About the Guest
Evelyn was a widow, having lost her husband, astronaut Rick Husband, in 2003 when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry. Years later, in 2007, Bill lost his wife, Margie, to breast cancer. Today Bill and Evelyn, now married to each other, join Ron Deal, FamilyLife's Director of Blended Family Ministries, to talk about their surprising courtship and remarriage, as well as the adjustments blending families has required of them.
Bill and Evelyn ThompsonBlended families are born out of loss. Bill and Evelyn know this all too well suffering the loss of their beloved first spouses. Bill’s first wife, Margie, succumbed to breast cancer after a valiant 13 year battle. Evelyn suddenly and tragically was widowed when her first husband Rick, the commander of STS-107, perished as the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart minutes before its return to earth. Both strong believers of Jesus Christ, they trusted in the Lord to heal their shattered hearts...more
Ron DealRon L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, and the author and Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series
Bill and Evelyn Thompson join Ron Deal to talk about their surprising courtship and remarriage, as well as the adjustments blending families has required of them.
Bob: When Bill and Evelyn Thompson formed a new blended family, Evelyn found herself torn between her devotion and commitment to her new husband and her maternal instincts toward a 12-year-old son who was not used to having a man around the house.
Evelyn: I really developed an enabling spirit after Rick died. I wanted to protect my children no matter what. So—especially with Matthew—I just felt very protective of him because he was the youngest. I really was worried about Bill hurting his feelings or upsetting the apple cart. It was very challenging for me, but it was an issue of trust. I had to learn to really trust Bill and trust that he had Matthew’s best interests at heart.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, August 15th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. How do you make a family blend when the kids don’t want to blend? We’re going to talk today about that. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, one of the things we talk about, early on, at our Weekend to Remember ®marriage getaways is that every couple is going to experience some kind of adjustment in a marriage relationship.
Dennis: No doubt about it.
Bob: And I remember an interview we did, very early, on FamilyLife Today—I think it was with Dr. Norm Wright, who said, “If you are getting married for the first time, it’s going to be two to five years—the adjustment period.” He said, “If you are getting married for a second time, you can expect it being five to ten years—that adjustment period.” What he was saying is—you are having to undo some patterns in your mind about what marriage is supposed to be like—at least, how it was with your first spouse—and having to rebuild a whole new relationship with the new spouse.
Dennis: No doubt about it. And for a couple, who both lose their spouses to death—
—you can’t even begin to fathom all the issues that are brought into a new marriage situation, especially if there are children involved.
We’ve got Ron Deal, who heads up FamilyLife’s Blended Family Initiative. Ron—welcome back to the broadcast.
Ron: Thank you. It’s always good to be here.
Dennis: He has written a new book called The Remarriage Checkup. It’s really a good book because this is done out of research of more than 50,000 couples—maybe the largest ever for blended families; right?
Ron: That’s right. It’s the largest survey ever. Really, what we do is—we highlight the qualities and attributes of strong, healthy remarriage stepfamily couple relationships.
Dennis: And this week, we are listening to how a new marriage got birthed—a pair of your friends. In fact, we haven’t let you introduce them this week. You go way back with them. Somebody put a copy of your book in their hands, and it was kind of one of those deals: “It’s just in time.”
Ron: Yes. It’s really great to have Bill and Evelyn Thompson with us today. They are friends. I just enjoy them so very, very much. They live in Houston, Texas.
Dennis: And they each have two children from their prior marriages. Evelyn was married to Rick Husband, who was an astronaut and was the commander of the space shuttle, Columbia. Bill, your wife died a little bit short of your 30th anniversary. You two had two children in the process as well.
Bill: That’s right.
Dennis: In the midst of this—one little story that I didn’t quite get the rest of when we talked about this earlier—Bill, your wife had said to you, “I know who you should consider marrying.” And she mentioned Evelyn’s name because Rick had been killed in the accident back in 2003. What did you think when he came to you—Bill did—and after his wife had passed, when he told you that?
