Day 9: The Marriage Fade That Begins With Avoiding Emotion

NoMorePerfectMarriage blackThis 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.

Jill says:
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.

475746021Reluctantly, 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.

Mark says:
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?

Posted in Marriage, No More Perfect Marriages Series | Tagged | 2 Comments

Day 8: The Marriage Fade That Begins With Disagreement

NoMorePerfectMarriage blackThis 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?

Posted in Marriage, No More Perfect Marriages Series | 4 Comments

Day 7: The Marriage Fade that Begins With Not Accepting

NoMorePerfectMarriage blackThis 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.

Mark says:
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.

Jill says:
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.

Jill says:
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?

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Day 6: The Marriage Fade the Starts with Naïveté

NoMorePerfectMarriage blackThis is Day 6 of a 10 day series. You can find the other days here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

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.

Jill says:
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.

Mark says:
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.

Jill says:  
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.

Mark says:
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.

Jill says:
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 No and Fifty Shades of Experience. )

Mark says:
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).

Jill says:
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.

Mark says:
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.

Jill says:
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!)

Mark says:
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.

Jill says:
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.

Mark says:
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?

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Day 5: The Marriage Fade that Starts w/ Minimizing

 

NoMorePerfectMarriage blackThis is Day 5 of a 10 day series. You can find the other days here: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Jill says:
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.

Mark says:
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.

Jill says:
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.

Mark says: 
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.

Jill says:
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.

Mark says: 
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.

Jill says: 
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.

Mark says: 
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.

Jill says: 
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.

Mark says:
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.

Jill says:
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.

Mark says: 
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.

Jill says: 
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.

Mark says: 
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.

Jill says: 
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?

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Day 4:The Marriage Fade that Starts w/ Defensiveness

NoMorePerfectMarriage blackThis is Day 4 of a 10 day series. You can find the other days here: 1, 2, 3.

Also, yesterday Mark and I had a one-hour radio conversation on the topic of infidelity in marriage on the Chris Fabry Live show.

You can listen online here (click on Hour 2).

 

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.

Jill says: 
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.

Mark says:  
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.

Jill says: 
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.

Mark says: 
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.

Jill says:
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.”

Mark says:
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.

Mark says: 
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?”

Jill says: 
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).

Mark says: 
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.

Jill says: 
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?

Posted in Marriage, No More Perfect Marriages Series | Tagged | 4 Comments

Day 3: Unrealistic Expectations in Marriage

NoMorePerfectMarriage blackThis is Day 3 of a 10 day series. You can find Days 1 and 2 here. 

Mark says: 
I didn’t realize coming into marriage how much idealism and unrealistic expectation drove my everyday thinking and perspective.

I’ve always struggled wanting our relationship, our perspectives, our interests to be different than what they were. We didn’t really notice our differences while dating, but when we got married, those differences were suddenly magnified.  Even in the early years I struggled with our differences. After 25+ years of marriage, I was growing weary of those challenges and felt I didn’t have the energy or desire to manage them anymore.

Jill says: 
I didn’t struggle with unrealistic expectations of our relationship as much. I knew marriage was hard work. I knew navigating differences was part of the territory.  However I completely underestimated how much Mark’s idealism was causing a slow fade in his heart. When he would express his frustration about our differences, I dismissed his concerns and didn’t give them the time and energy they deserved. I often reminded him that was normal for any couple. Knowing that was enough for me to remain motivated to stay in the game, but it wasn’t for Mark.

Mark says: 
I’m a feeler. I process life through my emotions. I’m an external processor, which means I need to talk things out. I’m also a medium capacity person. I wear out faster than Jill.  And then there’s the idealist in me. I dream…a lot.

Jill says: 
I’m a thinker. I process life logically. I’m an internal processor which means I think about things…a lot. I’m a high capacity, fiercely loyal person. I stay in the game no matter what. And I’m a realist. I’m quick to figure out the illogical side of dreams.

Mark says: 
When my unrealistic expectations weren’t met, my fade led into disappointment and discouragement. I sat there for many years. Unattended over the years, those feelings faded into disillusionment and finally detachment which is what allowed me to eventually leave my family.

On the outside, I made peace with the disappointment, but I never did on the inside. In fact, it wasn’t until my “affair relationship” actually began to have the same conflict my marriage relationship had that I had to come face to face with my idealism. My expectations really were off the charts.

Jill says: 
I dealt with my own unrealistic expectations, but mine weren’t about our relationship. Mine were of my husband in general. I expected him to think more like me. I expected him to see things logically like I did. If I’m fully honest, I thought my way was the right way and his way was the wrong way. So I expected him to at some point see the error of his ways.

Mark says: 
I felt that judgment from Jill. Too often it felt like I couldn’t do anything right.  I really didn’t feel that until the kids came along. In fact, that’s a pattern Jill and I see in many marriages. The man who could do no wrong before kids can do no right after kids.

