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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?