Mark and Angie Pyatt of the National Institute of Marriage describe how the organization helped save their once-troubled relationship, and how it helps couples in crisis today.
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Angie Pyatt: I was miserable and just didn't love him anymore. Felt like he could tell me tomorrow that he had an affair and really believed it would not affect me, because the feelings were not there. I just wanted out.
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John Fuller: That's Angie Pyatt and she and her husband, Mark are on our "Focus on the Family" broadcast today, sharing about a very, very low point in their marriage. And God intervened. It's a remarkable story. Your host is Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and Jim, we hear from so many couples that are kind of at a point like that. There's no hope whatsoever.
Jim Daly: It's true, John, and I think deep down, most of us want to try. We really do. I mean, there was hopefully, love at that point, but it's so smothered. I like what one person told me once, a man speaking about what he had done to his wife. He described it like a rose and that over years of criticism and critical spirit and mostly the words that he would express to her, he said, "It felt like I killed that rose. It just withered in her heart." That was a great description. And then when he learned how to water the rose, their marriage was entirely different. And today we want to talk about that.
John: Yeah, Mark and Angie attended school together. They were married in 1989 and their first child came along in 1991. Angie stayed home with her daughter during the day and Mark got off work and went home and Angie went to her night job. And that's a pretty common scenario for a lot of couples, a lot of hand-offs and not a lot of heart time.
Jim: Yeah, that's true and you know, that really typifies our culture today, 'cause we have two-income parents. People are working, sometimes different shifts like you described. So, I think if you're living in that busy pace of life, today's program's gonna be just for you and for your marriage. Let me first say to Mark and Angie, welcome to "Focus on the Family."
Angie: Well, thank you, good to—
Mark Pyatt: It's great to be here—
Angie: --be here.
Mark: --with you guys.
Jim: Take us back to that moment. What was feeding into that? 'Cause I'm sure you don't marry somebody you don't like.
Jim: What happened? Where did the love go?
Angie: You know, I mean, I can remember when I married this man, just the love was amazing.
Jim: You were "ga-ga." (Laughter)
Angie: Ga-ga, yes. But you know, just the busyness of life, you know, he worked in hotels and in management, so it was very demanding, you know, really 24/7, 'cause it never turns off. But 80 plus hours a week, and I think I got to the point of feeling like there were no feelings whatsoever was a year when we were debating whether to build a home. And I said, "I would rather rent than you feel like you can keep working the hours you're working and you know, try—
Angie: --and build this home.
Angie: Yeah and he's like, "No, I got it covered. We'll do it just fine." Of course, that was a nightmare, in addition to my mom had cancer at that time and I was pregnant with our second child. And in the course of that year, my mom passed away, I had my son and we were in a nightmare of building this home that my husband wound up doing a whole lot more—
Mark: Yeah, it was really—
Angie: --than …
Mark: --a perfect storm for us.
Jim: So, yeah, you had—
Mark: All the things—
Jim: --all that stress.
Mark: --came together at the same time.
Jim: Yeah. And so, you are in this little Bible study. It's something in addition to building your home, having your children, taking care of your ailing mom, you had to squeeze in Bible study, of course, because you wanted to be the top-notch Christian.
Angie: Well, it was small group—
Jim: Yeah, okay.
Angie: --at church, small group at church.
Jim: Thanks for that qualifier.
Angie: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: You still had to carve out a night—
Jim: --to go do this.
Jim: But and I'm not besmirching that. Don't get me wrong. That's an important thing. It probably was, as you look back now, the most important thing you were doing. It wasn't building the house and the other things that you were doing. Take us to that small group and what happened emotionally.
Angie: Yeah, we would meet every week and it was some four or five friends that we were in relationship with. And we were going through a marriage book and I can remember showin' up. Through the course of the year, I would tell Mark, I feel like we're losing something that we'll never get back, because we were just stress[ed]. His day would start early in the morning, you know, and he would get off work 6 or 7 from the hotel. And then he would go to our home and help with the house. And so, then he'd roll in about 10:30, 11 and then it would start all over again. And I just never saw him.
