A Rhythm of Forgiveness – Grudges, Apologies, and Making a Relationship Last

A Rhythm of Forgiveness - #staymarriedI am stubborn. I’ve told you this before. I’m basically a pro at crossing my arms and digging in my heels. I come from a long, proud line of stubborn grudge holders.

My mother hasn’t spoken to her mother in over seven years. I know because the last time they spoke was when my grandmother came here to Washington from Texas for my wedding. I still don’t exactly know why.

My great aunt, who used to visit my grandmother – her sister – all the time, hasn’t spoken to my grandmother or my aunts in about 5 years. As far as any of us can tell, she is still upset that one of my aunts told her to get out of the way when she was meandering in the kitchen on a busy and bustling Thanksgiving. She stormed out of the house screeching something about being disrespected and never returned. They live about four minutes away from each other.

After my own parents’ bitter divorce, my mother refused to allow my father to see my sister and I for the rest of our lives. I was five years old for the last visit we had with him. Anytime he requested to see us, she refused. Once, when he told her he was coming to town on a particular weekend and demanded he be allowed to see us, my mom went so far out of her way to prevent this from happening that we took a road trip from El Paso, Texas all the way to Disneyland. I’d say that shows a lot of commitment to a grudge.

Now, of course, relationships are complicated and the underlying current of all of these grudges goes much deeper than I can go into here. Every member of my family has their own trebuchet at the ready with a huge pile of projectiles waiting to be hurled at anyone coming their way. It’s a stubborn, grudge-holding, easily offended, projectile-throwing lineage with an immense capacity to remember who was right and who was wrong… and none of us are ever wrong.

As a woman determined to break that lineage, I sometimes find myself at a loss. I know, in a rational sort of way, that relationships cannot last without a consistent practice of forgiveness. Family relationships, friendships, and especially marriage relationships cannot survive if a person who is hurt and offended decides never to reach across the aisle and extend forgiveness.

Since each of us are flawed and broken human beings, we are bound to inflict pain on one another, sometimes carelessly, sometimes purposefully. Sometimes you’re going to call someone by the wrong name…

Last week I cheerfully said, “Hi John!” to a man named Joe. He was gracious and forgave me. He seemed to do it instinctively, like it was a totally normal thing to offer forgiveness. It makes me curious about his lineage. I’m grateful, but I bet it would have been a bit harder for him to forgive me if I called him “John” while I introduced him to a group of his respected colleagues and presented him with an award for a lifetime of excellent work in his field with “John” as the inscription on the name plate. Some things are easier to forgive than others. Still, for any relationship to exist for longer than an elementary school boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, forgiveness must be practiced regularly.

In Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas’s book When Sorry Isn’t Enough, they say…

“Forgiveness means we choose to lift the penalty, to pardon the offender. It means letting go of the offense and welcoming the offender back into your life. Forgiveness is not a feeling but a decision. It is the decision to continue growing in the relationship by removing the barrier.”

A relationship cannot last without a consistent practice of forgiveness - #staymarried Michelle PetersonForgiveness is essential for relationships to grow. Forgiveness is difficult to get to without first receiving an apology. Don’t ask me how I know this but, stubborn people find it nearly impossible to apologize. Fortunately for me, my husband is far less stubborn than I am. Here’s an email I got from him this week…

Subject: This Morning

I’m sorry.

This morning was my fault. I was sincerely interested in hearing the end of the story, and there was another that came up that I want to hear, but I was late AGAIN for my first bus. I was trying to multitask… But I should know better.

That was really lame and hurtful of me, and I can see how asking you a question and walking out of the room was a jerk move. I was planning on listening to you just as I walked quickly to the kitchen and back, but I didn’t verbalize that, and therein made you feel ignored and unimportant.

I am so in love with you, and I treated you poorly. I’m so sorry.

Tony

Dude is a pro, right? Like he said in his email, he had asked me a question and then walked out of the room while I attempted to answer him. I was miffed. Then, before I knew it I heard him locking the door and driving off for work. I went from a little miffed to really ticked off. How rude! I couldn’t remember the last time he left the house without saying goodbye and giving me a kiss, let alone just walk out after he asked me a question and ignored me. What. The. HECK!?

And he called from the road and I said, “What the heck?” and I told him how I felt and he said sorry and I said, “Yeah, I gotta go.” He’s a pro at apologizing. I am a pro at hearing him apologize and still being angry. Remember, I’ve got lots of training… it’s in my blood… stubborn grudge-holder. So, I stewed, even after I knew he was sorry and I knew I would need to forgive him and I also knew that it really wasn’t that big of a deal. I stewed for another hour or so. Then I sent him a kissy face emoji and he sent me a little dot and we knew we were ok.

It’s our rhythm. We need to have a rhythm. It’s clumsy and awkward, we are by no means perfect apologizers or perfect forgivers. We keep trying because we keep stepping on each other’s toes and saying backhanded remarks that would be better kept in our heads. We keep trying to apologize in a way the other will receive. We keep offering forgiveness because without it our relationship will not grow. Apologize. Forgive. Apologize. Forgive. Get mad. Apologize. Stew. Forgive. Apologize. Forgive.

I want so badly to slough off the stubborn grudge-holding exterior I carry around. I want to learn to apologize better and forgive more quickly so that my marriage will indeed have a chance to go the distance. Without a rhythm of forgiveness, how can any of us hope to #staymarried?

The #staymarried blog was created to offer hope, stories, and resources for couples who want to stay married.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like 7 Ways to Become a Better Forgiver and No Yelling… and 9 Other Rules for Fighting Fair. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, we would love for you to share them.

