I want to tell you about a time when things really changed in our marriage. Actually, it was a time when I really changed, and then our marriage changed.
Some of you know parts of this story, most know very little. I want to give you a better context of my experience so you understand why I take the view on marriage that I do, that is, that (1) things begin to change for the better when a man takes the lead in loving his wife; and (2) if you want to help others change, you must have the faith to change yourself first.
|My wife and I at the Manti Temple, Nov. 21, 2008|
We had been married about 20 years. We were faithful and active in the Church, and very busy. We had one daughter at BYU, one in high school, and another just starting grade school. I was doing well in my career, with several book contracts from a major publisher. We had a 3,500 square foot home on five acres dotted with tall fir trees, horses, and cows. We had a barn and three cars and a pickup, and two of those cars we bought new. I thought it was the last home we would ever buy. I thought we had it made.
Life was good on the surface. We were reasonably happy as a couple. We had our conflicts, but they didn’t dominate our relationship. Our home environment was mostly positive.
But something was missing inside of me.
I sensed my wife’s dissatisfaction and frustration. I knew there were things I needed to change about my deeply held, mostly unconscious, stinker pot attitudes. I was unhappy with myself. In fact, I was afraid of myself.
Then my wife started to get sick again. About nine years before, her colon had been punctured during a laparoscopy which led to a colostomy and then a resection; then, a few years later, she had bladder surgery to remove a sponge that had been left behind during a previous surgery. Several years following that, she suffered severe abdominal pain from a combination of scar tissue and endometriosis, followed by gall bladder surgery (fall 2000), and finally a hysterectomy (spring 2001).
Then a very steep slide. To make what could be a very long story short, by that fall, my wife was being fed TPN through a pic line in her chest, and barely hanging onto life.
We had been to see over thirty doctors. We had been to the Mayo Clinic. Our lives had been turned upside down physically, emotionally, and financially. I had to put my career almost completely on hold. We were under enormous stress. I was completely responsible for everything—cooking, cleaning, laundry, kids, finances. Everything.
Money was tight. Stress was high. We lived under an emotional mushroom cloud. I could hardly leave the house. We had few visitors. We were lonely. I was devastated.
It was as if my wife was falling from a cliff, and I was hanging onto her with one hand. Every day, her hand seemed to slip from mine a little more. I thought I was about to lose her in an abyss with no bottom.
On the other hand, I was beginning to appreciate my wife in ways that I had never appreciated her before. I adored her frail little skinny self. I loved her more than I ever had before, though she couldn’t show that love back. I needed her, and I wanted her. She was everything to me, and more than anything, I did not want to lose her. I just did not want to lose her.
It was when I was on the brink of destruction—”not . . . an imaginary ruin,” but the complete destruction of our financial, emotional, and marital life—that I made a very simple decision. I decided to listen to my wife with all my heart.
That’s all it was. I simply decided to listen to her.
I learned to cherish every word she said. We talked and talked and did little else. We talked about the future without her. We talked about the next life and God and the children and what we were learning from it all. I respected everything she had to say. Nothing she said fell to the ground void.
She was absolutely first in everything to me then. I knew that she knew that. I was passing the test I had been given. The experience changed me forever. I had decided completely on my own to change, and I could never go back.
This is how I learned to love my wife the way she wants and deserves to be loved. This is why I encourage husbands to do the same. This is why I believe the change you’ve wanted to see in your marriage has to begin with you, just as it did for me.
P.S. On Christmas Day of that year, my wife started to get better. It was the turning point. Soon after that, the Lord led us to some solutions that necessitated traveling to Arizona and Utah for treatment. Eventually, He led us to sell our home in Oregon and move to Utah where my wife could get the most effective care for her condition. The month I smiled and said to her “I think you are 90 percent better!” was the month I was, to my utter astonishment, called as the bishop of our ward. She has had some health setbacks while I have been bishop, but for the most part she is healthy. I am still trying to get my career back on track. As far as this world’s goods are concerned, we have what we need and little else; as far as our emotional and spiritual needs, we have the very best life has to offer.