Blending Hearts and Homes
About the Guest
Every remarriage has a backstory, and blending a family introduces emotions and baggage that are often surprising and even painful. Gil and Brenda Stuart share how they experienced the pains and joys of remarriage. Recorded on FamilyLife's 2016 Love Like You Mean It® marriage cruise.
Gil and Brenda StuartGil has his Master’s in Counseling and Brenda has her Life Coaching Certification. They have been working with couples for over 16 years and have learned that the combination of Counselor/Coach is very impactful. The Stuarts own Seven Trees Consulting, Inc. offering team-building training and more. In addition, they are Prepare and Enrich Trainers, host the Gil and Brenda Stuart podcast, have presented with Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage, and are the authors of Restored and Remarried...more
Gil and Brenda Stuart share how they experienced the pains and joys of remarriage.
Blending Hearts and Homes
Bob: Years after his first marriage ended, Gil Stuart proposed to a woman he met at church—another person who had been through a divorce. The two of them set a date to get married.
Gil: My children didn’t show up to the wedding. Two of them were close; but right at the last minute, they didn’t come. One by one—as we continued to just stay the course, one by one, they came back—my kids—and apologized, with tears, saying: “I’m sorry, Dad. I should have been there.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, March 11th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. There are a lot of reasons why blending a family is tough to do. We’ll talk to Gil and Brenda Stuart about some of the challenges they’ve faced today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. This is always fun for us. We rarely get to do a FamilyLife Today program with a studio audience; but today, we have one because we’re onboard the 2016 Love Like You Mean It® marriage cruise. [Applause]
Dennis: A lot of fun—a lot of fun.
Bob: Yes, it is a lot of fun.
Dennis: We’ve got one of the resources that we have featured here on the cruise. As you know, Bob, we’ve got all kinds of optional seminars as well as messages given. In fact, Gil and Brenda Stuart, earlier this week, led a session for blended families. You give leadership to a ministry called Restored and Remarried. You guys are from the Northwest. You have seven children between you, and you’ve been married 13 years.
You know, you always wonder:
“Where do you start as you talk about a remarried situation because there are so many different ways blended families are formed?” But there are a lot of them being formed today. Comment on that, if you would, please before you tell us your story.
Brenda: Well, I think whether you come into a remarriage because of a divorce or the death of a spouse—the common denominator is the pain that we all share through that experience.
Dennis: And today, over 40 percent of all marriages taking place in our country involve a blended family.
Bob: And Gil, there is a sense of loss, of grief / sometimes, shame that comes with all of that. When that’s the seed bed for a new relationship to be formed in, you’re starting with some rocky soil that there are going to be some issues.
Gil: Rocky soil with lots of weeds and lots of debris. There is a lot of brokenness that comes with the beginnings of a remarriage.
Sometimes, there is a lot of joy; but typically, there’s a lot of pain with the “I do’s” and the “I will’s” and so forth. So, yes; and I think even one of the things we mentioned during the breakout session was to make room for the grief, not only for the couple, but for the children.
Bob: Your first marriage ended after you’d been married for how many years?
Gil: Twenty-four years.
Bob: And what can you share about the circumstances that brought it to an end?
Gil: Well, my first wife and I were married for 24 years. We had four children—three boys and a girl. And a lot of pain—20 of the years were really amazing. We were involved with youth ministry, and short-term missions, and so forth; but about year 20 and even year 16, there were some challenges / some degree of infidelity. About year 20, there was a really big change toward some choices that were being made—really blew me out of the water.
We’d gone through all the right steps with the counselors, the pastors, and all that; but there was a choice that happened that I couldn’t reverse—
—that she made a choice / that it was like: “I can’t bring you back. You’ve got to be all-in, or I can’t move forward with it.” So, yes; dizzy, disorientated, surreal—would be what I would call it. I was like—I could not believe what was going on in front of my very eyes.
Bob: How old were your kids when this was happening, and what was the impact on them?
