Based on their book No More Perfect Marriages, Mark and Jill Savage openly discuss the marital struggles they've had, sharing valuable lessons for other couples who want to avoid the same mistakes. (Part 1 of 2)
Mr. Mark Savage: I had created an environment for Jill to not be happy.
Jim Daly: So, you owned it.
Mark: I owned it andin looking back, there [are] different seasons that have been opened up by conflict. And so often, when those conflicts happen, we will pull back or reject the opportunity and I just saw more opportunity to keep becoming the man I needed to become that, that was priority.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: A remarkable confession by Mark Savage about his marriage and how to work through some of the inevitable challenges that come up between a husband and wife. And how about you? Can you acknowledge the flaws in your relationship and mistakes you've made and then work toward resolving those issues with your spouse? We're going to hear more about that from Mark and his wife, Jill Savage on today's "Focus on the Family." Thanks for joining us. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim: John, I don't know about you and Dena, but Jean and I are pretty much a perfect couple. I mean, we're just perfect.
John: I've observed that. It all works so well.
Jim: No conflict, no mistakes and nothin' goes wrong in our marriage. I don't know about you.
John: Oh, pretty much the same. (Laughter) It's just been 32 years of bliss!
Jim: Now can I just say obviously that's not true and the fact is, most married couples—now I know some of you listening, 'cause I've met you when I travel and speak or meet the folks who support us in different cities around the country—you will say to me, "You know, my husband and I, we don't really argue." That's a good thing. You probably have arrived at a wonderful place, but there are more couples that do have disagreements and maybe some real serious ones.
We are gonna talk about not just that, but so much more in marriage communication, what happens when it breaks down, what's normal for most marriages. The problem usually comes when you get tired of those disagreements, the little nagging. Maybe you get a little bitter. You begin to feel disconnected and maybe discontented.
And you begin to develop that bitterness and it just gets you and that strength, that bond in marriage becomes weaker. We want to strengthen your marriage and we have a great program planned for you.
John: Well, we do. You might be in a situation that, there are some minor irritations but things are [going] pretty well. Or you might have more serious disagreements. I think you'll really appreciate the insights that Mark and Jill Savage have for us today. They write and speak a lot about marriage and family and Jill is the founder and former CEO of Hearts at Home, which is a ministry for moms. And she's been a guest on this program, Jim, lots of times. Mark was a pastor for 20 years and he has a business of home repair and remodeling. I'll get his number so he can come over later.
Jim: Get a cable show? (Laughter)
John: And the Savages have five young adult children and three grandkids.
Jim: Hey, welcome Mark and Jill back to "Focus on the Family."
Mrs. Jill Savage: Thank you.
Mark: Yeah, thank you.
Jim: Now I just want to throw out there, for Jean and [me], we would have a perfect marriage if it wasn't for me, 'cause Jean's perfect. (Laughter)
Jill: Well, you just keep on believing that.
Jim: Okay. (Laughter) Points. (Laughter)
John: Make sure she hears that. (Laughter)
Jim: That was just brutally, you know, right out there, right?
John: It's kind of patently false, I think.
Jim: No, of course not. What motivated you to write this book though? Why did you decide? You sat down and you said, okay, let's do a book on imperfect marriage.
Jill: Well, you know, actually this is the third of a series. The first book I wrote was No More Perfect Moms. And that looks at what I call the "perfection infection," which is when we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves and we unfairly compare ourselves to others. And moms do this, particularly because of social media because we are constantly seeing other moms and comparing ourselves to them.
The second book was No More Perfect Kids, which is what happens when the "perfection infection" invades our parenting and we have unrealistic expectations of our kids and unfairly compare them to others.
Well, then honestly from day one, when No More Perfect Moms came out, the questions that I got most often through Facebook and e-mail, when is No More Perfect Marriages coming out? And what people didn't know at that point in time is, that our marriage was in a huge healing season from a pretty big crisis that we had gone through. And I had shared openly about that in No More Perfect Moms, but not to the extent that we share about in No More Perfect Marriages.