Tony and Michelle Peterson #staymarriedNew to #staymarried? Welcome! Check out why we started this blog and our first entry to get a little background. You can also find us on the socials: PinterestTwitterFacebook, and Instagram. I’d love to connect on any of your favorite platforms.

Thanks for stopping by!

~ Michelle

Recovering from Infidelity

Though Tony and I have known Carl and Katie for years, and they even participated in our #staymarried group last fall, we didn’t really know everything. Sitting in church one Sunday morning, we were stunned to learn that their beautiful marriage had been shaken by pornography and infidelity. Please take the next seven minutes to watch their story. Though painfully honest, it is full of hope.

Carl & Katie from EastLake Community Church Media on Vimeo.

As we’ve been tackling the subjects of pornography and infidelity, and one of the goals of the #staymarried blog is to offer hope, we wanted you to hear from this beautiful couple about just how they are rebuilding trust in their marriage even after, as Katie put it, her line in the sand had been crossed.

 

Carl & Katie’s Story

Part 1: The Fallout

<Katie> The days and weeks after my husband’s full disclosure of the affairs were a blur to me. I went through the motions of life, barely. We had both started seeing separate counselors a few months prior when the first of my husband’s porn addiction became a reality. As all the books and therapists say, “disclosures” sometimes trickle in. I didn’t believe that would happen with us, but I was wrong. My counselor recommended that I request that he take a lie detector test as a part of the recovery. Though I stalled on asking Carl to take one, I had to admit to myself that I didn’t trust him anymore and that I needed to know that there weren’t any more secrets.  It took three months of counseling, and finally my request for the lie detector test, before everything was all out and on the table. My husband had been with someone else.

You can get a lot of advice in times like these. I had only a few close friends that I trusted with this information in the aftermath. I knew my emotions were fragile and I didn’t want other people’s words or emotions to overly influence what I did or how I felt about my husband.

Recovering from Infidelity - a real couple's story on the #staymarried blogMy therapist suggested that I not make any decisions about what I was going to do in my marriage for at least a year. I needed to allow time for my emotions to settle and she said, “What could it hurt? You need to heal yourself first anyway, even if you do decide to leave in the end.”  Despite my hurt, I couldn’t imagine a life without Carl and without our party of five together. I was scared. I hoped that I could get beyond it and I hoped that Carl could too. I knew if he didn’t change, I had to be done.

 <Carl> The first part of our marriage recovery on my end was for me to figure out the entirety of this sexual addiction problem. The repercussions it had on my marriage were clear, but I needed to determine what caused me to act out in this way. I basically needed to understand what was messed up with me before my marriage could be fully repaired. For me, this meant seeking out professional counselors that specifically dealt with this problem and group counseling with other guys going through their own battles of sexual addiction. I think Katie saw me do the work necessary to unravel this mess, and as I learned more about the core of my issues, these insights were permeating into the marriage recovery.

<Katie> In the months that followed, I spent a lot of time in my therapist’s office. I talked through things on my morning runs with a close friend. I read lots of books on marriage, some specific to sexual addictions and affairs. I even went to a few recovery groups, which I wasn’t crazy about, but I know I learned through them and I was around people, some my own age, going through the same thing I was.

I definitely worked through all the stages of grief. When I got to the anger stage, I scared myself because I began to think I might stay there and never get through it. I learned that in order to work through the pain, you actually have to go right through the middle of it where it hurts the most. Otherwise, you go around the outside and you think you’re better, but years later, it’s a problem. My anger stage lasted a few months. I was not a very nice person to be around during those months.

I was traveling for work a lot during this year. Looking back, this was undeniably something God designed. It gave me the opportunity to get away from life, and even though I was working, I had a lot of time to think and pray and read. It was on one of these trips that I finished a marriage book, Intimate Allies, that had a huge impact on my marriage and where we are today. I came home and I felt like I was ready to commit. I had seen Carl working through his therapy and emotions and getting to the root of his problem. I saw him treating me differently. I saw him never lash out or get mad at me when I was working through my anger and said things and accused him. I knew deep down that this addiction, this affair, this horrible problem wasn’t the man he was. He loved me and he loved our family. This was a nasty sin that had taken hold of him and that takes hold of too many men and women in our society.

 

Part 2: Rebuilding Trust

 <Carl> Rebuilding trust has been an ongoing process that I constantly need to remind myself of. I spent most of my life hiding the sexual sin in my life, so obviously the number one key to regaining the trust that had been lost was for me to be open and honest about everything. That was sometimes easier said than done since hiding stuff and even lying just to avoid any confrontation had been pretty natural for me to do over the years. The lying and hiding parts are the easier ones to identify and not do, but openly communicating about everything is still hard. I don’t always remember to share the details with Katie when they seem unimportant to me.

Being fully honest seems like an obvious part of rebuilding trust, but I realized there was much more to it. I had to drop my defensiveness about any accusation, even if there seemed like no reason for it. That idea was much easier for me right after I’d fully confessed, but even a couple of years later I see how important it still is. I know that if she asks what I was doing on my cell phone to just immediately tell her and hand her my phone if she wants to verify, even if I was just checking my fantasy football team. I have to constantly remind myself that I have spent a lot of years being dishonest with Katie, so I need to allow her to have moments of mistrust. Over the last year, those moments are less frequent, especially when I am communicating with her. When I fail to communicate and connect, those are the moments when I give her reason to not trust.

