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Marriage Just Isn't The Same Anymore

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


Mandy Catto: Welcome to another Art of Relationships podcast. Many times when couples first step into marriage they start this journey with what our next guest calls a level of cluelessness. Ed Usyznski, speaker for Family Life Today, and contributing author for Athletes in Action shares that so many couples are unaware of what a real, healthy marriage looks like, and often try to figure things out on their own without community. Let's listen.

Chris Grace: Well I'm Chris.

Tim Muehlhoff: And I'm Tim.

Chris Grace: And welcome to another podcast. And so let's get started. Tim, we have a great guest today and someone that you have been friends with for a while, speak with, and somebody that really can speak to relationships from a lot of different angles and so the first person you thought of on this particular topic day was Ed, so introduce him.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, it's also fun to have our friends on. And I've known Ed and Amy Usyznski for a long time. It's actually Dr. Ed Usyznski. He has his PhD from Bowling Green University in American Cultural Studies. He'll explain a little bit later exactly what that means. But Ed and I have been speaking with a great group called Family Life Marriage Conferences. And Ed's awesome. Him and his wife Amy speak all over the country and so Ed, welcome to the Art of Relationships podcast.

Ed Usyznski: Thanks Tim, Chris. It's good to be here.

Tim Muehlhoff: Are you still experiencing the winter vortex in Ohio?

Ed Usyznski: It is coming out of the sky as rain right now, but yes. Yes, I am in the vortex right now.

Tim Muehlhoff: Now you do know, me being from Michigan, we view that as God's judgment on you.

Ed Usyznski: Yeah, and you know how I feel about you leaving your rightful place in the Midwest to escape, the softening effect that that's had on your life.

Tim Muehlhoff: Excuse me, I had frost on my windshield yesterday and had to take a credit card out to get it off.

Ed Usyznski: Yeah, I couldn't open my doors a couple days ago. I couldn't feel my face as I was trying to de-ice my doors.

Tim Muehlhoff: Well Ed, you have been speaking with Family Life for how long?

Ed Usyznski: 15 years. Yeah, Amy and I joined the team a little over 15 years ago.

Tim Muehlhoff: Boy, that's great. Our question would be this. Chris and Alisa also travel all over the country speaking on marriage. We're curious, what trends have you seen, or what are the questions people ask at a Family Life marriage conference in between session, and have the questions changed at all in the 15 years that you've been doing it?

Ed Usyznski: Yeah, it's a good question. It's such varied audiences we have. And you know this, I mean, just demographically being at a conference in the South brings maybe some different issues than doing one in one of the urban cities or the North, or being on the West Coast versus East Coast. So there's always certain things that make things different. But some of the things that are the same, it's interesting, and we all know this, like marriage has fallen on hard times in our culture. It doesn't get held up as something admirable and something that gets handed down to the next generation. So I feel like people are more and more on their own to figure it out for themselves. And I think that it's true everywhere in the country that people come into marriage today, still mostly trying to figure out what they're trying to get for themselves. There's nothing particularly new about that.

I just think the level of selfishness tends to create the majority of problems that come up. So especially younger couples I think through the first few years wind up trying to live like they're still single. They want the benefits of being married, whatever they think those are, while still having a single mindset and just don't realize that they need to make sacrifices, that they need to actually change on behalf of this person that they've said yes to. So I know it's not really specific, but I feel like selfishness is the thing that just hangs over everybody in a profound way. And cluelessness. And I don't say that to be insulting, but just we're not getting lots of good input before we get married, and so people, I think, are struggling a lot more to figure out how to make it work.

Chris Grace: Ed, when you spend your time some some of these couples, where would you point either the solution or the blame, and it may be in the same place, are they coming out of settings, churches in which this really isn't really preparing them? Are they coming out of homes in which they're seeing more brokenness and so they're a little bit more afraid? Or is their selfishness maybe something that is just a new thing in the culture that you're noticing and seeing is coming at higher rates? Where would you point some of the, either the solution or the blame?

Ed Usyznski: Yeah, I think the new thing is just the confusion about gender roles to begin with. I mean, let's go back, before we get to the point of marriage, I think people are confused about what it means to be a man or what it means to be a woman. And that lends itself then to only further complications when you're trying to blend a male and female together. So I think, and this is almost going to sound like an oversimplification, but I still think that one of the biggest problems is that people try to journey alone. I think one of the biggest problems is a lack of community.