Gil: The youngest was, probably, nine / ten years of age—the oldest was nineteen / twenty—because the oldest—between the oldest and the youngest was ten years’ difference.
Dennis: I think—to those of us who haven’t experienced either the death of a spouse / divorce—again, the many ways that a blended family is formed—we really don’t know how to relate to a family that’s blended. Frankly—I’ve confessed this on this radio show on more than one occasion—
—I was really clueless as to the challenges, the chaos, the hurt, and how blended families within the church feel like they have a scarlet letter on them. They don’t feel welcomed in a community of broken people. Yes, Brenda—you just held up a loser sign. What do you mean by that?
Brenda: Because my first marriage failed—and especially, if I’m struggling in my second marriage, I don’t want anybody to know. I isolate myself because I don’t want anybody to know I’m failing again. So then, I don’t reach out and get the information and help I really need—so I isolate.
Because of the whole shame factor—in the church, people don’t know what to do with us. Now, all we need is someone to come alongside, and listen, and love—you don’t have to fix anything, but just understand—especially if our exes were the ones that left us: “What are we supposed to do here? This wasn’t our choice / it wasn’t our dream.”
I think we still grieve that loss because God intended one marriage for the rest of your life.
It’s not that I love Gil any less—but every birthday, every grandchild that’s born, every family event—that scar that was a deep wound that’s scarred over now—is just rubbed. It doesn’t hurt as much if it’s rubbed, but it will always be rubbed. That’s part of our journey as a stepfamily. Anybody that doesn’t allow that to happen—and grieve that and feel that—they’re robbing the richness of where Christ can restore that.
Dennis: We have a blended family summit that FamilyLife has hosted, now, for three years.
Bob: Three years—our fourth one is coming up in September this year.
Dennis: Yes. We’re partnering with Focus on the Family® to hold this summit for blended families. But when I spoke to this group, this is what I experienced—I have not felt a group so grateful just to be acknowledged and say: “I don’t know how you ended up here, but I want you to know you are loved.
“We’re trying to help you. We’re trying to equip you in one of life’s most challenging commitments and relationships on the planet.” The audience—you could just sense it from the audience—they were looking—
Dennis: —for someone who would say: “You’re loved. We’re here to help. It’s okay; start this ministry in this church. Keep going.” And that’s what you two are doing in your ministry.
Gil: Yes, I want to inject there, Dennis, because—each time we lead a small group, each time we do a retreat, each time we do a breakout session, a group of people coming—whether it’s from being a widow or a divorcee—however, you show up in the room of pain called remarriage—like remarriage pain. It’s kind of like—it’s an oxymoron.
But what’s really cool about this is—when there is a place to come / literally, within the first session, there is an affinity because people are kind of like:
“We have a place. We’re accepted here. You get us.” It’s really kind of a cool experience to make room. Even at the last retreat we had—we talked about: “There’s plenty of room to go around,”—and then, adding in—“There’s plenty of love to go around.” And that became the crescendo of: “Regardless of all the stepchildren, regardless of all the family forests that we have to get through, there is plenty of love to go around because of the redemptive work of Christ; and that’s making the room for it.”
But that’s what I so enjoy each time—even though I know that, when we share each time, it’s going to brush up against that scar, like Brenda said, and create pain. But out of that vulnerability of pain, it makes room to say, “You guys understand.” That’s why I so appreciate what FamilyLife has done—is to build this summit and get the momentum going.
Bob: Brenda, tell us about the end of your first marriage. How long had you been married, what happened, and how many kids did you have at that point?
Brenda: We were married 19 years—
—three boys, involved in the church, really involved with our couples group / marriage group. I’ve always had a passion for marriage. It just signifies the relationship with Christ and the church; and I always wanted to be a good wife and on, and on, and on.