Jim: Well, and before we get to that part of the story, which may be next time, I want to talk about your family or origin, who you were as people. Mark, let's start with you. What kind of family did you grow up in and how much impact did that have on you as an adult? We tend not to connect those dots the way we should.
Jim: We should be students of our family of origin, 'cause it would help us so much [to] understand who we are.
Jim: I mean, how many times do you say, "Oh, I'm acting just like my dad?" Or worse and I've said this, "You're actin' just like your mom." (Laughter) Let me just say to the husbands, don't say that!
John: Yes. (Laughter) Bad idea.
Jim: That was not a good moment for me.
Mark: Yeah, that's right up there at the top. (Laughing)
Jim: A silent observation (Laughter), but Mark, what did you see going on and relate that to your childhood. So, what kind of childhood did you have?
Mark: My parents divorced when I was 2 and I didn't see my real father much at all until I was an adult. And then, I found myself parenting him more than he was a father to me. And my stepdad, he grew up in a very controlling, physically unhealthy environment and that passed onto him. And so, there was a lot of violence and just abuse and a lot of just a mess.
Jim: When the awakening of that, were you 13, 14, 15 when you were going, "What is goin' on?" You know, in a more adult-like fashion, to where you understood this is not healthy?
Mark: Yes, I think it nagged at me that it wasn't right, but it wasn't until I was married to Jill and we actually stayed at my parents' home and there was a lot of arguing and some violence there that night, that I realized from Jill's fear, that this isn't right.
And I began shortly thereafter just a journey of trying to figure out what is right? And I think I have struggled with that my whole life of the issues from my family of origin and the huge gap of not having a[n] engaged healthy father in my life.
Jim: And so, to get this seated in our minds, you're in an abusive environment. It's chaos. It's arguments every day.
Jim: Nobody could resolve conflict. It was just, you know, it was just always boiling water.
Jim: Is that a fair description?
Mark: I would say so, yes.
Jim: All right and Jill, you're kind of coming from what kind of background?
Jill: I came from really the opposite of that. (Laughter)
Jim: What does that look like though?
Jim: The perfect home? (Laughter)
Jill: Well, you know, as much as there was, you know, in conflict, there was violence in his home, in my home, I think we'd like to believe there wasn't conflict. We just, you know, kind of, if things were hard, we'd sweep it under the carpet and move on, but at the same time, it was a very loving environment. My parents, still married, been married over 56 years.
Jim: Way to go, mom and dad.
Jill: Yes, absolutely and they supported me in everything I did. I mean, they were on the front row and you know, believed in all of my sisters and I, that we could do anything that we set out mind to.
Jim: Let me ask you about that environment and I understand it. I mean, I think a lot of Christian homes are exactly that, where you know, conflict's gonna happen because we're imperfect. We'll just sweep it under the rug. Let's be joyful. Let's be happy. Let's praise the Lord and there's good wisdom in that.
Jim: But there is this underlying weakness, too, where we don't really get to the issues.
Jill: Right and one of the things Mark and I have come to understand is, the home you grew up in, we call it "your home internship." It's where you interned in conflict resolution. It's where you interned in communication. It's where you interned in your perspectives about sex, I mean, all of those things.
Jim: That can be pretty scary. Some people are going, "Uh-oh." (Laughter)
Jill: So, one of the things we've realized is, okay, go back. Look at that home internship and then determine where you need to do a new internship? And so, we both realized as we looked at, like conflict resolution. Okay, we were at opposite ends of the spectrum. Okay, but what's healthy at somewhere in the middle?
Jim: Now where were you in that discussion? Were you married or dating or engaged?
Jill: Oh, no, married by that time.
Jim: So you're already married and how did that love story start? How did you guys find each other? How did you fall in love?
Mark: Well, it began with Jill and I had two friends that had, over quite a period of time, pushed us to meet, to do the whole blind date thing. And neither Jill [nor] I wanted to do that.
Jim: How old were you at this point, roughly?
