ReEngage : Trite and True

   My husband and I have been together for over eight years, married almost six. It wasn't until I entered the extremely fulfilling, yet surprisingly isolating, world of stay-at-home-motherhood that I realized I would finally have to deal with the ever-creeping feelings of loneliness, agitation, and tension.  I have always considered myself happily married.  Overall, I am overwhelmingly grateful for my husband, my children, our home, and our life.  But no life is without conflict.  And it was in these moments of impact, when my husband and I collided on the issues of finances, parenting, and even time management, that I thought we needed some help.  I never left an argument thinking, "Wow.  We really handled that well.  I am really pleased with the compromise we came to and am glad that we are both happy.  I feel so much closer to him now!"  After we had either completely exhausted or totally dodged each topic, I usually felt a little rejected, lonesome, and disconnected.  I cannot be a positive and productive wife and mother if the underpinning of unrest always lurked behind every good day.
   Thus far, my techniques were unsuccessful. I had exhausted all my resources (my parents, girlfriends, other fire wives, Oprah, Dr. Phil) years ago. And no time-consuming hobby, intense work out, liberating girls' night, or deep conversation with my husband ever kept those bothersome stirrings away for long. I began to eliminate distractions, one by one, and focus more and more on finding the source.

   Is it my circle of friends? Is it his job? Is it my past? Is it the full moon? What is it? How can we love each other so much and be so committed to our marriage, yet still argue? Why do we argue? And, most importantly, how can I make it stop? A few months after I wrote "The 'L' Word", we found ourselves in a marriage help group...at church. (Read more in "Re|Engage".)

   Our first night at Re|Engage, I walked into the church's gym apprehensive, yet elated. I was nervous because I have always been intimidated and skeptical of religion, bible-thumpers, hypocritical Christians, and any authority figure in general. However, I was also excited because I had pushed for counseling on, ahem, several occasions. Since "the divorce rate for firefighters is three times that of the general population, which is the highest rate in the nation, second only to that of the military" [source], we were blessed with twelve free counseling sessions per year. Only, we never went- for various reasons.

   The mental catalogue I had been keeping track of all these years- an extensive list of past hurts and my angle on recurring, problematic themes in our relationship- was about to be divulged. Our unsolved mysteries had been provoking me and boiling under the surface for so long. I couldn't wait to let it all pour out like hot lava.  I had played it out in my head so many times over the years.  My talking points were well thought out.  I would deliver them calmly and concisely.  Then, I fantasized, an esteemed and wise someone would pet my head, wipe away my tears, and then say, "It's ok. It's all his fault anyway." The glowing, molten lava would stop in its tracks, cool, and then a beautiful island would immediately engender. With all of our marital problems behind us, my husband and I would sweep down the untouched, supple sands to nap in the cool shade of a crooked palm's fronds. Finally! My happily ever after! Right?! This will be great!!

   So, there we sat on our first night. We had just listened to an hour long testimony from another couple, Raeul and Susan Cox, that was humanizing, uplifting, and thought-provoking. Next, we were given an information card to fill out. I had been once before, by myself, and had already been given the same card. On that previous night, I scribbled my name and address. At the bottom of the card we were asked to rate our marriage on a scale of 1-10. Without hesitation, I wrote my answer, thinking no one would ever see it.

   Now, on this night, I gave my husband time to fill out his card. Then he turned it over and handed it to Raeul and Susan. After a few seconds, I felt his mood shift as he startled, spun his head to look at me, and said, "Wait. What'd you write? What was your number?" A few nervous laughs and a failed attempt to keep it a secret later, I eventually caved.

Me:  Fine. You really want to know what I wrote? Really? ...Ok. I gave it a 4.
        (awwwwkward silence)
        Well? What did you write? 

Him:  What?! I said an 8! 
          I would've written a '10' but there's always room for improvement! 
          A 4'?!?!

   Does this sound familiar?  The oblivious husband, bobbing along without an emotional care in the world.  And the wife, intuitive to a fault with countless emotional worries, questions, comments, philosophies, assumptions, and rulings.  We obviously had a lot to sort out.

