How I Saved My Marriage

(Dedicated to my sweetheart.)

My oldest daughter, Jenna, recently said to me, “My greatest fear as a child was that you and mom would get divorced. Then, when I was twelve, I decided that you fought so much that maybe it would be better if you did.” Then she added with a smile. “I’m glad you guys figured things out.”

For years my wife Keri and I struggled. Looking back, I’m not exactly sure what initially drew us together, but our personalities didn’t quite match up. And the longer we were married the more extreme the differences seemed. Encountering “fame and fortune” didn’t make our marriage any easier. In fact, it exacerbated our problems. The tension between us got so bad that going out on book tour became a relief, though it seems we always paid for it on re-entry. Our fighting became so constant that it was difficult to even imagine a peaceful relationship. We became perpetually defensive, building emotional fortresses around our hearts. We were on the edge of divorce and more than once we discussed it.

I was on book tour when things came to a head. We had just had another big fight on the phone and Keri had hung up on me. I was alone and lonely, frustrated and angry. I had reached my limit. That’s when I turned to God. Or turned on God. I don’t know if you could call it prayer–maybe shouting at God isn’t prayer, maybe it is–but whatever I was engaged in I’ll never forget it. I was standing in the shower of the Buckhead, Atlanta Ritz-Carlton yelling at God that marriage was wrong and I couldn’t do it anymore. As much as I hated the idea of divorce, the pain of being together was just too much. I was also confused. I couldn’t figure out why marriage with Keri was so hard. Deep down I knew that Keri was a good person. And I was a good person. So why couldn’t we get along? Why had I married someone so different than me? Why wouldn’t she change?

Finally, hoarse and broken, I sat down in the shower and began to cry. In the depths of my despair powerful inspiration came to me. You can’t change her, Rick. You can only change yourself. At that moment I began to pray. If I can’t change her, God, then change me. I prayed late into the night. I prayed the next day on the flight home. I prayed as I walked in the door to a cold wife who barely even acknowledged me. That night, as we lay in our bed, inches from each other yet miles apart, the inspiration came. I knew what I had to do.

 The next morning I rolled over in bed next to Keri and asked, “How can I make your day better?”

Keri looked at me angrily. “What?”

“How can I make your day better?”

“You can’t,” she said. “Why are you asking that?”

“Because I mean it,” I said. “I just want to know what I can do to make your day better.”

She looked at me cynically. “You want to do something? Go clean the kitchen.”

She likely expected me to get mad. Instead I just nodded. “Okay.” I got up and cleaned the kitchen.

The next day I asked the same thing. “What can I do to make your day better?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Clean the garage.”

I took a deep breath. I already had a busy day and I knew she had made the request in spite. I was tempted to blow up at her. Instead I said, “Okay.” I got up and for the next two hours cleaned the garage. Keri wasn’t sure what to think.

The next morning came. “What can I do to make your day better?”

“Nothing!” she said. “You can’t do anything. Please stop saying that.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “But I can’t. I made a commitment to myself. What can I do to make your day better?”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Because I care about you,” I said. “And our marriage.”

The next morning I asked again. And the next. And the next. Then, during the second week, a miracle occurred. As I asked the question Keri’s eyes welled up with tears. Then she broke down crying. When she could speak she said, “Please stop asking me that. You’re not the problem. I am. I’m hard to live with. I don’t know why you stay with me.”

I gently lifted her chin until she was looking in my eyes. “It’s because I love you,” I said. “What can I do to make your day better?”

“I should be asking you that.”

“You should,” I said. “But not now. Right now, I need to be the change. You need to know how much you mean to me.”

She put her head against my chest. “I’m sorry I’ve been so mean.”

“I love you,” I said.

“I love you,” she replied.

“What can I do to make your day better?”

She looked at me sweetly. “Can we maybe just spend some time together?”

I smiled. “I’d like that.”

I continued asking for more than a month. And things did change. The fighting stopped. Then Keri began asking, “What do you need from me? How can I be a better wife?”

The walls between us fell. We began having meaningful discussions on what we wanted from life and how we could make each other happier. No, we didn’t solve all our problems. I can’t even say that we never fought again. But the nature of our fights changed. Not only were they becoming more and more rare, they lacked the energy they’d once had. We’d deprived them of oxygen. We just didn’t have it in us to hurt each other anymore.

Keri and I have now been married for more than thirty years. I not only love my wife, I like her. I like being with her. I crave her. I need her. Many of our differences have become strengths and the others don’t really matter. We’ve learned how to take care of each other and, more importantly, we’ve gained the desire to do so.

