That's it," my husband muttered, "I'm through."
Watching his back disappear through our bedroom door, I wondered if he meant it this time. We'd often been challenged by conflicting schedules and discipline differences concerning our two preteen sons. Although our marriage had weathered many storms, lately I'd begun to feel as if our boat was sinking.
I sat on our bed and stared out the window. The sturdy cherry trees and tall pines reminded me of God's protection. If he could care for those landmarks, surely he'd protect our family. But I recalled how a violent summer storm had cost us three trees—a reminder that sometimes the worst of nature gets the best of us.
Finally, I walked downstairs and found Ted* hunched over his computer—one of my regular complaints about him. The kids were playing next door, so we could talk openly. Placing an arm around his shoulders, I whispered, "I'm sorry."
Only recently had I begun to realize how my cutting words about his "inadequacies" as a husband and father had deeply wounded him.
Barely glancing up, he replied, "That's not enough anymore. Nothing ever changes."
Feeling foolish, I withdrew my arm. "That's not true," I snapped. "I've changed over the past 10 years. You even said so—"
Catching myself in defensive mode, I stopped mid-sentence and paused. "What would you like me to do?"
He sighed. "We've been through this before. If you don't know, I'm not telling you."
Thinking back over our married life, I recalled Ted's irritation on several occasions when he came home to a dark kitchen and no dinner as I spent hours on the phone cold-calling potential clients to jump-start a home business. Ted worked hard all day and wanted hot meals when he arrived home. He also wanted me to handle the kids' discipline immediately instead of waiting for him to get home, but I felt they needed his manly leadership. Slowly I was learning to let go of my way and trust God with his, but often I fell short, complaining because I had to lead family devotions when Ted was busy. Competing interests had drawn us away from each other. I realized guiltily that even the kids were uncomfortably aware of escalating tensions between us.
Interrupting my thoughts, he added, "I haven't loved you for a long time, and I'm not going to live like this for the next 50 years."
His words felt as if he'd punched me in the stomach. Shocked, I left his office in tears. It was one thing to be reminded of neglected duties; it was another to be told your spouse doesn't love you.
A God-ordained separation?
Hope withered with the late summer foliage. In a desperate attempt to salvage our marriage, I saw a Christian marriage counselor. Youthfully zealous, she incited me to action.
"Perhaps a divorce is best."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. A Christian counselor was advising me to get divorced.
"I can't divorce Ted," I said. "That would hurt our kids. Besides, he'll start another life if I let him go now."
"Why not separate for a few months to clear the air?"
Though I wanted to dismiss the idea, I agreed to consider it. The counselor recommended I read Gary Chapman's Hope for the Separated. While I didn't relish the prospect of separation, I did appreciate Dr. Chapman's urging both spouses to work on their own mistakes rather than dwell on their partner's. I knew I'd acted in an ungodly manner toward Ted, once angrily kicking a trashcan down the basement steps and sometimes telling him we should never have married. Of course he'd said such things too, but I was responsible just for me.
Meanwhile, I was invited to teach at a conference in England later that fall. How ironic, I thought, that I, a communication expert and Christian, am contemplating marital separation. Perhaps God had engineered the conference to provide a short-term separation of his devising rather than a longer, man-made one. I'd be gone a week.
The day I received the invitation, I found Ted in the garage, hunting for a screwdriver. He barely looked up as I asked coyly, "Will you miss me when I leave?"
He replied far too calmly, "You better get an attorney. Mine is starting divorce proceedings."
"But we have to separate first!" I exclaimed.
"Whatever," he said shortly. "The attorneys can handle it."
"Is this about my criticizing your lack of family leadership?"
"We're incompatible. We should never have gotten married."
Shocked, I returned to the house. I could only pray, "God, we need your help."
Calming myself, the next day I called an attorney who agreed to represent me. I e-mailed Ted the attorney's contact information, too hurt to discuss it in person. A few days later I received a letter with the hearing date. The words stared at me from the page in an accusatory manner.
Was this my fault? I wondered. What would happen to our family?
