Surviving the Storms of Marriage
About the Guest
It's important to build your marriage on the right foundation. Jill Savage, a wife and mother of five, tells of meeting her husband, Mark, at the age of 19 and falling head over heels. They never would have guessed that seven years and two kids later, they would look at each other with apathy. Jill tells how she and Mark went back to the basics to rebuild the foundation of their marriage.
It’s important to build your marriage on the right foundation.
Surviving the Storms of Marriage
Bob: Jill Savage and her husband Mark were both committed to a marriage that would honor God. One place where that marriage just wasn’t working was in the intimate aspect of their relationship together.
Jill: Both of us had been sexually-active before marriage, with other people, as well as with one another. One place that we were really struggling was in our physical relationship. We began to realize that how much that had hurt us. There was a false sense of intimacy. We didn’t even know what real love looked like. We didn’t understand that part of marriage, and that was baggage that we just had to sort through.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, May 8th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Jill Savage joins us today to talk about what she and Mark discovered as they began unpacking some of the baggage from their past. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’ve heard you talk about Matthew 7 lots of times. Basically, the theme is that the time to determine if the foundation of your life and your family is solid is not when the storm sirens are starting to sound. You want to make sure that your spiritual house is built on the right stuff before the storms are headed your way; right?
Dennis: Yes, Jesus said the storms reveal what your house is built on, whether it is the Rock, and that means you’ve been obedient to what He’s said; or if you’ve built your house on the sand, which is quickly eroded away by the storms of life. That represents that you’ve heard His words but haven’t done them.
We have a guest with us today on FamilyLife Today who has written a book called Real Moms…Real Jesus. There is a story, in the book, that I want Jill Savage to unpack for us and share with our listeners just about the drama that she went through in her marriage with her husband Mark. Jill, welcome back to the broadcast.
Jill: Thank you.
Dennis: Thanks for writing this book. It’s a great book. Jill is the founder and CEO of Hearts at Home®, which encourages and equips moms. She’s an author, mom of five children, married to Mark, who for a number of years was a pastor. How did you meet Mark in the first place? Were you childhood sweethearts?
Jill: No, blind date.
Dennis: How old? How old?
Jill: I was—let me think here—I was 19. No, I was 18. I was 18; he was—
Dennis: He was?
Jill: We got married—
Bob: Now, wait; 22?
Jill: We got married when I was 19 and he was 23.
Bob: So, let me ask you about the foundation in both of your lives at that point. Spiritually, were you guys in a good place?
Jill: We came from completely different spiritual backgrounds, but we both were at the same place. I’d grown up in the church; but for me, it had been religion. As a freshman in college, I was introduced to relationship—and relationship—a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I was new in that personal relationship. I had a foundation of faith because I grew up going to church, but I was brand-new in that.
My husband had been to a Billy Graham Crusade, and he met Christ at a Billy Graham Crusade about a year before we met. So, we really have grown up spiritually together—very much so. We met young, and would I recommend that? Not necessarily. (Laughter) I think that probably contributed to our challenges; yet, at the same time, we’ve grown up a lot together.
Dennis: You’re just describing a couple of young people who fall in love, and they’ve got their own background from a Christian perspective. It’s why we do the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway all over the country—137 cities this year—because couples who meet, and fall in love, are overwhelmed with emotion, and the expectation of perfection think they have the same set of blueprints to build their house on the Rock. But the storms come, the rains, the floods—but it reveals they not only don’t have the blueprints to build their house on the Rock; they’ve built their house on the sand.
What’s happening in a lot of marriages that are “Christian marriages”, taking place in churches today, is they don’t have the right set of blueprints and the right plan; and the storm is revealing the faulty foundation. That occurred in your marriage.
Jill: It did.
Dennis: How soon into the marriage did it happen?
Jill: Seven years. After we had two children, we found ourselves sitting in a counselor’s office. Honestly, we looked at each other and said, “I don’t love you anymore.” We felt no love for one another at all; and it was a very, very dark time in our lives—it’s a very dark time in our marriage.
Honestly, as we began to dig through our junk, our baggage that we had brought into our marriage—that we had created in our marriage—we, honestly, began to realize that we didn’t know how to be married. We didn’t know how to make this love last a lifetime.
At that point in time, I thought that love was a feeling. So, therefore, we had fallen out of love; so, therefore, we were finished. I didn’t understand, what I understand now; and that is that love is actually a decision—it’s a choice—it’s an action that we take. I had to learn to make that decision. Eventually, the feelings began to follow; but it really was a very dark time in our lives, where we had to really go to school.