It's a lack of people to do marriage with, to work things out in community with other friends, and for the man to have good men around him that will be able to listen to him when he's struggling, but then exhort him to go back home and do the right thing, for the woman to be in a solid group that would do the same thing for her. Because I think when people have that, it tends to minimize the, not so much the difficulties, you still have difficulties, but just the ability to work through them and the motivation to do so.

Tim Muehlhoff: We have a friend of ours, Dr. Jon Lunde, we actually teach a class together, I think we've told you about this. It's a great class at Biola called the Christian Relationships class where I teach it with my wife Noreen, Chris teaches it with his wife Alisa and then Dr. John Lunde, a New Testament scholar, teaches it with his wife Pam. He literally lectured on loneliness yesterday and said in one survey, 42% of men would self identify as being lonely in life in general, even if they were married.

Ed Usyznski: Interesting. Yeah, so that's not new. There's been tons of books written about the importance of connecting and community at all different levels of being human. But I think that marriage is profoundly affected by that loneliness, by not having substance of connections with other people that can help us on the journey.

Tim Muehlhoff: And you know what affects that Ed, and you can speak into this. You also have a long history with Athletes in Action within the organization Campus Crusade for Christ, now known as Cru. But when our kids, and your kids are kind of in this age brackets, our kids are now fortunately, praise God, out of it, is we're traveling every weekend to tournaments. And sometimes Noreen and I are at different basketball tournaments, we're like ships passing in the night. So we feel that loneliness with each other, but then it's hard to have really good church friendships when you feel like every single weekend we're going off to these basketball tournaments or baseball tournaments. Oh my goodness, double headers in baseball, I just wanted to die. So I think that adds to the loneliness too is that we're family centered to a bad degree and it's hurting the ability to connect with other adults.

Ed Usyznski: That's interesting. Yeah. And we're not really here to talk about how sports culture affects things, but it really does. I mean, it just eats up so ... And it's not just sports, I guess, but any extracurricular activity now becomes so dominant in the lives of our kids that it east up post work hours and weekends. I think that's a really interesting observation. And church life itself, again, it's different all over the place, and every situation is different, but I think in general it seems that church life itself lacks the community bonding aspect that maybe it had historically in our culture.

The way people are able to change churches as easily as we do, the way people move and wind up going to different places. I mean, it's just hard to sustain a community even if you really want it. You've got to really work at it. And I think it's worth it. I think it's worth continuing to say, look, wherever you find yourself, make this a value that you're going to have some other people that will keep pointing you in the right direction and do life with. You can't do it well for an extended time alone.

Tim Muehlhoff: So what have you and Amy done in the midst of your madness? And again, tell us a little bit about the context, what age are your kids, and what have you guys done in the midst of all the insanity to foster community?

Ed Usyznski: Yeah, well we've got four kids. We've got an 18-year-old son, a 15-year-old daughter, a 12-year-old son. I think he's 12. I've been saying 12. I need to check. I've heard different reports on his actual age, but it is somewhere preteen, and his birthday is nearing. And we have an 8-year-old son. So we have three boys and a girl ranging from 18 to 8. Yeah, so we're all over the place. And we've tried to limit ... So one of the things we've done actually, it's again, interesting that you mentioned sports. We intentionally, really did not ... I don't want to say allow, we didn't put our kids in sports until they were nine years old, ten years old, the first two especially, until they started to ask to play things because we saw what was happening to our friends who were having their four year olds play soccer and t-ball.

And there's nothing wrong with it. But we just saw how we would never have any time alone with those friends anymore, because every day was taken up by going and sitting in a field, watching kids that are spinning circles and aren't even really playing the game. And again, it's a whole [different] subject to talk about, but we've been very intentional about limiting the extracurricular until we felt like we were ready to handle it. But two, I think we've been super intentional about pursuing our friends. We just have. We've been fortunate that we've had a core group of people that we've been in ministry with literally for decades. So we've been on mission together within Athletes In Action.

We've raised our kids together and we haven't moved. We've stayed fairly close to each other, and that's allowed us to continue to have that core group that's been with us now or a while, that's done exactly what I just described. Guys that are telling me and putting me in my place when I need to be and they'll do the same for Amy. But we've been intentional. I'm going to use that word again. And they have too, where we make time for each other. We get babysitters and go out together. We will decompress after a retreat or after a long work weekend or whatever together. So we've been pretty purposeful about it.

Tim Muehlhoff: I love what you were saying about the age of the kids. I think we made a mistake with our kids too early because their friends were all playing Little League baseball, so we decided to do it. But I had an epiphany one day Ed. I was in the stands having a heat stroke right as the such was blazing down on you. And they started doing kid pitch. And so this one kid's at the plate and this one kid throws the ball way behind the batter, and he swings. And I'm sitting there thinking, "What am I doing? What am I doing right now?" And it was this epiphany moment.