 <Katie> Forgiving Carl was a choice. At first I thought it would just happen, I’d wake up one day and realize I didn’t hurt anymore and I’d forgiven Carl. It doesn’t work that way, at least it didn’t for me. I planned a weekend away for Carl and I to talk about what had happened one last time. I had an opportunity to ask any more questions that I needed answers to. He had the opportunity to do the same. Then, in a very dramatic fashion, I ripped up his initial disclosure letter, the one he had written in therapy. We prayed about it together and from that point, we moved forward. I chose to forgive him for the past and start from that point. This took a choice and a sacrifice on my part. The pain was still there, but sometimes one person has to absorb the pain in order to move forward with forgiveness. Even as I write this, I am crying thinking about that time in our life. I cherish where we are today, and I know it could have gone a different way. I am so thankful for my marriage and my children.

There have and continue to be hiccups in our marriage. Now it’s more of the everyday marriage stuff that we have to work through. I honestly don’t know if trust is ever fully rebuilt, because I don’t think I am there yet. I hope it is, but in the end, I trust Jesus and I know I am being faithful to Him in this and He will be faithful to us. We have checks and balances in place today that weren’t there a few years ago. We are much more conscious of our communication. It doesn’t take much for me to start to worry if I feel like Carl is not being clear in his communication with me. We set clear expectations for each other when we’re in certain environments. Some things are just going to be different for us, but we’re working on it. There was a verse from the Bible that I’d written down when we were in the worst of it, and it’s something that still comforts me today:

2 Corinthians 4:16 from Recovering from Infidelity - a real couple's story on the #staymarried blog

 <Carl> This has been the most difficult yet best couple of years of our marriage. There are still a lot of times where I could be a better husband to my wife. The difference now is that I want to be that better husband and I have the right tools in hand because of the counseling and recovery process I am going through. I have a much clearer idea now of what I need to do. Katie is an amazing wife and mom, and she is worth every ounce of me giving her the best of me.

We were really lost for a long time, not sure what to do or where to turn. If you are working on recovering from the effects of infidelity and porn in your own marriage, we’ve put together a list of things that have been helping us in our journey…

8 Tools to Recover from Infidelity

1. Get Counseling

It was important for us not only to find a Christian counselor, but one that specializes in sex addiction. Through our past experience, we really noticed a difference between counselors that specialize in sex addiction and those that don’t. We also recommend, from our experience, each spouse having their own counselors. We spent a lot of money on this, but it’s cheaper than a divorce and highly effective for recovery.

2. Communicate Openly

This one is harder to remember to do, but it’s important that I (Carl) talk to Katie about what is going on and offer information even if she doesn’t ask. I try to share what my day has been like, who I’m working with, and what I might be struggling with.

3. Drop the Defensiveness

Even a couple of years after everything happened, there are still times when I’ll be asked a question that I think has no basis. It doesn’t matter. How I respond to my wife, especially after the trust has been broken, is what really counts. If I respond defensively, I am building up a wall between us. If I respond calmly and openly, it helps my wife to trust me and together we are building a bridge back to each other.

4. Get Accountable

It has been essential for us to have accountability software on all media outlets, phones, computers, iPads, etc. If you travel for work, create a travel plan that details everything you are doing and when you will check in with your spouse. I also have a group of friends that hold me accountable by checking in weekly, whether by phone or in person. A certified sex counselor also has resources for accountability therapy groups; I (Carl) participated one of these for over a year.

5. Avoid Triggers

Check movie/TV ratings, even if it’s PG-13, and avoid anything that is sexual. We also censor the magazines that we allow in our house, which pretty much means none. At the very beginning of our discovery, we did a media blackout for a period of time. Carl went off Facebook and we got rid of cable. It’s also been important for us to avoid or limit alcohol, especially in a setting that we will be without each other.

6. Date Again

Damage was done and your spouse needs to see you make an effort to date again. Make plans, find a sitter, work it into the calendar and the budget. Call your wife and pursue her, like you did when you were dating. It doesn’t always need to be a five-star date, but spending time together intentionally has really helped us rebuild our love for each other.

7. Participate in Maintenance Counseling

I (Katie) was released from counseling earlier than Carl.  He attended weekly group therapy sessions and individual counseling for over a year before he was released.  You can talk with your counselor about how often you should participate in maintenance counseling or you can decide with your spouse when you’d like to do this. A maintenance counseling session mainly serves as a check-in for both of us. This is a session that can be done individually or as a couple. We prefer to go as a couple. Writing this post for #staymarried reminded Carl and I that we needed to schedule a maintenance counseling session, so we got an appointment on the books. We love counseling and can’t say enough good things about it

8. Extend Grace

There will be bumps in the road; it’s okay. This recovery is a process, which means it can take a long time to be fully recovered. We know we aren’t there yet, we still make mistakes that bring up old hurts. Extend grace to each other and practice forgiving regularly.

Recovering from Infidelity - a real couple's story on the #staymarried blog

We want to thank Carl and Katie for their vulnerability in sharing their story. Exploring the dark topics of infidelity, pornography, forgiveness, and healing have been tough for Tony and I in these last few weeks. Still, we continue to have hope that couples can work through the dark stuff of life and marriage and be able to receive all that marriage has to offer when they see healing and wholeness on the other side like Carl and Katie have. We hope their story was as encouraging to you as it has been to us as we fight to #staymarried.

 

P.S. You are reading Recovering from Infidelity, as part of a #staymarried series on infidelity, pornography, and forgiveness.  If you missed the other installments, 7 Ways to Become a Better Forgiver5 Ways to Prevent Infidelity, or Is Porn a Problem?: Guest Post by Craig Gross, you might want to check them out. If you want to read more about safeguarding your marriage, you may also like Five Trust Building Boundaries.

If you feel like this story could be helpful to someone else in their marriage, please consider sharing. Thanks for reading!