Jill says: 
These days I’m keeping my mouth shut a lot more than I ever have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not shoving things under the carpet that need to be addressed. I’m simply addressing less; keeping my thoughts and comments to myself. Letting Mark be Mark and Jill be Jill. I’m applying Proverbs 21:23, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble,” and Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupt talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up…that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Mark says: 
These days I’m keeping my idealism better balanced. I know I’m a dreamer and always will be, but I work to keep those dreams evened out with realism. My experience taught me that the grass isn’t really greener on the other side of the fence…there are just different weeds over there!  My focus is to stay steady with my God and to not waver in any manner.

 Jill says: 
I’m listening more intently and not taking things at face value. I’m listening for Mark’s emotions behind his words. I’m asking more questions or encouraging more conversation by using phrases like “Tell me more….” Or “How can I help?”

Mark says: 
In the past I threw my disappointment and discouragement out there in frustration. I didn’t know how to engage them any differently, but now I’m doing the internal work to manage my thought life and the external work to pursue honest communication.

What about you? Where do you have unrealistic expectations in your marriage?  Do you need to adjust your expectations to better match reality? Do you need to ask for some honest conversation with your spouse? Are unrealistic expectations the start of a slow fade in your marriage? 

Posted in Marriage, No More Perfect Marriages Series | 4 Comments

No More Perfect Marriages Day 2:It’s a Slow Fade

NoMorePerfectMarriage blackThanks so much for joining us!

This is Day 2 of an 10 day blog series. You can find Day 1 here. 

 

Mark says:
After our trip to Florida, I began talking regularly with an old girlfriend on Facebook.  She had gone through a divorce and we had briefly interacted earlier in the spring on that.  The more we talked on Facebook, the more emotionally connected we became.

Jill says:
I discovered the relationship before it became physical. I saw a text that Mark received from this person and it seemed to be way too friendly. I asked Mark about it and he indicated that he was just helping an old friend out after a divorce. After 20 years of serving as a pastor and helping people through crisis, this wasn’t unusual, but his method of using Facebook and texting greatly concerned me.

We talked about the dangerous position this put him in emotionally and both decided that he would move the communication to email and copy me on it for integrity and accountability purposes.

Mark says:
I knew I needed to do the right thing but I didn’t want to. I was dissatisfied in nearly every area of my life. With an enticing new relationship on the horizon, I became further convinced there was nothing good about my marriage. I moved our conversation to email copying Jill on the communication for a time or two and then the deception began as I moved the conversation underground.  Even though we lived several hours apart, the relationship moved from emotional to physical within a couple months.

Jill says: 
I discovered the physical relationship after finding Mark asleep in bed with the phone in his hand. I picked up the phone to put it away and saw the conversation on the screen.  I wanted to throw up. I panicked, not knowing what to do.

I had three friends who knew some of the struggles we’d been facing. They had been praying for Mark specifically as he walked through so much disillusionment with life, ministry, and marriage.  One of those friends said to me, “you can call me any time….even in the middle of the night if you need to.”  I thanked her, but couldn’t imagine needing to call her in the middle of the night. However, after I saw the conversation on Mark’s phone, I now knew why she’d made that offer.

At 1am I made a phone call to the woman whose name was on my husband’s phone and told her that I expected her to never speak to my husband again.  Then I called my call-me-in-the-middle-of-the-night friend and dissolved into a puddle of tears that would become a near daily occurrence for me for many months.

Mark says:
In 2007, Casting Crowns released the song, “It’s a Slow Fade.” The lyrics in the chorus are descriptive of the slow drift that any marriage or any spouse can experience:

It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away

It’s a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray

Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid

When you give yourself away.

People never crumble in a day

It’s a slow fade.

Jill and I were doing many of the right things in our marriage. We knew each other’s love languages and spoke them often. We had date nights. We did getaways on a regular basis. We were intentional about communication. In the midst of that much intentionality, infidelity became a part of our story. How in the world did that happen?

Jill says:
Looking back, it wasn’t the big things that made a difference. It was the little things. Things that simmered under the surface. Things unnoticed. Unattended. Undetected. Untouched. These unknowns caused an unraveling that gained momentum over time. Add in the midlife emotions and struggles, and we were headed in a direction towards pain and heartache.

No marriage crumbles in a day. It’s a slow drift. A fade of one centimeter to another. One feeling or one decision that leads to another feeling or decision that’s a little off center. Unnoticed or unattended, those feelings will unknowingly draw us away from one another instead of towards one another.

But what if you could see those early symptoms?  What if you could identify the slow fade and do something about it before your marriage is in a crisis?  What if your marriage is already in a crisis, but you can identify the fade you’re in and, with God’s help, are able to stop the insanity and turn it around?  What if your marriage is already over and you hope to someday be married again and long to learn from your experience?

Mark says:
Understanding the slow fade and knowing what to do about it can make all the difference in the world. We’ve identified seven fades that we experienced. In talking with other couples—some who just face the daily challenges of marriage and some who have weathered crisis in their relationship like we have– we know that these are common patterns of drifting that every married couple needs to understand, watch for, and correct when identified.

