Mr. Gil Stuart: 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 we are … 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.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Gil and Brenda Stuart were our guests last time, sharing about the special challenges, the unique difficulties that stepfamilies face and we’ll continue that conversation on today’s “Focus on the Family” with your host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: You know, with 40 percent of households in America and Canada included, North America, being blended families, stepfamilies, we all know people that are in that place. Um … last time we talked to our guests and they pointed out something that is so true, how quick we are to judge people, particularly within the church if they are divorced and remarried. We often don’t know their story. We don’t know if it was their spouse who possibly passed away, or maybe there was an infidelity. Um … but they’re trying to recover and they’re trying to find the Lord in that place. If you didn’t hear the broadcast last time, get the download. Go to the website. Um … it’s there. Get the phone app, and you can listen today to the program we aired yesterday.
We’re gonna continue that discussion today with our guests, Gil and Brenda Stuart, who have been married for 13 years. It’s a second marriage for both of them. They both felt that their Christian marriages protected them, in fact, they used the word “bulletproofed” their marriages from failure. But their spouses weren’t necessarily in that same place. They divorced and then met each other shortly after and began that process to marry. We covered most of that last time and let me welcome back Gil and Brenda Stuart. Welcome back to “Focus.”
Brenda Stuart: Thank you.
Gil: Thank you very much.
Jim: Um … that was very traumatic and you shared very openly about the pain of that and the sorrow of that. And Brenda, to bring you in right here, you mentioned something about the sense of guilt, that the sanctity of marriage is so close and just express that to us.
Brenda: Yeah, I think as I previously stated, just being around friends that … friends of ours now that have been married for 30, 40 years and knowing that if I was still in my first marriage, I would be at that point. And I um … I grieve the loss of that last marriage, not in the sense that I miss my ex-husband, because we’re different people now, but I’m grieving the loss of that … that in … I hate to say “institution.” I’m not sure what to call the sanctity of marriage that God ordained that it should be one person the rest of your life, because He does not like divorce, mainly because of the pain it brings. He knows that—
Brenda: –that’s not best for us. So, I think at many levels, Gil and I do grieve that loss because every time we have a … a new grandbaby, every graduation, every wedding, any kind of communication, celebration with our kids, with our family now, brings up … it’s almost like the divorce was this deep wound that’s now has kinda scarred over and—
Brenda: –it doesn’t hurt as much, but it’s still there in every family event, it’s just brushed.
Jim: You know, last time we talked about it not being “The Brady Bunch,” you know.
Jim: All of us that are in our early ’50’s or (Laughter) or late ’40’s remember“The Brady Bunch.” The point of that is, there’s a lot of pain in blended marriages and you’re trying to make the marriage healthy and you’ve got all these um … hidden wounds, some visible wounds that come out in different ways. And you mentioned those triggers last time and how Brenda would trigger you, Gil, and Gil, you would trigger, Brenda.
But now I want to turn it to the kids, because the kids and as I mentioned, I was one. I was a 9-year-old stepchild. You have a whole ‘nother element with the children there. And you’re tryin’ to work things out, be on the same page, be in love, have these feelings of regret, remorse, guilt, all those things that you’re alluding to, Brenda. And yet, now we’ve got these other kids. In your case, you had seven kids you were dealin’ with. Talk about that mix and all the emotions of it and how do you even start to get through it?
Gil: Seven children, we lovingly refer to as “those people.” (Laughter)
Jim: Those people. (Laughter) When are those people leaving?
Brenda: What are those people doing?
Gil: When are they coming back, those people? I mean, it’s … we love them all.
Jim: At that time—
Gil: At that time.
Jim: –just for the new listeners, what were their ages in the beginning?
Gil: Uh … when we first married, the oldest was 22, the youngest was 11.
Gil: You know, the one thing, too about “The Brady Bunch” that you mentioned, if you go back and look at the episodes, they had no “ex’s.”
Jim: Yeah, that’s true.
Gil: They had no memory of someone of someone–
Jim: They never talked about it.
Gil: –who passed away. They never talked about it. They just glossed over it.
Gil: However, there are those issues, those phantoms, those things that are connected to … for the sake of the children. They still have memories, and I think that’s the place as stepparents. We have to be supersensitive and give them a place to grieve, as well as to enjoy their parents, if they’re still living.
Jim: How … how did you try to bring the family together?
Gil: Forced family—
Brenda: I think …
Gil: –fun. (Laughter)
Jim:Forced family fun.
Brenda: Triple F nights, “Forced Family Fun”—
Jim: And how did that go?