~Tony and Michelle

7 Ways to Become a Better Forgiver

7 Ways to Be a Better Forgiver - a #staymarried blog for couplesMost married people have figured out that being married is not being in a relationship that is constantly fulfilling, exciting, romantic, and fun. A lot of married life is offending each other, frustrating each other, apologizing, and asking for forgiveness. I shared several months ago that I’m not so good at apologizing. It turns out, I still have a lot to learn about the art of forgiveness also. For instance, here is a real text conversation between my husband and I…

Tony: I’ll be working late tonight.

Me: You’re not serious. I have that party I’m co-hosting tonight. I need to be there no later than 6pm.

Tony: Remembering now. No problem. I’ll be home by five.

Tony: Sorry.

Tony: I probably should have checked with you instead of informing you.

Me: … deflating…

That text interaction took a total of 2 minutes, but his initial text to me that he’d be working late sent my mind on overload.

I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. He might actually be joking since he knows I have plans tonight. If he’s not joking… how could he just now be telling me? He took the car today. We never talked about it. Now I’ll be stranded at home with the kids and no car? Why didn’t he talk with me about this sooner? I know his job is important. I hate feeling so petty.

… and then I received his response that he’d be home on time.

I wonder if other people get as worked up in such a short time as I can? The problem, if it even was a problem, was fixed immediately. Still, my back and my shoulders had become tense with frustration, I felt unimportant and mad that he hadn’t thought about me. I was so unnerved that there was a part of me that wanted to make it a bigger deal than it really was. He, I’m sure, was over it as soon as it happened. My text letting him know I was “deflating” was my way of telling him that I was not over it, but I was on my way there. I want to be a good forgiver. This case should have been open and shut, but I needed a few more minutes than that. What is that about?

What makes it even harder for me to move beyond these teeny tiny little offenses more quickly is that Tony seems to be really good at it. If I had done the same thing to him, forgotten about something he needed to do, he would have forgiven me instantly. Why does he have to be so good at that? It just highlights how bad I am at it. He is either truly moving on, or he’s mad and he’s just not telling me. He always seems to be first to extend the olive branch.

The expression “to extend an olive branch” means to make an offer of peace or reconciliation. According to WiseGeek, this phrase has Biblical origins, coming from the section of the Old Testament that deals with the flood; the sign that the flood is over is an olive branch brought back to the ark by a dove. Olive trees take years to mature, and war is typically very hard on olives because people cannot take the time to nurture them and plant new trees. Therefore, the offer of an olive branch would suggest that someone is tired of war.

Tony is always tired of war. Sometimes his olive branch looks like a freshly brewed cup of coffee, sometimes a hug and kiss, sometimes just a reach for my hand. He is a good forgiver, and I am trying to learn to be one, too.

What does it mean to be a good forgiver?

Forgiveness at its core is to cancel a debt. The reason we struggle is that we all have this sense when we’ve been offended that we are owed something by the offender. Maybe we are owed an apology. Maybe we are owed something more tangible like a new pair of shoes since he accidentally threw away the pair you just bought, box and all, as he was straightening up the house. (Yes, this really happened.) When we forgive someone, we are telling them and ourselves that they no longer owe us anything at all. The debt is cancelled.

This doesn’t seem like the right thing to do because, well, if we are owed something, shouldn’t we be paid? Wouldn’t that be fair?

7 Ways to Be a Better Forgiver - a #staymarried blog for couplesThe trouble is that when we are hurt or offended, it’s not likely that any sort of payment or apology will really cover the debt we feel we are owed emotionally. The level of frustration can feel so great on the inside that even if we are “compensated,” we still have to choose to forgive before we are relieved of it. When we forgive, we take the responsibility away from someone else to fix how we feel.

A stubborn forgiver.

The reality for me is that I didn’t have any kind of grasp on forgiveness until I became a Christian and decided to find out what the Bible had to say about it. I was raised by a stubborn grudge-holder who taught me things like, “Never let a person see you cry when they’ve hurt you. If you do, they win.” I can appreciate, as a single mom, that she had to figure out some self-preservation methods. Holding grudges kept hurtful people out of her life and, consequently, out of ours. Still, I saw over time how isolating that mentality was. She never forgave my father, so I never knew him. If somebody crossed her even once, it seemed like there was no chance for reconciliation. I didn’t always think that was such a bad thing. That is, until I was confronted with my own stubbornness and unforgiveness.

Deciding to put my faith in Jesus meant, first and foremost, that I was a forgiven person. Forgiven for things I knew I needed to be forgiven for and even for things I was unaware of. Forgiven completely- no debt, no interest payments. If you’ve ever been forgiven for anything big – let off the hook for a car accident that was your fault, not fired even though you were caught stealing money, forgiven by your best friend for sleeping with her boyfriend – then you might have a small sense of the relief I felt. I was keenly aware that I was not owed forgiveness, and the truth that I received it anyway was overwhelming. It still is. However, the truth that followed was not such a relief.

As I grew in my faith, it was explained to me that as a forgiven person, it was now my responsibility to forgive others. Sounds like a simple concept, but I had a really hard time trying to live that out. I had grown accustomed to living in my stubbornness. I began to believe that it was wise and protective of me to remember the times I’d been hurt and offended and not to allow those things to happen again. I had a serious misunderstanding of forgiveness.

Yes, forgiveness is cancelling a debt. Forgiveness is not, however, putting yourself back in a situation to be harmed in the same way. Forgiveness does not mean condoning someone else’s awful behavior. It does not mean that the way that they’ve hurt you is “ok.” If your wife is unfaithful to you, and you choose to forgive her, it does not mean that you then give her your blessing to continue in an affair. You forgive what she has done and now you have work to do to move toward healing and restoring the trust that has been broken in your relationship.

