When the Worst Comes to Your Marriage: Howard and Danielle Taylor
Authors Howard and Danielle Taylor intentionally invested in each other, founded a marriage ministry—and then tragedy dealt a gut-wrenching blow. They reveal how their marriage survived, and how a relationship can pull through the worst of times.
The secret to me in a long marriage for us is not that you’re perfect, but you become professional forgivers. The longest marriage you have, they’ve forgiven more than a short marriage, for sure, right? Everybody needs space for grace. -- Howard Taylor
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Tragedy dealt Howard and Danielle Taylor a gut-wrenching blow. They reveal how their relationship pulled through the worst of times.
When the Worst Comes to Your Marriage: Howard and Danielle Taylor
Howard: The secret to me in a long marriage for us is not that you’re perfect, but you become professional forgivers. The longest marriage you have, they’ve forgiven more than a short marriage, for sure, right? Everybody needs space for grace.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: I was thinking about this last night. I think—I know you are the most grace-giving—
Dave: —I have ever met.
Howard and Danielle: Awww!
Howard: That’s awesome.
Ann: Come on! That’s so nice of you!
Dave: You are so gracious to me and to others. Maybe not other drivers, but I mean—
Howard: That’s hilarious!
Dave: I was thinking about it, as we’re going to talk about The Fundamentals of Marriage. When I was reading it I thought, “I am married to the most loving, tender”—and again, it wasn’t always that way.
Ann: What? I was going to say, that’s miraculous, because I think I was the opposite when we first got married. I feel like I was super—
Dave: Well we’re not going there. We’re talking about—
Ann: —judgmental, but thank you. That means a ton.
Dave: I watch you with strangers, and I watch you with our grandkids. I’m inspired. I just wanted to say that.
[Everyone talking at once.]
Howard: That’s amazing.
Danielle: That’s so sweet.
Ann: You’re so nice.
Dave: You’re hearing Howard and Danielle Taylor, who are in the studio. I was reading your workbook—
Danielle: Thank you for having us.
Dave: —last night, The Fundamentals of Marriage. You talk about a grace-filled marriage and the four factors.
Howard: We can call it the forgiveness factors.
Dave: Yes. It hit me yesterday when I was reading it; I thought, “I just want to start today saying that.”
Ann: This is the best program ever! [Laughter]
Howard: That’s amazing.
Dave: Howard and Danielle, welcome back.
Howard: Thank you for having us.
Danielle: Thank you so much.
Dave: You are the Marriage on Deck. Is it marriageondeck.com?
Howard: Yes, marriageondeck.com.
Dave: Is that where people can find you?
Dave: We talked a little bit about your story, but even that, as you hear about grace and the four factors, you don’t have to get right into those, but how important would you say that is to a marriage? Because even as I listened to you guys yesterday, I thought, “You guys are really graceful people as well.”
Ann: Oh, so much so.
Danielle: Thank you.
Ann: It’s a representation of the gospel as you give grace to each other.
Howard: That’s it.
Ann: I watched it yesterday. It’s really beautiful.
Danielle: Thank you, Jesus. [Laughter]
Howard: I think grace—we talk to older marrieds; we call them “Skyscraper Couples,” marriages that are 50, 40, even 30 years.
Ann: Honey, this is us! We’re a Skyscraper Couple! [Laughter]
Howard: So, you guys are a Skyscraper Couple, right?
Danielle: You have become savvy.
Ann: 43 years.
Howard: Look at you guys!
Danielle: Look at that.
Howard: 40 stories tall. So, when we talk to these couples, everybody always asks, “What’s the secret? What’s the secret?” I remember one lady; she stood out to me because she said, “Well, the secret to me in a long marriage for us is not that you’re perfect, but you become professional forgivers. The longest marriages you have, they’ve forgiven more than a short marriage for sure, right? Everybody needs space for grace.”
What we love about grace is, it’s an intentional thing. It’s like a gift that we give. Sometimes, when we ask for forgiveness and we say we’re sorry, it’s like pain; it has a negative connotation. It’s painful to have to forgive somebody that’s harmed you. So, when Danielle and I began in our marriage, Danielle would say, “Well, I look at you how Christ looks at you now.” Right? I needed my fair share of grace.
“But I see you through the eyes of how Christ sees you,” and I began to return that to her. When we thought about Christ—we are messed up; not just us. [Laughter] Adam, the children of Israel—
Howard: Everybody throughout the Bible really needed a great measure of grace. So, it’s almost appalling that I not be able to return. I’m so thankful that—all of us are so grateful that Christ—paid it all on Calvary. He did it all on Easter Sunday. We were talking about that out there. But then, when we get in the car with our spouse and they do something wrong, we’re not willing to offer them that same Christlike sacrifice, where He takes pleasure in gracing us and covering our sins.
It says, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” These types of things we begin to relish in, because it makes us feel more Christ-centered, more attached to the Savior that we serve, the reason why we call ourselves “Christian.” Those things come in grace. Finally, there’s the Scripture that says everybody can love somebody that’s good to them.
Howard: Everybody can do that. What effort does that take? But what Christ challenges us to do [is] “Love those that despitefully use us,” those who do wrong. I can apply that to a coworker. It’s very difficult to say that my wife is the one that despitefully used me in this season, or “My husband is the one that wronged me.” Christ is challenging us to love them through that season as well, because we all know marriage has peaks and valleys. I don’t care who you are.
Danielle: That’s right.
Dave: Now did you guys ever have—we were joking earlier. There were seasons in our marriage where we weren’t very grace-giving.
Ann: Oh, I was awful.
Danielle: Well, sure.
Dave: You had that?
Danielle: Absolutely; absolutely. When we first got married, our communication was so, so, so, so, so bad. We were tearing each other apart; we were using our words as a weapon, very short and judgmental, unrealistic expectations.
Danielle: All of those things, absolutely. As different things have come along we’ve had—like a failed business, where it’s kind of like—
Howard: You could easily play the blame game.
Danielle: You could easily play the blame game. We lost our child; you could easily play the blame game there. A lot of people have fallen apart because of things like that. Yes, we needed grace so much more, probably more than ever during those times.
Dave: Talk to us about walking through that battle with your child.
Danielle: Oh, it was such a sad situation.
Ann: I was so sad when I read that.
Danielle: When Howard and I got together, we were virgins for four years. We were college graduates, Christian. We just felt like, “We’re doing this thing the right way.”
Ann: “And God’s going to bless us.”
Howard: For sure, yes.
Danielle: “And God’s going to bless us.” We deliberately held off for eight or nine years so we could save up the money and just really bring this child in right. So, we felt like, “Oh, our measure of success and the worth of what we’re doing is going to make us exempt from any type of bad news.”
Howard: For sure.
Danielle: Fast forward: I go into labor early, the baby is delivered, he lives for four days, and we’re like, “This is not supposed to happen.”
Ann: How early was he?
Danielle: 24 weeks.
Howard: Danielle had an incompetent cervix and didn’t know it. So her cervix just thinned out, and unfortunately, we found ourselves in a turbulent situation in the hospital one day with this baby that we had planned for, saved for, prayed for, had vision for; he was coming, and we tried to pray it away, and it wasn’t going away.
Howard: Our baby was coming, and he came, and we tried to pray his life into longevity. That wasn’t going to be the outcome, but that baby—we call him our angel baby—Harper passed away, and really threw us into a spiritual spiral for sure.
Ann: What did that look like?
Danielle: We started going to prayer pretty immediately after. Our church had a chapel that was open for prayer, but we just felt like God had abandoned us, had disappointed us, let us down. It was like, “How could You do that to people that are doing it the right way?”
Danielle: “What kind of God would do that?” That’s what I thought at the time, right? “Lord, I’m just laying it all out, because You need to know—I mean I know You know my thoughts and my heart, but You need to know, I need to say out loud--.”
Danielle: Howard felt like he couldn’t hear from God. He couldn’t talk to God.
Howard: I was working at that time; Danielle was off of work and so, it threw me into a spiral. I would say, for the first time in my life, I didn’t know what to say to God. I didn’t particularly feel like I was hearing from Him anymore. I just was shut. It was a very silent, quiet season. At that time, I remember just feeling like, “God, where are You? What are the answers?”
But God met us. You know, one of the things we did, and I thank God for this, because we had a strong spiritual foundation—and we mentioned this—that strong spiritual foundation allowed Danielle and I to trust each other with prayer, trust each other with our sorrow. We didn’t turn away from each other, because we had prayed during our courtship and dating period. We had prayed through our eight years prior to having that boy.
