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How Mentoring Saved Our Marriage (Part 1 of 2)

Original Air Date 10/10/2013

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Tom and Sandy Ralya tell their story of how a small number of friends and mentors challenged them to face the truth about their relationship and obey God – a process that lead to the restoration of their broken marriage. (Part 1 of 2)

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Episode Transcript


John Fuller: Sandy Ralya walked into church every week longing for help, but she was too ashamed and too afraid to let anyone know, because everyone else’s marriage seemed to be perfect. And although no one knew it, her marriage was broken and she felt alone.


Sandy Ralya: I would try to come in line with him, at times. At other times, I would hide and do my own thing. And at other times, I would erupt in anger right back at him. So I had a ruinous cocktail going on and it wasn’t working.

End of Excerpt

John: Today on Focus on the Family with Jim Daly, you’ll hear what happened to Sandy that offered her hope and gave her an opportunity for a happier, long-lasting marriage. I’m John Fuller and Jim, what Sandy just said, unfortunately, applies to far more people within our churches than we probably know.

Jim Daly: John, I think that’s true and I think one of the things we can struggle with in the Christian community particularly is being authentic about these imperfections. It’s like we don’t want to show those. That’s why I’m excited to hear from Tom and Sandy today because they’ve gone through some difficulty and they’ve come out on the other side in a much better place, which really is the goal of the Lord working in your life-- that’s called sanctification. That should be the message that all Christians hear and embrace. We’re imperfect! And if we try to project perfection, the enemy of our soul will mess with that and pride will then take over, which, frankly, I think is a greater sin.

John: Well, we had an incredible conversation with Tom and Sandy Ralya not too long ago. Sandy is the founder and director of Beautiful Womanhood, a marriage mentoring outreach for wives. And Tom is a successful businessman. He’s actively involved in mentoring other men and together Tom and Sandy mentor couples, which is something that we’re really emphasizing a lot here at Focus on the Family. Let’s go ahead and listen to the start of that conversation now with Tom and Sandy Ralya.


Jim: Now you two ... you started with a unique courtship, 30... over 30 years ago. Tell us--

Tom Ralya: Yes.

Jim: --about that.

Sandy: Well, my first memory of ... or my first good look at Tom was of him stumbling up the front steps of my parents’ home with his eyes closed, his arms outstretched, saying, “Hi, I’m your blind date.”

Jim: Oh. (Laughter)

Sandy: And it was, ooh.

Jim: You weren’t sure--

Sandy: I thought I’m--

Jim: --about that sense of humor.

Sandy: --in for a ride tonight. Yeah. (Laughter) I was unsure about that sense of humor, but he did make me laugh right out of the gate and we had an interesting date.

Jim: Oh. Did you think it was interesting?

Tom: I did. I did (Laughter). I was ... I was excited. We had spent some time on the phone, uh ... maybe an hour beforehand and uh ... I heard a lot about her from my roommate who knew her, dating, actually, Sandy’s sister. So, I was excited and I couldn’t wait. I was just a giddy young man goin’, oh, this is gonna be a fun time.

But when I opened my eyes after saying, “Hi, I’m your blind date,” she wasn’t there. She had rolled away from the door laughing. And I looked and I thought, “Uh-oh, she went away. What did I do?”

Jim: Laughing or mourning?

Tom: I didn’t know. (Laughter)

Sandy: I ... I was embarrassed actually. (Laughter) I was embarrassed. I thought, oh, oh, this might not be so comfortable for me. But we did have a good time and I did get sick on the boat though. He took me out on his parents’ boat and first fed me some diet A&W root beer and--

Jim: That didn’t go down--

Sandy: --then--

Jim: --so well.

Sandy: --bounced it around for a while (Laughter) on Lake Michigan and uh ... but we got through it. We got through it just fine and dated almost every night for five months--

Jim: Oh, wow.

Sandy: --and were married five months after that first date.

Jim: Really? So, that ... relatively quickly. Sandy, you’ve written this book, The Beautiful Wife. Um ... tell me the meaning of that. What are you driving at? What is The Beautiful Wife?

