Chapter OneWhen Our Dream Marriage
Began to Fade
Seven years into our marriage, my life was a blur. I was working
hard at being a good provider for my wife, Barb, and our
two young daughters, Sarah and Missy. I had a full-time job as
the director of a correctional facility. At the same time, I was
working toward a doctoral degree in counseling, spending many
evenings each week studying at the university library.
Most of the time I felt stretched beyond my limits. As I juggled
family, work, studies, and church activities, I prayed daily
for strength and wisdom, longing for the day I could focus fulltime
on counseling families. Even more important, I wanted to
free up more time to be with Barb, Sarah, and Missy-my family,
the love of my life. The job and doctoral dissertation filled
my schedule completely. I tried to eke out a little time here and
there to help Barb, but I was at best only a part-time husband
I honestly thought I was doing rather well in my role at that
time. Then one day I was sitting in my favorite chair, studying
during the final stages of my doctoral degree, when my five-year-old
daughter, Sarah, announced herself in my presence
with a question: "Daddy, do you want to see my family picture?"
I really felt stressed and pressed for time, with a week's
worth of work to squeeze into a weekend. "Sarah, Daddy's busy.
Come back in a little while, honey." Sarah obediently left me
to my work.
Ten minutes later she swept back into the living room,
"Daddy, let me show you my picture."
The heat went up around my collar. "Sarah, I said come back
later. This is important."
Three minutes later she stormed into the living room, got
three inches from my nose, and barked with all the power a five-year-old
can muster, "Do you want to see it, or don't you?"
"No," I told her emphatically, "I do not!"
With that she zoomed out of the room and left me alone.
And somehow, being alone at that moment wasn't as satisfying
as I thought it would be. I felt like a jerk. So I got up and went
to the front door. "Sarah," I called, "could you come back inside
a minute, please? I would like to see your picture."
She obliged with no recriminations and hopped up onto
It was a great picture. She'd even given it a title. Across
the top, in her best printing, she had inscribed: Our Family Best.
"Tell me about it," I said.
"Here is Mommy [a stick figure with long yellow, curly
hair]. Here is me standing by Mommy [with a smiley face]. Here
is Katie [our dog]. And here is Missy [her little sister was a stick
figure lying in the street in front of the house, about three times
bigger than anyone else]." It was a pretty good insight into how
she saw our family.
"I love your picture, honey," I told her. "I'll hang it on the
dining-room wall, and each night when I come home from work
and from class [which was usually around ten o'clock at night],
I'm going to look at it."
She took me at my word, beamed from ear to ear, and went
outside to play. I went back to my books. But for some reason
I kept reading the same paragraph over and over. Something
made me uneasy, something about Sarah's picture. Something
I went to the front door again. "Sarah," I called, "could you
come back inside a minute, please? I want to look at your picture
Sarah crawled back onto my lap. I can close my eyes right
now and see the way she looked. Cheeks rosy from playing outside.
Pigtails. Strawberry Shortcake tennis shoes. A Cabbage
Patch doll named Nellie tucked limply under her arm.
I asked my little girl a question, but I wasn't sure I wanted
to hear the answer. "Honey, I see Mommy and Sarah and Missy.
Katie the dog is in the picture, and the sun and the house and
squirrels and birdies. But Sarah, where is Daddy?"
"You're at the library," she said.
With that simple statement my little princess stopped time
for me. Lifting her gently off my lap, I sent her back to play in
the spring sunshine. I slumped back in my chair, dazed. Even
as I type these words, I can feel those sensations all over again.
She had nailed me, right between the eyes. I wasn't in her family
picture because I was at the library studying. I was too busy to
be her daddy at home.
Although I didn't remember Barb's having expressed those
thoughts, she had probably been trying to get through to me for
months. All of the cautions I had received from sermons,
books, and friends to keep a "balanced lifestyle"-God first,
family second, work third-had not penetrated my career-bent
brain. But Sarah's simple pronouncement got my attention
A MARRIAGE FADING WITH TIME
Not long ago, I had an experience that helped me more fully understand
what Sarah's picture really meant at that point in my
life. I had pulled out some other pictures: my childhood family
album. I flipped through old photos chronicling my life growing
up. I stopped to examine a black-and-white photo of my mom
and dad when they were newly married. I couldn't help smiling
with pride at the images. Dad was one sharp-looking guy, reminding
me of a movie idol from the 1940s. And Mom, I must
say, was beautiful. I could see the sparkle in my parents' eyes, the
look of love, their hope for a bright future.
