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Vertical Marriage: The One Secret That Will Change Your Marriage
by Ann Wilson
Learn More | Meet Ann Wilson | Meet Dave Wilson
Six Words That Changed Everything
A life—a marriage—is built on moments. They are the small and seemingly insignificant bricks that, stacked one by one over time, quietly ascend upon themselves into giant walls, breathtaking columns, and bridges over all kinds of waters. Our lives are built brick by brick. Moment by moment. Many of these moments fly by and, to be quite honest, are not really that memorable. After all, they are just little bricks.
But every once in a while, one of those “little” bricks breaks loose from the wall of life, careening toward you like a ton of . . . well, you know. That little masonry moment looks you right in the eye as if to say, “Listen up, dude! What you choose in the next five minutes will determine the rest of your life—and even your kids’ lives!”
I (Dave) experienced one of those “pay attention to the brick” moments in the tenth year of my marriage.
Before we get to that story, we should probably get acquainted first—both with each other and with the journey we are about to take together. My name is Dave, and this is my wife, Ann.
Say hi, Ann.
Hello! Ann here. Yes, I know this is an unorthodox introduction, switching voices between paragraphs and whatnot, but you should probably get used to the unorthodox. More on that to come.
For now, though, I just want to introduce myself and let you know that in addition to Dave, I’m also wrapped up in these words that fill the pages in front of you. But what you are experiencing right now is what will periodically happen throughout this book: Dave and I will sometimes share stories and insights as individuals, and then sometimes we will decide to jump in together and speak as “us”—a perhaps predictable, yet perfect metaphor for “two” becoming “one” in marriage.
In fact, just for practice, watch as Dave and I magically morph into “us” in the next paragraph in three . . . two . . . one . . .
When Two Become One
And here we are. Us. The transition was painless, yes? Good. We only wish that the melding of two lives together in marriage was also painless. Maybe you thought it was going to be. And maybe from whatever stage of marriage you are in, from newlywed to seasoned veteran, it still feels fairly painless.
But the odds are that if you fall into any chronological category beyond the first two weeks of marriage, your married life probably doesn’t feel exactly painless. This doesn’t necessarily mean your marriage is in crisis; it just means your marriage is real.
Maybe you don’t yet have a seamless “us” voice because you don’t yet know how “us” is supposed to work. Maybe you feel that you are somehow being lost in the mix. Not sure what to let go of and what to cling to. Not sure which comments to let pass by and which ones to freak out about. Or maybe your “us” is going really well, but you still want to keep growing in it.
Maybe at this point, you have lost all hope for your marriage. If you’re being honest, you might admit that you can’t even get your spouse to look at this book with you. Perhaps you’re struggling to even hold on for another day. For you, we just want to tell you that no matter where you are, though it may be hard for you believe, we get it . . . we’ve been there.
And because we’ve been there, we want to ask you to do something that may feel impossible. Just for this moment right now, instead of giving up, will you hang in there a little longer? And while you hold on for dear life, will you be willing to ask God to work on you? Yes, just you.
Let’s be honest, you’ve probably already discovered that you can’t change your spouse anyway. It feels like a horrible realization, but trust us—this realization is true for all of us, and discovering it is actually a very good thing, even though it hurts at first. So for now, will you be willing to let God work on just you?
In our marriage, both of us were pretty messed up in our own ways, even though we thought it was the other’s fault. We’ll tell you the full story later, but just know that within the first six months of our marriage, one of us looked at the other and said, “I wish I would have never married you!”
So yeah, we get how it feels to live in hopelessness about your marriage. But regardless of the scenario you find yourself in, we have news for you: even though we are still married today, we don’t have everything about marriage figured out. Not in the least. But now that you know this, we can also tell you that this is actually good news . . . really, really good news. Why?
Because our mission is not to fix you or your marriage. Fixing is something you do to broken pottery or leaky car engines. Our mission is to share a secret with you that will completely revolutionize both your personal life and your marriage in a way no amount of human wit or wisdom can even begin to offer.
That’s a pretty big promise, right?
Indeed, but we boldly make it because our confidence doesn’t lie in what we know on our own, but rather in something that has been continually revealed to us over the years. As our culture tears marriages and families apart, it is apparent that we are not equipped with the tools or knowledge for making our marriages healthy and lasting. Most of us end up just getting by, settling for so much less than the life we dreamed of . . . that God dreams of for us.
So we don’t aim to fix you, but we do aim to both show and tell you how we are deeply flawed, just like the rest of us. We promise to be honest—even painfully so—as we point out some of the things that have been pointed out to us along the way. Through our own personal narrative of matrimonial highs and lows, we plan to share the elusive secret to finding the joy and the relational transformation God has so graciously designed each of us to experience.
Trust me, this is a secret that no one seems to know. We have talked with thousands of couples over the years at our marriage conferences, and virtually no one seems to know the most important truth that can transform their marriage. We didn’t know it either! Sneak preview: the secret to a great marriage is to go vertical, inviting God into your worst conflicts and unsolvable dilemmas.
Many times, we will alternate chapters between the two of us, but at times (and we’ll give you plenty of warning), we will come back and speak together as “us.” Why? So that no matter who you are, you can experience both a male and a female perspective of the challenges and adventures we all face in marriage . . . and through the big secret of vertical marriage, we hope that you will also develop into the kind of “us” that God intends for your marriage.