So, when we didn’t know what to do, we almost by muscle memory leaned on each other and prayer. So, when she was complaining I would say, “Well, babe, the Scripture says,” and when I’m complaining like, “What is going on?” she’s tapping into her Scripture bank. When we’re just sorrowful and crying and sitting there in silence, we were living on this foundation of “But God,” but [we] didn’t know it.
Howard: By knowing that God, sacrificing His Son for us, basically said, “Howard, I know exactly—”
Danielle: “What you’re going through.”
Howard: “What you’re going through. I’ve been touched in the same way that you’ve been touched, and Harper ultimately is My child. Out of sovereignty I protected you, I protected Danielle from things you will not know, but ultimately this testimony will be used to encourage others, and I trusted you guys to—"
You know the Scripture in Job, where he says, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”
“Though you’re slayed, it doesn’t’ mean I don’t have a plan. So I’m sovereign, trust Me.”
And He spoke to Danielle similarly.
Ann: What did that look like for you, Danielle?
Danielle: Well, when I was crying out to God saying, “You don’t know how I feel. What type of God would do this? You say that You love me. How dare You, God?”
Ann: So you’re expressing everything. You’re laying it out.
Danielle: Oh, yes; yes. Leading up to this, I was one of those people that I felt like I couldn’t sense God speaking. I would hear people say it, but it’s like, “That’s never happened. Is it audible? Is it this? Is it that?” I would tell Him. But when I was out praying at the chapel, God said what Howard said, “No, I do know how you feel. I lost My only Son for you.”
Howard: Gave Him.
Danielle: “Gave Him, yes, for you, for your sake. So, I know how you feel.” And He said some other things and reminded me about how busy I was and God trying to get my attention for things. So that day, I felt like was the first day I actually heard God speak to me in my spirit, but then I kept going to chapel. We decided after that we’re not having any kids.
Howard: Yes. We were really—
Danielle: We tried. It did not work out.
Ann: Too painful.
Howard: Yes, we were in pity party mode, like “it’s over.”
Danielle: It was so painful, because even our families were impacted heavily. We were like, “This is too much for everybody. It’s too much for us, for sure. It’s too much for everybody else. We tried; it didn’t work out. Let’s just move on with our wonderful lives without any kids.” So at chapel, maybe two weeks after all this, God led me to Genesis, and He said, “At this time next year you will have a son.” [Laughter] I read it like, “No. No way.”
Danielle: So that was maybe October, and we had a son the next year, October 21st.
Howard: Weston. Weston Harper II.
Danielle: Yes. But God did teach me—
Howard: —the Restorer.
Danielle: —about His sovereignty. He reminded me about “Your works are like filthy rags. Just because you look good on paper does not determine My hand. I am God.”
Danielle: I was like, “Oh. Okay. Got it.”
Ann: I’m always amazed as you’re talking—that foundation. We’ve talked about that a lot in the last two days of being in God’s Word, of praying together, of knowing Who He is and going back to the foundation. Had you not had that—if you guys didn’t go to God, if you didn’t pour out your heart, what would you be like right now?
Howard: I don’t know if we would even be together, to be candidly honest. Grief is something. Grief is jarring in many ways. What we’ve found through coaching couples through grief—God has used our testimony and allowed us to coach couples through grief—is, when you go through grief people want answers.
A lot of the answers are unexplained. Why do bad things happen to good people is what you often find through grief and mourning. What we find is couples turn away from each other for those answers.
Howard: And then couples do not depend—this is, I think, probably the biggest thing with spiritual foundation—they don’t know each other spiritually enough to trust each other with their vulnerabilities. So, if Danielle and I had never prayed with each other, read Scripture to understand—she studies her Word and I study my Word—you don’t have the rapport to pull each other through those types of moments spiritually.
Sometimes we’ve found that couples lean on the pastor and resent their husband, because he doesn’t empathize with the pain the way the pastor is able to, because they don’t have any spiritual connection. “My spiritual connection has always been with my under Shepherd, the pastor.”
