Focus on the Family: Embracing Your Unique Love Story With Rhonda Stoppe

In a discussion based on her book Real-Life Romance, Rhonda Stoppe addresses the disappointment that stems from unmet expectations about romance in marriage. She says genuine romance is available and explains how couples can cultivate it.

Watch the interview here

Focus on the Family interviews Rhonda Stoppe


Jim: Rhonda, welcome back to Focus on the Family.

Rhonda Stoppe: Thanks. I’m so excited to be back with you guys.

Jim: You’ve been sitting there quietly, listening to our little giggles in our description. Uh, anything catch your attention?

Rhonda: And tearing up.

Jim: (Laughter).

Rhonda: Even the intro, that little teaser. The…

Jim: Oh, yeah.

Rhonda: Oh, and then hearing you guys – like, and that’s what this Real-Life Romance book is – is in 30 years of being in youth ministry with my husband – he’s been a pastor. We’re in California. We’ve been at the same church for the last 20 years.

Jim: Oh, man.

Rhonda: So you watch kids grow up and fall in love. I’ve seen my own kids grow up…

Jim: You marry them.

Rhonda: …And fall in love. You marry them. We do premarital counseling with them. So you get to see, over and over again, the sweet love stories of people who really pursue Christ first, and then he writes their love stories.

Jim: You know what’s fun to think about? When you – I mean, I hadn’t thought about this. But to do premarital counseling, to be the couple doing it – that is so good for your own marriage.

Rhonda: So good (laughter).

Jim: Now, you had – in the early stages of your courtship, I mean, it was kind of a little different. You were young. You were 14. I think Steve was older. I’ll let you describe that story. But how did you meet Steve? Let’s start there.

Rhonda: Well, it’s a long story (laughter). And I was going to a Christian school in the San Francisco Bay Area. He was away at college in Denver. He came home, and his parents had moved to the town where the school was. So he…

Jim: (Laughter).

Rhonda: …Just kind of was the new guy at church. And if you’ve been in a singles group, you know when a new guy walks in…

John: Everybody knows.

Rhonda: …It’s fresh meat.


Jim: Oh, yeah. Right. OK, yeah.

Rhonda: And there’s usually way more women than men.

Jim: A fresh challenge.

Rhonda: OK.


Jim: OK, whatever. You get the idea.

Rhonda: But, you know, here comes this Steve Stoppe, hottie with a body. And these girls are like, “Oh.” And so he just thinks it’s a very friendly church.


Rhonda: And it was.

John: Oh, my goodness.

Rhonda: And he starts taking these girls out, and I’m watching from afar. And honestly, uh, the first time I ever met him, the first time I ever talked to him, he was working on the buses in the back of the church. So I walked in the back of where the school was, looking for my sister, and he was working on the bus. And so I said, “Have you seen my sister?” And he said, “Your sister, who?” And she happened to be dating his brother at the time. I’m like, “She’s dating your brother.” “My brother who?” And he was just bantering. He was giving me a hard time. My mom would wait in the car. My mom was irritated. I’m like, “I gotta go.” And as I walked away, I had a fleeting thought, I’m going to marry him. And I was like, I was embarrassed. I was, like, just shy of 15 years old. I didn’t think that about any guy on the street.

Jim: Right.

Rhonda: And I was like, “What? That’s embarrassing.” And then – but I had the hugest crush on him from – from then on. So I hadn’t seen him in a while. He had a 1969 Mach 1.

Jim: Oh, yeah.

Rhonda: …Which he sold when he got married.

Jim: That makes your heart just go pitter-patter.

John: Oh.

Rhonda: I know. In fact, there’s a video on my website of us telling our love story. He talks more about his 1969 Mach 1 than he does about me.


Rhonda: But that’s OK. I learned to drive in that car.

Jim: You haven’t taken that personally.

Rhonda: No, because I love it as much (laughter).

Jim: What a woman. Incredible.

Rhonda: I love that car as much.

Jim: Steve, you’re so blessed.


Jim: He’s out there watching this. But yeah. So anyway…

Rhonda: So I was a cheerleader for this Christian school, hadn’t seen Steve in a while. And I – we pulled up to a game that we were gonna play, a basketball game. It was in Fremont.

Jim: And he was on the basketball team.

Rhonda: Well, he was, uh, alumni.

Jim: Oh, OK.

Rhonda: Because he’s already left.

Jim: Right. He’s gone.

Rhonda: So I saw this 1969 Mediterranean blue Mach 1 with a shaker hood, 428 Cobra Jet.

Jim: It sounds like you might love this car more than your husband.