Ed Usyznski: Yeah. Youth sports are like a level of Dante's hell. When you start too early ... I don't know, it really is insane. And we're all sitting there asking each other what are we doing here. But there's all ... Again, I don't want to say that in any way to judge anybody. I know it's complicated and we've had this conversation a million times with different people. All kids are different, and I get it. But whether its sports or anything else, to your point Tim, it's so easy to let the cultural flow dictate the terms and the boundaries of what our marriage space is going to be like and what our family space is going to be like. And to do life well, at some point you've got to stand up and say, we're going to put some stops to some of these things. Maybe even just for this season we're going to make an adjustment so that we can have some semblance of health among us instead of just going along with what everybody else is doing all the time.

Chris Grace: Yeah, I think you're probably at the fore of reaching some of these young couples that are coming to these conferences that are dealing with this troubling trend maybe, and that I think what you're identifying too is there's greater disconnect, not just from church, but from family, community, right, and from God. And in psychology what we see, there's a whole lot of that disconnect that has us worried because it's starting to show up in mental and behavioral health problems, depression, anxiety rates go up. And part of that is that disconnect.

Part of it too has to do with culture changing so quickly, things that were easily to understood as what we would call right and wrong, or this is just, that's unjust, or this is loving and this is hateful. It feels like that's also changed. It's not as clear anymore. And I wonder if young couples that, when you're meeting them, it's both a combination of disconnectedness with either the transcendent or community, whatever, and the rules have changed. You can't agree anymore on some things. What role does that play with these young couples when they're trying to make a decision about something as important as getting along together when maybe they don't even agree what's right or wrong?

Ed Usyznski: Yeah, well like I said earlier, just the fact of being a man or a woman is so confusing. And I just heard a phrase the other day, I can't remember it now off the top of my head, but it was something along the lines of the problems that come when all of the boundaries dissolve, when you no longer have any idea where the sidelines are around you culturally. And you share this example all the time of, the reason ... A football game only works because you know where the sideline's at. You know where the end zone's at. You know where the boundaries are at. And you can run wild inside those lines, but you've got to have lines somewhere. So Chris, I definitely agree that it's only made things more complicated and confusing and worse that we really aren't sure if there should even be any lines. You know, it's interesting, I know maybe we'll turn a corner on this later, but I think it's relevant right now.

My program in American Culture Studies was largely about studying life under the sun apart from God. I mean it was the book of Ecclesiastes writ large. Like how do you make sense of the American journey, from the inception of our nation to where we're at right now. And it's all looked at through the lens of power and through marginalized groups versus those who have power and are able to have agency. And that was kind of the grid through which we looked at things, how money works, how communication works to manipulate people, all those sorts of things. But one of the things that I realized right away, when I first got into the program over 10 years ago now, is that there was a real commitment, not only amongst my professors, but most of those that I was in these classes with, to do away with cultural norms, where any idea of what normativity would be, that the fact of lines being in existence in the first place is in a sense a oppression to people.

And [inaudible], we're committed to trying to erase lines everywhere. So it's interesting because even at that time I felt like, well that's just not always going to be a good idea. I mean, some lines should be erased, but if you do away with all of them, then we wind up with exactly what you described Chris, which is a sort of social anarchy, and a mental anarchy where we no longer have any idea where the borders are at inside our own mind, let alone in relationship to one another. And that's scary. It just is. It's a scary way to exist together.

Tim Muehlhoff: If we go to the Bible and want to draw those lines, what would you say is at the heart of it? I know at Family Life we talk about God's blueprint for marriage. If you were to crystalize the lines that God draws or the essence of a Christian marriage, what would you say that that is? And I know this is horribly unfair that we're going to do this very quickly, but what's the essence, do you think, of a Christian marriage that makes it different from a non-Christian marriage, what would you say?

Chris Grace: And then also summarize the book of Revelation if you can in two sentences or less.

Ed Usyznski: I was going to say ...

Chris Grace: Okay, go ...

Ed Usyznski: Can we talk about the predestination versus free will, just on the back end of this. Well, what do you think about this, you know there's so many different places to go with this, but this is what came into my mind as soon as you asked the question, that if you want to find your life you have to lose it. The road to actually finding fulfillment, and this is true whether it's in marriage or anywhere else, but we're talking about marriage. If you want to find your life in marriage, you lose your life. The path to finding fulfillment is through sacrifice. It's through making choices that are asking what's in the best interest of your spouse, more often than not, instead of always asking how can they meet your needs. And you know, maybe that sounds a little bit cliché, but I don't think it is.