In my case, with the text-message exchange, what did I even need to forgive? That Tony forgot I had someplace to be? That he was making plans and informing me so late in the game? Simple, petty things. Things that are easy to forgive. I did forgive him, it wasn’t that hard. But we hurt, offend, and overlook each other all the time. Forgiveness is not a one time occurrence. If we want to be happily and healthily married, forgiveness needs to be a routine behavior of ours. How does this happen? I have a few suggestions:

7 Ways to Be a Better Forgiver - a #staymarried blog for couples

If a happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers, as Ruth Bell Graham so famously said, then it’s something we can all put effort into getting better at. Practice forgiving the little things, brace yourself to forgive the bigger things, extend many olive branches, and #staymarried.

 

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like I Hate Apologizing and No Yelling… And 9 Other Rules for Fighting Fair.

The #staymarried Book

#staymarried: A Couple's Devotional by Michelle PetersonThe #staymaried Book is a 52 Week Couples Devotional, each chapter exploring how our faith works together with our everyday lives and with relationship research to give a fuller picture of how we can create a marriage that doesn’t simply last, but fulfills our lives and helps us pursue our dreams. Find out more about the book here.

 

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The #staymarried blog was created to offer hope, stories, and resources for couples who want to stay married.

Tony and Michelle Peterson #staymarried

If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing.
Thanks for stopping by!
~Michelle

A #staymarried Easter Story

A #staymarried Easter Story - A Blog about a real couple who divorced and then remarried.

Easter Sunday is about a lot of things to different people. I’m not sure why, but I couldn’t get it in my head that Easter was in March this year instead of April, so the day definitely snuck up on us. We didn’t buy any Easter dresses for the girls, didn’t shop for Easter baskets, didn’t plan a big meal with family or friends. We ended up getting hit at our house with a terrible flu, so I didn’t feel so guilty for not making more of a holiday we would have had to cancel on anyway. Then I got to really thinking. Is Easter really better with all of that fun cute stuff?

The Easter holiday is actually a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Resurrection, as in, coming back from the dead. It’s a crazy story, but if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, it is essential that this story is true. It means that after darkness, there is light. It means that after tragedy, there is still hope. It means that death does not have the final word, there is more to this life than we see. It means that even when we have faced utter devastation, there is the potential for all things to be made new again. Easter made me think of my friend Christina.

Chuck and Christine - a #staymarried blog about a couple who divorced and then remarried.

Chuck and Christina

Chuck and Christina, who goes by “Chris,” met at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in 1986. They were both majoring in Psychology and moved in the same social circles, so naturally they became good friends. As they spent more time together and got to know each other really well, they fell in love and decided they wanted to be together forever. They were married soon after and spent the next 17 years raising their three sons.

As with any real life marriage, the story doesn’t go naturally from “They were married that day” to “And they lived happily ever after.” Chuck and Chris have been through some of the hardest things any couple could face. They did not, in fact, stay married. I wanted you to hear for yourself about this incredible couple, about the hard times and decisions they faced, and about how, even when it seemed dead and hopeless, the life of this marriage was truly resurrected. Here is Chris in her own words…

A Dying Marriage

Our marriage started out happily, but as our boys grew older, I began to realize that Chuck and I were growing apart. After several years of marriage, it seemed that the only time we could go out and be together was at the bar on the weekends. Things were not good at home. With each passing year, he seemed more and more withdrawn from me and the boys. I would try desperately to pull him out of this, but the more I yelled and carried on about it, the more he withdrew.  It felt like we argued about everything– from how to discipline the boys and handle our finances to simple everyday things like what to make for dinner or who should walk the dog.

Things went from bad to worse when Chuck lost his job as a probation agent. He was accused of partying with clients at the bar and bringing them back to our house afterward. This was when it really hit me how much he was struggling with addiction. By this time, it was common knowledge that he had a problem with alcohol, because while he didn’t drink daily, when he did start, he could not stop. During the week when Chuck was home, he put on his headphones to listen to his music and tune out. Knowing this man for so long, I had become a first class detective, and I realized that in addition to his large alcohol consumption, he was also abusing his prescription pills for anxiety and he was doubling and even tripling the dosages. He would reach for some Excedrin PM when he couldn’t get a hold of anything else. I felt helpless and, at times, hopeless. I confided in my closest friends and they would pray with me. In private moments, I cried and wondered if and how our marriage would end, but at the same time, I could still feel God giving me the strength to go on. I started to think that maybe a change of scenery would help. Maybe if we left Wisconsin, we could get a fresh start in a new place.

Shortly after Chuck lost his job, an opportunity arose for me to start my own business training teams of people in homes and schools to work effectively with children affected by Autism, and we moved our family from Wisconsin to Ohio. We joined a church there and things were better for a while. My business was thriving, but that also meant more time away from home. The boys had grown into their teen years and were challenging the boundaries of authority both at home and in the community. With all of my time spent away from home, working and traveling, the increased pressure of parenting our teenagers took its toll on Chuck, and he spiraled deeper into addiction.

Often on the weekends when I was home, Chuck went out with co-workers always with the intention of “having a couple of brews”. This never ended well; I remember waking very early before dawn one Saturday morning to loud banging in the garage. I realized Chuck wasn’t home yet and was afraid of what I may find but went quickly downstairs. I found him in the garage keeled over with vomit all over him and the garage. At that very moment, I felt torn in many directions. I wanted to just leave him there to deal with the consequences of his choices, yet I wanted to protect my boys from waking up to see their dad in that condition. I wanted to leave him, yet my heart ached for him and how lost he must feel. I wanted to shake him and scream until I was hoarse, yet I wanted to clean him up and hold him and tell him that our love would carry us through and everything would be alright…

I did what I had done so many times before: I covered it up. I stripped him down in the garage, put his clothing in the laundry, ran him through the shower and helped him into bed. After all of that, I went downstairs and cleaned up the garage all the while thinking that I must be insane.