Vice versa, they lean on coworkers. “She really gets my pain, and she’s there as a listening voice, and my wife is just closed down and shut off and won’t talk.” So they begin to seek a spiritual connection and external influences that just bring a big crack in the foundation, and it turns into a valley in the foundation, and they don’t know how to find their way back.
So, prior to life happening— because life is going to happen to everybody; it’s going to happen if you live long enough. Prior to that, it is critical that you begin to lay a solid foundation. It’s building your house on rock so that, when it gets windy and when the storms blow and when the rain hits, for that was our storm—and we’ve had plenty of them—you know how to put your raincoat on together. You know how to dig into the trenches. You know how to cover each other even though the wind’s blowing. Why? Because you have a foundation that’s built on rock. And if we had not had that, we would have been on sinking sand for sure. So, from when we started dating at 18 and 19 and started praying, that saved us—
Howard: —for 12 years later when we couldn’t foresee we would lose our son. So it’s critical. It is not passive to think that you cannot pray, read the Word, and build a spiritual intimate connection. It’s critical.
Ann: What about the couple who has never done that, and they’ve been married maybe 20 or 30 years, but they’ve never had that foundation? How do you coach couples? Where do they start, especially if one says, “Hey, let’s do this,” and the other says, “Wait. What?”
Danielle: I think you should start by having that conversation about what levels of comfort you both have with praying, because sometimes people are not comfortable praying out loud. They are not comfortable talking about what the true prayer requests of their heart are. So, I think talking about what they’re comfortable with, and then just starting with no pressure; it’s just light and easy.
It doesn’t have to be significant. You don’t need to use big words. It doesn’t have to be long and perfect. You just take time, take turns, maybe “Pray for me. I’ll pray for you. Is there anything on your mind? Anything bothering you? Do you mind if I pray?” Getting that agreement with each other: “Hey, does this work for you?”
Danielle: And even if the other person says, “I don’t want to be a part of it,” that doesn’t mean the initial spouse can’t pray for them. You can still pray in your quiet time alone, and I think over time that will encourage them. I think God will work on their heart and soften their heart to be part of it.
Howard: And there’s safety in a multitude of counselors, so get a mentorship couple or somebody that you admire, one of the Skyscraper Couples that we talk about.
Ann: Hey, they can tune in and listen to you guys. [Laughter]
Howard: For sure, absolutely.
Ann: And FamilyLife Today
Howard: Bring resources into your life that help. The reason why our book is a workbook is because there’s a lot of practical application things in that book to help you begin to introduce and take baby steps towards building on your communication, whether It’s just life application studies, discussion questions. They help you, because building on any type of relationship, even if it’s physical, starts with baby steps.
It may just be, “Let’s say grace. We don’t ever say grace.” That may grow into, “Well, let’s just read a chapter of the Bible together. Let’s read a Scripture and talk about that. What do you think about that Scripture? I don’t know what in the world they’re talking about. What do you think?” Having these little conversations just builds connections, you know?
It’s like, if you want to introduce your wife to sports or your wife wants to introduce you to sewing, or whatever it is, at first it’s jarring, like “Sports? I don’t ever watch sports.” But it may just take one article or one story or one project to make the person start to empathize with, “Well, I can see why you like that.” Today, I would say, “There’s really no pressure but it really should be baby steps.” Don’t try to swallow the whole Bible and feel like you have to be a pastor or go to seminary. Pick a Scripture and say, “What does John 3:16 even mean to you? We both go to church, but what do you think about that Scripture? Do you even get it?” Talk about it.
Ann: I like that; I like just the honesty before God.
Dave: Is that something you guys do on a daily basis? You have two boys.
Howard: Oh, man.
Dave: You have a busy life. Most couples, even in the church, don’t do this. They may go to church together.
Dave: Actually, the statistics say they go to church together maybe once a month—that’s 1.3 times a month now—is sort of normal for the average Christian couple in America.
Howard: Wow. Sure.
Dave: You guys are talking about something totally different than most couples do. So, the baby step would look like what? Because I know you guys—what? Do you pray every day? You read the Scripture every day? What would you tell a couple is a baby step? Just maybe start praying?
Danielle: Yes, start praying. Or like Howard said, just take one Scripture. Sign up for the Bible app.
Ann: Yes, it’s easy.