Mark: I was 21. Jill was--
Mark: I pursued a younger woman.
Jill: Oh, I guess I was 18 at the time.
Jim: Okay, let's stop there. (Laughter) Hold at 18. (Laughter)
Jill: I was 19 when we got married. (Laughter)
Jim: So, okay, you meet; you fall in love. You're gonna get married. Are you seeing that you're opposites? Are you thinking, we're so alike?
Jim: I mean, what was your 20-20 vision at that time?
Jill: No, we had stars in our eyes.
Jim: So, you were legally blind.
Jill: Exactly! (Laughter) We were.
Jim: All right.
Jill: We were absolutely.
Mark: We were.
Jill: And we didn't date very long, so we met. We were engaged three months later and we were married six months later.
Jill: So, we got married before we'd known each other an entire year.
Jim: So, now you're married. You're getting to know each other and you're realizing we're on different ends at least, of the conflict resolution spectrum.
Jill: Yeah, I mean, it took a little while, you know.
Jill: It really took a little while.
Jim: Well, I thought it was like day five.
Jill: Well, no, that was our first argument.
Jim: Well, let's talk about that. (Laughter)
Mark: I think that happened in Colorado.
Jill: It did happen in Colorado. (Laughter)
Jim: Well, that's his fault. (Laughter) Hey, so what happened day five of your honeymoon?
Jill: We're counting.
Jim: Now half the audience just went, yep, us, too and the other half went, "How could you do that on your honeymoon?"
Mark: Yeah, that's what I asked.
Jill: Yeah. (Laughter)
Jim: [Why] did you do that in Colorado? It's such a great place.
Jill: We were camping up in the mountains, I think right outside of Colorado Springs.
Mark: I believe so. (laughter)
Mark: A beautiful stream.
Jill: You know, we were setting up the tent and it was raining. And we just really started getting irritated with each other.
John: That can be kind of arduous, trying to set a tent up in a rainstorm.
Jim: So, it's muddy.
Mark and Jill: Yeah.
John: Everything's gettin' wet.
Jill: And all I remember is, I finally got angry and I took up off this hill. And I just was sure he was gonna come chasing after me.
Jim: So, you had a goal in taking off. You wanted him to pursue you.
Jill: Uh-hm. Guess what? He didn't.
Jim: He was fixin' (Laughter) the tent.
Jill: Oh, whatever. (Laughter)
Jim: We had things to do.
Mark: I'm like, now I can focus on this. (Laughter)
Jim: Finally she's not nagging me, right? So, then you came off the hill it sounds like at some point.
Mark: Yes, [she] came back and I believe she was crying and, "I thought you would chase me." (Laughter)
Mark: We apologized to each other and it started to rain more and we climbed inside the tent, but that definitely was the journey into marriage.
Jim: Oh, yeah, but usually for the woman, that is a deeper signal than for us guys. We think, oh, that's nice. It all got healed up.
Jill: That was very scary.
Jim: You continued to think about it.
Jim: And that's what you thought?
Jill: And not only that, but because I'd never seen my parents argue.
Jim: Okay, so that was trauma right there.
Jill: So, it was.
John: You just had your first marital argument.
Jill: And I was thinking, we're headed for divorce court, because that was so traumatic to me, because I'd never, ever seen that.
Jim: Now Jill, for the men in the audience that are, you know, tuning in to us right now, could you explain how the woman's brain works where you go from having that kind of disagreement over the camping material, to this is gonna end in divorce court?
Jim: And I don't want to be gender specific.
Jill: Part of it is, you know, guys tend to be that compartmentalized.
Jim: Right, big picture, little picture.
Jill: And women tend to, you know, [have all] the boxes connected. There are no boxes.
Jill: And so, that really, I think plays into it. And then the emotion of it, fear plays into it. We play that out and so, fear takes over. And so, without a doubt, that argument didn't stand alone. It took root in my heart with some fear, that I worried about would happen.
