John Fuller: Our guest today has candidly described remarriage and stepfamilies as a grinding process, but with careful nurturing and the work of God's Spirit, those families can really successfully come together and we'll talk about how on today's "Focus on the Family." Your host is Focus president, Jim Daly. I'm glad you could join us. I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: Here's a stat that should blow our minds. Over 40 percent of homes in North America are made up in stepfamily or blended family configuration--40 percent! That's an amazingly high statistic. Unfortunately, research indicates that about 60 percent of those remarriages end in divorce within the first two years. So, it can be a really unstable environment. And we're going to talk about it today.
A stepfamily might form after a divorce caused by infidelity or abandonment, maybe by an unbelieving spouse or an abusive situation. It might also be formed after the death of a spouse, for example. Whatever the circumstances, we want to talk to that community about how to strengthen your bonds in your marriage and your parenting. And we're gonna do that specifically with Gil and Brenda Stuart, who have been married for 13 years, both of them coming from a first marriage and between them, they have seven children and so, we're gonna learn a lot from them today. Gil and Brenda, welcome to "Focus on the Family."
Gil Stuart: Thank you so much.
Brenda Stuart: Thank you.
Gil: It's a great honor.
Jim: Okay, so when I was growing up, the first TV blended family was "The Brady Bunch."
Jim: And every night by the time they went to bed, I think all of their problems were solved. Is that the way it is with [a] blended family?
Gil: Nope (Laughter)—
Jim: So, it's not "The Brady Bunch."
Gil: --absolutely not. (Laughter)
Jim: What really happens?
Gil: Yeah, what's really goin' on? Well, I think at the top, like you said, you know, blended family being a grind, I would say it's more of a blender, not so much, maybe chisels and rocks and chips and things like that flying (Laughter) are probably a little more accurate. What do you think, Bren?
Brenda: Yes, I agree. (Laughter)
Jim: There you have it. That's good.
Gil: That's all you want to say is you agree.
Jim: Pretty well said—
Jim: --she agrees with that.
Jim: Well, how old were your children when you first married?
Brenda: Well, I think the youngest was 11—
Gil: Eleven, yes.
Brenda:--and the oldest was 22.
Jim: So, 11 to 22, so you had your hands full.
Brenda: And we found out later that that's the worst time to remarry, is when your kids are preteen and teen (Laughing) and it's like—
Jim: Oops, really.
Jim: I mean, is there any good [time to] remarry? But there's no good time to divorce.
Brenda: No, absolutely not, and we are here to say that if you're in a marriage and you 're having some struggles, that you do whatever you can to fight for that marriage, because it's wonderful, and I love Gil so much, you know, First-time marriage, I mean, that's God's design and it's not just like, okay, I'm not happy, so I'm just gonna leave and do something else and you start over. That's not the best way to do it.
Jim: Well, like I said , marriages dissolve for a lot of different reasons.
Jim: What happened in the two of your cases? What happened for you, Brenda
Brenda: Well, my first marriage was 19 years and we were both involved at the church and one day my ex-husband just said he didn't want to be married anymore.
Jim: I mean, out of the blue?
Jim: Did you have any clue?
Brenda: Oh, I've learned that I should've listened to my gut more probably, but we were, you know, doing church and we loved Jesus, so we thought we were bulletproof or I did.
Jim: That, that would hold you together—
Jim: --that was enough that—
Brenda: Yeah, you—
Jim: --had a common—
Brenda: --slap the Jesus—
Brenda: --label on you and say, "Okay, I'm good." And that does not negate doing the right things of intentionally going after each other's heart in a marriage.
Jim: You know, looking at that and I'm sorry, Gil, but these questions may be tender. I don't know, because we're talking about your first marriages. But looking at that, do you think from a Christian perspective, that we may rely too much on that faith component? That we think, okay, we're both Christian, therefore—
Jim: -- I don't have to put as much effort—
Jim: --into this, because—
Jim: --our faith will get us through?
Brenda: Yes and you know, honestly, I mean, to me, Jesus is the Rock and center of a good marriage, but in that same breath, I know lots of non-Christian marriages that are thriving because they're doing the right thing in the sense of how they love each other.