This incident triggered something inside of me. My feelings towards him had gone beyond the unresolved hurt and rejection to total disgust and anger. I knew I loved him, I knew I couldn’t fix him, and I saw the effect this was having on our marriage. I couldn’t continue living this way. I began to beg Chuck to get help.

Chuck and Christine - a #staymarried blog about a couple who divorced and then remarriedI did not believe that we should separate, and I made it my mission to try to fix our marriage. I hit brick walls at every turn, though. I arranged for us to see a counselor, but Chuck didn’t like the counselor. It seemed the more I worked to save our marriage, the more Chuck wanted out of it. In a last ditch effort, I persuaded Chuck into joining a marriage group through our church. We met some amazing people that supported us through the dark times ahead. He began divorce proceedings in 2005, and we sold our house and separated after 17 years of marriage.

The Execution

Chuck moved into a tiny apartment and for a short time, I lived in a small house nearby. Several months after the divorce, I was offered a position in an Autism specific therapeutic day school in Chicago and after much prayer and consideration, made the decision to accept it.

Once I had moved to Chicago, I completely fell apart. I was brokenhearted and abandoned. I prayed many prayers and cried a river of tears. Through all of this, I prayed that God would help me continue to love Chuck and see him through His eyes. I always held onto the hope that we would one day be reunited.

Shortly after the move to Chicago, another opportunity came for me to return to Wisconsin and advance my career even further. I threw myself into my work and started attending a new church (Great Lakes Church). It seemed that while my marriage had failed, my career and calling in life were looking brighter than ever.

Chuck and I remained friends, and he was always welcome at family gatherings. When he came to Wisconsin to visit, he even attended my church and he appreciated that he felt welcome and not judged.

While I was in the process of beginning some more exciting things at work, Chuck’s brother called to tell me that Chuck had again lost his job as a result of his addiction. We had been divorced for over 7 years at this point. When he hit rock bottom this time, though, he turned to God and to me for help. He said he wanted to find the right treatment center, and he wanted his family back. He admitted he was out of control and needed my help. He asked if he could stay with me until a spot opened up in the treatment facility we chose together. I agreed to help him, but I set firm boundaries. I felt very strongly that I needed to guard my heart which had been torn in two. I made it very clear upfront that there would be no physical contact whatsoever between us. I also stated that my home was my safe haven and that he would no longer be welcome if he used drugs or alcohol of any kind. He agreed and entered a treatment program July 24th to begin the process of recovery and making amends.

It was during this time that Chuck realized that we really do belong together. Chuck wrote me a letter while he was in treatment that had a profound effect on me. In this letter he stated that he was disgusted with himself for the way he treated me. He said I deserved better. He told me that I was a faithful, compassionate, and beautiful woman and that none of what he was learning would be possible without me. He went on to say that if I would take him back, he would never let me get away again and that he wanted me back in his arms where I belonged. He said that he needed to take care of me the way God intended. For the first time in many years, his head was clear and all he could see was me, and he loved me more than ever. I read these lines over and over and I believed the sincerity of these words more than I had ever believed anything in my life. When I went to visitation, I saw with my own eyes that this man was transforming into someone I had never really known. God was changing him from the inside out, and I realized that what I had hoped for all these years was actually being fulfilled!

Things were not all rainbows and butterflies, though. We were spending time renewing our love. While I was busy with work, Chuck was working his program hard, attending daily meetings and groups. At my request, we refrained from physical contact, which was frustrating and difficult at times, but Chuck understood my reasons. It was truly a period of growth for both of us.

Chuck and Christine - a #staymarried blog about a couple who divorced and then remarried

Resurrected to New Life

We knew we wanted to be together forever this time and we wanted to get it right. I knew it was hard for him to wait, so we shocked everyone and set the date for October 27, 2012. Chuck was baptized and we renewed our vows in front of our entire church during a “Worship Night” event on October 21, 2012 and we were officially remarried later that week on October 27, 2012.

We both truly believe that God resurrected our marriage. Things are so much better this time around…. We serve alongside each other each week, co-leading the Usher Team at a new campus that we helped our church launch. We go on dates, participate with growth groups, and hang out with our boys (who actually enjoy hanging around with us now) and with our friends. An interesting phenomenon occurred when we all started working on changing ourselves! The taste of redemption is so sweet and I am extremely grateful to tell this story.

With Chuck and Chris in mind, I waited for my own family to be resurrected back to normal health, so to speak. I loved having their story to meditate on, to smile over, and be reminded that divorce is not definite. Death does not have the final say. Even a marriage that seems to have been buried can be resurrected in hope and love.

We hope you all had a wonderfully sunny, healthy, and happy Easter. My little family and I will celebrate Easter on another day, knowing that with hope in our hearts we will #staymarried

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, you may also like to read about Walt & Nancy. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle

Chuck and Chris reunion photos courtesy of Corey Beth Photography

A Safety Net

If communication is one of the keys to a healthy marriage, then keeping secrets is one of the keys to destroying your marriage. I shared earlier about the dangers of keeping secrets and the power of regular confession with your spouse. Today I’d like to touch on the other side of the issue: receiving a confession.

