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Porn Addiction, and How Our Marriage Survived: Bob and Dannah Gresh

with Bob And Dannah Gresh | September 15, 2023
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In the wake of porn addiction, where you do turn? How do you rebuild trust after such intimate, searing betrayal? Authors Bob and Dannah Gresh share the pervasive realities of their own heartache—and their own rocky path toward healing.

Scripture warns us not to trust in other people. We're only supposed to trust in the Name of the Lord our God. That's who we trust. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him.” What this is saying is that I can trust God with what's happening in my marriage, even when I can't trust Bob. So, I'm going to put all my trust in God. -- Dannah Gresh

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How do you rebuild trust after the intimate, searing betrayal of porn addiction? Authors Bob and Dannah Gresh share their own rocky path toward healing.

Porn Addiction, and How Our Marriage Survived: Bob and Dannah Gresh
2023-09-15

Porn Addiction, and How Our Marriage Survived: Bob and Dannah Gresh

In the wake of porn addiction, where you do turn? How do you rebuild trust after such intimate, searing betrayal? Authors Bob and Dannah Gresh share the pervasive realities of their own heartache—and their own rocky path toward healing.

Scripture warns us not to trust in other people. We’re only supposed to trust in the Name of the Lord our God. That’s who we trust. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him.” What this is saying is that I can trust God with what’s happening in my marriage, even when I can’t trust Bob. So, I’m going to put all my trust in God. — Dannah Gresh

Show Notes and Resources

Connect with Bob and Dannah Gresh at dannahgresh.com/ or on Instagram @dannah_gresh
Buy Dannah’s book Happily Even After on our shop
Listen to Bob and Dannah’s podcast, “Happily Even After”, where they talk through the redemption and healing from addiction that they’ve experienced in their marriage.
Interested in connecting with a Christian counselor regarding an addiction. Use this resource to get started 
Revitalize your marriage: 50% off Weekend to Remember Getaways, Sep 4-18! Strengthen bonds, create lasting memories. Learn more at weekendtoremember.com
Intrigued by today’s episode? Think deeper how to recover from addiction and move towards a healthier marriage on this FamilyLife Today podcast
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See resources from our past podcasts.
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Porn Addiction, and How Our Marriage Survived: Bob and Dannah Gresh

With Bob And Dannah Gresh
|
September 15, 2023
| Download Transcript PDF

Shelby: Hey, Shelby Abbott here. I just want to give a heads-up before you listen to this next program. Today’s conversation on FamilyLife Today covers some sensitive but important subjects that might not be suitable for younger ears. So, please use discretion when listening to this next broadcast.

Alright, let’s jump into it! I know some of you have actually already been to a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, but we just wanted to make sure you’ve heard that there is actually a lot that has changed. We have a new speaker lineup, an entirely different guidebook, and so much of the getaway has been changed intentionally for you and your spouse to grow together. So, right now would be a great time to head back to a Weekend to Remember. And now through September 18th, registration is actually 50% off. You can find a date and a location that works for you at WeekendtoRemember.com. That’s WeekendtoRemember.com.

Dannah: Scripture warns us not to trust in other people. We’re only supposed to trust in the Name of the Lord our God. That’s who we trust. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him.” What this is saying is that I can trust God with what’s happening in my marriage, even when I can’t trust Bob. So, I’m going to put all my trust in God.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife app.

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

Yesterday, we ended our episode on kind of a traumatic note.

Dave: A glass candy jar thrown so hard by a wife—I’m glad she missed! [Laughter] It ended up in the wall, but it was thrown that hard; it ended up stuck in the wall. That’s pretty visually graphic.

Bob: It was a nice slider curve ball. I don’t know what it was; it wasn’t a changeup.

Dannah: You know, some people are at a place in their story where that is just—“How can you laugh about that?”

Bob: Yes.

Dannah: But that’s how much healing the Lord has brought to our hearts, that we can look at that really bad day and think, “We were out of our minds!”

Ann: Well, let us introduce you.

Bob: Okay.

Dave: People are thinking, “Who are we listening to?” [Laughter]

Ann: We’re with Dannah and Bob Gresh. You guys are speakers; you’re authors.

