Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage with Mark Gungor
"You're the line in the sand when I've gone too far," describes perfectly Mark Gungor's theory of marriage and a women's role in it. He believes that the breakdown in marriages is because women quit being the line in the sand for men. The women who do that successfully are the ones who overwhelmingly succeed. Those who can't because of self-esteem or lack of role models or whatever, are the ones that are struggling desperately in relationships.
His Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage seminars, available on DVD from Crown Entertainment, are very popular events across the country, and you don't have to listen very long to understand why that title is a perfect fit. For Mark Gungor, it's all about common sense, a concept that's simple but not easy to apply. I had a fascinating and highly entertaining conversation with him one afternoon to talk about his work and his ideas about what makes marriage work.
Men are Better at Relationships Get Married Earlier
Dating in the Dark Strong Teach the Weak
Line in the Sand What's the Answer?
You’re part comedian, part marriage counselor, and part pastor. Where and how did Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage begin?
Mark: I’m a pastor first. I pastor a church of about 3000 people in Green Bay, Wisconsin. From there it spilled into talking about marriage and family and just kept spilling.
I wouldn’t call myself a counselor, because I don’t think I’m that great of a counselor either. My whole thing is just practical advice. I think marriage problems are some of the easiest in the world to solve. It doesn’t take rocket science to understand it.
Most marriage speakers in the country have Ph.Ds and stuff, and it comes off as marriage being extremely complicated and needing a Ph.D. to understand it. No, you don’t. It’s not that hard. It’s not that complicated. I think if anything, academics tend to make it too complicated. Even their solutions can seem more complicated than the problems themselves.
I just approach it from a practical commonsense point of view. This is how it works. Quit trying to change everybody and just start to understand people. I try to get men and women to understand each other in general, and then I have programs to help people discover each other more specifically.
Now there are problems that can affect a marriage, like someone with clinical depression or real low self-esteem. It may affect the marriage, but it’s not really a marriage problem. And it’s often mis-diagnosed when couples go in for marriage counseling because one of them is having deep personal problems. Need a psychologist for that? I’m all for that. But for marriage it’s not really that complicated.
Marriage problems like communication and understanding, those aren’t that difficult to fix.
Why does it seem so difficult then?
Mark: I have no idea. My one answer would be that those who seem to represent the answers make it seem difficult. When people start talking about studies showing this, and Ph.D.s saying that, and illustrating things on a blackboard, let’s reference this, and cross that, then holy cow! Anything would sound complicated!
Slow down. It’s not that deep. It’s not that hard. You want the key to a great marriage? How about this: Be nice! Be nice! Why are you being so mean to everybody? It’s unbelievable how people act toward each other.
I’ll bet you have some of the nicest people in your office. They’re nice and kind and polite. But all of sudden get them home, and it’s like people feel justified to be mean and nasty.
If people could really see how others act in their homes, I think they’d be shocked. Why are you being so mean and nasty to each other? The excuse, "Well, he’s my husband," makes no sense to me.
As you’ve seen on my clips, I’m just trying to get men and women to understand each other. Men think like this. They live like this. They respond like this. Women think and respond this way. We’re not the same. As much as our culture has tried to say there’s not any difference between men and women, there is.
It’s ludicrous and absurd to think that. There are exceptions, of course. Whenever you speak like this, you’re always speaking in stereotypes. There are all kinds of people who will break the stereotypes. But at the end of the day, we’re not the same, and it’s not just body parts that are different. It’s the way we think and process. So I try to deal with that.
I’m also a little different in that I spend more time trying to get women to understand men than trying to get men to understand women. First of all, men are NEVER going to understand women. They’re just way too layered and complicated. Men are pretty simple. We’re not stupid, but we’re not very complicated.
I don’t think women understand women.
Mark: Oh, I know. That’s one of my fundamental premises. The basic argument in America is that women are great at relationships but men are bad. The reason marriages are failing is that men don’t know how to do relationships. I challenge that head-on. I say, "Wait a minute. I think women are terrible at relationships. I think men are much better at relationships."
You can get 20 guys working in an office, and nobody’s mad at each other or yelling at each other. No one’s reading into anything. But then you get 20 women in the same office and it’s like a big cat-fight! For people who are supposed to be so great at relationships, why are they always at each other? I don’t understand that. I just don’t think it’s what everybody makes it out to be.
And by the way, one of the biggest problems I see with marriage fix-its is trying to get men to act and think and respond more like women. They basically bought into this thing that women are superior in relationships, and if men would be more female-like, it would be better.
