A high-risk pregnancy and Lyme Disease were burdens Susie Larson and her husband had to carry for each other during different seasons of their marriage.
A high-risk pregnancy and Lyme Disease were burdens Susie Larson and her husband had to carry for each other during different seasons of their marriage.
Susie: How did Corrie Ten Boom make surrounded by evil men and women in the concentration camp? Or Harriet Tubman born into slavery? You know, at some point when you're surrounded by incredible difficulty, you have to His promises as they stand. And so even in the midst when your husband is letting you down, God's Word is still true and supernaturally He can infuse you with more grace because you get more grace, His mercies are at your doorstep every morning.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, February 16th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Will you feel alone in marriage? You are never alone.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. Anyone who has ever been to one of our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences hopefully has walked away understanding one of the big principles that is taught at the conference, and that is that there is a natural drift in every marriage, and the drift is not toward one another, it's away from one another.
Dennis: That's right. It's a drift toward isolation and not toward oneness. And if we don't have a plan to know how to move toward oneness I think every marriage is destined to isolation – some a lot more than others. There's just a lot of life, Bob, that can either bring us together and merge two hearts as one or can result in us being isolated from one another. And we have with us in the studio a guest who knows a great deal about how this drift can occur. Susie Larson joins us. Susie, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Susie: Thank you for having me. I am so blessed to be here.
Dennis: Susie is the author of a book, "Alone in Marriage." She is a freelance writer, a speaker at women's groups around the country, lives with her husband and three sons in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You've been married since 1985, and you started out your marriage with some illnesses that ultimately sapped the life from that marriage so much so you felt your love for your husband growing cold?
Susie: Yes, you know, we've been married 23 years, and I came into our marriage with a very passionate walk of faith and very strong ideas about how to raise a generation of believing children. And little did I know that the way up was down, and so that first seven years was really marked by illness for me – high-risk pregnancies, months in bed followed by a devastating disease – Lyme disease – was bit during my third pregnancy. So that season really was my husband's one-sided season. His season of really not getting very many needs met and really carrying the world on his shoulders.
Dennis: Were you thinking about divorce at that point? I mean, had your love grown that cold?
Susie: My love wasn't cold at that point. I was hanging on by a fingernail. In fact, I'll tell you, as a young girl I was pinned down by some teenage boys, and they each took turns satisfying their curiosities, and what happened in that place opened up a vacuum and a black hole of insecurity for me. And so in my high school years I became an over-achiever, and, you know, I think that's very common for abuse victims as you try to make up for the lost cause that you feel yourself to be.
And so I was really an achiever, and so coming into my marriage, once again, I had new achievements that I wanted to accomplish within marriage, and so getting sick and going to bed. You know, for my middle pregnancy, I was in bed for three months. For my third pregnancy, I was in bed for six months. I wasn't – my love wasn't growing cold, my love was increasing for my husband at that time, because he was a hero. I mean, he was getting none of his needs met, and he was caring for us, and in the middle of that pregnancy, my third pregnancy, I was six months along, and I was really getting pretty depressed, and I talked to my doctor, and I just said, "I'm just desperate to look at the sky and breathe in the fresh air," and he said, you know, "Let's try it. Why don't you get up, and let's test the waters. You haven't contracted for a couple of days."
And so I got up and met some girlfriends from college, and we went down the St. Croix River, we just walked along the riverside, had a glorious day, and by nighttime I was contracting again. Within two weeks of that little day out, my face started to go numb, and my eyes started to switch, I started to experience memory loss, and some very horrifying, scary symptoms.
In my mind I was thinking, "I'm just under a great deal of stress trying to keep this baby in with premature labor issues, and we're going broke, and so I'm just stressed." Well, we delivered our son, our third son, three weeks early, and he was healthy and beautiful, but my health took a turn. And in that little time, my little baby boy had to go into the hospital for a week with double pneumonia. When we got him home, I took a nosedive in my health and at one point they thought it was MS or a brain tumor.
And so when I was at the hospital, and they were telling my husband, "We're looking at MS or a brain tumor." Now, keep in mind, I've been in bed for six months. I was literally looking at the calendar telling my little boys, "Only four and a half more months until Mommy can make you sandwiches again." "Only three and a half more months until Mommy can go to the park with you again." And even if I sat up, I contracted. So it was – this time of being laid out confronted every insecurity.
Dennis: How many years had you been married at that point?
Susie: This was just in our first few years of marriage. We got pregnant on our honeymoon with our first child, and so we were really brand-new – a brand-new couple, and so seeing my husband who waited his whole life to have a bride and, you know, to have to work three jobs so we wouldn't lose our home, and every day was hauling our kids to different babysitters who were hanging on the doorjamb sobbing going, "I want to be with Mommy," and not being able to do that. And really seeing the fatigue in my husband's eyes confronted the deepest places of my insecurity.
