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Encouragement for Remarried Couples (Part 1 of 2)

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly
The Truth Network Radio
August 2, 2023 8:37 am

Encouragement for Remarried Couples (Part 1 of 2)

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly

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Hey friends, here the latest episode of my podcast, Refocus with Jim Daley.

Virginia Prodon shares about an assassination plot against her in Romania and sharing Christ with her enemies. Visit Marriage is a wonderful gift from God, but it requires some of our attention and focus and care. Even more effort is required in the case of remarriages and stepfamilies. And our guests today will candidly describe remarriage and stepfamilies as a grinding process, but with careful nurturing and the work of God's spirit, those families can successfully come together and we'll talk about how on today's Focus on the Family.

Your host is Focus President and author Jim Daley, and I'm John Fuller. John, here's a stat that should blow our minds. Over 40% of homes in North America are made up of stepfamilies or blended families. 40%.

That is a big number. Unfortunately, research indicates that about 60% of those remarriages end in divorce within the first two years. So it can be a really unstable environment, and we'll talk more about that today. A stepfamily might form after a divorce caused by infidelity or abandonment, maybe by an unbelieving spouse or an abusive situation. Remarriage may also occur after the death of a spouse. Whatever the circumstances, we want to share with you about how to strengthen your bonds in your marriage and your parenting. And we're going to do that specifically with Gil and Brenda Stewart, who've been married for 20 years, both of them coming from a first marriage, and between them they have seven children.

And so we're going to learn a lot from them today. Gil and Brenda speak at retreats and various events, and they're known as marriage illustrators, presenting relationship concepts in a really inspiring way. And this conversation with them was recorded a while back and based on content from their wonderful book, Restored and Remarried. Gil and Brenda, welcome to Focus on the Family. Thank you so much.

It's a great honor. Okay, so when I was growing up, the first TV blended family was the Brady Bunch. And every night by the time they went to bed, I think all of their problems were solved. Is that the way it is with blended family? Nope. So it's not the Brady Bunch.

Absolutely not. What really happens? Yeah, what's really going on? Well, I think at the top, like you said, you know, blended family being a grind, I would say it's probably more of a blender, not so much.

Maybe chisels and rocks and chips and things like that flying are probably a little more accurate. What do you think, Brenda? Yeah, I agree. There you have it. That's pretty well said.

She agrees with that. Well, how old were your children when you first married? Well, I think the youngest was 11 and the oldest was 22.

So 11 to 22. So you had your hands full. And that we found out later that that's the worst time to remarry is when the kids are preteen and teen. And it's like, I mean, is there any good? I mean, I guess remarry, but there's no good time to divorce. No, absolutely not. And we are here to say that if you're in a marriage, and you're having some struggles that you do whatever you can to fight for that marriage, because it's wonderful. And I love Gil so much, you know, first time marriage, you I mean, that's God's design.

And we do not. It's not just like, okay, I'm not happy. So I'm just gonna leave and do something else and start over.

That's not the best way to do it. Well, like I said, their marriages dissolve for a lot of different reasons. What happened in the two of your cases?

What happened for you? Well, my first marriage was 19 years. And we're both involved with the church. And one day, my ex husband just said he didn't want to be married anymore.

I mean, out of the blue, you have any clue? I've learned that I should have listened to my gut more probably. But we were, you know, doing church and we and we love Jesus. So we thought we were bulletproof, or I did that that would hold you together.

That was enough. Jesus label on you and say, Okay, I'm good. And that that does not negate doing the right things of intentionally going after each other's heart in a marriage. You know, looking at that, and I'm sorry, Gil, these questions may be tender, I don't know, because we're talking about your first marriages. But looking at that, do you think from a Christian perspective, that we may rely too much on that faith component that we think, okay, we're both Christian, therefore, I don't have to put as much effort into this, because our faith will get us through?

Yeah. And, you know, honestly, I mean, to me, Jesus is the rock and center of a good marriage. But in that same breath, I know lots of non Christian marriages that are thriving, because they're doing the right thing in the sense of how they love each other. So the combination of all that is what makes for a really good marriage.