Yet the photo itself wasn't as clear and sharp as it had been
years ago. The crisp sheen that once caused this handsome couple
to stand out on the page was now dull. Time had taken
its toll on the old family album.
Decay is normal. In the natural process of aging, machinery
wears out, buildings fall into disrepair, pictures fade, and our
bodies lose their tone and strength. Scientists say, in fact, that
everything in the universe is perpetually moving to greater and
greater disorder-a state of entropy. You don't have to be
a quantum physicist to know that even the most beautifully designed
and well-built house will eventually crumble if left unattended.
To keep anything fresh, alive, and in good order
requires care, maintenance, and at times, repair.
A marriage is no different. No marriage can last unless it is
kept fresh and nurtured. Marriage is a dynamic love relationship
between a man and a woman, and at every moment that relationship
is either growing deeper and richer, or stagnating and
decaying. Maintaining a lasting love means guarding a marriage
When Sarah showed me the family picture with her daddy
missing, I realized (or at least admitted to myself for the first
time) that I wasn't tuned in to the warning signs that my marriage
and family life were deteriorating, moving toward a state
I WANT TO COME HOME
I mounted Sarah's drawing on the dining-room wall, just as I
promised. And through those long, intense weeks preceding the
oral defense of my dissertation, I stared at that revealing portrait.
It happened late every night as I consumed my warmed-over
dinners while my family slept. I didn't have the guts to
broach the issue with Barb. And she had the incredible insight to
let it rest until I was ready to deal with it.
I finally finished my degree program. I was "Dr. Rosberg,"
and I guess it should have been a big deal for me. But frankly,
there wasn't much joy. It felt a little hollow.
One night after graduation, Barb and I were lying in bed together,
and I found myself working up the nerve to ask her
a question. Actually there were three questions. It was late, it
was dark, and as I murmured my first question, I was praying
Barb had already fallen asleep. "Barb, are you sleeping?"
Rats! I thought to myself. Now I'm committed.
Question number two: "Barb, you've obviously seen Sarah's
picture taped on the dining-room wall. Why haven't you said
"Because I know how much it has wounded you, Gary."
Words from a wise woman, wise beyond her twenty-something
Next I asked the toughest question I've ever asked anyone in
my entire life. "Barb, I want to come home. May I come home?"
Twenty seconds of silence followed. It seemed as if I held
my breath for an hour. "Gary," Barb said, "the girls and I love you
very much. We want you home. But you haven't been here.
We don't know you anymore."
The words look cold in print, but she said them with restraint
and tenderness. It was just the plain, unvarnished truth.
My little girl had drawn the picture, and now her mom was
speaking the words. I lay there in the dark, pretending to sleep.
But I couldn't. Events raced through my mind. I remembered
when Missy was two and refused to sit on my lap for more than a
few seconds. Why? Because she didn't know her daddy. I recalled
missed dinners with friends, evenings Barb waited for me
to come home but I had to study just a little longer. I thought
about the vacations we had canceled so I could finish a class. My
life had been out of control, and the people in my family were
on automatic pilot. I had a long road ahead of me if I wanted to
win them back.
I didn't know at that time how God would heal the pain in
our hearts. I just knew that I was at the end of myself and needed
him like never before.
Maybe you have looked into the eyes of your spouse or your
kids and known you were not connecting. Maybe you realized
that your failure to connect heart-to-heart was mainly your
fault. That's where I was that night. I was scared. It felt as if I
were slipping down a mountainside, unable to grab onto something
to stop the slide. I desperately hoped to regain my balance,
but near terror was rising inside me. I was afraid I could never
recapture the dream Barb and I had for our marriage and family.
After Barb's chilling words, I slipped out of bed and went
downstairs to our living room. I pled with God that night for
wisdom, perseverance, and faith. I begged him to restore my
family. I was at-risk of losing the security, joy, and direction I had
dreamed of and expected from our marriage. Publicly, I appeared
fine to our friends, coworkers, and even extended family.
But privately, I could not fool the three people closest to me.
I was a man "missing in action" in our family. And Barb, Sarah,
and Missy knew it.
Deep down inside, I knew that God is a God of second
chances. He was capable of leading me through the restoration
process with my family. But that night, as I poured out my
heart to God in our living room, my hope for the future seemed
buried under the avalanche of pain and discouragement in my
And what about Barb? Would she offer me a second chance?
I'll let her tell her side of the story in her own words.
FULL-TIME MOM, FULL-TIME PAIN
Gary wasn't the only one feeling terribly hurt over our marriage
relationship and family life. I also was hurting. I was aware,
though, that it takes two in every marriage to bear the fault.