Evelyn: We had been dating for a couple of months. In fact, it was when we were in England. We were sitting at a park bench and talking. He remembered this story, and he had not mentioned it to me before. At first, I punched him on the arm. I said: “You are making that up. There’s no way that Margie would have said that,”—not that she wasn’t a great person but that any woman would be that gracious, to not only suggest that their husband remarry, but even name the name. But Bill was very sincere about it. We came to find out that there were other friends of hers that she shared that with. So, I, at first, found it really hard to believe but was very surprised.
Bob: There had to be things that happened during the time you were dating, leading up to the wedding, where you guys just looked at each other and said, “It just seems like God is in this big time.” Sometimes, I think couples can think, “And because He’s in this big time, we won’t have any challenges after we get married.”
Did it surprise you that there were challenges that you began to face after you got married?
Evelyn: I think it was hard to understand, at first, why our marriage would remind people of the loss. The longer we’ve been married, the more that makes sense to me. But we have friends, that Bill and Margie were friends with—that are now my friends—and vice versa. Even within our family, it just—every time, they saw us, it was a reminder of the loss of Rick and/or of Margie.
So, I just didn’t realize that. I just thought everyone would be thrilled to death for us because we had walked through such sorrow and such grief that it should be a unanimous, wonderful feeling. I didn’t understand or realize that it would be different. It became almost a loyalty issue, I think, people had to overcome if they started to really like me and love me: “Is that being disloyal to Margie?”—and vice versa.
If people really developed a relationship with Bill, are they forgetting about their friendship and their love that they had for Rick? So, that was something that we watched people—they had to work through that.
Ron: It’s a little isolating—isn’t it?—because here you are—excited and looking forward to the future—and they are still kind of tied to the past and not able to join you. So, I imagine you found yourself alone.
Bill: I have a good friend of mine—lives over in Baton Rouge. We had lunch one day. It was prior to us getting married, and I talked to Charlie. I’d known him for years in our industry. He also—I remembered—had recently lost his wife. It was kind of a chance to get out there and kind of compare: “Hey, here is where I am at and what’s going on. Charlie, what would you say? Can you give me some advice?”
Charlie just looked at me and said: “You know, Bill, you are a naval guy. I’m going to put this in naval terms to you. Your ship, Margie, has sailed for the last time; and she has left the pier.
“Now, there is a new ship in the harbor, and that ship is the Evelyn ship. You need to realize that you’re being offered a command there to come in and become a husband but also a father and to take charge. Bill, you can sit on that pier, and you can wave goodbye to the one ship, and possibly never take command of that; but there is an opportunity in front of you.” So, I took that to heart—that it was kind of okay to proceed.
Dennis: And when the ship commander took over and you left the harbor, when was the first tip-off that you were in some choppy and, even perhaps, some stormy seas?
Bill: One of the things I remember—and it’s a little bit light—I want to share. We had decided we would get everybody up and go for a walk. We turned, and we all made a right from our house. We were walking down the cul-de-sac to a green belt. When it was time to turn, two or three of us went one direction, and one went to the other. [Laughter]
And we kind of realized that, at that point, the crew—and there was that independence—but it also let us kind of know, “Not everyone is on board quite the same way that you and your wife are, so—
Dennis: A different port—
Ron: Okay, so, there is—to me, there is a very important marital moment there. That’s: “How do you turn to each other and say, ‘Hmm, we’re going to have to deal with this. We’ve got some mutiny going on, a little bit; but we’ve got to stay together as a team’?” Did you have moments where you really just had to pull together and find a way to not lose each other?
Evelyn: Well, it was a very new challenge for me because—unlike Bill’s children, who were already grown and married—mine were still living at home. So, it was a new season for me to show what it looked like—my children had not—you know, Rick and I had a very strong, Christian marriage; but my children had not had that modeled for them in five years.