Jim: So, the combination of all that is—
Jim: --what makes for a really good—
Brenda: It's not like you can go to church and then go home and kick the dog (Laughing), so to speak.
Jim: Well, that—
Brenda: You know.
Jim: -- may hit a few people, you know, in a tender spot right there.
Brenda: Well, and you know what. Because of our pain and what we went through in our divorce, which we called "a great train wreck," we don't wish that on anybody. And if I had the tools I have now, if had them then, I think I would've had a new awareness of how to love my husband, my first husband better.
Jim: Ah, so, for those listening that are in their first marriages, they should stick with us, because they probably will learn things to do differently.
Brenda: Even about themselves.
Jim: Right. Gil, tell us your story, your first marriage. What happened?
Gil: My first marriage was 24 years and had four children. And the last four years of those 20 years were, let's just call it a "knock-down, drag-out fight." There were a couple places to where we thought we were going to rally and recover, but it didn't end up going that way. And in my situation, really, being quite vulnerable here, the nature of that breakup really boiled down to that my wife kinda chose to go to an alternative lifestyle and so, it really kind of blew me away, 'cause we had both grown up in the church.
And everything was, I think, similar to what Brenda was saying, that you know, we knew the Lord, and that was supposed to kinda make us bulletproof. But there were things that we weren't paying attention to, that really left us vulnerable. And so, those natures of pain and looking back over my shoulder, like ooh, yeah.
There were some things I could've done differently, but at the same time, there were things there that no matter how hard we tried, you know, my wife made her choice and she went that direction. So, that really kind of, as I kinda put it, really blew a hole right through my heart.
Jim: That shadow, I mean, day No. 1, the next day that she's gone, what did you feel like? I mean, I can't imagine that happening.
Gil: It was surreal. The world slowed down to slow motion and didn't really, really return until maybe (Chuckling) a couple years later, because …
Jim: Really, that long?
Gil: Yeah, yeah. I think that a big part of people who've gone through divorce, they tend to maybe try to fill in the pain with something else as quickly as they can, 'cause they want the pain to go away, which yeah, I get that. On the other hand, if you don't deal with your pain, it will come back and bite you eventually.
Jim: In what way does it do that?
Gil: Well, I think the thing is, is that if you go into another relationship and you haven't dealt with your stuff, so to say, it's going to come back and create the same problem that you maybe had before. And so, there were things that I needed to do with regards to my own heart to know myself, so that when I did go into a new relationship, Lord willing, that I had done my work, that I had repented of things that I had missed, but at the same time, strengthening those things. There was a real process of healing there that I really had to kinda get my heart back. And a lot of that was done through a process of just forgiving not only my ex-wife, but myself. And so—
Gil: --that was a pretty big deal.
Jim: Did you feel like a failure?
Gil: Oh, completely, completely. I remember we were going on a missions trip shortly after the divorce was final and I had a group of college students and we had a fantastic week.
At the end of the week, I read the reviews of one of the kids—college kids—and they said, "We really liked your leadership, but we really didn't know a lot about you." And I was hiding, because I was in such pain. And so, they would make comments about family and so forth, and I was still, you know, kind of bleeding out, so to say, so yeah, it still hurt.
Jim: Change the subject.
Gil: Still, yeah, yeah.
Jim: Well, you know, what we want to talk about is how you move forward in that regard. And let's talk about the children, the seven kids when you first met. How did you meet and how long did it take before you guys were thinking, maybe we could start anew—
Jim: --with each other?
Gil: --we met at church. Brenda was the children's pastor there, and at the time, the church was meeting in a high school, so you had a church in a box, you know. You moved it in and out of the truck over the weekend. So, at the time, I was a single dad and one of the guys who led the team said, "I could always depend upon you to come." And that's kinda where Brenda and I started our friendship. Honestly, I didn't want anything to do with women at all. (Laughter) I only wanted to talk to my mom, and at that time, my sister-in-law.
Jim: So, is this like two years or so—
Gil: Oh, it was about—
Gil: --a year.
Jim: About a year—
Gil: About a year –
Jim: --after your divorce.