Bob: Was Mark pastoring at the time?
Jill: Yes, he was.
Bob: So, he’s the pastor of a local church, married to a woman that he’s not sure he loves—who isn’t sure she loves him. Who raised their hand and said, “We need counseling”? There are a lot of folks who need counseling and neither one will admit it; and, “They’re not going to go to counseling. People will find out about it and talk.”
Jill: Well, I remember us walking into the counseling office. I don’t remember which one of us said, “We need to go.” I honestly don’t, but I remember we made the decision to go. We parked on the street and walked into the counseling office, trying to be incognito. “If somebody drove by, would they be able to see us?” I mean, I remember we were ashamed that we needed to get this help. So, I know that was—honestly, Mark feared for his job—
Jill: —he really did.
Dennis: I want to stop you there because I think there are a lot of young couples who are ashamed to admit they’ve got problems. They wait until they’ve got all four wheels off in the ditch—instead of going in and getting help, and going to a counselor, or going to one of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways when they’ve only got one wheel off in the ditch. In your case, you both had four wheels—
Jill: We did.
Dennis: —in opposite ditches; right?
Jill: We were done as far as we were concerned. We were done; but we had small children, and we felt like we needed to at least give this a try.
Dennis: had you thrown out the “D-word”—
Jill: We had. We had. We had talked about that, and that scared me to death. It wasn’t something I wanted. Yet, I also didn’t want to continue living the way that we were living.
Bob: What was the problem? He’s a nice guy. He’s a pastor. What’s wrong?
Jill: You know what? Every couple has problems. Every couple struggles with some of the same things, and we were still dealing with baggage from our growing-up years. My husband grew up in a very dysfunctional home, a home that had a lot of rage. So, he brought rage into our marriage. I grew up in an environment where—we liked to pretend we didn’t have any problems. So, I brought denial into our marriage. We really had to look at the different home environments we’d grown up in; we had to—
In fact, we now call the homes that we grew up in our home internships. That’s where we learned about family, love, sex, marriage—all of those things. Sometimes, when you get into your adult years, you need to do a new internship in some of those areas of life. That’s what we discovered. We needed a new internship in conflict resolution. We needed a new internship in communication because what we brought into our marriage was not serving us well.
We really began to understand that, honestly, we didn’t know how to be married. We decided we would give it a year. We committed to a year, and that year included counseling. We actually went to a FamilyLife marriage conference. It included reading books on marriage. I can tell you, there were times I was far more engaged into that commitment than he was, and there were times he was far more engaged into that commitment than I was.
We slowly but surely began to turn—it’s like turning the Titanic. It was like turning this huge ship, that was headed in the wrong direction, as we began to do new internships and learn new skills so that this relationship could go the distance.
Dennis: Even though you had threatened divorce?
Jill: Even though we said we didn’t love each other anymore. That is part of the reason that we so openly share our story because I think when people get to that point they think, “We’re done. That means we’re finished.”
Bob: Where in the process of all of this did you guys have to confront the fact that a part of the baggage you had brought into your marriage was the decision you’d made to be intimate, prior to marriage?
Jill: We definitely—as we were unpacking with our counselor, we began to realize—both of us had been sexually-active before marriage, with other people, as well as with one another. One place that we were really struggling was in our physical relationship. We began to realize how much that had hurt us.
There were comparison issues from previous relationships. There was a false sense of intimacy. We didn’t even know what real love looked like. We didn’t understand that. We didn’t even understand, really, the concept of making love—that part of marriage. That was baggage that we just had to sort through.
I now explain to my kids when I’m trying to explain to them sexual purity as I—I explain it like a pie. I’ll say, “God has given you this whole pie. He wants you to be able to give this whole pie to your spouse someday; but when your mom and dad came into marriage, we only had a couple pieces left in the pie. We’ve spent a lot of time rebuilding that pie.”
We try to explain to them, “We don’t want that for you. We don’t want you to have to be spinning your wheels, rebuilding something that you could have started with from the beginning.”
Dennis: There was also the issue of a fantasy pie or a false pie—pornography.
Jill: Pornography had been very prevalent in the home that Mark grew up in. The interesting thing about how pornography was affecting our marriage is when we looked at our physical relationship—it was never enough for Mark. It was never frequent enough. It was never good enough. It was never anything enough.
As we began to dig into that, we began to realize that was a direct effect of pornography. Here’s the interesting thing—pornography was not an addiction for him. Pornography was—he’d seen it growing up. In the home he grew up in, Playboy was on the coffee table like Good Housekeeping would be in other homes. He had seen that all, growing up.
