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Focus on the Family Broadcast

Practical Ways to Strengthen Your Marriage

Practical Ways to Strengthen Your Marriage

In a discussion based on their book 7 Days to a Stronger Marriage, Dave and Ashley Willis offer couples practical advice for increasing their marital satisfaction by improving their communication, trust, sexual intimacy, commitment, and more.



Ashley Willis: We had somebody say something to Dave once. They said, “Gosh, you guys, like, text each other and call each other a lot in the day.” And she’s like, “That’s kind of weird.”


Dave Willis: And…

Ashley: And we were like, “Is it weird?”

Dave: And my thought, well, is, “If normal is unhappy and divorced, I want to be as weird as I can in my marriage.”

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: Dave and Ashley Willis join us today on Focus on the Family. And your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. Thanks for listening in. I’m John Fuller. 

Jim Daly: Hey, John, let me ask you this – when you married Dena, did you use traditional marriage vows or go with something unique?

John: Now, that’s pretty hard, Jim. That was a long time ago.


Jim: Thank you for answering that way.

John: I think…

Jim: Because I don’t know the answer.

John: I think I’ll have to go back now and look at the wedding videotape that we have.

Jim: That’d be good. So you’re not gonna…

John: I think it’s a combo.

Jim: …Get yourself in trouble.

John: I think it’s a – I think we took some traditional aspects and kind of made it our own.

Jim: I think – and forgive me, Jean, if you’re listening – I think we went all the way with traditional.

John: Why did you get us in such hot water…

Jim: I don’t know.

John: …To begin this program?


Jim: Maybe we should start over. But we are gonna have some fun today, but we’re also gonna learn how to improve your marriage. And it’s one of those programs you’re gonna want to lean into because I doubt your marriage is perfect, although it could be very good. And, uh, that is a wonderful thing. But we want to strengthen you in your journey, in your marriage journey particularly. I’m telling you, folks, right now, the Christian community, we need strong marriages. We need that as evidence to our young people and to the world that’s looking. Uh, so often, I meet with non-believers. And they’ll say, “You guys in the Christian community haven’t done so well with marriage.” That’s a terrible testimony. And we want to do all we can to strengthen our marriages and strengthen your marriages because people are watching. And more importantly, it blesses God.

John: And we have so many tools here to help you do just that. One is our marriage assessment which identifies 12 traits in your marriage, and can show those areas you’re doing well in and perhaps some areas for improvement. And you can take that free online assessment and get a copy of the resources we have, which of course would also include the book by our guests: 7 Days to a Stronger Marriage. And we should note there’s a husbands’ edition and a wives’ edition. And you can find details at focusonthefamily.com/radio.

And our guests, Dave and Ashley Willis, are part of a Christian ministry called Marriage Today. They have blogs and videos and resources that reach millions every month, and they’ve written a number of books including the one I just mentioned – 7 Days to a Stronger Marriage


Jim: Okay, we’ve gotta start right there. Really, 7 Days to a Stronger Marriage?

Dave: Yeah.

Ashley: Yes!

Jim: Okay, how can that be? I mean, I’ve been married 31 years.

John: And you’re still…

Jim: And you’re telling me seven days I could have gotten to that stronger marriage?


In seven days?

Dave: Well, you could’ve gotten a really good start in seven days.


Ashley: Yes.

Dave: So it’s not necessarily that seven days, your marriage is gonna be magically fixed if it’s broken. But in seven days, what you can do is create some brand new habits that are gonna last a whole lot longer than seven days. So it’s not a magic wand by any means. But we do believe that if a husband and wife will take the time to do what’s outlined in the book – the daily activities – I think it could help them reconnect in a way that maybe they haven’t connected in years. And that’s the part that’s gonna last much longer than a week and really make a lasting connection.

Jim: Well, let’s get to it. What does that challenge look like – the seven-day challenge?

Ashley: Well, what’s really cool is that there’s, you know, like you said, a husbands’ edition and a wives’ edition. And so there’s readings that are similar enough that they’re reading, you know, the same kind of topics every day.