Gil: --you know, and a few months and so forth, but it was just like, so Brenda was kinda the leadership of the children's "pastory" in the morning, so that's kinda how we met at our church.
Jim: And Brenda, how about for you? How long had it been since you divorced when you first [met]?
Brenda: It was a couple years.
Brenda: And I never thought I'd be a single mom, was going back to school.
Jim: And the kids were how old at that point?
Brenda: --11, 14 and .
Gil: --and 9.
Jim: All right, so that first year of marriage, we know it wasn't like "The Brady Bunch," but what did it look like with seven kids living at home and you're married now and you're tryin' to pull this together?
Jim: Talk about a story or tell us what you know, the "ah-ha" moment was that you realized, this is gonna be tough.
Gil: Oh, we got back from our honeymoon. We were home two weeks. We went for a walk, and that's what did it.
Jim: You (Chuckling) went for a walk.
Gil: We went for a walk. She went one separate direction. I went another. I lost her. When I got back to the house, she was nowhere to be found. I had to find her and I went, oh, boy, here we go.
Jim: How do you—
Gil: She was mad.
Jim: --get lost on a walk?
Gil: I don't know. It was in our own neighborhood, too.
Jim: You guys just turned different directions.
Brenda: I think that assumption, boy, that assumption will come back and—
Gil: Something so small—
Brenda: --get you.
Gil: --created [a problem].
Brenda: I assumed he was gonna follow me 'cause I was walkin' fast, and I don't know what happened.
Jim: (Laughing) You just got separated.
Jim: So, you got back to the house and then you had an argument about this.
Gil: Yeah, we did.
Brenda: Yeah. (Laughing)
Jim: And how'd that go?
Gil: Not too good.
Gil: No, I didn't sign up for this again. We're gonna do somethin' different, let alone now not only do we have, you know, we have children that are going in and out of the house. I would refer to it as "the rotisserie front door," you know, kind of like a round door at a big hotel. People are coming and going all of the time because of, you know, our former spouses living across town.
So, there was always the, as we called it, the "laundry basket brigade," you know. They were always back and forth with their laundry baskets full of clothes and such. But, I think it was the nature of the territorialism that we could see happening.
Jim: Between the two of you.
Gil: Between the children.
Jim: Oh, the children, okay.
Gil: We kind worked out our little difference about the walk, and you know, realized, okay, I messed up, so we've got that squared away. But I think we realized we were in for some strong (Laughing) winds and gales, yeah.
Jim: Well, hang on. How did you mess up? She's a fast walker. She was out-walkin' you.
Brenda: Hey, keep up with me. Come on. (Laughing)
Jim: It was a trigger, though. That's the key.
Gil: It was a–
Gil: --trigger, exactly.
Jim: What was it triggering in you and how did you resolve that issue? I mean, it sounds—
Jim: --funny, but I don't want to blow by this.
Brenda: I think looking back to what we've done through our relationship and how we've, you know, created the Restored and Remarried is, we've come up with catch words. And that probably, now that I think about it, Gil would probably have been a bare wire, which means I touched something in him emotionally that I didn't realize, 'cause it's his stuff, not mine.
Gil: Okay, okay, okay. It's my bare wire that you triggered, though.
Brenda: But you're right.
Gil: But you're—
Brenda: Go ahead.
Gil: --so right, because what you triggered in me was something that caused me to go, I'm supposed to be leading. I'm supposed to be taking the role here, and you ran ahead and I thought, "Oh, no, not again." I don't have that relationship, so it triggered an emotion in me that took me right back—
Gil: --to where I was at a few years before with my ex-wife.
Jim: And Brenda, how did you process that? You're going, "Hey, Gil, come on. It's just a walk."
Brenda: Right (Laughing)
Jim: I mean, but how did you comprehend that it made him feel less of a man--
Brenda: I think I got—
Jim: --that you were leading?
Brenda:--it just now. (Laughing) I mean, and unless you have those conversations, and I think to have those conversations, to have a level of safety is so important. And if you have that level of safety in your relationship, then you'll be vulnerable. And how scary it is, even for first-time marriages, to not be vulnerable.
Jim: So, you mentioned one trigger, the bare wire and you said there are others. What are the others?