So trite, yet so true.  [source]

   After each week in the uncomfortable holding pattern of "open group", we waffled back and forth questioning whether or not we would return.  This process was not fun.  And we weren't really getting anything out of it. But, something kept pulling us back. At long last, we made it to a "closed group" and began the 16-week curriculum. All the issues we had dealt with in our relationship were still lingering, in my opinion. I couldn't wait to bring it all out in the open and start the healing process! My husband, on the other hand, thought all the little problems had been resolved years ago and was there to support me, but was overall content in our marriage. Poor thing.

   In previous relationships, I fought every fight. I picked all battles. To sum up, it didn't work. Early in our relationship, I discovered my husband and I both had very strong personalities and realized I would need to try something new if we were going to stay together. In my efforts to better myself and try a different method, I accidentally became passive aggressive. Such has been the pattern in my life, from one extreme to the other. For years I would hold many convictions and perceptions in (no matter what he might say, I did actually hold some things in...lol), trying to avoid conflict, and then explode every once and a full moon. My husband felt blind-sided and repeatedly shut down. Then, already hurting and now facing a brick wall, I would collapse. This was our "crazy cycle". (The "crazy cycle" is one of the priceless gems we took from studying Love & Respect. I have been attempting to tackle a post about this mind-blowing book, but it's pretty difficult to trim down. Go. Buy it. Read it. It's amazing.)

   I don't know why getting your teeth cleaned by the dentist, getting your oil changed or a tune up at the mechanic, and referring to google maps for directions are all socially acceptable, but seeking marriage help is not. It is my belief that the most important decision you will ever consciously make in life is choosing your spouse and, in turn, nothing will ever affect your life greater than the health of your marriage. Had we not explored a new church, and had that church not happened to be offering a free marriage class open to everyone (not just members of the church) I don't know when/how things would have ever improved. And that, they did.


   Enough background information, let me share with you what we learned and what changed.  We sat down in a circle, introduced ourselves to the five other couples, and opened the Re|Engage book.  "Principle 1:  Recognize your inability to love."  My inability to love.  Inability to love?  Huh?  Excuse me?!  Um, have you met me?  That's all I do is love.  I love my parents, my children, my siblings, my husband, my dog, and even the sweet nurse at the pediatrician's office.  I love, and I give, and I sacrifice, and then love some more, and give and give and give until there's nothing left!  But no one ever appreciates me.  No one ever gives back.  I deserve more.  I'm supposed to stand up for myself and draw boundaries- not to be told I don't love enough!  This part must be just for him. 
   I read on to explore the definition of love, "You might have read it, seen it in a movie, remembered it from a fairy tale or simply imagined it in your own mind.  You might have thought you had it, only to find out that what you really had was a cruel joke, a cheap counterfeit or possibly a well-orchestrated lie.  [Can I get a, "Mmmm hmm," ladies?]  Whatever the origin of its exisitence inside of you, what you are certain of is that it is impossibly lost."
   Re|Engage's teachings made me think about my own perception of love.  These images flashed in my mind:
Allie and Noah 
Harry and Sally
Hubbell and Katie
Carrie and Big
Johnny and Baby

Loretta and Ronny

 Rhett and Scarlett

Ross and Rachel
Ellie and Carl

   Hmmm.  Maybe my perception of love is a bit distorted.  You think?  Although, if you think about it, we all want, need, seek out, pine for, expect, deserve, that kind of love.  We're all the same- the naive, the wise, the hopeless romantics, the cynics- we all want to be loved unconditionally. 

- George Carlin [photo source]

   No one ever gets married thinking they will get divorced someday.  They both stand at the altar, on the beach, or in the courthouse and agree to make each other happy for the rest of their lives.  Hand in hand, they both believe they aren't like any other couple.  They're differentTheir love will grant them a lifetime of laughter, sex, fulfillment, bliss, passion, success, and peace.  (Or, in other situations, they marry for money, companionship, an arrangement, etc.  But for the most part, we're all that first couple.)  "We'll do things our way.  It'll be fantastic.  And after everyone stops doubting us, they'll start asking us for our secret.  'Just how do you keep the love alive after all these years?!,' they'll say."
   Then a few hours, weeks, months, or even years later comes that one disagreement, betrayal, or conflict and one or both of you throw your hands in the air and say, "I'm done."  Trite and true.  Some really mean it and end up divorced, some were just angry and trying to hurt the other, some sort of mean it and then make it worse by diving into an extra-marital affair with another person or their work (yes, if you shut down from your spouse and pour yourself into your job because you get more gratification there, I consider that an affair), and some don't mean it at all but have run out of things to say. 
   Maybe I am really done.  Maybe I need some outside help, a new perspective.  Even though I was raised Catholic and therefore went to CCD once a week for over a decade, I didn't take away much from the Bible.  Although somehow, I actually had heard of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 before which, according to the Re|Engage lesson, "teaches that love:
  • Is patient and kind.
  • Doesn't envy or boast.
  • Isn't rude or insisting on its own way.
  • Is not irritable or resentful.
  • Bears and endures all things.
  • Believes and hopes all things."

