For Better or for Worse

02/11/2017 .
Myra Biernat Wells  .  Volunteer Storyteller

Denise sensed the tightening grip of death taking hold of her marriage. The disappointment was so palpable; she could feel it as a heavy weight on her shoulders. This was her second marriage, having met Andy, also divorced, via a blind date. Denise desperately wanted their relationship to work even though life wasn’t turning out the way she had planned.

There had been signs of trouble even before Andy and Denise were married. They had only been dating two months when they decided to get married. Enough time to know he treated her well, but not long enough to truly understand each other.


Denise still needed to grieve her first marriage. Children entered the equation. Two from his first marriage, two from hers. Blending a family is hard work — it’s very different from a first time marriage. Something neither of them realized before they said, “I do.”  


Then there had been the promise. Denise wanted to adopt a little girl. Andy agreed when they were engaged, but soon after marriage, he changed his mind. Add to this disappointment, financial difficulties, dealing with ex-spouses and a history of not fighting fair, and you have a recipe for disaster.


After the wedding it didn’t take long for the pressures to take their toll. “Each of us had unresolved baggage,” Denise said. “Plus, we knew what buttons to push when we argued. We would go after the person with the intention to hurt, not with reconciliation on our minds. I used to tell Andy, ‘Go back to your first wife.’ He would respond by not talking to me. It wasn’t at all healthy.”

A handful of Christian friends tried to mentor the couple. They would sit down with Andy and Denise to talk when they got off track. But pressures began to mount and shortly after their first anniversary, Denise suffered a mental breakdown and was hospitalized.  


In the five days she was in the hospital, she received emotional support, not only from her care team, but from friends and family as well. Once she was released, she agreed to counseling.


“I truly believe the beginning of my wholeness started with my breakdown,” says Denise.


“Although I wouldn't wish it on anyone I feel when I hit rock bottom my only option was to look up. I was in a very vulnerable state, but allowed Andy to step up to the plate and start growing as my husband. Because he continued to care for me even through the roughest times I began trusting him more and more.”

A huge turning point for the couple came when their small group began to study Loving and Leading and The Heart that Makes the Home. The two books gave them a blueprint for marriage.


With help from their small group, they learned to treat each other with fairness and respect. “At Saddleback, you need to have a small group of people who hold you accountable,” Denise said. “While everyone at the church wants to help one another, you need to get involved in a small group in order to become more spiritually mature. Through our group, we learned how to resolve conflict in our marriage. More importantly, we understood we had to do this not just for ourselves, but to break the cycle of divorce for our own children.”


While their marriage slowly began to right itself, Denise still held resentment in her heart over Andy’s refusal to adopt a little girl. She would constantly ask herself, “How do you submit to your husband when you know it is in God’s plan?” One day, she brought that question to another wife in her group. The woman answered, “You look over Andy’s right shoulder and see Jesus.”

After that encounter, Denise softened her stance. “When you are on the same page as your husband, submission is easy. You want the same things out of life. When I didn’t agree, I would fight. In order to overcome my anger, I gave it to God and let him work on Andy. This was a big turnaround for me, not just on this issue, but I let go of trying to remain in control.”


Shortly after Denise’s change of attitude, Andy made the decision to join a missions trip sponsored by a charitable organization to the Ukraine. There he saw orphan children living in a dank, dark underground network of drains, tunnels and mines. Unloved, forgotten and uncared for, their plight tugged on Andy. When he returned to the US, he had a renewed sense of stepping out of what was familiar to him and agreed to a foreign adoption. They soon adopted another child, Audrey.

“We’ve now been married 17 years and I want to let those struggling with their marriages know, it is possible to get back to being 100% in love. In our first marriages, Andy and I built walls with our spouses. We just didn’t want to work on our relationships. And while the statistics for a successful second marriage are horrible,” says Denise, “with encouraging friends, a small group Bible study and people who hold you accountable, you can bring life back to any marriage.”

At Saddleback, “I learned God doesn’t want you happy. He wants you holy. So I thank him for the people, both at Saddleback and at our Indiana church, who helped Andy and I keep our marriage on track. It must have been difficult for them to speak lovingly into our situation, but I am so happy they took on that task.”


Click HERE if you want to learn more about how to strengthen your marriage.


If you're looking for a small group community to be part of, visit saddleback.com/smallgroups.


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