At about the 19-year mark, I thought everything was okay; but my husband, at that time, came to me and said he just didn’t want to be married anymore. As Gil fought for his for four years, I think we went to two counseling sessions. A lot of times, what’s textbook is—the person who is going to leave is six months to a year mentally ahead and emotionally that far ahead. So, I really felt like I had no chance to fight for my marriage because, if I had, it would have been months before; and I had no idea.
I, looking back, can see a lot of places—especially, I’ve learned about marriage stuff that I didn’t even know before—
—what I attributed to the relationship / I mean, we were in the church, we were happy, we had the whole Jesus-thing going on. These marriage events would come into town; and I would say, “Well, do you think we should go?” He would say, “I think we’re doing okay.” It’s like: “Yes, I’m okay. We’re good.” That was the first mistake.
Whether you feel like you’re in a good place or not—when a marriage event comes to town, go because—especially when things are going well / you’re open to listening. When you are ticked off at each other and you’re closed off, are you going to take in information and teaching with an open heart?
So, that’s why our other passion is to talk to people that have been married 17 to 25 years—is that red zone where most divorces happen. That’s where it’s like—we want to grab people and say, “Invest in each other”—
Brenda: —“even more so now because this is hard when midlife and those teenagers / those people pull your brains out.” And as a church, we should have marriages that absolutely rock so people are saying, “I want what they have!”
And we have that because of Jesus.
Bob: When the two of you came together / when you met and started to form a relationship, was it still in the midst of processing the pain that you’d been through, or had you kind of had that season? I mean, I know it’s always a fresh, new experience when the two of you are getting together; but had you had a season of processing or did you find each other right in the middle of your pain?
Gil: Post-pain. I had a group of guys around me that I would refer to as my inner circle; and during those four years, I didn’t walk alone. I invited about a group of five guys to walk around me who I knew loved me. I said, “If you see me flinch, hit me.” And they did—[Laughter]—in love. But they coaxed me to just continue to embrace the pain. Even though we were trying it, like I said—a couple times—my ex and I rallied a couple times, thinking we would make it; but eventually, there was the demise.
I did not run away from the pain. I didn’t run away from the things that I had not dealt with in my own heart.
So, that, I think, didn’t necessarily accelerate it. It just put me on a track of saying: “No, I’m not going to run away from this. I’m going to run to it rather than from it.” And so, as I would say—embracing my porcupines of where I had failed or made mistakes. That then—when the time came / when I met Brenda, I had really done a lot of work. So, some of my mentors and even my father said: “You’ve done the work. Put the book on the shelf. Close the thing. You need to move on.” But they had seen me for three years deal with my stuff because I knew in my heart that, if I was going to go on to another relationship—at that point in time, it was like—she was just one of the ladies at church. [Laughter]
Gil: But when the time came, there had been—a lot of the baggage work had been done. You know, the bags had been unpacked and washed. I didn’t avoid the pain—I went right at it rather than—where a lot of people don’t deal with their pain / they don’t deal with the baggage.
They just kind of carry it on to the next relationship.
Bob: Well, that’s the reason I asked the question because I’ve seen a lot of second marriages happen—
Bob: —while couples are right in the middle of that pain. They’re hoping this new relationship is the ointment for the pain. Only—they get in only to find out that it’s not the ointment. It actually—it irritates the pain that they are dealing with—
Bob: —if they haven’t dealt with it already; right?
Brenda: Yes; absolutely.
Bob: Had you processed your pain when you met Gil?
Brenda: I had that group around me too. I think I—people that know us always kid Gil that he’s more in touch with his feminine side than I am because I’m like a driver. We balance each other out because I need him. I think I process, maybe, a little bit differently—more in my head—where he processes more in his heart—
Gil: I’m a crier. [Laughter]
Brenda: —than his head. It really helped as part of my restoration process when we got together.
So, I think what’s important for adults to know, who remarry—is, at this point, it’s not just about you anymore. It’s about your kids and “Do you really want to take your kids through another train wreck?” So, it’s time to dig in / face off with the pain—which nobody wants to do because it’s no fun—but that’s where the healing comes from and the redemption. Your kids get to watch what a healthy, Christian marriage looks like and give them hope and build the legacy so that they don’t continue the sins of their father—of another divorce, and on, and on, and on, and on.