Danielle: It’s easy. They’re applicable, like daily reading plans that people could hop on that aren’t super—
Dave: Yes, the Bible app. We were driving here today, and Ann got on me because I’m ten days behind her in the Bible app. [Laughter]
Howard: You can see it. What great accountability! Absolutely.
Dave: She said, “Hey, you should be up with me!” I said, “You’re so fast. I’m ten days behind.” I wanted to talk about Ruth. I read about Ruth and Boaz today. She said, “Oh, that was ten days ago. I don’t want to talk about it.” [Laughter] That was on the way into the studio today.
Ann: I wanted to talk about David hiding from Saul. [Laughter]
Dave: But I mean, that very conversation shows we’re in the Word.
Dave: We’re joking. We will talk about it tonight.
Dave: But that foundation—you call it “the secret stability.”
Howard: The secret stability. You have to be intentional about it.
Howard: Couples are very intentional about many things. Sometimes you find that in marriage you might have to be intentional about a date night. We have jobs, we have careers, we have kids, so every other Friday we’re going on a date, right? You may have to be intentional about finances. “Hey, listen, we’re trying to save X over X amount of time. We’re really going to have to not go to the movies as much,” right? Or whatever it is, there’s intention there.
And spiritual intimacy is the same. It comes from intention, and that intention may be that we’re going to read the book of Ruth. Proverbs, we always say, is a great one for any couple. If you’re listening, read the book of Proverbs. There are 31 chapters, there are typically 31 days in a month; and just go through one chapter. There’s so much conventional wisdom in there, you’ll leave with something to talk about.
Dave: Every day. Yes.
Howard: Every single day. And I would say, spiritually, it’s a “funner” read, so if you’re starting out on a foundation, you don’t want to start out with the book of Revelation, right? You might not want to start out with Deuteronomy. But Proverbs—I would challenge couples to take one Proverb and just read it, and don’t feel like you have to even discuss it or exegete it or any of that stuff. Just talk about it. Talk about it on a Friday night.
Talk about it on a Monday morning on your way to work. You don’t have to talk about it every day, per se. Sometimes that’s intense for people. You eat an elephant one bite at a time. As you get excited about it, all of a sudden, you’ll start to realize that your husband or wife [will say]: “You have a great perspective I didn’t think about on the faith.” Then you talk to your mentors about it, and they may add some perspective on the faith.
Or you hear that message on the Sunday that you go once a month, and the pastor’s talking about the same thing we were reading. It excites you about your spiritual intimate growth, but it starts out as an infant. It’s going to fall; you’re going to crawl; it’s going to spit up sometimes, like anything in life, so don’t place teenage or adult expectations on an infant growth process for spiritual intimacy. And watch it blossom.
Ann: That’s good. I would add, too, to pray. Just be honest with God.
Ann: You can say, “God, we don’t even know what we’re doing.”
Danielle: That’s right.
Ann: “We want to know You. And we’re going to do our best to get to know You.”
Danielle: And He’ll meet you there.
Ann: “Help us.”
Ann: He meets us, just [in] that relationship.
Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Howard and Danielle Taylor on FamilyLife Today. Howard and Danielle have written a book called The Fundamentals of Marriage: Eight Essential Practices of Successful Couples. In that book, each chapter kind of presents a short reading, a personal reflection, some discussion questions, different perspectives whether you’re a husband or a wife, and then case studies highlighting real stories from real couples.
You can pick up a copy of that book at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. Again that number is 800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.” And if you want to communicate with us via snail mail, feel free to drop us something in the mail at FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, Florida 32832. We’d love to hear from you.
I know that some of you have actually already been to a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, but we just wanted to make sure that you’ve heard there is a lot that has changed in the Weekend to Remember. We have a new speaker lineup, an entirely different Guidebook, and so much of the getaway has been changed and intentionally curated for you and your spouse to grow together.
So, right now would be a good time to head back to a Weekend to Remember. Now through September 18th, registration is 50 percent off. You can find a date and location that works for you at WeekendtoRemember.com. Again, that’s WeekendtoRemember.com. Head over there and find a date that works for you and your spouse.
Now, coming up next week, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be joined in the studio by Bryan and Stephanie Carter. They’re going to talk about the challenges of being a pastor’s wife and the importance of the leave and cleave process in the marriage, discussed along with the significance of prayer and facing challenges together. That’s next week. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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