And it was our first, but it wasn't our last. And so, you know, I can remember other times where I remember one time we were driving to church and we had an argument. my purse was sitting between us and he took my purse and threw it down. Now in his anger, he never, ever, you know, hurt me, but he was [physical]; he would punch things or whatever and that scared me.
Jill: It was very fearful.
Jim: What was going on in your head, Mark? I mean, when that would happen, was it just that burst of anger? I mean, obviously, you're taking it out on other things, which is good.
Mark: Sure, yeah, which is good, but still immature. And I think at those moments, deep within me was an attempt to bring about a control and gain not necessarily control over Jill, but control over the situation and to stop the argument, to bring resolve. Looking back now, I realize how we struggled throughout our marriage at bringing about resolve.
Jim: So, how did you guys, you know, at what point in your marriage, fifth year, 10th year, yet you've been married how many years?
Jill: Almost 34.
Jim: So, 33 years (Laughter) you're looking for these answers. Where did you begin to have some light shown into that? Where did the Lord opening up your hearts to say, "You know what? I made you. I can help you, but you gotta see what's happening here."
Jill: Uh-hm, really that was when we moved to Lincoln.
Jill: We moved from Indianapolis, Indiana to Lincoln, Illinois, so that Mark could go to Lincoln Bible College, now Lincoln Christian University, to become a pastor. And it was a neighbor that reached out to help.
Mark: The neighbor, Jim met with me and said, "Hey, I think our stories are similar and I'd like to offer some help." And he directed me to a Christian counselor and that began the journey of discovery and "uncovery," I guess to uncover what was deep within. And that was quite a lengthy journey.
Jim: Oh, yeah and had you been pastoring yet or you were preparing to do that?
Mark: Preparing to pastor.
Jim: To pastor, so this is in your 20's.
Jim: Yeah so, you're getting, thankfully, for a mentor. What a great thing that a neighbor was willing to say, "Hey, can I help?"
Mark: Oh, absolutely.
Jill: I know.
Jim: What a question.
Jill: We've often said and we need to go back and ask him, how come he reached out? Probably he heard us arguing, because we were next-door neighbors.
Jim: Right. (laughter)
Jill: And he probably did and I don't know, you know, because we really hadn't shared stories yet, but he just saw himself in Mark and reached out and took a risk.
Jill: Thankfully took a risk, 'cause sometimes we want to say, "I'm gonna mind my own business." But honestly, I would thank Jim, because he probably changed the trajectory of your life and our marriage.
Mark: Absolutely, yeah.
Jim: That's a statement there. Boy, it'd be great for more Christians to get engaged that way, appropriately. You're listening to "Focus on the Family." Our guests today are Mark and Jill Savage. They've written a wonderful book, a resource, a tool for all of us married couples called No More Perfect Marriages and we're gettin' into the story here.
Jim: So, you're not healed at that point. You're still having conflict. Your neighbor's coaching you, mentoring you. Jill, did you have anybody to turn to?
Jill: I didn't and during that season, it was interesting. I was doing daycare in my home during the day and I was working in a dinner theater at night. And the dinner theater is where we would act, we would do plays, but we were the waiters and the waitresses, as well.
And I found myself during that season actually attracted to a man I was working with and that was a scary place for me. And I somewhat entertained that. Nothing happened, but I was entertaining it in my head and my heart. And I found myself looking forward to going to work more than coming home.
Jill: And finally, I just knew I needed to do something about that. And I came home one night from work and I told Mark. I laid it out there and I said, "I need you to understand that I'm struggling with something and I'm attracted to this person and I don't know what to do." And I was so grateful. I was very fearful that he would handle that with anger.
Jill: But I don't know, God had really been starting to work on his heart in meeting with Jim and he'd been going to a counselor that Jim had introduced him to. And I think that he responded in a very loving way.
Jim: How long had you been married at this point?
Jill: That would've been four years.
Jim: So, you'd been married four years, neighbor mentoring you.
Mark andJill: Uh-hm.
Jim: This crisis comes up. It was very bold of you, I think to come and tell Mark.