Dennis: Talk about the failure rate for a second marriage. It’s pretty high; isn’t it?
Gil: Yes, somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 percent—50 to 60 percent within the first two years. When we first kind of connected with Ron Deal was right at about the one-year mark for us; and then, when we hit the two-year mark, we stayed in pretty good correspondence with Ron.
When he said, “You guys were veterans at year two,” I was kind of going: “No way! My first marriage was 24 years. How could I be a veteran at 2 years?” But those first 2 years were horribly hard; you know?
Brenda: Well, learning—
Gil: A lot of learning.
Gil: But that rate of failure is pretty high in those first two years.
Bob: I think our listeners may know Ron Deal, who is the head of FamilyLife’s Blended Family Ministry and probably the leading expert in America on the issue of blended families and remarriage. He really helped mentor you and walk you through the process that got you through some of those hard years—
Bob: —and gave you some counsel and encouragement to say, “There’s a way to make this work.”
Gil: Yes; yes.
Brenda: Yes; absolutely.
Bob: Brenda, was there one thing more than anything else that stood out in those early years that Ron shared with you that was pivotal in terms of the success of your remarriage?
Brenda: I think it was that we’re normal, and we’re not alone.
You think, “Oh, we’re the only ones struggling with this.”— no; it’s pretty textbook here: “You’re right on track. When you hit this year, this will probably happen.” And it’s like: “Yes, when we hit year seven, we could, without even realizing it, see the continents of our family change because it takes, sometimes, that long for the family to connect and begin to blend—if they ever do.”
Dennis: Even the term blended is a bit of a paradox; isn’t it?
Gil: It is.
Brenda: It’s like: “What word do you use?”—
Brenda: —because some don’t ever blend.
Dennis: Exactly. Explain to our listeners—who may not, again, have an appreciation for how difficult blending is—to how it works its way out in everyday life.
Gil: Yes, the technical, psychological, clinical term is “stepfamily.” That is what it will always be: “Your kids will never be my kids, and I will have a special affinity for my children that I will never have for yours.”
How is that working for you?
Brenda: On the surface, I don’t like that. It doesn’t feel warm and cozy—like we’re all supposed to be one, big, happy family.
Gil: And when I start loving your boys, sometimes, more than my own, I have a thing called reverse betrayal—that I’m betraying my own children: “How could this be?”
Dennis: Yes; imagine that.
Brenda: A lot of moving parts.
Bob: Share with folks—because there have been challenges with the seven kids that you have between you. This process of the two of you coming together has not been universally embraced by all seven of your kids; has it?
Gil: No. My children didn’t show up to the wedding. Two of them were close; but right at the last minute, they didn’t come.
Dennis: It took them 11 years—10/11 years to come back and apologize for that?
Gil: In some cases—that long. One by one—as we continued to just stay the course, one by one, they came back—my kids—and apologized, with tears, saying:
“I’m sorry, Dad. I should have been there.”
Dennis: That’s not abnormal, either; is it?
Gil: No. No. No. I mean, when we see couples who forced their children to be there, that can almost be just as bad; but—to embrace them.
But my experience with Brenda’s sons there—at the evening that we wed and so forth, I began to love this woman by—in the ceremony, literally, throwing off my jacket, grabbing a basin of water, and washing her feet because that’s the degree of how I want to serve her and how I’m continuing to try to serve my own children. And little by little, because of the love of Jesus, they’re getting it.
Our second date—it kind of went like this: “Brenda, I know what commitment is, and I’m not afraid of commitment. I know what that costs, but trust and honesty—if we can have trust and honesty, I am good with that.
“Are you good with that? So, if we’ve got commitment, good; if no trust and honesty, I’m out of here.” And I knew that, if we were on the same team, those kids would eventually benefit by our love; and they have.
