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Marriage Ain't for Punks
A No-Nonsense Guide to Building a Lasting Relationship
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Beloved marriage counselor Pastor Cal Roberson captivates millions of viewers with his eccentric personality and unabashed yet effective marriage advice—and Marriage Ain’t for Punks is no different.
This book is a relationship game changer. It’s a straightforward and unapologetic dive into why people fail or struggle at one of the most popular and sought-after unions in society. Even though some marriages look like a hot mess, don’t give up hope, because it is transparency, honesty, and downright fearlessness that make a great marriage. A good relationship is about refusing to allow pettiness to destroy the loving connection that partners truly seek to find with each other. Those with healthy marriages are not weaklings. They are not quitters. They know that Marriage Ain’t for Punks!
Profiling a Punk
As a kid, I weighed barely a hundred pounds, dripping wet. Chucky was easily twice my size and five years older with a mean streak as big as his protruding forehead. So knocking me literally on my butt in our pickup basketball game on the dusty homemade court was an easy feat. But then, it was a part of what we did as country kids.
And as quickly as I hit the ground, I bounced back up in his face, trying to block his shot. It was laughable to watch. It was like watching an advancing great white shark going after its prey, unaware that an annoying little suckerfish was attached to its fin, flailing about, trying to stop it.
It was all a part of the game. That is, until Chucky decided to further exert his dominance by using my feeble attempts to block to make a public spectacle out of me. After successfully making his shot, he brashly turned around, pushed me to the ground, and uttered the word that changed the game entirely.
“Get outta here, punk!”
As the incendiary words dripped from his arrogant, curled lips, they seemed to ignite something in me. Instantaneously, my hundred-pound frame grew to three times its size. My strength was that of a hundred men. My anger was unchecked, and it felt as if I could actually fly.
Actually, my anger was real, but the flying I imagined was me being tossed by Chucky over a barbed wire fence. But in my defense, I bounced up and returned to the fight. After all, it was required to prove I wasn’t a punk!
While growing up in our small but tough Southern town, there were three things you couldn’t tell me or any of my friends without getting a quick and sometimes vicious reaction. You could not disdainfully spout the words “Yo’ mama!” You could not double-dare anyone. And you could never call any guy a “punk.” Not unless you were ready to seriously scrap.
The word “punk” meant you were not a real man, even at twelve years old. It meant you were not up for the challenge; that you were an inferior or unimpressive person who simply did not have the nerve to face whatever imminent danger presented itself. And to accept this emasculating insult without some kind of bravado and male posturing would only further prove you deserved the insult in the first place. This was serious, because who wants to feel they don’t measure up? Who wants to face the truth that they can’t accomplish a certain thing or that they aren’t up to the task?
We all want to believe we have this indomitable force within us like latent nitroglycerin just waiting to be shaken by someone who challenges us to perform. It would be great to have superpowers bestowed upon us by some otherworldly force in the outer reaches of the universe, to be activated when we’ve reached the absolute end of our rope. Then, at last, it bursts forth in unrelenting splendor and accomplishes the impossible.
The truth is, the great majority of us do have power that lies beneath the surface. Power that has been created within us, yet we have never accessed. It’s dormant and waiting to be exercised. We have heard stories or maybe even witnessed some of the astonishing feats of people trapped in horrible situations who choose to suffer personal injury to save themselves or the lives of others. We’ve seen it in the recorded incidents of mothers who lift heavy objects to rescue their trapped and suffering children. The list goes on with the incredible deeds that people perform under extreme cases of duress.
But that list tends to shorten drastically when it comes to the superhuman strength or willpower needed to salvage or save our personal relationships.
As of the most recent census, the divorce rate has continued to decline, reaching a forty-year low, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage at Bowling Green University. This means couples are staying in marriages longer. More and more people are attempting to find resolution and actually want to stay married.
However, another reason for the declining divorce rate is that the number of young people who have never married is at an all-time high, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. Nearly one in five adults ages twenty-five and older has never been married. This may indicate that many are losing faith in the possibility of a successful marriage.
To me, this is a clear indicator that most don’t choose to access their inner power and work at marriage, but rather simply resolve to punk out on what is arguably the most important venture any person can undertake in a lifetime. Often, the same type of verve and vigor we invest in reaching life goals is unavailable or even unconsidered when it comes to our relationships. We seem to think if we just believe in love, then all things will work out. If we simply care enough, our relationship will somehow find its sweet spot and will evolve into this beautiful and satisfying fairy tale.
This can’t be further from the truth. Of all the endeavors two people can embark upon, the idea of blending two distinct personalities so they can move together in the same successful direction has to be the most difficult ever imagined—and the one that needs the most attention.
In over two decades of counseling people on various levels of relationship conflict, I have found there is a ripple effect that begins with one’s ability to manage and resolve difficulties in their relationships, and then spreads to other areas of their lives. I believe a person’s ability to find happiness and effectiveness in their job, in their school, and even in their health can all be linked to whether their relationships contribute to or detract from their lives. And when you consider that marriage is the most intense and closest relationship possible, the effect on other areas of life can be enormous.
More often than not, people stroll into adult marriage situations while maintaining the mentality and lack of commitment of adolescents. They don’t count (or don’t know how to count) all the costs associated with plunging into that colossal decision. In our modern, quick-fix society, it is easier to give up than to persevere—easier to throw in the towel than to push beyond our boundaries. Nowhere is this seen more obviously than in marriage. Mole hills that could be resolved with guidance or counseling are often inflated into what couples feel are impenetrable mountains.
Most marriages I have encountered have not taken advantage of premarital counseling. For some strange reason, people feel as though they will just know what to do when they get married. There they are, standing hand in hand and listening to the officiant or reciting their own vows and believing this will be a heaven on earth. This is the hope. But after the wedding night sex (and trust me, there is no greater anticipated sex than wedding night sex), it’s not long before the dust settles and the first real issues raise their ugly heads.
Even with couples who have lived together for years prior to a wedding, there is still a change that happens when they get married. Somehow, hearing those words “I now pronounce you husband and wife” sets off a mystical chemical reaction in the brain, and a new reality begins. The person you thought you knew actually left you at the altar. It’s all different now. This is when the earliest signs of marriage punkery begin to appear.
Punks are neither male nor female; they have no race or ethnicity. Punkery bypasses all those social classifications. This is where I have seen many couples plant the first seeds of doubt in their relationships, and where those seeds take root and begin to grow. They soon begin to view each other as enemies instead of partners.
In my decades of rescuing couples from the brink of divorce, I’ve found that a great number of hopefuls are quick to choose the path of least resistance. They will walk away from fixable difficult situations, as opposed to rolling up their nuptial sleeves and battling the challenges. I’ve heard reasons that are as varied as the personalities involved, but whatever they are, they still amount to punking out.
One excuse I often hear is this: He’ll never change, because people don’t change. The idea that people can’t evolve into something better is completely contradictory to who we are as humans. Throughout the vast millennia of life on earth, people have always learned from their mistakes and failures and course-corrected. The ability to change is deeply tied to who we are as intelligent beings on this planet.
Another reason I’ve heard people use to punk out is that a certain offense is unforgivable. While there may be things done that cause severe damage, I’ve counseled numerous couples who have made the decision to stay together and mutually fight through rather than give up. This has only made their relationships stronger.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not so naïve as to believe that every problem can be fixed. However, the common issues that most couples deal with on a daily basis can be resolved. Issues like anger, ineffective communication, or the common excuse that you love her, but you’re just not in love with her are all the result of not having the necessary tools and the right perspective to confront, analyze, and solve these fixable challenges.
THE TWO SIDES OF MARRIAGE
Marriage is supposed to make you better. When done right, marriage is supposed to be that thing that propels you and your spouse into your mutual destiny. It is not an antiquated social construct as some have claimed. Rather, successful marriages are at the root of a stable society. They are necessary to show that commitment is more than words; marriage is legally obligating yourself, your time, and your resources to another person—with the same thing being given back to you.
Marriage can be the most difficult and the easiest thing in the world, sometimes at the same time. There are two sides to marriage. Let’s look at them individually.
The first side of marriage is the ugly or difficult side. With all the books and seminars available on sharing the “secrets” to a successful marriage, one would think this marriage thing would be a breeze. However, divorce rates and miserable marriages tell a different story. They tell the story of well-meaning people who are attempting a noble and time-honored thing, yet ultimately find themselves sleeping at opposite sides of the bed, deliberately trying not to touch each other. Sometimes they resort to living as roommates instead of love mates, having sexual fantasies about other relationships, or finding solace in scrolling through their smart devices peering at nameless faces or naked bodies.
When you find yourself in this phase of marriage, understand that it is just that: a phase. Often, I will see husbands and wives encounter difficult times in their relationship and will immediately magnify those trials as though they are the totality of the relationship. They will make decisions about the entire marriage based on segments of time where they are having problems.
No one does this in any other areas of their lives. My wife and I have a few favorite restaurants we frequent. Sometimes, we have a less than great experience at one of them. We simply chalk it up to maybe the chef is having an off day. But because we know the totality of his expertise, we would never write the restaurant off our list. That’s throwing the baby out with the bath water.
The same can be said of going through the negative phase of marriage. It is vital that every couple understands the inevitable reality that there will be bad days, weeks, or months. There may be arguments that rival world wars. You will sleep on opposite sides of the bed. You may wonder why you married in the first place. And you will make stupid mistakes that seemingly take forever to recover from. But these are not the marriage. They are only one side of it—a phase that is intended to teach you both the value of hunkering down, fighting the problem together, digging deeper, and discovering the beauty in the ashes.
But there is also the second side of marriage. It is the positive, much more exciting phase of the relationship. It is the story of couples who have been married for decades and still find themselves involuntarily drawn to touch each other, just to feel close. This side of marriage tells the story of those who can’t wait to get home from business trips. They feel as though making love with their spouse gets better each time. They don’t need other friends or companions around to have fun. They are satisfied with just the two of them. They have financial challenges, unruly children, and job pressures, but they join together to attack the problem instead of letting the problem attack their marriage.
I have been privileged to see so many couples experience the beauty and joy of nuptial bliss. In most of those cases, the couples have made the decision to be okay with not being perfect. They understand that the person they are married to is a blessing to them. They realize the value of having someone in their life who knows their deepest secrets and will take those cherished secrets with them to the grave.
They have their own unspoken language and can sense private humor without saying a word and then spontaneously laugh in sync. They understand that there are valuable stories behind each other’s blemishes and imperfections. Stories that they each honor and respect, which increase their value to one another.
This is the side or phase of marriage that hopeful singles dream of when they think of spending their lives with their beloved. This is the fairy-tale phase. This is what love stories and romantic comedies emphasize, and it’s what we all aspire to have.
How is the latter phase different from the former? The latter has discovered the hard-learned fact that anything worth having is worth sacrificing to achieve! They have learned that with transparency and effective communication, every challenge can be met head on, fully examined, and solved. Every success can be completely celebrated, and true love can be completely realized.
Furthermore, every couple who has experienced the blissfully beautiful side of marriage understands that it has evolved out of the ugly and difficult phases. The splendor of these relationships stands like a lotus flower, which can achieve its astounding beauty only from the mud and mire it uses as its foundation. It must have the difficult and the undesirable times in order to produce the positive and successful results.
Relationships must go through conflict without fearing that it will destroy them. Dissention doesn’t mean it’s the end of the marriage, or that something is seriously wrong because you argue. On the contrary, conflict has a goal. It is a vehicle that, when used properly, can lead to understanding and mutual respect.
In order to move from the negative phases of marriage to the more beautiful and satisfying plateaus, there are steps to getting there. There are intentional decisions and actions that must be carried out. Here is the unapologetic truth: Anyone can have a wedding and be legally bound, but it doesn’t truly become a marriage until you’ve cried, argued, regretted, despised, then rethought, forgiven, changed, loved deeper, and committed over and over again.
Reuben and Selena were counting the days to when the last of their four children would finally move out of the house and they could enjoy empty nesting. Oddly, a number of couples dread the prospect of being all alone after the kids leave, but not these two. In fact, among their friends, they were truly a mystery. How does anyone married for thirty-four years still act as though they’re newlyweds?
Often Reuben and Selena would snuggle up together, his hand unconsciously massaging her neck, or her fingers rubbing his earlobe. After all those years they genuinely enjoyed each other’s presence, and they had no problem talking about their love life. You would think they were taking some sort of hormone supplements to keep them energized, but anyone who witnessed their love could see it was authentic. This was how their marriage had evolved.
It wasn’t always this way. In fact, there was a time when they thought it was over. They’d been married only six years when they reached an emotional impasse. Their second child had just been born and they were experiencing serious financial troubles. Reuben lost his job and decided he wouldn’t work for anyone anymore. Selena didn’t understand and felt completely unsupported. Mainly because her dad, whom she looked up to, had retired after thirty years in the automotive industry. It was a man’s duty to get a job and stay in it, she felt.
Reuben was convinced otherwise and knew he had to branch out on his own. Selena felt she was not being heard and started having intimate conversations with an old boyfriend. Although it never led to physical intimacy, it was enough to cause serious trouble in their marriage. Reuben actually confronted her paramour, which led to the end of that potential affair.
After counseling, Reuben and Selena were able to reboot their marriage and gain a new perspective on their needs and desires. Though it took a while, the relationship they grew after their challenges was more satisfying than they ever could have imagined.
They learned a lesson I refer to as Marital CPR, which stands for “commitment, passion, and respect.” That is how they were able to breathe life into what could have been a lifeless existence together. They were able to find the key to their success by realizing the value of what they had built and by intentionally doing the work necessary to make their marriage work.
Marital CPR is the building block of any healthy marriage. All three elements must exist not only for a marriage to grow, but for it to thrive.
The first principle is commitment. It’s a term we use often in our careers, in sports, or in other areas of our lives where steadfastness is required. But commitment is also vital for any successful marriage.
Here’s how I define commitment: It is the state of being bound emotionally or intellectually to a course of action or to another person. In essence, commitment is a purely intellectual and/or emotional decision to stay in a situation “come hell or high water.” A commitment is a contract entered into by two mutually agreeing parties to uphold standards and abide by principles, and to make certain that each person receives the agreed-upon satisfaction in that document or agreement.
I have often heard people laud their commitment to different things in their lives, but one of my most memorable examples of unwavering commitment was from my youth. A number of my friends and I played football in a city league. I remember the adrenaline-charged feeling of suiting up and running out on the field as the handful of spectators, parents mostly, cheered us on. Now, to be honest, we were only mediocre at best. As I recall, our coach didn’t expect college scouts to be at any of our games. We never won any championships and didn’t make any playoffs. In fact, we were not even the most committed people on the field. That proud distinction went to the cheerleaders, most of whom were the sisters and friends of the team.
I distinctly remember one game in particular where we were losing by a mile. That happened often, but it never deterred our cheerleaders. One repetitive cheer in their limited repertoire gave the perfect summation for commitment. Irrespective of the score, they would rhythmically clap to the chant “That’s all right, that’s okay, we’re gonna beat ’em anyway.”
To be honest, it became annoying after a while. Everyone in the stadium was well aware we were losing. We didn’t have a chance. But the cheerleaders droned on like the musicians playing on the sinking Titanic, “That’s all right, that’s okay, we’re gonna beat ’em anyway.”
This kind of dogged persistence in the face of failure is what commitment looks like. It doesn’t consider the dire circumstances, but holds out hope until the very end.
Reuben and Selena were able to make their marriage work because they simply did not accept failure as an option. They felt they could tackle any issue and dismantle it for the sake of staying together.
This is not a common mindset for modern marriages. Commitment is sometimes seen as conditional. As in, “I’m committed as long as…” or, “I’m committed if…” While these caveats are understandable, they do not illustrate what true commitment really is. It falls short of the mark.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. No one should have unswerving devotion to an abuser or to someone who will put your life, family, or emotional health in jeopardy. But when these dire circumstances don’t exist, a couple should make the intentional decision to dedicate themselves to finding every opportunity to succeed.
When a couple says they are committed to the marriage, that declaration requires them to accept the principle that ending a marriage is seldom the solution to a problem. To end a marriage instead of resolving the problems will simply create baggage, which will only be transferred to some other future relationship.
I have sat in front of many couples who declare they can’t make it beyond their issues. This is too much, they exclaim. However, most of us would never consider leaving our children as a solution to the problems they present. We choose to stay in our kids’ lives and see them through their issues. The same tenacity should exist between the people who brought the children into the world.
True commitment says you don’t even introduce the option of divorce. I counsel couples never to bring up the option of separation or divorce. Barring abuse or cruelty, it is a coward’s way out. It should never be an option on the table, and this is what my wife and I live by.
I’ve held a few high corporate positions. I’ve experienced the feeling that accompanies the realization that it’s time to move on to another job. When most people seriously consider leaving their job to take another one, their devotion and performance in their current job will suffer. It’s a natural response. Why would you give all your dedication when you’re thinking about leaving?
The same is true in marriage. When you plant the seed of possibly leaving, it will grow with or without any further nurturing. The possibility of not having to confront the struggles and conflicts of the current relationship acts like an anesthetic to numb you from giving your full effort. That’s why it is important never to consider leaving your marriage. Simply don’t say it! This is at the root of the promise to commit: the idea that you won’t allow the option of leaving to even enter your mind.
When it comes to commitment in a relationship, you must decide at the onset that you are in it for life. If your destination is not determined, you are prone to make changes in a direction that appears to lead to more interesting or pleasant places. Your destination in marriage is ’til death do you part. That is the agreement. Anything short of that, barring the exceptions mentioned above, is not real commitment.
I know this is tough for a lot of people. I’ve had many frustrated spouses ask me, “How do I stay committed?”
The answer is by deciding to do so every day. Commitment is a constant decision, not a onetime choice. Each day, you build on the decision you made the day before. You must actually verbalize your decision to your spouse and to yourself. It’s a constant reassurance when your mate hears that you are in the relationship for the long haul. And each time you state your decision to stay, you are building your own resolve as well. After a while, these constant reminders will become a part of the fabric of your relationship. Eventually, commitment becomes a habitual and unconscious way of life.
