Chris James pulled his car over to the side in the middle of the bridge. He came to a rolling stop. Can I do it? he wondered. Can I jump?
Consumed by lust, he was cheating on his bride of less than 18 months. He was having an affair with a woman he hardly knew. He was also spending time with people who were dabbling with drugs and alcohol.
As he sat two feet from the railing of the bridge connecting sister cities, haunting thoughts ricocheted back and forth in his head:
Nobody will take you back. Your parents will never accept you again. Look at how you’ve shamed them. Amy’s dad trusted you when he gave her away on your wedding day. How can you face Amy, knowing the poor decisions you’ve made?
Was there any way of escape? He looked at the swirling water below and wished that he could just end it all.
He believed in God but thought, Nothing can save me.
He had every intention of taking his life that night, but he just couldn’t do it.
Chris turned the ignition key and made the painful drive home, knowing that he would have to tell Amy the truth.
A familiar cycle
When Amy and Chris were married, she expected a marriage like the one her parents had. Her mom and dad were best friends. They talked respectfully to each other when they disagreed. Because of her parents’ devotion to one another, she assumed that marriage would be easy. And Chris and she had even gone through premarital counseling with the pastor before they married.
Chris didn’t have any expectations when he married Amy. He just wanted it to last longer than his parents’ marriage did—seven years.
The relationship quickly began to follow a familiar cycle. They would enjoy great communication and intimacy, and then they would have an argument.
“We would give each other the silent treatment,” Chris says, “and it would last for days … and sometimes weeks.” Over and over again Chris replayed words Amy had uttered in anger.
Amy, who was going to college, thought that her young marriage to Chris was typical. Sure, they had some communication problems, but they went to church together and both professed to be Christians.
Soon after his thoughts of suicide on the bridge, Chris returned home one evening and announced he was going to leave. “I told Amy that I didn’t want to have anything to do with her or our marriage,” he says. “I just really wanted to end it. I wanted to be in this other relationship.”
“I was crying and in shock,” Amy says.
Chris moved out and the next time Amy saw him was when they met at the courthouse to file the divorce papers. They discovered a paper was missing, and they didn’t file for divorce that day. And then, instead of continuing with the divorce proceedings, Chris started visiting his wife at the apartment. “We talked a lot,” Amy says, “and he shared more of what he was feeling.”
Chris ended the affair. Amy forgave him. They gave their marriage another try.
Amy and Chris moved to another city to begin a new life together. She was confident that her husband’s infidelity would never happen again.
But the cycle of conflict and silence began again. They argued mainly about finances and sex, and there were a myriad of smaller issues: Where are we going to spend the holidays? … We spent just two days with my mom and dad, how can we spend four days with her parents? … Do we have the money to do this or to buy this? Why not? Why did you spend it all?
Their voices would get louder and louder when they disagreed. They often blamed one another. Amy says that she would walk away from Chris during arguments because she felt targeted. “I always thought, Why isn’t he coming and talking to me. … Why does he have to stonewall me for days and days?”
Despite their disagreements, they did enjoy times of intimacy. A few months after their move, Amy learned that she and Chris were going to have a baby. She was overjoyed and life seemed good to her. Chris, however, had never seen himself as dad material. “I wasn’t as excited as she was,” he says, “because we weren’t planning on being pregnant at that point in our lives.”
The hurtful truth
Chris began repeating old patterns—working late at night, having drinks with co-workers before coming home. “I alienated anything good or godly that was in my life,” he says. He repeatedly lied to avoid telling Amy the hurtful truth: He was seeing another woman again.
Because Chris worked in the world of retail, he often did not return home until 10 p.m. However, when he began arriving at 2 a.m., Amy became suspicious. “I knew in my gut that something wasn’t right,” she says, “but couldn’t make him tell me.”
Amy was about six months pregnant when Chris finally confessed his second affair in two years. It had been going on for about four months. Amy tried not to hyperventilate. She thought, This doesn’t happen to people like me.
He said, again, that he wanted a divorce. He said she should go live with her mom and dad.
The marriage getaway
A month or so after Amy and Chris separated for the second time, Amy’s mother heard a radio advertisement for a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. The ad promised help for struggling marriages, so she offered to send Chris and Amy to it.
At first Chris said he didn’t want to attend. Divorce papers had already been completed. He just wasn’t interested.
Amy had an ultrasound and learned that she would have a little girl. After showing her husband the ultrasound pictures, she again asked if he would attend the marriage getaway. He agreed to give it a try.
At the Weekend to Remember, “the walls came down” for Chris. He had allowed pent-up resentment to form a barrier between himself and his wife. “I didn’t understand a lot of what God’s purpose was for my life,” he says, “and I definitely couldn’t understand what His love meant.” When the speakers discussed the difference that Christ can make, “for the first time I decided to trust Jesus with my life and marriage.”
On the Saturday night of the weekend, Chris called Amy’s parents and apologized for the poor decisions he had made and for what he had put them through. As he talked, Amy thought about how much she did not want to be a single mom. “I wanted our daughter to have her dad,” she says. “And I wanted to be with him.”
Rebuilding a marriage
After the life-changing weekend, the tough work of marriage rebuilding began. Amy had to learn to trust Chris, and that was extremely difficult. “I told him for this [marriage] to really work, I was going to need to see that he wanted to change and that we weren’t going to go through this every year.”
Amy needed reassurance that Chris truly wanted to be married to her. Before the Weekend to Remember he would generally work late whenever asked to. Afterward, that started to change. He showed his wife that spending time with her was a priority.
“That was huge to me,” Amy says.
Amy and Chris joined a church where they both grew spiritually and connected with other believers. As Chris got to know the men in his small group, he realized that many of his struggles (such as pornography and lust) were very common.
When their child was born, Chris and Amy were more committed than ever to make their marriage work. They continued to apply the principles they learned at the Weekend to Remember. Chris realized that he is supposed to come alongside his wife “in the better days and the worse days, like we said in our marriage vows,” and that Amy is his helpmate during both good and bad times.
Describing herself as an emotional person, Amy says the Weekend to Remember was an eye-opener. She realized her need to share feelings without using accusatory statements. “I remember being able to talk with each other more,” she says. At the end of the getaway, the young couple signed a marriage covenant that was witnessed by one of the speakers. Amy felt that Chris was truly committed to rebuilding their marriage for the long haul.
Several months later they renewed their wedding vows with new rings. This time, when Amy pledged her commitment, she had experienced loving her husband for better and for worse. When Chris promised his lifelong faithfulness to his wife, he really meant it.
“God had a bigger purpose”
The Jameses say that marriage is never easy, but with Christ they have hope to persevere through anything. And they are doing all they can to let others know that nothing is impossible for God.
They led The Art of Marriage® video event that was attended by more than 70 couples. Many of them had broken relationships, and the Jameses encouraged them not to give up on their marriages.
Chris has also led a small group of men through FamilyLife’s Stepping Up® video series; it challenges men to live godly, courageous lives. Chris says that the results have been profound. When he looks at his two daughters, he says, “It brings me back to earth sometimes when I think about what could have happened with us not being together as a family.”
Amy says that she and Chris are much closer today than they might have been without their trials. “I love him so much and I am so glad that he decided to stick with me.”
It’s now been many years since Chris wished that he could end it all. When he recalls the sense of utter desperation that he felt so long ago, he doesn’t know why he didn’t follow through with his original plan.
“The only thing that I can say to explain it is that God had a bigger purpose and I’m still here today.”