Long after Sharon and I reconciled I heard about Father McGinnis and his Seventeen Action Statements. He is an Episcopal priest who interviewed several couples who had reconciled and then came up with a list of common steps they had all gone through to reconcile.
They are similar to the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous but there are 17 instead of twelve. Anyone who is separated and really desiring to get back together would be well served to take these as a blueprint, even if their spouse is unwilling at the time, and start working through the steps by themselves. The more a person grows closer to God the more likely reconciliation is.
Here is an article by Mike McManus from Marriage Savers, about the 17 Action Statements. www.goodnewsmag.org/library/articles/mcmanus-nd91.htm.
The 17 Statements:
1. Through other Christians’ testimony and example we/I found hope for our marriage.
B. COMMITMENT TO GOD
2. I experienced God’s love and forgiveness.
3. I made a decision/commitment to love: Christ, mate, self.
(This wording indicates that this kind of love comes only after commitment is made. Known as agape, it is the form of love that is self-giving rather than self-receiving.)
4. I made a decision and commitment to follow Jesus as my Savior and Lord.
5. Once obedient to God, we were able to begin to love by His standards, not ours.
6. I became accountable to God for my behavior, thoughts, and actions, and became aware of my accountability to others.
C. COMMITMENT TO PARTNER
7. We/ I made a decision to stay together.
8. We/I made a decision to forgive mate and myself.
9. I accepted my mate as he/she is.
D. I CHANGED MYSELF
10. I realized that the problem was with myself.
11. I began looking at myself as needing change, to be able to love, no matter what. I became aware that I needed to change, became willing to change, learned what and how to change, and began to change with God’s help.
12. I made an examination of my role in our marriage, according to God’s word, and changed accordingly with God’s help.
13. I accepted change in my mate.
14. Through Christ, I began trusting enough to increasingly put my whole self in the care of my mate.
15. I learned to communicate honestly, truthfully, and openly in love.
16. I learned to put God and mate ahead of myself (became humble before the Lord).
17. We are still in the process and realize that we must share what we have found with others.
Here is our own testimony in the format of the Seventeen Action Statements:
The 17 Action Statements ~ The Heart of Marriage Ministry
by Richard and Sharon Wildman
Before our separation my (Richard) primary perception of Sharon was that she was a very angry woman, especially when she was in my presence. I couldn’t always tell what things I had done were fueling her anger. I knew she had reason to be angry about some things, but I often felt it was out of proportion to my offense at the time.
From a distance I could see a lighter, friendly, bubbly side to her when I observed her with my kids and when I saw her out in public. When I would hear her on the phone with others even when she was in my presence I could see it. I liked her from a distance, but so often, in her presence, there was just a huge wall. Even at times when there was not a lot of outward expressions of anger there was a huge distance between us.
It seemed like so seldom the wall of anger would come down where we could truly communicate in effective, non-destructive ways. What was so frustrating was that there were times when we both tried our very best, with good intentions, often with professional help or mentoring help, to break through that wall between us. We tried to truly, lovingly, honestly communicate, but our relationship seemed to get worse in spite of our best efforts and prayers, and the best efforts and prayers of others. It was such a hopeless feeling.
My (Sharon) perception of Richard before our separation is one of a person totally absorbed with himself. Miserable, and wanting me to be miserable along with him. He provided for the kids and me physically, but was emotionally dead to us. His lack of self-motivated help with our family caused me to feel like a single parent. He had no social skills, and could only carry on a conversation with me if it revolved around himself. Actually, I got to the point of calling them monologues, because there was no back-and-forth between us.
We had no communication other than the daily surface issues of what appointments we each had or the general plan for the day. I gave up trying to talk with him about deeper issues because if I didn’t agree 100% with what he thought, felt, or wanted to do, he got angry with me and shut down – for days, weeks, or months – literally. In the three to five years before I asked him to leave, we lived a miserable existence in the same house. The harder he pushed me to listen to him (for hours and hours) the more I pulled away, so by the time we separated, I felt I had died inside.
Through other Christians’ testimonies and examples I (Richard) found hope for our marriage. In God’s Word it says, “They overcame Him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Revelation 12:11). Following are some brief testimonies that gave me hope:
Joe and Sue. Sue had an affair years ago with the husband of the couple who were mutual friends. Joe had a one night stand with a prostitute on a business trip. Sue eventually confessed to Joe years later when those mutual friends were coming to town to visit. Jesus healed their marriage. They have had a good marriage for years and have shared their testimony publicly. Joe is now an elder and they are noted by others for their love.