Gil: Well, there—
Gil: --was another one that took place on our honeymoon of all places. We were having a fabulous time and I really was in kinda just a moment of prayer and okay, I've got an issue I need to share with you, Brenda. And you know, we're away on our honeymoon and you know, I kinda started tellin' her, I got this issue that I have; it's been a problem for a long time.
Jim: (Laughing) Your probably dyin', Brenda—
Jim: --going, "Uh-oh."
Gil: --I'm thinkin' okay. Like I think, okay, we're a long way from the airport. There's not a bus. You know, she can't run away and the look in her eyes. She is terrified. And I said, "My problem here is, I have a problem with suspicion"—
Gil: --because trust had been so blown away. And so, I began to explain to her what suspicion did to me in my first marriage and I did not want that seed to grow, even at the beginning of our marriage on our honeymoon. That was how important it was. And so, as time progressed along, whenever I had an episode that triggered suspicion and mistrust and safety, we labeled it "the Cabo story."
Jim: The Cabo, 'cause that's where you went on your honeymoon.
Gil: Right. And so, each time I began to have that issue trouble me, it was my issue, not hers—
Gil: --but it was affecting us. And so, a lot of these terminologies, such as the bare wires and the sneaker waves and the Cabo stories, those are things that were relevant right then and there that were affecting our marriage then, that were from our past.
Jim: Brenda, let me ask you. It can be difficult for a spouse to zero in on these things and I mean, we're speaking from Gil's perspective at this mo[ment].
Gil: Especially men. (Laughter)
Jim: Well, yeah.
Jim: And so, I mean, you could easily brush that off and not even think about it or feel exhausted. You know, come on.
Jim: I love you.
Brenda: And I got to--
Jim: I married—
Brenda: --that point.
Jim: --you and—
Jim: --let's just keep movin' forward; stop bringing this stuff up.
Jim: But how did you manage it to where Gil felt safety, he felt trust, he felt fidelity—
Jim: --in your relationship?
Brenda: Yeah, because in the beginning when he would bring it up, I would know how to kinda come alongside him with empathy and say, "Okay, we don't have to go through the whole thing again. We've labeled it. We know what that means, so let's talk about, have I done anything to give you that idea that you [would be suspicious]? Have I not told you where I'm at or whatever?" And as we walked through that, after a while, it just got to the point, where okay, wait a minute here.
And I got to that point of saying, "Okay, I am not doing anything to have you be suspicious in my eyes. This is your deal, and I think from now on, you need to maybe take this to a guy friend and flesh it out. And then if it's still bothering you, by all means, come to me." 'Cause I want Gil to be safe to share anything with me, because I want his heart. And I think most women want their man's heart. But if we continue to shut them down, they're not gonna share.
Brenda: I wouldn't share if I was shut down all the time. So, it's that balance that we had to find in talking about it and being honest, to say, yeah, this is great. Tell me more about it. How can I help? Or you know what? Now I'm ticked. (Laughing) I don't want to talk about this anymore. So, we trust each other enough and had safety enough for Gil to say, "You're right. Let me go pray about this." Or "Let me, you know, if I need to talk about it anymore, I'll come back to you" and… and so, it was a really honoring give and take, because our mentality is, what's best for the team, which is our marriage. Not what's best just for me, or for Gil. And when we give up and we die to self and we do it just for the team, we both benefit.
Jim: Yeah, that is so good.
John: Well, Gil and Brenda Stuart are our guests on "Focus on the Family" today and they've really captured a lot of their journey in a book called Restored and Remarried. It's encouragement for remarried couples in a stepfamily and we've got info about the book at our website and a CD or a download of our conversation today. That's www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
End of Program Note
Gil: Let me just pick up a little bit here, too, on what Brenda's saying. All of these principles that are ongoing, I mean, we've been married 13 ½ years and if you do remarried math, we've been about 92 years or something like that, which is another part.
Jim: (Laughing) How do you get the remarried math?
Gil: Yeah, well, remarried math is, you take the number of years you've been married times the number of children you have together.
Jim: (Laughing) Okay.