Jill: It was very scary. It was very scary, but I knew and you know, what I've learned is, when you shine the light on something in the dark, it takes away some of the hold it has on you.
Jim: Yeah, 'cause this is the moment. It's like John 10:10. You know, the thief comes to kill, steal and destroy.
Jim: These are the moments. This is the environment I think the enemy of our soul is looking for to accomplish that mission that is stated right there in Scripture to take you down.
Jim: And I don't think those things are coincidental. I think your heart, your emotions are open to sin.
Jill: I was primed; I was primed for it.
Jim: You were, yeah.
Jill: 'Cause things weren't happy at home.
Jim: Right and I want people to hear that, that may be living in that spot right now, that battlefield, you're just putting your foot on it, if you're where Jill was at, where you're entertaining thoughts. You want to be with that coworker more than be at home. That's the red flag time.
Jill: It is.
Jill: A major red flag.
Jim: How did you [come] and tell Mark about it; [it's] amazing that you had the wisdom to do that. How did you battle through that day one, week one, two months later, six months later? What did you do to pull yourself off that temptation battlefield?
Jill: Well, the first thing was putting it out there. And I'll tell you, that probably took away at least half of the pull, because it was in the dark and so, in the dark it was growing inside of me.
He responded [well]. One of the things we talk about in No More Perfect Marriages is are you safe for your spouse to be honest with things? And he was safe that night. I'm grateful for that.
Jim: But you weren't sure, but he proved he could be.
Jill: I wasn't sure, no I wasn't and ultimately what we determined is, we weren't investing in our marriage. We were burnin' the candles at both ends. I was working day and night to put food on the table. He was going to school full time and this isn't healthy. So, we knew we have to change that and I quit my job. I had to quit my job.
Jim: Right and you did that, so you did all the right things really to take yourself out of that danger zone.
Jim: Mark, did you feel in your heart of hearts, if I could ask you man to man when she said that to you, you gave the right response.
Jim: You were almost trained, it feels like by your mentor and neighbor who was helping you think through spiritually the way to respond, how to manage your anger.
Jim: But was there a place there where you're goin', "Can I trust Jill in the future? Is this gonna lead somewhere with somebody else that might not be?"
Mark: I honestly did not have that response.
Jim: That's good.
Mark: I responded with a sense that I had created an environment for Jill to not be happy.
Jim: So, you owned it.
Mark: I owned it and in looking back, there [are] different seasons that have been opened up by conflict. And so often, when those conflicts happen, we will pull back or reject the opportunity. And I just saw more opportunity to keep becoming the man I needed to become that, that was priority.
John: Wow, that's a pretty mature response.
Mark: For a pretty immature guy, it was. (Laughter) So that didn't come from me.
Jim: Well, that's fair. I mean, that's the reaction you want.
Jim: But that's not the end of the story.
Jim: You continued to hopefully, build into your marriage.
Mark andJill: Uh-hm.
Jim: But there [are] still obstacles in front of you and actually, the shoe goes on the other foot.
Jim: And Mark, you're the one now challenged about your satisfaction at home and where you're at, at home.
Jim: We're right near the end of today's program (Chuckling).
Jim: So, just if we can and we'll come back next time and explore that in more depth, but describe for us at least and we'll let everybody have to hang on this overnight describe that environment, how many years later it was from this time that Jill had talked with you and her thought life and then what was going on with you?
Mark: Okay, so, we were in year probably 28 or 29.
Jim: So, you're pastoring already.
Mark: Pastoring, numerous ministries, successful ministries, but I was in a place where I was deeply worn out and angry at the church, disillusioned with God. I was disillusioned with everything. And I realized later that I was in a mid-life crisis and didn't honestly believe that those existed until I found myself in one.
Jim: Well, it's important to explain that though, because some people may be right where you were at. They're not lookin' forward to gettin' up every day.
Jim: Life is a load on their back. Get into that a little bit more, so that people listening can say, "I am there" or "I am close to there." Give us more of that.
Mark: I was there. I was worn out with the arguments--
Jim: In the church and in the home.
