Love Renewed After Shattered Dreams
About the Guest
On today's broadcast, David Bentall, founder of Next Step Advisors, talks openly with Dennis Rainey about the marital problems he and his wife, Alison, faced during the first 22 years of their marriage as he focused all of his energy into his career.
David Bentall focused all his energy on his career during the first 2 years of marriage.
Love Renewed After Shattered Dreams
Bob: Did you consider that seriously?
David: Not seriously, but logically I went through – okay, that's the only way out of this, because I'd made a commitment for life.
Dennis: So it was 'til death do us part?
David: Yes, so I figured that was the only way out of that deal.
Dennis: During this same period of time you had four children?
David: Yes, three at that time.
Dennis: Was there ever a moment when either one of you left the marriage, either physically or emotionally?
David: Allison left the marriage emotionally for about 10 years.
Dennis: What did that look like?
David: She didn't kiss me tenderly for 10 years. I went to counseling with her. She and I were in counseling with a very competent counselor, and after the first three sessions my wife said, "You know what? I don't think this is going to work. I've seen in black and white we're different in every way. I give up." She gave up.
Bob: So, as he sat down and showed how different you were, she said, "I just picked the wrong person."
David: Cannot get there from here.
Bob: But she was stuck by the same commitment that you were stuck by?
David: Not really. She talked about leaving, and two or three of her closest friends, including her sister, talked to her during that time, and they all said, "You know, your children, your three children, should be raised by a mommy and a daddy, and they don't need to experience a single-parent family."
And so Allison said to me, "I was thinking of leaving." I said, "Oh, you were?" She said, "Yes." I said, "Have you decided to stay?" She said, "Yes." I said, "Well, that's good news." She said, "Well, no, not really." She said, "You're hopeless, but I've decided to stay for the children.
And so Allison stayed, in spite of the fact that I was completely inept at loving her, she stayed for the benefit of the children.
Dennis: What goes through a man's mind when he is being told by his wife that emotionally and even volitionally as a lover, you're not getting the job done? Was that devastating? Or did you still not get it at that point to know what you were missing?
David: I didn't know what I was doing wrong, Dennis, and one thing you get to know about me, I'm not a quitter. So I just figured, "Okay, I guess I've got to figure this out." So I continued to go to counseling, and a breakthrough moment – there were many breakthroughs in the last 18 years or so since we'd been trying to rebuild things unhappily. Allison said that other day – I asked her, by the way, "On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate our marriage today," and she allowed that "I could say better than an eight but not yet 10." So we've got something that's flourishing, and we're so thankful we stayed together.
But I remember Dr. H. Norman Wright was the counselor that we were at for a while together, and then I was on my own with him. He said – I told him about one of the struggles I was having, and I said, "I'll phone Allison when I'm on a business trip or at the office, and I'll phone her, and I'll say 'I love you,' and she goes, 'Uh-huh.'" He said, "What do you expect?" And I said, "Well, I expect her to say 'I love you, too.'"
And he said, "David, I'd like to give you a challenge. I'd like you to choose to either not say that anymore or only say that without expecting a response, because your job is to love your wife regardless, not to go fishing for her to say 'I love you.'"
And that was the beginning of me deciding to love her regardless, and you know what? I had to do that for a long time.
Dennis: Twenty-two years into your marriage, you'd been going to church during this period of time, right?
Dennis: You came to church and stumbled upon a brochure for a weekend getaway. Had your marriage hit another wall at that point, where it was either…
David: It's interesting, that week I had threatened Allison. I said, "Look, I am unhappy. I'm working real hard at this. We've been trying for a long time, but I'd like to either go to a marriage weekend or go back to counseling again, because I'm still struggling so much with how things are going."
And she said, "Well, let's go to a marriage retreat. Let's pray that we can find one." So at our church we bumped into some information about the FamilyLife seminar that was going to be held on Vancouver Island.
Dennis: So you decided to go just based upon a brochure without anybody giving you any kind of endorsement?
David: I knew nothing about it. I had no idea what I was getting into. As a matter of fact, both of us went and sat in the back row. There were 200 couples, and we sat in the very, very back row on purpose.
Dennis: Near the exit?
David: Near the exit, and both of us with our arms crossed, like, "You just try and impress us or change us, because there's no way you can fix us. We've been married 22 years and we've got big problems. We are almost beyond help."
Bob: Not only had you been married 22 years, big problems, but you'd been in counseling separately and together for more than a decade?
David: Intermittently, actually, we went to four different counselors over a period of time. We tried a man, we tried a woman, we tried someone out of town, and we tried someone in town.
Bob: So I can understand where, with that kind of a track record, you'd think what's a weekend going to do? In fact, you may have sat there Friday night thinking, "What are we doing here? Why are we wasting the weekend?" Did you think that?
