Al Hardin was perplexed. He knew his wife, Dolores, was a feminist with dreams of becoming a career woman. She had earned her GED, finished business school, and was full of resentment toward men. They had been mutually separated for 30 days, and he figured they would get a divorce.
But now Dolores had approached him with an amazing offer. If they would stay together, she would do anything he wanted—as long as it wasn’t illegal or immoral. She would allow him to be the leader in the home, a position she had fought for all their married lives. In effect, Al thought, she would be his slave.
So what had gotten into Dolores?
Al and Dolores, of Dallas, Texas, started out as high school sweethearts. They met at a party and continued to date until Dolores became pregnant during 10th grade. Dolores wanted to give the baby up for adoption because she thought a child would keep her from fulfilling her dream of going to college, but Al wanted to get married. And Dolores’ father wouldn’t allow the adoption anyway. As soon as she turned 17, the two were married by the justice of the peace.
“We started out like many couples do,” Al says. “We wanted a marriage of equals, a 50/50 partnership. The only problem is that when you don’t agree on anything, you hit right in the middle all the time, and you’re fighting over who has the 51 percent on that particular issue.”
Dolores thought that being a housewife and stay-at-home mom was demeaning. But with a small child and a lack of funds, finishing school and pursuing a career was not an option at the time. Feminism became her anchor. “I bought it hook, line, and sinker, and I was very angry with men as a result,” Dolores says.
On rocky ground
Fourteen years later, Al was the chairman and CEO of a nationwide company, and they had all the money they needed. But their marriage was on rocky ground. Al wanted a divorce, but he was worried it might hurt his reputation. “I just couldn’t go out and get a divorce in 1980,” Al says. “It still had a major stigma. I could have a divorce as long as it wasn’t my fault, but I couldn’t file for it.” So, Al and Dolores separated for 30 days. They would decide then if they should stay married or not.
Dolores learned that Al was spending more and more time with the wife of a friend. This woman appeared to be a better companion for Al and had more influence over him than Dolores did. “She was the kind of woman that was interested in home, children, and families,” Dolores says, “and I wasn’t anything like that.” Her focus had always been on her career and her feminist ideals.
Dolores tried to win her husband back by flirting with other men and showing him that she was still attractive, but it didn’t work. “The point was, he didn’t care,” Dolores says. “If he lost me, he had more to gain down the road.”
Al got an apartment so he would have a place to live after the divorce, but instead of allowing Al to live there during the separation, Dolores insisted on moving there herself out of fear that Al would take his female friend to his new accommodations and develop that relationship even more.
Dolores had just graduated from business school and didn’t have a job. She didn’t know what she was going to do with her life, and her husband was seeking attention from another woman. So when she moved out of her home, she was looking for answers. She remembered a former housekeeper who would listen to a Christian radio station while she worked.
“Nobody else had any answers,” Dolores says. “Cosmopolitan and New Woman and Gloria Steinem didn’t have any answers for me. Every time I did what they said, my head was just pushed down into the mud, and I was suffocating.”
Dolores found the station and listened to a program. She felt as if it was custom-made for her that day, addressing all the issues that she was currently facing. She listened to that station about 20 hours a day. “I didn’t contact my friends because I already had enough fuel and enough anger for an army of women,” Dolores recalls. “My friends became those people on the radio station.”
At some point the gospel was presented over the airways, and Dolores made a decision to receive Christ as her Savior and Lord. “I prayed that the Lord would be my Savior and heal my marriage, but even if He didn’t heal it, I wanted to follow Him because I couldn’t make it any worse. He could only make it better,” Dolores says.
A radical proposal
By the end of the 30 days, Al was ready to get a divorce, but Dolores had something else in mind. She made the offer to move back in with him and make him the master of their home. She would make no more demands and be completely submissive.
Al had been in contact with the divorce attorney, so he knew that since Dolores had voluntarily moved out, under Texas law that was considered abandonment of their child and it guaranteed custody of their son to Al. “If I invited her back, it would be as if she never left, so on one hand I was thinking custody, and on the other hand, I was thinking slave,” Al says. He decided to invite her back with two radical conditions. First, she had to keep her bags packed, and second, she had to agree to leave if she ever disobeyed him. Dolores agreed and moved back into the house.