Dave: Authors.

Ann: You do a lot in ministry to help people. Your most recent book is called Happily Even After: Letting God Redeem Your Marriage. The topic was really about porn.

Dannah: Yes.

Ann: And Bob, you revealed to Dannah the secret that you’d been holding on to; that you had been struggling with porn. And Dannah, I guess you didn’t respond well—[Laughter]

Dave: I mean, you didn’t throw it in that moment!

Ann: —to that confession.

Dannah: Well, in the moment that he confessed to me, I did have a measure of real God-control. That’s all—I don’t know how to say it other than that. I went into problem-solving mode.

Bob: Yes.

Ann: Okay, take us back to the conversation.

Dannah: Yes.

Ann: Bob, you were so scared to open this up. You talk about the red chairs—

Dannah: Yes.

Ann: —a lot.

Dannah: The red chairs.

Ann: Is that where you told her?

Bob: Yes.

Ann: Okay.

Bob: And those red chairs left the house for a while, because we just couldn’t have them in the house.

Dave: You couldn’t see them, yes.

Ann: Because of your confession.

Dannah: They were a painful thing.

Ann: So, Dannah, you said that you had this God-moment—

Dannah: Yes.

Ann: —where you were rational.

Dannah: Yes.

Dave: Ann didn’t have that moment [Laughter] when I told her, but I’m glad you did!

Dannah: Well, consider, I was praying for 18 months.

Dave: Yes.

Bob: I think it was because she was in shock, too.

Dannah: It hadn’t hit me yet.

Bob: I think it was shock.

Dannah: Maybe a little bit of shock, yes.

Dave: Wait, wait, wait! You said 18 months?

Dannah: I had been praying for 18 months.

Dave: I knew you said you knew something was wrong, but it was that long?

Dannah: Yes.

Dave: —that you were like, “I don’t know what it is yet?”

Dannah: Yes, and I know that sounds—I’m not a conflict avoider. I don’t like conflict, but I really felt convicted that, whatever it was, it needed to be covered in prayer. Every time my counselor and I would check in, she would say, “Do you know what’s going on? Is it just stress from work? Is it financial stress?” Because I had been having physical symptoms as well.

Ann: Yes.

Dannah: Yes, I wasn’t doing well.

Bob: And it would come up every once in a while, like every few months: “Are you struggling? Have you fallen?”

Ann: Oh, Bob! She would ask you?

Bob: She would ask me!

Dannah: I didn’t ask—I never asked—it that directly.

Dave: So, Bob, you know you’re not good! What did you say?

Bob: I’d say things like, “I’m good.” I would kind of, in my mind, say, “Well, I’m good right now. It’s been a few weeks,” or whatever. I would equivocate in that.

Dave: But you didn’t say to her, “It’s been a few weeks.” You just said, “I’m good?”

Bob: “I’m good. I’m going on a trip tomorrow.”

Dave: Yes.

Bob: I’d just say something to keep the conversation off-track or whatever.

Dannah: Yes.

Ann: And I don’t know if you’re like me, but then when it came out—

Dannah: Yes.

Ann: Here’s what I said: “You’ve been lying to me!?”

Dannah: Yes.

Ann: “All this time? Are you kidding me?! How can I even trust you?” Did you feel that?

Dannah: Well, yes. Women will say, “The porn is painful, but the lying is far more devastating!”

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Do you hear that, guys?

Dannah: I can deal with the porn. I can talk with you about the porn. We can get the help you need for the porn. But when you lie to me, that’s a trust breach!

Dave: Yes.

Dannah: And that hurst so much more.

Bob: I felt worse about the lying than I did about the porn.

Ann: Really?

Bob: Because I thought the porn, to me, was like an addiction sort of thing, but the lying was an integrity issue, and I wanted to be a man of integrity. I had these weird rules for how things worked, you know? Just total rationalizations, but I hated lying.

Dave: I mean, did you feel any reservation such as, “This is Bob’s story. I don’t have the right to tell somebody else”? Or did you feel like, “Bob, you go ahead! Tell them.”