Mark: --in the church, at home, arguments with God, disillusioned with the things that He promises and I wasn't seeing them happen. I had always struggled as a part of my family DNA with depression and especially in the winter months that would weigh a little more heavily.
And so, I found myself retiring from the church and looking forward to a new season with Jill and that wasn't playing out the way I had envisioned and I just gave up. I just said, "Forget it; I'm tired of this. I'm walkin' away from everything." And I found myself in an affair that happened right in the middle of that decision.
Jim: And we're gonna come back and talk about that, because obviously the Lord did a miracle in your marriage. You're here today and it's a fascinating story, especially given the chronology of it, Jill having that first inkling many years before and then in the midst of what I would describe as your depression that mid-life crisis as you've described it, even being full of the knowledge of God a pastor for 20 years.
Jim: It happened.
Jim: And I want, if you're willing, to come back next time and talk about that, so that we can [and] you can and the Lord can use that testimony He's given you, both you and Jill, to touch the lives of perhaps thousands of other married couples. Can we do that?
Mark: Absolutely, yep.
John: Well, wow, we've heard some pretty candid admissions from a couple that many would think have had a perfect marriage, if they didn't know some of your writing and your transparency prior to this point. And we so appreciate your vulnerability.
It might be that as a listener, you're thinking, as Jim said, that's me. Give us a call if you're struggling right now in your marriage or in some other aspect of your life. If you're at a point of thinking it's not worth it anymore, call us. We have caring Christian counselors who can talk with you, that can give you some first steps to take to repair damage done in your marriage.
We also have Hope Restored, which is a four-day intensive getaway for couples who are frankly, right at the brink of divorce. So many actually have signed the divorce papers, but they come. They get help and they find themselves so often sticking together, despite the challenges that they're going through at the moment. All of this and much, much more when you call 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: John, let me also add, this is a terrific resource, Mark and Jill's book, No More Perfect Marriages. That's a great place to start. Maybe you're quiet about this. You're saying I have had those thoughts of my coworker or you know, fill in the blank. Whatever that situation might be pulling you away from building into your marriage, it's actually beginning to take the bricks away from the building of your marriage.
Jim: Get this resource and I believe in it so much, just if you can make a gift of any amount, if you can't afford it, just call us and we'll put this resource into your hands as our way of saying thank you. Because you know what, folks? In the Christian community particularly--I know we have non-Christians listening--but we have got to do a better job in our marriages. I believe that. I believe that is why Focus is here. It's why your church is there. It is to get your family moving in a better direction and a committed direction to God. So, let us put this resource in your hands one way or another.
And if you can support Focus to help us do that, that would be great, too. Send a gift and support the ministry, because we wouldn't be here without you. That's how it operates. And we also need to hear from you.
John: Well, donate when you call and again, that number, 800-A-FAMILY or online at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And of course, request a CD or download of our conversation or listen on the Focus on the Family mobile app. It's available at iTunes and Google Play and those will include the conversation next time, as well.
And coming up, how Mark and Jill Savage slowly began to see restoration occur in their marriage.
Mrs. Jill Savage: And my counselor was helpful in trying to figure out the balance between grace-filled love and boundary-filled love and there had to be both.
End of Excerpt
John: I'm John Fuller and on behalf of Focus president, Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. Join us again next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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Mark and Jill SavageView Bio
Mark and Jill Savage are passionate about encouraging, educating and equipping families. After serving in church ministry for 20 years, the Savages are now meeting the needs of families as authors and speakers. Known for their honesty, humor and practical teaching, Mark and Jill bring hope and encouragement to every audience. Jill is the founder and former director of Hearts at Home, a ministry for moms, and the author of seven books including Real Moms … Real Jesus and No More Perfect Moms. Together Mark and Jill have authored two books, Living With Less So Your Family Has More and No More Perfect Marriages. The Savages reside in Illinois and have five children and several grandchildren. You can find them online at JillSavage.org and NoMorePerfectMarriages.com.