There were so many resources that helped us on our No More Perfect Marriages journey. (You can find all of our posts in the No More Perfect Marriages series here.) Today we’d like to share them with you.
The first resource we want you to know about is a FREE E-challenge we created. You can sign up by clicking this graphic:
If you are looking for other resources for your journey, these are all excellent tools for any marriage. (Listed in alphabetical order by category.)
Union 28 — We love the positive messages about marriage on their clothing!
Cheri Keaggy’s album So I Can Tell — This was powerful music for Jill during the painful season. Cheri wrote the music on this album after her husband left. It’s beautiful, honest music culled out of a dark season of life.
What about you? What resources have been helpful to you and your mate? What would you add to this list?
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products, systems, and services I love and use personally so I know you’ll be in good hands! I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
This is Day 10 of a 10 day No More Perfect Marriages series chronicling our journey from infidelity to restoration. You can click here and find all of the posts in this series.
Mark returned home two months after Easter. We continued counseling for another 7 months after he returned home. Our counselor was an hour away, but it was worth it because we felt it was the right fit for us. We had started counseling a few weeks after I discovered the emotional affair so by the time this was all said and done, we were in weekly counseling for 18 months. It was a sacrifice of time and resources we were willing to make.
I knew that rebuilding trust was going to be a full-time job for me for a while. I answered any question asked. I installed the Find My Friends app on my cell phone and Jill’s cell phone so we could always see where each other was. I apologized when new information or an answer to a question would bring Jill to tears. I committed to stay steady and to not get exasperated with however long it took to rebuild trust.
As we’ve loved on other couples who have walked this journey, we’ve often been asked about how much is healthy when it comes to the betrayed spouse asking questions about the affair. What I tell people is every marriage is different. You have to do what brings healing to YOU. There’s no right or wrong.
For me, facts were important so I asked a lot of questions. For others who are more emotionally wired, they may not want to ask too many questions because it’s just too hard emotionally. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to healing. You have to do what is best for you. I’m grateful that my husband is patient with me. Notice I said “is” and not “was.” There are days I still ask questions three years later. It’s far less often than it used to be, but we’re still in process.
What we’ve also found is that any time we bring something that’s hiding in the darkness of our heart to the surface, it’s healthier for our marriage. As long as we keep something inside of us, the enemy can have a heyday with it. The minute we bring it out in the open, it breaks the hold it has on our heart and takes much of the fear away. This is a truth for any married couple. Get things out in the open in an honest, respectful way.
We’ve also learned from our experience that emotional and even physical issues can play a role in marital difficulties. Depression and anxiety can contribute to marriage challenges. People with ADHD can behave impulsively or lack executive function. Even sleep problems can impact emotional stability. It may be important to explore some of these because they can be undiagnosed contributors to marital strife.
Once I was on the right medication for my depression, it made a world of difference. You can start that conversation with your medical doctor.
For the first year, anniversaries of when I discovered the affair and when Mark left were hard. As we approached the one year anniversary of Mark leaving, we chose to reframe the weekend with a two-day getaway for just the two of us. It was relaxing, restorative, and just what we needed. There were other reminders of the affair we chose to reframe as well. That’s an important part of healing when there’s been hurt and betrayal.
I’m also often asked about forgiveness. I’ve come to understand that forgiveness is a process. It’s not a once and done things at all. In the initial days, I’d have to forgive each time I was reminded of the affair: when I’d drive by a hotel they met at or when I’d pay the credit card bill. (The affair and two households drained our finances and I had to use the credit card to pay bills for a while.)
I had to forgive myself. I also had to work to experience conviction without tripping over into condemnation. Conviction says “I did a bad thing.” Condemnation says, “Therefore I’m a bad person.” I made a choice that caused deep hurt to even the most extended members of our family. The consequences of my choices have taken years to get over and I’m still dealing with some of those consequences today. However, I’ve seen the truth of Joel 2:25, “God will restore what the locusts have eaten.” God’s grace is a beautiful thing.
I love what Rick Warren said in one of his devotionals, “Your past is past. You are not your past. Your past influences you, but your past does not define you. What matters today is not your past. I don’t care what you’ve done, who you did it with, or how long you did it. That’s not you. Satan will tell you it’s you, but that’s not the truth. What matters today is what direction your feet are headed right now.”
When Cindy Beall, author of Healing Your Marriage When Trust Is Broken, was trying to figure out what to do after her husband’s infidelity, a wise pastor said to her, “I would respect you if you felt that you needed to remove yourself from your marriage. What you’ve endured is very hard. But you are not a fool to stay and be a part of the redemptive work in a man’s life.” Those were powerful words for me to read and I can say I’ve had a front row seat at being part of the redemptive work in my husband’s life. It was hard, but it was a privilege.
We know not all marriages make it. We know it requires two people to make a marriage work. However, we want you to have hope, no matter where you are in your journey. Your circumstances may change but your God has not changed. As you face mountains in your life and marriage, keep your eyes on the Mountain Mover.
We want to thank you for joining us for this series. Many of you have told us that you don’t want it to stop. We don’t either, honestly. We’re happy to announce that we are now doing our Marriage Monday blog posts again. It’s a nice way to wrap up the series and give you resources for the future! Not only that, but the No More Perfect Marriages book is also now available! If you’ve found the blog series helpful, you’ll LOVE the book!