That’s ludicrous and absurd. It doesn’t work. You’re never going to succeed in that, and it’s not true anyway. So I’m not trying to get men to be like women. And I’m not trying to get women to be like men. I’m just trying to get people to understand each other. Goodness gracious!
This seems like it would be great not just for marriage, but to take it into any setting where there’s a need for conflict resolution.
Mark: Absolutely. I do corporate speaking events all the time. I just did one in Dallas for that very reason. And you’re right; you don’t have to be married to figure out what I’m doing. My marriage seminars aren’t full of couples holding hands and cow-eyeing each other. You can be single and come to my event. In fact, we encourage single people to come to my event.
Good grief, they’re doing an abysmal job of dating these days. My heavens, I can’t tell you how many emails I get that say, "We got married seven months ago and now we’re in hell." "I got married eight months ago and now I’m in hell." "I got married four months ago and now we’re in hell." Good grief! It should take you years to get to hell! How did you get to hell in four months?
These are people who are doing a terrible job during the dating process. They are not using the right filters and are making horrible mistakes. Then they get married and are profoundly miserable. It’s because they’re doing everything wrong.
I’m just trying to tell people, "Look, do it right."
I hear you talking, and I see what you’re saying in relationships around me. How did you understand this yourself? Did you have great parents who set a great example for you?
Mark: No. My parents are just as dysfunctional wackos as everybody else’s. That’s part of the problem today. People used to learn this from their parents, but we’re at least three generations of dysfunctional nut jobs in this country, and people don’t know anything any more.
People don’t know how to get along in the most basic of ways. The odd thing about common sense is that, despite the name, it’s not very common.
Where did I get it from? Mostly from my faith and from reading the Bible. Learning from God and learning how God deals with us. Learning how Jesus taught us to be and stuff. The Bible basically teaches that the key to a successful relationship is doing the right thing. If you’ll follow the principles of Christianity, whether you’re a Christian or not, and if you’ll follow the principles of love, kindness, patience and forgiveness, then virtually any two people in the world can succeed with each other.
That’s why the Bible never talks about soul mates. You know how many people walk around with this stupid concept of a soul mate? Maybe you’ve got it. You think there’s one special cosmic person out there for you? No there’s not! That’s nonsense. It’s a pagan concept, and Christians take this stupid idea and spiritualize it, and say, "God has that one special person just for you." Yeah, really? How come the Bible never says that. You can’t find it anywhere in the Bible. It’s missing. Why? Because the writers of the Bible knew these principles are so powerful, they will work with virtually any two people if they’ll live by the principles.
That’s the key. It’s not about finding the right person, it’s about doing the right thing. Sadly, as I mentioned a moment ago, because of all the dysfunctional families we’ve come from, nobody knows what to do any more. My books and seminars are about these uncomplicated principles that don’t take a long time. Friday night and Saturday morning, and we’re done. And it works!
The number of couples whose marriages have been saved, or they got divorced, came to my seminar and then got married again shows that the principles fix all kinds of problems. It’s because we just simplify it and make it down to earth concepts that everybody can grasp.
When you got married, did you have a pretty firm grasp on these principles and concepts?
Mark: Yes, because we were mature in our faith. And we got married at 18. That’s another point, by the way. People are waiting so long to get married that they’re making things worse.
I’ve been arguing about this for years and everybody thought I was insane. But finally studies are coming out that show there is no benefit to people delaying to the late 20s to get married. It’s a ludicrous concept, and there are no studies that prove that at all. There’s no benefit. If anything, there’s more negativity that result when people wait to get married.
They’re so set in their ways and locked into the way that they think, or they’ve been in and out of so many relationships that it’s like taking packing tape on and off your arm. You put it on the first time and rip it off, it hurts. But reapply it and pull it back off and it’s not so bad the second time. Then you reapply it and pull it off again. You do that about four or five times and it doesn’t hurt at all. It’s easy to pull off, and at some point, it’s hard to make it stick at all.
That’s what people do with their hearts. They’re patching and ripping and patching and ripping until they finally get married when they’re turning almost 30 (because their clock is ticking on them) and they can’t understand why it’s hard. It would take me hours to point out everything that we’re doing wrong in our culture. We’re failing for a reason, and no one seems to grasp that.
People ask, "Why are we failing?" Well, why do you think we’re failing? It’s because we’re doing the wrong stuff. We’re delaying marriage, doing all this stupid sexual experimentation, doing all this dating and connecting and unconnecting. It’s a disaster!