We look forward to the journey with you, but for now, let’s get back to our regularly scheduled Dave, who was about to tell you a story about a memorable date . . .
Our Tenth Anniversary
I (Dave) thought our tenth wedding anniversary would be one of the greatest nights of my life—actually, of our lives. By that time, Ann and I had built an incredible life together. We tied the knot in Ohio and then moved to the University of Nebraska, where in 1980 I became the chaplain for the Cornhuskers varsity sports teams. After two years there, we decided to pursue more training for a life of ministry together. So we headed west to California to attend seminary.
Three years later, I had a master of divinity, and, more importantly, Ann was pregnant with our first son. We moved to Detroit, where I was blessed not only with two more sons, but also with the opportunity to become the youngest chaplain in the NFL—with the Detroit Lions. There I also met Steve Andrews, and we began dreaming of starting a church together. It seemed at the time that life could not be better.
What could go wrong?
Fast-forward to May 24, 1990. It was our tenth anniversary, and I had planned this night for months. The ten-year mark is obviously a big deal, so I decided to go all out. This meant securing a reservation at an upscale restaurant in an upscale part of Detroit—and all at an upscale price. By this time, we had two healthy and happy sons. But tonight, it was just the two of us, and I knew it was going to be an unforgettable evening.
Spending big money on a date is a big deal for me, as I’m pretty much known as a tightwad, since I really do like my cash to be kept in a nice, tight wad—never to be opened! A buddy of mine says it would take the Jaws of Life to pry open my wallet. But on this night, those jaws came unhinged, and I spent a little bit—no, actually a whole wad—of cash.
I wanted Ann to be reminded that marrying me was the best decision of her life.
When Friday night finally arrived, we donned our best clothes and headed out to the restaurant. I worked out an agreement with our waiter to have ten roses brought to our table at strategic times throughout the dinner. Each rose represented a year of our marriage. So after we settled in and ordered some hors d’oeuvres, I gave the waiter a “look,” and he placed rose number one on the tablecloth. We then shared memories of our first year of marriage.
I could immediately tell that I was killing it in the romance department with Ann. She seemed so excited to “taaalk” about our relationship. Every guy knows that women don’t just talk. Men talk, but women like to “taaalk”—sharing details, feelings, and anything else that we men would rarely share voluntarily. Well, on this night, we were “taaalking,” and Ann was loving it. And if Ann was loving it, then that meant I was scoring points. Major points that would no doubt pay off later, if you know what I mean.
After ten minutes or so of reminiscing about year one, I gave the waiter the “look” again, and he brought over the second rose. I knew I was giving this college-aged kid a real lesson in how to woo a woman. Heck, I all but expected him to leave me a tip later on.
The dinner couldn’t have gone any better. We revisited the high points of each and every one of our ten years together—and all during the course of an amazing meal. After dinner, I had planned another surprise.
Since we were about to embark on the dream of a lifetime by helping to start a church that would kick off in just a few months, I took us to the parking lot of the middle school where our church would soon begin meeting. Ann hadn’t yet seen this property, so I thought it might be cool to park in this lot and pray together that God would perform a miracle right there in that location—that he would turn a public middle school into a vibrant church.
But to be completely honest, parking to pray wasn’t the only item on my agenda. I also thought it would be pretty sweet if we could just “park”—if you know what I mean. And I was sure that Ann would agree.
It was probably one of the shortest prayer times I had ever led. After the “amen,” it was time for the much-anticipated, extracurricular portion of our evening. After all, this date had indeed had all the markings of what every woman longs for:
- We had gazed into each other’s eyes . . .
- over an amazing meal . . .
- at a high-end restaurant . . .
- with romantic discussions and much “taaalking” . . .
- about how wonderful our marriage has been.
What could possibly go wrong?
When I leaned in to kiss Ann, she turned her head away from me. At first, I assumed that somehow she had innocently failed to recognize that I was making my move. So I tried again. But this time, it became clear she was avoiding my kiss. I was perplexed—so much so that I did what every man hates to do, asking her the question every man hates to ask: “Is anything wrong?”
“No,” she replied.
Hmm. After ten years of marriage, I had learned a thing or two about how to read her nonverbal signals. She was saying nothing was wrong, yet her tone and posture were saying something totally different. So I took a deep breath and asked again.
“It seems like you don’t want to kiss me. Are you sure nothing’s wrong?”
Her stare was alarmingly empty. After a long pause, she finally muttered, “Well, actually there is something wrong . . .”
I waited in complete silence. I thought I was doing pretty well as a husband and a dad. I mean, I preached about this stuff. I knew what the Bible says about marriage. I wasn’t perfect, but I thought I was practicing what I preached. We’d had a great marriage that I would put up against anybody’s. In fact, if you would have asked me to rate my marriage on a scale of one to ten, I would have said it was a ten . . . and if not a ten, a 9.8. And the craziest part is that I would have guaranteed you my wife would agree.
I did not know it right then, but a moment that would forever change our lives was staring us right in the face. Ann said these unforgettable words—the brick I never saw coming.
“Well, to be completely honest, I’ve lost my feelings for you.”
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