Lee and Laura Gwyn sat at a small table in Starbucks, discussing their 10-year-old son, Zachary. Lee was on a mission: Convince his ex-wife to modify their custody agreement.
Lee just didn’t like his ex-wife. And Laura, a woman of few words, had learned there was absolutely no sense trying to communicate with such an adamant man as Lee.
But something was different that day.
Both Lee and Laura had seen the movie Fireproof. And to them, it was more than simply a story about one firefighter’s efforts to save his dying marriage. It seemed like their story.
After watching the movie, Lee still felt bitterness and anger toward his former wife. But he realized something new: “I had gotten engaged to somebody, but I wanted Laura back.”
“Laura,” Lee asked, “Why do you think we divorced?”
No design for their marriage
An architect, Lee knew how to design the best of houses and follow the most intricate of plans. But he had never understood how to design his own home; he did not have blueprints for marriage.
The 12 years that Lee and Laura were married were filled with many difficulties: a blended family (Laura had a 4-year-old daughter when they married), deaths of three parents, financial stress, infertility, a failed adoption, fertility treatment, miscarriage, a rebellious teenager, etc. Sometimes it felt like stress invaded every aspect of their household.
Laura says that when she felt pressured, she did her best to escape from the situation. For her that meant food and alcohol, and prescription drugs when she experienced panic and anxiety attacks.
It really bothered Lee when she was 40 pounds overweight. “Here’s my wife … she’s eating like a pig and she’s drinking … and she knew those were things I didn’t like.”
Lee would sometimes yell at Laura. As a result, Laura ate and drank even more.
One morning the tension between Lee and his wife was thick—they were arguing about Laura’s teenage daughter. “It’s either her or me,” Lee shouted. When Laura chose her daughter, he immediately said, “Well, fine. Let’s get a divorce.”
From that point, “Everything moved so fast,” Laura says. She and the children moved out of the house in September 2007. She was dating another man the following month.
And the divorce was final by Christmas.
Hurt and angry
Even today, Lee’s voice cracks as he recalls the divorce. “It was probably the most horrifying thing I have ever experienced,” he says. Hurt, angry, and bitter, he immediately got involved with an ex-client.
When the Gwyns’ house sold, Lee moved in with his twin brother’s family. His sister-in-law, Deanna, was a regular listener of the radio broadcast FamilyLife Today, and she told Lee he should try to reconcile his first marriage instead of pursuing another woman.
Lee admitted to Deanna that he still had feelings for Laura, but he didn’t think there was anything he could do to win her back.
Eventually Lee became engaged. Deanna told Lee that he was remarrying too quickly. Then she brought home the movie Fireproof. “It incredibly opened up my eyes,” Lee says. He identified with the main character, Caleb Holt, who was so immersed in his work and in his own selfishness that he was losing his marriage.
Lee purchased a copy of Fireproof and brought it to Laura. “I remember crying through the whole thing,” Laura says. “That movie impacted me so much because it was so us.”
More than coffee at Starbucks
Soon after, in February 2009, Lee and Laura met for coffee at Starbucks. As they talked about themselves and about Fireproof, Lee’s question, “Why do you think we got divorced?” opened up some needed conversation.
Laura began to tell Lee about some of the ways her life had changed since their divorce. She told him about going through Celebrate Recovery (a Christ-centered addiction recovery program) and about going through counseling.
When Laura and Lee left Starbucks that day they knew that they should have never gotten a divorce. Both secretly hoped they’d get back together, and Lee even called off his engagement.
What had been missing?
Lee’s sister-in-law, Deanna, suggested that he go to FamilyLife’s website and look for information about the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. He liked what he saw and asked Laura if she would be interested in going.
Laura was already familiar with the getaway. She had found a section on FamilyLife’s website about troubled marriages. “I read every single thing on it for a couple of days,” she says. “It was so profound and I related so much of the problems that we had with what I was reading.”
Laura agreed to try out the Weekend to Remember.
Sitting in a hotel ballroom in Seattle, Washington, it didn’t take long for the Gwyns to realize what had been missing in their marriage: God’s blueprints. Like many couples today, the Gwyns learned that they had a very typical “50/50 relationship.” It was based on performance: “You do your part and I’ll do mine.” Laura says, “It was very destructive, because we were not able to meet what were unrealistic expectations.”
For the first time, Lee and Laura learned that men have a God-given desire to be respected and women have a God-given desire to be loved. Laura admitted that she had not given Lee the respect he needed, and Lee understood why Laura had not felt his love.
Laura also got a clear picture of the stress that she had felt during their marriage. And Lee realized he had forced an affluent lifestyle on Laura that she did not want and that they could not afford. This led to lot of financial pressure because of their big house payment, high property taxes, and two very expensive cars.
For the first time, Lee realized he was arrogant and opinionated. “I was able to see what was wrong, what areas I needed to improve on, what things I value.”
As Lee listened to the getaway speakers, he longed for Laura to be his wife. He was committed to change to get her back.
After attending the Weekend to Remember, Lee started living by new priorities. He no longer had to have the best house or car, and he knew what he valued most—his family. He did his best to understand Laura’s opinions instead of discounting them. He told her that he would fulfill his God-given role of provider if Laura and he remarried.
After dating for several months, Lee and Laura were remarried on September 23, 2009. When Lee moved into Laura’s small apartment, she knew that he had really changed. “We went from living in the castle to living in a tiny little apartment,” she says.
Laura also made some changes. Realizing that she had a tendency to overpower Lee, she stopped taking on leadership roles that belonged to her husband. She also significantly reduced the hours that she gives to her real estate business and now works out of a home office. And she and Lee no longer need her income to pay bills.
The Gwyns admit that they never should have made so many mistakes in their first 12 years of marriage. “But we did,” Laura says. “All we can do now is learn from them and try our hardest not to make the same mistakes twice.”
Deeply in love, they say they were designed to complete each other, to fill each other’s gaps. “We aren’t going back.”
And they really like their new home … designed according to God’s blueprints for marriage.
Copyright © 2011 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.