Jim: Okay, so guys…

Ashley: And then…

Jim: …Have to read?

Ashley: Yes.


Dave: Not a whole lot guys.

Jim: Okay.

Ashley: It’s not a whole lot, though.

Jim: That, right there, is a miracle.

Ashley: It’s not a whole lot. ‘Cause we – we get that.

John: That’s the challenge.

Jim: Is…

Ashley: Yes.

Jim: Is the guys’ version is big letters?

Dave: Big letters…

Ashley: Yes.

Dave: …Lots of pictures.


Jim: Pictures?

Ashley: We just gave it – we gave it a little synopsis for the guys’ version. No, I’m just kidding. No, it is – you know, we want – we want the husband and wife – a lot of times, when they’re gonna read books like this, they feel like they’re not on the same page.

Jim: Correct.

Ashley: And we really feel like if there’s something – something great that really can happen in seven days is getting back on the same page. And so there’s a reading each day that they’re gonna be reading the same thing essentially. And then there’s an activity that they do together. And that activity can bring them closer together. And more than anything, we just really want them to have healthy conversations. I think that so many of the problems in marriage really start with just a breakdown of communication. I think that there’s lots of husbands and wives that really are doing the business of life, but they’re not really talking about anything deeper than shoptalk – you know, where to take the kids…

Jim: You’re so right.

Ashley: …And…

Jim: Yeah.

Ashley: I mean, it’s just – and that’s no way to live. God wants us to have a vibrant, thriving marriage. And we have to be able to talk…

Dave: Absolutely.

Ashley: …About deeper things, like our hopes, our dreams, our fears, in order to have that…

Jim: How many wives are screaming through the radio right now, or the podcast, or what have you, going, “Yes, that’s what I want”? We struggle with that. Um, we struggle with going deeper, particularly as guys. We’re both smiling.

Dave: I know, we’re just smiling right now.

Jim: Why?

Ashley: Yes.

Jim: Why do we want to keep it superficial?

Dave: Oh, man, I think some of the communication mistakes we make in marriage is that men talk to their wives as if they’re men, and wives talk to their husbands as if they’re women.

Jim: Boy, that’s…

Dave: It’s like…

Jim: …So true.

Dave: …We talk to each other based on how we relate. But God put us together as a man and a woman, a husband and a wife, vastly different. And so part of it is just understanding we’re wired up to process communication in different ways. And this is biblical, but also – there’s – there’s neuroscience behind this. And there’s a little bit of this in the book. But we’ve had to look into this a lot just to – to help us in our communication. And we both majored in communication in college and thought this is gonna be a breeze.

Ashley: Like, we got this.

Dave: We’re gonna get communication without a problem.

Jim: We’ll have marriage down pat.

Dave: Yeah.


About six months in, we’re like, “Do we even speak the same language? Like…”

Ashley: Yeah, no.

Dave: “…How – how is this so hard?” And…

Jim: Okay, that’s hilarious just for a minute.

Ashley: I know.

Jim: You both graduated with communications degrees, and you struggle in your marriage at times.

Dave: Yeah.

Ashley: Oh, absolutely.

Jim: You guys should be the experts.

Ashley: And far from it.

Dave: Yeah.


Ashley: I mean, we just…

Jim: You did write a book though.

Ashley: We consider ourselves encouragers – marriage encouragers because, you know, it’s hard to be a marriage expert because we’re not perfect people. You know, we – there’s just all of us imperfect different families coming from different backgrounds. And so when it comes to communication, you know, like he was talking about the neuroscience, something that we found out – and when I heard this, I laughed because I was like, “That is so true.” It says that, you know, men really communicate better when they’re side by side and when they’re doing an activity, whereas women communicate better face to face. And I laughed when I read this because I was like, “Oh, my goodness, when you go into a restaurant, and you see two women, two friends, you know, having lunch together, they’re leaning in, and it’s like a ping pong match, you know, talking back and forth. Now, if two guys were doing the same thing, they’re gonna try to find the seats where they can be side by side, and they’re watching sports and maybe carrying on a conversation. But you know, you rarely – they’re not gonna choose if they can choose not to be, you know, across…

Jim: Face to face.