There is a web site called Rejoice Ministries, hosted by a couple named Bob and Charlyne Steinkamp. Their testimony is that he had multiple affairs, she divorced him upon the advice of pastoral leaders, decided she made a mistake, and started praying for him. Eventually he came home and they have a marriage ministry together that encourages people to stand for their marriage no matter what or how long. Multiple testimonies on their website were tremendously encouraging.
Joe and Michelle Williams. They have a ministry called “Reconciling God’s Way.” Their testimony is that they had both had previous divorces. They separated for a few years, and then by God’s grace, got back together. I personally talked to Joe and he told me that when he got divorce papers he threw them in the drawer and counted on Jesus as his attorney. He told me that since God said He hates divorce, so he wasn’t even going to touch the divorce papers.
I called several Retrouvaille intake people, trying to decide when to ask Sharon to go. Each time I talked to various ones I received encouragement and hope. I remember crying on the phone as I was talking to one lady and she told me that when they went to Retrouvaille, her husband had been having an active affair. They have now been back together 10 years.
I also got on websites like Divorce Busting by Michelle Weiner Davis, went to a seminar with Sharon Hart Morris May, a psychologist and marriage counselor, and heard various other testimonies about marriages that had recovered.
Jack and Mitzi. At one time Jack beat his wife, she packed her bags to leave, then he got help and now they lead marriage ministries in a local church.
Dave and Jane. It was about 20 years ago that Jane divorced Dave. She did it so quietly a lot of people in their own church didn’t even know. He spent about three years running around with women, then finally reached the end of himself. They got remarried and he is now a pastor. They encouraged me not to give up.
While studying the Beth Moore “Believing God” series I read several testimonies of healed marriages.
Roy and Jane. Roy had an affair several years ago, went through church discipline, and now they have a reasonable marriage. Roy is a very close friend of Sharon’s and I remember the night years ago when he called Sharon and confessed to her what he had done. I remember how much she hurt for him and his wife. I also know that it took him a long time for him to accept his wife’s forgiveness.
I was at a church out of town and went up for an altar call during our separation. I very briefly told my story and asked for prayer. The couple that ministered to me talked about their separation and how God had healed their marriage.
I was at a church in another town at a men’s breakfast where I introduced myself, and asked for prayer for my marriage. Two men came up to me afterwards and spent several hours with me that day encouraging me. One of them was a professional pilot who had been so distraught over his marital issues that he almost had a breakdown in the cockpit. They sold their house and switched towns – did several radical changes to save their marriage. I had lunch with him and his wife the next day. The other man had been through major marital issues and shared his testimony. I knew his brother who was a pastor who had run off with a counselee/ member of his church. Later in our separation I was at a totally different church, went forward for prayer, and wound up sitting on stage with this pastor’s ex-wife being prayed for.
George and Barb. They are on our marriage mentoring team at church. He admitted to me that there was a time they lived in their house so polarized they may as well have been separated. Now they seem to have a good marriage. His wife looked right at me and told me to stay faithful and to never give up.
I (Sharon) had absolutely no hope for our marriage, or my life as it was, and was just counting the days when the kids would graduate and I could get a divorce. I felt emotionally abused and could not take it any more though, and asked him to leave.
I did not have many examples of hope before and during our separation. No one seemed to have been as bad as we were. I heard a lot of platitudes such as “trust God”, “hang in there”, and “it can’t be as bad as that!” I felt like a leper at times – that no one had ever been as hopeless as us. I talked one time to Joe Williams while ordering “Reconciling God’s Way”, and he gave me the first glimmer of hope, but it died quickly. My counselor was the only one who would not say ‘die’, but even he wavered at one point.
We experienced God’s love and forgiveness in many ways. Sometimes I (Richard) experienced love and forgiveness at the altar, or out walking and talking to God. I blew my cork a couple of times by phone or email with some pastors and elders over some issues. They gave me grace, forgave me, and continued to encourage and pray for me. I really gave a couple of counselors some pretty inflammatory thoughts and feelings, and they forgave me, gave me the benefit of the doubt and hung in there with me.
God was the only one Who actually would not let me (Sharon) give up, pushed me to believe Him, and gave me hope, literally through the “Believing God” Bible study by Beth Moore. He graciously introduced me to it in the fall of 2002 – a year before our separation – I believe, in anticipation of what I would need to trust Him through it all. Then the fall of our separation, my women’s Bible study decided to study it and I repeated it. I ended up going through it three times. I flat out learned that I had to believe God for my marriage. I could not see at all how He could heal it, but just had to ‘believe’ He could and would, for that is His heart. So, really, it was God who ended up giving me hope for the marriage. But, knowing others were praying for us, when they didn’t know what else to do, helped tremendously.