Jim: Well, let me ask this question, Mark, because I want to make sure I'm connecting the dots for everyone. When she would say to you, I feel like we're not connecting; something's wrong, maybe not articulate it with a task list that you may have worked in your … in your mind, how did you respond to that, when Angie was saying, "We're in trouble," yellow flag. Did you blow it off or what?
Mark: I didn't blow it off, but it was like we were beyond the point of no return on building the house. And you know, we were so deep into this.
Jim: So, get to the goal line.
Mark: Yeah, the only thing I knew to do was, we just gotta dig in and get through this.
Jim: Then we'll work on us.
Mark: Right and because there's [a] construction loan and interest is rolling up and all the pressures of that and you can't stop goin' to work every day. So, all I knew to do was just put my head down and keep pushin' on--
Jim: Okay, so you--
Mark: --and we'll get through this.
Jim: --you keep goin'. You're crying out in essence. What happened over the next months?
Angie: My heart just got hardened. I noticed that it didn't bother me anymore that he wasn't coming home at decent hours and we weren't talking and conversing and going out on dates. It just stopped bothering me.
Mark: Yeah, we just through that year, started with a lot of conflict and then throughout the year we would just talk less, finally—
Jim: So, it was dying—
Mark: --stopped talking.
Jim: --on the vine.
Mark: --it really was.
Jim: Talk about again, the couples around your fellowship group in that little home. That night that you said those words, you know, I don't love Mark. Mark's sittin' right there with you.
Jim: Did you get to a breaking point emotionally? I mean, that's hard for people to be that open--
Angie: Oh, my gosh.
Angie: And keep in mind, you know, he was a deacon at the church, you know. So, we got really good at putting on the mask when we—
Mark: All the right things—
Angie: --walked out of our—
Mark: --on the surface.
Angie: --front door, you know. And so, nobody knew. And when I went to that small group that night, I couldn't pretend anymore. And then that's when I said it.
Jim: I mean, for you, Mark to hear your wife, whom you know you got the underlying issues, but you hear her say in front of other people, all those, you know, the deacon of the church, all those things—
Jim: --and to hear her say, you know, "I really don't love Mark anymore. I don't care if we get a divorce. I don't even care if he had an affair. It wouldn't impact my feelings for him."
Jim: What did you think and feel right at that moment?
Mark: Well, I'll clean it up for radio, but I was thinking, what in the heck are you doing?
Mark: You know, I mean, there—
Mark: --really it was my first response.
John: So, anger.
Mark: Yeah, it was.
Jim: Why would you disclose this in front of [everyone]?
Mark: And so, you know, I was dealing with all of that, but devastating, too, because I don't think until that point I had heard it in that way.
Jim: Ah. When you look at it, Angie, I so appreciate the spirit that you had. I mean, I don't know that there's a good way, but in the end now looking back, God used that moment to transform both of you and to give you a marriage that was far better. But it started with brutal honesty.
What happened next, the next day, the next week, the next few months? What was your relationship like and the fear of saying it and the anger of hearing it, how did that get dealt with?
Mark: Yeah, I think we still had to finish the house. (Laughter) I still had to work.
Mark: So, you know, I mean, we didn't get to turn anything off. But we started being honest with each other and it wasn't this immediate, oh and we lived happily ever after. We just started having honest dialogue and slowly walking forward in healthier ways.
Jim: Talk about the pace of that then, because I would think you're at different places. And I don't mean to insert the words or the feelings, but let me surmise what may have happened, where Angie, you wanted to see some watering of that rose in your heart. You wanted the pace to be fairly quick, so you could have some hope—
Jim: --I would think. 'Cause at this point you're hopeless. Mark, you're probably thinkin', gotta get the house done.
Jim: I gotta work 80 hours a week still. I have you in the "to-do" list, but maybe not at the top right now or some days it'll be at the top, other days it's not. How did you reconcile that pace in which you wanted to see healing come?