We encourage you to use these posts in your own marriage if you can. If you haven’t already, share them with your spouse. Use them as a discussion starter for your own relationship.
If your marriage is hurting, please know we are praying for you. If you’ve already sent us an email, we’ve already prayed for you by name. If you haven’t and would like us to be praying for you, you can send us a confidential email at jill (at) jillsavage.org.
If your church is looking for speakers for a marriage event, you can request us as speakers through my website. We’re now presenting No More Perfect Marriages seminars all over the country. We’d love to partner with you and your church!
This verse carried us through our journey and we offer it to you as you continue on yours:
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
There are no perfect marriages, but there is a God who wants to “perfect” us through this thing called marriage.
When it comes to marriage, may we be clay in the Potter’s hand.
This is Day 9 of a 10 day No More Perfect Marriages series chronicling our journey from infidelity to restoration. You can click here and find all of the posts in this series.
Mark says: When sharing my story with others, I have often said that I identify with Peter in the Bible. I’m not an easy disciple. God says “yes” or “no” and I tell Him I want to talk about it. I question and argue seeking to convince God to do things my way.
In the midst of the midlife storm, I never stopped talking with God. I continued to read His word. And I continued to question and argue with Him as I always had. After I left in early February, I began asking God if this year Easter could be different for me in some way. I had a longing for help and hope and Easter seemed to offer the promise of that in some way.
Jill says: From the time Mark left, he would ask me to occasionally meet him for lunch. I’d ask him why and he’d say that we had five kids together and we needed to be able to navigate conversation about family things. He firmly indicated that he had no desire to reconcile.
I’d pray so much before going to lunch and I’d have family and friends praying for me each time. At the end of every one of those lunches I’d say, “Mark, I want to ask you to do the right thing. Leave this other relationship and return to your marriage and your family.” Every time he would say, “I can’t do that.”
Mark says: The week before Easter our second grandchild was born. Jill traveled to help Matt and Anne in their new life of two kids. Although I had moved out, I stayed at the house that week to be there for our teenage boys. Even though I began to have more conflict in my affair relationship, I began to formulate my final discussion with Jill: I wasn’t interested in reconciling. I was going to file for divorce.
The boys and I traveled to see the new baby that weekend and then Jill, the boys, and I returned home late Saturday night. Because we’d actually arrived home in the wee hours of Sunday morning, Jill suggested I just stay at the house and head home in the morning. I decided to do that.
Sunday morning both our boys were headed to church early as they both served on the worship team. That left Jill and I home alone. I began a conversation with her to let her know what I had decided. As I began my conversation with her I drew a picture with a line down the middle. I said, “These last few months you’ve been in your yard and I’ve been in my yard.” I pointed to the line down the middle and said, “We’ve been meeting at the fence. But I don’t want to meet at the fence anymore.” Then I paused. In the pause, Jill said two sentences that would forever change my life. “You know, Mark, when Jesus went to the cross He didn’t want to do that either. But He knew he needed to do what was right.”
Then I remembered it was Easter. I had prayed for Easter to be different. What did that mean right now? God, are you there? What do you want me to do? A flood of thoughts and questions filled my mind.
Jill said nothing else. She just sat there.
Mark, if you’ll trust me for the outcome, I’ll take care of the pain, I heard deep in my soul. “No, that’s not possible, it’s too bad. It’s impossible! Trust me. I flipped the paper over and said aloud, “but it would have to be like a clean sheet of paper.” Mark, if you’ll trust me to manage the fence picture, I’ll give you a clean slate…a fresh start. Even though she didn’t understand the conversation I just had aloud with God, Jill still said nothing.
I was so desperate. So tired. So at the end of myself, I finally said “Okay, Lord I’ll let you have it.”
The battle was over.
Even though I had accepted Christ nearly 30 years earlier, I felt for the first time in my life I had surrendered ALL to Him that Easter morning. I would do whatever it took to follow Him and leave the pain behind. I was scared of what that meant, but I was FREE!
Later that morning, Jill and I headed to church…TOGETHER. It was a resurrection day like no other.
Jill says: While I had no idea what was going on in his head and his heart, there was a visible change in Mark that morning. I saw the struggle. It was something I’d seen many times over our 29 years of marriage. Mark wrestled with God a lot. I knew that look. However, I’d never before seen surrender in him so completely. Suddenly there was a visible sense of yielding, submitting, and laying down his agenda to accept God’s.
Mark says: By that evening, it was as if I could hardly remember the indictments I had against God, and Jill, and everyone else I had determined were ruining my life. I was so free of them. God had really broken the strongholds in me. I gave up…in a good way. I gave up my right to know things I wanted to know about God. I gave up my need to understand God and His ways. I gave up my unrealistic expectations. I gave up my desire to do things my way. I fully surrendered to do things God’s way.
It would be two months before Mark moved back home. There was work to be done to repair the breach in our marriage. And now I began to work on the fade I was most responsible for.
Mark says: Because I’m a feeler, I always longed for a deeper emotional connection with Jill. I wanted to know her inside and out, comfort her when she was sad, reassure her when she felt insecure, and encourage her when she was down. I wanted her to need me to do all those things.
