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Rejecting Divorce and Choosing to Say (Part 1 of 2)

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly
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July 18, 2023 8:32 am

Rejecting Divorce and Choosing to Say (Part 1 of 2)

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly

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July 18, 2023 8:32 am

Carey and Toni Nieuwhof’s marriage wasn’t always happy and filled with love. There was a time when they were on the brink of divorce, and though they tried to make amends, they kept falling into a cycle of fighting, anger and distance. Today, Carey and Toni say they can’t imagine considering divorce. Through their honest and vulnerable stories and advice, they’ll help encourage couples considering divorce to save their marriages and take a path toward healing. (Part 1 of 2)


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Hey everyone, listen to my podcast, Refocus with Jim Daly. Check out my latest episode on engaging the culture with Seth Dillon, the CEO of the Babylon Bee, a popular conservative website.

To learn more, visit He makes me so angry. I don't know how long I can put up with this marriage.

No, it's not abuse or cheating or anything like that. It's just we're always fighting over every little thing. Oh yeah, I thought about it. I thought about leaving many times. I know we're going to make it.

I just don't know how. Well, those comments reflect great pain and the desperation that couples feel oftentimes in a struggling marriage. And you may have made a lifelong commitment to each other at your wedding. But now you're wondering, can we really even go on together? Well, today on Focus on the Family, we're going to offer some godly hope to couples who are in trouble and really don't want to give up.

Your host is Focus President and author Jim Daly, and I'm John Fuller. John, it can be heartbreaking when husbands and wives reach a point of hopelessness, that feeling like it's never going to get better. But over time, you know, life happens and things can go downhill. You got to work at marriage. Jean and I have those times too.

We're realizing we got to put more into this because it's not where it needs to be. So, you know, I have to do that in my own marriage. And eventually, for some people, that D word can leak into the conversation. And that's divorce, obviously. And you certainly don't want to be moving in that direction. Before you make a decision like that.

I think there's some really important things to consider. And we're going to talk about that today on this program. And one of the things here that we so often speak of is our Hope Restored marriage intensives, which are an opportunity for you to spend some time one on one with some counselors and some other couples who are fighting for their marriages.

Stop by the show notes to find out more. Well, today we're going to hear from a husband and wife who've had a very difficult journey, but they're experiencing restoration. And I'm so glad that Carrie and Tony Neuhoff are here to share their story with us. They're speakers, authors and podcast hosts. Tony is a family law mediator, but has also worked as a divorce attorney for a number of years. She's written a book about her background and the journey of their marriage called Before You Split.

Find out what you really want for the future of your marriage. Stop by the show notes for details about that book or give us a call. 800 the letter A in the word family. Carrie and Tony, welcome to Focus. It's great to be here. Hey, we're thrilled to be here. It's so good to have you here. Now, first of all, we've got to start with this issue where you're both attorneys. How in the world did God pull you together? That had to be a miracle. Is that my fault?

What happened? I let you start because you were the first one. Yeah, so we both ended up at the same law school but didn't know each other. And law school's an interesting thing because, you know, when I finished my undergrad, I had a couple of friends going to law school, but there's so many law schools, not a lot of people going. I was the only one I knew at Osgoode. And so you're meeting everybody for the first time. And then I think there were maybe five sections in first year. So we were Section D. It's like there's ABCDE. I was Section D. These are the people you're going to do all your core curriculum with.

But again, I know nobody. So we're sitting in lectures. And all of a sudden, well, actually, it was before that we were lining up to get books. And I saw this amazingly gorgeous woman that I had no idea who she was. It was like there was a shaft of light coming down in the lobby. She came from heaven.

She did come from heaven. And I saw her and I thought, who is she and how do I get an introduction? Then we go into one of my classes and I'm like, that's her. So I stared at her and really was not paying attention.

That's not a great way to start, just by staring. Just a little bit of advice for you. Yeah, okay.

All right. You probably couldn't get away with that anymore. Actually, one of my friends, one of my friends said, Tony, I think that boy likes you.

Because he doesn't stop looking at you. That's pretty funny. So anyway, of course, you didn't notice me at all.

How many is that? I'm just one of a thousand law students and probably near the bottom of the pecking order. And then we went on this orientation event. And there were buses taking us from place to place. So again, I didn't know anybody. I got off. I was working at a radio station at the time. Got off late, joined at mid tour, jumped on the bus, sat down, not knowing anybody who walks on the bus.

But Tony, I didn't know her name. She sits right behind me. And I'm like, this is my moment. So I spin around and I'm like, boom, I'm locked in. And we talked for five hours that night.

Wow. Did you realize that was the kind of strange person staring at you at the classes? Did it come together at that moment?

Like, oh, I sat behind him. No, it didn't quite come together. But eventually it did. I mean, we were friends. We were only friends at the beginning, even though we talked for five hours on the first night, because Carrie actually had a girlfriend. Yeah, unfortunately.

No, it works. And I so appreciate that introduction for folks to hear that, that this relationship started in a normal, blissful way. And you guys connected emotionally. And obviously the attraction was there. Let's move the story, assuming everything kind of moved between now and what I'm about to ask you in normal.

That vulnerability is terrific. But you hit a point in your marriage where I think you took off your wedding ring and said, this is over. Now that's a big leap. But what happened there? That was about 15 years into our marriage. We were struggling. We were, you know, both of us went into our marriage expecting that it was going to work out. I think we all do.

Yeah. And we found that in so many ways we were very, very different people. And I think we both clung to that mistaken belief perspective that, you know, I'm really the one who's right here. Like you're not quite normal. You think that way too? Apparently I'm not normal. So there's that. I felt guilty. I thought I was wrong. Well, it led us into this vicious cycle of conflict that neither of us wanted to be in, but we also couldn't find our way out of. Yeah. Let me ask you this question because people hearing this, they're in that spot.

And you know, you guys, you go to law school, your attorneys, you're a divorce attorney. And my goodness, you couldn't figure out the way through this. Why that cloudiness? It was a shock to me. Like I remember that day we were doing a lunch date and we had what I would call garden variety conflict that just got worse and worse. It was like the, just this tension, this deep tension. And I thought I was right. Tony thought, she was right. But what shocked me that day was, and you can tell the backstory to it, but when you took off your wedding ring and you threw it down on the floor of the car that we were sitting in, I was like, it's that bad?

Are you kidding me? Like, okay, now I don't know what to do. Well, in our cycle of conflict we had these dynamics that were going on and we've realized after the fact that our conflict was actually multifaceted. There were layers to it. There was, there was, you know, our mud, our trauma, there were different styles of conflict resolution. So just to pick on the conflict part of it, Carrie would typically want to address something and keep going at it until it was resolved.

I would typically need some processing time, but also mixed in with that was the repercussions of trauma that I'd gone through in my childhood that made it a much stronger tendency for me to withdraw or to dissociate. And so we had this back and forth and meanwhile, I didn't call it that. I called it keeping the peace.

So I'm trying to keep the peace. I'm doing air quotes and Carrie is, you know, as I'm saying, being aggressive to get to a solution, to try to get to a solution. But the problem was we never really did reach a solution.

And then we would have this tension that we would just kind of, it's almost like putting a lid on a pot of boiling water where the boiling doesn't stop and it's still there under the surface until something else lifts off the lid. And so that moment in the car was like that. It was, it was, Carrie said something like, we said noon and that was 15 minutes ago. And then I like to be on time. Notice we were not late today. We were not late. You're right on time today. Right on time. Make sure we end on time.

I just like to be on time. And it was, that was the thing that was a shock to me. It was a garden variety challenge. Right.

It shouldn't fall into that boundary of divorce. What are you talking about? I took time off work. You took time off work. I think we were supposed to meet at noon or something. You came out 15 minutes late.

And I think I just said exactly what you said. You know, Hey, this was supposed to be noon. That was 15 minutes ago.

And then I rolled my eyes. Yeah. And at least you didn't say that's $400 as an attorney. Let me bill you. Yeah.

I'm going to be billing you. So I think it was the context where any little thing could trigger me. And this was one more thing on top of a long history. And so I became triggered and it was heated and I was frustrated and I had no idea at that point whether we could ever be in love again, whether our relationship was going to work out because there was such a long pattern of this negative dance that we couldn't get our way out of. And so I did. I forced my ring off my finger and I said, that's it. You have it.

I don't want it anymore. Wow. That's a huge statement. I mean, that's coming from a deep place in your heart. And how did you respond to that? Well, we're both Christians.

I was a pastor at the time. So it was just shocking to me. And like I thought it was six or seven out of 10 bad.

And clearly Tony thought it was 11 out of 10 bad. And so it was a real shock to me. And I think I was just kind of stuck. And with my training, I thought, oh, well, we'll find out how to deal with this. But all of my attempts to talk through it weren't going as well. And Tony had said to me maybe a couple of years earlier, maybe it was around the same time.

You know, timelines become blurry over time. She had started doing some counseling work and she said, you need to go and get some counseling. So I had either gone just before or just after this. Do you know which it was? We had started counseling already by this point.

Right. That was one of the hardest things I did because in my mind, I thought I was fine. And the problem was Tony needed to come around and try to figure stuff out and work on some of her issues. But I remember my first counseling appointment, went up to see a friend, a pastor who also specialized in counseling. And the hardest journey was the 30 feet from my car to the front door of the church where he did his counseling.

And I just, there was so much pride there and so much fear. And I just thought to myself, I send people to counseling. I don't go to counseling.

What am I even doing? And I spent the first, this is, I mean, I've done years of counseling as many people have, but the first session I just went in, his name was Jim. And I just complained to Jim for 45, 50 minutes about everything that Tony was doing wrong. And then he just stopped and he looked at me deadpan.

And he said, now that we're done talking about Tony, can we talk about you? And that started a 20 year journey into realizing, oh, I'm a bit of a mess and I have a lot of work to do. So I thought I was better than I was in that moment, but it was a wake-up call for me. And, you know, divorce was never an option.

I had heard that phrase for many years, take divorce off the table. And that's what I intended to do. But I think it was much more in the air for you at that time than it ever was for me.

Yeah. Well, once we reached that desperate place, I saw much more clearly how much more humility I needed. And we actually heard a message about that. First Peter five, verse five, where it says all of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another for God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble. And while we were struggling so desperately, it hit me like I definitely do not want to be setting myself up in opposition to God. Like right now, I do not need God as my opponent.

And that's never what I wanted. We prayed all the way through this. I had always, I had never stopped mourning devotions through all this period of struggle. And I just couldn't make the pieces come together, but I realized I needed God's favor. And so I needed humility. And that gave me a new level of openness when I talked to the counselor and when I prayed and searched and it made all the difference.

Well, I was going to say in so many ways that the fact that you could pray and pray together and read the word, I'm sure, and give each other scriptures, that's a big distinction from other marriages that are also in the ditch, but they have pulled back even emotionally to have that kind of interaction as Christians. So that's really strong that you were able to still have that communication. It was a really perplexing time. And, you know, as we're talking about it today, it kind of reminded me, oh yeah, that happened like in our timeline about a year to two years before I burned out. So I would say looking back on that, I was not in a very healthy place.

And it's really weird. I mean, I was doing my devotions every day. I was reading the Bible. I was praying. We would pray together. You know, there were many things about our relationship that on the surface seemed well, and I was leading a very rapidly growing church at the time. We became one of the fastest growing in our denomination in the country.

And I think the second largest. And so one of the challenges for me is it was going so well at work. How could it possibly be this bad at home? Like, can't you give me the kind of respect that I get in the office or that I get from other leaders? Like, why don't you give?

And, you know, I look at... I've never heard this argument before. You've never heard it before, do you really? Never ever.

Well... Ouch! Okay. Yeah, no, that's good. No, and that's why, you know, if men, I don't know whether men actually gravitate toward respect, but, you know, you think about the vices available to a pastor. Alcohol, no, I'm not going to get drunk.

Drugs, no, only as prescribed by a doctor and then probably for a stomach ailment. Like, no, I'm not doing drugs, not doing alcohol. So for me, it was food and it was work. And the vicious cycle for me at that time is if it's going bad at home, like we couldn't even agree on when the kids had to go to bed and that kind of thing. So I'm like, I'll just open up the laptop and work more. And when I did that, things went better at the church.

And then when you're leading a ministry and you're like, well, God must clearly be blessing this. You know, it was all that twistedness that I had to untangle. And within a year or two of that incident with the wedding ring, I hit a wall and I hit a really deep burnout.