Angie: I think what took place was the beginning of emotional intimacy, like us in our dialogue I saw where he really heard me.He showed up and started communicating with me in a way where I felt heard and I felt cared for. And I saw in him this desperate desire to do something different. But then it also made me realize, you know, yes, we're building this house. That has to get finished.
Jim: So, your mind and heart, you were open to the load that Mark was carrying at that point—
Jim: --giving him, cutting him some slack.
Angie: Because of the conversation that we had that was so different. There was emotional intimacy in it. It wasn't feeling so disconnected, like he really didn't care.
Angie: He was just going through the motions of, what do I gotta do next, you know. It was different.
Jim: Let me ask you, because some people, they're feeling it. I'm sure there are wives listening and they're thinking, I'm living it right now. That's how I feel. Angie has described what's in my heart.Maybe they've attempted to have that conversation with their husband, but the husband hasn't responded in the same way.
Jim: He hasn't caught it. And it can work both ways. I don't mean to slight men or slight women here. Wherever you're at in that story, whoever the character is that you fit, that's who I'm speaking to.What about that relationship, where she's still struggling, because emotionally she's so thirsty and dying on the vine and her husband's not there; what would you suggest for that couple?
Angie: You know, I think the biggest takeaway from all that is realizing, don't try and do it on your own. Don't keep it in the dark. We live in Branson, Missouri, which is an awesome town, lots of believers, you know. And it is amazing to me when we hear of a couple that is a leader in the community and all of a sudden, their marriage is done and no one knew.
And I just go, as Christians, what are we doing wrong that we're not making our other brothers and sisters in Christ feel safe enough to say, we're hurting? We need help and not feel like they're gonna be judged by other believers, because we should know better, but to feel like they can be embraced, like our small group. Mark said there wasn't anything real profound that they did, but they loved us through it. You know, they didn't—
Jim: They didn't reject you.
Angie: --they didn't turn their backs on us, you know. And I would just say, don't try and keep it in the dark. Be honest and real with someone.
Jim: Well, I so appreciate that, because I think as you look at the church, we've done over the last many decades and maybe even longer, such a disservice of not being human—
Jim: --tried to be perfect and it doesn't work that way. God wants the brokenness to show—
Angie: Oh, absolutely.
Jim: --so that others can see you and say, "Okay, if they can do it, I can do it."
Jim: That's part of the formula. And then also, just that authenticity—
Jim: --that is so often missed in our lives today. We hide it behind closed doors, Mark, like you said. And that's why it's so refreshing to hear what you went through.
John: You know, Jim, I'm thinking of our Christian counselors here at Focus on the Family. And it may be that a listener is thinking, that's good for you. You had a small group; I don't have anybody. I can't tell anybody that. And the starting point might be to call Focus on the Family and talk to one of our counselors.
John: And at least get it out in the open with somebody else.
Jim: Get a perspective.
John: Yeah and our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or you can use a Find a Counselor tool and maybe find somebody in your area at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: John, one of the things that we need to disclose now and one of the reasons we're so excited to have Mark and Angie on today is to talk about the National Institute of Marriage. Mark and Angie, not long after this conflict, came to work for the National Institute of Marriage, which is now a part of Focus on the Family. And I want to talk about that transition and then we'll talk about the work of the National Institute of Marriage. So, you're in this conflict. You're feeling there's hope. You're not hopeless at this point, I'm hearing—
Jim: --Angie. Talk about those things that you did over the next year or two and then how you ended up at NIM, as we call it—National Institute of Marriage. Just give us that brief two-year period, what happened?
Mark: Yeah, well, we finished the house. (Laughter)
Jim: (Laughing) And that's right where you go. (Laughter)
Angie: Exactly right.
Jim: We finished the house
Mark: [I] was able to check that off the list, but it freed up time. We were able to start spending more time together and slowly, we began to reconnect and get to healthier place.
Jim: So, you made it a priority.
