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 2 of 2)
Jim Daly: Talk about that moment when he actually came to you and said, "I can't. I'm walkin' out the door."
Mrs. Jill Savage: Uh-hm.
Jim: How did that happen?
Jill: I was crushed. I mean, I really thought he would never go that far, but I also didn't realize how dark it was inside of him, the hopelessness that he was experiencing, the desert that he was walking in spiritually, emotionally, relationally.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: That's from a conversation that we had a number of years ago with Jill Savage about a very difficult time in her relationship with her husband, Mark. Now the good news is, Mark and Jill are here today with us on "Focus on the Family" And they have some insights and excellent advice and encouragement for couples to restore and reconcile their marriages. And your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller.
Jim: John, we hear from so many couples who have come to the end of their rope. They don't see any hope for their marriage. Maybe there's been infidelity or some other trust broken or whatever it might be. There's a cooling of the relationship. The one that catches my attention is when people say, "We just fell out of love." I mean, that's so unfortunate. What I like to say is, "Well, that's because you weren't working at it." Marriage takes discipline. It takes effort. It doesn't just happen. It's not, you know, just coming out of the ground and you're loving each other endlessly. It takes effort.
And it such a tragedy in our culture today that we have removed God from His plan for marriage. I mean, He's the one that designed it. I often smile because man, He's got a knack for pulling opposite people together. I mean, He has wired us that way. Introvert meets extrovert. "I love you." And you're looking for something that's different from you and I think that's inherent in us. It's what God placed there.
And rightfully, the question is, why did He do that? I think the answer is so you could become more like Him, because it's gonna require selflessness to be successful in that marriage. And He's smilin' goin', "I've done a good thing, 'cause you're gonna learn more about who you are and become more like Me, if it works."
John: Well, sometimes those differences really don't work out and couples find themselves in trouble. This quick reminder that here at Focus on the Family, we have resources and tools. We have counselors and we have our Hope Restored marriage intensive. We have a lot to offer couples who either need some minor tune-up with regard to the relationship or major overhaul, because those differences are becoming more and more profound. And so, let me encourage you to call us. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY or stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radioto learn more.
Jim: If you didn't hear the conversation last time with Mark and Jill Savage, I recommend you get the download or CD. Get the app on your Smartphone, whatever you need to do. It was terrific. I mean, it talked about the way we think as human beings, the vulnerability of us. You will appreciate what we have done there in order to set up today.
And today we're gonna talk about deeper pain and those things that were causing difficulties in the Savage's marriage. To give a little bit of background, they were in public ministry. Jill was the founder and CEO of Hearts at Home. Mark was a pastor for 20 years. They would write and speak on family issues, helping save the marriages of others and at the same time, their marriage was crumbling.
Let me welcome both of you back to the broadcast. What an introduction, right? Your marriage (Laughter) was crumbling. But you know what's so good about it and we're gonna get there, here you are today.
Mr. Mark Savage, Mrs. Jill Savage: Uh-hm.
Jim: You're at the table.
Jim: You're together.
Jill: That's right.
Jim: You're still married.
Jill: That's right.
Jim: And I just give you so many accolades for fighting through that and doing what the Lord would want done, even in difficult circumstances.
Mark, we left off last time where you were just beginning to share 28 years into your marriage, you were burned out. You left the pastorate. You're depressed really. I mean, that's what it sounded like to me. You were in a mid-life crisis. Jill, years before had, had this heart flutter for a coworker. She came to you and said, "I'm experiencing this." You responded with gentleness, with wisdom. Let's fix this. We gotta get it take care of. Jill left her job, got out of that situation, but now years later, you're the man. As Nathan said to David. You're the one.
Jim: Describe briefly what took place and then we'll go to the healing portion.
Mark: What took place was my disillusionment and mistrust of God was at the core of all of this. And it played out in experiencing or believing out of my own brokenness, that my marriage was just too hard. Life was too hard. It wasn't worth it. I to start over. I needed something new. I took the steps to pursue something new. I found a new relationship. I left Jill and my kids and (Emotional) I'm sorry. Wow. I left Jill and my kids, believing that, that new relationship was gonna be the cure-all.
