7 Things You Can Do to Start Divorce-Proofing Your Marriage

Apparently a lot of people are interested in what can wreck a marriage. Yesterday’s post had almost 1000 views in less than 24 hours. Because I’m all about hope, I want to give you seven tangible steps you can take to start divorce-proofing your marriage. These are things I’ve shared with three couples I’ve done marriage counseling with this week. If you’ve hit a few bumps along the way, here are some things you need to start doing:


1. Ask for help. You can’t do this alone. If you and your spouse are rehashing the same arguments over and over, you’re locked in a toxic cycle. Seek outside help. Talk to a pastor. Make an appointment with a professional counselor. Your marriage is worth it.

2. Intentionally be around other healthy couples. If your only friends are other dysfunctional or broken couples, that dysfunction will rub off on you. They will let you get away with behavior that healthy couples won’t. Find a healthy small group of couples and invest in it. Being around other healthy couples will give you hope for your own marriage. Your marriage is worth it.

3. Get on a budget and stick to it. Money is the number one thing couples fight about. Fix the money problems, fix the majority of your fights. Take a course like Financial Peace University. Talk to a financial advisor about how to get out of debt. Sell some stuff. Downsize. Get out of debt. Your marriage is worth it.

4. Have lots of sex. This once or twice a month nonsense isn’t going to cut it. The honeymoon may be over, kids may rule the house, or you may be closer to having grandkids, but a healthy sexual relationship with your spouse is one of the surest ways to divorce-proof your marriage. There are usually always other factors contributing to a less than stellar sex life, but it is extremely dangerous to withhold sex as leverage with your partner. Have lots of sex. Your marriage is worth it.

5. Draw boundaries for your family. This goes two ways. You may need to draw boundaries to keep family in. If you’re going a million miles an hour and if you have to look three weeks down the road to find a free night on the calendar, you’re too busy. Draw boundaries so that the quality of your marriage isn’t sacrificed for the abundance of activities you’re involved in. And sometimes you need to draw boundaries to keep family out, specifically your parents. If your parents are in your marriage in an unhealthy way, if they don’t give you enough space, if it feels like there are three or four people in your marriage, you need to have a hard conversation and draw some boundaries. Your marriage is worth it.

6. Get rid of the porn (guys and girls). Pornography can erode any sense of intimacy in a marriage because it substitutes what God created as healthy with something that is fake and unrealistic. Obviously a huge problem is guys and porn. A porn addiction will erode a man’s ability to connect sexually with his wife because it’s been corrupted by porn. But there’s girl porn as well. A steady diet of romance novels, romantic comedies, and especially reality romance shows present a fake and unrealistic view of love and intimacy. Get rid of the porn in your marriage. Your marriage is worth it.

7. Pray together every night. If your marriage is struggling, you need a divine intervention. Ask for it. The Bible says we have not because we ask not. So ask for God’s help, every night. Before you go to bed, get down on your knees on the side of your bed with your wife and pray for your marriage. It’s impossible to hate someone you’re praying with continually. Pray together with your spouse every night. Your marriage is worth it.

QUESTION: What are some other things that can help divorce-proof a marriage?

4 Things That Will Wreck Your Marriage If You’re Not Careful

No one intentionally sets out to wreck a marriage. Everyone wants your marriage to work, at least at first. That’s why weddings are beautiful and divorce proceedings aren’t. When counseling couples about to get married, I share with them four things that can wreck their marriage if they’re not careful.

1. Family of Origin – How you saw your parents interact is going to be the default mode for how you treat your spouse. If your home was broken or dysfunctional, then that is a hurdle that you can overcome but needs to be dealt with. If you never saw a healthy marriage growing up, you don’t automatically learn how to have one just because you put a ring on someone’s finger. None of these issues are deal breakers, but an unhealthy family of origin means you’ll most likely to need to talk to someone professionally over a period of time to unpack your baggage and leave it behind you.

Family of origin also includes your current extended family. There can be family dynamics that aren’t conducive to a healthy marriage. Parents that are too involved, brothers or sisters stirring things up. If you’re in a remarriage, there may even be family members rooting for your spouse to fail. All of these issues can be a detriment to your marriage.

