How I Saved My Marriage

This blog post originally appeared on Richard Paul Evan’s website


(Dedicated to my sweetheart.)

My oldest daughter, Jenna, recently said to me, “My greatest fear as a child was that you and mom would get divorced. Then, when I was twelve, I decided that you fought so much that maybe it would be better if you did.” Then she added with a smile. “I’m glad you guys figured things out.”

For years my wife Keri and I struggled. Looking back, I’m not exactly sure what initially drew us together, but our personalities didn’t quite match up. And the longer we were married the more extreme the differences seemed. Encountering “fame and fortune” didn’t make our marriage any easier. In fact, it exacerbated our problems. The tension between us got so bad that going out on book tour became a relief, though it seems we always paid for it on re-entry. Our fighting became so constant that it was difficult to even imagine a peaceful relationship. We became perpetually defensive, building emotional fortresses around our hearts. We were on the edge of divorce and more than once we discussed it.

I was on book tour when things came to a head. We had just had another big fight on the phone and Keri had hung up on me. I was alone and lonely, frustrated and angry. I had reached my limit. That’s when I turned to God. Or turned on God. I don’t know if you could call it prayer–maybe shouting at God isn’t prayer, maybe it is–but whatever I was engaged in I’ll never forget it. I was standing in the shower of the Buckhead, Atlanta Ritz-Carlton yelling at God that marriage was wrong and I couldn’t do it anymore. As much as I hated the idea of divorce, the pain of being together was just too much. I was also confused. I couldn’t figure out why marriage with Keri was so hard. Deep down I knew that Keri was a good person. And I was a good person. So why couldn’t we get along? Why had I married someone so different than me? Why wouldn’t she change?

Finally, hoarse and broken, I sat down in the shower and began to cry. In the depths of my despair powerful inspiration came to me. You can’t change her, Rick. You can only change yourself. At that moment I began to pray. If I can’t change her, God, then change me. I prayed late into the night. I prayed the next day on the flight home. I prayed as I walked in the door to a cold wife who barely even acknowledged me. That night, as we lay in our bed, inches from each other yet miles apart, the inspiration came. I knew what I had to do.

 The next morning I rolled over in bed next to Keri and asked, “How can I make your day better?”

Keri looked at me angrily. “What?”

“How can I make your day better?”

“You can’t,” she said. “Why are you asking that?”

“Because I mean it,” I said. “I just want to know what I can do to make your day better.”

She looked at me cynically. “You want to do something? Go clean the kitchen.”

She likely expected me to get mad. Instead I just nodded. “Okay.” I got up and cleaned the kitchen.

The next day I asked the same thing. “What can I do to make your day better?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Clean the garage.”

I took a deep breath. I already had a busy day and I knew she had made the request in spite. I was tempted to blow up at her. Instead I said, “Okay.” I got up and for the next two hours cleaned the garage. Keri wasn’t sure what to think.

The next morning came. “What can I do to make your day better?”

“Nothing!” she said. “You can’t do anything. Please stop saying that.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “But I can’t. I made a commitment to myself. What can I do to make your day better?”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Because I care about you,” I said. “And our marriage.”

The next morning I asked again. And the next. And the next. Then, during the second week, a miracle occurred. As I asked the question Keri’s eyes welled up with tears. Then she broke down crying. When she could speak she said, “Please stop asking me that. You’re not the problem. I am. I’m hard to live with. I don’t know why you stay with me.”

I gently lifted her chin until she was looking in my eyes. “It’s because I love you,” I said. “What can I do to make your day better?”

“I should be asking you that.”

“You should,” I said. “But not now. Right now, I need to be the change. You need to know how much you mean to me.”

She put her head against my chest. “I’m sorry I’ve been so mean.”

“I love you,” I said.

“I love you,” she replied.

“What can I do to make your day better?”

She looked at me sweetly. “Can we maybe just spend some time together?”

I smiled. “I’d like that.”

I continued asking for more than a month. And things did change. The fighting stopped. Then Keri began asking, “What do you need from me? How can I be a better wife?”

The walls between us fell. We began having meaningful discussions on what we wanted from life and how we could make each other happier. No, we didn’t solve all our problems. I can’t even say that we never fought again. But the nature of our fights changed. Not only were they becoming more and more rare, they lacked the energy they’d once had. We’d deprived them of oxygen. We just didn’t have it in us to hurt each other anymore.

Keri and I have now been married for more than thirty years. I not only love my wife, I like her. I like being with her. I crave her. I need her. Many of our differences have become strengths and the others don’t really matter. We’ve learned how to take care of each other and, more importantly, we’ve gained the desire to do so.

Marriage is hard. But so is parenthood and keeping fit and writing books and everything else important and worthwhile in my life. To have a partner in life is a remarkable gift. I’ve also learned that the institution of marriage can help heal us of our most unlovable parts. And we all have unlovable parts.