Jill says: I’ve always been strong, independent, steady, and secure. I rarely needed anything. As a thinker, I wasn’t particularly emotional. In fact, I wasn’t real in tune with my feelings at all. They didn’t guide my thinking. They didn’t help me make decisions. I believed deep down that feelings didn’t matter. Only facts mattered.
Mark and I started alternating how we used our counseling appointments. I would go by myself one week, he would go by himself the next week, and on the third week we’d go together. At the appointments I went to on my own, I began to dig into why I had disregarded my feelings for so long. We identified several points in my life where the “lie” that “feelings don’t matter” had been planted.
Being a thinker works very well in the business world. As a leader and particularly one that has lived life in the public eye as a pastor’s wife and then as the Founder and CEO of Hearts at Home, this served me well. Where it didn’t work so well was at home, in my roles as a wife and a mother. My fade started with a guarded heart (private, reluctant to share) which caused a disconnect in relationships and then emotional distance. How do you turn that fade around? With vulnerability. That’s scary stuff for an avoider like me.
Mark says: It was during this time that Jill and I began reading the book How We Love by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. Jill identified with the Avoider love style, one of four styles they discussed in the book. That book was transformational for both of us. It helped me identify some of the fades we’ve discussed in earlier posts in this series. It was crazy hard for Jill to learn to open up, but it was crazy cool that she did and I began to see that she really did need me.
Jill says: I turned a corner one morning shortly after Mark came home. I had been encouraging another woman who was walking the same journey I had been on. Her husband had left her for another woman. We prayed for, texted, and encouraged one another during that dark season in each of our lives. However, her story wasn’t ending like mine was. Her husband never returned home. On the morning that became fully evident to her, she texted me. I was in the kitchen when I read the text and my heart was so broken for my friend. I began to cry.
Mark was sitting in the family room, one room away from where I was. I wanted to go upstairs and cry in my bedroom. That’s what I’d done the first 48 years of my life and the first 29 years of my marriage. But I knew this was my opportunity to do something different. It was time to apply what I was learning.
Reluctantly, I went into the family room, read the text to Mark, and then crawled his lap and cried my eyes out. It was a new experience for me, but it was a practical step I took to actively turn the fade around. Over the years I have learned that sometimes you have to push through awkward to get to a new normal. I did that that day, and I’m so glad I did because being vulnerable with Mark now feels normal.
Mark says: I was beyond grateful that Jill was trusting me with her heart. I held her and knew that she had taken a risk and I wanted her to feel safe and secure in making her needs known.
Jill says: Mark made it safe for me to step out of my comfort zone. Avoiders are uncomfortable exposing their thoughts and feelings. When your spouse struggles with vulnerability, it’s extremely important that you are present and reassuring, asking very few questions but just letting them know you can be trusted with whatever is being shared.
We finally have the emotional intimacy I’ve always longed for us to have. It took us over 30 years, but we’re getting there!
What about you? Are you emotionally disconnected from your spouse? Are you the one who avoids emotion? What can you do to become more vulnerable yourself? What can you do to make it more safe for your spouse to be vulnerable?
Want to take your marriage to the next level? Sign up for the FREE No More Perfect Marriages E-Challenge.
This is Day 8 of a 10 day No More Perfect Marriages series chronicling our journey from infidelity to restoration. You can click here and find all of the posts in this series.
Jill says: One night shortly after Mark left, our daughter Anne called me and said she’d been googling “how to pray for someone who is having an affair.” She found very little, but one suggestion stood out. It said we often pray a hedge of protection around people, but in the case of infidelity, it suggested praying a hedge of thorns around the person. The basis of this prayer was to ask for conflict to happen in this “new” relationship so the blinders would come off.
Mark says: I didn’t know anything about what Anne and Jill were praying. However, within weeks of me leaving, I started to experience conflict in the new relationship. I began to ever-so-slightly entertain the idea that maybe another relationship wasn’t really the answer and maybe I had some pretty unrealistic expectations of what real marriage looked like.
Jill says: Even though I was deeply hurt, I’m grateful that God helped me see my husband through eyes of compassion. I knew he was confused. I knew he was searching. I knew he had lost his way. I knew that if he would focus and find his God, he would return to his family. That kept me praying fervently for him. Over 9 months, Mark went back and forth 7 times. I had friends and family and even my Christian counselor encouraging me that I may need to make a hard decision.
It was during that time of fighting for my marriage, that I made peace with the possibility of it not ending the way I hoped it would. Initially, I couldn’t imagine being alone. I couldn’t fathom my marriage not making it. I confessed to God that I had made my marriage an idol and I was laying it down and putting it in His hands. I walked away with a peace that I would be okay no matter the outcome. My circumstances had changed, but my God had not.
Mark says: Since I returned home, one of the best things Jill and I have done is to dig into our personality styles to understand how God made us. But even more importantly has been for us to dig into EACH OTHER’S personality style to understand how God made this person we live with every day. Too many of our disagreements have started there.
Jill says: Yesterday we talked about accepting one another as he or she is. We also talked about stepping into each other’s world. Today we’re exploring what to do with differing opinions. What do we do when we both have different perspectives?
