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Practices that Strengthened Our Marriage

From the series Interview with Chip and Theresa

What do you think are the fundamental habits of a deep and intimate marriage? Not one without problems or challenges, but where both the man and the woman work in harmony. In this message, Chip and Theresa Ingram will highlight a few of their own as they continue reflecting on 45 years of marriage. Discover how disciplines like praying, studying God’s Word, paying bills together, and having a weekly date grew their relationships with each other, their kids, and most importantly God.

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Message Transcript

ANNIE: One of the things now that we have heard a lot of your early days – now that you got married, what were some of the learning curves that you experienced? what are some of the biggest things that you had to learn to navigate?

CHIP: Well, I’ll give you three or four that when I look back, number one, my expectations about what it was going to be like, we chose to be sexually pure. We were in the Bible, we prayed together, we sang together, we did ministry together. And I just thought I was going to get the equivalent of, you know, Betty Crocker, Raquel Welch, and every dream all in one package. We did it God’s way, it’s going to be awesome. We are really not going to have any problems. And my expectations were so skewed that I just had to totally learn and reorient those.

The second one was I thought, you know, when you’re dating you want to be around them all the time. I didn’t think we’d ever have any problem communicating. And I found out, oh boy. We couldn’t communicate well at all.

And then the third was – before we got married, I can never remember getting angry at your mom. And right after our honeymoon, over the silliest thing in the world, I got so angry and she raised her voice to me in such a way that I thought, I can’t believe it. Oh my gosh, have I married the wrong person? I mean, I was so, I was so out of it. So, then I didn’t know how to resolve anger.

And probably the last one was I was convinced then since we did life “God’s way” that sex would just be awesome and no learning, no problems, no troubles. So, other than expectations, communication, resolving anger, and problems in our sex life, everything went perfectly.

ANNIE: How about you, Mom? What were some of the hardest things for you guys to navigate early on from your perspective?

THERESA: Okay, early on it was communication was probably the number one. And I can look back now and see why. I came from a family that never talked. We never shared deeply, we sat at the table for dinner sometimes and nobody said anything. And dad came from a family that never stopped talking.

ANNIE: That’s true.

THERESA: Yes. And so, he was very, very verbal and I was very, very quiet. And I didn’t really, I didn’t really know how to share with a man. I could share with my girlfriends, but not with a man the things inside. And so, communication was I think a big, a big learning curve for us and…

CHIP: Yep.

THERESA: I didn’t understand why he would get angry when I would, because I have to ponder. If somebody asks me a question, sometimes I don’t have an answer right away, I have to ponder it for a while. And sometimes my pondering took too long.

CHIP: Why won’t you talk to me? I asked you a question. Why are you shutting down? You know? Oh.

THERESA: So, communication, I would say for me early on, communication was huge and over the longer in our marriage was just moving. We just moved. I like to build my nest, my home, and I want to stay there and I’d always get to that place and then we’d have to move across the country to another state, start all over again. So, I think, I think that was one, one of the big adjustments for me.

ANNIE: Mm-hm.

THERESA: Because I, at times I would think, Well, you know, other pastors just stay in the same place for forty-five years! How come we can’t do that? Why do we have to move all over the place?

ANNIE: You married a very unique man.


ANNIE: So, in light of you navigating these early challenges of communication and expectations, what are some of the daily practices that you put into place that help you overcome these struggles? You know, we know you guys made it to here…

CHIP: Yes.

ANNIE: What are some of those foundational practices that were lived out every single day or weekly in a rhythm that you really think held your marriage together and allowed you to enjoy each other and overcome those struggles?

THERESA: Well, I think the most important one is we have a habit, …it is a habit, but it’s a desire of our hearts even from the time we were on our honeymoon, we would get up in the morning and have time with the Lord. Time being in Scriptures, time praying, getting our focus on God was the primary habit of our day. And even all these years, that’s still what we do, even if we’re on vacation we do the same thing. We all, it’s just, we just, it, we just react that way. It’s just, it’s what we want to do. Yeah.