Ashley: …From each other.

Jim: Yeah.

Ashley: Because it’s just – it feels uncomfortable to them.

Dave: It’s terrifying.

Ashley: It…

Dave: You know, and – you know, when…

Ashley: Well…

Dave: …The first few times…

Ashley: …Yeah.

Dave: …In marriage, as much as we – we had good communication, but it would scare me when she would say, “We need to talk.”

Ashley: We need to talk.

Jim: Right.

Dave: Oh, my goodness.

Ashley: Yes.

Jim: That’s a bad signal.

Dave: It scared me to get – to death. But I realized, over time, she was just saying, we – “I want to connect with you.”

Jim: Yeah.

Dave: “I want to really connect…”

Ashley: We need to connect, yeah.

Dave: “…With you.” And so we found ways to do it. And we found, for us, um, we kind of fit into that mold of men communicate better side by side. When we’re on a walk, when we’re…

Ashley: A drive.

Dave: …On a drive, when we’re doing an activity together, all of a sudden, it’s like my mind and my mouth open up in new ways. But when we’re looking at each other, and the whole purpose is to talk, there’s something in me that shuts down. And so we’ve – we had to, you know, work through that. And the more research we’ve done, we’ve seen that’s kind of common.

Jim: I think one of the reasons for that, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think one of the reasons – men need to process. And I don’t know that wives understand that. Uh, we can maybe be quick on our feet. But I think with our wives, we’re a little more thoughtful at times. We need to think…

Ashley: Right.

Jim: …Okay, why is she saying that? I don’t understand it. And you need to understand. Now, women, wired the way you’re wired, with your brain chemistry, you’re, like, firing on all cells. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. And we’re just going, “Okay, whoa!”

Ashley: Right.

Jim: But it’s true. You have a funny story about the cable company marriage. I mean, describe the cable company…

Dave: The cable company marriage.

Ashley: Oh, yes.

Dave: Yeah, so you know, the – the cable company salesman comes door to door in our neighborhood. And he’s giving us the sales pitch. And he makes it sound amazing. He’s like, “Man, we’re gonna take care of you guys. We want to give you our best package, best price. We’re just giving you the best that we got.” I’m like, “This is amazing. This is so much better than what we have now. And I’m like…”


“…So how long does this last?” He goes, “You get this for 12 months.” Twelve whole months, it’s gonna be…

Jim: Right.

Dave: …Magical. And I’m like, “That’s awesome.” And I’m like, “What happens after 12 months?” And then he starts kind to hm-hawing and shuffling his feet and saying, “Well, you know, the package changes, you lose some channels. Actually, you lose a lot of channels. The price is gonna go up, the service kind of goes down.” I’m like, “Wait a second, are you telling me you give me the best that you’ve got for a year to kind of get me hooked at the start of this relationship? I thought this was special. I thought we really had something going. But then after a year, you’re gonna give me your leftovers – as little as it takes to keep me around?” And he said, “Well, I guess that’s true, but that’s how everybody does it.” And we kind of looked at each other and laughed and said, “You know that’s a sad indictment if that’s how everybody does it, not just as it relates to your cable TV company.” But I think, in marriage, that’s how so many of us do it. We give each other our best in that dating phase. We make time for each other. You know, those first 12 months, man, we’re bringing flowers, we’re doing all these romantic gestures, we’re making communication a priority. But then the longer it goes, especially guys, let me challenge you if you’re listening, I think that we – once that pursuit phase is over, we shift into this gear where we think now all of a sudden, pursuit is over, I don’t have to pursue her anymore. But guys, your wife needs lifelong pursuit. She wants to be the apple of your eye. She wants to be, you know, adored by you for her whole life. And she deserves that. But yet, we tend to give as little as we can give. And all of a sudden, we have that cable-company marriage. And before long, she’s regretting that she signed up with that cable company.

