.

Tim Muehlhoff: And that's a key part of the family life conferences as well is, "Listen, you might have come from a hard background, and it's absolutely affected you, no doubt, spiritually, emotionally, physically, but you can, with the help of a good community, you really can put a stake in the ground and say, 'Listen, I'm going to change the legacy. It's gotta change, and it's gonna start with me and my spouse and how we parent and how we do our marriage.'" I think that's a great word of hope for people, as they listen, who come from hard backgrounds.

Dave Wilson: Yeah, exactly. You can do it. It's really, I would've said that could never change in our family, and again, I'm not saying we have a perfect legacy, but when I look at what God's done, it's a miracle. It really is. It's really powerful to see what he's done and is doing in this legacy.

Tim Muehlhoff: Well let me give a personal shout out, having been with Dave and Ann Wilson with Family Life Marriage Conferences, it's just great to meet a couple who isn't perfect, but really does try to walk the walk, and I really admire the relationship you have with Ann and how you've done great things and used your marriage to its fullest potential. I think that really speaks highly of you guys. This sounds like a great book. I can't wait to read it, especially the sex section. I've got my highlighter already out.

Dave Wilson: Just for your wife to read that one.

Tim Muehlhoff: "Dave Wilson said, honey, that you should read this. He literally said on air." Hey, I think we have one last question for you, Dave.

Chris Grace: Yeah Dave, just as you're thinking through this impact, and as you speak and go around; you've raised children yourself. For our young listeners out there, maybe they're single, and maybe they're just starting a relationship. What advice would you give them right now at this end of it to help them down the road when that day may come that they find themselves blessed in a marriage relationship. What advice would you give to that single person or that college student today that is beginning to navigate these kinds of things and wants to do the best they can in preparation for one day being in a marriage and a situation like that?

Dave Wilson: Probably the first thing I'd think of is, I don't know why this came to my mind, but don't settle. Don't settle for anything less than God's best for you. I dated a girl for four years, from my junior year in high school to my junior year in college, was convinced I was going to marry her. I came to Christ sort of in the middle of that relationship, started growing, tried to lead her, grow her; she never seemed to have the same passion for Jesus that I did, and I was about to marry her thinking, "One day after we're married she'll be where I am spiritually, and I'll bring her along."

It's sort of tragic. I ended up surprising her. She was at another university and I went to visit her. I just sort of walked in her dorm room and I caught her with another guy, and in that moment I found out she was living a lie, and it was really, as I look back, I'm so glad that happened. I was crushed. I thought my life... she was the one, and I was going to marry her.

So long story, but I met Ann about three days later.

Chris Grace: You're aren't kidding. Three days later?

Dave Wilson: It's really unbelievable. I knew her from her family. Her dad was a baseball coach for me, but I didn't know really her. It's one of those miracle stories, and we didn't start dating right away, but obviously over time we did, and I look back now and I was like, "Wow, I was ready to settle for someone that wasn't really what I was becoming and what I wanted," and I didn't, and I might have. I don't know. I literally caught her, and otherwise, who knows? But because the situation changed, I look back now and I would say to any single person, man, if you're walking with Jesus and you're on that track – I've heard some preachers say it this way – you're running on that track; look around and see you else is running at the same pace. Don't go looking for somebody standing on the side. It's just like, man. You want the best. Go for it. Don't settle for anything else. Who knows what God's gonna do. And I look back now and I say, "Wow. It is amazing what God has been able to do."

Our wedding prayer at the foot of our bed on our wedding night, before we crawled in our wedding bed, Ann and I got on our knees, and I prayed this out loud: God, I'm praying not for a good marriage, a great marriage that will someday impact the world for the kingdom of God. And I look back now over 38 years, I'm like, "Oh my gosh. He-"

Chris Grace: Man that's great. That is just great.

Tim Muehlhoff: Well hey, we're excited for your book, "Vertical Marriage: The One Secret that will Change your Marriage." It's gonna be on Amazon. I see January 29th is when it's gonna be launched.

Dave Wilson: Yep.

Tim Muehlhoff: So go ahead, add that to your cart, but if you want to get to a marriage book quicker than that, just check out

Dave Wilson: Yeah, go get it. How do we endorse it?

Tim Muehlhoff: I'm kidding! Hey, and not just buy the book, but go to their website at Man, you've got blogs, you've got resources, it's awesome. We love it. Hey Dave, you're such a great friend of the Center, and we look forward to seeing you in January as a speaker with the Family Life speaker team, so hey, keep doing it. We're going to pray for your book, pray that it has a great impact.

Dave Wilson: I appreciate it. Love you guys, thanks.

Tim Muehlhoff: All right, tell Ann we said hi.

Dave Wilson: All right, same to you guys.

Tim Muehlhoff: Thanks Dave.

Chris Grace: So for all listeners, by the way, if you'd like to hear more on this topic and other topics, check out our website. We have a lot of resources on this very thing. We've got topics that are connected to this, and you'll find some great things at So thanks for joining us.