Jim: It wasn't a magic wand.
Angie: Not at all.
Jim: So, it took time.
Jim: How was your heart, Angie during that rebuilding phase, if I could use that word (Chuckling)?
Angie: Yeah, yeah. It started to soften, you know, towards Mark. I mean, I think back on when I did share what I did about not having any love, I really meant that and I felt that. I had been thinking that for months. There was [sic] absolutely no feelings there. But God started doin' somethin' in my heart and it was just with the openness of Mark and the intimate conversations where the emotional connection was happening, where I felt my heart softening towards him. I saw where I was priority, that it did matter to him.
Jim: Give us for the hard-headed husbands, give us some concrete examples of how Mark was able to demonstrate that to you,those intimate expressions that meant something to you.
Angie: Right, you know, I think leaving the small group that night, up until that point when we would talk and I would like try and get his attention about, we need help, it was more, he was, okay, I've gotta listen to this, 'cause she's wanting me to—
Jim: And you could feel that.
Angie: --listen. Oh, I could so feel it. That night was different. I saw panic in his face. I saw real concern and it spoke to me, because I think through that, his reaction of, you are important. You mean the most to me, began breaking down that hardness.
Jim: Can I describe it this way, because it seems, you know, in the end you have a beautiful story.
Jim: But if I could describe a woman's heart like a bucket and different women are at different points. You may have been near the end of your bucket, but you still had something in it. There are some women that there may only be an ounce or a fraction of an ounce of hope. So, when they have the conversation, even though their husband may try with sincerity, he also has panic in his voice, do you find that some women in the counseling that you do, that bucket is so dry, that it will take a long time for an ounce of love to appear in that bucket again.
Angie: You know, it's funny, if you would've asked me back then when I made that statement, I would've told you there was not even an ounce. I was certain that, that is what I wanted. And you know, in doing what we do at the National Institute of Marriage, I am on the phone and I get to talk to the hurting couples, husbands and wives that call in. I can't tell you how many people I talk to where they say, "I am done. I don't love my husband," or "I don't love my wife. I don't think I ever did. I want out."
And I'm sitting on the phone and it resonates with me, because I remember being at that point. And I think back. About a year ago, I had a friend that was in that small group, come over to the house and we had like an hour and we were just catching up. And we kinda reminisced on that one night.
Angie: And I got so emotional remembering it, because I remember thinking how certain I was that, that is what I wanted. I had thought it through. It wouldn't affect me. I just wanted out. And then realizing where I am today and how much I love my husband and the impact it could've had on me, had I acted on those feelings at that time, that I knew that I knew was certain, would've so changed the future for me, for Mark, for our kids. And that's why I so love what I do on the phones, because it's about giving hope to these people that feel they don't have an ounce of it anymore.
Angie: And to go, "Come and explore the possibilities—
Angie: --of what it could look like." Yeah.
Jim: Well, that's what I love about God's heart for marriage. He says He hates divorce--
Jim: --and that He would hope, I think it's clear that He would hope that any couple who is wanting to give it up, would spend the extra time and effort to try harder. That's His desire. Does He love us through it? I believe He does. Is He concerned for the divorce rate within the church? Absolutely. Every day at NIM, The National Institute of Marriage, you are working with people like this.
One of the reasons Focus wanted to be not just associated with NIM, but to bring it into the operation of Focus on the Family, [is] because it's core to who we are.
Jim: What you are doing and are doing in Branson, fit with what we're about here at Focus, not just to talk about marriage on the broadcast or refer couples here and there to counseling services here at Focus or refer them to others, but to actually incorporate an effort like NIM, National Institute of Marriage, where you are dealing really deeply with rebuilding marriages. You have an 84.7 percent success rate. This is when you do the test two years after the counseling you do and these couples are doing well. They're still together and married, 84.7 percent. And the couples that are coming, like you, are desperate couples that are probably at the end of the rope, that are thinking divorce.
Angie: [The] majority of 'em have divorce papers filed.