But the problem was, I took somebody with me and that was me. In pursuing this new relationship, what I am so grateful for is, that God just kept pursuing me. And the door opened for me to realize how powerful my flesh had been and that I hadn't learned how to really deal with the flesh and also, how much God wanted me to be free of me.
Jim: Jill, turning to you. I mean, wow, this is tough stuff. This is probably the arrow that pierces a wife's heart the deepest, the most profoundly. It's the trust factor. It's violation. I can feel that in the letters we read here at Focus or the e-mails. It just devastates, because what does a woman think when this happens? You turn it to yourself. Where did I fail?
Jim: What was my problem?
Jim: I mean, it's a beautiful thing, but man, it crumbles you.
Jill: Uh-hm, yeah, you really do naturally think what am I not providing? What do I need to change, all of that. And I would say that probably filled my mind for probably the first two months after discovery.
But there was a turning point for me where I moved it in my head and my heart from being about me to recognizing the confusion that he was in. And I think honestly, that's what allowed me to stay in the game for a while because I began, instead of seeing [it] and making it about me, I began to have compassion upon him.
Jim: That fork in the road though between finding and growing in compassion, versus the bridge of bitterness, when you're standing there, I mean, it's not like a stoplight. It's coming from within.
Jill: Scary, uh-hm.
Jim: Some people have said, "I couldn't control that bitterness. I was angry." He violated me in so many ways.
Jim: How do you choose to follow God through this dark path?
Jill: The No. 1 thing you do is pour your heart out to God. I mean, you lay it out there and you express your anger to Him. I mean, Many times [I] just was in a heap on the floor, of tears, bawling my eyes out, crying out, begging God to bring back the husband I knew that was in there, but was so lost.
And so, I think part of it is, you've got to express that and I had a handful of friends that were safe for me to be able to express that to and to process that with, as well. So, I think part of it is, you know, being honest with God. And that doesn't mean [it's easy]; it's not a clean process. It's messy. It's really messy.
Jim: And don't pretend in that process. Don't feel one way about your spouse and then turn to God and act a different way.
Jill: Um-um, no.
Jim: Bring that over. Talk to the Father about that.
Jill: You don't have to get cleaned up before you talk to Him. You just lay it out there. He knows.
Jim: Yeah, He wants your heart.
Jill: And not only that, but Christ was betrayed. I mean, you talk about somebody understanding betrayal. Your God gets it.
Jill: And so, just even remembering that, it's not lost. The pain of that is not lost on Him.
Jim: Jill, you meet with many women who have been wounded in this way and I can imagine you get the whole spectrum of response. "I'm not gonna let him treat me like a doormat."
Jill: Uh-hm, uh-hm.
Jim: "That'd be the wrong thing to do, to be tender and to have compassion for him." Speak to that woman particularly, who has all these voices ringing in her head at that moment, where you're choosing especially with kids in the home, I mean, you are choosing some big decisions here.
Jim: How do you settle your heart down? How do you think through, without giving a free pass—
Jim: --to your spouse to say, that's okay, so that it might happen again without any consequence, that's not healthy.
Jim: But how do you balance all that? Just speak to the spectrum of voices of women that you've heard from, from hardcore: "I locked him out of the house; he's never gonna see his kids again!" to the other end where really was your response of, "How do I fix this, Lord? What can You do through me?"
Jill: Yes, I would say mine wasn't all the way over there. (Laughter) Because the other thing, you know, we were seeing a counselor when all of this happened. And he stopped going to counseling. I continued to go and my counselor was helpful in me trying to figure out the balance between grace-filled love and boundary-filled love. And there had to be both. So, for instance, when he left, one of the things I did is, I changed the locks on the house. And he couldn't come back in without calling me, making arrangements.
Jim: That was under that "boundary" category.
Jill: It was a boundary category because our kids were absolutely crushed and I couldn't have him just show up and then have them drug through the emotions of a dad walking in the door and then not being prepared for that.