They didn’t remember or know what it looked like to have the dad as the head of the home; and it had been a really long time. So, it was a huge challenge for me; but I knew what I needed to do. I’m not sure I always did it right, but I knew that I needed to fall under Bill’s rightful position as the head of our household.
I can remember—Laura was just about to graduate from high school when we got married. She was going to graduate the following May, but Matthew was much younger. I can remember Bill disciplining Matthew—talking to him about something—and Matthew coming back with the proverbial, “You are not my dad.” But it was great because Bill was ready for that and was able to share with him, “No, I’m not your dad, but I want to be your wingman,” and was just able to share that whole concept with Matthew about how he wanted to come alongside him and guide him through.
Ron: Wingman—I love it. By the way, Evelyn, what did you do in that moment?
Evelyn: Each moment has been different. They’ve all been challenging to me because I really developed an enabling spirit after Rick died.
I wanted to protect my children no matter what. So, I found it very difficult, at times, when Bill really had to get serious with my kids—especially with Matthew. I just felt very protective of him because he was the youngest. I really was worried about Bill hurting his feelings or upsetting the apple cart. It was very challenging for me. But it was an issue of trust, Ron. I had to learn to really trust Bill and trust that he had Matthew’s best interests at heart.
Bob: Well, and I think this brings up something that we’ve kind of alluded to—but the issue of loyalty is: “Who are we loyal to in this new relationship?” You were loyal to your kids, Evelyn, because they’d been through trauma and you wanted to care for them. You were loyal to the memory of your husband. Now, there is this new person that you’re supposed to be loyal to.
What happens when those loyalties are competing? What happens when your kids are pulling one way, and your new husband is pulling another way, and the ghost of your husband-past is reflecting something else on the whole equation?
Dennis: Ron, this is not abnormal; is it?
Ron: No, it’s not.
Dennis: This is one of the first battlegrounds for a blended family.
Ron: And if you’ve listened to everything we’ve talked about this week, you’ll hear a story of loss, and sadness, and sorrow—and then stepping into the future, and finding each other, and finding new love, and falling in love and thinking that the world is completely just wrapped up in this new marriage, and then discovering that there are, sure enough, people around you—other people on this ship, as you set sail out of the harbor—and they don’t always feel the same way as you do.
And even with the best of intentions—Evelyn, I love the way you said, a minute ago: “I was loyal to Bill. I knew I needed to support him as my husband and the stepfather in the home. Yet, at the same time, I felt torn to protect and take care of my son.”
That guilt / that confusion is a very, very common experience.
And that’s where we go from just a couple to now: “We’re doing family stuff.” And that’s where it gets challenging. I appreciate the way you said that because I think that’s exactly the way it feels for most biological parents. They just feel torn. There are two right choices, and it’s tough to know exactly how to walk that out.
At the end of the day, I think what we have to recommend to people is that they choose to side with the marriage—not against their children—but in favor of their children. They are going to serve their kids through the marriage; but it does mean that, sometimes, you have to face the disappointment of your kids or face them, looking at you, going: “Mom, why aren’t you here protecting me and getting this mean guy off my back?”
You have to endure that moment so that you can get to the final reward that comes when children begin to settle and see: “Well, I guess Mom is with Bill; and there is no dividing here. I guess this is the way it’s going to be.” That’s the first step toward children settling their hearts and beginning to feel safe and comfortable in the new home.
Dennis: Did the ship ever take on water? You’ve been married since 2008. You know, you’ve faced some pretty rugged issues, going forward.
Evelyn: I think our biggest issue in which we were able to highlight again when we took our checkup recently—the test—is that we have communication issues. We have a real challenge in getting down to the core of things that upset us. So, when we’ve hit those places, we both have a tendency to just pull away and regroup and then just try to gloss over it. We haven’t been able to talk through things that we’ve needed to. It’s really helped rereading The Remarriage Checkup book—learning how to communicate in a much more assertive but effective way.
Ron: You know, one of the things we found in our study—that led to this book—is that communication and how you resolve conflict, as a couple—oftentimes, what couples are fighting about in stepfamily relationship is the stepfamily stuff—not so much their couple issues but what’s going on around them—as we’ve been talking about here.