Bob: I told her to tell people.

Dave: Yes, that’s good. I mean, I think some spouses think, “I can’t!”

Ann: Especially those in leadership.

Dave: “It’s got to be just us!”

Dannah: Yes.

Dave: Many. You know, you’re not going to win [with] just you. You’ve got to have community!

Dannah: If you want to guarantee that the problem will continue—that the cycle will continue—don’t tell anybody. Keep it to yourself. But, if you want to win, then you’ll have a great marriage; because I promise you [that] you can! We do have a great marriage. You need to tell someone. He needs to tell someone. You need to get help.

Dave: Yes; so, Bob, you went away, right?

Bob: I went away for a few weeks. I actually went to the clinic that the stars went to, and it didn’t work.

Dave: What do you mean?

Bob: It wasn’t Christian. It was just kind of, “Tell your story, and God will heal you. Go to group,” and things like that. They didn’t really want the wives to be involved. It was kind of like, “Your wife is co-dependent. Scratch an addict. and you’ll find a co-dependent.” So, all of the sudden, the wife is the problem, not part of the solution.

So, one of the things that we talk about is that, it’s kind of like I’m driving down the road, and I run over Dannah with the car. When I slam on the brakes, I hit my chin on the dashboard. An ambulance comes, takes me into the ambulance, takes me to the hospital, and lets Dannah lie in the traffic.

Dave: Yes.

Bob: Because I’m the identified patient, you know?

Dannah: So, this particular treatment program wasn’t helping the wives as their website promised they would. And they were using labels like co-dependent. I really think it’s important that we say this: codependency is a real thing. There are people—I think all of us have some measure—

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Sure.

Dannah: —of codependency in our lives; but it’s a different thing to operate as co-dependent. So, for example, if you know your husband uses the computer late at night when you go to bed, and you passively say, “Okay, well, I’m going to bed,” and you don’t say, “Hey, where’s your computer? You need to put it under the bed when I go to bed.” That could be codependency. It could be, but the research doesn’t really bear out what they used to say about that: “If someone’s an addict, there is a codependent person in the relationship.”

It actually does, more often than not—that person has been traumatized by whatever the addiction is. They might not be operating at their optimal self, because they’re experiencing betrayal trauma. So, for me to be told that I’m codependent, and that I’m part of the problem, [made me say], “Oh, we were heat-seeking missiles, and we found each other because we were so broken.” That was just--!

But here’s the thing: that is what one body of addiction recovery, without the Word of God in it, will tell you. So, if you’ve been hearing that and believing that, I’m not saying that you haven’t behaved codependently; it’s possible that you have to be brave, look that in the face, and deal with it. But it’s also really possible that you’re experiencing the symptoms of betrayal, and that’s why you’re not operating at your best self.

Ann: Did you leave early out of the program?

Bob: Yes! And I was kind of a rebel there.

Dannah: But the thing he was rebelling against was that the wives weren’t involved.

Ann: Yes.

Dannah: So, yes, we both felt—I was at home in Pennsylvania; he was there, and we both felt—on the same day that God was saying, “Go somewhere where your help is clinical and informed but saturated in the presence of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Bob: Yes. I left and went to a Christian counselor whom we love. His name is Pete Kuiper; he’s in Colorado. How we describe Pete is that he’s clinically informed, biblically-based. There is more to it than just praying it away.

Dave: Yes.

Bob: I also want to say this before we go further. Our story is our story.

Dannah: Yes.

Bob: I responded in a certain way. Dannah responded in a certain way. We get some criticism now and then for, “Well, it might have worked out for you, but it didn’t work out for me.”

Ann: Or even, “What kind of crazy lady are you to throw that candy jar?”

Bob: Right, right.

Dannah: Yes. [Laughter]

Bob: So, you know, you need a group of friends.

Ann: Yes, who know you!

Bob: Godly friends, to deal with your own particular circumstances.

Ann: Right.

Bob: Because if you do what I did, it might not work out the way it did for me.