ANNIE: It really goes back to both of your stories, even before you met, that the practice of meeting with the Lord of being in His Word. That just continued on. It wasn’t something that started with your marriage. It was cultivated prior.

THERESA: It was, yes. Yeah.

ANNIE: And it continued.


CHIP: And not, it’s not a, like, ought to and that’s what good marriages do or, you know, I have a couple good friends that, you know, they read the Bible with their wife, and pray together in the morning and kind of have this picture. And we tried that for, like, three days. And it was like, you know like, this does not work. I didn’t want to spend, you know, we pray together and we share, but even the, like, when we’re on vacation, I know that if she gets a couple hours by herself or I get a couple hours by myself, vacation, because we have more time that you can read and pray and walk and journal and ponder and reflect, the person who shows up in our marriage is really, really different.

THERESA: And my personality too, I’m an introvert and I need that time to get refreshed just by myself, you know. Everybody doesn’t need that, I know. And they do things differently. But that’s what I need in my life.

ANNIE: Absolutely. And for those who don’t know you both very well, is you’re an extreme, introvert and you’re an extreme, Dad, extrovert.

CHIP: Yes, that’s true.

ANNIE: So, you had some personality challenges going into…you’re attracted to one another but in learning to work together, it created some challenges. So, the first one is just individually being in God’s Word, and together. What else?

THERESA: Well, one habit that we cultivated out of necessity is on every Friday morning for years, all the time we had children at home, in school, or when they were home after college when we had children at home, every Friday morning like clockwork, we got up and sometimes we had to drop off kids at school, but we went out to breakfast together every Friday morning. It was just something I really looked forward to, we looked forward to.

And so, we had that time, we knew that whatever came along in the week, we had that time we were going to sit down and look at each other and talk and just enjoy one another. So, I think that was our date for then. Now we don’t. Now we can take a date anytime. We don’t need to get, even go out of the house to have a date. But that was something that was really, really positive, because I knew if there’s anything we need to talk about, well, Friday is coming.

ANNIE: Yeah.

CHIP: And we would often, like, take a walk. Or we just knew until, actually, until it’s time to go pick up the kids, it’s, this is our time. So, it might be a couple hours, it might be four or five. But it was like, at least every seven days at a really deeper level it was both fun and we connected. I think the habit was we are going to make each other a real priority over work and kids, and every seven days connect that way.

ANNIE: That’s great.

THERESA: I think another thing that we did, started early on, that became a habit and still is a habit is doing our bills together. About three months after we got married, we moved to Dallas. And Dad was going to seminary, I was staying home with the boys and we didn’t have hardly any money. We were just living in government subsidized apartments. And I have always been one that keeps the checkbook right, you know? Make sure there’s enough money there to pay the bills, make sure there’s, you know, it was never off until Dad did something that I didn’t know about and we needed that money. I mean, we needed it for food, we needed it for something for our family. And he bought something for me,

CHIP: And the funny part is, again, our personalities. In my spontaneity I felt this loving feeling, so I got flowers for your mom. And back then, you know, you could get decent flowers for ten bucks. But, I mean, we were living on under a thousand dollars a month. And it was like, “Honey, you just drained our checking account. That was our last ten bucks.”

THERESA: but I think it was, at that point that we realized we have got to know what each other are doing with money. We have to have an understanding of what is coming in, what is going out – just together so we understand.

So we started, this was way back when we were in seminary, we started every two weeks we sat down together, got out our, you know, at that time we didn’t do it on a computer or anything, but we got out our bills this is what is going out, this is what we are giving, this is what we need for food, for clothes, for whatever it was. And we did that every two weeks for years and years and years. We still do it.

CHIP: And I think, you know, as we have grown over the years, what I realized was doing our bills together, yes, it was good for knowledge and the checkbook, but what we really developed was a time every two weeks where we were talking about priorities and values.

ANNIE: Mm-hm.

CHIP: And that habit, you know, fortunately we’re not in a position now to try and figure out, you know, God has given us plenty to pay the bills. But you still have questions and values and because it’s a rhythm, to me the key is: When you develop rhythms that draw you near to God, when you develop a rhythm that connect you to one another, and when you develop a rhythm where what really matters and what matters most you agree on, I mean we still had plenty of problems, but that eliminates a lot of big ones.

THERESA: Yeah, and the thing is one of the spouses, you know, might say, “Well, I’m just not any good at keeping track of money,” or, “That’s not my strength.” That doesn’t matter. One of you probably is, so you can sit, you can still sit down and talk about, “Where is our money going?”

ANNIE: Mm-hm.

THERESA: How are we viewing, you know, things that we need?” And just discuss everything about our finances.

ANNIE: Well, it sounds like you guys developed places to meet and have that regular time to discuss those things. I think it’s pretty easy to kind of let life go on and, you know, it ends up becoming a fight or a, “You did this,” or, “You did that.” But you guys created the space to have, “Oh, I know, you know, this Friday or this Tuesday we can talk about that.” So it seems like it really created the space to have, be able to resolve those conflicts in a safe place. Dad, is there anything else you want to add?

CHIP: There were two things the habit of eating together as a family. It was five-thirty. And you can pick whatever time. But as a family, we all knew. And your mom, you know, this was a day when people actually, you know, cooked the meals and stuff like that. You just didn’t call somebody, you know? And I understand the world has changed. But there is something very, very powerful about sitting down around a table.

And, yes, our kids, you know, did sports and this and that and so it wasn’t seven out of seven. But it was probably four or five nights out of seven, we sat around a table and we ate and we talked and, “How did your day go?” And may share, “What are you learning?” And maybe we’d read a proverb or something. But I don’t want to make this idyllic, Leave It to Beaver picture, if anyone can remember who he was. But eating together really mattered. And there’s tremendous research, Christian or non-Christian, the power of eating together in families.

And then I’ll just touch on one, because different personalities, different backgrounds, different baggage. And many couples have this problem. The frequency of having sex can be very different, and expectations. And we had very different expectations and it was a real struggle. And this may sound very unromantic, but I will just say for us, over the years, we came to where there was a bit of a schedule that, you know, we know the kids are doing this and that and they are going to be gone and, you know, this is our rhythm, whether it’s once a week or something, we are going to plan that in.

Because I think a lot of men it’s like it’s going to be really passionate, it’s going to be great, and you’re waiting for this perfect moment, and, you know, all of a sudden. Men do stuff like this, like, it has been twenty-three days, it has been thirty-four days, it has been…you know?

We had so many fights about this. And finally it was, okay, we both want to be together. It really matters. It’s, I mean, we have biblical commands, you know, 1 Corinthians 7, that this is an important area. And, again, there’s research about as you come together physically of what happens in the brain that builds connection and networking and it really matters. And so, we built in a rhythm that has kind of set some expectations that…

THERESA: It took us a while to learn that.

CHIP: Yeah, that’s right.

THERESA: We didn’t start that rhythm right away.

ANNIE: Well, I really appreciate you guys taking time to share with me the practices and habits that have laid a strong foundation for your marriage and my husband and I have actually modeled a lot of those and it has helped us tremendously. One of the things I have observed, though, as well, is that although we put those practices in place, there’s still conflict…

CHIP: Yes.

ANNIE: …there’s still brokenness and there’s still hardship. And I thought it would be really important to remember that as Christians we have an enemy.

CHIP: Mm-hm.

ANNIE: Satan, he’s out there, his goal is to steal, to kill, and destroy. And if God’s design is that marriage would be one, Satan’s greatest tactic is to divide.

CHIP: Absolutely.

ANNIE: He just wants us to fail. And I think a lot of times as I’ll quote from you, Dad, most of those attacks are between our two ears.

CHIP: Yes.