Brenda:–. Especially with two teenagers, well, it’s rough. even a couple of Christmases ago, somebody said, “Yeah, this is a Tripe F night.” And they’re adults now. (Laughing)
Gil: Yeah, we were pushing cars out of the snowy road, but I think—
Brenda: Did …
Gil: –one of my favorite moments of bonding was camping—
Gil: –especially in the Northwest–
Jim: I love that.
Gil: –because it rains there, and at the time, the kids were all at various ages and …
Brenda: We were just like within the first year or two.
Gil: Right and so, we went camping and in our family tradition it was, you put a tarp over the … the camp site. My stepson said, “Why in the world are we doin’ this?” (Laughter) Well, at about 2 o’clock in the morning when it started raining, then they understood (Laughter), because their campsite was under cover and so, we didn’t have ’em all pile into the tent trailer.
But you know, it’s interesting, one of the best things you can do to create bonding for teenagers and kids is to create what I would call a faux crisis.
Gil: You know, having something break that you really know isn’t broken, so that everybody will pull together. That was helpful.
Brenda: Flooding is good.
Gil: Flooding is good, yeah.
Brenda: Flooding is helpful in a house.
Brenda: Yeah, in the house.
Jim: I’ve never seen flooding as a good thing. (Laughter)
Brenda: We were having, I mean, having dinner one night. Over the dining room table, the fixture … water was coming down from the ceiling.
Gil: A toilet had malfunctioned.
Jim: And it was leaking through the ceiling.
Gil: Yes, yes.
Jim: Oh, my goodness
Gil: And everybody joined in. I mean—
Brenda: It was great.
Gil: –yeah, it was great. It was a mess—
Gil: –but it was great.
Jim: –so when you look back on it, was that sufficient, those times? Or did you struggle?
Gil: Well, there was still a struggle, but it was those little intimate moments that they all look back on. There was still territorialism between my kids coming and going and you know, ’cause I … when we first got married, we … I moved into … to Brenda’s space, you know. That was pretty tough.
Jim: And they didn’t come to the wedding?
Gil: Mine did not, no.
Jim: How did that make you feel? Let me ask Brenda. Brenda, how did that make you feel?
Brenda: I felt terrible for Gil, just devastated, ’cause my guys were there, realizing that all the kids at a certain level were in pain, because even though this is new for us, we found love again, it’s another loss for them, because they realize now that their bio parents will never get back together.
Jim: It’s a final edict.
Brenda: Yeah and I think a lot of remarried couples gloss over that and they don’t realize the impact. They’re happy, so then everyone else should be happy, but they don’t realize the impact on their kids to be sensitive to where they’re at. Um … I mean, early on we had uh … meetings with each of the kids. We’d pull ’em into our bedroom, close the door, all sit on the floor so we were all level, you know and just basically say, “Hey, we just want to check in. How’s your heart? This is a safe place to talk. Anything that’s said here stays here. We need to speak respectful[ly] to each other. But how’s it goin’?”
And just give them a place to share and say, “You know what? I’m not happy. I miss my old family.” And for us as the adults, can say, “You know what? I miss my old family, too, but look at the great adventure that’s ahead. And just give ’em a place to show them respect, to hear their heart.
Jim: How did that come about with your kids, Gil, I mean, if they didn’t come to the wedding? How old were they at that point, your kids?
Gil: Uh … the youngest was 10, almost 11. The oldest was um … 21, 22. Um … you know, when you ask that question, um … that still hurts.
Jim: I could see that. I mean, I saw it in your face.
Gil: (Emotional) [Just a] second. Um …
Jim: How does it hurt?
Gil: It … it … the remorse of the first marriage’s demise, what was supposed to be, I think, you know, the ideal was gone. It was … it wasn’t coming back. And for me to step into a new relationship that was a marriage, was the end of everything that they had hoped for. You know, because those kids still want you to get back together again. And so, for them not to show up, to still … in … unsupported, in a lot of ways, I wasn’t abandoning them, but I think that they felt that I was.
What’s the beautiful part about this thing, as time has gone by is, is that one by one, as they’ve seen the love that Brenda and I have for one another and that we didn’t just, you know, shut them out because they didn’t come, but little by little, they’ve one at a time, come back and said, “We’re really sorry, dad. We should’ve been there. It was a big day for you.”
Jim: Gil, let me ask this question, because um … there can be a lot of different configurations to this.
Jim: But parents in that spot, there’s a lot of different ways to handle it. It sounds like you allowed them to opt out. I don’t know what kind of discussion you had with them, if it was argumentative or if you accepted it and left it lie, so that you could see down the road 13 years later and you’ve been married 13 years, so that they could come back around to you and say, “You know, dad, we’re sorry.”