Jim: And they have them filed. I mean, let me speak to you right now. If you're in that place and you are contemplating divorce, you've even filed the paperwork, would you reconsider for a moment and think of what a little instruction and help might look like and what it will do for you? I think it was University of Chicago, who took two groups that were planning to divorce. And they incentivized some way the one group not to divorce, to work through their issues. The other group, I don't know morally how you do this, but they let them continue with filing the paperwork and getting the divorce.
Five years later they went back to these couples and the group that divorced, 85 percent I think, roughly 85 percent of them said they were less happy than their first marriage or second marriage, whatever it might have been. The other group that fought through the problems, battled through, learned how to communicate better, much like you two, 85 percent of those couples were far happier than they were five years before.
Jim: It takes effort.
Angie: It does.
Jim: And today we have a throw-away culture, a contract culture. You're not meeting my needs; I'm leaving—
Jim: --rather than a covenant culture. I'm committed to you. Talk about NIM, Mark. Talk about what you get to do now every day. It's not taking care of people at the hotel who are worried about how you part their car.
Jim: It's even greater.
Mark: Yeah, couples really from all over the world call. We've served couples from all 50 states, 28 countries now, I believe. Hundreds of couples a year, we estimate 75 percent of those couples are saying, "Hey, this is our last stop. Either we get help or our marriage is gonna end."
And they come for what we call Intensive Marriage Counseling. And they'll stay either two days or three days, four days, six days, depending on the program and work with the counselors on our team. And this format, this intensive format allows the counselors really to get to the root of the issues. And we just see phenomenal success, as you said earlier, our research is indicating that, you know, 84.6, 84.7 percent of those couples are remaining married.
Jim: And that's the goal. You're coming from a place of brokenness and somebody said the other day, which is so beautiful, don't find somebody who is I guess "bragadocious;" find somebody who walks with a limp—
Jim: --who's broken.
Jim: Their heart will be for you and that's what NIM is all about. That's what Focus on the Family is all about. And that's what I so appreciate about what you're doing day in and day out. John, I think it's important to mention here that where abuse is occurring, we need to caution people to get safety.
Jim: That's the first step on whether that marriage can get to a healthier place, that takes specialized counseling and we're talking here, if you're in that situation, seek safety for you and your children, whatever it might be. But we're talking about those marriages that again, are just dried up. There's nothing left. There's no ounce of love left in maybe both of the spouses.
Also I want to mention that people might be feeling like we're pointing at the deficiencies in the husbands. But today in this culture, far more women today now are beginning to file the divorce papers. It's called "the greying of divorce." The kids are raised and there's been a spike in divorce, mostly because women are saying, I'm done.
John: Yeah, I'm fed up.
Jim: I'm fed up and it's catching a lot of men by surprise. So the angst, the energy that's in these failing marriages comes both from women who are disillusioned, but also men who don't know what to do or they had the affair. I just want to point out, both spouses can be in trouble here. Mark, in fact, let's talk about that, where one of the two want[s] the help. They're crying out or asking. They're pleading and the other one is not responsive. What happens in that situation?
Mark: Yeah, we get those calls all the time. Typically, it really is, it's the guy calling in saying, "I want to do something and we need to get help." And the—
Mark: --and the wife is unwilling at this point, because something has been missing in the relationship for the wife for a long period of time, whether that's a year or five years, 10 years, whatever. And in some ways, they feel like they're dying emotionally. And it really starts to feel like life and death, as if they were in the deep end of the pool, 10 feet under water. At some point it becomes so desperate, they have to break for the surface. So, it feels like I can stay in the pool and die or I can go get air.
And going to get air could be move out, ask for a divorce, have an affair or whatever that is, but it's a desperate attempt to stay alive. And the challenge with that is, if you go to that person and say, "Hey, can you get help?" it sounds like, "Hey, can you go back underwater?" And it's really difficult for them to say yes to that question.