So I'll just tell you, the day at the hospital when they said – you know, here I just had delivered, just gotten on my feet, and they said, "It looks like MS or a brain tumor," it was the darkest day of my life. And he drove me home and tucked me into bed, and I grabbed his arm before he left the bedroom, and I said, "You have to divorce me. I want you to leave me now. I'm going to go move in with my parents, and I want you to marry someone who loves Jesus. I can't even bear to see the fatigue on your face, and I don't want our children to remember me this way."
And I was just talking a mile a minute, and I'll never forget – he stopped me, put his finger up to my lips, and he said, "You listen to me. You are my bride, and you always will be, and if I have to kneel down to kiss you because you're in a wheelchair, then that's what I'm going to do. Now stop talking like that."
And he was just in his 20s. And it was like really seeing the face of Christ on my husband, because I was contributing nothing, and I was costing a lot of money, and even in that place he didn't budge about his love for me. And, truly, it helped me understand the unconditional love of Christ, and so that was my husband's one-sided season. I mean, he carried us.
And so when, years later, when we got into the other side of the one-sided season, it took me a long time to even feel mad at him because he was so heroic in those early years. But eventually I found it in my heart to get mad, and I did.
Bob: So this one-sided season that he was in, where he was bearing the load for the family and for the relationship and caring for you, and you're not contributing much, how long did that go on?
Susie: Probably, three, four years. I mean, I was getting up and I was doing things around the house. The worst part probably was for about almost two years – the six months in bed and that next year I was barely functional with the disease. I ended up having Lyme disease, and so – but, you know, still, he had to go back to work, and I was really parenting on my knees, just on the floor with the kids, barely functioning.
Dennis: Susie, when seasons change, you usually can tell there are blooms that come out, there are leaves that drop to the ground. What were the signs that the season had changed and now you were the one who was going to be alone?
Susie: Well, we actually had a little bit of a break where we had a great time finding just a mutual appreciation for all the things that God was restoring. We had $27,000 of medical debt. We were able to pay it off. Some debt was forgiven. We were able to move out of the house and move into a new home, which was like a promised land for me, and so my husband ended up getting cancer as soon as we moved into our new home, and so that was a little – that was that little tough season, but it was our honor – my children and my honor to love and serve him during that time.
But what had happened in the early time is he kind of overdeveloped his work ethic, and it's almost like, as a young man, felt the gravity of three children, a wife, and a house payment that he became a workaholic. So even when things settled down for us, he couldn't slow down. He just was forging ahead at a bull's pace, and it was so difficult for him, for I would say, "You're missing it. We need you here," and he was so kind, but he was just really working a lot of hours and very hard.
Dennis: Was there a moment when you confronted him being gone and devoting his whole heart and life and focus to work? I mean, an incident where you go, "I've lost him. He's a workaholic."
Susie: You know, I would try to confront him on a pretty regular basis, but there was a point where it was a real turning point for us, and I'll tell you, it was when he – on top of his 50 to 60-hour work week he took on the church building campaign. He is a construction manager, and so he was overseeing our church building. So he was working his 50, 60, plus an additional 20 to 25 a week. So he was absent for two straight years – absent.
That's when I found it in my heart to get upset. I was begging him at first, and my desperation turned to anger eventually. And my love was growing cold, it really, really was, but the pockets were empty, things were falling off by the wayside, and I honestly can say that I would look at him and not even really like him anymore. And one morning during my prayer time, the Lord just so clearly spoke to me and said, his priorities are off, yes. He is missing it. But between the two of you, you have committed the greater sin.
And I was just shocked, but it was as clear as day, just sitting with my Bible in my lap, and I'm like, "How?" And the Lord just said, "Your love has grown cold. You promised Me, you promised him that you would love him in sickness and health, good times and bad, and though he's missing it, he is still being very kind." But I was turning off. I was just giving short answers, my love was growing cold.
And so, clearly, I knew I needed to go and apologize and ask forgiveness and make a pledge again that I was going to choose love whether he got me or not. And so I did that, and that was a real turning point that night.
Bob: Let me ask you – your love was growing cold for somebody who, a few years before …
Susie: I know.
Bob: … had looked in your face and said, "If you're in a wheelchair, I'll bend down and kiss you." How did that happen?
Susie: You know, I think we're such transient creatures, and maybe I'm the only one, but, you know, many, many years had passed. We've been married 23 years, and that happened in our first five years. This was in the second decade of our marriage, and it was after conversation after conversation, week after week, month after month, saying, "Please hear me, please hear me," and I felt like I was talking to the side of his face. In fact, I felt like I was looking at a different person.
Even so, I take responsibility for how that subtle shift happened, and so good question.
Dennis: I want to stop you at that point because it would seem that after a woman's heart has been spurned by her husband, at some point you would get his attention. Hey! I'm here! Look at me! Did you ever do that?