ANNIE: It is what we are thinking about. And it’s the lies that are infiltrated into our mind. It comes through culture, it comes through just things that people say. And then our own self. Our flesh actually is quite broken…

CHIP: Yes.

ANNIE: …apart from Christ., And so, we have tendencies to drift towards lies and towards not believing correctly. And so, I wanted to take some time to just dispel, what are some of the lies that we believe today about marriage that are not true?

CHIP: Your mom and I both together and individually have certainly experienced that and then because of what I have done for the last, you know, forty years, we have counseled hundreds and hundreds of people. And you see the same kind of problems, you see the lies behind them.

First is over and over and over I’ll meet with a man and it’s like, “Why is this so hard? I mean, this is so really hard and I’m trying really hard,” and I always use the example because I have a good friend who played professional football. And, I was kind of teasing him and I said, “Hey, when you came across the middle and some, a linebacker hit you, did you get up and go, ‘Wow! You shouldn’t hit me like that! This is really hard.’” And he would laugh. And I said, “You are representing God’s message to the world. There is an enemy that wants to have you disagree with your wife, assume the wrong things. Here’s the deal. It can be super great and it’s super hard.”

Another one was this lie that my mate is going to make me complete. Somehow if I just find the right person. Well, guess what, no one can make you complete but Jesus. And so, as your mom was saying earlier, once you put your hope in that person, they are going to let you down. It’s not an if. They will. I mean, I have certainly let your mom down and so then you get disillusioned and then the lie is, “Well, I guess I married the wrong person.” And then this is the one that is just dripping everywhere is: just follow your heart. In other words…

ANNIE: What do you feel?

CHIP: Yeah, what do you feel? In other words, reality is defined by how I feel in this moment. And if I don’t feel ooey-gooey, rushy, connected, when it’s hard, when it’s difficult, when I get a little resentment or I feel rejected, then we start questioning the marriage rather than saying, You know, I feel really good when it’s sunny, I feel good when it gets, I get a raise. I don’t feel so good when I sprain my ankle. I mean, there’s all kind of things in life that doesn’t mean your life is wrong. Your feelings are a terrible barometer for decision-making.

And maybe the last one that I would say is that the lie is that it’s really about me. Self-fulfillment. If my needs aren’t being met, if I’m not getting what I need then that moves very quickly to: I need to find someone or something else that…and whether it can be work or whether kids or an affair or people go to all different places, but at the end of the day it’s about this is what I need for me.

And the reason Jesus has to be the center of our marriages is it only works when you are actually considering Philippians 2. This other person is more important than you, and you don’t feel like it a lot. But it’s that action of don’t focus on your own personal interests but also the interests of others. Do nothing from pride or empty conceit.

And so much of our marriage problems, if I’m honest and look in the mirror, my pride, my empty conceit, my desire for things to be my way so I will be happy. And realizing when I think that way and when I act that way, it doesn’t work.

THERESA: Another side to pride is probably more from where I would come from is what is wrong with me? If it’s not working, if this area of our marriage is, you know, we are having so much disagreement, so much struggle over – what is wrong with me? What am I doing wrong? Instead of thinking that a person, you know, when I think about Dad, I always think he’s probably right. Most of the time. But because of my background, I can just so quickly go to: I am doing something wrong.



ANNIE: That condemnation.

THERESA: And, yeah. The condemnation that comes with it. And that’s a big lie…

ANNIE: Mm-hm.

CHIP: That’s so critical, because I think, I just think that – we did that. We went and got marriage counseling and we read books together and we learned and got tools. Thinking it’s broken just because you can’t figure it out is a lie. You know, we have tried and tried and tried. It doesn’t work.

You know, if you, you know, if you’re sick, what do you do? You go to a doctor. You break your arm; you need to go get a cast. I think one of the things we learned was, yeah, early in our marriage. But there has been other times when you’re trying really hard and the more you try, the worse it gets, and you know both people are sincere, you realize we need some outside eyes. We just, we need some help. And most every area that people struggle with, if they had just a little bit broader background, they would realize everyone does.