Dannah: We feel pretty strongly that, if there has been a cycle, okay? I imagine there’s probably used pornography, and it was an “Oops, that was a one-time thing.” We haven’t heard from those couples. We’ve heard from the couples who are experiencing this cyclical thing.

Ann: Is that the majority of people?

Dannah: I think so.

Ann: I do, too.

Dannah: I mean, I haven’t read anything that says it, but it’s just—for everyone we talk to, it’s just—very familiar.

Bob: Yes, doing it one time is like eating one Cheeto. That’s very rare.

Ann: Or a Dorito?

Bob: You know what I’m saying? That’s very rare.

Dannah: Listen, here’s the sad thing about it: most times, it started when they were young.

Dave: Yes.

Dannah: The average age today is 11 years old. So, when they were 11 or 13, they didn’t know why their problem with their parents’ divorce went away when they did that; they just knew that, for a while, there was a reprieve from the deep pain that was in their heart. At 11, 12, or 13, they find this medicine for a really big problem in their life. It might be just being bullied at school—not “just,” but I mean, it doesn’t have to be a divorce.

Dave: Yes.

Dannah: It could be anything! So, by the time they’re married, this is an ingrained, cyclical addiction.

Ann: It’s become their coping mechanism.

Dannah: It’s a coping mechanism. So, what we really feel strongly about in the church is, yes, it has to be biblical care, but that marriage mentor at your church who’s great at helping you not fight about your husband leaving the socks in the living room floor—not that anyone at this table would ever do that. [Laughter]

Dave: Nope!

Ann: Of course not.

Dannah: They’re going to be in over their head when it comes to the betrayal trauma and the brain damage that porn can do to a person’s thinking patterns. You need someone who has some clinical understanding. That way, they’ll be able to know when to apply Scripture. A good example of this would be forgiveness.

If you’re telling a wife, “Oh, just forgive him,” and there’s been no repentance in his heart, so that this cycle is going to stop, you’re just further adding to her trauma. That doesn’t mean that what God’s Word says about forgiveness isn’t true. That just means it might not be the right time. We’ve got to stabilize this pattern before we really sit down and verbalize that forgiveness in a healthier, and probably facilitated manner.

Bob: And repentance isn’t crying.

Ann: Ahh!

Bob: You know, for a guy to cry and say you’re sorry; that’s not repentance. You start to see new disciplines in his life, new ways of showing and rebuilding trust, and partly, not expecting trust right away. That’s the hard thing. Obviously, she’s not trusting. She wonders where I am and what I’m doing. I have to take that on as a consequence. That’s a consequence. I did that!

Dave: Yes.

Bob: I created that in her.

Ann: You’re not saying to Dannah, “You need to trust me!”

Bob: No. Once I got to that point, I said, “I own this. This is my fault.” The trigger when the candy jar goes flying? I triggered that. So, was it good to get the candy jar there? No, but I did that.

One of the things that happened—there are some triggers that happen when watching a movie or whatever; one day, when Dannah was gone, I came home and I cleaned the house, did the dishes; folded everything. I was so proud of myself! And Dannah walked in, and I was standing there like a hero.

Ann: Tada!

Bob: She said, “What’s happening?” And she was cold to me. I thought, “What is going on?”

Dannah: Cold shoulder; silent treatment.

Bob: Finally, she said, “This is the kind of thing you did out of penance after you acted out.”

Ann: Oh.

Dannah: He would fix things or run errands.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Yes.

Dannah: Or take care of the kids.

Bob: So, I never did that again! [Laughter]

Dave: You have a dirty house now!

Ann: Dannah, walk through how trust was rebuilt.

Dannah: Yes.

Ann: Because it sounds like you both have put some work into that. That was my struggle: “I don’t know if I can trust you anymore.”

Dannah: Right.

Ann: “What does this look like?”

Dave: And she had every right not to trust me, because I lied.

Ann: Just like you said, Bob.

Bob: Right.

Dannah: Yes. I really wrestled as I was writing the book. I thought, “Have I really figured this out yet?” When you study the Scriptures, Scripture warns us not to trust in other people.

Ann: What do you mean?

Dannah: It says over and over again that we’re only supposed to trust in the Name of the Lord our God. That’s who we trust.