David: I know Allison thought that. She went only because I sort of gave her an ultimatum. It was this or go back to counseling. She figured going away for a weekend was less painful, probably.
Bob: And what happened that first night?
David: I'll never forget it, Bob, because at the beginning of the weekend, there were a few jokes told and the speakers were getting to know us a little bit. I was kind of going, "Oh, yeah, make me laugh. This is serious business." I was kind of going, "What are they trying to be so funny for?"
But then they went over the five barriers to oneness in marriage, and they went over the first one of our little notebooks, and I looked over at Allison's, and I noticed that she'd put a little tick beside us having the first barrier to oneness. And I thought, "Yeah, we got that one." It came to number two, and we had that; I thought, "I wonder if we can be three for three?" And, sure enough, we were three for three.
Dennis: She's checking these off.
David: We're both checking them off. We're going, "Man, we've got all three, four," we had all five of the common barriers to oneness in marriage. Dennis, that was such a breakthrough for me intellectually, because I now saw that all five of the common barriers to oneness were evident in our marriage. No wonder we were having trouble.
And, secondly, I no longer felt that I was alone, because all these 200 couples, they probably had some of the barriers. I also realized that whoever put this Weekend to Remember together probably knew something about our lives, and I was willing to trust that process because the people who had put together those questions obviously knew something about what was going on. It was like they'd been reading our mail. So I had confidence that what was coming next was likely to be helpful.
Bob: And what came next was the next morning when we began to unpack God's purpose and God's plan for marriage, and, again, even with years of counseling in your background and being at church, there were some "Aha" moments for you that morning, weren't there?
David: There were many over the weekend, but I think the most significant was when I was asked to make a decision to accept Allison as a gift from God, and I remember thinking, "No, she's not. She's a penalty from God not a gift. This has been 22 years of hard work. Dennis Rainey, or whoever this guy is or whoever putting this thing together is totally wrong." And that was how I heard those words.
But as I wrestled with that truth, that Allison was a gift from God and made the choice to accept her, and she did the same for me, that was a remarkable breakthrough – probably the most significant thing that happened in helping us rebuild our marriage.
Bob: Why do you think that choice was so significant?
David: Bob, I think it has to do with whether you are having a contest with each other or whether you're on the same team. I realized that she and I were on the same team; that she was a gift.
Dennis: Whether you're going to compete or complete one another. You actually made the decision to receive her as God's gift to complete you instead of you competing against her.
Bob: Did you express to her in that weekend that you'd made that decision?
David: Yes, it was five years ago now, and I don't remember – some of it blurs together. I think I may have written that out to her.
Dennis: Yes, there's a love letter that you wrote.
David: I think I wrote it in the love letter.
Dennis: And did you read that love letter to her.
Dennis: Do you remember what happened?
David: Just that she read hers to me, and we both felt pretty good afterwards. The stars didn't all align or anything, but for both of us, it was – you know, we had been working hard at this already, so this was – it began intellectually for me. I need to emphasize that. It was in my head first, and then as we journeyed in that, emotions began to change over time and healing began to happen.
Bob: A lot of times, as people leave the conference, what they tell us is that they leave with two things. They leave with some practical tools, some things that opened up for them that weekend that they hadn't considered before, and they leave with a fresh sense of hope. Many of them came on Friday night without a whole lot of hope. I would guess Allison didn't have a whole lot of hope for the marriage or for the weekend.
David: Yes, I think neither of us came with much. I came cynically but hopefully; she came probably not with much hope. And, you know, I'm happy to share that we actually, just, about a year-and-a-half ago invited two other couples to come with us to another FamilyLife weekend.
One couple had been separated for two years, been living in separate homes. There had been infidelity on the path of one other couple, and we invited them to come and shortly after the weekend, they invited us to go to our church where they renewed their vows in a formal ceremony. The other couple who we invited, invited us to a restaurant where they signed a re-commitment of their vows, and I am so thankful for the opportunity not only that we've had to learn ourselves but to be able to reach out to our friends and say, "Here is something that you can come to that can make a profound impact on helping you to love your spouse and learn what God's design is for marriage."
Dennis: You took it back to your neighborhood and started a HomeBuilders Bible study. It’s a small group Bible study for four to seven couple who can join together in a home. Tell us about that because you’ve had some profound experiences there with some people who have said they would have never found themselves in a Bible study.
David: There were four couples in our study. One of the fellows a big strong athletic guy sits quietly and doesn’t say much. His wife always does her homework ahead of time and is willing to share. We were talking about our schedule for when we were going to get together next and I said do you want to try and meet two or three times more between now and the summer or should we just take a break? He startled me when he said, “I’ve never looked forward to being in a Bible study ever in my life. This is the first study that I’ve ever looked forward to. I love it and I’ve found it practical and helpful.” I’m thrilled that the HomeBuilders material is so easy for me as the leader. The questions are there and the resources are so solid it is easy for the leader. Those who come have been helped by it.