Through time I’ve learned that our experience was an illustration of a much larger lesson about marriage. The question everyone in a committed relationship should ask their significant other is, “What can I do to make your life better?” That is love. Romance novels (and I’ve written a few) are all about desire and happily-ever-after, but happily-ever-after doesn’t come from desire–at least not the kind portrayed in most pulp romances. Real love is not to desire a person, but to truly desire their happiness–sometimes, even, at the expense of our own happiness. Real love is not to make another person a carbon copy of one’s self. It is to expand our own capabilities of tolerance and caring, to actively seek another’s well being. All else is simply a charade of self-interest.

I’m not saying that what happened to Keri and me will work for everyone. I’m not even claiming that all marriages should be saved. But for me, I am incredibly grateful for the inspiration that came to me that day so long ago. I’m grateful that my family is still intact and that I still have my wife, my best friend, in bed next to me when I wake in the morning. And I’m grateful that even now, decades later, every now and then, one of us will still roll over and say, “What can I do to make your day better.” Being on either side of that question is something worth waking up for.



(This is a wonderful story of how a marriage was saved. However, please note that all opinions of the author are not endorsed by Marriage Possible.)


Photos from StockSnap:

J4C1WJDMMU by Michal Jarmoluk

2S9UCLX4CZ and 9L2LKLMWKZ by Brodie Vissers

Monday, December 11, 2017 0 0

We Take Separate Cars, And It Saves Our Marriage


Re-posted from Rebecca Frech of Backwards in High Heels


Toy Car

I was raised in a military family whose constant mantra was:

To be early is to be on time

To be on time is to be late

To be late is to be grounded

We were never late anywhere. I don’t even remember my parents having to freak out about it very often. We just knew that it wasn’t acceptable to be late, and if you were the cause of the family’s tardiness, then hell-fire would rain down upon your head.

Even as an adult with an unusually large family, if I’m the parent in charge, we’re usually extremely prompt. If my husband is in charge, we’re either skin of our teeth, or slightly late.

My husband was raised in a family completely unlike my own, although he disagrees his relatives tell a different story. His parents don’t have the strongest concept of time. They get there when they get there, and don’t see much need to hurry. They don’t expect anyone to wait for them, and are happy to join in the action or the meal at whatever point they happen to arrive. There are no start times to gatherings, only vague suggestions. We were once 45 minutes late to a family party (we had a new baby and my husband let me nap. I almost hyperventilated in the car because of how late we were) only to be greeted at the door by his aunt who declared, “You’re the first ones here!” Everyone else trickled in over the next two hours, and I sat dumbfounded in the corner. What kind of madness had I married into?

As long as he gets there sort of on time-ish, my husband is happy to go.

It bleeds over into vacations as well. I’m of the notion that we should pack the car the night before, get up early (around 7am), and get to our destination so that our vacation can begin. He believes that the vacation has already begun, so why should he hurry? A few hours don’t matter all that much, so he sleeps until he’s done, has a leisurely breakfast, and then throws things into the car, and leaves sometime around noon-ish.

Once we’re on the road, we swap personalities with him becoming the person who won’t stop for anything and me always ready for a snack or a potty break. He prefers a quiet car with maybe a book on tape, and enjoying the views along the way; while my car is a raucous dance party/movie festival. The only rule I enforce is that the person in the passenger seat must be willing to dance and sing along with the music, or they have to move to the back.

I’m not sure how two such different people have managed to love and live together for twenty years, but one of the big reasons is that we take separate cars almost everywhere. It stopped my resentment at being late and his resentment at being nagged and hen-pecked to hurry up.

It was very freeing to just say “We have very different approaches to life, and that’s okay. Let’s find a way to make the differences work instead of fighting against them.”

This morning, I left for Church while he was still in the shower. The early birds and I were early enough to grab the pew we prefer for Mass (It has a good view of the altar, and easy bathroom access if we need it. We always do.) and to say the entire rosary and those who needed to hit the Confession for absolution. My husband and the stragglers slipped in next to us just as the first notes of the Processional Hymn sounded, unharried and unhurried. He slipped in next to me, intertwined his fingers with mine and said, “You got the good pew. Nice.”

I flashed him a smile, because I know he’s glad I got there early, and also really happy that he didn’t have to.


Toy Car from Pexels under CCO


To read more by Rebecca, visit her blog Backwards in High Heels


Monday, August 15, 2016 0 0

Gifts after Marriage? But why?


From the book “The 5 Love Languages” by Dr. Gary Chapman

All five languages challenge us to give to our spouse, but for some, receiving gifts, visible symbols of love, speaks the loudest. I heard the most graphic illustration of that truth in Chicago, where I met Jim and Janice.