Ann: Yes.

Dannah: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him.” Several Scriptures say, “Do not trust in mere man.” So, I thought, “Okay, what this is saying is, I can trust God with what’s happening in my marriage, even when I can’t trust Bob. He’s not trustworthy right now. He hasn’t built a pattern and a history of being safe for my heart in this specific way. So, I’m going to put all my trust in God.”

But then, you want to be in a marriage that’s trustworthy, right? So, as you trust God, how do you rebuild that together? Bob did something for me that was a great gift and the beginning of us building trust. He had something called a “personal craziness index.” [Laughter]

Bob: Well, Patrick Karnes had this in his book, and it’s basically the concept of [picking] three or four things a day—basic disciplines; it might be reading a chapter in a book or writing in a journal. Then you score yourself. The idea is that, if a person has an addiction or an addictive personality, usually basic disciplines start to fall off before the relapse or the acting out.

One of mine, to this day, is making the bed. When I make my bed—when I make our bed—that’s a physical sign to Dannah that, “I’m still here. This is still on my mind. I’m still building this.” If I start—there are times when I’ll get up and, two days in a row, I don’t make the bed; in my mind, that’s sending a message to Dannah.

Dannah: Yes.

Bob: There were little things like that: going to meetings, checking in with my accountability partners. There were certain things that show her that I was earning her trust back. I think the biggest thing was, at some point, if she wanted to know where I was and track the phone or whatever—the biggest thing for me was when I realized, “Those are safety things for me. I shouldn’t rebel against it.” Me getting upset that she’s not trusting me is like—she started to use the words that she feels “safe” when I do those things. That was a good word for me. I wanted her to feel safe.

Ann: Yes.

Bob: It wasn’t, “I don’t trust you.” It was, “I want to feel safe.” And that was a big vocabulary change for me.

Dannah: Now, I should say, it’s not like it was idyllic and Bob presented these wonderful “crazy index” steps, and I trusted him explicitly.

Bob: No.

Dannah: No. I withheld trust longer than I probably should have. It became a problem. And here again, you’ve got to tell people, because I told my mentor, “I don’t trust him. I don’t want to trust him. He doesn’t deserve that.”

Ann: You could almost withhold it.

Dannah: Oh, I was withholding it!

Ann: Yes.

Dannah: My counselor said, “You know, Dannah, there’s such a thing as being divorced without having a piece of paper that’s signed, and that’s where your heart is headed.” That was a wakeup call!

Bob: And things would go great for three days; we’d be really close, then I’d come home, and she was silent.

Dannah: Silent treatment; yes.

Bob: Something had triggered her or whatever. It was brutal.

Dannah: We went out to dinner with two friends: a pastor and my mentor. He just looked across the table at me, and he said, “I’m hearing a whole lot of things that Bob’s put in place that are evidence that’s he’s trustworthy at this point. At some point, you have to decide if you’re going to give him the gift of your trust or not.”

Ann: Give him your grace.

Dannah: I decided that night, “I’m going to give him the gift of trust.” But the reason is because of all these other things I saw: he’s going to small group, he’s going to accountability group. To this day, Bob has a Christian therapist that he sees almost every week; at least twice a month.

Bob: I call him a coach. I’ve always had a coach.

Ann: Oh, that’s good!

Bob: I just think you have a coach for anything else you do.

Dannah: And all of these other things. Now, there are days he forgets to make the bed, so I make my side of the bed. [Laughter]

Dave: You really do?

Bob: She does!

Ann: Do you ever think, “Why isn’t the bed made?!” Does it scare you?

Dannah: Well, you know, it’s not like one thing is the sign that he’s off the rails.

Ann: That’s good.

Dannah: If I saw a lot of the things not happening—

Ann: Yes.

Dannah: —and there was an increased stress in his career at that time, those two things together would make me think, “Hmm. Someone better be checking in with him.”

Bob: I also want to say, in a short program like this, it’s easy to collapse everything into all the healing—

Ann: Yes.

Dannah: Yes.

Bob: This was a brutal year.