2. Money – There is no scientific number, but I believe that 85% of all spousal arguments have to do with money (or specifically the lack of money), and that percentage might be a little low. I don’t care how much money you make, there never seems to be enough to go around. In every relationship there is usually a saver and a spender. The spender has the power in this regard because his or her ability or inability to make sound financial decisions will either strengthen or strain the marriage. Unfortunately, if you and your spouse fight about money, you’re absolutely normal.

Poor financial decisions early on in marriage can lead to lingering debt that only increases as the number and age of children increase. Strong financial stewardship and shared guidelines are necessary for a marriage to overcome money issues.

3. Sex – Sex is a huge issue namely in that it’s something that couples rarely feel comfortable talking about. Typically the complaint is that sex is not enjoyable (her) or there’s not enough of it (him). Your sexual past, previous relationships, any abuse that might have happened earlier in life, pornography addictions, can all contribute to an extremely frustrating and unsatisfying sex life.

But unlike money, which seems to be much easier to talk about, sex is a taboo subject. So the frustration builds silently, creating an intimacy barrier that can hinder any marriage. Couples need to find a safe place to talk about their sexual issues and frustrations, whether just the two of them or with a counselor. Couples need to explore all of the non-physical issues that can contribute to a less than satisfactory sex life (including diet, sleep, stress, emotional health, spiritual health, relational connectedness, mutual respect, etc).

4. How You Fight – All couples are going to fight. It’s normal and natural for two strong-willed people to have differences of opinions. The problem is when couples don’t fight fair. In each marriage there’s usually one side who wants to talk and talk and talk through a problem and one who wants to shut down and avoid the issue. The talker gets frustrated by the lack of response from their spouse, which compels them to talk more, which causes the spouse to further withdraw, which . . . (you get the picture).

Just like in basketball you have fouls, you and your spouse need to establish ‘fouls,’ agreed upon rules of how you will and will not resolve a fight. And that’s the goal, to resolve a fight. If couples can’t resolve a fight, those arguments can eventually pile up into a mountain that can become unscalable.

QUESTION: What other things can wreck a marriage?

1 Worldwide Epidemic You Might Not Expect

Over the past month I’ve seen a worldwide epidemic rear its ugly head three different times. The first was at our graduate recognition service at Mt Vernon. The graduating seniors had an opportunity to thank their parents, and a good number of them said something to the effect of, “I’d like to thank my mom for always being there for me. I knew it was tough raising me on your own . . .”


The following week I spent a week in the Dominican Republic where we’ve helped start a school and church in a Haitian slum. While talking to the pastor there, he had mentioned how one of the greatest issues he faces with the school children is the lack of fathers around.


And then, in honor of Father’s Day our local paper ran this alarming statistic:

Only 32 percent of children in Mississippi live with their married, biological parents, according to The Upshot. This is the lowest rate in the country and it means two-thirds of the children in the state are being raised in single parent households. Last year, 83 percent of those households in the country were headed by single mothers, according to the Census Bureau.

One worldwide epidemic that you might not expect is fatherlessness. As a man and a father, I can throw stones. This epidemic is horrific and a complete abandonment of God’s plan for the family. This epidemic is fueled primarily from man’s selfishness, where we want to enjoy the benefits of sexual experiences without accepting any of the responsibilities involved.

Unfortunately, this epidemic has hit such a critical mass that it’s becoming more and more socially acceptable. In my state, more than half the children growing up are without their biological fathers in the same house. That is an epidemic that is ruining an entire generation. (It’s not just my opinion. There is legitimate research to back this claim up).

Here’s the million dollar question: What do we do? What have Christians done to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this epidemic? What can we be doing? What should we be doing?

Story of Hope: Jennifer

by Kaylan Preuss

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

—Isaiah 43:18-19


Jennifer grew up in nearby Sturgis—in a middle class, safe, whole family unit, complete with a dad, mom, and younger sister. So how was it that in 2012, as a young 30-something, she was facing her third divorce? She couldn’t believe or understand it.

Family life wasn’t exactly ideal during childhood. Jennifer’s mom took her and her sister on-and-off to a nearby Catholic church—mainly for the important things like confirmation and her first communion. But at home, her dad was a functioning alcoholic.

“He wasn’t abusive at all and he was present, but I don’t have many sober memories of my dad,” she said. “He did his thing and we did ours. He was there, but he wasn’t really there.”