Each fade begins somewhere. Ours started with:

  • unrealistic expectations
  • defensive responses
  • minimized feelings
  • naïve thoughts
  • unaccepting attitudes
  • differing opinions
  • guarded emotions

Ephesians 4:27 tells us not to “give the devil a foothold.”  John 10:10 tells us that the enemy comes to “steal and kill and destroy.” When we allow a fade to begin, it is fertile soil for the enemy to begin to divide what God has brought together. If the fade continues unnoticed and unattended, the divided relationship unknowingly heads in a direction towards slow destruction.

Jill says:
Tomorrow we’ll begin to unpack these fades one at a time so we can identify any slippery slope you might be precariously near or already sliding down.  We’ll also share the keys to turning each fade around.

Our imperfect marriages are a part of God’s plan for growing us up. When you can identify you’re standing too close to a dangerous cliff or you’ve already began to slide into a damaging fade, that’s the first step in getting your head and your heart back on track.

What about you? Do any of the above fade starting points resonate with you?  Would you add any to the list?

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No More Perfect Marriages–A 10 Day Blog Series

NoMorePerfectMarriage blackJill says:
Some of you have been hanging around here for a long time and you may remember when I shared about Mark leaving 3 years ago and then several months later about him coming home. Some of you are newer friends and aren’t aware that my marriage has been through some hard trials.

For many years, Mark and I did Marriage Monday posts together. We ping-ponged back and forth with “Jill says…” and “Mark says…” talking about marriage challenges, lessons learned, and practical take-aways. Those were very popular posts, but they came to a halt when Mark began to go through what we now know was a mid-life crisis.

Today…and every weekday for the next two weeks, we will be unpacking the storm our marriage went through a little over three years ago.

Today we’ll start with the facts:

Mark says:
I remember the day. After a long season of confusion, a hard season of ministry, a change in employment, and my 50th birthday, Jill and I were in Florida on a getaway for just the two of us. I was emotionally depleted, disillusioned with God, and discouraged in every part of my life, including my marriage.

We had enjoyed a few low-key days in her parents condo. On our last day there all of my emotions collided. It seemed our differences were magnified in this time away, God wasn’t changing anything in my life that I was praying about, I wasn’t where I expected to be in life by the time I was 50, we continued to have the same challenges in our marriage year after year, and I decided I was done with it all.

I now know that I was living out a full blown mid-life crisis.

I came home from that trip completely resolved. Shortly thereafter a relationship began through Facebook with someone I’d known long ago. Within a matter of months it had moved from an emotional affair to a physical one. I eventually left Jill to pursue this new relationship. I didn’t care what anybody thought. I was doing what I wanted to do.

If you were following the blog back then and read her “From My Heart” post, you might have thought “What in the world was Mark thinking?” My thinking was skewed, no doubt. However, I want to tell you what I was thinking and I want to share the “slow fade” journey with you because if I can prevent any husband or wife from dealing with their life frustrations the way I did, my vulnerability will be worth it all.

When I left, I was headed out of my marriage into another relationship. I had a huge storm raging in my soul that involved myself, my God, the Church (in general) and Jill. I felt hopeless that anything in my life could be different so I decided to take things into my own hands.

Jill says…
We have survived an affair and lived to tell about it. When you experience deep pain, you long for God to redeem it for His purposes. That’s what we hope to do with this blog series and eventually with the No More Perfect Marriages book we’re already working on.

Sharing this kind of story in a public environment is something akin to standing in the middle of a public square with no clothes on. We’d rather keep it to ourselves; but we can’t. God has given us a platform and a calling to make a difference in families. That means sharing honestly about the challenges we have experienced, lived through, and found victory in on the other side.

In order to share the story in a consistent way, we will be devoting the next 2 weeks to our story and the take-aways for every couple that can be culled from our dark season. Will you help us reach more marriages with this story? If you know someone going through a difficult time in their marriage, or a couple who is trying to put together the pieces of their broken relationship, will you invite them to tune into this series?

If you are already subscribed to my blog, you will receive each post in your inbox. If you are here because you saw the post on Facebook or because a friend shared it with you, you might want to subscribe to the blog to receive each post of this series in your inbox.

We also want you to know that throughout this series both Mark and I are committed to be praying for any couple going through a hard season. If you want us to pray for you specifically, please send us a confidential email to jillsavagespeaking (at) heartsathome.org and we will add you and your spouse to our prayer list.

There are no perfect marriages, but God uses marriage to perfect us…if we’ll allow Him to.

What about you? Have you been through a hard time in your marriage? Do you have any hard-earned wisdom to share with other couples?

You can read all of the No More Perfect Marriages series here.

Hearts at Home, Jill and Mark Savage, Copyright 2015

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Quote of the Week

Quote-of-the-Week pic“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”  

                                                             ~Martin Luther King, Jr. 

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