Dannah: Yes.

Dave: Yes.

Bob: This was a brutal year of high emotions, low emotions.

Dannah: I would say it was really two years.

Dave: I was going to say—

Bob: I’m out of the ministry.

Dave: —was it a year?

Dannah: It was about two years until I started to feel normal again.

Ann: Wow!

Bob: I stayed out of the ministry for two years. My board wanted me back, and I said, “I need to go above and beyond.”

Dave: So, what happens if he falls?

Dannah: I would expect him to tell me within 24 hours. I’ve told him that: “We’re on 24-hour notice. I don’t want to know three months or a week later. I want to know in real-time that this happens.” And there will be grace. It will be another bump in our messy marriage, but at the end of the day, we want to have a marriage that looks like the love of Christ.

Why does Christ love us? Why did He die for us? Because we are so messy. His grace covers that. So, there will be grace if that happens.

Dave: Are the chairs still hidden away?

Dannah: No, this is a cool thing about the chairs.

Bob: In one of the books that Dannah wrote, our daughter-in-law, Alia, wrote the forward, not knowing anything about this. She talked about those two red chairs as being “the place we rocked our preemie babies.” They stayed with us for 11 weeks. At the end, she said, “I consider those chairs holy ground.” We read that, and we thought, “Holy cow!” It was one of the greatest redemption things I think has ever happened to me.

Ann: Yes!

Bob: The red chair—I mean, just thinking about the furniture—has been a great story. Each day I have to have discipline. You know, one of the 12 steps—I know some people don’t like it, but I find a lot of biblical stuff in there—is “one day at a time,” to not presume your future, that you’re going to be perfect. I need to be humble every day and stay in my disciplines. It keeps me tethered to the church, or else I think I could be a lone ranger. I’d think I can do it myself.

I think one of the things that porn is doing—Satan always overplays his hand and uses counterfeits; I think one of the things it’s doing—is causing men of God to get back into connection.

Dave: You’re right.

Dave: I’ve just got to say, the topic we hit today with Bob and Dannah Gresh about pornography in your marriage is such a critical conversation.

Ann: I’m so glad they’re talking about it and writing about it, because it has catastrophic effects on a marriage.

Dave: Yes, and let me just say, to those of you who give financially to FamilyLife, “thank you.”

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Seriously! It’s one of the thoughts I had when it was all done: these shows don’t happen without supporters and donors and people who pray for us and give financially. Man, this is a topic—I said it in the beginning—that’s a secret in marriages and in the church. Nobody’s talking about it, and I’m telling you, it takes courage to go there. They wrote a book about it; we had the courage to say, “Let’s talk about this.” And you make this happen!

Let me also add this: if this is something that impacted you, and I’m guessing you’re going to share this with others, because it’s impacting so many marriages, I would invite you to join our family. Jump in and become a financial partner with us so that we can continue to have these kinds of critical conversations.

I mean, I’m just thinking somebody—some couple—is going to hear this program today, and they’re going to say something to their spouse they’ve never—the secret’s going to come out, and they’re going to start a path to healing and freedom because we had the courage to talk about it. That’s because you give. Thank you!

 

Shelby: Yes, I love that! Healing begins because of how God works, and He has worked so often through FamilyLife Today. I’m grateful for that. You can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com to make a donation, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-F as in “family,” L as in “life,” and then the word, “TODAY.”

I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson talk with Bob and Dannah Gresh on FamilyLife Today. You know, Dannah’s written a book called Happily Even After: Let God Redeem Your Marriage. In this book, she talks about how to forgive, how to live with joy, and [how to] celebrate as you participate in your husband’s redemption story. You can pick up a copy of that book at FamilyLifeToday.com.

Now, coming up next week, how does marriage point us to God’s love? What is marriage? Is it sharing a home? Is it being in love? Is it a promise? Well, author Sam Allberry is going to be joining Dave and Ann Wilson in the studio to talk about marriage, but how it’s much more than all of these things I just mentioned. Marriage is a special sign that points us to God’s unique love for us. They’re going to talk about that kind of love that keeps on going, no matter what. We hope you’ll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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