It's not like you can go to church and then go home and kick the dog, so to speak. Well, that may hit a few people, you know, in a tender spot right there. Well, and you know what, because of our pain, and what we went through in our divorce, which we call the great train wreck, we don't wish that on anybody. And if I had the tools I have now, if I had them, then I think I would have had a new awareness of how to love my husband, my first husband better. So for those listening that are in their first marriages, they should stick with us, because they probably will learn things to do differently. Even about themselves.

Right. Gil, tell us your story, your first marriage, what happened? My first marriage was 24 years, and had four children.

And the last four years of those 20 years were, let's just call it a knockdown, drag-out fight. There were a couple places to where we thought we were going to rally and recover, but it didn't end up going that way. And in my situation, really being quite vulnerable here, the nature of that breakup really boiled down to is that my wife kind of chose to go to an alternative lifestyle. And so it really kind of blew me away, because we had both grown up in the church. And everything was similar to what Brenda was saying, that we knew the Lord, and that was supposed to kind of make us bulletproof. But there were things that we weren't paying attention to that really left us vulnerable. And so those natures of pain and looking back over my shoulders, like, yeah, there were some things I could have done differently, but at the same time, there were things there that no matter how hard we tried, my wife made her choice, and she went that direction. So that really kind of, as I kind of put it, really blew a hole right through my heart. How that shadow, I mean, day number one, the next day that she's gone, what did you feel like? I mean, I can't imagine that happening.

It was surreal. The world slowed down to slow motion and didn't really, really return until maybe a couple of years later, because... Really that long? Yeah.

Yeah. I think that a big part of people who've gone through divorce, they tend to maybe try to fill in the pain with something else as quickly as they can, because they want the pain to go away, which, yeah, I get that. On the other hand, if you don't deal with your pain, it will come back and bite you eventually.

In what way does it do that? Well, I think the thing is that if you go into another relationship and you haven't dealt with your stuff, so to say, it's going to come back and create the same problem that you maybe had before. And so there were things that I needed to do with regards to my own heart to know myself, so that when I did go into a new relationship, Lord willing, that I had done my work, that I had repented of things that I had missed, but at the same time, strengthening those things. There was a real process of healing there that I really had to get my heart back. And a lot of that was done through a process of just forgiving not only my ex-wife, but myself.

And so that was a pretty big deal. Did you feel like a failure? Oh, completely.

Completely. I remember going on a missions trip shortly after the divorce was final, and I had a group of college students, and we had a fantastic week. At the end of the week, I read the reviews of one of the kids, college kids, and they said, we really liked your leadership, but we really didn't know a lot about you. And I was hiding because I was in such pain. And so they would make comments about family and so forth. And I was still kind of bleeding out, so to say. So yeah, it still hurt. Change the subject.

Yeah, yeah. Well, what we want to talk about is how you move forward in that regard. And let's talk about the children, the seven kids. When you first met, how did you meet and how long did it take before you guys were thinking maybe we could start anew with each other? We met at church. Brenda was the children's pastor there. And at the time, the church was meeting in high school, so you had a church in a box. You moved in and out of the trek over the weekend. So at the time, I was a single dad, and one of the guys who led the team said, I could always depend upon you to come. And that's kind of where Brenda and I started our friendship. Honestly, I didn't want anything to do with women at all.

I only wanted to talk to my mom, and at that time, my sister-in-law. So is this like two years or so after? Oh, it's about a year.

About a year after you. After a year and a few months and so forth, but it was just like... So Brenda was kind of the leadership of the children's pastor in the morning, so that's kind of how we met as a friendship.

And Brenda, how about for you? How long had it been since you divorced when you first... It was a couple of years. And I was... Never thought I'd be a single mom, was going back to school. And the kids were how old at that point? Oh, gosh, I should have this memorized. They were like 11, 14 and... And nine.

All right. So that first year of marriage, we know it wasn't like the Brady Bunch, but what did it look like with seven kids living at home and you're married now and you're trying to pull this together? Tell us what the aha moment was that you realized, this is gonna be tough. We got back from the honeymoon.

We were home two weeks. We went for a walk, and that's what did it. You went for a walk? We went for a walk. She went one separate direction.

I went another. I lost her when I got back to the house. She was nowhere to be found. I had to find her and I went, oh boy, here we go.

She was mad. How do you get lost on a walk? I don't know. It was in our own neighborhood too, but... You guys just turn different directions and... That assumption will come back and... Something so small created... I assumed he was gonna follow me and I... Because I was walking fast and I don't know what happened. You just got separated.

Yeah. So you got back to the house and then you had an argument about this. Yeah, we did. And how'd that go?

Not too good. No, I didn't sign up for this again. We're gonna do something different, let alone now. Not only do we have children that are going in and out of the house, I would refer to it as the rotisserie front door, kind of like a round door at a big hotel. People are coming and going all the time because of our former spouses living across town. So there was always the, as we call it, the laundry basket brigade. They were always back and forth with their laundry baskets full of clothes and such.

But I think it was the nature of the territorialism that we could see happening. Between the two of you? Between the children.

Oh, the children. Okay. We kinda worked out our little difference about the walk and I realized, okay, I messed up, so we got that square away. But I think we realized we were in for some strong wins and gales. Well, hang on.

How did you mess up? She's a fast walker. She was just out walking you.

Hey, keep up with me. Come on. It was a trigger though. That's the key. It was a trigger, exactly. What was it triggering in you and how did you resolve that issue? I mean, it sounds funny, but I don't wanna blow by this.

I think looking back, what we've done through our relationship and how we've created the restored and remarried is we've come up with catch words. And that probably, now that I think about Gil, would probably been a bare wire, which means I touched something in him emotionally that I didn't realize because it's his stuff, not mine. Okay, okay, okay. It's my bare wire that you triggered though.

Right, but you're right. But you're so right because what you triggered in me was something that caused me to go, I'm supposed to be leading. I'm supposed to be taking the role here. And you ran ahead and I thought, oh no, not again. I don't have that relationship. So it triggered an emotion in me that took me right back to where I was at a few years before with my ex-wife. And Brenda, how did you process that?

You're going, hey Gil, come on, it's just a walk. Right. I mean, but how did you comprehend that it made him feel less of a man?

I think I got it just now. I mean, unless you have those conversations. And I think to have those conversations to have a level of safety is so important. And if you have that level of safety in your relationship, then you'll be vulnerable. And how scary it is even for first time marriages to not be vulnerable. So you mentioned one trigger, the bare wire, and you said there are others.

What are the others? Well, there was another one that took place on our honeymoon of all places. We were having a fabulous time and I really was in kind of just a moment of prayer and I just thought, okay, I've got an issue I need to share with you, Brenda. And we're away on our honeymoon and I kind of started telling her, I got this issue that it's been a problem for a long time. You're probably dying, Brenda. And I'm thinking, okay, we're a long way from the airport.

There's not a bus. She can't run away. And the look in her eyes, she is terrified. And I said, my problem here is I have a problem with suspicion because trust had been so blown away. And so I began to explain to her what suspicion did to me in my first marriage and I did not want that seed to grow, even at the beginning of our marriage on our honeymoon. And so as time progressed along, whenever I had an episode that triggered suspicion and mistrust and safety, we labeled it the Cabo story.

The Cabo, because that's where you went on your honeymoon. Right. And so each time I began to have that issue trouble me, it was my issue, not hers, but it was affecting us. And so a lot of these terminologies such as the bare wires and the sneaker waves and the Cabo stories, those are things that were relevant right then and there that were affecting our marriage then that were from our past. Brenda, let me ask you, it can be difficult for a spouse to zero in on these things. And I mean, we're speaking from Gil's perspective, especially men. Yeah.

And so, I mean, you could easily brush that off and not even think about it or feel exhausted. Zach, I married you. Let's just keep moving forward. Stop bringing this stuff up. But how did you manage it to where Gil felt safety, he felt trust, he felt fidelity in your relationship?

Yeah, because when in the beginning, when he would bring it up, I would know how to kind of come alongside him with empathy. And so, okay, we don't have to go through the whole thing again. We've labeled it.

We know what that means. So let's talk about have I done anything to give you that idea that if I not told you where I'm at or whatever. As we walk through that, after a while, it just got to the point where, okay, wait a minute here. And I got to that point of saying, okay, you need to, I am not doing anything to have you be suspicious in my eyes.

This is your deal. And I think from now on, you need to maybe take this to a guy friend and flush it out. And then if it's still bothering you, by all means come to me because I want Gil to be safe to share anything with me because I want his heart.

And I think most women want their man's heart. But if we continue to shut them down, they're not going to share. So it's that balance that we had to find in talking about it and being honest to say, yeah, this is great. Tell me more about it.

How can I help? Or you know what? Now I ticked. I don't want to talk about this anymore. So we trust each other enough and had safety enough to be able to, for Gil to say, you're right.

Let me go pray about this. Or let me, you know, if I need to talk about it anymore, I'll come back to you. And so it was a really honoring give and take because it's, our mentality is what's best for the team, which is our marriage, not what's best just for me or for Gil. And when we give up and we die to self and we do what's best for the team, we both benefit.

Yeah, that is so good. Let me just pick up a little bit here too on what Brenda is saying. All of these principles that are ongoing, I mean, we've been married 13 and a half years. And if you do remarried math, we've been married married about 92 years or something like that, which is another part. How do you get to remarried math? Well, remarried math is you take the number of years you've been married times the number of children you have together.

So 13 times seven, you do the math. And we have four grand babies to the fourth power. But the point that I want to get to is that all of these issues in a remarriage you're dealing with on how to be married, let alone the chaos that's going on with children, because they themselves are in chaos. They themselves are kind of, are you, am I still loved? What family do I belong to?

Who do I trust? And the grief that I'm dealing with is all going on simultaneously. So that makes the challenge double. Yeah. And I think that's the point that we are in love.

And we're working out this new stuff. But at the same time, how do we care for those kids? Well, I gotta tell you, I, you know, I was in a blended family, my mom remarried. I was eight years old when she did. And our stepfather, Hank, was not a very kind man toward us. He loved my mom. And I felt that I knew that. And I respected that even as a nine year old boy. But man, he had no time for us. We were irritants all the time. And so I felt it from the child's perspective.

But let me ask you this. Brenda, we're kind of looking at Gil's closet. What about yours? How did Gil help you with your trigger areas? And what were they? I think Gil helped me realize the whole thing about being safe.

I tend to be the kind of girl where it puts your head down, push through it. So after the wound of your first marriage, were you open about it? Or were you quite? No, I'm, I was very open, I think. Yes, you were. From the very outset.

Yes, you were. I mean, we pretty much laid it right out at the very beginning, because the beginning of the relationship was his trust and honesty. If we can't have that, and we are, those can't see us across the audience. We had a handshake at our second time out said, if we can't have that nice knowing you, see ya. Because trust had been obliterated, you know, before. So how can we trust again?

And, and that takes time. What were issues of your your bare wire? How did Gil trigger you? How is he triggering me? I think he would trigger me because we are wired differently. That I'm like a go, go, go, and he'll tend to stand back and be a little bit more reflective.

And that would be frustrating to me. So for me to be able to take a step back and realize that we're balancing each other, and to give him the, the permission, I guess, so to say, to call me out when I needed to, because I knew that he was doing it in love. And that has helped me grow as a person for sure, as an individual.

The other side of this, though, is you have to feel like you're wearing a label. I mean, you were churchgoing Christians, and one day you're married to your spouses, and the next day you're not. And then you meet, and you get married, and you show up at the same church or a different church. But you're, you must have felt like something was across your forehead.

What was that something? I love what Ron Deal says, it's that D and the R, divorced or remarried, which he couches as delivered and redeemed now. And there is so much shame, I think even to today, because we have couples that are, that are friends that have been married for 35 years. And in our own way, as happy as we are now, we, for me, it's like, that should have been me.

I should be at my 35, 36, 37 year mark. And I'm not. And I think there's a lot of shame being remarried in the church. And I'll be honest with you, before I got remarried and divorced and all this, and I was first time married in the church, I would look at divorced and remarried couples, and I was very judgmental. Well, gee, what's their problem? How come they couldn't make it work?

They were just a failure. And now that I'm on the other side of this, it's real, because we get that even now. I mean, we've gotten so much hate mail through the years, because we're adulterers, and this and that.

It's like, you don't even know our story. And once again, we're not condoning, we're not supporting divorce and remarriage. But there are a lot of hurting remarried couples out there in the church that are so lost and so isolated.

I think mainly because of lack of education and understanding from the church as a whole. What does God say to your heart? What do you hear the Lord saying to you that he wants?