Sandy: The beautiful wife is a woman who is focused on God. She turns to God in the difficult moments of her life. She-- that’s her first reaction. And when you turn to God, when you invite Him into the situation, you can actually experience fulfillment in your marriage even if your husband is sinning, even if he is filled with flaws. You can still experience fulfillment, because God has a wonderful plan for marriage and He uses it to rub off the rough edges in our lives. And ... and so, you can experience beauty. You can experience hope and fulfillment, even in difficulty.

Jim: Well, and your story as we’re gonna hear, is a story of difficulty and people are gonna be blessed by hearing it. But let’s go back to those five months of courtship. Um ... you obviously are very infatuated with each other. You’re thinking this is Mr. Right, even though he may have a poor sense of humor (Laughter) and uh ... this is the one that God has for me. I’m sure, Tom you were thinking that. And uh ... talk about your expectations going into marriage and as that young dating couple, what you thought marriage would be and should be.

Tom: I can start with that one. Um ... I came in with major unrealistic expectations.

Jim: What would they be?

Tom: Uh ... Sandy was gonna be the perfect wife, stay at home, um ... she was gonna be um ... a great looker from the standpoint of going out and I’ve got this real rare find. She’s beautiful, from a great Christian home. And uh ... I’ll be able to do my music ministry while she’s home caring for the kids and work and uh ... all these wonderful ideas that were totally unrealistic. And she’d meet all my ... my sexual needs. I mean, that was a big part for me.

I ... I had fasted, dating for almost a year prior to actually finding out about Sandy, because I just felt ... I felt like God had to bring the right girl at the right time. I didn’t like the dating scene. I’d had a lot of bad experiences where I was going down that road of, this is the right one. I know this is the right one and then disappointments. And it’s like, well, God, You gotta bring the right girl. And I knew if I fasted and really sought God and didn’t seek women, He’d bring the right one.

Jim: Tom, describe for me the person you were at that time. I mean, you’ve got the hindsight now, 30 years of life experience. But looking back on who you were then, what adjectives would you use to describe yourself?

Tom: I would say high-energy, um ... hard-driving, um ... I set high goals for myself, so I had even in my own personal life, unrealistic goals that I wanted to achieve. And I ... I had kinda painted the picture of what I wanted my life to be, ‘cause back then, the idea was, if you set your goals high enough and you fall a little bit short, that’s still good, because you’ve accomplished everything that you ... most of what you wanted to in life.

I came out of a home that was a highly disciplined [one]. My father was a Navy man and uh ... so, to me, I ... I just felt it’s all about what I accomplish and what I achieve and really doing it all right. So, when I walked into marriage, I walked in with some pretty high expectations, both of what I expected Sandy to be and not knowing her well enough, I just figured she’d fit that mold. So, we walked in with a lot of disconnects out of the gate.

Jim: Sandy, how about yourself; what were you thinking about in terms of the perfect marriage, what you expected out of Tom, what it would be like? You only courted again, five months and then you were married, but as the woman here, what were your expectations?

Sandy: Well, I really believed that as a Christian woman, if you do everything right, then you’re going to have this great marriage, full of love for your husband. [He] loves you; he’ll serve you. Where your children will do everything right--

Jim: (Laughing) You behave.

Sandy: --as you parent them according to the Word. (Laughter) Yes.

Jim: So, you were a pretty perfectionistic orientation.

Sandy: Very much so.

Jim: Yeah.

Sandy: That was ... that’s right in keeping with my personality and I thought, you know, A plus B will equal C and it will all be wonderful. And I had it all planned out. It’s just going to work like clockwork. And I really had very little compassion for people that struggled, because I thought, well, uh! You just have to follow the pattern.

Jim: Right.

Sandy: And then I got married.

Jim: And what happened? I mean, right away it seemed to begin to fall apart in terms of those expectations not being met. What were some of those early signs?

Sandy: Well, you know, what we haven’t said yet is, that in those five months, even though we were planning to get married in December, we had been sexually active. And I was pregnant when we got married. And so, I’m not feeling so great right after the wedding and I’m suffering with morning sickness and I’ve got this husband has this insatiable sexual appetite. And I was exhausted and life, you know, was changing and he was very demanding. He wanted uh ... everything his way and if it didn’t go his way, I felt like I was coming up short and I needed to work harder. I obviously wasn’t following the pattern or the-

Jim: So, you--

Sandy: --plan.

