Catie remembers the day she attended an orientation meeting for friends and family of new students. Her husband, Michael, was about to begin law school, and the speakers did not present an optimistic picture. They said 80 percent of relationships during law school fail. “You will feel isolated and alone,” a professor said.
One woman said she did not want to hold her husband back when he was a student, so they got a divorce. Another advised the audience not to expect law students to be home for Christmas or Thanksgiving … or to help around the house, because they’ll be too busy.
“My eyes got bigger and bigger,” Catie says.
When Michael joined his wife, he was energized by his orientation session for new students. Catie was in tears. When she and Michael got into their car after the orientation, she looked at him and gave him an ultimatum: law school or her.
After a heart-to-heart conversation, Michael understood the reason for his wife’s tears. He said he would not attend law school if she really didn’t want him to go.
But then Catie remembered when she and Michael were next-door neighbors as children. At age 10, he told her that he would be an attorney one day. How could she steal his life-long dream, just because she wasn’t comfortable with it?
So Michael went to law school.
When classes began, Michael told Catie not to listen to the naysayers. He reminded her of the promise of lifelong love they made to the Lord and to one another … how they said they’d never give up on their relationship.
But he and Catie had no idea of the strain law school would put on their marriage. Juggling full-time work, classes, and family was more difficult than either of them imagined.
Shutting Michael out
After just a couple of weeks of law school, Catie felt like Michael had deserted his family. He had suddenly gone from spending about five hours at home every night to maybe five hours a week.
He would go to work, then attend class, and then spend most of his free time studying at the library or with friends. She worked each day as well, then returned home to a demanding toddler.
She had to take care of the baby, cook, clean, and do all of the laundry. But what about Michael? He was hardly lifting a finger to help, just like the orientation speaker had warned.
Catie kept remembering the professor’s words: “You will feel isolated and alone … isolated … alone.”
Catie began to wonder if Michael expected her to raise their daughter by herself. She wanted to somehow punish him for deserting her. That’s why she was in bed long before he got home.
Sometimes Michael asked, “Is everything okay?” She answered that she was tired … or upset … or just didn’t want to talk to him about it.
But Catie did complain to God. She told Him she was lonely and didn’t feel loved.
“Don’t focus on how you have been wronged,” she sensed His Spirit telling her. “You’re not doing your marriage any favors.” That’s when she began to realize that she rejected Michael anytime he tried to express affection.
Soon after she discovered the book Two Hearts Praying as One on a shelf at home. She and Michael started going through it together, and read Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s words about the natural tendency in marriage for a couple to become isolated from each other.
“I was thunderstruck,” Catie says, realizing that she and Michael weren’t just having a fight they’d get over. Instead, they were drifting in two separate directions … further and further apart. If she and Michael didn’t resolve their differences soon, their marriage might not make it.
Catie knew she needed help, so she told an older woman that she was unhappy in her marriage, depressed, and felt overwhelmed. “I can’t go on like this,” Catie said. “My husband is never there.”
Her friend seemed to understand the heavy load she was carrying. But then she said something Catie had not expected: “You are angry, hurt, and resentful. You have to let that go.”
Let it go? How could she simply let it go?
Catie said she sometimes felt like God was leading her to break up her marriage. But the woman assured Catie that He was not. She helped Catie understand that she had been trusting feelings more than Scripture. After all, God says in Malachi 2:16, “I hate divorce.”
She was not alone
Then Catie started talking with some close friends about her marriage struggles. A friend who was married to an emergency technician told Catie that her husband was often called out during the night. Another, whose husband is a coach, talked about feeling like a single mom when he was at morning practices, night games, and out-of-town trips.
Once she and her friends had the courage to start talking, they were each relieved to realize, I’m not the only person this is happening to.
And then another wife, whose husband served in the military, asked Catie a pointed question: “Doesn’t Michael come home every night? It’s not like he’s in Afghanistan.”
That got Catie’s attention. “I had been 100 percent dialed in on myself,” she says.
After allowing resentment to build for a couple of months, Catie was ready for change. She recalls a special moment in her marriage when she prayed in her bedroom for help in letting her bitterness go.
As she walked out of the bedroom to confess her self-centeredness and anger to Michael, they met in the hallway. “He looked at me … and I was too choked up to speak,” she says. “So I just held out my arms and he came to me and held me tight.”
He had been mystified by her behavior, but hadn’t known what to do. He apologized for not being more involved at home.
“I felt such a rush of love for him,” she says. “I knew that whatever it took Michael was going to be there for me and we could work things out together.”
Michael and Catie had a talk about the isolation in their marriage. They also discussed some practical ways to survive the next few years.
The result? Michael now spends one-on-one time with their daughter every morning, and Catie stays awake until he comes home at night. They also go on family outings—usually errands that end with lunch together at a fast-food restaurant or a movie at the dollar theater.
Now both Michael and Catie do housework, and they hire a professional housecleaner at least twice a year. Catie has also enlisted the help of a preteen who plays with her daughter while she prepares and freezes meals.
Michael posts his schedule on the refrigerator. And a big calendar hangs in their dining room that has major events like family gatherings, finals week, and spring break. He’s also limited his extracurricular activities. For example, he chose not to join a political club on campus so he can spend more time with his family.
Today Catie realizes how close she came to destroying her marriage. Instead of being focused on just her needs and wants, she now considers what Michael needs and how they can keep their marriage intact.
Catie is grateful that she let go of bitterness when she prayed by her bed long ago. She allowed God to work in her marriage. “It was kind of like a make or break moment,” she says. “ … and we made it.”
Copyright © 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
1. Read “9 Steps to Defeat Isolation in Your Marriage.” Choose one of the nine suggested steps and begin to apply it to your marriage.
2. Read more encouraging stories of changed lives and transformed legacies.
3. Attend The Art of Marriage® video event or Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway.