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Warming Up a Marriage That Went Cold

Ed Heath - 700 Club Producer

“I, at the time, thought my marriage is wonderful. My wife loves me, she loves what we're doing. It couldn't get any better.” Pastor Dave Wilson and his wife, Ann, had been married ten years when he decided to pull out all the stops for their anniversary.  He started with a dinner at an elegant restaurant. Ann remembers, “He has a rose delivered to the table, one at a time, and after each rose arrived, we talk about that year in our relationship.” Dave says, “I just thought this is great way to celebrate all that God's done in ten years.”

 After dinner Dave had one more surprise. He drove Ann to the school where they were about to launch their new church. Dave says, “I thought it would be fun, you know, to park in this parking lot and pray and then I just thought it would be fun to go “parking. I, you know, leaned over to kiss Ann.” Ann recalls, “I had this dread in my heart like, ‘Oh, no.’” Dave says, “She's like -- sort of turned her head. I remember looking at her and I said, uh, ‘Is anything wrong?’” Ann replied, “I just said, ‘Dave, I've lost all my feelings for you’."

Dave and Ann’s marriage had been in trouble before. They only dated for nine months before marrying in May of 1980. Ann recalls, “We didn't have any issues dating those nine months. Which put us into this thought of, ‘Oh, it's so easy. As you have Jesus at the forefront of your relationship, everything is smooth’." Dave says, “The honeymoon was uh wonderful. And then as soon as we got home and sort of started our life, and started our ministry, it got really hard.”

Conflicts turned into shouting matches, each refusing to give ground.  Just six months into the marriage they both had regrets. Dave recalls, “We're driving to Nebraska where we were going to become the chaplain of the Nebraska Cornhuskers in ministry there. And she screams at me, ‘Marrying you was the biggest mistake of my life’." Ann says, “He said, ‘You're absolutely right.’ And I remember thinking, ‘I must have married the wrong person, and the right person must be out there. Now what do I do?’" Dave remembers, “We didn't talk about getting a divorce, but I know she had those thoughts, and I had those thoughts. We’re followers of Christ.  He wants us to-to figure out how to make this work. We've gotta figure out how to get this marriage to work.”

Ironically, they started counselling young married couples at the University of Nebraska.  In the process, their own marriage began to heal. Dave says, “We started teaching it, we started talking about it, we started internalizing it, we started to learn how to resolve conflict, we started to take steps, and over the next several years, our marriage was transformed. Not perfectly, but man oh man, we got to a place where we actually loved each other and loved marriage.”

They spent the next five years the picture of a happily married couple, eventually starting a family. Then, they moved to Detroit. Dave became the chaplain for the Detroit Lions and got to work on his dream of starting his own church.  But that left Ann spending many lonely hours raising their two boys. Ann remembers, “He'd walk out the door and I would say things like, ‘Seriously? You're leaving again, and I'm gonna be here alone? I hope our boys remember who you are’." Dave says, “Ann was saying all the kind of things that I should have heard. I just sort of compartmentalized and like put it aside, like, ‘Oh, we're better than I think we are’." Ann recalls, “I started out super angry, and then I was resentful, bitter. And then after a while, uh, I was numb, and I didn't even care that he was gone.”

Still, Ann tried for years to be a supportive wife. Ann says, “I felt lonelier in my marriage than as a single person. And my husband was sleeping right beside me.”

Sitting in a parking lot on their 10th anniversary, Ann told Dave how she felt.  He says his first impulse was to defend himself, until God spoke to him. Dave remembers, “It was two words, ‘Shut up.’ That's all He said, ‘Shut up’." Ann says, “So I started sharing my heart. I said, ‘I started out so angry, Dave, that you were always gone, that we weren't a team anymore. And then my anger turned to bitterness, my bitterness turned to resentment, and then my resentment turned to nothing. I don’t even have hope that we’re going to make it.’” Then God showed them that both had lost sight of who should be first in their lives. Dave recalls, “And I heard the voice of God one more time, almost miraculously, and it was one word, and it was ‘repent.’" Ann says, “And he starts to pray.” And Dave prayed, "’God, I repent. I'm lukewarm, you're not number one. I preach it, I tell others to do it, and I'm not living it. And that needs to stop right here, right now.  I'm putting you back in control of my life, and I'm asking you to make me the husband she longs for, and the dad my boys de – you know, deserve, and uh help save this marriage’." Ann says, “I was instantly convicted. Because I felt like God was saying, ‘Ann Wilson, you have been trying to find your life through Dave. You've trying to – you have been trying to find your happiness, your purpose, and all the of your – your identity through your husband and your marriage. I never created him to fill all your needs. That is my job’."

As Dave and Ann began focusing on God, everything else started falling into place. Ann recalls, “And as a result of Him being first, the other things flow out of that.” Dave says, “You're only gonna be able to find life and happiness and joy and purpose and you name it, from Jesus.” Ann says, “I feel like I love Dave more now than I've ever loved him before.”

Dave and Ann have written a book, Vertical Marriage. They also lead marriage seminars, and now host a radio show stressing the secret to a successful marriage is keeping God first. Dave says, “We try to find our life and happiness horizontally. Whether it's a person, a relationship, your marriage. And none of that's ever gonna truly satisfy. But the ache in our soul will never be satisfied by a person or anything on this earth. It's only satisfied by going vertical, by a relationship with Christ.” Ann concludes, “There is always hope. If God can resurrect His Son from the dead, He can resurrect a dead marriage.”

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