And then well that doesn't mean that it's a ball and chain relationship with each other where you're constantly in this suffering state, looking to be slaves to one another. But it really is just a mindset that says, I am going to look to serve you and if in fact she or he is doing the same thing in return, it's just amazing how fulfilling that reality can be with each other. In some ways it's as simple as that. I mean, I know that's super difficult to live out and you certainly can't do it completely on your own apart from the Spirit of God, but that is what it boils down to, I think.

Tim Muehlhoff: No, I like that. And I think I would add to that that there's a higher purpose of the marriage rather than your own personal satisfaction or happiness. We did a whole podcast on these celebrity couples that are deciding to split apart and the statement that they release is something like, "Hey we still love each other, but this journey is just taking us in different paths, and so we've just decided to uncouple." And yet you think, wow, what about the kids, or what about the purpose of marriage in a bigger context that isn't just necessarily your personal happiness. It reminds me of Gary Thomas' book Sacred Marriage, what if marriage was more than about happiness rather it was about holiness. That kind of idea I think is distinctly Christian.

Ed Usyznski: Well even the way we throw that love word around, and I get what they're saying. I think that's sad. If you still love each other, why would you want to decouple, but okay, I get it. But when we talk about the Christian notion of love, it really flows from the idea of agape, and giving one another undeserved expressions on behalf of the other, giving one another what's best on behalf of the other instead of always looking for what I want. And the reality is I want what I want. It's not like we come into marriage ready to do what I just described. That is part of the journey. And the way God has rigged it, if we stay together over time and you continue to work against yourself and work against your own desires and figure out what it means to really genuinely love another person, I think you find life in that.

Don't we see that when we see an older couple that's been married 50 or 60 years, there's something qualitatively different about them as individuals, but also as a couple, assuming that they're still actually engaged with one another and not sitting at Bob Evans at different tables, which you do see that on occasion too. But you know what I'm saying. There's just something different about a couple that has weathered storms together and learned how to die to themselves on behalf of the other. They're actually more whole as people on the other end of that. It's totally counterintuitive, but I think that's the way God set it up.

Tim Muehlhoff: How long have you guys been married?

Ed Usyznski: Almost 20 years.

Tim Muehlhoff: Ah, that's great. Hey, what would the Ed today, after having been married for 20 years, what would he have said to the Ed who was just about to get married in year one? What has changed about your thinking about marriage or love or commitment or sacrifice?

Ed Usyznski: Yeah, that's a good question. Well, everything I just said is what's true about me. I think I came in with a list of what I wanted and what I expected and even kind of assuming what I thought I could get, the best I could get from Amy. What were my assumptions about what that would be and I just feel like that list has gone away more and more over the years, that it hasn't been as much about trying to get those things satisfied, even though a lot of them have been, but it's like actually my purpose for being here is to help Amy figure out why she's here and fill gaps in her life. At my best, you know what I mean? It's not like that always happens perfectly, but that's the exchange that, I think, the daily exchange that needs to be taking place for marriage to go well is that it's less about you and more about them. And if both people are doing that, then it becomes a beautiful thing.

Tim Muehlhoff: So what would you say ... We get this one all the time at conferences. They just say, "We're not happy. We're really not happy, and why should the kids see that? Why should the kids see this unhappiness and we're just making each other miserable? Why stay in it" I just do understand why God would want me to stay in a marriage that I would describe as being unhappy"

Ed Usyznski: Yeah. And I think that's a hard question against our cultural backdrop where what we're taught is all that matters is you being happy. But you just said it. What if there's more that God is trying to do than just have you be happy? And I always like to unpack with people when they ask me variations on that question, like, what does happiness mean to you, and why did you think that marriage was supposed to supply that? Where did you get that from? I like to unpack people's history in why they think the way they think about marriage. And for heaven's sakes, over the course of being together for 60 years, didn't you say you were going to be together forever when you got married, whether you meant it or not, that's what you said. So over the course of 60 years, shouldn't we expect that there's going to be periods where emotionally we maybe don't feel as high as we did at the beginning or that ...

Like why do we think that we should always feel great about everything? Again, it has almost more to do with the American mindset than it does marriage. It's like you're already living unrealistically because even if you weren't married you would be wanting that feeling of being happy and constantly being on this emotional high. And that's not realistic. That's just not the way it works in a broken world. So I like to unpack that. But I don't always have ... I don't always try to give people great answers to questions like that as much as I want to try to explore where they got it from, where they got that mentality from in the first place, and do they see how destructive it is because it's completely unrealistic to try to live that way. You've got to go through pain. You've got to go through difficult times, even as an individual, let alone as a couple.