Communication in conflict predicts, with 90 percent accuracy, whether you have a great marriage or a poor one.
Another thing that we found, that was fascinating—and you alluded to it a little while ago, Evelyn—when you talked about: “But I just had to trust Bill. I had to trust his heart towards my kids,”—that that issue of trust versus: “Hmm, I feel like an outsider. I’m not confident that we’re together, as a team.” That feeling predicted, with 93 percent accuracy—all by itself—whether couples had great relationships or poor ones. It’s really, really important that you find a way to be on the same team.
Bob: And the checkup you’re talking about having taken recently is the checkup that is available online to anybody who gets your book—so that a husband and wife can go online and enter their own information and kind of see where the strengths and weakness in their relationship are.
Ron: Yes, and it’s not something to be afraid of. It’s like when I went to the doctor a few years ago and had a blood test and part of a typical physical:
“Hey, everything is great except we noticed your iron count is four times the normal level.” That’s why I was diagnosed with a blood disorder that I didn’t know about—that if we didn’t do anything about—probably would have shortened my life by about 30 years. But I’m going to be fine because we discovered that.
That’s what this assessment does. It just helps you spot things. Then, you can make choices and decisions about how to move forward with those. It’s a proactive of staying on top of life.
Dennis: I want them to comment on what you just said earlier, Ron, about trust. When you guys decided to tie the knot, how tight was the knot?
Bill: Well, the knot was actually tied—as Evelyn put it, “I am with you until I take the last breath.” That reassures any spouse—they’re in there for the long haul. How that came about was through our communication part of going through and doing this checklist, online, and, then, taking the time to discuss it with each other.
If I could use an iceberg—here is my wife telling me: “Bill, there is an iceberg coming toward us. I just have to share it with you.” “Yes, I see it.” Well, after she has told me that five or six times, I realize—
Dennis: You’re laughing here, Evelyn. [Laughter]
Bill: She knows—
Evelyn: I’m not even going to look at him. [Laughter]
Bill: Yes. So, she is trying to get her—
Dennis: How many times did you really tell him?
Evelyn: A whole bunch.
Dennis: A whole bunch.
Bill: A whole bunch over a long period of time. And it was—it was just about getting in touch with my kids on a new level—a new way of making—opening up these communication channels that have kind of—like I said—the iceberg: “You know what, Evelyn? It looks pretty far away right now.” But what we all know about an iceberg is—it’s not what you see at the top or above the water—it’s what rests below that’s going to take you out.
Bill: And that was just her telling me: “I need you to get this relationship with your kids—
—with Corey and with Cassi—we need to bring them back in to where there is a relationship with Evelyn, there is one with Laura, and there is one with Matthew.”
Ron: Wise people do what Evelyn did. They say things like, “I love you, and I trust you until my last breath; and I need to talk to you about this iceberg.” They let their heart intent be very, very clear because, oftentimes, what happens with stepfamily couples is—that they lead with: “I need to talk to you about your son. I need to talk to you about your kids. I need to talk to you about this situation.” All of a sudden, it feels in jeopardy. Now, we are in fear rather than in trust.
Dennis: Well, especially if there is a remarriage that’s occurred out of divorce.
Ron: That’s right. It’s fragile, at that point. So, you’ve got to lead with: “I’m with you until my last breath, and there are some things we need to talk about—some things I need to articulate to you.” That really solidifies the commitment. Everybody needs to hear that over and over again.
Bob: So, the next time Evelyn says, “We should watch the Titanic again,” you’ll know what that means. [Laughter]
Bill: Oh, I certainly—it’s our new code word. [Laughter]
Ron: Can I ask you guys about another skill I’ve noticed in you? I’ve known you guys for a few years now, and I have noticed something and have just observed in every day conversations that has impressed me. But I think it’s rare.