And if we get an opportunity to speak with that spouse, what we say is, that at NIM, we're not interested in putting you back under the water. We're interested in seeing if there's a way we can bring the whole marriage to the surface. Can you be full, whole, healthy, fully attended to and excited about moving forward in your marriage? That's our goal.
At no point will the well-being of your marriage take precedence over you as an individual. We feel that Christ gave His life for people, for individuals, not for marriages. And if we attend to the marriage and don't attend to the individual, in many ways it perverts the Gospel.
Jim: You know, Mark, as I hear that, a lot of people are going, whoa, whoa, whoa. You know, committed Christians who are living, you know, good lives, probably committed in their marriages and they have healthy marriages. They don't walk with a limp in this area perhaps and therefore, they don't get that. Certainly God is for marriage. He created the institution. What do you mean?
Jim: You want to clarify that anymore?
Mark: Well, I think the eternal part of this are [is] the individuals. The marriage isn't eternal, but the people in the marriage are and we want to fully attend to the people in the marriage and teach them the tools to help them to be full, whole and healthy. And if both of them are full, whole and healthy, they've got a great opportunity to walk forward together in marriage successfully.
Jim: And again, the exclamation point for me is to live it well, so that people will see and want to believe, you know, especially in a world that's becoming more and more desperate in their own marriages, the unbelievers who, if they look at us and it's not working, that gives them no hope--
Jim: --that they can find a way. And that's how we gotta start thinking about our own marriages. Folks, our vision for NIM is to be able to help couples, maybe thousands. We're in the hundreds right now. We'd like to move to the thousands of couples that can repair their marriages. So, when the world looks at the church, they can see marriages that are lasting, not seeing hypocrisy—
Angie and Mark: Uh-hm.
Jim: --if I could be that bold.
Jim: But that we're living our faith out right in our marriages and I don't mean to heap any kind of condemnation onto anybody. Let's be real. Let's deal with it and let's do better for the sake of Christ. Thanks for bein' with us today.
Angie: Thank you.
Mark: It's our pleasure. Thanks for havin' us.
John: Well, you two are a great example of how God isn't done with any of us and there's always hope no matter how hard the struggles. You can learn more about the National Institute of Marriage or talk to of our counselors about your relationship challenges, when you call, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Now the resources that we offer, the help of our counselors and the important work of the National Institute of Marriage, all of that is made possible by generous listeners like you, who support financially the work of Focus on the Family. And when you make a donation, either a one-time gift or through an ongoing basis--our Friends of the Family program--you're making it possible for us to undergird marriages and to make a difference in the lives of families around the world. So, please consider a generous donation today.
Now listening for that deeper emotion that your spouse is communicating is sometimes hard. And if you can find out how to dial in and really hear what your spouse is saying, you can probably clear up some misunderstandings. We have a free sample chapter of a book that Gary Smalley wrote, called, The DNA of Relationships, that addresses this very thing. Stop by and get that at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening in. I'm John Fuller, hoping you have a great weekend and inviting you back on Monday. We will have Phil Vischer here. He's the creator of VeggieTales, talking about raising children to have a vibrant faith and we'll also have his Sunday school teacher with us.
Phil Vischer as the Sunday School Teacher: Hello, dears! I've got a magic flannelgraph and I'm not afraid to use it.
End of Clip
John: (Chuckling) Phil Vischer on the next "Focus on the Family program, when we'll once again, help your family thrive.
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Mark PyattView Bio
A founding team member of the National Institute of Marriage, Mark Pyatt now serves as the organization's Vice President of Operations, tasked with overseeing marketing, accounting, human resources, strategic planning and more. Mark and his wife, Angie, who also works for the Institute, reside in Branson, MO, and have two children.
Angie PyattView Bio
Angie Pyatt serves as an Intensive Consultant at the National Institute of Marriage. She's also the organization's registrar and has additional responsibilities in social media, marketing and facilities management. Angie and her husband, Mark, who is Vice President of Operations at the Institute, reside in Branson, MO, and have two children.