Tim Muehlhoff: Well I like how you evoked Ecclesiastes when you just said life under the sun, that that affects all parts of us, that in a fallen world, you're going to have these ebbs and flows and you're going to experience disappointment in your career, parenting, marriage. Everything has been tainted by a fallen world, and so I think as Christians, we should not be surprised that we experience these seasons of a marriage too, where it's like, I wouldn't necessarily describe myself as being up and down happy, or overjoyed right now, but this is life under the sun. I need to go to God for comfort, and I need to put realistic expectations on my marriage. And I think that helps.

Ed Usyznski: It's interesting as I think about it, I didn't get married until I was 31, which is also more commonplace now than it used to be. And you know, throughout my 20s, I had times when I felt extremely content and happy, and I had times when I felt miserable being along and wanting something different. And through the first ten years of our marriage I had times when I was super happy and content, and I had times when I was miserable being with somebody else. So that's what we just said. That's just the journey. That's the human experience on earth. So again, is our highest aim then to try to be happy all the time? Or is it to somehow see God making us into something different through the difficulties and through the challenges. So ultimately it becomes theological, doesn't it? I mean, you just said that. It has something to do with our theology and how we view God and his plan for human beings as they journey through this broken world, more than anything else.

Chris Grace: That’s good Ed. Ed, there's a couple of people that are listening to this podcast and they're trying to make a decision. They know they're heading towards marriage and they're excited about that, or one day it'll be part of their reality, they hope, and if you had to just give some quick advice based upon some of these experiences, and they're trying to do this the right way, what would you say? You've got a couple of months or you've got a year, here's what you should focus on, and here's what I would do. What advice would you give to that young couple or that young person out there that is wanting to make a difference, not just in this world, but in their marriage. They are leaning, and love God, [inaudible] that direction, they still just want to make some changes, what would you give ... What advice, if you had to give any?

Ed Usyznski: Yeah, that's an interesting question. I feel like we've already answered it. This is what I say to people, yeah, especially if they've got a year, I would encourage them to get input from people that have been on the path well longer than them. So whether that's in marriage counseling, or even better still, just to have a mentor couple, that they start to do life in community, like we just described. And most young couples don't have that well, because I don't just mean to have a couple friends that you're doing this with, I'm talking about friends who are ... They put the marriage bar high above their head and they're striving to do exactly what you just said, to do this well. So gosh, invest time in finding those people now. The other thing that I find myself encouraging people to do is to work on their own personal issues, and work through their own ...

Everybody brings damage to marriage. Everybody brings emotional baggage to marriage. And you guys know this, isn't it so much more difficult to try to work that out after you get married than it is when you're still single. So I encourage people to be honest with themselves and again, to have a mentor in their life that they can work things out with and that they can be honest about, struggles that they've had or that baggage that they're bringing in from their own upbringing, or lack thereof, because the more of that that they can at least get on the table ... I'm not even going to say the more they can get worked out, that's ideal, but the more of that you can at least get on the table and know that it's there, the sooner, how do I want to say it, the less likely it's going to do irreparable damage in your marriage.

You can start working on things, you can start exploring your own heart, and it's just easier to do that when you're single. And I still value reading. Man, that just has got to sound crazy to say that, but I still think it's a great idea to read some books, to listen to other voices who have some intelligence and wisdom about how to do marriage well. I mean I think somebody that reads two or three good books on marriage before they get married is way better off, if they're paying any attention to what they read, is way better off than people that are just winging it.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. That's really good. I love that in conjunction with the mentor couple. It's been our privilege, me and Noreen, to be Chris and Alisa's mentor couple all these years now. And it's hard. They look up to us and sometimes we feel like we're under that scrutiny, but it's been good.

Ed Usyznski: Don't you wish he had worked a lot of his junk out before he got married and brought it to you? That's the whole point. Think about how much easier it would be working with him.

Chris Grace: Yeah. Boy. Yeah. Well. Ed, I'd like to stay with you and maybe you can give me some advice here as soon as we can get rid of Tim. Ed, thanks for joining us. It's really good to hear from you. We're going to have you back on the next podcast, if you don't mind, if you've got some time.

Ed Usyznski: That'd be great. Yeah. I love this. I love that you guys are talking about these things, and let's be back here together.

Mandy Catto: Thanks for listening to the Art of Relationships. This podcast is only made possible through generous donations from listeners just like you. If you like it and want to help keep the podcast going, visit our website at and make a donation today.