When your spouse makes a mistake or offends you, you have the opportunity either to be self-righteous or to be a safety net. The question is not whether you will hurt each other during your marriage – it is bound to happen. We are frail and faulty humans. We will be selfish. We will cause each other pain. When you are on the receiving end of your spouse’s blunder, it’s natural to become indignant. It is the most classic position of “I’m right. You’re wrong. You owe me.” But that stance, however natural, puts you at odds with your spouse instead of on the same team looking in the same direction. So, what can you do?

First of all, if your spouse is willing to confess their error to you, it signifies their desire to be closer, to own up to their mistakes, and to make a repair. As hard as it will be to hear that your wife spent the Christmas budget on just one pair of shoes for herself, or your husband lost his job a week ago and didn’t tell you, it is much more divisive to be in the dark and have secrets between the two of you. If your spouse starts a conversation with, “Honey, I have a confession to make,” let your first reaction be to take a deep breath. Remember that a confession is a good thing.

Then, listen. Listen to your loved one, think about what they are saying. Try not to jump to conclusions or add words to their confession that they haven’t said. Take another deep breath. Receiving a confession can be painful, don’t discount that; however, if your goal is to stay married, it’s not likely to help for you to begin by flying off the handle. Ask yourself, “Do I want to be a safety net?” I hope you do.

What does it mean to be a safety net?

First, repeat after me: “My spouse is a human being.” Now, believe it. We need to stop holding our spouses to unrealistic standards. Do you expect yourself to be perfect all the time? Are you as hard on yourself when you make a mistake as you are when your spouse does? We are all only human– prone to wander, prone to make mistakes.

My friend, Katie, recently talked with her husband, Jonah, about this topic. Katie wants to be a safety net for Jonah but was lost on how to practically do this. So, smart woman that she is, she asked him directly for some suggestions. Specifically, she wanted to know how she might create a safe atmosphere in their marriage where he would feel like it was possible for him to come to her with any confessions. Jonah thought about it for a while – a long while. He came back to her with something that is changing the way they interact. Jonah said that, for him, complete forgiveness of the little things is key.

Jonah, also pretty smart, noticed that among his friends it seems like women have a harder time with this idea than men. He said it seems like women have a tendency to hang onto grudges, pile grievances up even after “forgiving” those grievances, and then overreact to the small things. If this is your tendency, whether you are the husband or the wife, you might be feeling a little defensive right now. Keep reading.

In your marriage, how often do you recall past grievances in a new argument? How likely are you to use phrases like, “I knew you’d do that!” or “Of course you forgot, you always forget!” or something more condescending under your breath like, “It shouldn’t surprise me that you forgot the milk, you forgot our anniversary two years ago, too!!” What Jonah is noticing is that these kinds of reactions do not make for an atmosphere of safety in your marriage. He thinks, “If she’s going to respond like that about me forgetting the milk, could you imagine how she’d react if I tell her I lost $500 at the casino?”

To be a safety net for our spouses, the best thing to do is to forgive the little things quickly, completely, and forget them. Don’t bring them up over and over again. Don’t hold your spouse to a higher standard than you hold yourself. We set ourselves and our spouses up for failure if we expect that they are never going to make mistakes or never going to struggle and fall short of even their own standards. If we give them a hard time over every little thing, or bring up every past grievance every time something new comes up, there is an atmosphere of expected perfection in the marriage that no one is going to live up to. This makes it difficult for your spouse to do something that is already difficult: confess. We have to love our spouses through every stage: before, during, and especially after the little confessions, so that when the big confessions come, we are in a better place to receive them.

Safety Net - a #staymarried blog for couples

Here are a few suggestions for receiving a confession:

1. Listen with love.

When Tony has made a confession to me, I try to put myself first in the position of his protector and guardian before I allow myself to take his offense personally. When I decide I have the opportunity to show him love, especially when he is embarrassed, it opens the door for more communication instead of cutting each other off.

2. Give the benefit of the doubt.

As you listen, think about whether your spouse intended to hurt you or not. Most of the time, you can give them the benefit of the doubt. Your spouse is more than the mistake they made, this instance should not define them.

3. Get clarity.

This one is hard to do, so give yourself some time. If you need space away from your spouse after hearing their confession, ask for it. If you have a lot of questions, ask them. Get clarity on whatever is going on in your mind. The stories we make up on our own can often be much worse than whatever the reality is.

4. Get healing.

If you are Holly, and your husband confessed about his “under the table/out of the trunk” steak purchase, it’s most likely you stopped at step number two and moved on. Like I said earlier, this is important. Forgiving the little things fully makes room in your marriage for your spouse to be able to bring the big things to you. However, if the confession is more of a betrayal, you may have a little bit of work to do. Talk with your spouse about it. Consider counseling if that’s appropriate for you. The benefit of a counselor is that they listen so well. They can help you see each other from a third perspective and offer practical steps toward healing after a betrayal.

Marriage is not for the faint of heart. My hope and prayer for you is that you would never have something severe to confess and that you would never be on the receiving end of a hurtful secret; however, the reality is that it is much more important for us to figure out how to navigate secrets and confessions than to spend our energy avoiding the idea of them altogether. Avoiding confession builds walls in your marriage that prevent you from being truly close to your spouse and cut you off from deep trust and healing. I hope you make confession a regular part of your communication with one another. I hope you choose to create an environment of grace in your marriage. I hope, as you forgive one another, you will see longevity in your relationship and #staymarried.

I Hate Apologizing

I usually get up early so I can read and think and drink a little coffee before the rest of my family is awake. A couple of days ago, I looked over and saw Tony asleep in bed when I got out of the shower, and my stomach was instantly in knots. I had gone to bed early the night before because I was in a foul mood. We were working together on our new #staymarried group, but our hard drive had crashed. We had minimal programs, no printer set-up, no ink for the printer. It was a big irritating mess and a giant waste of my time. Tony was working through the tech stuff, and of course that irritated me, too. Waste of time, all of it. Bleh. I’m going to bed!