Now, when he accepted Christ as his Savior, honestly, he was done with it. It was a done deal. He hadn’t seen it in seven years; yet, it was still affecting our marriage. It was still affecting our relationship. That was eye-opening for both of us to realize how much the thoughts were there, how much the lies were there, how much the images were there, and how much they wouldn’t allow us to be able—that wasn’t allowing us to be able to enjoy what we had.
Dennis: Jill, if this took place in your lives—and this was a couple of decades ago when you guys grew up—think of today and the young people growing up who are being exposed because of the internet and because of—
Jill: It’s so easy.
Dennis: —cell phones. It’s more the exception rather than the rule for a young man and a young lady to escape their childhood experience without being exposed to pornography. You just think of the baggage, and the hurt, and the impact these false images are having on these young people; and they’re trying to make a marriage work. How do they do it?
Bob: Coupled with the fact that the average couple getting married today is, like you were—they’ve been sexually-active. You’ve got the issue of pornography and the issue of pre-marital sex already gumming up this part of—
Bob: —your marriage—
Bob: —relationship. It’s no wonder that couples, a few years in, are going, “This is not what I thought this was going to be.”
Jill: Right. It complicates something that already is hard enough, without all the baggage. You know? That, I mean—I will say that is a lesson that I think Mark and I have learned is—and we do a lot of marriage mentoring ourselves now. We hear it all the time, “Marriage shouldn’t be this hard!” You know what? Welcome to reality.
Marriage is hard. It’s hard work. It is hard work with an incredible blessing at the end; but when we bring that kind of baggage into our relationship, we make, what’s already hard—very, very difficult.
Dennis: You almost made a decision to do something that would have made it even more difficult. You were being tempted—and actually, had an emotional relationship?
Jill: Yes, I was working in the evenings. My husband, at this point in time, was in college full-time. I was doing daycare in my home during the day. I was working in the evenings at a restaurant that was actually a dinner theatre. There was a very small cast. We would wait the tables; then, we would perform the shows. I became very—
Bob: By the way, you were Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof.
Jill: I was!
Bob: I just thought our listeners ought to know that.
Bob: So, you’ve sung, “Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.”
Jill: I have.
Bob: I just thought we ought to get that out here.
Dennis: Little piece of trivia there.
Jill: There you go—a little piece of trivia. Yes, I think that is on my website.
Well, I began to find myself looking more forward to going to work than forward to going home because there was a man that was I working with at work. Honestly, I felt like he was listening to me—he was tuned into me. I began to realize that I was enjoying work much more than I was enjoying home.
I knew—I knew I was headed in a wrong direction. I knew that it wasn’t healthy. I will never forget the night that I went home to my husband. I knew that I had to do what the Bible says to do. That is, when there is sin and darkness, you need to turn on the light. I knew that was exactly what I needed to do.
I went home that one night; and I said, “I need to communicate to you that I’m attracted to this man at work.” I tell you what—I will really give it to my husband. He was safe for me to have that conversation with. He could have blown up—
Bob: Yes, you said—
Jill: —he could have lost it
Bob: —wait. You said rage was a part of his background.
Jill: It was. It was, and I—to this day, I stand amazed. He listened. He didn’t blame me. I said, “I don’t know what to do about this. I’m scared. I don’t like where I’m at. I don’t like where we’re at, but I have to be honest with you.” He said something to the effect of, “I think we better do something about that then.” That was really where we knew we needed help. I mean, that was the point that we said, “We’re not in a good place.”
I made a decision to leave the job. We needed the money, but we needed our relationship to be preserved more than that money. I made a decision to leave that job. It was shortly thereafter we sought out the counseling and decided that we needed to do whatever we could do to get our marriage back on track.
Dennis: You spent the better part of a year relearning, or actually learning for the first time, what a truly biblical marriage looks like. At what point—was it at the end of the year, at the end of two years—at what point, did you feel like you moved out of the quick sand, and the danger, and had your feet back on the Rock, and the right foundation again?
Jill: I had hope by the end of the first year. I had hope, “I think we can make this.” I will say at the end of the first year that we probably still had more bad days than good days; but we had hope, and we had new tools.
Honestly, what would happen is we would fail. I mean we would get—you know, you default to your old patterns—and we would default to our old patterns; but then, we’d catch ourselves. We would either go back and make it right with each other or stop mid-way and go, “Wait a minute, this old pattern. This is old stuff. I’m sorry. Let’s start all over again.” Slowly but surely, we began then to have more good days than bad days.