Susie: Oh, yes, I did.
Dennis: In tears?
Susie: Yes, in tears.
Dennis: In writing? You're a writer – did you ever write him and let him know?
Susie: No, I was careful about that. When I would send him e-mails they were good e-mails because those things can be tracked. No, I'm kidding, but I would say, "I love you, I am praying for you," but I am very communicative, and so I would be in his face. I would put my hands on his cheeks and say, "You are missing me, you are missing the kids, I am talking to the side of your face." In his mind, he was doing this church project, it was a good thing, and he would deal with us once he got done with the project. But it was stretching out so long that the cup was drained. I don't know.
Bob: Was he saying to you, "This is just going to be a season. Just hang on, I'll get back, but I've got to complete this and then everything will be okay."
Susie: In so many words, but I felt that he was so focused on what he was doing that it was hard for him even to realize what he was missing. He just really did have the world on his shoulders in a different way.
Dennis: Was it an issue of – and I want to say this carefully – was it an issue of relational and emotional incompetence?
Susie: What do you mean?
Dennis: Well, I think some men and, for that matter, some women, may come at life from their own deficit that's so deep, so great, so grave, when a woman gets, as you've described, her husband's face in her hands and looks him in the eye and say, "You're missing me. I'm here." I think there are some men who can be like a deer in the headlights and go …
Bob: … I don't know what to do with that?
Bob: Yeah. I don't know how to process it, I don't know how to respond.
Dennis: Where I've come from in my family, and who I am and in my whole frame of reference, I don't know what you mean. What do you want from me? And he can be blank at that point.
Susie: Right, right.
Dennis: Was that your husband's situation?
Susie: Well, I really, really – again, I honor him out loud for letting us tell the story, and I just need to say this – I love him more than anything. God has restored us completely, but I will say, at that point, watching him over the years. We were married, you know, in our early 20s. He had a hyper-developed sense of responsibility, and so I think it was easier for him to let me down than all the people at church that were counting on him. And so for me – I said, "You're a hero to everybody but me right now."
Dennis: So it was misplaced priorities at that point for him?
Susie: Yes, it was, mm-hm.
Dennis: He knew what to do?
Susie: I think he did know what to do, but he just, I think, had the end in sight, thinking it would be okay. He said, now, looking back, "My greatest regret is just" – you know, he's just got broad shoulders. He's like "My greatest regret is that I didn't keep my eye on that finish line; that I would have even been willing to postpone the grand opening of our church to communicate to you that we're in this together," and he really regrets that looking back now.
Bob: So on that Saturday when you were sitting with your Bible in your lap, and the Lord said, "You've committed the greater sin by allowing your heart to grow cold," you went to him that night.
Bob: What happened?
Susie: He was sitting in the living room looking over some notes from a recent meeting, and I actually sat on the floor to humble myself and get lower, because my pride wanted me to rise up, and, I mean, I'm a feisty girl, what can I say? But I fear God, and I really wanted to obey God. I wanted His blessing in my life, and I really was doing it more out of obedience to God than it was even my consideration for my husband.
Bob: You were not motivated necessarily by how you felt at that point.
Bob: You were doing this …
Susie: Because I love and fear God, that was pure obedience to the Lord.
Bob: Because you knew you were supposed to whether you felt like it or not?
Susie: Well, those words digging into me, and I was very confronted in my soul, and I started to look at the ways my love had grown cold and, yes, it humbled me, and I had to ask God's forgiveness before I ever went to my husband.
But then when you step back into the realm of – you know, you're talking to the side of his face while he's going through the mail. Then the reality sets in – you're going to lay this anger down, which I got a lot done when I was mad. I had more laundry done when I was mad than when I'm happy. So it was going to cost me a lot, because I had no promise of how he would respond. And I will tell you the truth, I did feel like at that stage of marriage, I was married to someone different, because I just couldn't believe it was happening to us; that drift was happening, as you mentioned at the beginning of the program.
So I sat myself on the floor and got lower than him. And I said, "May I talk to you for a minute?" And he put his notes down, and I said, "I was spending time with God this morning, and it became very clear to me," I said, "You know how this last two years have been for me. I've been very clear. It's broken my heart," but I said, "God really spoke to me this morning, and I realize I've committed the greater sin between the two of us because though you've been gone, when you're here, you're kind."
And I just was quiet and short, and I said, "I've allowed my love to grow cold." And I said, "Would you forgive me?" And I said, "I'm going to make the point and the choice to love you whether you get me or not, because I made a promise to you and to God, and I love Him, and I want God's blessing in my life." And so as I was making this pledge, the more I spoke, the more strength was in my words. It was like God was saying, "Yes, yes, this is" – I knew it was the path of righteousness, I knew it.