You guys have an uncanny ability to talk about your pasts and your past loves. You talk about Margie. You talk about Rick. You talk about those people in front of one another with fondness / with great memories and neither of you ever seems to be intimidated by the other doing that. You don’t seem to worry that you have to hide those feelings or that longing and that remembrance.
Could you just tell us how it is that you manage that?—because I think a lot of people just can’t go there—they get jealous / they get envious. They are afraid to own that in front of each other.
Bill: Well, I think it is part of our path.
It’s not necessarily, now, what lies ahead, but it certainly is on the ground that we’ve travelled. And that ground for both of us—we travelled very well, and we enjoyed our lives.
There is an interesting story that—I remember taking Evelyn over and introducing her to Margie’s mom and dad—Sterling and Doris—a dear, loving couple that taught me a lot about love in the relationship—one of the things that we said—how we’ve managed that—we talk about our spouses.
I remember Sterling saying, “Well, you know, I think maybe you guys just need to move forward now with your own lives.” It just was pretty incredible that that would be said to us; and yet, we know, from an historical part about—“What are we going to leave for our families?”
Ron: It’s part of your legacy—
Bill: It is part of our legacy.
Ron: —is the story. You can’t deny that Rick and Margie lived, and breathed, and had children, and they were important to you and important to the world.
Bob: But I’m wondering, if in the middle of that, do you ever feel like you are competing with Rick Husband?
Bill: No, I don’t. I don’t know why; but I guess just the lifestyle of—and how I came up—and my parents and the people that impacted me. Evelyn has said, “Wow, you are comfortable in your own skin.”
Bob: Evelyn, do you ever feel like you’re competing with Margie?
Evelyn: I haven’t. I just thought the world of her because I knew her. I served in ministry with her. Bill loves extremely well, and I love extremely well. I think we both feel very secure in that. That foundation has allowed us to function extremely well in the present; but because of our children, it’s extremely important to be able to remember our spouses. It’s a beautiful place to be.
Ron: Listen to that. There is a maturity in these two people. It is just amazing.
Dennis: And I think their story has brought hope to a lot of people—
Dennis: —just listening to someone who has had all hands on deck, and manned your battle stations for a period of time,—
—and yet come through it, and you’re still sailing together in the right direction. I want to thank you for sharing your stories.
And Ron, I want to thank you for caring about blended families. You’re a hero because you’ve stepped into some areas of ministry that, as you know, there is not a lot of leaders stepping into it. I’m grateful to God for you.
Ron: And I’m going to return the favor and say, “Thank you,” to you for bringing that ministry to FamilyLife.
Dennis: You’re welcome.
Bob: Well, of course, we are hoping your tribe will increase because on Thursday night and Friday, October 2nd and 3rd, we’ve got the Blended and Blessed™ event that’s going to be happening in Washington, DC. This is for folks who are either already engaged in ministry to re-marrieds or blended families or for churches or ministries that want to begin some kind of an outreach—some kind of ministry—to help strengthen these couples who are in challenging marital situations.
You can get more information about the Blended and Blessed Summit in Washington, DC, when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link at the top of the page that says, “GO DEEPER.” The information about Blended and Blessed is available there.
There is also information about the resources Ron Deal has available: The Smart Stepfamily book, The Remarriage Checkup, The Smart Stepmom, Smart Stepdad, Dating and the Single Parent—all of the resources designed to help blended families.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. They are all available there when you click the button that says, “GO DEEPER.” It’s at the top of the page.
I should say that the work that Ron is doing on behalf of blended families—that work is underwritten by folks, like you, who believe in all that FamilyLife is about and who have helped provide the funding for this ministry to occur. FamilyLife is donor-dependent. We are listener-supported—that’s another way to say it.
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And we hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. And I hope you can join us back on Monday. Denny Burk is going to be here. We’re going to talk about how we cultivate a healthy, biblical understanding of human sexuality. What is the meaning of sex?—that’s what we’re going to talk about Monday. Hope you can tune in 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 will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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