Some of the comments I’ve read in response to your YouTube videos are very interesting. One man said that women don’t want to know the truth, and that every time he’s tried to tell the truth to a woman, it backfired on him. I think it’s because he wanted to tell a woman he wasn’t interested in a long-term relationship, just casual sex.
Mark: He’s a moron! And women, what is it with you? Why do you give in to these guys? The most valuable thing a woman has to give in a relationship is her body. The most valuable thing a man has to give in a relationship is his freedom. Why do women routinely surrender the one without expecting the guy to surrender the other? I don’t understand it; it makes no sense at all.
Women everywhere are giving their bodies up with no thought at all, then crying their eyes out because the guys don’t want to surrender their freedom. They don’t want to commit to them. Why? Why would they do that? They’re getting the milk for free, why buy the cow? It’s an old saying, but it’s true.
Honestly, I think women have some serious issues in our culture today. I really do. You can quote me on that. Again, society says women really have it together and men are the problem. Wrong! 80% of all divorces in America are being filed by women. They’re expecting the men to be something they’re not, and they don’t challenge the men. These women have no self-esteem and let me treat them continually like crap.
You wonder, what are they thinking? They’ll give them sex freely on the first date. How do you even get to that on a first date? What are people thinking? This is insane how people are acting. Women will do everything for the guy because they’re all needy.
Here’s a historical perspective. In the 1890s, men moved out by the thousands to the West. They called it "The wild west," because men were pigs. They were violent, undisciplined, disgusting creatures. Kind of a man’s natural state, quite frankly.
Then by the early 20th century, just a handful of years later, it had completely transformed. Men were now responsible husbands, fathers and contributors to society. Do you know what historians credit as the reason for the dramatic change? It was the women moving out there. When they moved out there, they weren’t the kind of women we have today. They weren’t needy, insecure women. They were strong, confident women who would not tolerate that kind of behavior.
They basically said, "You want me, you behave yourself," and it transformed the culture. These men were transformed from being wild disgusting creatures to all of a sudden competing for these women and trying to do their best to behave. You actually see this scene played out in many movies, especially Westerns. A girl moves into town and there’s this guy who’s a slob who starts combing his hair and not spitting on the sidewalk any more. It’s kind of a joke, but in reality, that is what happened. It’s an absolute historical fact.
The problem today is if women of that day were to be like women of today, men would still be pigs. We have the Wild West today, only it’s everywhere. You’ve got these men who are 30 years old that aren’t even worth marrying. They’re undisciplined and haven’t grown up. They’re immature. They’re 30 and still living with Mom. Their only skills are video games. It’s unbelievable!
And what do the girls do? They’re all needy and give the guys what they want, but the men don’t change. They eventually marry these guys and they go crazy and they’re frustrated because he’s such a self-centered narcissistic pig. How did they get there?
I’m working on a book entitled Disappointment Makers, about how women today are helping to create the very men they cannot stand. It starts with the mothers, goes onto the girlfriends and then to the wives. You let these guys get away with murder, with very bad behavior.
I really believe in my heart of hearts that if I could get through to the female culture and teach them to succeed with the men and how to approach men, I believe we could absolutely change our culture today. The challenge is getting the message to them. They tend to only want to hear this over-romanticized nonsense they’ve gotten comfortable with.
You’re definitely turning things on their head and speaking against popular culture. So many "reality" shows are all about meeting people of the opposite sex and making "love connections."
Mark: Have you seen the latest reality show? It's called Dating in the Dark. They put couples in absolute pitch-black rooms, except the cameras pick them up. It's amazing technology; they're crystal clear. They can't see a thing. They're meeting each other and talking, then making out with each other. I was watching this one with a Christian girl who's in a room with a guy who doesn't believe anything she does, but they're making out.
I'm thinking, "What are they thinking? Why would any woman let some guy just paw her when she hasn't even seen him yet?" I know people will say the guy shouldn't do it, but the reality is if he can, he will. As long as he keeps getting the green lights, he'll keep going. It was so disgusting.
Then after all this time, the guys are talking about the different women and their personalities, whether or not they really liked them, etc. Then at the end they get to see them to decide if they want to be with them. It's amazing how these guys are going on about things like her face not really being clear, or the girl not having the figure he thought she did. How selfish! Unbelievable. They walked out.
What's happening is that these women don't respect themselves, so they wind up with men who do not respect them. They last less than twelve months and then they're miserable. How do you go from the happiest day of your life, your wedding day, to hell in a handful of months? Unless you're really doing everything wrong, and that's what they're doing.
When I got married at 18, I was just happy to be married. We were broke, but we grew up together and built our lives together.