And I look at my life as a hinge point. There's me before burnout and then me after burnout that was in 2006. But that produced such a crisis in me that it caused me to go right back to the core of who I was. I had to reprogram how I do my time, my energy, my priorities. Had to figure out leadership in a new way, which I did. But then I also realized I'm a bit of a wreck.

Like I'm a mess and more counseling. And I would say, even though I would read about the fruits of the Holy Spirit, the fruits of the Holy Spirit were not present in my life at home. They were more present in my leadership, less present in my life at home. And now we still pray. We read the Bible. I mean, we prayed together before coming here. But 17 years later, you know, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, self-control.

Those things are not fully present in my life, but far more present in my life. My goodness, does your marriage ever go better? You both describe perhaps the lowest point in your marriage in the book with another date night fiasco that ended up in a screaming match.

Now, first of all, again, I started this with saying, amazingly open, and I so appreciate that, you know, your vulnerability on this. And couples are going, oh, I can connect with that. So throwing the ring on the floor of the car and saying, hey, I don't want this anymore.

It's yours. That was phase one. You would think that would be the wake up call, but we're not rational people, human beings.

You know, we lean into our sin, not our virtues, unfortunately. And so then another date night pops up. You can tell us the distance between the two. But man, what were you thinking and feeling in that moment? And what happened after the screaming match? We this was probably a couple of years after the the ring incident. Okay, so we've been working on it. We had been working on it. And it was one of those processes where, you know, it's two steps forward, one step back, we'd be doing well for a while, then we'd fall again. And so we would sometimes find that if we were overtired, and it'd been a long week, and we're out on Friday night, date night would become fight night. And so this one night, in retrospect, it probably would have been better if we had stayed at home and rested that night instead of going out. But we dragged ourselves out. We were tired.

Well, and two kids, right? You're in it. And we got into an argument that became heated, and then very heated. And I'm embarrassed to say that having been triggered, and again, feeling like I was at the end of my rope, I actually threw my coffee at Carrie. And that night was the first time we actually had a conversation about what would it look like if we split? Yeah, so we ended up at the church that night, which I don't know how we ended up.

Maybe I had to pick something up, pick up a commentary. We were driving. We were driving. Maybe we pulled over.

We were in such a bad place. I said, we need to go to the church. Okay.

Yeah. So we end up in the church parking lot. Tony throws her Starbucks at me, and I'm like, that's it.

We end up going in... It was a Frappuccino, right? Yeah, it was a Frappuccino, right.

So it wasn't quite as hot as just black coffee or black tea. But that had to be another wake up call. Well, I was furious.

And I don't know whether you do the N or M stuff, but I'm an eight, so get me unhealthy and I'll come charging at you. That's why Tony said, our pattern is, if we have a disagreement, I'm gonna drive a truck through it and we're gonna resolve it. And Tony's like, back off, back off. So there was that dynamic, but you had kind of exploded and we ended up in the church building. And I remember walking up to the front where I would preach and something snapped in me.

Your snap happened a couple of years earlier with the ring. And I had never... I had always resisted. I'm always like, no, we're gonna make this work. It's gonna be okay. I don't tell this story very often. And I just snapped.

And all of a sudden I'm just like, okay, I got a life without Tony. And I said, it's over. I'm throwing this ministry away. I'm throwing my leadership away.

I mean, it's hard to... I haven't talked about this really. It's in your book, but it's your version. And I just said, that's it. We're getting a divorce. It's over.

And I don't know. It was just, it was awful. And you were horrified, horrified. It was the first time I think I had ever shown in all those years we had known each other that I had the capacity to leave.

What happened there? What was going on in your heart and head when you saw this response? It obviously was jarring to you.

It was jarring. I think in that moment, the real life consequences of us splitting crystallized in my mind because we turn to that in conversation. So then I thought about what does happen with our parenting, what will happen with our finances. Who's going to stay in the house? Are we selling the house?

Are we relocating? What happens with our ministry? And then how can we let all of these people who we've been leading, how can we let them down?

And I think that's what led us to sit at the front of the church and just look over all of the empty seats that we knew are filled with people who are searching for God and searching for love week after week. And I thought, I don't really want to leave Carrie. I just want to leave this painful version of our marriage behind. That's a big statement.

I mean, I don't want to run over that because that I don't want to leave him, but I don't want this marriage in the shape it's in. And you did all the things that night that I had hoped you would. You said you were sorry. You started clinging to me. You apologized. You seemed affectionate. And it's great.

I finally got everything I wanted and I don't want it anymore. That's what I felt like on the inside, which was really weird. It was almost like cognitive dissonance.

It's almost like an out-of-body experience, which I've never had, but it's almost like I'm watching us do this. And I think we ended up maybe praying about it. But spiritual warfare, I always believed it growing up in the church. And I thought, oh, well, that probably happened back then.

I don't know whether it happens today. And then we got into ministry and I'm like, oh, I think this is real. And the problem, I mean, C.S. Lewis and others have pointed out with this is, for some people, there is no such thing as spiritual warfare or interference. For other people, everything is spiritual warfare.

The fact that this tea was a little bit hot when I drank it is, oh, the devil's in that tea. And I don't think either is true. Right. But I think there was a lot of spiritual interference because we had no idea what was ahead. We didn't know that we would make it. I didn't know that we would go on and start Conexus Church and it would reach more people than ever. I didn't know I'd be impacting millions of leaders a year. But I think looking back on it again, I don't want to over ascribe things to Satan that maybe we're just our fallible nature. But I think the enemy had a really good shot at blowing this to smithereens. You never know what hangs in the balance of your obedience. You just don't know.

Absolutely. And I had been thinking about even before that, like, this is not a divorce, is not the story I want to write for my boys. They were at some point in the 19th century, they were at such tender ages, you know, heading into their middle school, high school years. And I'm like, this is not the story I want to write for my kids. This is not the story I want to write for my family or grandkids. It's not the story I want to write with my marriage or our ministry. But I got pushed to the wall that night.

Yeah. And it almost unraveled. You know, the difficulty is we are right at the end and we are going to make a turn next time and start to talk about how God did a work in both of your hearts and how he did mend your marriage and you're in a far better place today. That's the hope of the whole message. And I just want to say to the viewer and the listeners, you got to come back for part two, because we don't want to leave you there in part one, which is, oh, they're just like me. Because God continued to work in both Tony and Carrie's heart for resolution.

And maybe in that way, Tony, what you just said a moment ago, replenish that picture of your marriage so that it wasn't, I don't, I like Carrie, but I don't like our marriage to hopefully loving both. And I'm looking forward to hearing that story. Man, if this has touched you, get in touch with us. We have a great counseling team that can help you begin to sort out where things are at for you. Uh, it's free. Just call us, uh, the donors supply that ability for us to have counselors on staff to give you a call and at least begin that discussion with you and help you think through the critical things.

Obviously the book here before you split, find what you really want for the future of your marriage by Tony would be a resource that you should get. Um, we'll do it three ways. Like we normally do. If you can become a monthly sustainer, we'll send it to you as our way of saying thank you, a one-time gift, the same. If you can't afford it and your marriage is crushed, we'll send it to you for free. We'll trust others. We'll cover the cost of that. We need to get this into your hands. And again, you've only heard part one of their story tomorrow.

We'll hear the beauty of a renewal. And, uh, along with that, a lot of practical steps you can implement in your own relationship. Uh, we're a phone call away 800 the letter a and the word family 800-232-6459.

All the links for help are right in the show notes. And that'll include more details about our hope restored marriage intensives, which make a difference in the lives of those who attend. Um, there's a phenomenal success rate of couples who go through this intensive program and come out the other side together, uh, working on their marriage instead of fighting against each other. And we'd love to have you learn more and maybe attend one of our hope restored marriage intensives on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team.

Thanks for joining us today and plan to be with us next time. As we hear more from Tony and Carrie and help you and your family thrive in Christ. Your marriage can be redeemed. Even if the fights seem constant, even if there's been an affair, even if you haven't felt close in years, no matter how deep the wounds are, you can take a step toward healing them with a hope restored marriage intensive. Our biblically based counseling will help you find the root of your problems and face challenges together. We'll talk with you, pray with you, and help you find out which program will work best. Call us at 1-866-875-2915.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-18 11:20:28 / 2023-07-18 11:31:56 / 11

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