Dave and Ashley Willis are a vital part of a marriage ministry called XO based in Dallas Texas. They are both authors and host a podcast called “The Naked Marriage” (which has had over 1.1 million downloads just since the beginning of 2023). They also speak to thousands of couples in person at marriage events across the country. Here is the rest of our conversation:
Where do you point people when they ask you for an example of a strong marriage?
Dave: I would say start in your church. If you have examples in your family, that’s great, but I think when both of you can make a friendship with somebody that neither of you is related to… you’ve found this couple together and they’re ahead of you, they’ve got more experience. Nobody’s perfect, but they seem genuine in their faith and their love for each other. Just to say, “We’ve got stuff to learn from them.” And we’ve had couples like that through the years. Just by spending time together through friendship, we learn. There’s no perfect couple, but there are a lot of healthy couples. Find a healthy couple that’s older than you and just hang out with them.
Ashley: And I would even say too, eventually, also it’s good to mentor other couples, it keeps you on your toes. Because, you know, if you’re trying to help another couple…you know, it just keeps us on our toes certainly, so you kinda have like a mentor sandwich. Have people mentoring you and you’re mentoring others. Because we’re in this together, we all need each other. I do think a lot of people either prolong not getting married or maybe want to quit their marriage when things are hard because they feel like they don’t have anyone in their family that they can look at and say “Oh, That’s a good marriage.” That may be the case, but look outside of that too. That’s why the church is so important and plays such a vital role.
Does our culture do a good job of depicting marriage relationships?
Dave: No, I think it’s two extremes that I see, at least in entertainment. One is it normalizes dysfunction just for the sake of comedy. The guy’s an idiot and the wife is clueless. It plays up all these stereotypes for the sake of comedy, but it doesn’t show health OR on the other end it shows a cultures version of perfection that’s not real. Again, it’s the Hallmark movies and some of these romance movies where you think this guy’s perfect, and he sweeps her off her feet. They ride off into the sunset. And that’s not real either. So, in terms of just real life, real health, couples working through real issues, I don’t see it a lot. I think there are some examples on reality TV like even Chip and Joanna Gaines, or maybe the Duck Dynasty family, where there’s entertainment but you’re also seeing families that are real that are trying to work through things together. I think that can be a healthy example. If we’re looking for a TV to mentor us on marriage, usually, most of the time, it’s going to fall short.
What are some things a married couple can do to strengthen their relationship?
Ashley: I think the biggest thing is time. Dave says, “Time is the currency of relationships.” And I love that because it’s so true. There’s nothing that can replace time. You can give all the gifts, you can say all the right things, but nothing is going to say I love you like time. Like investing the time, like being there not only when it matters most, but just like quantity. I think just having more time together. I think we live in a world that says, “Put career first, put your kids first, like everything else – but your marriage.” And that’s just not how God designed it. I know this is totally unpopular with some people who say “I can’t believe you would say that.” But the way that God designed marriage, and he is the creator of marriage, you know Adam and Eve – the first marriage. It is God first, and then it’s the married people, and then their kids, and then everyone else. When it’s prioritized that way, everything else and everyone else falls kind of into the right place. I think Covid showed us what putting other things first can do when you’re forced to actually have that time together. You don’t know what to say, and you don’t know what to do. Sadly, we saw so many people get divorced during that time because I think they were putting the kids first or their jobs first, and all of a sudden they’re in lockdown, and they are having to deal with each other. So we can’t go on autopilot and we can’t put everything else ahead of our marriage. We need to communicate, and we need to spend time together. For us that looks like a regular date night, we go weekly. For some people, it’s every two weeks, once a month, whatever it is. We’ve been part of small groups for a long time with couples that help us stay strong and do life with people. Being part of a church family, and having mentors as I mentioned before. I think too, don’t wait until things get terrible to go seek counsel. When you feel like you are at a point where you can’t talk about something in a healthy way, that’s when you need to go to counseling. You can do that in person, and you can do that virtually with the ministry we’re part of – XO Marriage.com/help has online mediators that can help too. The main thing is just reaching out for help.
If you had the means to communicate a marriage message to every person on the planet, what would it be?
Dave: Well, I would want to use as much scripture as possible. Like an old Pastor/Mentor told me “Always use a lot of scripture so you know at least something you say is actually true.” That’s the part that’s 100 percent true. What we do is pointing people back to here’s what God says. There are so many verses that aren’t just for marriage, but when applied to marriage can mean so much. Like ‘Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32). Over and over in scripture we see the answer. It really comes down to living it and applying it.
Ashley: I think there are so many marriages out there that really can keep going and on the other side of just persevering through whatever trial they are going through, is a marriage that they didn’t even know they could have. There was a stat that said people who went through whatever kind of trial they were going through in their marriage, on the other side of it, was like 85% of them, or maybe even more, were so glad that they did persevere through that. And that’s a lot of people saying that they didn’t give up and that their marriage is actually happier. Going through it wasn’t fun, it never is, and it’s longer and harder than we could ever imagine- always…but on the other side of that, there are tools that you learn through that trial that you didn’t have before. You have the grit that you didn’t have before. It’s not like all of the sudden you don’t have problems anymore, the next one is on its way, but you’re going to persevere more the next time. I would say keep going and know that it’s worth it. There are some marital problems that sometimes can’t be resolved, sadly, but I think that most of them can.
What are some resources available for those who want to make their marriage stronger?
Dave: We are part of an amazing ministry called XO Marriage. As far as we know, it’s the largest marriage-focused Christian ministry in the country. It provides so many resources, for individuals, for churches, for couples. Go to XOmarriage.com, you can see a full list of events, podcasts, articles, videos, and books. You can connect to a mediator on our team who provides a service much like counseling that you can do by phone or Skype to work through issues. We’re doing a Date Night event in Augusta with XO at Stevens Creek Church Friday, March 10th. This will genuinely be fun, you’ll laugh, and it will be entertaining. In addition to that, you’re going to get practical tools that will intentionally help you build a stronger marriage. To help you connect with God’s vision for your marriage.
All engaged or married couples are invited to the XO Date Night Friday, March 10th at Stevens Creek Church in Augusta. https://stevenscreekchurch.com/event/xo-date-night/
Other helpful resources: