Kerry and Connie Kuball’s first contact was through a prank phone call in 1981. Connie was a teacher at a Christian school in a small town in Michigan, and a student’s parents wanted to fix up the two. The playful Connie feigned being a radio disc jockey, asking soft-spoken and reserved Kerry to name his favorite station. When he gave the “wrong” answer, she told him what he didn’t win, and the conversation quickly ended. Soon Kerry received another call from the supposed DJ. This time, he played along and the conversation grew more engaging. Over several calls, Connie slowly introduced herself to Kerry. She told him that she was a redhead, had only one leg, and was blind in one eye and couldn’t see out of the other.

At least the part about being a redhead was true.

Kerry eventually convinced Connie to meet him in person. After a long (and long-distance) courtship, and a few stops and starts, the couple became engaged. Because Kerry had been married previously, they had to overcome disapproval from Connie’s father before Connie would agree to marry Kerry. (He eventually did give his approval.) What’s more, a premarital counselor warned them not to marry because they were too different. Despite these obstacles, the couple married in the fall of 1984.

While Kerry and Connie now see their opposite personalities as complementary, their differences almost ended their marriage.

“Our first year of marriage was bliss. We had no problems,” says Connie, who grew up in Vermont. She has lived in a handful of states, quickly making friends and adapting in each place. So when the couple moved to Arizona the year after they wed, Connie fit right in. Kerry, though, had never lived outside Michigan and didn’t handle the changes as well. Their marriage quickly went from one extreme to the other. Disagreements, resentment and fights became the norm. They argued over social activities, money and other issues of daily life.

A wake-up call

“Back then,” explains Kerry, “we could go two weeks without saying a word to each other.” While Kerry was fine with avoiding issues, the silence would grate on Connie, who would lash out in frustration.

Years of dysfunction took their toll. Even though both believed that they would never divorce, Connie eventually broached the subject of separating. “That was a wake-up call for me,” says Kerry. The two tried a myriad of marriage resources. None had the desired effect, though. The materials identified problems, but did not give practical solutions.

“Connie and I are as different from one another as day is from night,” Kerry notes. Counseling from three different counselors spread out over 15 years had little positive effect. “It wasn’t until 2000, while going through a small-group Bible study in FamilyLife’s HomeBuilders Couples Series®, that things started to click. We were able to move closer to a marriage based on God’s principles.”

But taking the initial step was difficult for Kerry. He stubbornly refused to go to the first meeting; it was only after a personal invitation from the facilitators, Ron and Marcy Wheat, that he came to the next one. Once he did, though, the changes were dramatic—and almost immediate. “He began to trust and open up,” remembers Ron. “They were able to get through issues they couldn’t even talk about before, and he began showing a change in his life. Kerry and Connie began working together.” In less than a year, Kerry was speaking in his church to promote HomeBuilders.

Kerry and Connie credit the HomeBuilders “date nights” as having the most influence on their marriage. While the dates provide enjoyable one-to-one time, each has a specific purpose in building up a relationship or improving communication, accomplished through particular tasks and topics of conversation. “Sometimes we’d go to Sonic and have a shake; sometimes we’d sit on the couch,” says Connie. “First you have a word of prayer and ask the Lord to help you to be open, positive and loving, and it really helps.” The couple reads specific Bible passages intended to “set your heart in the right attitude,” Connie explains. “It sets a safe environment.”

Connie recalls pulling out her study guide in the midst of an argument more than once and telling Kerry, “This is what we should have done.” The two would start the conversation over, this time praying and avoiding accusatory you language. She acknowledges that the method may sound “really silly” to some, but it worked. They both agree that they hadn’t known how to communicate with each other, and were instead focused on their own insecurities and pride.

A gift from God

Along with their improved communication skills came enlightenment. Kerry says that a pivotal moment for him was when he realized that Connie was a gift from God to him. “I had been treating her like garbage. I would talk to her like I never would speak to another lady. It just brought tears to my eyes when I started realizing that this lady is precious to me, and I need to treat her that way.”

The Kuballs now spend time investing in others’ marriages as leaders in their church’s marriage ministry. Most of their efforts are behind the scenes, such as working side by side serving platefuls of food at a couples’ banquet. But perhaps their greatest effect is relational. “Connie is such a rare person in extending herself to others,” says Marcy Wheat. “When she is your friend, she is your friend forever. She takes that quality and extends it to other couples and begins to build into their lives and relationships. I know that is the kind of life that is breathed into other marriages through Connie and Kerry.”

The Kuballs’ marriage isn’t perfect, but it’s good. “We still have our little tiffs, but I can’t recall anything going on beyond two or three days anymore,” Kerry says. He says he doesn’t let their disagreements last for longer periods, saying that it’s as if God taps him on the shoulder to get his attention.

Kerry and Connie agree that they’ve learned to appreciate each other’s differences and even see value in them.

Kerry’s job at Palo Verde nuclear plant outside Phoenix, with its 94-mile round trip and frequent 14-hour days, makes him look forward to relaxing in the Avondale, Ariz., home that he and Connie share with their two boys, 18-year-old Kyle and 17-year-old Casey. Hyper-energized schoolteacher Connie loves to be on the go. She starts her days (even weekends) at 5:30 a.m., and a healthy Starbucks attachment helps her maintain her sociable personality every waking moment. But Connie is learning to be content without going out every night, and Kerry gladly takes her country dancing a couple of times a month.

“We knew it was wrong to divorce based on not being able to get along with each other,” Connie says. “Too many people just give up. A sad thing in today’s world is that people just quit instead of finding the tools. There are tools. Because if our marriage can work, anybody’s can.”

Copyright © 2007. Originally appeared in Worldwide Challenge, a bimonthly magazine of Campus Crusade for Christ. Used with permission.