Mark says: My fade with differing opinions was Disagree -> Argue -> Control (Rage) -> Withdraw ->Deceive. (Do what I want behind the scenes). This certainly wasn’t healthy, but it’s a fade many of us start to ride out in marriage if we don’t do something to stop it. Too often my shame fueled my fade. I would argue and for many earlier years, rage, in order to control the situation. However, even raging would fuel my shame, so I’d eventually withdraw and over time I’d choose deception. I functioned one way on the outside and another on the inside. Jesus spoke it straight. “Let your yes be yes and your no be no!” (Matthew 5:37) I was not doing this much of the time.
Jill says: My fade with differing opinions was different than Mark’s. Mine was Disagree -> Control -> Crush. Too often my pride would fuel my fade as I worked harder to win than to listen. I pushed and prodded to control and in doing so, would too often crush my husband’s spirit.
When winning is more important than listening, or when a spouse feels their way is the right way and their spouse’s way is the wrong way, it is crushing to their partner who doesn’t feel heard or valued.
Mark says: The antidote to my disagreement fade is speaking up with courage. These days if we disagree (and we do plenty often!), I’m working to sort out what she’s saying from how she’s saying it. She can have the tiniest bit of authority in her voice and I used to get snagged by that. Today I’m recognizing that is Jill’s strength coming through and what she’s saying has value.
I’m also letting her know that I’ve heard her and value her perspective even if I don’t agree with it. That helps her to stop her fade before it starts. She doesn’t need to control because she’s been heard and validated.
Jill says: The antidote to my disagreement fade is listening with humility. I’ve decided it’s more important to do what’s right than it is to be right. These days I’m reserving my thoughts for when they really matter. I’m letting Mark make decisions I used to want to weigh in on.
It may seem silly, but one of the biggest places I’m keeping my mouth shut is when he is driving. I’m all about efficiency and getting something done the quickest, most logical way. Mark doesn’t care. Both ways gets us from point A to point B. I’m learning to be okay with the scenic route!
Mark says: Both of us are more often applying Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
When disagreement happens, you and your spouse probably fall into one of these fades or a fade of your own. The most important thing to do is to identify the slow fade of disagreement and turn it around with courage or humility.
What about you? When you have differing opinions from your spouse, what slow fade dynamic begins to happen? What can you do today to change how you will respond the next time you and your spouse disagree?
This is Day 7 of a 10 day No More Perfect Marriages series chronicling our journey from infidelity to restoration. You can click here and find all of the posts in this series.
Today we’re offering the perspective of one of our children. Our oldest daughter, Anne, will share her flashback and how this affected her and her family.
Anne says: I picked up the phone thinking it was any ordinary call from my dad. We chatted for a minute and then he dropped the news on me. It was a quick conversation. He shared that he had moved out and if I had any questions he would be happy to answer them later but that he needed to call my siblings now. He didn’t mention the affair at all. He just shared he was “done.”
Mom called me a few minutes later and we just cried. She asked me if dad had shared the reason why he had left, to which I shared the reasons he gave me. She then said, “I’ve given him the opportunity to be honest with you and I can’t protect him anymore.” She then shared about the other relationship. I was sick to my stomach. My family had always been a source of stability and that was crashing around me.
Honestly, we kids had known for a while that Dad was struggling. He was just off. We’d often talk about how Dad was no longer the same. My dad has always been caring, wise and discerning. He was the one I would turn to if I wanted to be heard or think through things. But he was no longer those things consistently. He was distant and distracted. While we knew he was struggling with life, we had no idea the magnitude of it all.
I struggled with my role in all of this. I was married and pregnant with my second child. I lived 4 hours away. I was removed from the situation but the disappointment and tears were still the same.
The following weekend, all of the siblings came home. It was beyond strange, sad and hard. A piece was missing in the house. And not just that, my daughter Rilyn, who was almost 2 at the time, was very confused. She kept asking “Where’s Pappaw?” How does one answer that to a 2-year-old!? I was angry that my dad put us in the position to have to deal with the aftermath…not only ours but my child’s as well.
Matt and I asked my dad to meet and talk. (Can I just say that I hated having to schedule time with my dad!) Never have I prayed so fervently for someone. I kept asking God, “What do I do here? Do I call him out on stuff? Or do I just love him through it?” I was so nervous and anxious. How was I supposed to act in this situation? As soon as I gave him a hug, I knew that I needed to be straight forward and honest with him. I was so grateful for the peace God gave me entering into this conversation.
I shared with him that I still loved him but was disappointed and hurt. The more we talked, the more and more evident it was that the man I sat across from was not my dad. This man was tired, hardened, skewed and selfish. And while he thought this new relationship and new life was the answer, I knew that wasn’t the case.
As the conversation wrapped up, I shared that ultimately we still wanted relationship with him. I still wanted my children to see and know my dad through this all. But, it was going to be with some boundaries, which included us not going to his new apartment and being cautious with Rilyn. We scheduled a time for him to come to the house to see Rilyn the next day. That interaction was hard. It was hard to see my dad walk into the house as a guest. It was hard to have to say hello and goodbye in such a short time. It was hard to explain this all to Rilyn…”Why is Pappaw leaving?” It was hard to watch my dad hug Rilyn goodbye with tears in his eyes. This was all just really hard.