Jill: So, that was one place where I had to draw some boundaries, but at the same time to do it in as much of a loving way as possible.
Jim: As you could muster.
Jim: I mean, let's be truthful.
Jill: And right and there were moments that I was not loving. I remember one night when shortly after he left, one of the boys overflowed the toilet on the second floor and it overflowed into the kitchen and down into the basement. And I was alone at home, trying to figure out what to do. And I'm gonna tell you, I was not very happy with him at that moment and I was not very kind. (Laughing) I mean, let's be honest.
Jill: It was ugly that night.
Jim: Right, if everything was normal, if you didn't, "fill in the blank."
Jim: You would be here to help us right now at our point of need.
Jill: Exactly, so [I] didn't do that perfectly in any way, but at the same time, tried very hard when we did set those boundaries, when I did set necessary boundaries, to do it in as loving way and with as much compassion as possible.
John: Our guests today on "Focus on the Family" are Mark and Jill Savage and they've shared very candidly here on the air and in their book, No More Perfect Marriages. You can find the book and a CD or a download of our conversation at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Call us if you need resources or you'd like to talk to one of our counselors. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY.
And Mark, you kinda pretty much in your mind decided, I am divorcing Jill and yet, you did still meet together. You still had conversations. And something happened in the course of what were, I'm sure, very tense get-togethers. God started to do something, right?
Mark: He did. I asked Jill to meet on a regular basis so that we had kids. We had to know how to have conversation about the kids and during that time, Jill's love was what we now call or have coined "unhumanable."
Jim: Unhumanable, that's good!
Mark: Unhumanable and when we were at dinner and I asked her, "I've done so much to you, why are you so nice?" And then she said, "Well, all I can say is it's "unhumanable'" and I started to laugh, not at her, but that just sounded so odd and kinda cute. And we learned that, that, that is the love that God gives us for the compassion and grace and boundaries to just keep movin' forward in the way that He wants, not in the way that the world would say.
Jim: Mark, had you ever experienced that kind of love that was unconditional and not from the flesh? Again, I'm thinking probably not.
Jim: 'Cause you only had aggression in your home growin' up.
Jim: And here your very wife is demonstrating [to] you the attitude of Christ, maybe for the first time.
Mark: Yeah, uh-hm.
Jim: You could feel it.
Mark: I could feel it and see it and so, that was happening and then God was cleaning up my own disillusionment and helping me to see the mess for what it was. And I was quite overwhelmed with all of that, that what it did was, it led me to a powerful decision in my life and that was surrender, which is way deeper than submission.
But I found myself in a place where I couldn't fix it. Jill's high profile was huge, so I wasn't really reconciling only with Jill and my kids, but the thousands of women that she ministers to and the Scarlet A that I felt that I wore on my chest. And that took a tool that we identified in our book of courage--courage to surrender fully to God and do whatever He says, no matter what.
Jim: When you look at it and I want to get to some of the tools that you discovered and implemented to bring your marriage back together, the "fades," you call them and we'll get there in just a second. But when you as a pastor, thinking of the 20 years you pastored and Jill, what you do through your ministry to women, how many of us don't surrender? And it takes the crushing blow of sin and failure and brokenness to come to the Throne without pretentiousness, without thinking we're better than the other person.
I mean, it kind of is God's design, isn't it? Not that you need to go through this. You don't want to go through this, but if it happens, to ask the thing, the very first thing, "God, what can I learn about You?" And Jill, as I hear your testimony and your heart and to be able to lay down that kind of, what Mark saw as unconditional love, that's not coming from your flesh.
Jim: That's 'cause the flesh response, the human response is, "I'm gonna get you."
Jim: "And I'm gonna stay mad at you for the rest of my life. And I will be bitter towards you. And it's not my fault; it's your fault. You violated me. You left me."
Jim: "You deserted me." You can hear it. That's the flesh talking.
Jill: Oh, it is.
Jill: It is and that's the feelings. I mean, those feelings are there.
Jim: And we gravitate toward those, but God's quiet voice says, "Wait a minute, daughter. Wait a minute." And fill in what He said to your heart to allow you to act like that toward Mark."
Jill: Oh, I can remember the day I was literally begging God. I was on my knees and then eventually flat on the floor face down, like I was home alone. My kids were at school and I was just absolutely broken. And I kept saying to God, "You have to tell me what to do. I don't know what to do. You have to tell me what to do. Tell me what to do!" (Laughing) And I got quiet for a few moments after that and I heard God whisper to my heart, "I want you to love him."
And I remember immediately I protested. And I said something to the effect of, "I don't know if You've noticed lately, but he's not real lovable." And I heard God whisper back to my heart and it wasn't an audible voice, it was just His truth.
Jim: I know what you mean.
Jill: "You know what, Jill, sometimes you aren't either." And I thought, oh, my goodness. "Okay, Lord, You love me when I'm unlovable. So, You're gonna have to show me how to do this, 'cause I got no clue."
Jill: I had no clue. And eventually, God took me to Romans 12:9 through 21, very powerful verse. It now has in my Bible, I have the word "unhumanable" written out beside it because it really talks about how to love the hard people in your life. And I've returned to that on many occasions outside of my marriage, because there are other places where there are hard people to love.
But that was a very powerful moment. That was the transition for me, where I really felt like, all right, Lord; I'm gonna love him. I don't know how this is going to turn out, but I am determined that I will do whatever I can do to be the person You want me to be and to save my marriage if it's possible.
Jim: That's powerful. Man, it really is powerful. Listen, I want to put some tools in the hands of the folks who are going, "You're touching my heart. This is me. I'm in that marriage right now. I can either call him or her tonight and say, 'It's over,' or I can try to ask God to give me that kind of love for my spouse."
You mention in the book, seven "fades" in marriage and these were things that you, I'm sure, were already aware of, but now you're having to apply them on the battleground.
Jill: We weren't already aware of 'em.
Jim: So, these are things you learned in the process?
Jill: Because here's the deal; we were doing all the right things. We knew each other's love languages. We were going on date nights. We were taking time away for just the two of us. We were doing all the right things and yet, infidelity became a part of our story. And what we realized is, it wasn't the big things that were robbing us of intimacy. It was the little things, the things that were under the surface, things that were untapped, things that were "untalked" about. And those were pulling our hearts away from each other one centimeter at a time.
Jill: So, you don't see that. You don't feel that, but one centimeter becomes two and two becomes three.
Jim: And worse, you feel spiritually healthy.
Jim: You didn't feel unhealthy necessarily until the breach, to [when] the dam broke.
Jim: Let me mention the seven and we'll post these with your permission on the website, as well.
Jill: Uh-hm, sure.
Jim: And you can pick one or two and I want to get to a couple of other things that you discovered. But unrealistic expectations, that's a killer, not accepting your spouse as they are.
Jim: --okay, that's a big one.
Jim: Defensiveness another one.
Jim: These are all so good. Avoiding emotional intimacy.
Jim: I think men particularly struggle with that, particularly men with bad backgrounds, 'cause we'll just [act like] we're Marines, right.
Mark and Jill: Uh-hm.
Jim: We'll just [say], "Hey, we don't need to talk about it. We'll just keep movin'." Minimizing what matters to your spouse, disagreement and simply naiveté, the last one—not protecting your marriage.
Jim: Those are good. They're almost self-explanatory. I mean, you know what they are when you say them. Give us one that you two struggled with.
Jill: I think minimizing is probably huge. And what we identified is, we are two different minimizers. We've identified that there are external minimizers and internal minimizers. External minimizers tend to minimize the thoughts and feelings of others and that tended to be where I sat. I was quick to tell Mark why his feelings were wrong or his concerns were not important. So, I would minimize that.
Mark: I struggled with internal minimizing and what that is, is that core belief that what you think or feel ultimately you aren't important, so just bury it. And I thought that I didn't understand that I was truly minimizing. I felt that I was, in not saying anything or doing anything, I was in a sense, keeping the peace.
Jim: Doing the right thing.