Over and over again, God proved to me He loves me. He would wake me in the middle of the night to spend time with Him. He would have the Body minister to me at just the right time for the right reason over and over. As I confessed my sins, my part in our marriage going bad, and my attitude towards Richard, I felt washed and cleaned. He overwhelmed me with love and forgiveness every day.
We made a decision and a commitment to love God, each other, and ourselves. Frankly, making decisions to love has been an ongoing process for years that sometimes I (Richard) do well with, and sometimes I don’t.
I’m (Sharon) not sure I made a commitment to love Richard, but I made decision after decision to forgive him over and over again. I think in the long run God honored the forgiveness and the love blossomed again for Richard from the bud God had never let die. I learned to forgive myself. I learned to love and like characteristics in me that had been ridiculed and rejected, and felt like I had had to hide. I continue to learn to accept the ways God has made me, and to believe He’s made me for a purpose and is pleased when I obey him.
I (Richard) made the decision to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior years ago, probably first as a teenager, but have often rededicated myself, especially during our separation. At times I just wanted to forget Christianity, so at times ran from God, into things I knew were wrong, but He protected me from my worst impulses.
I (Sharon) recommitted myself to follow Jesus as Lord, only this time I truly came to know what it means. I had to learn to trust Him with all the details of my life. I had to obey Him not knowing the outcome.
Once obedient to God, and only by His strength working in me (Richard) was I able to love by His standards and not my own.
I went to prayer counseling for some very intense prayer about generational curses, ungodly beliefs, and my own sins. I also continued to pray various prayers of repentance both from books and ones that I made up on my own.
I remember coming back to the farm from our counselor’s office, after Sharon had announced divorce plans, but we had had a joint counseling session. I had been very, very down on the way home. All of a sudden something snapped in me, and I started walking around our driveway and in a loud voice saying things like “In the name of Jesus, spirit of divorce be gone, spirit of division be gone, etc. etc.”
Rejoice Ministries has a Stander’s Prayer that I said several times:
A Stander’s Affirmation
I AM STANDING FOR THE HEALING OF MY MARRIAGE! I will not give up, give in, give out or give over ’til that healing takes place. I made a vow, I said the words, I gave the pledge, I gave a ring, I took a ring, I gave myself, I trusted GOD, and said the words, and meant the words… in sickness and in health, in sorrow and in joy, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in good times and in bad…so I am standing NOW, and will not sit down, let down, slow down, calm down, fall down, look down or be down ’til the breakdown is torn down!
I refuse to put my eyes on outward circumstances, or listen to prophets of doom, or buy into what is trendy, worldly, popular, convenient, easy, quick, thrifty, or advantageous… nor will I settle for a cheap imitation of God’s real thing, nor will I seek to lower God’s standard, twist God’s will, rewrite God’s word, violate God’s covenant, or accept what God hates, namely divorce!
In a world of filth, I will stay pure; surrounded by lies I will speak the truth; where hopelessness abounds, I will hope in God: where revenge is easier, I will bless instead of curse; and where the odds are stacked against me, I will trust in God’s faithfulness.
I am a STANDER, and I will not acquiesce, compromise, quarrel or quit.. I have made the choice, set my face, entered the race, believed the Word, and trusted God for all the outcome.
I will allow neither the reaction of my spouse, nor the urging of my friends, nor the advice of my loved ones, nor economic hardship, nor the prompting of the devil to make me let up, slow up, blow up, or give up ’til my marriage is healed.
I also prayed a prayer from http://www.covenantkeepersinc.org/:
Confession Against the Spirit of Divorce
Divorce, you can’t live in my home. I’m saying to you in Jesus’ Name, remove yourself from me and go into the depths of the sea. No divorce can live in my home because Jesus is my miracle worker. Jesus, you are performing a miracle for me now, you are removing divorce from my marriage. My marriage is free from divorce, in Jesus’ Name. Divorce, you are cursed. The roots of you have been cursed. You are dead – dead – dead. Divorce, you are dead. Get out in Jesus’ Name. The Lord Jesus Christ is my miracle worker and He is performing a miracle for me now. Jesus, You are my miracle worker. Mark 11:24
My (Richard’s) best understanding was that legally there was no way to stop a divorce, however, I had decided to try my best not to help it along. The reconciliation messages in Divorce Care and Choosing Wisely before You Divorce gave me new hope to carry on. Probably more than anything else, getting into Divorce Care helped me by God’s grace to pull out of a very deep, severe depression.