Jim: --internalized it towards your--

Sandy: Uh-hm.

Jim: --uh ... coming up short, your inability.

Sandy: The shame that I felt in the reality of the pain of our marriage caused me to turn contempt on myself. There were times when the contempt would go outward toward Tom. I would stuff and stuff and stuff and stuff and then I would blow. So, I was very passive-aggressive in our relationship, where if I didn’t like what he was saying, I would try to come in line with him at times. At other times, I would hide and do my own thing. And at other times, I would erupt in anger right back at him. So, I had a ruinous cocktail going on.

And it wasn’t working. Nothing was working. And yet, I kept doing the same thing over and over again. And there was an element from my past that I’ve actually just recognized recently, that I really felt that to expose that you didn’t know something would cause you to be humiliated. You know, you would be in a place of shame. And I had ...

Jim: You wanted to avoid that.

Sandy: I wanted to avoid that, because I had been in that place before and experienced that. And that’s a horrible feeling of exposure and I didn’t want that. And so, I kept trying to work things out on my own, apart from God, even calling myself a Christian and following Him and reading the Bible and going to church. I still tried to work things out on my own, rather than bringing it to God.

Jim: Let me go back to something you said, because I think it’s important. A lot of young couples, especially Christian couples unfortunately, will rationalize the fact that, well, we’re gonna get married. We’ve made the commitment. We have the date. So, our physical uh ... relationship, it’s okay. And--

Sandy: Yes.

Jim: --oftentimes here at Focus we’ll get the letter or the e-mail from that couple, that they didn’t get married and the regrets are there. In looking at that in hindsight, um ... again, your physical intimacy prior to being married, do you look back on that as ... as a regret and something you shouldn’t have done?

Tom: Yeah, I do. Uh ... as the leader in the relationship and my role before God, um ... that’s one thing I had to deal with uh ... in the whole process, was ... it was not only humiliating. I had to go to my dad and mom and say, hey, you know, this upstanding son of yours who you think is a wonderful kid, I made a mistake.

And my dad was amazing. Um ... [he] wrapped his arms around me and just poured out love. I didn’t expect that, because usually when there was something wrong with my dad, it was, “Well, I’m gonna need to punish you. You need to be disciplined.” And uh ... I saw the love of God in my dad there that I had not seen before. But inside, I still had to deal with the fact that, okay before God now, I need to make that right and uh ... and even asking Sandy for forgiveness. So ...

Sandy: And on my end, I really suffered a lack of trust, you know. It was important to me and we ... we really spiritualized our premarital sex.

Tom: We did.

Sandy: We did. We prayed, “Lord, bless us.” And then, “Lord, help us not to get pregnant.” I mean, it was so crazy. But that’s where we were at.

Jim: Right.

Sandy: And you know, it was important to me that I married someone that had not had sexual relations and Tom had been dishonest about that. And so, that was a huge issue of distrust for me when I found out about that later.

Jim: In fact, you found out just by ... happenstance, is that right?

Sandy: It came out.

Tom: Yeah. I talk ... one day we had a conversation and I ... I confessed. And I will say it. I ... I knew ... I knew even when we had premarital sex, I knew that, that was gonna impact our ... our relationship. I didn’t know how. Um ... and I think the biggest area was trust, because I had said to her, we’re gonna wait till marriage. But then when we got into the heat of things and as we had again ... we weren’t being accountable to anybody during this time either. We just knew we were headin’ down this road and we’re gonna get married as ... I think we had picked a date already when we started dating.

Sandy: We had.

Tom: So, it’s like, man, the runway’s there, you know. Everything’s on board and here we go. Um ... this just makes sense; let’s pray about this. And I don’t feel any checks; let’s do it. It did impact the trust.

Jim: Yeah.

Tom: And that’s ...

Sandy: Yeah, yeah.

Jim: And ... and that’s a good word of advice and I know that, that is something that you’re very energetic about and that’s marriage mentoring.

Sandy: Yes.