   Yeah, yeah.  We've heard that before.  But, stop.  Stop right there.  Clear your mind.  Now go back through the list above and read each line out loud.  At the end of each phrase, ask yourself if you're honestly succeeding at each point. 

   Nope.  I'm not.  In fact, the one I struggle with the most is "not irritable or resentful."  I have been bitter for over eight years.  When I began dating my husband, my heart was scarred and cold.  I sought out to soften and revive it, while I allowed myself to fall in love again and with him, but I never did prevail.  Instead of cracking the shell and opening up, I think deep down I've been building a taller and stronger wall of protection.

   "Romans 5:8 says, 'But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.'  He didn't wait for us to be good enough.  Rather, while we were actively sinning, He died for us!  Real love puts the other person first.  This isn't hard, it's impossible.  This leads us to our first principle:

You are powerless to love your spouse the way you promised you would, the way they dreamed you would, and the way God designed that you should.

Ouch.  That's all.  Just ouch.

"The point of Lesson 1 is that our definition of love isn't big enough and that we don't have the ability to love our spouses as we should without God's help."

Well, ok.  You've got my attention.  So, what's next?  Oh...Lesson 2.

"One of the best ways to improve your marriage is to draw a circle around yourself and work on changing everyone inside the circle."

"I am my biggest marital problem."  

 - Paul David Tripp, author of What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

   Wait. A. Minute.  I'm the problem?!  So, I have an inability to love and I'm the problem?!?!  Well, there goes my plan!  What on earth am I going to talk about for 16 weeks if I'm not going to be reciting my mental catalogue of past hurts?  I slammed down the book and threw it across the room.  I was so angry.  And yet, I had to know more. 

   Usually, seeking help in your relationship usually means your marriage is "in trouble."  I didn't care what people thought.  But for the record, divorce absolutely positively is not an option for us.  I always tell my husband, and anyone else willing to listen, that he could do pretty much anything and I'm not leaving.  He could get a girlfriend, he could spend all of our money, and he could disappear for weeks at a time.  I'm not leaving.  We have a guest room.  And it's pretty.  One of us might actually enjoy sleeping in there.

   It didn't matter where our marriage was, who we were, or where we came from.  Re|Engage was obviously going to be helpful if we'd been married two minutes or two decades and whether we had already filed for divorce or if we just needed a tune up.  We were in.  The curriculum had dared us to think like neither of us had thought before.  It became a challenge- the biggest challenge of my life. And I wasn't ready to give up so easily.

   I apologize it took me so long to write this one.  As it turns out, it isn't easy to explain a huge transformation that happened so recently I'm not even sure I understand it all.  And it's excruciatingly difficult to even elude to our marital problems (aka my faults), let alone analyze them in a public forum.  Yikes.  Thank you for reading! 
This is part one of a multi-part marriage series.
Click on the links below for more.
Preface [Re|Engage.]
To hear the couple that drew us in, click here.
To hear our mentor couple's testimony (and others), click here.


 For more information about Re|Engage,

such as a church near you that offers it

or an avenue to bring it to your own church,
please visit:




  1. I'm reading!!! And I want to read more...soon!! xoxo

    1. Ok! Thank you so much for reading, Allison! I want to write more...just trying to summon the strength after such a crazy week. Coming soon- sooner than this one took. ;)

  2. Keep it coming! Both helpful for your readers and probably for you, too!

    1. You're so right, Catherine! It is helpful for me once I get over my apprehensions with sharing. ;) Thank you so much for reading!