You know, he's not saying to us and the first married grouping. What does he speak to you in that way? What freedom do you find? What grace do you find in your communion with the Lord? Grace, redemption, reconciliation, the ground is level at the foot of the cross.

No judgment. I think one of the most astounding things I really began to understand was when I began to understand who Jesus really was. And in his own right, this is a bit of a stretch, but in his own right, he was a stepson.

How? Because Joseph was not his biological dad. And I thought to myself, wow. How did that relate to your fathering of Brenda's children?

Well, it put a different perspective on they, even to this day, you know, they say, you've done a good job. Thank you. We love you, but you can't replace our dad. And I go, you're right.

I can't, but I can love you. And so I think in the terms of the position that Joseph was in, I mean, here was, you know, your son happens to be, you know, the omnipotent son of God. Don't screw up, but you know, love this young man because he needs you to nurture him. And as stepfathers, that's typically what I love to do when we're doing our seminars is to call out the stepdads to say, God's providentially put you in a place that that young man, that young woman that's raised up in your family, you have the opportunity to change the legacy. And even with your own children, I think even now with some of my kids that are in their 20s and 30s, beginning to understand the grief that they've gone through and still grieving it, there's things that I, even a couple of weeks ago, I realized with one of my sons that I needed to go to him and apologize. And I realized I need to lift some burdens off of your shoulder.

And what I got back in return was, it was, thanks dad. I'm really glad that you finally are beginning to see some things, even though we've been at this for a number of years, but what a position to be to really love and nurture those kids. Well, and we have touched on that side of this equation is how you met and how you came out of your wounds after divorce. And, and I want to come back again and talk about the impact on the children. You've had 13 years now to parent them, both your kids, Gil, and your kids, Brenda. And I think it would be helpful for the listeners to hear more about things that you did to help your children along in their journey. So can we continue to have that dialogue, come back next time and talk about it.

Certainly. We know that marriages today are in trouble and first time, second time, it doesn't matter what time. If we're not investing in our marriages, the evil one's going to be there like a roaring lion, ready to devour us. I feel it as the head of Focus on the Family. Jean and I pray about that. We think about it because we're vulnerable and guess what you are too.

And so we've got to do all we can. And that is why Focus on the Family is here. Let me read you a story of someone. We just received this recently, and this woman wrote in and said, I started listening to Focus on the Family late last December and was hooked immediately. My then almost 14 year old stepson and I were at odds with each other every time he came to our house.

And it was causing such tension between me and my husband that it seemed our marriage was doomed. But after only two weeks of listening to your program, the messages I was soaking in each day began to transform me. My entire family saw and experienced the changes I was making. As remarkable as it sounds, we now have a warm and loving home. And I'm so grateful for your dedication to the Lord. I am revived every day when I listen.

Thank you ever so much for your broadcast. That tickles my heart, Gil and Brenda. I mean, that's your sweet spot, right?

That's the person you're looking for. Oh, absolutely. That's so encouraging.

You have helped people today. And again, we're going to come back next time and concentrate on the children and their hearts. Can we do that? Absolutely. Certainly.

Great. Well, it was great to chat with Gil and Brenda Stewart and to hear about God's redemption in their marriage on today's episode of Focus on the Family. Yeah, Gil and Brenda have such fantastic stories to share about bonding as a blended family and creating the unity that marriages need. Our families and marriages need to be rooted in God, and He is faithful to bring about healing and restoration. Bringing pain from the past into our relationships can be a challenging thing, but God's grace can help us overcome those challenges.

That's what it's about. If you were encouraged by our conversation today, Gil and Brenda have even more help for you about remarriages as they share in their book Restored and Remarried. Donate generously if you'd like to help us continue to be there for marriages.

And when you make a gift of any amount today, we'll be happy to send you a copy of Gil and Brenda's book. Our number is 800, the letter A in the word family, or stop by the program notes for all the links. And if you'd like to talk to somebody about your relationship, maybe you're struggling, please know that we have caring Christian counselors, and we'd be happy to make an appointment for one of them to give you a call back.

Just call our toll-free number to get the process started. Again, that's 800, the letter A in the word family. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I'm John Fuller inviting you back next time as we continue the conversation and once again 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. And as always, we're here to help you find out which program will work best. Call us at 1-866-875-2915.
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