Rhonda: I couldn’t tell the story – it is a part of our romance story.

Jim: Man, you even know the right terms.

Rhonda: But I saw the car, and I knew it was his. There’s no mistaking. And I got a little flutter. “Oh, Stoppe’s here. I’m gonna see Stoppe.” So I walk in this gymnasium, and he’s playing the alumni game for the school he graduated from. So as I walk in – it’s a small gymnasium – he’s doing a layup right toward the door that I’m walking in. So he does this layup, and then he kind of does this – kind of freezes in spin. And we lock eyes.

Jim: (Laughter).

Rhonda: And he gives me that smile and a wink, and he goes down to finish the game. And I’m like, “He saw me. He saw me. He’s going to come talk to me. What am I gonna say?” Trying to think of whatever clever thing I could say. So I go over to my side of the gymnasium. After the game, he goes, I guess, showers, whatever. Finally, he comes out, and I’m like, “Oh, he’s gonna come talk to me.” And he puts a girl on his arm, and he walks up the bleachers, introducing this girl to all of the…

Jim: Oh, my goodness.

Rhonda: …Alumni. And I’m like – and I looked down at my cheerleading uniform, my teenage self, and I’m like, “He is never, ever gonna notice me. I’m too young.” And that was – he didn’t even say goodbye to me. You didn’t say goodbye to me (laughter).

John: Good thing there’s a wall between us.

Jim: Yeah, there’s a piece of glass between these two.


Rhonda: And I was sad. But what I love about that story – it reminds me of how I longed for his attention.

Jim: Oh, interesting.

Rhonda: And it’s what I call magical moments. There’s, we forget once we’re married how much we longed for that person to look our way.

Jim: Absolutely. But then you go into the courtship, you get married, and that’s where we want to go now.

Rhonda: Yep. Mmm hmm.

Jim: Is, OK, so how long did the glow last?

Rhonda: Well, we got married. And then we moved. I was working full time, and he was working full time. He was in construction, as he’d say.

Jim: So the honeymoon’s over.

Rhonda: So I’m going to work all day. And it’s the rainy season during construction, so he would stay home and play Atari with his brother while it was raining.

Jim: (Laughter).

Rhonda: And I would come home, and they would have peanut butter toast, and it would be all over the counter. And I would just be like, “Oh, ew.” And I’d clean it up. “Don’t you care what I do all day?” And I felt myself starting to just not enjoy him because he wasn’t measuring up to my expectations. And so as that occurred, it scared me. I knew the wife I’m meant to be, and I think that’s the wife we all long to be, is this amazing woman that – their cheerleader; we laugh out loud with them; we have fun with them.

Jim: So why do we husbands irritate you so much?

Rhonda: Well, I think it’s because our expectations are so, like, “If you loved me, you would…”

Jim: Clean up your peanut butter toast…

Rhonda: Right. And we assign wrong motives to their actions. And I think that, to me, is where we have to step back. I want to be in love with my husband till the day one of us dies. I want to be in love with him long past that. And I want him to be in love with me.

Jim: Yeah.

Rhonda: But if I’m not still working at it when we’re dating, you know, is that – that 1969 Mach 1 be rumbling down the road, and I’d hear it. It was in the ‘70s, so I got my Farrah Fawcett hair curling iron going on. And my heart would pitter-patter when I heard that car coming. And I wanted to look my best and give him the biggest hug when he walked in the door. Uh, but once we’re married, oftentimes – you know, I’m wearing the same yoga pants I’ve worn for five days.

Jim: (Laughter).

Rhonda: And sprayed some dry shampoo in my hair. And you know what? The kids have been hanging on me all day. I don’t have time to say hi to you as you walk in the door.

Jim: Right.

Rhonda: I think it’s just easy to lose that romance in those simple things. You know, a lot of times – and the reason that I like these stories is it shows real romance. You know, romance me is not just plan the perfect date, take me out to a nice restaurant. Romance is walk in the door, and take this baby, and just let me go take a bubble bath, and meet me in the bedroom after you put them all to bed. I don’t care if you give them peanut butter toast for dinner.


Jim: As long as you clean it up.

Rhonda: As long…


Jim: That pet peeve. Well, that’s one of the key things. You’ve been married 36 years. Jean and I’ve been married 32. How about you and Dena?

John: Uh, going on 35.

Jim: OK, so…

Rhonda: Actually, we’re 38 now.

Jim: Oh, 38.