As for her Catholic church, she didn’t like it or understand it. So she started attending a local community church with some friends and got involved. Because it was a small group, she never found the leadership or guidance she now says she probably needed during that time.

“I remember going to church camp at 13 or 14 and being ‘saved’ there, but I didn’t even really know what that meant. I didn’t do it for the right reasons. It’s what everybody was doing and it felt right,” she said. “Looking back now, I realized I wanted God’s blessings, but I didn’t want that way of life, so my salvation didn’t stick.”

Jennifer spent a lot of her teenage and young adult years making what she calls “less than desirable decisions.” She hung out with all the wrong people and battled her own addictions—drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity.

In 1996, she found a way out. She met a guy in the Air Force, originally from New Jersey, who was stationed in Columbus. At that point, all she wanted was to get out of Mississippi and he wanted a wife before he got out of the military, so it seemed they both had a solution in marrying each other.

“We got married and I got pregnant. When we had our son, I decided I wanted to live in Mississippi to be close to my family and he wanted to go back to New Jersey. He’s a great guy and we still co-parent today, but the bottom line is this: we should’ve never gotten married. I know now it didn’t work because God wasn’t involved in that relationship,” she said.

After their divorce and a short time had passed, Jennifer met someone else. She was a single mom raising her son and he was raising his twin girls on his own. This seemed to be the perfect Brady-Brunch-blended scenario.

They married in August 1998 when Jennifer was 23 years old. By November, the whole family was active in a local church where she was baptized and started to turn things around, focusing on “living right” and reading the Bible.

Jennifer said, “Life was good for us. We were very involved in church and tried to do the right things. We even attended Mt. Vernon for a while. He was growing as a believer and so was I, so it was a shock when I found out he’d had an affair.”

In 2008, after 11 years together, the couple split and Jennifer tried to move on again with her 12-year-old son. But just one year later, carrying her own bag of self-loathing and emotional pain, another man entered Jennifer’s life, trying to buy her affections and mend the broken pieces.

“He said and did all the right things. He seemed to be the answer to everything. He’d been a Marine. He was financially stable. He had a college degree,” she said. “There was a lot of pressure from him to marry again, so I did—for a third time. I didn’t believe in anything anymore, so I fell for everything.”

Two things happened after they wed—Jennifer soon got pregnant with her second son and red flags started popping up all over the place.

She began to find out the ugly truth behind his lies: he couldn’t produce a driver’s license; he didn’t actually have a degree; he was $12,000 in child support debt; he’d begun dating someone else a month after they were married. And the biggest lie of all? Jennifer wasn’t wife #2 like he said—she was #5.

“I felt stuck. The lies were overwhelming. I had no clue whom I’d married. He turned out to be a con artist and I’d fallen for it,” she said. “For three years, I tried to make it work. But at the end of it all, he left me with $21,000 worth of debt.”

The biggest blessing out of it came in the form of her second son, Reed—plus a life change she couldn’t have predicted. In 2011, she and her boys began attending Mt. Vernon again. And this time, things were different.

“I remember sending a message to a staff member saying, ‘I’m scared to death of being judged at church.’ Church is a hard place to be when you’re divorced. I felt like I was walking in with a neon sign over my head that said, ‘Single Mom, Divorced x 3.’ I felt like it defined who I was. But when I walked through those doors, I never once felt judged or condemned. It felt like family.”

About the same time, Jennifer began working full-time from home, giving her time to reflect on her past. What she realized was her issues began as a child, more than 20 years ago, when she began searching for love and a man to fill the gap her dad never could. She didn’t realize the impact her father’s alcoholism had on her life (who is now battling the end stages of his addiction).

She’d wanted the fairytale, but it had failed every time she tried to create it on her own.

“You don’t think you’ll ever get through the pain,” she said. “I prayed so much for the ability to forgive myself and let go of the shame that was binding me. It was when I opened the Bible and met the person of Jesus that I found my fairytale and the Father I needed all along. I’d tried to fill the gap in my heart with worldly relationships, but only Jesus could do that all along. He’s the only Love I need.”

Just when she realized how much Jesus loves her, everything else also melted away—the resentment, anger, brokenness, and shame. Though she still battles the enemy for freedom, she says she now understands that Christ’s power is made perfect in her weakness.