Gil: So, 13 times 7, you do the math. (Laughter)
Brenda: And we have four grandbabies, so to the fourth--
Gil: --but the point that I want to get to is, that all of these issues in a remarriage, you're dealing with on how to be married, let alone the chaos that's going on with children, because they themselves are in chaos. They themselves are going, "Am I still loved? What family do I belong to? Who do I trust? And the grief that I'm dealing with," is all going on simultaneously. So, that makes the challenge double.
Gil: And I think that's the point. We are in love, and we're working out this new stuff, but at the same time, how do we care for those kids?
Jim: Well, and I gotta tell you, you know, I was in a blended family. My mom remarried. I was 8-years-old when she did and our stepfather, Hank, was not a very kind man toward us. He loved my mom and I felt that and I knew that and I respected that, even as a 9-year-old boy, but man, he had no time for us. We were irritants all the time.
Jim: And so, I felt it from the child's perspective. But let me ask you this. Brenda, we were kinda lookin' at Gil's closet. What about yours? How did Gil help you with your trigger areas, and what were they?
Brenda: I think Gil helped me realize the whole thing about being safe and to share. I tend to be the kinda girl where, put your head down, push through it.
Jim: So, after the wound of your first marriage—
Jim: -- were you open about it?
Brenda: No, I was very open, I think.
Gil: Yes, you were.
Brenda: Was I very open? (Laughing)
Gil: From the very outset, yes, you were, and I mean, we pretty much laid it right out at the very beginning, because the beginning of the relationship was trust and honesty. If we can't have that, and those who can't see us across the audience, we had a handshake at our second time-out, said if we can't have that, nice knowin' ya; see ya.
Brenda: Because trust had been obliterated, you know, before so how can we trust again? And that takes time.
Jim: What were issues of your bare wire? How did Gil trigger you?
Brenda: How is he triggering me? (Laughter) Or how did he? (Laughter)
Jim: Well, however you want to say it.
Gil: I still do that.
Brenda: I think he would trigger me because we are wired differently, that I'm like go, go, go, and he'll tend to stand back and be a little bit more reflective, and that would be frustrating to me. So, for me to be able to take a step back and realize that we're balancing each other, and to give him the permission I guess, so to say, to call me out, when I needed to, 'cause I knew that he was doing it in love. And that has helped me grow as a person for sure, as an individual.
Jim: The other side of this though is, you have to feel like you're wearing a label. I mean, you were church-going Christians, and one day you're married to your spouses and the next day, you're not. And then you meet and you get married and you show up at the same church or a different church, but you must have felt like something was across your forehead. What was that something for you?
Brenda: I love what Ron Deal says. It's that D and the R, divorced and remarried, which he couches as "delivered and redeemed" now. And there is so much shame. I think even to today (Emotional), because we have couples that are … that are friends that have been married for 35 years and in our own way, as happy as we are now, for me, it's like, that should've been me. I should be at my 35-, 36-, 37-year mark and I'm not.
And I think there's a lot of shame being remarried in the church and I'll be honest with you. Before I got remarried and divorced and all this and I was first-time married in the church, I would look at divorced and remarried couples and I was very judgmental. Well, gee, what's their problem? How come they couldn't make it work? They were just a failure. And now that I'm on the other side of this, it's real, because we get that even now. I mean, we've gotten so much hate mail through the years because we're adulterers and this and that. It's like, you don't even know our story—
Brenda: --and once again, we're not supporting divorce and remarriage, but there are a lot of hurting remarried couples out there in the church that are so lost and so isolated, I think mainly 'cause of lack of education and understanding from the church as a whole.
Jim: What does God say to your heart? What do you hear the Lord saying to you, that He's not saying to us in the first-married grouping? I mean, what does He speak to you in that way? What freedom do you find? What grace do you find—
Jim: --in your communion with the Lord?
Gil: Redemption, reconciliation.
Brenda: The ground is level at the foot of the Cross.
Gil: No judgment.
Gil: I think one of the most astounding things I really began to understand was when I began to understand who Jesus really was and in His own right, this is a bit of a stretch, but in His own right, He was a step son.
Gil: Because Joseph was not his biological dad.
Gil: You know, and I thought to myself, wow!
Jim: How did that relate to your fathering of Brenda's children?