Jim: No longer…

Dave: Yeah.

Jim: No longer on the premium package.

Dave: Right, no…

Ashley: Exactly.

Dave: …Longer on the premium package.

Jim: Why is that? I mean, it’s not like we don’t love our wives anymore. But why – it’s funny because it’s so common. So what is going on there that men just go, “Okay, the hunt’s over, pursuit’s over? This may be the golden takeaway for the guys listening today. What can you say to us, as a wife, to say this is why it’s so important not to give up?

Ashley: Well, I think that, you know, when you start acting like, you know – like, I hate the term “old ball-and-chain”. Like, when you start acting like your wife is your old lady, your old ball-and-chain, you’re acting like she’s just old news, right? And you stop being fascinated by her and captivated by her. And it’s just so important for a woman to know that – that you still choose us every day. Like, for the husbands that are listening, your wife needs to know that if you had to do it all over again, that you would continually choose to marry her each and every day. And it doesn’t just go for husbands. I mean, wives, we need to do that, too. We need to affirm our husbands. It’s different. You know, husbands really need to be affirmed by their wives. You know, as wives, we need to tell our husband as much as possible that he’s the man because that really resonates with his heart.

Jim: Oh, we do like that.

Dave: We do.

Ashley: Yes.


And – you know, and sometimes…

Jim: When you said that…

Dave: Yeah.

Jim: …It resonated.

Ashley: I know. You’re like…

Jim: I was like…

Ashley: …I want to…

Jim: …Man.

Ashley: …Be the man, you know.

Dave: I have such a fragile ego. And when…


Dave: …You say that, it just…

Jim: You are one blessed man.

Ashley: You are the man. Like…

Dave: Yes.

Ashley: …I – seriously…

Dave: Yes.

Ashley: Like, he is the man – totally. Dave’s amazing. But, you know – and I know I hear so many wives, disgruntled wives, who do not feel pursued, who feel like they’re old news to their husbands. And they’ll be like, “But I can’t really find anything good to say about him. And you know what? I mean, he doesn’t really care about me.” And, you know, there’s this like, if he did this…

Jim: And then it gets into a bad situation.

Ashley: Exactly. And so they just become apathetic about each other.

Jim: Yeah.

Ashley: And that’s a really hard place to be.

Jim: Hey, Dave, your, uh, dad gave you some great advice. And I’m always interested in the sage wisdom of older men as fathers. What did he tell you?

Dave: He said “happy wife, happy life” basically.

Jim: That’s pretty simple.


Dave: That’s basically what he said.

Ashley: I like it.

John: Did he make that up?

Dave: A man…


Ashley: Thank you, Fred.

Jim: I’ve been looking for that guy.

Dave: I found that online after you said it. It wasn’t you, but – no, dad had such wisdom. And one thing my parents did – and mom and dad, if you’re listening – and I know you are because they love your program…

Ashley: Yes.

Dave: …That they did right – that you guys did right – you modeled the kind of marriage that made me want to get married someday. I think one of the biggest breakdowns – and you talked about the sad statistics in Christian marriages – I think one of the biggest breakdowns there is that these husbands and wives just kind of, like, grind it out together, totally focused on the kids. And they kind of co-parent well. They’re good partners in paying the bills. But they’re not pursuing each other. They’re not respecting each other. They’re not best friends. They’re not having fun. There’s not joy in the home.

Ashley: Right.

Dave: And the kids are growing up looking at this, seeing mom and dad not enjoying life, and they’re thinking, “If that’s what marriage is, I’m out.”

Jim: Yeah.

Ashley: Right.

Dave: Maybe I’ll live…

Ashley: Like…

Dave: …With somebody later on…

Ashley: …Why even do it?