Three of us were married and lived away from home. Two of my brothers still lived at home. For me, I was able to separate myself a little bit because of distance. I can’t imagine the emotions my brothers felt. I can’t speak for my other siblings, but for me, it was still incredibly difficult to journey through this as an adult child.
Three years later, I am so grateful for the choices my dad has made. He chose God. He chose my mom. He chose family. The mid-life crisis certainly took its toll on all of our family relationships. I would say we are much more aware of relational dynamics now. It certainly has made me more aware of that in my own marriage. More than anything I’ve learned that love is more than a feeling, it’s a series of choices and commitment.
Mark says: Just reading Anne’s words is very hard for me. I wish with my whole heart that I’d made different choices and that I had handled my challenges differently. I’m grateful for how God has redeemed the brokenness I caused in our family, but I now know that my determination that we were just “too incompatible” was a lie from the enemy that I believed hook, line, and sinker.
Jill says: For most of us, our spouse’s differences are what drew us to one another in the first place. It’s not until we say “I do” and begin to live every day together that those same differences begin to grate on our nerves.
I was drawn to Jill’s strength when we first met. She knew what she wanted and she went after it. She was sure of herself. And most importantly, she was a believer. I’d received Christ at a Billy Graham crusade a year earlier and I knew I wanted to marry a Christian woman. Jill was strong in her faith.
After we got married, however, I grew to dislike her strength. When she believed in something, she strongly believed in something. She was black and white and I had a little more gray in me. She was organized, knowledgeable, and a strong leader. But too often I felt like her strength came across as parenting me. Sometimes it was what she said and sometimes it was how she said something.
Mark was tender, easy-going, and compassionate. He was funny, friendly, and the life of the party. After we got married, his extrovert-self clashed with my introvert-self. His easy-going spirit allowed for far more gray than I was comfortable with.
Mark is a “feeler.” I loved that when it meant he was tender, compassionate, and romantic. I disliked it when he based decisions on “feeling” rather than “thinking,” which was how I made decisions. He also wanted to touch all the time. I, on the other hand, really like my personal space.
Mark says: I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but in retrospect, my fade moved from not accepting our differences to wanting her to change. Our disagreements were often fueled by my attempt to force her to change. When this didn’t work, I faded to the place of rejection.
In fact, it was our differences that caused Mark to shut down on our Florida trip. We had been sitting on the beach reading. Mark kept wanting to hold my hand. The constant need to be touching was driving me crazy and I said in frustration, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m right here beside you. We don’t have to be touching all the time.”
Mark says: The minute she said that, I determined I was done with our differences. I moved from trying to change her to rejecting her. It never crossed my mind that there could be a middle ground in me honoring her need for space in the midst of seeking to have my need for touch met.
Not only that, but I took Jill’s need for space as a personal rejection. I made it about me rather than about her. Instead of navigating this difference well, it was what I perceived to be the nail in our marriage coffin.
Jill says: These days, I’m valuing Mark’s need for touch more than I did in the past. I’m learning that I need it too—just not as much or as often as he desires it. Yet, many times, I’m sacrificing my need for space in order to meet his need for touch.
I’m also learning how to leverage my strength for good in my marriage. Karen Haught’s book The God-Empowered Wife was absolutely life-changing for me regarding this. I’m reserving my words for when they matter most, resisting commentary on things that just aren’t important.
I’m also watching the tone I use when I talk to Mark. Karen addresses this in her book when she says,
“We emasculate our husbands by mothering them and then complain they aren’t stepping up to the plate. When that doesn’t work, we use thinly disguised attempts to control and change them…pushing and prodding them to do what we think they should, or setting a “good example” and hoping they’ll get the hint. Eventually, we end up way out front stretched thin, trying to pull our husbands forward and wondering why they aren’t cooperating…We become the dominant spouse, even if that wasn’t the original intent.”
Mark says: One night after I had moved out, Jill had been reading Karen Haught’s book. When she read the section above, she was very convicted. She called me at nearly 2am in tears to tell me she was sorry for ever making me feel that way. That phone call was very powerful. It “woke me up” to the possibility of believing in the possibility of “us” again.
These days I’m speaking up on the now-rare occasion when Jill steps back into “parenting” me. I’m also valuing her need for space and not taking that need personally. I’m recognizing that is the way she’s made and her need for space is about her and not me. I’m also grateful she is stepping into my world and giving me the gift of touch more often.
Jill says: Accepting one another starts with valuing that the way others do things is not wrong….just different.
What about you? Where do you need to be more accepting of your spouse? Where have you been trying to control or trying to force change? Where have you been rejecting? Can you apologize and offer your spouse the gift of acceptance?
This is Day 6 of a 10 day series. You can find the other days here.
Mark says: In all areas of my life: in ministry, in my job, with God, and in my marriage, I didn’t feel like I was “enough.” It felt like I was falling short in every relationship I had. The only answer I could figure out to stop that feeling was to start over…find a new life…leave all of this behind.
After Jill discovered the affair had turned physical, I broke it off. But within a matter of weeks, my resolve waivered and I reconnected with the affair relationship. After going back and forth between right and wrong multiple times, I finally began to make the decision to separate. I secretly began to look for an apartment so I could move out.