Jim: And uh ... when you’re talking to many young couples, which you’re doing right now, uh ... that advice is good advice, to wait, to honor those commitments that you make, because it does establish a bedrock of trust in the relationship. There’s gonna be other things that are gonna come along in marriage--

Sandy: Yes.

Jim: --that will dent that bedrock, but that’s one thing you could do early in your marriage to cement the trust between you.

Let’s move into that first year of marriage and uh ... again, back to your ideas of what marriage would be like and that’s crumbling down. Describe for us some of those examples of where it began to shake your foundation, not just the trust that you talked about in your physical relationship, but ... but other things that were going on that were really shaking you as a couple.

Tom: One thing I would say was, during that time I struggled with the fact that our ... our physical intimacy was ... was lacking. As wonderful as it was in the months prior to marriage and ... and the guilt I was carrying, I’m now in marriage and it’s all right and we’re good before God and all these people. And I suddenly realized that the sexual intimacy is ... is gone. And I became frustrated and to the point of one night, I remember sitting, approaching her in bed and, no ... nope, tonight’s not gonna work. I walked out in the living room and turned the stereo up full blast. I just was getting so frustrated.

And we couldn’t seem to get a good communication going as to what’s goin’ on here. So, I turned to pornography. I justified the fact that, well, if she’s not gonna help me meet that need and to meet that need that I need met, I’m gonna take alternative measures. So, I did. I started dabbling in pornographic material. And um ... I don’t know how you found out. I know one day I think I confessed that this has to change, because this guilt just kept riding me and I knew this is not what I want to do. But that was one area that really was broken down.

And another area was just- we started to fight. We had never really fought in those months prior to marriage. We would talk. We would talk and we would talk. And one thing we have a gift of is hashing things down to the point of the nit. (Laughter) And then coming to some kind of agreement we think.

Jim: Hm.

Sandy: Yes and Tom, you know, he would legitimately think that we had agreed. But in reality, I wasn’t being honest. I was trying to maintain some semblance of peace and I was afraid to say what I was really thinking, because I was afraid that it would incite anger in him, that you know, he wouldn’t agree with what I was saying and that it would just go on and on. And I needed the arguing to end and I felt like that was a peaceful way to land things. But it was dishonest. And he had no idea where I was really at.

Jim: Hm.

John: Well, Jim, what we’re hearing from our guests today on Focus on the Family, Tom and Sandy Ralya is a level of ... of honesty and transparency that’s ...that is so desperately needed. I mean, many of us just kinda go through the motions or we try to put on airs so that nobody really sees inside. And I’m grateful that they’ve been so candid here. If you’re listening along, thinking that’s me, let me just encourage you to give us a call here. We do have caring counselors and ... it’d be our privilege to ask some questions and to kinda move you along a little bit in ... in finding some solutions to those problems. It’s 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459.

Jim: John, I want to reiterate that, because so often people will hear this and if they’re in a good place, it’s kind of um ... unsettling to them, because they’re feelin’ like, you know, why are you guys talking so openly about these things? There are thousands of couples that are not in a good place and they are in the church every Sunday

John: Hm.

Jim: And they ... they need help. They need--

Sandy: That’s right.

Jim: --to hear people express what they have gone through so that they can have hope and so, the Lord can begin to work to make their relationships healthy and whole. And that’s why I appreciate that transparency. Sandy, let’s talk about the next few years, I guess, as you begin to think, okay, this is not normal. Something is wrong. How did you come to that revelation? And how did the Lord work in your heart to elevate the issue?

Sandy: Yes, I would ... over a period of time, I mean, it took me a long time to trust some of the women that had come alongside me in my life. They were friends and they would, you know, just be kind to me. And I ... I could sense godliness in them. I could sense honesty in them. And I dared to bare my soul--

Jim: Hm.

Sandy: --to them. Things at home were getting so bad. I mean, Tom was controlling where I could go, what I would wear, even what I would eat. And I would have women ... women have asked me about that. What do you mean, controlling what you would eat? And I would go to the drive-through lane of a McDonald’s and order a chocolate shake. And Tom would be sitting in the car with me and reorder for me. He would change it to vanilla, because convinced that chocolate would make my face break out and that it would cause me to gain weight. And I couldn’t have a chocolate shake.

Jim: Hm. Tom, you’re shaking your head, embarrassing, I’m sure.