I can say even since then—I mean, it’s been 18 years since then; but—we’ve even still had some hard seasons since then; you know?
Bob: Yes, so have we; right?
Jill: We’ve had some difficult seasons, where we’ve gone back to counseling on several different occasions. Honestly, you know what? We’ve come to understand that you would go to a doctor if your body is sick and you need to pursue health—physical health. We need to pursue emotional health and relational health.
If you need to go to somebody who will help you do that, that’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength—being able to ask for help—whether that is being proactive and going to a FamilyLife marriage conference or whether it is making a decision because you’re in crisis that you need to go to a professional counselor. That is a sign of strength. It is what needs to happen for relationships to go the distance.
Dennis: I was with a group of men just the other day, and we were talking about the power that sin has in our lives, when it has not been exposed to the light. The courage that it takes to admit you need help—but the hope that floods in when you find out you’re not the only person to have that problem—
Dennis: —and that there are those who are equipped with tools who can help you deal with the issue—no matter how deep, how dark, how wretched you think the problem is, and how hopeless it may appear—
Jill: Yes. There is nothing new under the sun. Other people struggle with the same things you struggle with. They’re just not talking about it.
Dennis: We just heard recently—Bob and I were in a meeting together—there was a listener who called in to tell us that she had decided to end her marriage. She had gotten the divorce papers—I think, was ready to sign them. That next Monday morning, after she had gotten them and she was ready to go—went out to the car, turned on the car. The car’s radio somehow came on to FamilyLife Today. She heard us talking about, “Don’t give up. Stand firm, steadfast. Find a way to build your house on the Rock.”
There is a way for marriage to be successful, and the Weekend to Remember marriage getaways can really make a huge difference in that. She wrote us to tell us that, as a result of hearing that broadcast—going to the conference—receiving hope, help, equipping—then, slowly—not instantly—
Dennis: —that there are not quick fixes to—
Jill: There are not.
Dennis: —something that it took you five, ten, 15, 20, 25 years to get off into and to fix; but the answer is to take a step, come out of the darkness, and find some help and find some hope.
Bob: This is a subject we deal with very directly at our FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. We spend an hour talking about the whole issue of sexual intimacy in marriage as one of the issues that couples often find themselves experiencing challenges in this aspect of their marriage relationship.
If you’ve never been to a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, can I encourage you to take a weekend and invest in your marriage? We still have a couple of dozen of these events happening all around the country this spring. Of course, in the fall, we’ll have about 40 Weekend to Remember marriage getaways, taking place all around the country.
Find out more about where and when a Weekend to Remember is coming to a city near where you live by going online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the link to the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway; or call 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word “TODAY”. Ask for more information about the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
Also, I want to mention that we have copies of Jill Savage’s book, Real Moms…Real Jesus, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. This book focuses in on how a mom can care for her own soul, how she can make her spiritual life a priority in the midst of a busy, consuming assignment—caring for kids and being a wife to her husband. Again, find out more about the book, Real Moms…Real Jesus, when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order from us online if you like; or order by calling 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”. That’s 1-800-358-6329.
Now, let me say a quick word of thanks to those FamilyLife Today listeners who have already gotten in touch with us, here during the month of May. You have heard about the matching-gift fund that was established—that is now is up to $650,000. Many of you have already gotten in touch with us and said, “We want to see our donation doubled.”
We’ve had folks call in and make a $50, $100, $200, or $1,000 donation. Each of those donations is being doubled with money out of the matching-gift fund. We’re excited about that, especially because we are working to finish up the Stepping Up video project.
We’ve been working on taking themes from Dennis Rainey’s book, Stepping Up, and turning it into a video resource that, we believe, is going to have an impact in the lives of hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of men, all across the country and all around the world. As we’re working hard to put those finishing touches on this project, we’re asking you to help us make sure the funding is there so that we can do all that we need to do to get this thing put together.
Can we ask you to go online at FamilyLifeToday.com or to call us, toll-free, at 1-800-FL-TODAY and make a donation either online or by phone? We appreciate your support of this program and of our ministry; and we look forward to hearing from you and want to say, “Thanks,” in advance, for whatever you’re able to do to help support FamilyLife Today.
We want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow. Jill Savage is going to be here again. We’re going to talk about how the Savage family grew—how they added a new member named Kolya. You’ll hear that story tomorrow. I hope you can join us.
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 next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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