It was a Thursday night. Mark and I had played a board game. After we finished he asked if he could talk to me in the living room. He sat down and said matter-of-factly, “I’m leaving you. I’m moving out tonight. I’m pursuing the other relationship.” He walked into the other room and told our 15 and 17-year-old sons that he loved them, but was moving out. After he left, he called our three older children and told them.
For the kids and me, our world turned upside down that night. I had discovered the affair four months earlier, but none of our kids knew about it. They knew their daddy was struggling with life, and depression, and disillusionment, but that was all they knew. That night I decided they had to know about the affair. They needed to know and they were all old enough to know. The three older kids were all married and living out of town but the two youngest were teens that I feared might see their father with another woman somewhere in town so they needed to know the whole picture. They each broke down in tears when I told them….some of them crying so hard they could hardly speak.
My perspective was that the only piece that was holding me to my current existence was my marriage. If I could leave my marriage, I could start a new life. I told myself my kids would be okay. They would be resilient. They would survive. I still remember my youngest son’s face when I told him. The look of shock, horror, devastation, and betrayal still haunts me when I think about it today.
I had already set up an apartment and had been doing so for weeks. I walked out the door feeling free, but I would later come to realize it was a false sense of freedom. You see I was leaving, but I was still taking me with me.
I called my three friends who had been praying for us. Each one of them was on my doorstep within the hour. One friend, who was an empty-nester, came with a suitcase packed. Her husband had encouraged her to stay with me as long as needed. She stayed three days. After she left my dad and sister came. My dad stayed for the next week. I spent my days in a fog and my nights crying my eyes out. It was during that dark season that I wrote the raw, honest post, “Sleeping Single In a King Size Bed.” It was the darkest season of my life. Since then I’ve dealt with breast cancer and the pain of cancer doesn’t even compare to the pain of betrayal, rejection, and heartbreak that I experienced when Mark left.
Naïveté is to knowingly place ourselves in a position of relational danger downplaying the possibility that it could lead to compromise. Years ago, that primarily meant being careful about not being alone with someone of the opposite sex other than your spouse. Today, social media has opened up a whole new arena of relationship circles where seemingly innocent connections lead to not-so-innocent relationships.
To be naïve when you have so much turmoil going on inside of yourself is even more dangerous and volatile. I had so many slow fades going on inside of me that my Facebook friendship with someone of the opposite sex set me up to push right through boundary fences that Jill and I had put in place to protect our relationship.
Then there was my pride that led me to believe that I could do whatever I wanted without any potential compromise. I rationalized that I was strong enough. I was mature enough. I won’t be affected. I don’t need boundaries.
Social media and social settings aren’t the only place that many of us are naïve. Many of us are naïve about the books that we read and the movies that we watch and how they affect us. We rationalize that they are innocent stories that we can enjoy without them affecting us or our relationship. The Fifty Shades of Grey book and upcoming movie are good examples of that. We innocently pick up a book or pick out a movie for entertainment purposes, not realizing that these stories can easily cause or fuel discontent in our marriage. Sex scenes in movies or books can cause us to think, “It’s not that way in my marriage.” Suddenly our normal, real marriage is compared to a fictionalized account of another relationship and it doesn’t measure up. (I wrote about that several years ago in two posts titled Fifty Shades of Noand Fifty Shades of Experience. )
Porn is the same way. We can rationalize all we want that it doesn’t hurt anyone else, but that’s not the truth. When we pursue porn, it causes our expectations of our very real wife with her very real body to be off the charts. When I have struggled with porn in different seasons of my marriage, it has fueled my discontent and put unrealistic expectations on my wife. Sex was not good enough, frequent enough, or anything enough when porn was setting the standard. The fade started with “this won’t hurt anyone” (naïve) to “I deserve this. I need to let off some steam,” (rationalize) to “another relationship just might be the answer” (compromise).
Too many parents are naïve about investing in their marriage when the kids are little. Admittedly, it’s a hassle to arrange childcare and often there’s not a lot of extra in the budget for “dates” or paying a sitter. However, tending to your marriage is just as important as tending to your children.
Taking care of your marriage is one of the best parenting strategies available to you. Don’t be naïve in thinking that you will take time for the two of you after the kids leave. There likely won’t be any relationship for you to invest in if you wait that long.
These days I’m as committed as ever to accountability. If I need to go to a business meeting or a business lunch with a man, I ask someone else to come along. As the emails have come in during this blog series from both men and women whose relationships are hurting, only Mark is responding to the ones from men. (If we haven’t responded to yours yet, please know we have prayed…we pray as they come in. We’ve had so many that it is taking quite a while to respond to them all!)
These days I’ve turned around the fade of naivete with wisdom. I’m a contractor who is often in people’s homes during the day. I make sure I have one of my employees with me when I’m working in the home, especially when there’s an at-home mom who is there while I’m working. This weekend I’m traveling so I have asked a friend to travel with me. I’m also no longer on Facebook. I’ll admit that I miss it, but my family is too important to me to risk the temptation.