Gil: Well, it put a different perspective on, they even to this day, you know, even to this day, you know, they say, "You've done a good job. Thank you. We love you, but you can't replace our dad." And I go, "You're right, I can't, but I can love you." And so, I think in the terms of the position that Joseph was in, I mean, here it was, you know, your son happens to be, you know, the omnipotent Son of God; don't screw up. (Laughter) But you know, love this young man, because He needs you to nurture him. And as stepfathers, that's typically what I love to do when we're doing our seminars, is to call out the stepdads to say, "God's providentially put you in a place that, that young man, that young woman that's raised up in your family, you have the opportunity to change the legacy.
Gil: And even with your own children, I think even now with some of my kids that are in their 20's and 30's, beginning to understand the grief that they've gone through and still grieving it. There's things that I, even a couple weeks ago, I realized with one of my sons that I needed to go to him and apologize. And I realized, I need to lift some burdens off of your shoulder. And what I got back in return was, was it was, "Thanks, dad, I'm really glad that you finally are beginning to see some things," even though we've been at this for a number of years. But what a position to be, to really love and nurture those kids.
Jim: Well, and we have touched on that side of this equation, as to how you met and how you came out of your wounds after divorce and I want to come back again and talk about the impact on the children. You've had 13 years now to parent them, both your kids, Gil, and your kids, Brenda, and I think it would be helpful for the listeners to hear more about things that you did to help your children along in their journey.
Jim: So, can we continue to have that dialogue, come back next time and talk about it?
Gil: Certainly, certainly.
Jim: We know that marriages today are in trouble and first-time, second time, it doesn't matter what time. If we're not investing in our marriages, the evil one's gonna be there like a roaring lion, ready to devour us. I feel it as the head of Focus on the Family. Jean and I pray about that. We think about it, because we're vulnerable, and guess what? You are, too. And so, we've gotta do all we can, and that is why Focus on the Family is here.
Let me read you a story of someone. We just received this recently, and this woman wrote in and said, "I started listening to 'Focus on the Family' late last December and was hooked immediately. My, then, almost 14-year-old stepson and I were at odds with each other every time he came to our house and it was causing such tension between me and my husband, that it seems our marriage was doomed. But after only two weeks of listening to your program, the messages I was soaking in each day began to transform me. My entire family saw and experienced the changes I was making. As remarkable as it sounds, we now have a warm and loving home and I'm so grateful for your dedication to the Lord. I am revived every day when I listen. Thank you ever so much for your broadcasts."
That tickles my heart, Gil and Brenda. I mean, that's your sweet spot, right?
Jim: That's the person—
Gil: --that's so encouraging.
Jim: --you're looking for.
Gil: Oh, absolutely. That's so—
Jim: And you—
Jim: --you have helped people today and again, we're gonna come back next time and concentrate on the children and their hearts. Can we do that?
Gil: It'd be an honor.
John: And I'll invite you as a listener to help us reach out and continue to assist and support and be there for marriages by donating generously to Focus. And when you do make a gift of any amount today, request a copy of the book by Gil and Brenda Stuart, Restored and Remarriage. And we'll be happy to say thank you by sending that to you.
Get in touch, donate, ask about the CD or a download of the program and find information about the Summit on Stepfamily Ministry at Focus on the Family. It's coming up in September and Gil and Brenda will be speaking as we partner with FamilyLife to provide training for ministry leaders to reach out specifically to stepfamilies. And all of this is found at www.focusonthefamily.com/ radio or call us and we can tell you more. You can donate over the phone, as well, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow, as we hear more from the Stuarts and once again, help your family thrive.
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Research is revealing fundamentals that make a couple's relationship strong enough for a healthy stepfamily.Read more
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Gil and Brenda StuartView Bio
Gil Stuart is an insurance broker who's currently working on earning a masters degree in counseling from Multnomah University in Portland, Ore. His wife, Brenda, owns a consulting company specializing in team building and life coaching, and is the author of Restored and Remarried. Gil and Brenda are certified marriage coaches and as presenters of the Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage video series. The couple resides in Brush Prairie, Wash., and has seven grown children and four grandchildren.