I did the online Bible Study “Believing God” by Beth Moore at the same time Sharon was leading it at our church. I really worked to “believe God” for healing our marriage.
I made a decision to forgive. Forgiveness was a huge issue with me. Neil Anderson believes that forgiveness isn’t complete until you deal with and acknowledge your emotions of anger, bitterness, hatred etc. He suggests a prayer along the lines of “Lord, Sharon hurt me so much when she ________. I am so angry, etc. I forgive Sharon, and I renounce my right to seek revenge and I choose not to hold onto my bitterness and anger. I ask you to heal my damaged memories and emotions. Please forgive me of my bitterness, anger, lust, etc.”
I often went on walks. We have a bike path behind our house. Lots of times I walked a mile to the next small town, and most of what I had done on the way was yell at God about how hurt I was by Sharon, and tell Him I forgave her. Sometimes I told Him “LORD, THIS PAIN IS SO DEEP, YOU HAVE TO HEAL IT”, or something like that. Frankly, I yelled at God more than I have in my whole life. Somewhere along the way, I must have truly forgiven on many issues, or I don’t think I would even have a desire to be with Sharon.
I realized that God loved me as I am, and I want to try to love Sharon as she is.
My (Sharon) obedience through it all brought love at the end of the separation. I realized because of God, I had loved Richard through all the ugliness – it wasn’t a feeling of love – it was a decision. I didn’t love him as a husband through the 16 months, but as a brother in Christ.
We became accountable to God for our behavior, thoughts, actions, and our accountability to others. Lots of people told me (Richard) that I was most of the problem. Over time I took some of it to heart, and started to focus less on Sharon’s problems. I actually worked through a good bit of Dr. Phil’s workbook, Relationship Rescue. His big message is pretty blunt. “If you have a relationship problem, you are part of the problem, so if you work on yourself, the relationship has to change.” For some reason he said some of it in a way I could hear.
In Stormie Omartian’s book, The Power of a Praying Husband, the first prayer is praying for yourself, confessing sins, etc. I did that several times. I also spoke aloud Psalm 51, which is David’s prayer after his affair with Bathsheba. At various altar calls, and with our counselor, I confessed various sins; also to pastors and elders in person and by email. At times I confessed things to Sharon in person and by email. At a joint counseling session, after she announced divorce plans, I took our marriage certificate that we had signed after an “I Still Do” weekend, and told her how much I had failed to honor my promises. I tried to more quickly apologize when I did fail.
I (Sharon) knew I was accountable to God for all my behavior and actions during this time. It’s probably what caused me to stop, listen, keep my mouth shut when I wanted to spout off, and take every thought captive. I learned to trust God to defend me no matter what was said by either Richard or others. I learned accountability to elders, pastors, and even my counselor. I learned there is safety in accountability.
I decided to get a divorce almost a year into our separation. It was only after learning the PAIRS skills, and God moving in my heart and consequently obeying Him, I made the decision to stay with my husband. In my heart I always wanted it to work, but absolutely could not see how, and was desperate for change – in me, in him, in us.
Every day I made the decision to forgive Richard, and myself. Forgiveness is a powerful thing. I learned when you forgive it releases God’s power in that person’s life, but more so in your own.
Because of mental and emotional abuse, I had a hard time excepting Richard as he was. I admit I had to wait until I saw serious, consistent change in him. But even more, I had to trust God that the changes I saw were real, permanent changes.
I realized that the problems weren’t all Richard’s. That I had to change, also. The way I had reacted to his behavior was just as bad as the behavior itself.
We began seeing that we needed to change individually, learning what and how to change, and began to change through the power of God. I (Richard) often asked God for help. I spent a month in Meier Clinic during our separation. Meier Clinic is intensive outpatient psychological, psychiatric care clinic with therapy done in a group setting in a Christian environment. I wrote a list of issues that Sharon saw as shortcomings, gave it to my group, and tried to listen to them on issues where they saw similarities to Sharon’s struggle with me. In other areas, I was encouraged by the fact they didn’t see it quite the same.
I read a book called “Every Woman’s Desire.” It is by the same men who wrote “Every Man’s Battle”, but goes into detail about what a woman really desires. Sharon confessed to me that what was expressed in this book is what she had always deeply desired. I have made a conscious effort to try to practice some of the key principles.