Tom: Oh, man, yeah.

John: And what was behind that level of control, Tom? I mean, it was oppressive obviously to Sandy.

Tom: Yeah, I think it was um ... part of feeling like there’s something broken in this relationship. And ...
and not having a flow in the relationship, like maybe I’m losing her. Or uh ... insecurities inside me were poppin’ out. You know, I don’t want this girl who’s stunning. Like she was a model, beautiful girl, gaining all this weight. And she’s just kind of out there and she’s younger than I am by a few years and I ... I just feel like I need to kinda, you know, it’s a lot of immaturity on my part and insecurity on my part, trying to make sure she stays on the right road.

And I think some of that’s just wrong expectations I came into marriage with, that I needed to have ... I have a right somehow to make those kind of statements to her, when really, that’s just her body and it’s her world. And um ... I never did it with grace. I always did it with more of like a ... like she just said. I just would change the order.

Jim: Wow.

Tom: Um ...

Jim: Sandy, go back to the women that you’re confiding in and ... and I’m sure that you saw something in their faces as you began to speak. They were probably a bit shocked. How did they manage it that helped you? And did they do anything that actually concerned you?

Sandy: Well, they showed me such love in response, such compassion, such tenderness. And they also reflected truth back to me. Sandy, this is not normal. Sandy, this isn’t right.

Jim: Did you accept that? Did you embrace it? Were you--

Sandy: It was a relief.

Jim: --looking for it? Yeah.

Sandy: It was a relief because as I said earlier, I had turned contemptuous of myself. I had turned the contempt for my shame on myself more often than not. I was looking at myself thinking, what ... what am I doing wrong? I’ve gotta get this right. If I just get it right, everything will be okay and we’ll have a peaceful harmonious relationship, but I couldn’t seem to do that on my own.

Jim: Sandy, let me break in there, because I think again, so many women feel that way. I don’t know if it’s uh ... just our makeup as male and female, but so many women turn that kind of treatment in toward themselves, uh ... rather than perhaps, reflecting it back and saying, “Wait a minute.” What’s happening in the heart? Is it the self-esteem issue, that you’re feeling so low that when somebody piles on, which Tom was--and I appreciate your honesty, Tom; it takes a man to say it--but he was really ... he was heaping onto you hot coals.

Sandy: Oh, it’s so true. Well, that feeling of shame that I felt is a very powerful feeling. It’s one of the most powerful emotions that we have. And there’s such a feeling of exposure that you have to cover up. You know, it ... it’s been explained to me that it’s almost like someone coming up behind you and pulling down your pants. Your ... the first reaction that you would have is to pull ‘em up. And you have to cover up with something equally as powerful. And the only emotion powerful enough apart from turning to God is contempt, which is hatred.

Jim: So, you just turned on the--

Sandy: I turned--

Jim: --person--

Sandy: --on--

Jim: --or yourself.

Sandy: --myself. I had hatred for myself. I’m not getting this right. I’m not doing it right and I’m a Christian. I should know how to do this right. So, you know, all the while God was waiting for me to turn to Him. You know, that’s what we’re supposed to do when we feel feelings of shame, whether they’re legitimate or illegitimate feelings of shame, we’re supposed to take that toward God and allow Him to cover us. But instead, I was trying to cover myself.

Jim: How ... and what was that next step then? These women are speaking into your life. You’re ... you’re pointing this anger in toward yourself, that you’re not measuring up, that Tom’s disappointed in you. You can’t get anything right. Uh ... I’m sure it began to implode on you.

Sandy: Well, it did. I decided I ... I couldn’t live like that anymore. And hearing them reflect honestly back to me the true state and condition of my marriage, made me realize I need help. I have to call out for help. I have to risk that and ask for help and admit I don’t know how to do this.

Jim: Hm.

Sandy: And so, I ... I began to go to a Christian counselor. I began to open up more to three women in my life that agreed to mentor me. And they were able to help me take the Bible, the biblical principles for wives in the Bible and make them practical. The Christian counseling that I received was excellent. Not only was I encouraged to pray and listen to what God wanted to say to me, not just dump my problems on Him and walk out of the office of prayer with Him, but really stay there and dwell with Him and listen to what it was that He wanted to say to me about me in this situation.