Today, Jennifer regularly attends a life group—a place where she feels safe to share, encourage, and be encouraged. She also serves each week on the host team and with the Children’s Ministry. And to top it all off, her sons are both actively involved at Mt. Vernon.

She said, “Now, I get it—this relationship with Jesus. There’s trust there. Grace is real. Yes, my story is messy and ugly. I created that. But Jesus stepped in and made me new, healing the wounds and filling in the holes. Sometimes the best fairytales come from the rubble.”

A Cynical View of Why the World Wants You To Get Divorced

Your wedding day is a beautiful, emotional, magnificent promise of what you want your marriage to be. We love weddings. We celebrate weddings. In 2012, the median cost of a wedding was $18,000. That’s a nice wedding! Little girls dream about this day for years! To help you plan this incredible day, there’s an entire wedding industry designed to help you have an incredible experience (and make some serious cash on the side). Walk into a bookstore and there are entire sections of wedding magazines.

Our society loves weddings. Our culture celebrates weddings. Our society wants you to have a successful first day of marriage. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a day that culminates with a beautiful promise. What society is horrible at is helping you at is the next 18,250 days of marriage (if you’re going to be married 50 years). Think about it: there are tons and tons of wedding magazines out there, helping you plan an amazing wedding. But how many marriage magazines are there, helping you be successful at marriage long-term? None!

Look at this: I searched Google for the “top wedding magazines.” Here were my results:

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 9.27.56 AM

Next, out of curiosity, I googled “top marriage magazines.” Here were my results:

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 9.28.15 AM

Isn’t that amazing? Google, which can find anything, couldn’t find any magazines on marriage, so it just pulled up all the results I’d just searched for with weddings. I would make the argument that from society’s standpoint, the wedding day is the most important day of the marriage. That’s where all the emphasis is.

Here’s my cynical take on why all the emphasis is on the wedding and not the marriage: society today doesn’t care about making your marriage work, they care about you have an amazing wedding day. In fact, the wedding industry wins when you get divorced, because then you can start planning your next wedding and fork over another $18,000.

QUESTION: What are your thoughts? Am I off base here or am I on to something?

“He’s So Lucky He Has a Stepdad!”

It’s eye opening to experience first hand the innocence of youth. Recently a new family moved into our neighborhood. They have boys. That’s a good thing. There are currently 10 boys (now 12) in our neighborhood that play together, roaming around like Hell’s Angels on their Huffys and Schwinns. My oldest, Zeke (7), befriended one of the new boys and came home one day and told me, “[My friend] is so lucky, he has a stepdad!” Record scratch, head jerked sideways, “What you talkin’ about Willis?”

I asked him what he meant. Apparently when Zeke was asking his new friend about his parents, he was told he lived with his mom and stepdad. Zeke had never heard of a stepdad before. What was that? It was like another dad that he lived with. So Zeke told me, “He’s lucky he has a stepdad because when one dad goes to work, the other one gets to stay home and play with him.” Wouldn’t it be great if it worked out like that?

I had what we call in the business “a teachable moment” and got to introduce my 7-year-old my the finer intricacies of divorce. Afterwards, Zeke didn’t think his new friend was so lucky. The whole episode reminded me of the simplicity of what marriage is supposed to be. One man, one woman, together for life. That’s what our kids are born expecting. We’re the ones who mess things up.

12 years strong married to Zeke’s mom (and my wife). With every power of my being, I never want Zeke to ever have to walk through a divorce first-hand. I never want him to have a stepdad.

The Phone Call I Hope I Never Have to Make About Your Marriage

Recently I had to make a phone call that broke my heart. It’s a phone call that I hope I never have to make again. A few years ago a couple came to me for marriage counseling. They had been struggling with issues for years but hadn’t talked to anyone about them. We met several times and made a little bit of progress but no breakthroughs. They couldn’t meet in the middle. Counseling kind of petered out and they eventually moved to a different state.

As life goes we lost track of each other until I received a letter from a lady I’ve never met. She told me she was the guardian ad litem for this couple. They’re getting a divorce. It’s getting messy. Accusations are flying back and forth. And worst of all, there are kids involved. The relationship had deteriorated to such a point that the government had to step in to help decide where the kids went.

