When Encouragement Saved a Marriage

As my wife and I walked in Dairy Queen, we smelled trouble. Not from the food, but from the couple we were meeting to mentor in their marriage. Let’s call them Suzie and Tim. Suzie was scowling at her husband, and Tim was texting on his phone, clearly irritated.

Our fears were soon realized. Three minutes into our time together, Suzie got a phone call from her mom. Her end of the conversation set the stage for what she expected from our time together:

Heavy sigh. “Mom, I am meeting with the marriage mentors. I know you told me to do this but I just don’t see the point. Tim will NEVER change.” Sideways glare at both of us.

“Sure, I will call when we are done. This won’t take long.”

Tim and Suzie were separated. She was staying at her sister’s house. He seemed almost happy she was not at home. Both agreed life was simpler without each other.

This couple didn’t need mentoring, they needed a miracle. My wife and I pushed through our hesitation and finished the meet-and-greet, knowing we were called to minister to married couples in trouble.

At the end of our time, we gave Suzie and Tim some simple homework. Three compliments each day to your spouse. Even if it is, “You take out the trash like a champ.” Anything kind, three times every day for two weeks until we met again. Each time we met with them, we continued this assignment.

I told them encouragement would change their marriage. I believed this statement, but I almost doubted if it would apply here. This couple seemed lost. I am happy to say I was wrong.

A couple months later, Tim and Suzie came to our house for our mentoring session. They didn’t even seem like the same couple. Joking and poking each other, then hugging after their playful war. Sitting close on our couch, holding hands. I asked how they were doing.

“This has been the best time of our marriage!” Suzie exclaimed. “I didn’t believe Tim when he was complimenting me for the first few weeks. I told myself he was just doing his homework. I asked him one day if he meant what he said. He told me…

Tim interrupted with a broad smile. He wanted to tell this part of the story.

“I love you. I want our marriage to last. If three compliments a day will make a difference, I’ll do it. Whatever it takes. You’re the most important thing in my life.”

As a tear rolled down her face, Suzie confided in us that she never believed she was important to Tim. She always felt like the extra baggage in his life, but no more. Now she knew she was loved.

Tim gave us a similar story. He felt like he never measured up to Suzie’s expectations. He assumed he was a failure of a husband, and she never said otherwise. Through her encouraging words, she showered him with acceptance and love. He knew he not only measured up, but made her proud.

Things were still hard for Suzie and Tim. Years of bad habits had to change. They had to relearn to trust one another. Wounds needed to heal. This took time. They stumbled along the way.

But a new foundation had been laid. One of encouragement. Tim and Suzie are still together. Working through the tough times that come in every marriage. Loving each other. Believing the best of each other. Working through the tough times that come in every marriage. All because of encouragement.

My friend James Prescott has written a new book on this topic you need to read, 5 Steps to Encouragement: A Manifesto for Changing the World.

5 Steps to Encouragement

5 Steps to Encouragement

Here are a few snapshots of his powerful message:

  • We were made to encourage. Every single one of us.
  • Encouragement is truth presented to others in the exact way it needs to be heard, at the precise moment a person needs to hear it.
  • You are an amazing work of art. You were designed and created by the divine, to fulfill a unique role in the world.

There is much more where this came from. Click here to get your free copy of James’ book. You won’t regret it.

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10 thoughts on “When Encouragement Saved a Marriage

  1. Mel Ann Morales

    I love your article. I’m glad there are stories like this out there. This homework didn’t work for me… Was given to us by marriage counselor. It wasn’t what was missing in our marriage. (I think I’ve spent too long hearing words that never came from the heart with no follow through ever intended; there was no way I’d accept it coming from someone who was assigned to do it. well what am I saying he never did the homework so it didn’t matter) of course when the only encouragement I could find is that his clothes matched the furniture or that he held down the sofa like a champ or had amazing skills at shutting other people out, I’m sure that didn’t help either. I’ve come away from that marriage better…. And sometimes divorce is the better solution because no one knows what all is going on behind closed doors. I held on over five years and dropped tons of cash (ever price an intensive?) to save the marriage because we were surrounded by Christian friends and family who insisted it was the “better” way. My kids were harmed severely as a result and its taken a lot to come back from that experience. Somehow I challenge that “better way” theory. Life is truly better and stronger without him. Certainly has challenges… But life always does single or married they are just different. Ironically the four thousand dollar intensive was the best money I’ve ever spent. I learned a lot about myself and my position was actually affirmed for my first time ever by a Christian who also happened to be the professional who actually designed the marriage intensive format! I also learned a lot of interpersonal skills and triggers that really have helped me become effective in other relationships with family, friends, and deal with life with a lot less stress.

