This blog series offers a candid look into real marriage with it's ups and downs, struggles and joys, highs and lows.

This Is Marriage: Brad and Marilyn’s Story

In Marriage by Debra Fileta

We don’t often get to take a candid look at real marriage. We live in a culture in which pulling back the “veil” on marriage is something most people aren’t willing to do. Which is why I’m so excited about this new blog series, #ThisIsMarriage. 

In anticipation of the big “marriage unveil” coming up in my book, Choosing Marriage, I’ve invited 5 amazing couples to share a little of what real marriage looks like with it’s ups and downs, it’s joys and struggles.

For the first of the five couples, I’m honored to introduce to you Brad and Marilyn Rhoads, loving couple and founders of GraceMarriage ministry. May their story and their marriage encourage you, inspire you, and give you a look into real marriage. — Debra


Briefly tell us about you and your family as well as how long you’ve been married:

We have been married almost 22 years and have five kids, four girls and a boy, ranging from 1st grade to a senior in high school.  I practiced law for 22 years before transitioning out of the law to found Grace Marriage and help married couples protect and enjoy their marriage.

My wife got her Masters in Social Work and counseled with children before becoming a full-time stay at home mom. Our family is fun, chaotic, dramatic, pleasurable, painful and a massive blessing from God. There are few adjectives that don’t apply to our family right now.

How old were you when you got married? 

He:     27

She:   23

Were there any pros/cons to getting married at this age?

Marilyn is fortunate she didn’t marry me when I was younger. I was very immature as a 27 year-old and even worse when I was younger. Marilyn was mature beyond her years.

For me, it was very wise not to get married earlier.

In a few sentences, describe how you first met:

I was working at a big law firm in Nashville, locked my keys in my car after witness interviews and didn’t get back until 10:00 p.m. My wife’s sister was a paralegal at our firm and was at the office helping her sister. Her sister (my wife) looked amazing. She was wearing a blue suit (I still remember) and we talked for 45 minutes. When I left, her sister (the paralegal) said “I have been working here for over a year and he hasn’t talked five minutes to me. Obviously, I was drawn to Marilyn.

When you met, was it “love at first sight” or did your “love” take time to grow? 

HE: When I got to know Marilyn, I was captivated, enamored and amazed. She was beautiful, pure, tall, spontaneous, fun and was even from Kentucky. She seemed too good to be true. We had an immediate connection and could talk for hours. After two weeks, a friend of mine said “I think there is a 90 percent chance you marry this girl.” I kind of freaked, fearing the 10 percent could happen.

She:  Brad was a mess, but he was so real. At first, he didn’t open my door or do any of the typical “good date” things to do. I enjoyed talking to him and it was refreshing that he didn’t try hard to impress me. I thought our first date was the best first date I had ever had. Then, we started talking and spending a ton of time together. I loved talking to him and we never got tired of spending time together.

What was it about the your spouse that made you believe they were worth getting to know in dating?

He says:  Pure, beautiful, loved Jesus, spontaneous, fun, talented….AMAZING.

She says: Christian, real, funny, tall, fun, servant-hearted and thoughtful.

Did you do any pre-marriage counseling? In hindsight, what are your views about pre-marriage counseling and marriage education for singles.

We had three short sessions with a pastor. In hindsight we needed a lot more! We went to a two-day conference to get ready for marriage. We left after thirty minutes concluding “it is great they have this for people who need it.”

In hindsight, we had no clue how to be married and needed much preparation. I don’t think we would have gotten it, as we were so blinded that we could not imagine having any problems.

In my survey of married couples, over 96% reported that they believe most singles don’t fully grasp what they’re getting into when they get married. What is one area in marriage that has been TOTALLY different than what you thought it would be like as a single person? 

Everything! Primarily – Great marriages just don’t happen. As John Maxwell says “nothing is great by accident.” I didn’t realize or appreciate the need to continually invest to protect and grow the marriage. This failure resulted in a very painful, humorous and eventful first year. The only advantage: We do have a lot of great stories from it.

My original idea for the subtitle for my new book, Choosing Marriage, was “the hardest and greatest thing you’ll ever do”. In Christian culture, marriage can be such a private and taboo subject, which is why too often people go into marriage without really hearing about the “hard stuff” and not getting a chance to glimpse the “great stuff”.

In your experience, what has been the GREATEST thing about marriage?

Living life with my very best friend in the world. Growing to experience the mystery of oneness as we share life together. Enjoying one another more and more emotionally, spiritually and physically. God has used our marriage to likely save me, grow me, mature me and give me much confidence – as my wife builds me up and is my biggest fan.

What has been the HARDEST thing about marriage?

The longer we have been married, the less difficult it becomes. I really want to love and help Marilyn and she feels the same way. One difficult thing we have to navigate is living in oneness when we have different perspectives and approaches to parenting.

With divorce being such a high reality for so many couples, people want to know: what are some things you have done to keep your marriage strong?

We have been on a date virtually every week for the past 21 years.

We make sure we come together physically on a regular basis.

We proactively extend each other grace when offended.

The motto of Grace Marriage is: Grace + Intentionality = Transformation.

When it comes to sex and sexuality, what do you think is the biggest misunderstanding or false expectations singles have about sex?

They just expect to have a great sex life in marriage with no intentionality or effort. Stress, kids, busyness and familiarity make it tough to have a great sex life. Our five kids can be like hungry pigeons converging around us.

One time, we locked the door to connect and one of our kids was actually trying to pick the lock. I told Marilyn “let her do it. If she walks in on us, she’ll never do it again.”

What’s the most productive way you’ve found to handle conflict in your marriage?

The realization that agreement is not a pre-requisite to relationship.  I primarily seek to understand Marilyn, as opposed to trying to convince her of my view. I understand the Proverbs “all a man’s ways seem right to him”, “a fool delights in his own opinions”, and “a wise man seeks understanding.”

Also, Marilyn has said “sex covers a multitude of sins.” We make sure we come together physically, even when we aren’t getting along all that well. The power of sex in marriage is amazing and mysterious.

Choosing Marriage is a must-read for anyone who is hoping to marry someday AND for those who want to improve their marriage.” — Dave and Ashley Willis,

Choosing Marriage Book