Jim: Uh ... Tom, tell me how you were feeling. Were you threatened by all this, the fact that she was going to counseling and getting this great wisdom from these three wise ladies? I would think given your personality at that time, that you would be thinking this is uh ... bringing my world down.

Tom: Yeah, um ... I had two things goin’ on inside. One, I knew somethin’ wasn’t right. I knew, of course, from my perspective, I wanted to change her. I knew there was problems and my goal ... like my goal was, if she would just change in these areas ... I remember saying this specific[ally] to her one time, we’d be fine.

Jim: Boy, how many people think that way in marriage? If my spouse would simply change, it would be great, because I’m pretty much perfect.

Tom: Well, I saw it clearly. (Laughter) So, what was going on inside of me is, okay, good, she’s getting counseling. That’s great. She needs it.

Jim: Hm.

Tom: [I] didn’t even dare look at myself, ‘cause inside I knew I was not perfect here at all. I’m too
angry. I’m too frustrated, but going to counseling, I know she’ll get help.

Jim: Hm. So, I mean, you didn’t even see that you were part of the problem.

Tom: Um ... I honestly did not.

Jim: Wow.

Tom: Yeah. I think a lot of men don’t. They look ... look at it as, if she’d make these changes, well, then I’d be better.

John: Yeah.

Jim: Yeah.

John: And meanwhile, you ... you poured yourself into your work life, I’m assuming.

Tom: Absolutely.

John: That’s a pretty common response to--

Tom: Yeah.

John: --to something like this.

Tom: [I] became very successful in the business that I was running at the time, so successful to a point that I got on the “Today Show,” um ... did a four-minute segment with John Beard-- highlight of a career. They flew me into New York. I came back with even a bigger head and more problems.

Jim: (Chuckling)

Tom: And uh ... God humbled in a ... in a very direct way in that one, as well.

Jim: Tom, you are really speaking right to the heart of many, many men and some women again. Sometimes those roles are reversed. But uh ... thank you for sharing so openly and Sandy, you, too.

Sandy: Hm.

Jim: We’ve got more to cover though and the smile on my face is because I know the rest of the story and I know how God continues to work in your life. Let’s come back next time and talk about how God really did save your marriage.

Sandy: Hm ... let’s do it.


John: Well, join us next time and hear more from Tom and Sandy Ralya on Focus on the Family in a very transparent conversation that will continue then. We’re so grateful that there is, as you said, Jim, a happy ending to this story by God’s grace. And we really do encourage you to listen in for that. Now Sandy’s book is called The Beautiful Wife: Focused on Christ, Fulfilled in Marriage and I’ll encourage you to get a copy from us.

Jim: Let me note that if what we’ve talked about today has resonated with you, maybe opened a painful wound and you’re struggling, we have an intensive marriage counseling program called Hope Restored and it may be the answer that you’re looking for. Hope Restored is for couples in crisis, many of whom have signed the divorce papers-- this is it, the last chance. It can be a whole new beginning for you, not the end of your marriage, but a new beginning. And I would encourage you to call us for more information. Couples who participate in this program have an almost 85% success rate post-two years after the counseling. I think that’s worth an investment.

And if you’d like to help others by supporting Focus on the Family and the work of Hope Restored, when you send a gift of any amount, I want to say thank you by sending a copy of Sandy’s book, The Beautiful Wife.

John: You can donate, find help for your marriage and get a copy of that book, The Beautiful Wife, when you call 800-A-FAMILY or stop by and while you’re there, get the CD, the download or the mobile app so you can listen to this again.

On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back next time, as we once again, visit with Tom and Sandy Ralya and help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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Tom and Sandy Ralya

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Sandy Ralya is the founder and director of Beautiful Womanhood, a marriage mentoring ministry for wives. She and her husband, Tom, have personally mentored dozens of couples and individuals, and led small groups for struggling couples. Sandy has authored a book titled The Beautiful Wife, along with a companion mentor's guide and prayer journal. Tom is a business executive and has appeared as a guest on NBC's Today show to offer his business expertise. Tom and Sandy reside in Michigan and have three grown children and several grandchildren.