Dave: …But I’m out. And guys, we need to give our kids the gift of modeling a marriage that makes them want to get married. And that means prioritizing the date night. And you think, “My kids are gonna cry.” Yeah, they’re gonna cry more if you get divorced, you know. But when they see you making it a priority that, “Mom and Dad, we need our time together, we love you, we’re gonna be at our best for you when we’re at our best together,” that gives these kids the security and the stability that they need. And that only comes when you see a mom and dad committed. And so I’m so thankful that my parents did that.

Jim: Ashley, let me ask you this, as the one representing all women here…


John: No pressure.

Jim: …How do you not, um, respond in a way – let me just say it this way. So Dave comes home and says, “Hey, I’m looking forward to Thursday night’s date night.” And you’re going, “Ugh, I got so much to do.”

Ashley: Right.

Jim: So many women have the lists in their head. And, “You know what? It – maybe this week, we can forego it because I’ve got this thing, and I’ve got to get this done.” How does a woman prioritize? If a man is – actually a husband is pursuing…

Ashley: Which is great.

Jim: …That date night, how does a woman say, “Okay, I can respond to that in a better way than ‘I got 400 things to do, I don’t have time for a date night?’“

Ashley: I’ll tell you – and we’ve been there. Gosh, we’ve been there so many times. I just…

Jim: Sometimes there is 400 things to do.

Ashley: I mean, exactly. There’s always something to do. And I would say your marriage is more important than the chores on your list. I mean, and you’re talking to somebody who is particular about my house. Like, I mean, I just about go crazy if there’s, like, laundry piling up and if I feel like I’m in a dirty place. I do. I mean, I’m very particular. But I found that if I forego a date night with Dave – we can’t do it that week for whatever reason – I am grouchier. I’m just kind of not a pleasant person by the end of that week because I haven’t had that moment with my husband to just kind of, you know, put a pause on crazy life and say, “Let’s invest in us. Let’s talk about more than just kids, more than just bills. You know, let’s talk about our hearts. Like, what’s going on? What are you really feeling?” Because those are our favorite conversations. You know, we need to talk about the business of life – absolutely. But it’s so much better, and you’re better friends. Like, and I think that so many marriages are missing out on the wonderful friendship that God wants our marriages to have. And I think that you cannot have friendship unless you’re spending that time together on a date night, or even if you’re not going out somewhere, putting the kids to bed an hour early, I mean, that’s gonna make all the difference.

Jim: Yeah.

Ashley: That can make a huge difference.

Dave: And I – let me just challenge the guys real quick. Because your wife, if she feels like she has 400 things on her list to do, the most romantic and thoughtful thing you can do is to take some of those things off…

Ashley: Yeah.

Dave: …Of her list. I’m telling you, Man, you are never more attracted to your wife than when she walks in and sees you folding laundry…

Ashley: Oh, yeah.

Dave: …Or putting away dishes. We – and it can lead to good things. We actually have a word for this…


…In our house. It’s called…

Dave and Ashley: Chore play.


Dave: That’s right. And you can figure out…

Ashley: Think about it for a minute.

Dave: …What that means on your own.

Jim: Chore play, there you go.

Ashley: Just think about it.

Jim: And if I could add, just do it with a good attitude.

Dave: Yes.

Ashley: Oh, exactly.

Jim: I’ve done it…

Ashley: That’s huge.

Jim: …Both ways.

Dave: Right.

Ashley: Yes.

Jim: The bad attitude doesn’t work so well.

Dave: Right.

Ashley: No, you have – that’s essential.

Jim: (through gritted teeth) I will help you iron these 4,000 pieces of clothing.

Ashley: Yes.

Jim: It doesn’t go down as…

Dave: Do it with joy.

Ashley: Yes.

Jim: Do it with joy.

Ashley: And, you know, even better, is do it without even being asked. That’s amazing when I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, you did that? That was awesome. Thank you.”

Jim: Ashley, I’ve got to come back to you. Uh, how does a husband show that, uh, we cherish our wives? What is – and I don’t want to put Dave on the spot. From the many friends that you have, I mean…

John: From all your research…


Dave: Right.