Marriage is hard. But so is parenthood and keeping fit and writing books and everything else important and worthwhile in my life. To have a partner in life is a remarkable gift. I’ve also learned that the institution of marriage can help heal us of our most unlovable parts. And we all have unlovable parts.

Through time I’ve learned that our experience was an illustration of a much larger lesson about marriage. The question everyone in a committed relationship should ask their significant other is, “What can I do to make your life better?” That is love. Romance novels (and I’ve written a few) are all about desire and happily-ever-after, but happily-ever-after doesn’t come from desire–at least not the kind portrayed in most pulp romances. Real love is not to desire a person, but to truly desire their happiness–sometimes, even, at the expense of our own happiness. Real love is not to make another person a carbon copy of one’s self. It is to expand our own capabilities of tolerance and caring, to actively seek another’s well being. All else is simply a charade of self-interest.

I’m not saying that what happened to Keri and me will work for everyone. I’m not even claiming that all marriages should be saved. But for me, I am incredibly grateful for the inspiration that came to me that day so long ago. I’m grateful that my family is still intact and that I still have my wife, my best friend, in bed next to me when I wake in the morning. And I’m grateful that even now, decades later, every now and then, one of us will still roll over and say, “What can I do to make your day better.” Being on either side of that question is something worth waking up for.

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Richard Paul Evans is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Christmas Box and the Michael Vey series. His most recent book is THE MISTLETOE INN. A love story. 

This Post Has 47 Comments
  1. […] How I Saved My Marriage – Author Richard Paul Evans shares candidly about how he saved his marriage and mended his relationship with his wife, one daily question at a time. […]

  2. […] The Christmas Box e da série Michael Vey. O artigo original pode ser lido, em inglês, aqui: www.richardpaulevans.com/saved-marriage. A tradução, adaptação e publicação deste texto é uma iniciativa do Viva mais […]

  3. This is FANTASTIC! Thank you so much for sharing, I’ve already passed it along to others. So glad things turned out so well for you and your wife.

    1. Dear Richard, I so loved this article about you and your wife. There are many times when I want to say “I want out of this marriage.” After reading your wonderful piece, you’ve given me much room for thought. Hopefully the next time I feel that way I’ll remember how you handled those feelings and try it!! I’ve read almost all of your wonderful books, starting with the series “The Walk” and hope to read any more. God bless you and Keri and have a wonderful New Year!

  4. I don’t even know how to explain how this story of yours has touched my heart so deeply today. I feel like you described my marriage to my husband and the description of us and our struggles perfectly, while also describing the feelings my children have had while living within our struggles. Like you and Keri, we are both great people, seriously, but for some reason our personalities “don’t quite match up”. After 28 years, we still haven’t given up, but it does not mean that we haven’t practically been there before–many times. Your story has given me hope, and encouragement to try, once again, to be the difference, or to be the change in our marriage. I will not give up on us or our family. Congratulations to you and Keri for the hope and joy in each other you have found. Thank you for the hope you have given me.

  5. I just read your blog on “How I saved my marriage”. I noticed the part where you said you have written “pulp romances”, but that’s not real love. Why don’t you write a novel based on you and your wife’s re-connection. A story about real love, the ups and downs. Maybe you have, and I am not aware of that book. Please let me know. If not, what a great story to expand on. Just a thought.

  6. Thank you for this — At first glance, i almost didn’t read it because I am not particularly religious, but kept reading and it really spoke to me. I think many people don’t really understand good marriages are not that way bc they just ‘happen’.

    “Marriage is hard. But so is parenthood and keeping fit and writing books and everything else important and worthwhile in my life. To have a partner in life is a remarkable gift. I’ve also learned that the institution of marriage can help heal us of our most unlovable parts. And we all have unlovable parts.”

    steph

  7. I remember this one. I loved it then and I love it now. It means a great, great deal to me, as a reader of ALL your books, that you’ve shared something extraordinarily personal with us, your readers.
    I’m happy you and your wife worked so hard to have a good, strong relationship.

  8. Thank you for writing about this very personal piece of your life. When my own marriage was in crisis (about that very same year) I desperately needed to hear stories of others who had beaten the odds and saved their marriage. Happily, mine survived too and is now thriving. The work it took to rebuild was painful and hard, but so very much worth every ounce of effort. Along the journey, hearing the success stories of others gave me the strength to keep going. Please, please, please consider sharing your true story in the form of a book because it will reach many more people than in this blog. This is a story of hope that is uncommon in our world, but much longed for.

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