Brenda: Your kids—it’s not like they were totally adamant: “Don’t do it, Dad!”—and out of Gil’s four kids, we had two of them in and out of the house early. So, we were able to build relationship.
Brenda: They were always very respectful / always very loving; but we have heard of situations where it’s been pretty volatile with the kids and stepkids.
And if that is the situation before you get married, time is the best thing for that. So, maybe, the best thing to do is take a step back / catch your breath if you know, as a couple, that’s the end goal. Those kids are still grieving; and when we get together, it’s another loss for them. So, we—it’s once again—remarriage is not just about us. We have to think about everybody else involved.
Dennis: There is something I want to just double back on—
—that you both touched on earlier in this interview. I’m saying this just as much for the live audience and the listening audience who are not blended because you said something about isolation. We can all get isolated in our marriages—whether we’re in a blended family or in an intact marriage / first-time marriage going through life.
In isolation, we can be convinced of anything. The enemy uses that in war to breakdown the strongest of our military men and women. And what I would just want our audience that’s listening to know—you need to do something for your marriage on a regular basis that opens new closets in your hearts / new rooms for Jesus Christ to come in and do some cleaning—
Dennis: —house cleaning—and to, also, maybe, do some restoration, and rebuilding, and reconciliation of a relationship that may be breaking down.
If you don’t pay attention to it—as you both have commented on—the decisions start being made. By the time it gets announced, it’s so late in the process it’s very difficult to experience redemption of that marriage and that family at that point.
And that’s really why we do the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. We’ve talked to a lot of folks, here on the cruise / who have been here on the cruise; but they haven’t been to a Weekend to Remember yet. My advice to them is: “Go get this training now. And when your kids get married, don’t let them leave home and get married without it—
Dennis: —“because this is not a culture that is friendly to a marriage built around this Book.
Dennis: “And we have an enemy that is out to destroy your marriage as well.”
Bob: We are grateful to you guys for, not only sharing your story with us, but you’ve had a great ministry onboard the cruise this week as you’ve met with blended couples here and worked with them and shared out of your experience and out of your knowledge.
So, thank you for being with us.
Gil: Thank you.
Bob: Would you thank Gil and Brenda Stuart? [Applause]
Gil: Thank you.
Dennis: Thank you, guys.
Gil: Thank you very much.
Dennis: Thank you for being on the broadcast.
Gil: Thank you.
Bob: It is great to be able to listen back to an interview that was recorded just a few weeks ago as we were all together onboard the Love Like You Mean It marriage cruise.
And if Gil and Brenda were with us here, they would tell you that, if you need help and hope for a blended marriage or a blended family, get a copy of Ron Deal’s book, The Smart Stepfamily; or get The Smart Stepfamily DVD series and go through the material with some other couples, who are in a blended family, and work together on developing some strategies and getting some better understanding of the dynamics that are taking place in a blended family situation.
We’ve got these resources available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of The Smart Stepfamily from Ron Deal or The Smart Stepfamily DVD series.
Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order by phone at 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
By the way, that’s the same number to call if you’d like to join us next year, Valentine’s week / February 13th through the 18th, as we set sail from New Orleans and head into the Western Caribbean for the Love Like You Mean It marriage cruise—our seventh annual cruise. Paul David Tripp is going to be joining us. Kevin DeYoung is going to be aboard. We’ve got Michael Jr. onboard—Jeremy Camp, H.B. Charles. We’ve got a great lineup, and we’re excited about next year’s cruise.
We’re also excited because it’s about half sold-out right now. And this week, our team has got some special pricing on balcony cabins. If you’d like to find out how you can sail with us next year, give us a call at 1-800-FL-TODAY—
—that’s 1-800-358-6329—and say, “I’d like to know more about the cruise.” We hope you can join us—we’d love to have you onboard when we set sail next year.
And we hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday when Dr. Meg Meeker is going to be here to talk about what dads can do to raise strong daughters. We’ll talk about that Monday. Hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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