Jim: …How does that come across? Give us some tips. We just need to be hit between the eyes. Give us the four things we can do to say to our wives we cherish you.

Ashley: Oh, my goodness, there’s so many things. Because I think sometimes we think that’s so complicated. But really, I think it’s making time. I think time is the currency of relationships. That’s something that Dave has – he’s said that many times. And it is. You know, it’s…

Jim: Can I…

Ashley: …What makes…

Jim: Can I interrupt you there?

Ashley: Sure, sure.

Jim: What you’re saying – and I – this is important because I can fall prey to this one. Let’s spend time together. Okay. And then I don’t organize it.

Ashley: Right.

Jim: And she may be even waiting for me to initiate carving out the time.

Ashley: Right.

Jim: And if I don’t do that, then a week goes by, a month goes by because we all have busy schedules.

Ashley: Of course.

Jim: And she’s going, “I thought you’re gonna spend time with me.”

Ashley: Right. So it’s important that you go ahead and you – you make the date. You know…

Jim: Make it happen.

Ashley: …Set it, go make reservations, like, do whatever it is where you’re like, “We’re not gonna go back on this.” Get the babysitter. Make sure that babysitter’s in place. I know something really simple beyond a date night – I know we’ve talked a lot about that – is use your cellphone to your advantage, okay? I know it can be a disadvantage in marriage…

John: Yeah, my wife…

Ashley: …With social media.

John: …Just turned off right there.

Ashley: Yeah.

John: She’s…


Ashley: No, let me tell you, let me tell you…

John: He can’t use his cellphone any more than he already does.

Ashley: But you can use it to bless your marriage. And this is how.

Jim: Yeah, not to-dos. I don’t think it’s…

Ashley: Yes.

Jim: …To-Dos, John.

Ashley: No, no, no, this is just to stay connected. I mean, send texts throughout the day, give your – call your spouse throughout the day. I know different jobs, you know, have different kind of requirements that they need and they can’t have cellphones. But there are certain times where you can make that call, you can make that text. And, I mean, something that I love – Dave and I, we had somebody say something to Dave once. They said, “Gosh, you guys, like, text each other and call each other a lot in the day.” And she’s like, “That’s kind of weird.”


Dave: And…

Ashley: And we were like, “Is it weird?”

Dave: And my thought, well, is, “If normal is unhappy and divorced, I want to be as weird as I can in my marriage.” Like I wanna…

Ashley: Yeah.

Dave: …To stand out and do things that other people aren’t doing. And, yeah, we love staying connected through the day. And I think that – that way when you get home at the end of the day – and so many guys have this tendency to shut down at the end to process what they’ve been through in the – and your wife’s wanting to connect with you. And she’s asking about your day, not to interrogate you, but to connect with you because she wants to and has a right to be connected to every part of your life and your world. And we shut down. And what could help with that is through the day, stay connected. Through the day, tell her what’s going on. Through the day, let her know that she’s on your mind, and you can’t wait to see her when you get home.

Ashley: Right.

Dave: And then it’s gonna make those conversations at night less pressure where you feel like it’s more of just exchanging…

Jim: Or more connected.

Dave: Yeah, you’re more…

Ashley: Exactly.

Dave: …Connected.

Jim: Yeah.

Ashley: So you’re kind of continuing one conversation really throughout the day as opposed to just right in that little bit of time you have…

Jim: Yeah.

Ashley: …At the end of the day.

John: That’s really good advice. And, uh, there’s so much in these books – 7 Days to a Stronger Marriage. Get your copy. Maybe a husband, you can buy one for both of you – a wives’ edition and husbands’ edition. I’m guessing wives don’t need that prompting, Ashley. I’m thinking…


…They’ll probably get…

Dave: Yeah, right.

John: …Both anyway.

Ashley: Yes.

John: We’ve got the, uh, the books and a CD or download and that marriage assessment I mentioned earlier at focusonthefamily.com/radio.