Mark: Doing the right thing. It's really not that big of a deal.
Mark: But they compounded to the point that fueled this inner lie that I wasn't important.
Jim: That's a real critical one, I think.
Jill: Well, and I love one of the sentences you wrote in the book is, "I thought I was letting it slide, but it wasn't sliding; it was pooling."
Mark: Correct, yep.
Jill: And that ultimately caused that distance and that place where he said, "You know what?
Mark: Right, I'm done.
Jill: "I'm done." And that, I think that's what happened and that's the danger of "fades." That's why we wanted to write No More Perfect Marriages for all marriages, not just marriages that are in trouble, because we all need to understand those places where our hearts are being separated in a way that we don't recognize it.
Jill: And the more we can do that and turn those "fades" around, with the God tools, the powerful God tools that God gives us, the healthier are our marriages.
Jim: You know, again, we're out of time. There [are] so many great tools in here—pride, the recognition of what pride does to you in your marriage. These motivations, these statements, these attitudes are coming out of pride, even though we mask them so well in the Christian community to where everybody around us doesn't know it, but we do.
Jim: Hope is that thing that people, when they lose it, it's despairing.
Jim: And it's hard to get up. It's hard to move forward. And so often with couples that are coming to our Hope Restored intensive counseling effort, that's the question. Do you believe there is hope that God can restore your marriage? And if they have no hope, it's hard to work with those couples. So, the key is, even in your grief, in your darkest area, whatever that might be, do you have hope in your heart that God is God, that your circumstances don't dictate your hope?
Jill: It is.
Jim: It's hard because we live in our circumstances. We live in the moment with our eyes and ears.
Jim: But God lives in everything and that, too.
Jim: And He's saying, "Can you trust Me? Can you put your hope in Me? Not your spouse, put your hope in Me." And Jill, you did it! And Mark, you did it, too in different ways.
Jim: You don't need the scarlet letter. We all wear that.
Mark: Oh, I know.
Jim: And God has taken care of that fact.
Jill: You're past that point.
Jim: Yeah. (Laughter) Well, and Jesus died for all of us, 'cause we're all sinners.
Mark: Yes, He took that on, yep.
Jim: And I just want to say thank you for that vulnerability. You're really good at that as a couple and how many people you will help through this program. And if you're living in that spot right now, you don't know what to do, call us. We said it throughout the program. We have kind, caring Christian counselors here. They'll start the process for you. If you need that deeper intensive counseling, we have Hope Restored. They have an 84.7 post two-year success rate.
Jill: I love that.
Jim: That's pretty good.
Jill: That's powerful.
Jim: It's excellent and it's just equipping you to do better in knowing your own heart, knowing your flesh, knowing God's hope for you in Him and then giving you those tools to live life better. And I'm excited for that and thanks to all the folks that help support us, who make it all possible. Thank you.
John: And you can learn more about our counseling team and Hope Restored when you call 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or visit www.focusonthefamily.com/radiofor more details. We'll also have further information about Mark and Jill's book, No More Perfect Marriages and that list that they described of slow "fades" and you can also get the CD or download of our two-day conversation at the website.
When you get in touch, please consider supporting Focus on the Family. If you've been encouraged by a program like this one or a resource that you've gotten from us, please help us by kinda paying it forward to help another family or individual in need. Your financial gift today makes this kind of ministry possible, so please give generously today and we'll say thanks by sending a complimentary copy of Mark and Jill's book. Donate when you call that 800 number. It's 800-A-FAMILY or at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Mark and Jill, thank you for your transparency, your vulnerability. Many, many couples are gonna be touched by this and it's because you've been able to share so honestly about who you are, because honestly, you're just like us.
Jim: And I appreciate that so much. Thanks for bein' with us.
Jill: Thanks for havin' us.
Mark: Thank you.
And coming up next time on "Focus on the Family," Dr. Meg Meeker will urge men to connect with their kids.
Dr. Meg Meeker: Your child is screaming at you every single day, "Dad, please come out. I need you." "Dad, whatever you have, please give it to me. I need you."
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.