You know, we were talking about strong women. I challenge you to do your own little survey. Take a look at the women who have great marriages and all the women who are really struggling in their marriages and tell me which group you think has the strongest and most confident women in it?
The ones with great marriages.
Mark: The funny thing is that women will think the difference is the man. If Group A has great marriages and Group B has lousy marriages, the women will think the difference is the men. But I have a theory.
I theorize that you could swap the men around and it would still be the same. The ones with great marriages would have great marriages still, and the ones with lousy marriages would still be lousy.
Because the women who have great marriages know who they are and don't tolerate this nonsense. Would you let some guy curse at you and hit you and come home at three o'clock in the morning when he feels like it? Who's going to look at porn while you're in the house? Would you look at that and go, "What should I do?" You would never tolerate that. You'd say, "No way!" and you'd draw the line.
But women in bad marriages all tolerate it. And just listen to their complaints. "He stays out until three o'clock in the morning and I don't know where he is." "He gets mad at me and curses at me in front of the children and says horrible things." They list all this stuff, and at first you think, what an evil man. But then you go, "Wait a minute! Why do you let him do this to you?" They ask, "Why does he do this to me," and you say, "Because he can. You let him do this."
What happened to the women of the Wild West? I promise you they would never tolerate it. Never in a million years!
You said earlier we're three generations away from good strong marriages as the norm. What is the answer?
Mark: The Bible says that the strong women of the church should be teaching the weak ones how to live. This is true everywhere. People who have successful lives should be mentoring the weaker ones. This is also true for men.
Where are the mentors? Where are people connecting? This is why I believe the church has the answer. There's so much power in the church that if we could just get strong successful women in the church mentoring younger weaker ones, we could turn this thing around. But it's going to stay hopeless until we realize that these women need to be helped.
The problem is this: strong women don't want to mentor weak ones, because weak ones suck the life out of them! They're such a mess. And oftentimes the weak ones don't want to listen to the strong ones because the strong ones challenge them to stop what they're doing.
So they'd rather go to their pastors, and their pastor says, "I don't know." That's what happened to me. I was sitting there listening and it dawned on me. I was listening to this woman go on about how horrible her husband was. I went to my wife and asked her how come I don't act like that, and she says, "Because you're a good man." And I said, "No." So she said, "How come?"
I said, "Because you'd kill me," and she said, "Yes, I would." And that's when we started making a list of all the people we knew who had great marriages. We made a list of what that woman would do if her husband did that. Every one, we said, "She'd kill him."
We made a list of people with shaky marriages, and asked what those women would do. This one would cry, that one would whine, this other one go to counseling, but she wouldn't draw the line.
There's a great line in a Michael Buble song called "Everything." It's a great song and has these romantic lyrics about what this woman is to him. There's a fabulous line that says, "You are the line in the sand when I've gone too far." That's what a man needs from a woman. It's not about his mother. If we can get women to be the line in the sand when he's gone too far, men need that.
If every guy in America knew that tomorrow there'd be no police on the highway, do you know how fast we'd drive? These guys would be running stop signs and going around corners 50 miles too fast. Do you know why? Because there's no cops there. The reason why guys don't do that is because probably around the corner is a cop.
I know again that a lot of women hate this role. You don't need to be disrespectful, but you're strong, confident women who know what you believe. You need to draw that line in the sand and say, "this is who I am. This is how you will treat me."
The women who do that become the moral lines for men and they help to make men better. There's no question that married men who succeed in life and have great marriages make a better income, they're happier, they have better jobs, have those things because women make men better. They always have. If they're doing it right, they will always make men better.
I think that's why women have that sense that they need to change a man who's less than what he should be. But they don't quite understand it.
You've given me a lot to think about. It's great because parts of what you've said, I've always thought, especially about expectations of change and women being the line in the sand.
Mark: That's what I believe is responsible for the breakdown of so many marriages today, women not being the line in the sand for men. They don't like the line, but they need the line.
To figure out what makes a good marriage, you just have to quit looking at the bad ones and look at the good ones. You see it over and over again. Ask those guys in good marriages what their wives would do if they came home and found them looking at porn. "She'd kill me!" These are men who will tell you that their wives will call them out if they think he's doing something wrong.
On my daily radio show that you can hear online, you can listen to how many calls I get from women who tolerate just horrid behavior in men, or men who tolerate horrid behavior in women, because it can be the other way around.
On yesterday's show, a woman was complaining about her husband because he was doing something in their marriage that she found out about while they were dating. She thought he'd change when they married, but he had the same issues. How could she be so dumb? I don't mean to be mean, but why would you even think about marrying someone like that?