Jim: Um, let me ask you – “for better or for worse” can be an everyday test in our marriages, you know, because those are pretty wide-ranging statements – our wedding vows. And even if you’ve written unique ones for you, I bet it had something to do with that. No matter what the thickness of the jungle we’re going through as a married couple, we’re gonna get through it together. That’s day one. And then…

Dave: Right, yeah.

Jim: …By day 6,789, you’re going, “Okay, maybe you clear the jungle. I’m kind of tired.” You have friends, Jay and Mandra, who really taught you some good lessons. Give us one.

Dave: Yeah. Gosh, I could spend hours, uh, telling their story. But to give you the – the quick version of it, Jay and Mandra, in a tragic, tragic accident, they lost a 4-year-old daughter in a drowning accident at their home. Jay was home watching the kids. He’s a great dad. He was watching the – all three. There was a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old and an infant at the time. And he went to change the infant’s diaper and left his 4-year-old in the backyard. And he said, “Sweetie, are you okay back here?” And she said, “Yeah, Daddy.” And she – even though she knew better and normally didn’t go there, she went over to where the pool was, and she fell in while he was changing that diaper. And I was at the hospital that night with them in this little private waiting room where they were doing all they could to revive her. And it was a heartbreaking – and yet, God was so present in this moment. I think it was the most I felt the presence of Christ in a room is just His peace that He brought because that’s the only explanation for how there could be peace in a room like that.

Jim: Sure.

Dave: And Jay and Mandra, they’re just in shock. And there’s tears, of course. And we’re praying. We’re pleading with God to do a miracle here. But what moved me so much about this moment is that Mandra, this grieving mother, who, in her grief – grief has a way of making us lash out sometimes. She could have lashed out at him and said, “How could you have let this happen? How could you have let her, uh, fall into that pool?” But she didn’t. Instead, she recognized that this was an opportunity to minister to her husband. And what she kept saying over and over again – and these words were so powerful. And it moved me so deeply. I still think about it often. She was rubbing his back, and over and over again, she just kept saying, “You are such a good dad. You are such a good dad.”

Jim: Wow.

Dave: “I love you so much. You are such a good dad. This is not your fault. This could have happened to anyone. You are such a good dad.” And her words of affirmation, in that moment where he was feeling so defeated, he was feeling so just guilty, it gave him the grace and the strength that he needed. And in that moment, I knew they weren’t gonna be the statistic. The majority of couples who lose a child end up divorced. Grief just puts a wedge between them, or it drives them together. And they said, “We’re gonna lean on God. We’re gonna lean on each other.”

Jim: Yeah.

Dave: And they made it. I mean, they made it through a lot of tears, a lot of grieving. They’re stronger now than ever before, and their story has touched so many lives. And Jay and Mandra, if you’re listening, I love you guys, and thank you for inspiring me just by the people that you are. But there’s no grief – and when I saw that – when I saw the way they handled that, I just kind of made a decision in my own life. I said, “If they can get through this and lean on each other, there is nothing in life that we will ever face that I can use as an excuse as something to drive us apart. And we’re gonna let every difficulty bring us closer to Christ and closer together.”

Jim: Yeah, what a beautiful story. And I’m sure even with that loving affirmation, it simply decreased, to some degree, what he felt in terms of guilt. And, I mean, but it probably – certainly was there at that time. And maybe the Lord has been able to relieve more of that, knowing that he’s loved. But I can…

Ashley: Yes.

Jim: As a father, oh, my, that would be crushing.

John: Yeah.

Jim: And it’s hard to even imagine. And I know people listening have gone through a variety of things. Um, let me ask you, in a different way – some of that burden, when you have a spouse with a chronic illness, um, your marriage is also at risk because you can’t operate in the same way you have maybe for 30, 40, 50 years. Now there’s things that impair the relationship. And those words – for better or worse – are right in front of you, and now they’re gonna be tested. How does a couple, um, stay healthy in their marriage at that point?