That’s where my phone call came in. The guardian ad litem received permission from both parties to talk to me and get my take on the situation. It was a depressing phone call to say the least. I believed and still believe that it was a marriage that could have been saved. The greatest casualties are the children, pawns with no say in the matter.

I hope I never have to make a phone call like that again. If your marriage needs help, get help. Don’t stick your kids in the middle. Don’t make the government decide where they go. Talk to someone this week.

Why Pastors Like to Stay Indoors

Yesterday was ministry in a nutshell, a microcosm of what many pastors face week in and week out. The first half of the day was idyllic. I cocooned myself inside my office, spread out my Bible, commentaries, online tools and a pen and paper, and went to town. I brainstormed, researched, read, prayed, and planned. I created sermon series ideas for the next school year, dug into some of my favorite biblical texts, and imagined how successful all these upcoming sermons were sure to be. It was a carefree, clean, tidy, optimistic morning.

But then I did something I knew better than to do: I stepped out of my office. Inside my office, there are no problems. Outside my office, outside the church walls, there’s the mess. I ran into two recovering addicts who’ve come on and off to my church. They’ve been more ‘off’ than ‘on’ when it comes to church attendance. They’re clean and sober, but they’ve still got an uphill climb in life from years of mistakes. Victory in their life will never be quick or easy.

Then I found out about two marriages on the verge of divorce. One divorce will be final in the next few months. One is on its last legs. Both are couples recently in our church. One actually sat in my office for counseling (that’s the one that’s already calling it quits). Kids are involved in both marriage. No one is winning there.

Now you know why some pastors like to stay indoors. It’s safe. It’s comfortable. It’s clean and tidy. We can sit at our desks and wax eloquent about deep biblical truths that only other seminary students care about. But that’s not where we’re needed. Pastors are needed outdoors, offering hope to addicts and hopeless marriages.

Every time I get out of my comfort zone, every time I step outside, I’m reminded why I’m a pastor.

Five for Friday (5.23.14)

Who’s ready for Memorial Day Weekend? Here’s some interesting articles to keep you reading through the holiday. Enjoy!

Kirsten Powers: Liberal’s Dark Ages – Must Read! Great article that captures the hypocrisy of the ‘tolerance’ movement.

Author Debunks Myths About Divorce Rates, Including of Churchgoers –  Great news for married people!

What is the Link Between Pornography and Sex Trafficking? – Insightful article from my buddy Tony Merida.

Do We Do Discipleship Wrong? – Derwin Gray asks a critical question for churches today.

Southern Baptists Struggling to Attract Younger Generation, Says New Report – Research to back up what we’ve known for years.

Debunking the Myth of the ‘Soulmate’

I heard about it a lot growing up. There was a ‘soulmate’ out there for me, someone uniquely created for me that was going to fulfill my every longing and desire. While in high school, that prospect excited me and comforted me.

Once I was in my 20s and started actively searching, the idea of a ‘soulmate’ terrified me. What if I couldn’t find her? What if I made a mistake? What if I chose the wrong one? Or worse, what if I let my soulmate go by because I wasn’t convinced, and I would be forced to live the rest of my life on the outside of God’s will for my life? The thought was paralyzing at times.

Our society has created the myth of the ‘soulmate’ because it sells well. It makes for a great movie, a great ideal, a great dream. In reality, this myth has devastating consequences for young adults. We’re never given any criteria for how to find our soulmate, so we just ‘feel it.’ You know when you find your soulmate when they send tingles up and down your spine, when your heart goes a flutter just by being in their presence. Obviously, they’re the one. They’re the soulmate.

But then what happens when the magic wears off and you get into the grind of making a marriage work? Some people make the tragic mistake of thinking that they made the wrong choice. In their mind, a soulmate would never grumble or be selfish or be anything less than perfect. Some believe they made the wrong choice about marriage simply because they have to work at it.

Think about it from God’s perspective. Does it sound very loving for God to give you only one compatible spouse out of the six billion people walking on the planet? Does it sound loving that God would base your entire life’s happiness on your ability in your early twenties to find the one person out of the entire planet that’s right for you? That doesn’t sound very loving to me.

If you’re looking for a spouse, take some of the pressure off of yourself. Marriage is a choice. Love is a choice. Choose well, work hard, and don’t give up. You’ll have a beautiful marriage that will stand the test of time.