In the weeks to follow, Al tried to make life miserable for Dolores. He would go on business trips without telling her that he was going. “One of the rules was she couldn’t call me at the office,” Al says, “so she didn’t know if I had run off or died or if I was never coming back. But I would come back Friday afternoon, and she would kiss me on the cheek and say, ‘I hope you had a wonderful day. I missed you this week. I’m glad you’re home safe and sound.'” Anytime Dolores asked for virtually anything, she met with an unfeeling, but firm “No.”
Other rules included asking for permission to talk on the phone, go to the grocery store, or leave the house for any reason. “I just wanted to make her miserable,” Al says, “because if she didn’t do something that I told her, I could throw those bags out on the front porch and she’d leave. But she did everything absolutely perfectly. I remained distant, cold, and unfeeling to Dolores but warm and hospitable to everyone else.”
Dolores realizes that her story is an example of going to the extreme to save her marriage, but she sees it as God’s way of showing her extreme grace through a lesson in humility. “You have to remember, I was the feminist,” Dolores says. “I wanted equal status. I had just struggled, got my GED, got my degree, graduated with honors. I was going to tear up the world. I had a problem with pride. So God had to teach me a lesson, and my husband was the instrument to do it.”
Dolores found her strength by attending a weekly Bible study with her sister, something that Al never denied her. “That was my shot in the arm,” Dolores says. “Every week, I could just… have a love affair with the Lord Jesus.”
‘I was attracted to her again’
By the end of that year, Al had seen a change in Dolores. She was no longer the career-driven, me-focused feminist. “She was better than the woman I had hoped I’d marry. I was attracted to her again, and I was seeing things that I didn’t know could exist.”
He was curious about what caused such a change. Their lifestyle was basically the same, and the only thing new was the fact that Dolores was going to the Bible study. He decided to attend the study with Dolores and sat in the back corner, just to listen. The next week he came and asked to sit in the circle but not to answer any questions. The third time he came, he asked Jesus Christ to be his Lord and Savior. “I realized that it was really not my wife that I was seeing, but it was the reflection of Jesus Christ that I was seeing in her,” Al says. “I first fell in love with that man, that God named Jesus Christ, and then I fell in love again with my wife.”
Al and Dolores were brand new people with a brand new marriage. The anger and resentment in Dolores was gone, and Al had a new purpose in life. But a year and a half later, they realized they needed to learn what a godly relationship between a husband and a wife ought to be.
Dolores heard on the radio about one of FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways in Dallas. “It was a door opener for things I didn’t even dare to crack,” Dolores says. They were able to talk about things and to verbalize feelings that they were never able to discuss before. The one-on-one time during the weekend was particularly important as they talked and cried their way through different issues in their marriage.
“That conference changed our marriage,” Al says. Each of the speakers talked about things that addressed the very issues they were facing at the time. “I was already embarrassed by the way I had treated Dolores, but I didn’t know how to treat her,” Al says. He needed someone to come alongside him and show him how to be a godly husband, and FamilyLife and Dennis Rainey provided the mentoring he needed.
“FamilyLife was an asset on the journey to the tremendous marriage that we have today,” says Dolores. Al learned to be a servant leader, and Dolores learned to guide without being overbearing, and these principles have continued throughout their marriage.
The Hardins have now been married for over 46 years, “not long enough,” according to Al, and they haven’t forgotten the lesson that God brought them through. They have a godly marriage, based on biblical roles, and they are more content in their relationship than ever. “I’m the most blessed man who has ever lived, ever,” says Al.
The Hardins continue to build into their marriage and into the marriages of others, even sending employees from Al’s business to the Weekend to Remember, and they continue to attend for themselves. “I learn something new every time I go,” Al says. The getaways “build into our lives, so we can take what we learn and build into others’ lives the same way.”
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