And so as I spoke that, his jaw, really, just dropped, and it was like scales fell off of his eyes, and his eyes welled up with tears, and he said, "Is this what my choices have been doing to you?" And he came down on the floor, and we just held each other, and I cried, and we prayed and recommitted our marriage to the Lord. And, you know, it wasn't easy. He still had commitments, but I'm not a needy wife. I just need you to communicate with me and say, you know, "Okay. For this week, these are what my meetings look like, but I've got this, I've got you," and so we reinstated some things that are non-negotiables in our marriage.
Every morning we meet together, and we hold hands, and we pray for a good 15, 20 minutes about everything on our hearts. And every Wednesday night when our kids are at youth group, we have a date night, and those are ironclad things for us, and I can't even tell you what that has done to deposit intimacy and trust and assurance back in our marriage.
Now, it's been a number of years since that time happened, and I respect him so much and, to tell you the truth, we've accomplished more in our personal lives and even in our together life, being together, than we ever did by kind of coexisting and running our separate ways. Since we've really held to those things that we've both mutually put in place, what he's done professionally, what I've done in ministry, it's like the fruit that has come off of our vine is so much greater.
You would think we'd look busier, but it's really from a place of oneness that's really quite supernatural to me.
Dennis: The Prophet Amos says "How can two walk together unless they be in agreement."
Susie: Mm-hm, very good.
Dennis: And I think what you're illustrating here is that when a husband and a wife can humble themselves before God first, but then secondly before one another, and, literally, submit to one another and begin to talk about what God has for them. That's a couple who can be dangerous – dangerous for God.
And I know, Bob, there are a number of listeners who are in marriages that have heard this today, and, oh, they would love for the scales to fall off the eyes. They would love for their spouse to finally hear them and stop talking to the side of their face. We are going to continue this conversation, and we're going to talk more about what we can do in marriages where that spouse doesn't get it – hasn't gotten it, and seems like maybe they refuse to get it.
Bob: Yes, because I can imagine folks who are thinking, "If I tried to have that conversation with my husband, I'd be ignored, or I'd be disregarded, or I've tried to do it."
Dennis: Or it would be thrown back in your face.
Bob: And those are the fears that people have, but I think, Susie, one of the things you said was key was this was less about how your husband was going to respond and more about being obedient to what God had called you to.
You know, this past weekend, Dennis, as we kicked off our FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference spring season in cities all across the country, we had a number of ballrooms filled with couples, most of them in a good marriage, but a lot of them were at a place where they were struggling. And over the course of the weekend as they heard from our speakers who opened up and shared from their own lives and shared from the Scriptures about how they had learned to apply God's Word in their own marriage, and then as they did projects together as husband and wife and were able to apply what they had heard in their own relationship, we saw God do some pretty powerful things this weekend at these conferences.
And I mention that because we have conferences this coming weekend and throughout the spring in cities all across the country, and we want to encourage people to attend a Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference when it comes to a city near where you live or make plans to travel out of town and get away for a fun, romantic weekend getaway at one of our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences for couples.
There is more information about the Weekend to Remember on our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. There is also information there about the book that Susie has written that's called "Alone in Marriage," and there is information there about a book that you wrote, Dennis, called "Staying Close," that really takes the principles from the Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference and has put them in book form.
Again, if you are interested in finding out more about the Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference or about the books that we have available to help strengthen marriages, go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, or call us, toll-free, at 1-800-FLTODAY. That's 1-800-358-6329, 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can make arrangements to either answer whatever questions you have or to get the resources you are interested in sent out to you.
You know, we so much appreciate those of you who get in touch with us here at FamilyLife and let us know that you listen to the program, you offer your thoughts about what we can do to make the program better, or you tell us about how God is using FamilyLife Today in your life, and we appreciate those of you who from time to time contact us to make a donation to the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We are listener-supported, and it's those folks who make those donations who made it possible for us to be here today and who will make it possible for us to be here tomorrow.
So we do appreciate your financial support of this ministry. This week, if you are able to help with a donation of any amount, we have a two-CD set we'd like to send you where on one of the CDs, Dennis Rainey talks to men about the importance of stepping up to authentic manhood, and then what mature masculinity looks like. And on the second CD, Barbara Rainey talks about what a wife can do to help her husband step up and grow in his quest for manhood.
The two-CD series on "Stepping up to Manhood" is available as our gift to you when you make a donation this week of any amount to the ministry of FamilyLife Today. If you are donating online, type the word "manhood" in the keycode box on the donation form as you fill out the form, or call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, make your donation over the phone and just ask for a copy of the "Stepping up to Manhood" CDs and, again, they are our gift to you when you do help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount this week. We appreciate hearing from you.
Well, tomorrow Susie Larson will be back with us. We're going to continue to talk about what a wife can do when she feels alone in marriage, and I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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