Beauty and loss
Just days before my conference, news spread around the world of Princess Diana's death. How could a beautiful young woman with the world at her feet suddenly die, leaving two young sons without a mother? Boarding a jet just hours later, the pain and worry of leaving my sons disheartened me. The four of us had prayed before I left, Ted's voice tense and unfeeling. As my plane soared into the sky, I wondered what the next several weeks and months would bring.
Headlines about the Princess's death cast a pall over London, settling a little more heavily each time I picked up a newspaper or passed storefront tributes. I kept thinking of her sons, and then mine, all close in age. Losing a mother or father was a serious burden for teenagers. How could I bear to watch it happen to mine?
My presentation on gender communication went well; too bad it wasn't helping at home.
On the last day of the conference, I watched Diana's funeral on television, then joined thousands of mourners on Finchley Road to view the hearse. Glimpsing the flag-draped coffin a few feet away, a profound sense of loss swept over me. If only she'd worn her seatbelt. If only Ted and I could try again.
If only … the two loneliest words in the universe.
The sorrow of death and the joy of living urged me to fight for my marriage. On the return flight I prayed earnestly, "God, thank you for showing me beauty and loss, joy and pain. Help me respond to Ted as I should. Life is short, and love is precious; help me savor both."
When God moves
Arriving home at midnight, I peeked in on the sleeping boys. As I crept into bed beside my husband, he briefly stirred to mumble sleepily, "Glad you made it home okay."
My heart raced to think that his heart might be softening!
The next day after Ted came home from work, I found him in our bedroom changing clothes.
"Can I talk to you a minute?"
"Go ahead," he said indifferently.
"I had time to think about us when I was in England. God helped me realize how much you and the boys really mean to me. I don't want anything to tear us apart."
"I don't know—" Ted began.
"Look," I interjected, "Philippians 4:13 says we can do everything through Christ who gives us strength. I'm committed to a fresh start in honoring our marriage and you. I'll do whatever it takes. But you have to work with me."
Shaking his head, Ted replied, "I called the marriage counselor while you were gone, and she told me about your concerns."
"She's not supposed to do that! That's confidential," I gasped.
"I know, but I guess she could tell from my voice how desperate our situation is. I didn't realize how much our struggles hurt you. I thought you really didn't care."
Taking a step toward him, I said, "We loved each other once. I apologize for my mistakes. I haven't respected your needs, and I've complained too often. I want to be a good wife."
After a moment, Ted said, "I'm sorry too. I've done and said things to you that I'm not proud of. I've made a lot of mistakes too. But what makes this time different? We'll just do the same things over again."
"Only God can make it different," I said. "I know I need to focus on strengthening my faith first. I plan to read my Bible every day, and I'm going to join a women's Bible study."
He started to move, and just when I thought he'd leave the room, he drew me into his arms. We cried as we clung to each other several minutes.
"I'll find a men's study," he whispered. "Maybe if I grow in my faith too …"
We canceled that divorce hearing seven years ago, and Ted and I joined Bible studies as we promised. It's been amazing to see how much we've grown—both in our faith and in our marriage. Ted is a church deacon, while I help coordinate women's ministries. Working closely with other Christians has brought us greater intimacy with God, which has helped us learn to love each other as God loves us. Now instead of looking for things to criticize, I focus on areas to compliment—such as when Ted mops the kitchen floor for me or pitches a backyard tent for the boys. I realize that he's showing me his love. And I make hot meals a priority, knowing that's one way to make him feel loved.
To strengthen our relationship, Ted and I enjoy "talk-time" several times a week. Over coffee, we share ideas and catch up with each other. And we've made a commitment to attend church as often as the doors are open. As a result, all of us have become more grounded in the Bible and bonded to other believers in our church. We even host a home Bible study. And yes—we're in love again. We learned that Philippians 4:13 holds truth: we can do everything through Christ, who gives us strength.
As Ted and I approach our eighteenth anniversary, I'm grateful neither of us "bailed" during the rough seas that threatened to drown us. God is good. Only he can use trials, disappointments, and even sorrow to reunite two stubborn people in a ministry of hope now shared with others.
* Names have been changed.
Rose Michaels is a pseudonym for a writer living in Ohio.
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