At this point, it won’t matter if you feel committed.
Too often, we depend on how we feel to indicate if we’re committed to a certain thing. Feelings, however, are vacuous and fleeting. They can’t be counted on and are subject to changing based on possibly what you had for breakfast that morning or whether you got enough sleep the night before.
In our current society, we place a great deal of weight on how we feel about issues. Trust your feelings. Listen to your heart. The heart wants what it wants. These are all philosophies we have woven into our understanding of relationships. We have convinced ourselves in many instances to depend on something as unpredictable as a mood.
The heart is synonymous with affections, which again is all about preferences and feelings. We judge our partners based on whether their heart is in the relationship, or whether they feel they are in love. I have seen full-blown arguments develop because someone does or doesn’t feel positive about something.
This is unquestionably an ineffective way to tell whether your mate has staying power. In short, you don’t have to feel committed to be committed. You decide to dedicate yourself, and you do it regardless of your momentary emotions.
Now, I’m not going to completely discount emotions. In fact, it is necessary in a relationship to consider the heart in regard to passion and excitement. They are vital in creating the desire to touch and be intimate. Nevertheless, feelings are not what relationship foundations are made of.
Instead, marriage must be founded on something that is unshakable. Something that wades through the murky and turbulent tides of emotions and stands strong, never wavering. The foundation must be dependable. Commitment is that foundation.
Let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of commitment. There are two ways to indicate to your partner that you’re in the relationship for the duration.
A proactive display of commitment is a preemptive manifestation of your desire and intention to be in the relationship for the duration. Think of it as an oath or promise put into action. It is more than just words, but actual things you do to nurture your relationship and create permanency.
These are acts to show your mate that you are not leaving. They relay the message that you are establishing long-lasting fixtures in your relationship. While these are not foolproof, they do go a long way to letting your mate know you are serious and that you are digging in and growing roots in the relationship.
Reuben and Selena learned this after their marriage nearly ended. In order for them to assure each other that they were serious, they bought a home together. Nothing shows more seriousness about a relationship than entering a thirty-year mortgage together. Other acts of commitment may include having joint bank accounts, having your spouse as your beneficiary on life insurance or other investment plans, creating holiday traditions together or planning for vacations each year, or even on the lighter side, having scheduled date nights weekly or monthly.
Then there are the verbal statements of commitment. This is when you intentionally communicate to your partner that you’ll never leave. Yeah, I said never! Or that you’re in the relationship ’til death do us part. Simply put, just letting your partner know that your actions and your vows are real. These are all proactive displays.
“Pastor Cal’s insights translate immediately into ways we can protect and improve even a troubled marriage—if we practice his version of ‘CPR.’ I can’t imagine anyone, single or married, who would not be inspired, or would not profit, from the wisdom in this book.”—Pepper Schwartz, PhD, New York Times bestselling author of The Normal Bar: The Surprising Secrets of Happy Marriages
“As a prominent urban radio host, we talk about relationships a lot on our shows and when it’s time to call on an expert, there aren’t too many ‘experts’ I trust who talk the talk, walk the walk, and lead by example—but Pastor Cal is it. Marriage Ain’t for Punks is consistent to what we love and trust about Pastor Cal. It’s realistic, honest (brutally, when needed), and practical. I honestly wish I had the type of guidance shared in this book a few years back ... but I’m glad I have it now.”—Nina Brown, radio and TV host
“I’m not a huge fan of counseling, but Pastor Cal makes me look at it differently. He’s such a down to earth guy and breaks things down in a way that empowers you and makes you want to better yourself.”—Ty Law, Pro Football Hall of Fame, class of 2019
“Pastor Cal has created a clear and concise guide that can help you navigate the crazy ups and downs of marriage. This isn’t a one-time read, this is a manual that should be referenced over and over again as you meet the many different challenges of wedded bliss.”—Kevin Frazier, TV host
“Marriage Ain’t for Punks is a must-read for couples who are struggling to make their relationship work. Pastor Cal, in his typical fashion, pulls no punches with his straightforward and direct approach. Fans finally have the opportunity to get his advice and apply his strategies to their own marriages and learn how not to ‘punk out.’ I can’t wait to share this book with the couples I work with!”—Jessica L. Griffin, PsyD, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics, UMASS Medical School, department of psychiatry; relationship expert and TV personality; CEO of Love Builder, Inc.
“I adore Pastor Cal! His spirit is incredibly warm and the way he helps couples work through their issues is done with nothing but pure love.”—Nicole Haynes, EBONY Media executive
- On Sale
- Sep 7, 2021
- Page Count
- 256 pages