We were partners in the disconnected lifestyle we were living.
We entered Gary's doctoral program in full agreement. We had
decided that he would be a full-time wage earner and doctoral
student, and I would be a full-time, stay-at-home mom for our
two little girls. We charged into this phase of our life together
as most couples do, with optimism and our eyes wide open.
At the outset I worked hard at being my husband's greatest
advocate and cheerleader. I was very proud of him and his desire
to accomplish his goals and dreams. But over time, the stress,
separation, and loneliness began to wear me down. Gary was
constantly submerged in work and academic demands, distracting
him from me and the girls. And I felt left out of his picture.
In just a couple of years I went from being an optimistic wife to
a woman who felt less and less understood. My resentment began
to grow. I wanted to have family time together. At times
I felt a bit like a single mom because Gary was absent so much.
I cried a lot. I felt isolated. I looked longingly at other young
families who were doing so many fun things together, and I
wanted that for our family as well.
Our marriage had been my dream come true. But during
those stressful years it was hard to stay optimistic. Our marriage
wasn't what I had expected it to be. Gary was my best friend,
and I missed him. Most days he left home before seven o'clock
in the morning, and many nights he didn't return until after ten
o'clock. The girls hardly saw their daddy.
I loved my husband and was devoted to our marriage. The
Lord comforted me, but it was still difficult. I was determined
to keep my marriage vows to this man and to God, but I lived
day in, day out needing more connection with Gary. I didn't
understand at the time that God had created me with legitimate
needs he intended to meet through my husband. And since Gary
was so absorbed outside the home, many of these needs went
I came to the point where I quit talking to Gary about my
thoughts and feelings of isolation. It seemed useless. And in
some ways I stopped trying. I stopped expecting Gary to fight
this enemy of workaholism that was undermining our marriage.
I had made suggestions, tried new approaches, even pleaded.
But nothing ever changed. I didn't know how to stop it.
One day a switch flipped on the inside, and I made the decision
to give up my dream for our marriage. I never told Gary or
anyone else, but I remember the moment I stood in the middle
of our living room on the green shag carpet and made the decision
to quit trying. I was protecting my heart from feeling the
hurt, or so I thought. But by building a wall of protection
around myself, I was not only locking up my heart but unfortunately
also locking Gary out. On the outside I continued to be
respectful, even pleasant-but on the inside I knew the difference.
There was less transparency and sharing between us and
more formality and distance. We were committed to each
other, and I never would have consciously thought about walking
away from him. But I had emotionally disconnected from my
I know now that we were in a very vulnerable position at
that point. I know now that if our disconnection had lasted for
six months or more, I could have become a statistic, a "walk-away"
But God in his mercy intervened before that could happen.
He began to answer my prayers once I got out of the way. Then
he began to work in my husband's life.
God used our daughter's crayon drawing to break through
to Gary. A child's simple picture was the tool. It became a nonthreatening
voice to help a distracted man get refocused. When
Gary asked that night if he could "come home," I had no doubts
that he loved me. And my love was so deep and nonnegotiable
that all I wanted was for him to come home. But would he?
Could he really change? His doctorate was something we both
wanted and worked for, but our marriage was suffering because
of it. We didn't know how to nurture and tend to our marriage.
I had become brittle and demanding. The distance had taken its
toll, and we both knew it.
I sensed an emotional distance between Gary and me.
When we were together, I didn't feel the same closeness and
connection we once had. I desperately wanted Gary to come
home, but in order for that to happen, something would have to
change. Gary is going to share with you what that change would
mean to him.
THE MISTRESS IN THE LIBRARY
In the weeks and months after I asked Barb if I could "come
home," God showed me how I had been neglecting my family
emotionally. At first I didn't want to admit that my affections
had wandered from home. I had no intention of being lured
away from my family, and I certainly had never contemplated divorcing
my wife. Barb and our two girls were my treasures.
At the same time, I prided myself in pursuing a career in
marriage and family counseling. And I was doing so for the sake
of God's kingdom. Yet even though my goal of becoming a
counselor was legitimate, I allowed books and study to lure me
away as a temptress. My scholastic pursuits captured my heart
and became my treasure. The love of my life-my family-was
slowly and insidiously being replaced with coursework and
learning: a mistress in the university library, a mistress dressed
in pages of black and white.
I never thought it could happen. I never intended for it to
happen. And I was unable to see or admit that it had happened
until God used my innocent five-year-old daughter as awake-up
call. God showed me through my child's drawing that I had
emotionally left my wife and family for the mistress in the