They attended my marriage seminar and agreed to take me to O’Hare Airport after the seminar on Saturday afternoon. We had two or three hours before my flight, and they asked if I would like to stop at a restaurant. I was famished, so I readily agreed. That afternoon, however, I got much more than a free meal.

Jim and Janice both grew up on farms in central Illinois not more than a hundred miles from each other. They moved to Chicago shortly after their wedding. I was hearing their story fifteen years and three children later. Janice began talking almost immediately after we sat down. She said, “Dr. Chapman, the reason we wanted to take you to the airport is so that we could tell you about our miracle.” Something about the word miracle always causes me to brace myself, especially if I don’t know the person who is using it. What bizarre story am I about to hear? I wondered, but I kept my thoughts to myself and gave Janice my undivided attention. I was about to be shocked.

She said, “Dr. Chapman, God used you to perform a miracle in our marriage.” I felt guilty already. A moment ago, I was questioning her use of the term miracle, and now in her mind I was the vehicle of a miracle. Now I was listening even more intently. Janice continued, “Three years ago, we attended your marriage seminar here in Chicago for the first time. I was desperate, ” she said. “I was thinking seriously of leaving Jim and had told him so. Our marriage had been empty for a long time. I had given up. For years, I had complained to Jim that I needed his love, but he never responded. I loved the children, and I knew they loved me, but I felt nothing coming from Jim. In fact, by that time, I hated him. He was a methodical person. He did everything by routine. He was as predictable as a clock, and no one could break into his routine.

“For years, she continued, “I tried to be a good wife. I cooked, I washed, I ironed, I cooked, I washed, I ironed. I did all the things I thought a good wife should do. I had sex with him because I knew that was important to him, but I felt no love coming from him. I felt like he stopped dating me after we got married and simply took me for granted. I felt used and unappreciated.

“When I talked to Jim about my feelings, he’d laugh at me and say we had as good a marriage as anybody else in the community. He didn’t understand why I was so unhappy. He would remind me that the bills were paid, that we had a nice house and a new car, that I was free to work or not work outside the home, and that I should be happy instead of complaining all the time. He didn’t even try to understand my feelings. I felt totally rejected.

“Well, anyway,” she said as she moved her tea and leaned forward, “we came to your seminar three years ago. We had never been to a marriage seminar before. I did not know what to expect and frankly I didn’t expect much. I didn’t think anybody could change Jim. During and after the seminar, Jim didn’t say too much. He seemed to like it. He said that you were funny, but he didn’t talk with me about any of the ideas in the seminar. I didn’t expect him to. As I said, I had already given up by then.

“As you know,” she said, “the seminar ended on Saturday afternoon. Saturday night and Sunday were pretty much as usual, but Monday afternoon, he came home from work and gave me a rose. ‘Where did you get that?’ I asked. ‘I bought it from a street vendor,’ he said. ‘I thought you deserved a rose.’ I started crying. ‘Oh, Jim, that is so sweet of you.’

“In my mind,” she said, “I knew he bought the rose from a Moonie. I had seen the young man selling roses that afternoon, but it didn’t matter. The fact was, he had brought me a rose. On Tuesday, he called me from the office at about one-thirty and asked me what I thought about his buying a pizza and bringing it home for dinner. He said he thought I might enjoy a break from cooking dinner. I told him I thought the idea was wonderful, and so he brought home a pizza and we had a fun time together. The children loved the pizza and thanked their father for bringing it. I actually gave him a hug and told him how much I enjoyed it.

“When he came home on Wednesday, he brought each of the children a box of Cracker Jacks, and he had  a small potted plant for me. He said he knew the rose would die, and he thought I might like something that would be around for a while. I was beginning to think I was hallucinating! I couldn’t believe what Jim was doing or why he was doing it. Thursday night after dinner, he handed me a card with a message about his not always being able to express his love to me but hoping that the card would communicate how much he cared. Again I cried, looked up at him, and could not resist hugging and kissing him. ‘Why don’t we get a baby-sitter on Saturday night and the two of us go out for dinner?’ he suggested. ‘That would be wonderful,’ I said. On Friday afternoon, he stopped by the cookie shop and bought each of us one of our favorite cookies. Again, he kept it as a surprise, telling us only that he had a treat for dessert.

“By Saturday night,” she said, “I was in orbit. I had no idea what had come over Jim, or if it would last, but I was enjoying every minute of it. After our dinner at the restaurant, I said to him, ‘Jim, you have to tell me what’s happening. I don’t understand.'”

She looked at me intently and said, “Dr. Chapman, you have to understand. This man had never given me a flower since the day we got married. He never gave me a card for any occasion. He always said, ‘It’s a waste of money; you look at the card and throw it away.’ We’d been out to dinner one time in five years. He never bought the children anything and expected me to buy only the essentials. H had never brought a pizza home for dinner. He expected me to have dinner ready every night. I mean, this was a radical change in his behavior.”