Now, after a full night’s rest, I saw more clearly that I’d been fantastically rude and taken my frustration out on him. I saw him sleeping and I knew I needed to apologize. Bleh, again! I hate apologizing. I mean, why can’t I just be grumpy and even a little mean when I feel like it? Why can’t we all just move on? I mean, he shouldn’t take it personally, right? I was mad about the computer, not about him. Yet, there he was, laying there sleeping, forgiving me before I even muster up whatever it is I need – humility, is it? – to apologize. I hate it.

I slinked into the bed, waking him up slowly, and I said it. “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me? I was a jerk and was really rude to you last night. I’m really sorry.” … and, exhale. Wow, that wasn’t so bad. As I started the words, I began to actually feel them. As I heard myself, I believed what I was saying more and more. I WAS a jerk, he didn’t deserve that. I WAS sorry. I DID hope he’d forgive me.

He kissed my cheek, “I forgive you. I love you,” and that was it. I was relieved. I couldn’t believe how much I was dreading apologizing, how frustrated I felt when I saw him in bed knowing I needed to ask forgiveness. I had just wanted it to go away without me taking any action at all. I was so annoyed with the whole thing in the first place and, now that it was over, I was so light and thankful and even happy. I pranced off to the kitchen to make us some coffee, sat and had a few minutes to myself, and the rest of the day was perfectly normal.

So, I’m wondering, am I the only one that dreads apologizing? I should say, I used to be much worse. I’m the stone-walling silent-treatment type by nature, and it used to take me a minimum of twenty four hours to come around. I would gnaw on my own self-righteousness, getting as much of that bitter flavor in my mouth as I could. I would glare and ignore and even wait for him to approach me in just the right way before I could even fathom apologizing for anything I did, which he probably provoked me to in the first place. Dream girl, right?

Tony’s never been that way. Not that he’s always right… although, I can hardly remember a time when he was actually wrong… but more that he always wants to reconcile as soon as possible. He has no need for grudges, no appetite for bitterness. He wants to move on and enjoy each other as fast as possible. Is that you? Are you quick to apologize? Quick to forgive? Quick to move on?

We’ve learned each other better over time, of course. I have always known it wasn’t the best thing to hold onto my frustration, but knowing and doing often have a gap – or even a chasm – in between. The gap has been narrowing for me over the years. Just think, I went to bed in a huff and woke up and apologized – not bad. Now, if I could have apologized for my attitude before going to bed, that might even be considered “holy” – but I’m not there yet.

Maybe it’s because I hate being wrong. Maybe it’s the pain of humility – though it isn’t actually humiliating. Maybe it’s the lack of self-control I have over my attitude in the first place that frustrates me. I would admit, yes, actually, it is all of these things. I hate apologizing for all of these reasons. When I need to apologize, I can easily think of even more reasons I hate it and even justify why I can’t or shouldn’t do so just yet. But, I’ve done it, and I’ll do it again. When I know I need to apologize, these are the things I try to keep in mind:

The DOs and DON’Ts for Making an Apology.

DON’T apologize for someone else’s feelings.

“I’m sorry you’re mad,” is not an apology. It’s condescending.

DO apologize for your own actions and attitude.

“I’m sorry I was rude,” is an apology that takes ownership. Be specific about what you did wrong. “I’m sorry for whatever made you mad” is NOT going to work. If you need some time to think and reflect on what you did, take it. It’s better to come with a real apology than a generic one that will probably end up creating a whole new fight.

DON’T add an excuse to your apology.

“I’m sorry I was rude, but I was really irritated,” means you’re not really sorry. You feel justified for the way you acted and you expect to be excused. One of the most memorable pieces of advice I’ve ever heard: When you say “I’m sorry, but …” you’re really just a sorry butt.

DO ask for forgiveness when you apologize.

“I’m sorry,” on it’s own, is just a statement. It requires no response. “Will you forgive me?” is a humble request that can rebuild a relationship. When you ask your spouse to forgive you, wait. Listen. Be prepared for them to say in response, “I need a minute, I’m not there right now.” When you are in the wrong, you are never owed forgiveness. Be grateful when you receive it.

DON’T expect a reciprocal apology.

Let’s say you were in a fight. You were both rude and hostile to each other and now you’ve decided to be the brave one and apologize first. Do not apologize expecting your spouse to apologize equally. They may not. If you expect them to, and they don’t, you may be tempted to say something like, “Never mind. I thought we were going to work this out together. I said I was sorry, you are obviously not sorry, so FORGET IT!” … Um… yeah… that’s not an apology. When you recognize you have done something wrong, just own your part of it. The end.

DO attempt to make a repair.

Once you get through the brutal, “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” it’s wise to make the next step and ask, “Is there anything I can do to make this right?” Then, be prepared to wear your underwear on your head as you head over to the Starbucks drive-through to order your love his apology Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Asking my husband for forgiveness as often as possible has proven to bring us closer together time and time again. My stubbornness and self-righteousness seem to have done nothing for our relationship at all. So, I’ll be wrong again and again. I’ll need his forgiveness again and again. Hopefully I’ll see it sooner rather than later each time. Hopefully I’ll remember not to add excuses on the end of my apologies. I will ask him to forgive me. I will await his response. I will push past the knots in my stomach to say what needs to be said, because I know I can count on a light kiss on the cheek and his arms around me reminding me that with each time we forgive each other we are committing to #staymarried.