Ashley: My goodness, you know, it’s so hard. And we have a couple in our church named John and Dawn, and they’re walking through this. They have been for years. Dawn, this vibrant woman, just full of life, was diagnosed with M.S. when she was probably in her late-30s, early-40s and – so young. And they just decided right then and there that they were going to get through this together. And they have had to move. They’ve had to change their house around. They’ve had to take drastic measures to try to get her treatment and going out of the country and things like that. And I’ve just watched this couple grow in their love together because John and Dawn, they just look at it as serving one another. You know, and I think – I know that Dawn is grateful for all that – that John does to take care of her. But John, the way that he talks about Dawn, it’s like it’s a privilege – it’s a privilege to serve his wife. And I think that that’s the kind of stature of our heart that we have to take on. I mean, we have to look at it like, “It’s a privilege to serve and love my spouse in this way, and I vowed to do so.”

Jim: You know what’s so good about that is that’s the distinction. That’s the…

Ashley: Yeah.

Jim: …Love of Christ. That’s what separates people that don’t know the Lord from…

Ashley: Right.

Jim: …People who do, or it’s what should separate…

Ashley: Right.

Jim: …Us from the world – is that understanding of Christ’s love for us and how we play that out in our marriages. And it would be wonderful for the modern Christian community to be like that…

Ashley: Absolutely. 


Jim: …Again very strongly. Dave and Ashley, this has flown by.


Man, I so appreciate this. I hope this has been helpful to you. I mean, this is great advice. This two-book set, 7 Days to a Stronger Marriage, this is that kind of tool that I think will really help you. And I’m gonna steal the one you have there, John, for guys. I’m gonna take the one here next to me for women. And I’m gonna take them home for Jean and myself. So you and I can…

John: All right.

Jim: …Wrestle over it.

John: Here you go.


John: I’ll have to go to the bookstore and buy one.

Jim: There we go. Or I’ll buy you one.

John: Oh, thanks.

Jim: But, uh, that’s how – how powerful this is. And I – I want this tool in everybody’s hands. Uh, here at Focus on the Family, we wanna help your marriage to thrive in Christ. That’s why we exist, to strengthen marriage, which is the foundation of the family. If you’re struggling, we wanna help you get to a better place. That’s why we have many resources available to you, including numerous online articles, books, counseling, and our Hope Restored marriage intensives for marriages that are on the brink of divorce. We are rooting for your marriage. And more than that, God is rooting for your marriage. So if we can be of help, please get in touch with us. We hear from literally hundreds of people every day who are looking for answers, and we’re thankful to be there when you need us. We also love hearing from people whose lives have been touched. In fact, one woman, John, wrote to say this: “My marriage was on the verge and we both decided to get a divorce. But thanks to your programs and marriage retreat, we are restored and happy. I did not know or even imagine that I could be happy as I am today. Thank you.”

John: Man, that’s terrific.

Jim: What a wonderful thing to hear and to read. And that thanks goes to you as well, our listeners who support the ministry. These resources and this broadcast are only available because of your prayers and financial contributions. That’s what allows us to minister to couples like this. And here at the end of the fiscal year, we need your help. So partner with us today. Give, and let’s save families together. And when you do give any amount today, we’ll send you a copy of either the husbands’ or the wives’ edition of the book by Dave and Ashley Willis: 7 Days to a Stronger Marriage as our way of saying thank you for helping us at Focus support marriage. 

John: And you can donate and get your copy of 7 Days to a Stronger Marriage and learn more about our counseling services and Hope Restored, if you need those, at focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 800-232-6459 – 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

Join us tomorrow on this broadcast. We’ll hear from Sadie Robertson a very powerful, spiritual truth from the world of plankton.


Sadie Robertson: When I read that, it was kind of like a “fear of the Lord” moment, of like, “Wow, God. It’s so crazy how You do that. How you put these amazing little things, like messages, in the tiniest of creatures.”

End of Teaser

Today's Guests

7 Days to a Stronger Marriage

Get either the husbands or wives edition of the book 7 Days to a Stronger Marriage for your donation of any amount!

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