They didn't want to separate.
Neither really wanted a divorce.
But they just saw no hope for their marriage.
Years of unresolved struggles, resentment and inattention had finally exploded in angry and hurtful words for Rick and Cheryl Lietz. On the day of their fifth anniversary, instead of a special celebration, Rick packed up and moved back to his home state of Minnesota. Days later, Cheryl moved into an apartment near her parents in Iowa.
Three months after they separated, Cheryl was chatting with long-time friend JoAnna Zeliadt and mentioned that she had asked Rick for a divorce. In stark contrast, JoAnna and her husband Tracy had just returned from a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway near their home in Nashville, and were excited about what it had done for their marriage. Visiting the FamilyLife website, JoAnna noticed that the same conference was coming to Minneapolis two weeks later, so she passed on the information to Cheryl. "It may be too late for you," JoAnna said, "but I wanted to let you know about the conference."
The only reason Cheryl gave it a second thought was because a good friend had encouraged her to consider it. But after reading more about the conference on the website, Cheryl emailed the link to Rick and spoke to him about it on the phone.
"I told him I wasn't going to make any promises, and that I didn't think it would change anything, but that I was willing to go and just explore the options and see what happens," Cheryl says. "Rick had been encouraging me not to close any doors and for us to consider getting back together," she recalls. "He was asking me to give him a chance to make some changes in his life."
Rick was excited when Cheryl told him about the conference, but still had reservations about what good it would accomplish. "I didn't think the marriage was going to work, even though I kept praying that it would," Rick says. "I knew we should be together."
And so, two weeks later, Cheryl and Rick were together for a Weekend to Remember conference. They had no idea what the God of hope was about to do in their marriage..
"My attitude was the problem"
From almost the start of the conference, Cheryl perceived that speakers Ray McKelvy and John and Susan Yates were listing the very problems in her own marriage as they spoke of five threats to marital oneness. "On the first night, we were thinking, 'So this is what's going on in our marriage. This is not the direction we're supposed to be going—we're supposed to be working together.'"
Thinking back to the early years of their marriage, Cheryl recognized that she had been harboring bitterness that Rick's chronic health problems had forced her to do "more than her fair share" in their marriage. She also resented that he was sinking money into a couple of patents he was working on rather than noticing the couple's current financial needs.
"Selfishness in our marriage was huge. I had bought into the world's mindset that we needed to split everything 50/50—if I did this for him, what's he going to do for me? Really, my attitude was the problem."
Rick realized he had never recognized the problems he and Cheryl were having. "I would always brag to my friends and people that I knew that Cheryl and I never argued. It was a shocker to me to hear how unhappy she was in our marriage, and then getting separated after that … "
"His perception was that our marriage was wonderful and perfect. He had no idea that I was unhappy," Cheryl adds.
To say that communication was not a strong suit in their marriage would be an understatement. Cheryl typically would get upset about things, but then keep them inside. Rick would assume that if there was no discussion, there was no problem. So, the Weekend to Remember's focus on communication through husband-wife workbook projects was a real breakthrough for them.
"What a miracle!"
During one project on the second day, couples were to spend time in personal prayer and then individually craft a love letter, which they would read out loud to each other.
"Rick and I really needed to work on sitting down and sharing our hearts," Cheryl says. "We definitely talked about some things that we wouldn't have talked about any other way. Because of this workbook assignment, I felt like I could sit down there and share my heart without being so exposed. I knew I had done things to damage our marriage. I was beginning to realize that I had rejected our marriage, and was not working to keep the marriage together. Realizing all this, I was feeling pretty bad about what I had done.
I needed that reassurance that he was willing to love and accept me even after what I had done. For me, having him look at me and hearing him share his heart really did wonders for helping me move the marriage forward."
The rest of the weekend was building toward a new marriage. By the end of the conference, Cheryl was finally ready to open up to Rick and to the idea that their marriage was worth saving. That Sunday immediately after the conference is indelibly etched in Rick's memory.
"We were sitting outside on the front step of my home," he recalls. "She started crying and said she really did love me and wanted to get back together. We both cried, and it was a wonderful moment for us. We left the conference with much more hope for our marriage. I felt certain at that point that it could work out. I recognized, 'Thank you, Lord! What a miracle!'"
In very little time, Cheryl was on her way back to Des Moines. There, she packed her bags, quit her job and returned back to Rick in their new home in Minnesota.
From the beginning, things were very different. Cheryl had a new attitude toward her husband, and she could see that he had really been working to improve some of his own faults. They frequently pulled out their manuals from the conference and looked for ways to continue improving their marriage.
"After attending the conference, things on both ends just started to click," Cheryl said. "We were just able to put that all together and be where God wanted us to be and have the great marriage he wanted us to have."
"It's very apparent that God guided us through the past and has steered us this way," says Rick confidently. "We praise the Lord for His love, and knowledge, and power, and blessing. I think we have a very good marriage. Now, looking back, it seems hard to believe that the separation was even real."
God had done more than just work on their marriage. He had provided Rick a secure, well-paying job in the Twin Cities suburb of Northfield. Also, before the separation, Rick's view of having children was rather bleak. As they heard the conference speakers talk about "leaving a legacy of destiny," he began to reexamine his views.
"My thoughts before this point had always been 'Why bring a child into this messed up world?' The conference was an eye opener. There is a lot of bad in the world, but there are also a lot of wonderful people in this world and we need to have more God-fearing children to bring into the world.
"Even though I knew that Cheryl would be a great mom and that I would be a great dad, I didn't think we were wanting to have kids. As it turns out, I think through the transformation of our marriage, the job and my general outlook on life, I definitely feel like we have a lot more to offer a child now than before."
In December of 2004, just before their seventh anniversary, Rick and Cheryl had a baby girl. They named her Hope.
Just as a friend told Cheryl about the Weekend to Remember conference, the Lietzes have tried to share the same hope with others. One of Cheryl's friends in Washington, D.C., wasn't dealing with any marital problems, but was pregnant with their first child. Cheryl told her that the conference isn't just for troubled marriages like she and Rick had, but also gives couples God's blueprints for taking their marriage to a higher level.
Now, Rick and Cheryl Lietz are working toward moving their relationship toward a higher level. By the grace of God, that is where they intend for it to remain.
Used with permission. Copyright © 2013 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
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