Jim: OK, so when you see that, I mean, it can be pretty dry at times. And I’m sure there’s a spouse or wife or a husband listening right now going, yeah, we – we kind of hit the desert island 12 years ago or 15 years ago. For that parched couple who, you know, they haven’t kept with it, they haven’t romanced each other, they haven’t done the hard work, which it really is hard work.

Rhonda: Yeah. I think the first thing I would say is, one of the couple’s listening today – not both of them – and they’re thinking, oh, I wish he was listening to this. Oh, I wish she was listening to that. And my advice is let it begin with you. Don’t wait until he becomes the man you wanted him to be. Or…

Jim: Yeah, but here’s the irritating part. It’s the irritating part. How do you overcome the irritating part to say, OK, it’s gonna start with me. I’m gonna act differently. I’m gonna act, uh, more excited or whatever. Um.

Rhonda: For me?

Jim: Yes.

Rhonda: No. 1 – it was finding great mentors. It was finding couples – Steve was – we worked in youth ministry, so we got to see the parents of our youth. And the ones who still held hands when they walked in the door at church, the one who laughed at each other’s jokes, winked at each other across the room, I’m like, “What do you know?” I want – and we just became friends with them. I was…

Jim: And what did they say? (Laughter).

Rhonda: I always say, “Old ladies – old ladies know stuff.” You know, Titus 2 calls the older women to teach the younger how to love their husbands. And that word love is to be his friend. It’s how to be his friend. When we get married, our husbands oftentimes are thinking, This woman’s gonna be my friend. She’s gonna be my support, my encourager. And I think we get so busy about the business of life we forget that. So what these women did, they invited me to a women’s bible study. And they said, “Just join us.” It was a book of Philippians study, and we went through the book of Philippians. And the word of God does transform you.

Jim: Amen.

Rhonda: The word of God – if you go into it saying, you know, “Search me, oh God. Know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there’s any wicked way in me – not my husband – in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” God – Jesus said, “The priority of life is to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength – that’s your whole being – and then love your neighbor as yourself.” We try to love our neighbor the way God wants us to love without loving God the way he called us to love him, which comes through fellowship, being with him in prayer, washed with the water of the word, seeking him on a daily basis. And I can remember when I knew I didn’t love God like that, and I would once in a while meet somebody who did, and it would bother me ‘cause I knew that’s what it was supposed to look like. I was trying to be a good Christian and do all the right things. It was more out of duty than out of adoration. And I remember repenting and asking the Lord, “I can’t love you like that. But you said, You have not because you ask not. And so I’m asking you to give me the love you want me to have for you. I’ll do the work. I’ll fellowship with people that love you like that. And then love you through me.” So that then what spills out of us is his agape love for others, beginning with our spouse.

Jim: No, I think that’s really good. I think the difficulty is that discipline of putting yourself kind of in the back seat. And it’s the classic struggle we have being selfish creatures. And the Lord’s telling us over and over again, you know, “This is the problem that you have. And what I’m gonna do through marriage” – and here’s – here’s where the culture breaks down with marriage – it’s actually meant for us to become more selfless, and I’m think – I’m saying this for myself, too, because I don’t do it well. I try, but sometimes I fail.

Rhonda: Sure.

Jim: A lot of times I fail. So how – how do we remind ourselves what this is about?

Rhonda: I think it’s just important that we – it’s intentional, and taking our entitlement and setting it aside. I’m not entitled to make that person make me have happiness.

Jim: So it’s not me, me, me, me, me.

Rhonda: Right. My happiness is not gonna lie in how well my spouse treats me. My happiness is not gonna lie in my worth being found in if he still thinks I’m beautiful. When we let each other off the hook, and we find our of who we are in this adoration of the creator of heaven and earth, loved us so much he purchased us for his treasure with the blood of his son. That’s the spiritual answer.

Jim: Yep.

Rhonda: The practical answer is just do it. Just wake up every day and think on whatever’s good, right, honorable and praiseworthy about your spouse and then asking your – the Lord, “Give me the love for him. Rekindle those things. Remind me of those things.” And that’s the goal of this Real-Life Romance. The last chapter in the book, One More Love Story, is that it says it’s yours – write your love story in this book. And you’re just – not just any love story; it’s your story, the one that your children and your grandchildren may tell long after you’re gone.

Jim: Let’s hope so.

John: Yeah, that’s great advice from Rhonda Stoppe. She’s our guest today on “Focus on the Family.” And we’re covering some of the content in her book Real-Life Romance: Inspiring Stories To Help You Believe In True Love. We’ve got the book and an audio download of this conversation and more at, or call, and we’d be happy to help you – 800, the letter A and the word family.


Focus on the Family interviews Rhonda Stoppe




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