We can be naïve about every one of the fades we’ve been talking about. We start with one emotion that we feel is harmless, we then rationalize that emotion, and before we realize it we can slide into compromise. We can’t let our guard down when it comes to protecting our marriage. The antidote for naiveté is wisdom. I Corinthians 13:7 says the “love protects.” It is our job to protect our marriage.
Protect your heart from wandering by not putting yourself in situations of opportunity. Protect your mind from temptation by choosing what you watch and read. Protect your family from heartbreak by keeping focused on your marriage and your family.
Whatever you give your energy to is what will grow, heal, and flourish. Give your marriage your best investment…not your leftovers.
What about you? Is there anywhere you are being naïve in your marriage? Are you rationalizing? A little too close to compromising? Where do you need to apply wisdom today?
This is Day 5 of a 10 day series. You can find the other days here.
I sat across from my emotionally closed off husband in the marriage counselors office. He indicated that he knew the affair was wrong, but he did not want to stop it.
I had shut off my heart towards Jill months ago and I had no desire to open it back up. I wasn’t even sure that it could ever open up to her again. My flesh was strong and my heart was hard.
I’ve never cried so much or felt so out of control at any other time in my life. I’d never seen my husband so closed off to me, to others, and to being obedient to God.
The word “minimize” means to “treat something as less important than it really is.” I did this for many years in our marriage. Something would happen and I’d just “let it slide.” The only problem is that it wasn’t sliding. It was pooling. It was accumulating in my head and my heart, fading from minimizing to harboring and eventually to bitterness.
I had no idea the cesspool of emotions Mark had going on inside of him. Occasionally he would express frustration at something, and that’s where my minimizing came into play. I would minimize his frustration. I didn’t dig deeper, I didn’t ask questions, I just gave him a logical response that made sense to me—the thinker—but didn’t tend to his emotions –the feeler.
There is a healthy side to letting things go. When we decide to allow another person to be different than us, we give them the “space” to be themselves. When we decide to not address every little thing our spouse does wrong, we give them “grace” to be imperfect. Every relationship needs space and grace–some of that give and take–or we’d be dealing with conflict all of the time.
What happens with minimizing is that something that needs to be addressed or discussed or brought to the table, is instead buried. We tell ourselves things like, “It doesn’t matter.” “It will never change.” “It’s not worth the conflict.” When we do this we miss the opportunity for us to figure it out together, strengthen our relationship, and deepen our intimacy.
Minimizing keeps real issues buried beneath the surface, unaddressed, untended, simmering in the darkness of our heart. When we keep something in the dark, it becomes the enemy’s playground. In fact that’s how slow marriage fades happen. We begin with real feelings and real responses to everyday life. Instead of attending to those feelings in a healthy manner that would move us closer to one another, we too often choose to stuff the feelings, building up walls in our heart we don’t even realize are there.
There is a spiritual battle going on for every marriage. The Bible tells us that Satan’s goal is to steal and destroy. Your spouse is not your enemy, but Satan will do his best to convince you that he or she is. The Bible calls Satan the “father of lies” because that’s how he does his convincing. He works in the dark places of our heart, whispering lies about ourselves and our spouse, taking ground and creating distance in our marriage without us even realizing it.
The antidote for minimizing is courage. Courage to be honest. Courage to dig deeply. Courage to ask questions. Courage to hear real answers to those questions.
These days I’m bringing thoughts and feelings to the table before they take up residence in my heart. When I feel like Jill’s tone of voice is condescending or belittling, I’m addressing it in the moment. When I don’t feel like she’s listening to me, I’m asking for her full attention. If I feel disrespected, I’m letting her know that I feel that way rather than harboring that in my heart and providing fertilizer for bitterness.
She’s making it safe for me to do that, too. She’s dialed down defensiveness so that when I bring something to the table she’s receiving my feedback and apologizing when needed. We’re not doing it perfectly, but it’s a great improvement from our past history of minimizing.
These days I’m also working to keep a short leash on thoughts, emotions, and feelings. I’ve learned that when I bring them to the table they no longer have a hold on me. When I feel unloved because of something Mark has said or done, I’m letting him know. Often those things aren’t intentional, but they are still very real.
When Mark expresses frustration, I’m working to not minimize his perspective, but rather to acknowledge it and give it value. I’m asking more questions…seeking to understand rather than disagree.
If you are characterized by minimizing your own frustrations and concerns, you need courage to speak up, preferably in times of non-conflict. Don’t expect your spouse to really hear you when things are emotional. After you’re past the crisis or the chaos of frustration, ask if you can sort through what happened and share your thoughts.
If you are characterized by minimizing your spouse’s expressed concerns you need courage to dig deeper. Resist the urge to dismiss your spouse’s concern or explain them away. Tend to their feelings, show compassion, and ask questions to understand. You don’t have to agree to understand. There’s plenty of time to disagree or share your thoughts. For now, just let them know they’ve been heard and their concerns are important.
If your spouse really has trouble hearing you or you feel they are minimizing your concerns, you may have to have the courage to ask for help. We have found marriage counseling to be helpful in those times. If your spouse is unwilling to go, then go by yourself. You’ll still benefit from having someone help you understand what you bring to the marriage table and it may actually open the door for your spouse to join you at some point.
Pay attention to how much minimizing is going on in your marriage. As much as it depends upon you, take steps to stop that slow fade before any more ground is taken.
What about you? Are you minimizing your spouse’s concerns? Are you minimizing your own concerns? Have you started a slow fade from minimizing into harboring hurt or even bitterness? Where do you need to have courage in your marriage?
This is Day 4 of a 10 day series. You can find the other days here.
Mark says: Yesterday we talked about pursuing honest communication. One of the biggest blocks to honest conversations are defensive responses. Defensive responses are self-justifying and self-protective, but they do nothing to bring about resolution to any conflict.
When we “defend our position” rather than work to resolve a conflict we make no progress in our relationship. We enter into debate rather than pursue resolution. Before we completely unwrap defensiveness, it’s important to know that the automatic response of defensiveness is a good thing in some settings. If a baseball comes straight for your face and you move your head quickly to keep from being hit, that’s a defensive response that’s helpful. However being emotionally defensive is usually not a helpful response no matter how knee-jerk it is.
While we had drastically improved our communication and conflict resolution through years of marriage counseling, we still had unhealthy undercurrents beneath the surface of our relationship. Jill’s strength fed into my passivity. When our conflict went unresolved because either or both of us were responding defensively, I would isolate internally.
I would do the same thing. The slow fade of defensiveness moves from unresolved conflict to isolation. I would “lick my wounds” privately and internally rationalize why I was right. Too often I didn’t seek to understand.
My isolation eventually led into being disengaged. Externally I behaved, at times, as if everything was ok but internally I was putting up fences and harboring hurt. I was like the child who says “yes” on the outside and “no” on the inside. Many times the root of this comes from our childhood. If we grow up in an emotionally unsafe home, we learn early to agree on the outside to keep the peace. Internally, we tuck the hurt in our heart, building a case of bitterness. It’s not healthy, but it’s a form of protection we might have used to survive.
The more I was able to match my outside to my insides with courageous conversation, the fade of defensiveness began to turn around. Dialing down defensiveness has been an important part of our healing journey.
I’ve worked hard not to throw Mark’s choices into his face over and over, however we have increased our communication about the hard places. When we drive by a hotel where I know they met, or when I’m just struggling with memories, or even in times of physical intimacy, I have learned to say, “I’m thinking about this…” or “I’m struggling with these thoughts today.”
I’ve worked hard to not be defensive in those times. Exchanging humility for defensiveness, I use those times to reassure Jill that “that was her old husband” and “this is her new husband.” It’s taken self-control to dial down defensiveness but I’m glad I’ve learned that, because I see now how it has played an important role in rebuilding trust.
Jill says: In order to stop the slow fade of defensiveness, we have to start in those moments of frustration. What we do in those early minutes of disagreement will set the direction for the communication. Dialing down our anger and dialing into God’s perspective makes a huge difference.
Humility and courage are antidotes to defensiveness. We’re going to talk about courage tomorrow, so we’ll focus on humility today. When we defend, we don’t listen. We don’t own our own stuff. We don’t consider how we might not be right or fully right.
Humility, on the other hand, requires us to listen. It requires us to evaluate ourselves and own our stuff. Humility approaches differences or conflict with a heart that says, “What is my part in this?”
Humility and pride can’t exist in the same room. You have to get rid of pride to find humility. The Bible tells us that “Pride comes before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18) It also tells us that we have to push past our flesh (what we WANT to do) and seek out the Holy Spirit who will tell us what we NEED to do (Galatians 5:16-17).
Marriage is really about growing us up, maturing us emotionally and spiritually. It’s about learning to die to self in a healthy way because we’re becoming more like Christ. Jesus Christ didn’t WANT to go to the cross, but He knew that he NEEDED to. I don’t WANT to look at myself when Jill and I are navigating conflict, but I know that I NEED to. This helps me to not be defensive.
I don’t WANT to lay down my pride because it’s a form of self-preservation. But God’s word tells me he is my Defender—I don’t need to step into that role—it’s already filled! Here are four steps to stop defensiveness in yourself.
1) Receive what’s being communicated. You might even say, “I hear what you’re saying. Let me think on it a bit.”
2) Start your response back with “What I hear you saying is….” and repeat back what they communicated to you. This helps your spouse feel heard, regardless of whether you agree with him or her or not.
3) Ask yourself if you are responding in an old way. Maybe your parent never let you have your own opinions. Your spouse isn’t your parent, but this situation feels similar. Be careful not to impose your feelings from a previous situation onto the current situation. In the moment it may look, feel, and smell similar but this is a different person standing in front of you and they need a different response than the knee-jerk one you want to give.
4) Measure your words with an appropriate response. If you were wrong, apologize and ask for forgiveness. If your spouse has brought up a good point but needs some additional perspective, after letting him or her know they’ve been heard continue with, “Here’s my perspective….”
Mark says: Don’t worry if your spouse isn’t working towards being less defensive. Stopping the painful cycles in our marriage can start with one person. YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE by dialing down your defensiveness and simply engaging your spouse differently than you have in the past.
What about you? Where are you most defensive in your marriage? Have you seen defensiveness fade into unresolved issues, isolation, and even disengagement? Are you ready to take a step to turn that around as much as it depends upon you?