    I read articles like this and I think that’s really great that there are success stories like this. Not to detract from that but I also want to remind people they don’t always know with which they are meddling or trying to influence and what kind of “sentence” you are handing down to someone to stay with it. I for one wish I had stood my ground with such people and saved me and my kids five years of damage in the process. I don’t spend time in regret but will speak up to remind people there’s another side they don’t see!

    Reply
  2. sometimeshope Post author

    Mel Ann,
    Every marriage is different. Both people have to care enough about the relationship for it to work. Honestly, lack of follow-through with this kind of task just produces more pain. We ask every couple we mentor to make a decision on the front end. It goes something like this: “Are you willing to do whatever it takes to save this marriage? You WILL have to change for this to work.”

    If we get anything other than a legitimate YES from both couples, we say we cannot help them. We even had one couple who committed to change, but neither did anything different. I am sad to say we were never really able to help them. In the example from my post above, the couple had disengaged from each other. They lived separate lives, convinced their marriage was over…without even trying. Once they realized there was love in their relationship, but it just took work, they both put in the effort and saved their marriage. It was this consistent practice of encouragement that started the hard road back to health.

    I so understand what you mean about divorce being a better option sometimes. My parents divorced after 17 years of alcoholic addiction and abuse from my father. Meanwhile, we all acted like things were hunky dory to the outside world, while behind closed doors it was HELL. Both of my parents are happier now than when they were married. I know this isn’t the “happy Christian answer,” but this world is busted and we have to make tough decisions sometimes. Especially when everyone involved won’t commit to make the changes needed to bring a relationship to health.

    The truth is that God is the only one who can heal any of us, married or single. Marriage mentoring, intensives, counseling and well-intentioned friends are methods or tools to point us back to Jesus. If everyone involved won’t look toward Him as their guide, trouble is probably coming.

    I am so sad you and your kids had to go through such pain. I am glad you found a better way to move forward now. Praying for you as you continue to outgrow your pain and this experience. As an aside, that’s not a trite comment. I pray for just about everyone who checks in to my blog.

    Reply
    1. sometimeshope Post author

      So I am. My wife and I are so honored to know we played a part in the redemption of their marriage. Every time I see them, holding hands and smiling, it brings a warmth to my heart. They have truly learned to turn the page and love each other, despite the imperfections remaining in both of them

      Reply
  3. Joy Lenton

    This beautiful story of the redemptive power of words (the right ones spoken sincerely in due season) is heartening. It is also a salutary lesson for all of us to ensure we keep the lines of communication open in our relationships, remain open and honest with one another, and never forget the power of genuine praise and encouragement to build each other up in word and deed. Thanks for sharing, Chris. So pleased to hear how this couple’s marriage was saved, even though such happy endings are no means to be considered the norm or even the best result. As a child of warring, divorced parents myself, I appreciate how it can pave the way of release into a better future at times.

    Reply
    1. sometimeshope Post author

      Joy, I think it is the pain and sorrow both my wife and I experienced in unhappy homes that drive us to be involved in strengthening marriages. To be fair, we do not engage with couple when any drug addiction or physical abuse is involved. We just don’t have the training to do it. Nevertheless, it is so wonderful to see changes in a relationship.

      You were dead on with something you said above — the right words spoken sincerely in due season. Sincerity is the biggest barrier in our speech, especially in a marriage where there has been pain and wounding. There are times where this is legitimately too hard, because there are years of pain and cruelty. Perhaps this is naive of me, but I do believe that many marriages not involving abuse or drug use are salvageable, if both husband and wife are willing to make changes.

      Reply
  4. katinavaselopulos

    Chris this is a beautiful story and you should be very proud you were able to change a bad situation with encouragement. I am sure you will try it again, and again it will work.

    We encourage hoping to change people and situations, but like Mel Ann said some times it does not work, especially in Marriage. I know from personal experience. For 21 years my daughter gave and gave to her husband and marriage and did not get anything back other than suffering and pain. Soon she is giving up and leaving the marriage, to have a life of peace.

    Don’t ever give up doing what you do…Maybe my daughter’s marriage would have a chance if she had you involved from the beginning.

    God bless you

    Reply
    1. sometimeshope Post author

      Katina, my heart breaks every time I hear of someone who endured for any length of time in a loveless marriage. It almost brings tears to my eyes, because I know from my parents how debilitating this situation is. The fear, the pain, the loneliness, the sorrow — it can overwhelm a soul and make you feel powerless to change anything. The bravest thing my mom ever did was get in our car on June 30 so many years ago and drive from Ohio to California to start a new life with me. I remember June 30, because she promised me we would leave before July 1. Even now, some 20+ year later, I feel the emotions of that day, when we drove into freedom.

      At the same time, I do believe God LOVES marriage. He is in the business of redeeming people, relationships, and communities. If we join Him in this journey of change, we will find hope and joy on the other side.

      Reply
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