I turned to Jim and asked, “What did you say to her in the restaurant when she asked you what was going on?”

“I told her that I had listened to your lecture on love languages at the seminar and that I realized that her love language was gifts. I also realized that I had not given her a gift in years, maybe not since we had been married. I remembered that when we were dating I used to bring her flowers and other small gifts but after marriage I figured we couldn’t afford that. I told her that I had decided that I was going to try to get her a gift every day for one week and see if it made any difference to her. I had to admit that I had seen a pretty big difference in her attitude during the week.

“I told her that I realized that what you said was really true and that learning the right love language was the key to helping another person feel loved. I said I was sorry that I had been so dense for all those years and had failed to meet her need for love. I told her that I really loved her and that I appreciated all the things she did for me and the children. I told her that with God’s help, I was going to be a gift giver for the rest of my life.

“She said, ‘But, Jim, you can’t go on buying me gifts every day for the rest of your life. You can’t afford that.’ ‘Well, maybe not every day,’ I said, ‘but at least once a week. That would be fifty-two more gifts per year than what you have received in the past five years.’ I continued, ‘And who said I was going to buy all of them? I might even make some of them, or I’ll take Dr. Chapman’s idea and pick a free flower from the front yard in the spring.'”

Janice interrupted, “Dr. Chapman, I don’t think he has missed a single week in three years. He is like a new man. You wouldn’t believe how happy we have been. Our children call us lovebirds now. My tank is full and overflowing.”

I turned to Jim and asked, “But what about you, Jim? Do you feel loved by Janice?”

“Oh, I’ve always felt loved by her, Dr. Chapman. She is the best housekeeper in the world. She is an excellent cook. She keeps my clothes washed and ironed. She is wonderful about doing things for the children. I know she loves me. ” He smiled and said, “Now, you know what my love language is, don’t you?”

I did, and I also knew why Janice had used the word miracle.

 To know what Jim’s love language was, get The Five Love Languages:


Wednesday, November 18, 2015 2 0

Does Nagging Work…?


From the book “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman


Several years ago, I was sitting in my office with my door open. A lady walking down the hall said, “Have you got a minute?”
“Sure, come in.”.
She sat down and said, “Dr. Chapman, I’ve got a problem. I can’t get my husband to paint our bedroom. I have been after him for nine months. I have tried everything I know, and I can’t get him to paint it.”
My first thought was, Lady, you are at the wrong place. I am not a paint contractor. But I said, “Tell me about it.”
She said, “Well, last Saturday was a good example. You remember how pretty it was? Do you know what my husband did all day long? He washed and waxed the car.”
“So what did you do?”
“I went out there and said, ‘Bob, I don’t understand you. Today would have been a perfect day to paint the bedroom, and here you are washing and waxing the car.'”
“So did he paint the bedroom?” I inquired.
“No. It’s still not painted. I don’t know what to do.”
“Let me ask you a question,” I said. “Are you opposed to clean, waxed cars?”
“No, but I want the bedroom painted.”
“Are you certain that your husband knows that you want the bedroom painted?”
“I know he does, ” she said. “I have been after him for nine months.”
“Let me ask you one more question. Does your husband ever do anything good?”
“Like what?”
“Oh, like taking the garbage out, or getting bugs off the windshield of the car you drive, or putting gas in the car, or paying the electric bill, or hanging up his coat?”
“Yes,” she said, “he does some of those things.”
“Then I have two suggestions. One, don’t ever mention painting the bedroom again.” I repeated, “Don’t ever mention it again.”
“I don’t see how that’s going to help,” she said.
“Look, you just told me that he knows that you want the bedroom painted. You don’t have to tell him anymore. He already knows. The second suggestion I have is that the next time your husband does anything good, give him a verbal compliment. If he takes the garbage out, say, ‘Bob, I want you to know that I really appreciate your taking the garbage out.’ Don’t say, ‘About time you took the garbage out. The flies were going to carry it out for you.’ If you see him paying the electric bill, put your hand on his shoulder and say, ‘Bob, I really appreciate your paying the electric bill. I hear there are husbands who don’t do that, and I want you to know how much I appreciate it.’ Every time he does anything good, give him a verbal compliment.”
“I don’t see how that’s going to get the bedroom painted.”
I said, “You asked for my advice. You have it. It’s free.”
She wasn’t very happy with me when she left.
Three weeks later, however, she came back and said, “It worked!”

She had learned that verbal compliments are far greater motivators than nagging words.


Nagging Spouses by Post Memes is licensed under  CC by 2.o text cropped by me

Saturday, April 25, 2015 0 0