Jim: What do you do in that moment 13 years ago to make sure you get the right outcome 13 years later?
Gil: Huh … a lot of prayer for wisdom daily. I think the thing was lots of grace. I had a decision to make and that was, this is gonna be a marriage that’s gonna be based upon me loving Brenda and loving God, but for to love my children and to force them? I mean,
I … I … we’ve talked with a lot of couples around the country who they forced their kids to come to that wedding whether they wanted to or not and it has backfired on ’em.
So, I think that the God-given wisdom in that moment was, is even with my two youngest, they were really close to coming to the wedding, but at the last minute, they opted out. And I knew that there were things going on behind the background that I had no control over. So, it was like, best to just say, “Okay. I’m not gonna force it,” you know.
Gil: “And I’m not gonna, you know, push you into something that you don’t want to. But, just know, even though you’re not here, I … I know you still love me, and I still love you, and that’s where we’re gonna leave it.”
Jim: Yeah. Brenda did your children say, “How come daddy’s kids aren’t coming?”
Brenda: Well, Gil’s kids. We weren’t—
Jim: I don’t know—
Brenda: –I don’t think they’ve called—
Jim: –the … how they referred to him.
Brenda: (Laughing) They cal … refer as … to him as Gil, although I think a couple of ’em would like to call him “dad.”
Jim: Did they have questions about it?
Brenda: Um … I think they did and we just … I … do you remember, Gil–
Gil: Oh, yeah.
Brenda: –how … how we couched it?
Gil: And they were … they—
Brenda: I mean …
Gil: –were wondering, “Hey, where are … where are our soon-to-be stepsiblings?” And um … I think the response was, is that, “They’ve chosen not to be here and we’re gonna respect that choice.”
Brenda: It was all done, I think in love and respect—
Brenda: –for everybody involved, because I think our … through our whole time as we were early on, all of the kids were very respectful to each other and us. And there weren’t any like flat-out mean … there were some trips and (Laughing) missteps, but not intentional mean like, “You’re not my mom.” “You’re not my dad.” We hear that all the time and that’s just the hurt coming out, you know, in anger, because these kids are hurting.
John: Well, we’re hearing about the messy realities of remarriage and how a stepfamily comes together and what an interesting “Focus on the Family” broadcast with Gil and Brenda Stuart as our guests. And they’ve written this book, Restored and Remarried. We’ve got details about it at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
End of Program Note
John: And as you two are sharing so vulnerably, I’m thinking, so what did you expect going in? I mean, did you have any clue it was going to be this difficult as you, as your wedding approached, as you started off the new relationship?
Brenda: I think we tried to intentionally invest and do as much homework as we could. And we actually had to get on a plane and fly to Arizona to hear a … a stepfamily seminar by Ron Deal, because there is just nothing … nothing out there. So, we felt like we had … we had a pretty good handle on it. But (Laughing)—
Gil: No, we were—
Brenda: –oh, my goodness.
Gil: –there were things—
Brenda: –There’s always …
Gil: –that blindsided us, the territorialism, the … the nature of, you know, the circumstances of what the kids brought with them when they came from their, you know, their other biological parents back to us. I mean, just the cool-down sessions for them, the cool-down sessions for us. The callous that I grew on the bottom of my lip, biting my lip so I wouldn’t say the wrong thing. I mean, there were … there was a lot of really angst of—
Brenda: Well, and—
Gil: –how was this gonna happen and … and … and it really was tough.
Brenda: –and we felt that even though we had kinda done our homework and when we do seminars now, one of the first questions we ask is, you know, raise your hand. How many of you did your pre … how many of you had premarital? And hardly anybody raises their hand. And it’s like, well—
Jim: ‘Cause it’s the second—
Brenda: –we’ve been married—
Jim: –or third time around.
Brenda: –yeah, it’s like, “Well, we’ve been married before. We know how this goes.” Well, how’s that working for you?” (Laughter)
Brenda: You can never get enough information, because this is a whole new marriage here, and if we’re having challenges, if I’m having challenges in this new relationship, it’s because I’m the common denominator, so what’s in me that needs to adjust?
Jim: Hey, let me bring us back to the kids again, because I think it’s so important for those that are in this situation, they’ve remarried, uh … to get practical with the children and what’s happening. You mentioned one thing, Brenda, about bringing the kids into the bedroom. Was it one at a time?
Jim: And just talkin’ with them. What are some other things that help let some of the pressure out? And Gil, you know, your kids were the older kids, so they were more cognitive of what was going on. Maybe they even had greater um … I don’t know, disappointments in some ways. What did you do to really help them and how are they doing today? Where’s your relationship at with them today?
Gil: Well, at the time, uh … the two oldest ones, in the seven of “those people,” were mine. And they really didn’t want to engage. They were just like really stand-offish.
Gil: So, the best thing we could do was have a strong marriage, because they were watching us.
Jim: Do you think they were saying, “Prove it to me”?
Jim: –you’ve already blown it once.
Gil: Oh, yeah, you … yeah, absolutely. We’re watchin’ you, Dad.
Gil: And this … you know, that kind of trickled down to the rest of the children, as well. But I think the thing that, you know, Brenda mentioned having the children in one at a time to talk to ’em. The one piece of advice I would give to the listening audience is, be sure you bring in the informant child first, because if you bring in the tight-lipped kid first, you don’t know what’s goin’ on amongst (Laughter) the ranks. So, that’s …
Jim: Is that called “wisdom” or “conniving?”
Brenda: (Laughing ) Right.
Gil: No, that’s just uh … experience. (Laughter)
Jim: So bring …
Gil: Bring … bring in the … bring in the informant first.
Jim: Bring the record keeper in.
Gil: Yeah, bring him. So, another thing that we did, and I think it really set the stage, because we were dealing with the issues of safety. Well, what about the children?
Jim: Between the two of you.
Gil: I mean, literally in the marriage, we’re dealing with the issues of safety and rebuilding trust, etc., etc., because they … the children are, too. So, seeing and observing the uh … the territorialism that was there. Now … you know …
Jim: What does that look like? You’ve referred to that a couple times–
Gil: –it depends on which house you settle on, because sometimes uh … you know, if I own the house and Brenda moves into my place and the … and the kids are familiar with that place, then if those biological children are familiar with that, that’s their home base.
In my case, I moved into Brenda’s home and my kids were coming in, going … in to an area that were the stepsiblings’ home base.
Jim: So, the kids by nature, your kids coming in feel like guests—
Jim: –for a period of time.
Gil: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah.
Brenda: That why ideally, if you can arrange it, to … to start fresh and buy a new home, new … you know. But you can’t always do that, financially.
Gil: Not always practical.
Brenda: So, we were able to make sure that each kid that was with us had their own room.
Gil: Which was good.
Brenda: That was really important, if you can—
Gil: Yes, this is good.
Brenda: –do that. Now it’s not always feasible, but even if the kids have to share rooms, that they have their own special place within that room that is theirs and it’s there, you know, it’s protected.
Gil: One other thing that we did do early on and continue to really strive for was, to build safety for the kids. And so, in essence, when we really pointed out, one Saturday morning Brenda was gone, and I was like, okay, I’m gonna go into this with these teenagers, like oh, I don’t know. And when I got into it, I was lookin’ at these kids like, oh, boy, what have I got myself into?
Gil: But literally I said and I identified who the players were. I mean, this is obvious to my stepsons. I’m not your father, but I am your mother’s husband. And to my children, I said, “No, Brenda is not your mom, but she is my wife. And when you come to this home and you walk through that door, this is to be a safe zone.” And that got tested.
Jim: Oh, I’m sure, all the time.
Gil: All the time.
Gil: And so, here we are now 13 ½ years later and now the oldest is 36. The youngest is almost 26 and they, when they’re all together, they’re respectful of one another. You can still see the family units. It’s—
Gil: –still there, but when they’re together, there is truly a respect and a love for one another and a respect and love for us as their parents and/or stepparent. That is the point of rebuilding legacy, because nobody wants a divorce, but if you go through it, then what?
Gil: You have to get back to being busy about rebuilding what God has given you to rebuild with the family. And your material, unfortunately, it’s kinda the … the … the angst of the building of the book was, what we’re being handed to rebuild our family with is broken and charred and busted and cracked. But God can use that, too. He can redeem anything, if you’ll let Him.
Jim: Yeah. You know, looking back on it and again, we touched on this last time, but um … in your … both of your cases, it was out of your control. It … they … it was your spouses that … that really made the decision to leave the marriage. But people who are in their first marriages can glean a lot from what we’ve talked about. Um … if you were counseling that first married couple and they’re struggling and you could talk about the pain of divorce and what it has cost you emotionally, certainly the benefit of finding each other and rebuilding is there, but what … what would you say to that couple that’s married for the first time there. You’re maybe No. 10, or maybe No. 20. They’ve been married 20 years, but there’s no more spark.
Jim: I think I could find somethin’ better out there. I’m … you’re not my one and only. I thought you were, but you’re not that person. What would you say to them?
Gil: What was it that drew you together? What were the bonds? What were the attachments? Go back and repair those things. It may be difficult. You may have to dig out the grout, so to say, that’s become moldy and crusty. And that’s done through acts of forgiveness.
And that is what really, I would say, let alone when we do sit with couples like that, because we do, Itypically back up and get out of the way so Brenda can hit ’em with a pink 2 x 4. Uh … (Laughter) she’s pretty … pretty too much at it. So, I’m gonna kind of just let you jump in here a little bit, ’cause (Laughter) you … you say some pretty strong stuff.
Brenda: Well, because this is a hill I die on.
Brenda: That’s it. I just … this is ridiculous. We’re adults. Sometimes you need to put your big boy pants on and put your big girl pants on, and when you have kids, it’s not just about you. It’s about your legacy. And there are so many resources. I mean, look at the resources that Focus on the Family has that you could—
Brenda: –hundreds of years, you could be going through things of resources. So, you know, one thing that people don’t realize is, that 17 to 25 years of marriage I call, is “the hot bed,” that the majority of divorces happen. You’re usually hitting your 40’s. The kids are teenagers, so they’re sucking your brains out. (Laughter)
Jim: That’s a good description.
Brenda: Totally … and there’s a … you know, you’re re-evaluating your life. Is this all there is? And isn’t that just … it’s a brilliant ploy of the enemy to take you out.
Brenda: It’s brilliant, because your defenses are down, if the enemy can take out one more marriage or family—
Brenda: –then he’s won. So what do you need to do during that time is, you’ve got to be able to re-invest in each other, you know. Ladies, if I had ladies here, I’d say, “How are you being your husband’s girlfriend?”
Brenda: Really. If you—
Jim: That can be a convicting question, both ways.
Brenda: –yeah, if you don’t know, ask your husband. What would a girl … and the biggest question that I would anyone is, would you come home to you?
Brenda: Ooh, that’s getting’ in the deep end. But sometimes we have to self-reflect and say, you know what? It’s just not about me. It’s about … he’s not my partner; he’s my spouse and what—
John: Well, what—
Brenda: –can I do?
John: –what do you ask or tell the guys?
Brenda: I would love to do a men’s retreat sometime. (Laughing)
Brenda: And I’d—
Brenda: –not to beat up the guys, not at all, but to uplift them and say, oh, my gosh, men, you have this incredible calling that God’s given you to lead your family. How many of you are praying with your wives? And I’m not talking about this deep prayer. I, as a wife, when Gil and I pray, I feel protected. I feel cherished. I feel wanted. Um … and if it … even if it’s just a simple, “Lord, thank You for today.”
Gil: Okay, I gotta—
Brenda: And …
Gil: –jump in. Guys, did you realize that a strong prayer life equates to a strong sex life? Go find out. It’s a true … it’s been statistically [proven].
Jim: Well, it builds intimacy.
Gil: It builds intimacy and if … if that is the most intimate thing you can do as a husband, is to pray with your wife, she wants your heart. You want other things. (Laughter)
Jim: Well, let’s say—
Gil: But you—
Jim: –you want your heart—
Gil: –dif …
Jim: –their heart, too.
Gil: Their heart, too, but (Laughter) you know, I’m tryin’ to get in the nitty gritty here.
Jim: Yeah, no, you’re being honest.
Gil: I’m bein’ honest, because the perspective is, if you’re in a tough spot, again counseling basically states this. If you’re in a tough spot, if this is for the long haul, if you can make it and invest, those … even it’s really like you’re down in the ditches, five years, give it five years of investing. If you’re doing okay, go to a … a retreat. Go … go invest, because when your defenses are down, that’s when you can receive. When you need that extra help and that mentoring, there’s mentoring out there, but (Sigh) there’s so much to be done, but for–
Brenda: But you’re saying the five years.
Gil: –yeah, that five-year-mark is, is that if you’re really entering into that … the … that tough spot, just think about it. If this is gonna be for a lifetime, five years is nothin’. Those five years may be the time that you’re in the trenches, but when you come out, you’ve got legacy. You’ve got grandchildren. You’ve got something to pass on to the next generation.
Brenda: And your marriage won’t look like it used to, ’cause it’ll be in a better place.
Jim: Well, um … that is well-said and we’ve tried to uh … offer couples that kind of help here at Focus on the Familyand I appreciate the fact you acknowledged that. We want marriages to thrive, whether it’s your first marriage in God’s design or your second marriag