My wife and I as we do the homework between each session we’ve had some good times together doing that. One of our highlights was listing all the letters of the alphabet something positive that we saw in each other. That was a great one for us to do as an exercise. Because I’ve spent so much time dwelling on the negative that was a really good one to be able to share with Allison—Twenty six ways to share how I appreciate her.
Dennis: I think many times we underestimate how powerful it can be when both a husband and a wife get the right set of blueprints to build their marriage from and then have that same set of blueprints before them.
David: They're trying to build the same house.
Dennis: That's right. You have a common set of blueprints. Two builders that have the same language, they're using the same vocabulary, and they are committed to one another to do this building. Are the results worth it, David?
Tell us what you have today, five years later, after having attended that first conference. You said your marriage is now an eight. That's a dramatic turnaround from a one, a two, or a three.
David: Yes, and, Dennis, I didn't know what marriage should be like, and so I was trying to build it on my own without any blueprints. I'm so thankful that Allison and I now are journeying towards becoming best friends. Our relationship is one where we're encouraging each other and you had challenged us to pray together.
I remember coming across the statistic, what does it say, that in Canada and in the United States today one in every two marriages is likely to end in divorce. But I've heard that if a husband and wife will pray together four or five times a week for five minutes, someone has done a study and said only one in 1,052 of those marriages will not survive.
So Allison and I have begun, largely as a result of your encouragement, to pray together routinely in the evening. We're just thankful that God is giving us not something radically different but something profoundly different. And what do I mean by that?
God has given us the ability to learn what it means to give of ourselves to another person and to be safe in their company. It didn't used to be safe for us. Now we're learning what it means to serve each other, and we're not perfect, Dennis, but I'm thankful that God has preserved our marriage, and you've helped us to learn how to rebuild it.
Dennis: You know, listening to that story, Bob, it is why we do what we do here on FamilyLife Today, so that they can experience the benefit of knowing Christ and embracing the truth of Scripture. If you do that you’ll be as Jesus said like a wise man who built his house on a rock. When the winds came and the floods burst against that house and the rain descended the house stood because it had been built on the rock.
You're a wise builder, David. You and Allison are wise builders, and it's cool to hear of a home that hasn't crumbled under the cultural onslaught and under your own differences as male and female and your backgrounds and how you hurt one another, but you kept your covenant. I appreciate you.
Bob: I’m sitting here thinking about next weekend Dennis, when you and Barbara are going to be up at the Gaylord National in the Washington, D.C. area speaking to hundreds of couples from around the area who are coming out for the Weekend to Remember® conference. I’m going to be at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, Pennsylvania that same weekend. It’s Valentine’s Weekend. We’ve got other conferences taking place in other parts of the country.
Throughout the spring we will be hosting the Weekend to Remember® in dozens of cities and I hope our listeners who wait for their marriage to get near the place where David’s and Allison’s marriage was before they come out and spend a weekend with us.
When you go to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com and get information there. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and we can answer any questions you might have and get you registered over the phone. We do hope you’ll plan to come out for one of these weekend conferences.
I also want to piggyback on something else that David mentioned. We really believe there is great power when couples get together with other couples and you spend time talking about your marriage and about what the Bible has to say about building a stronger marriage. That’s what our HomeBuilders Couples Series was designed to facilitate.
We’ve just gone through a refresh on a number of these titles. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on the materials that are available and also information on how to start a HomeBuilders group. It’s easy to do.
I want to wrap up the week by saying thanks to the folks who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. In a very real sense this program would not be on the air on this local station if it were not for folks like you who not only listen but from time to time go online to make a donation. We very much appreciate the folks who go that extra step and call in with a donation. You’re support means a lot to us.
This month if you can help with a donation of any amount we’d like to say thank you by sending you a copy of a CD that features a message from Jody and Linda Dillow. They gave this message at a conference we sponsored a few years ago. A message on marital intimacy. They call it The Four Flames of Marriage Intimacy. That CD is our thank you gift to you when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today this month with a donation of any amount.
If you are making the donation online type the word “FOUR” in the key code box on the online donation form. If you’re calling to make your donation just mention that you’d like the CD that we were talking about on the radio. We are happy to get it out to you. We do very much appreciate your financial support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
We hope you have a great weekend. We hope you and your family are able to worship and we hope you can join us back on Monday when we are going to hear from Dennis about what a couple can do to keep the romantic fireplace roaring even when the wood has gotten a little wet.
I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and 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.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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