You remind me of Dr. Laura, because she just tells it like it is when people call her show complaining about their marriages. When they're doing dumb things, she just tells them to stop it.
Mark: I agree. Just stop it! It's amazing. When I started doing my show, I wondered who would ever email me because I'm brutal, just like she is. But it never ends. I think people don't hear you. They think their situation is different.
Or else they're looking for someone to tell them to stop. They're looking for someone to be their line in the sand, to tell them to stop being an idiot.
Mark: So the next thing I want to do is counsel singles, particularly single women. I'm not sure how you embark on something like that, but I'd love to tell them, "Here's how you do this right," and start warning them.
You could market it on e-Harmony and Match.com.
Mark: They're all there trying to find that magic connection. They think if they can just find that soul mate, then it would all just happen. What they don't understand is that marriages happen on purpose. They just do. It's not an accident, and it's not a cosmic, pre-determined thing. It happens on purpose.
If you will do the right things, you will succeed. If you don't, you will fail. It's that simple.
My goal is to try and show them, "This is what you do. This is how you do it."
In regards to the dating sites that are all over the internet, what are your thoughts on that? Are they good places to try to find a marriage partner?
Mark: About the best thing you can say for them is that they'll help you find someone you have an initial attraction to. I'm all for that, and that's fine. But if you think that because they matched 95% on your compatibility chart, or whatever the heck, that you're going to succeed, the answer is no.
Here's what I feel really badly for Christian women: Where are all the Christian men? Where the heck are they? The church has done an abysmal job of presenting the gospel to men. You look at most churches and they are mostly filled with women.
There's a reason men aren't there. There are so many layers of what we're doing wrong that it's overwhelming. I got an email from a 29-year-old Christian guy who said he didn't know if he'd ever find a Christian woman. I said, "You've got to be kidding me!" If there was a reincarnation, I'd want to come back as a single Christian man, because there are so many gorgeous, wonderful, available women in church that it sucks the air out of the place.
All you've got to do is go to church and ask how many Christian women are there, and watch the hundreds of hands go up. Ask how many single guys are there and about three hands will go up. And there's a reason they're single; they're complete weirdos. They're living with Mom.
I don't have the answer. I was talking with my wife last night and asked her, "What are we going to do?" There was a 41-year-old woman the other day I met, who is drop dead gorgeous. She doesn't seem to be able to find a husband, and I wonder how this is possible. But I look around and realize there are so few Christian men.
How did a religion founded by a man with male followers that changed the world become a religion that's become so girlified that it's hard to attract men? Do you know Christianity is the only major religion in the world that has this problem?
Judaism doesn't have a problem attracting men. Buddhism doesn't have a problem attracting men. Basically, it's Christianity because we have so feminized the Christian message and so emasculated men that we've made it uncomfortable for them. It's easy to relate to women. That's why so many pastors are warm and fuzzy and worship songs sound like top 40 love songs. The way we share the gospel is "You need a personal relationship with Jesus." I know what they're trying to say and I agree with it, but why do they use that terminology?
Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus walk up to anybody and say, "Dude, I'd like to have a personal relationship with you." No man would ever talk to another man like that.
Everything we do is the language of a woman who desperately wants to be loved by a man. I think a lot of guys walk into a church and can't breathe because of all the estrogen. Everything is so feely-touchy; the words, the hand-holding, everything.
We've created a culture in the Christian church that is basically offensive to men, and that's why we're not doing a good job of attracting men. The good news is if you're changing the culture and get rid of all that foo-foo nonsense, men will come back.
We started doing this in our church two years ago, and you ought to see our church now. It's filling up with men because men can be men. The one thing about my seminars is that I'm constantly validating the male perspective. At some point, we've got to stop beating up on men. We're not helping marriages by beating up on men, and we're not helping churches by beating up on men. We're not helping the culture by making men feel like they're stupid all the time. How about if we start encouraging men to be real healthy men and tell them it's OK for them to be men?
That's what I'm arguing for. There's a great book called Why Men Hate Going to Church, by David Murrow. That book has some great ideas, and he lays out how we created this problem and how we can fix it.
So we have to get back to the basics of attracting men to the church and raising healthy young boys. There's no reason why women should remain single if they don't want to be.
But without very many Christian men around, girls wind up dating non-Christian men out of frustration. But that creates a whole lot of other problems. It's like a spiraling thing that doesn't stop.
Learn more about Mark Gungor and his seminars at the Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage website.