  3. The rawness of your experience is intoxicating, my friend. Your words are so powerful! You are going to touch so many souls (including mine) with this post!
    More please, yes!
    -Whitney A.

    1. Whitney, you always know just what to say to make me feel better. Miss you! Thank you for reading!! Working on it...:)

  4. Love the honesty and openness of this post! I can relate in so many ways. Marriage - a constant work in progress. :)

    1. Isn't it though? Thank you so much for reading! I'm so glad you can relate! It's funny that I spent so much time and energy finding the man I would start a family with, but the REAL work only began after we got married. :)

  5. Here it is, (I don't know how I could have missed it - I guess the holiday hubub) the post for every young married who stays awake and sobs her heart out while her young husband blissfully (rating their marriage an 8+)sleeps down the hall in the master bedroom.

    Seriously, that we all could recognize how we are smothering the flame of love that brought us together by our daily "me" behavior . . . Re-Engage is the medicine for the bruised souls of so many of us. Not a panacea, but a warm fire that gives us life and hope. 16 weeks, sometimes we get burned, but in those weeks is the opportunity to love and grow and become the 'you' that God is cheering for.

    1. Thank you, Anonymous! Re|Engage truly is transforming!! It sounds like you enjoyed it as much as we did. Thank you for reading!!

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this...I look forward to the next one!

    1. Thank you for your support Christina!! It's coming! ;)

  7. This was amazing Isla! I am sure for many this touches home. I know it does for me. Married to the man I know I will grow old with, it is not always a bed of roses. I read this over and over, made a list with what you shared, have been and will continue to reflect on this daily. And can I just say, what I found in that little circle was pretty scary. I really do look forward to hearing more. We aren´t in the exact same shoes, but I suffer from the loneliness that you speak about and it is hard. Mine comes from being a wife, mother and business owner. Not having time for much else than that...but then I struggle with, why isn´t that enough? I have a wonderful husband that most woman can only dream of, a healthy, happy, loving and smart daughter and a successful business (that has great potential to grow.) So thank you again! You open my mind with your writing and definitly let me know, that I am not alone! -Rhiannon

    1. Wow! Rhiannon I am so touched that this made an impact on you!! The circle has been a very scary place for me too! I think whatever anyone's work consists of, whether it's inside and/or outside of the home, it's just another factor of influence pulling us away from our true selfs! Thank YOU for letting me know that I'm not alone! I am inspired hearing you are reflecting on all we learned. It's pretty difficult to not do better when you know better, you know? Thank you Rhiannon!

  8. Dear Isla,
    I am not sure how I came across your blog but it is so refreshing. I am enjoying your writing and learning from your post. Thanks for sharing and taking the time to write. I know how precious time is.

    What I have learned, most of the time the hard way, that marriage is a verb, and with God's grace and alot of guidance we are able to make it throught. Your writings are insightful and relavant for all ages. Thank you!

    1. Likewise, I appreciate you taking the time to read! I love that concept, "marriage is a verb"! It's so true! I'm doing my best to live with intention. Thank you so much for stopping by!

  9. Great blog! Thx so much for sharing your story and how Re|Engage changed your lives! My husband and I went through Re|Engage a few years ago when I found out my husband was in the middle of an affair, and he had convinced himself there was no hope for us and he had married the wrong person. I convinced him to try Re|Engage with me one night, and after the stories of hope and healing, we couldn't help but to keep coming back. Now, our marriage is better than ever, and just last week we launched Re|Engage at our church, First Baptist Church of Maypearl. We can't wait to see how God is going to use this ministry to change marriages in our community and draw people to Him! We would really appreciate it you would add our church to your list of churches offering Re|Engage. We know the need is great, and we are eager to get the word out that there is now a a Re|Engage in our area. Thx!

    1. Oh Brooke!! That is THE BEST news!!! I am so honored to hear your story and am inspired by your success!! Infidelity is probably the most destructive deal-breaker. My heart is so happy to know you two are better than ever! I would be lying by saying Re|Engage is anything short of a miracle. How exciting to be witnessing a launch too!! I will add your church to the list right now! Please keep me updated on your church's progress and if you ever feel like doing a guest post about your journey, email me at islacunninghambooks@gmail.com. I know my readers would love to hear from someone (besides me) who has witnessed God's work firsthand! Thank you for commenting!