I had a huge problem. When I would see Sharon across a room, even during our separation, I was even more attracted to her. I liked a lot of the changes I saw and heard about. Unfortunately, in my presence, she had so little desire to be with me, that things often didn’t go well. Once we made the turn in our relationship, and we started to interact more, I have tried to accept the changes in her, and not force her back into the old mold I had put her in before. I am able to do this better some days than others.
I still remember sitting in my psychiatrist’s office and praying some simple prayer about entrusting her to God, giving her to God, something like that. It was very hard to do. I gifted almost everything I owned to Sharon – land, machinery, household goods. She had my power of attorney and access to all of my bank accounts, credit cards, etc.
Meier Clinic taught me about what they called the circle of responsible love. If you went through all the steps you had shared very honestly about a situation. PAIRS helps you do this on a practical basis, and I have tried to more and more hang in there with various tools to really communicate as truthfully, and lovingly as possible. It’s still a big struggle for me though.
With lots of my (Sharon) own prayer, lots of others’ prayers, with our counselor’s prayers, with Bible study and exhortation, and encouragement from many, but mostly from spending hours and hours before the Lord, I knew I needed to change, became willing to change, and God showed me what and how to change over time. It became a process of dying to my self, learning to trust God to protect me, and giving up my “rights”.
I’m not sure I examined my role as a wife in our marriage as much as a Christian. How is a Christian to act, speak, love, exhort, encourage another person? Especially her husband? I studied the fruit of the Spirit and asked God to flood me with His love and compassion, and to change me in the areas that needed work.
I did accept change in Richard when I finally trusted God to continue His work in both of us. When I could rest in Jesus to protect me from so much hurt again. I remember my counselor telling me once, “You can’t love unless you are vulnerable.” I was so afraid to be vulnerable enough to possibly be hurt again, but when I could trust God to protect me, I was free to love.
The ability to trust Richard enough to put my whole self into his care again, came through many tears and struggle, but the trust came. It’s only because of Jesus I am able to do this.
In July, I (Richard) wrote a couple of suicide notes. I didn’t have any particular plan. I was really down so I just wrote out my thoughts – mostly anger. Within about 24 hours I started having a sense of using our home for some sort of retreat center for troubled marriages even if we got divorced. I wanted someway, somehow to help people head off divorce so they wouldn’t go through the pain that I had been through. Within a day or so of having that revelation, whatever, I realized that I needed a hostess to help me, and I realized Sharon was the perfect person for it.
The point of all of this is, that even in the darkest days, when Sharon seemingly had little desire or hope that things would turn around, she was actively working in ministries to help save marriages. When I was accepting that things might not turn around, I still was dreaming about how to help others to head off divorce. At that time, I didn’t have a testimony of how to turn a marriage around, but I wanted so much to help others avoid the pain that I was in.
This is what is really exciting. We went to a PAIRS (Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills) training October 9. I firmly believe that was the day the Lord really turned our marriage around using those tools to change our hearts. Even before we moved back together on Dec. 11, I shared some of what I had learned with other men about how to strengthen their marriage. At our recomitment ceremony, several people came up to us, asking for help. We were at a PAIRS training in February, and shared some things with a few troubled couples, and helped one of our elders and his wife walk through some communication exercises on an issue in their marriage.
What is even more amazing, even before October 9, when things looked pretty hopeless, Sharon was helping behind the scenes with Marriage Savers and with the CMP signing in our hometown. Unbeknownst to her, I came to the CMP signing. Unbeknownst to me, my kids were at the CMP signing to help. I was totally blown away when I realized that even though my family and I were barely on speaking terms, we were the only complete family there for the CMP signing. I went to mentor training alone the weekend of the CMP signing. I wanted to see what I could learn that might help us, and how to possibly help others, regardless of us.
Before we were even living together, Sharon and I went to mentor couple training, and one of our first dates was to go to a banquet where Wade Horn spoke about saving marriages. About the same time we were starting to talk about moving to DC to volunteer our help with Marriage Savers.
We are both excited about sharing with others. We have had the privilege to teach the PAIRS’ DTR at our church’s marriage retreat. We were involved in our church’s mentoring ministry and retreats even before it was an official arm of the church. The only year we missed was when we were separated.
Through learning the PAIRS skills, I (Sharon) had a way to communicate truthfully and openly in love for the first time without fear of retribution.
I (Richard) hope I put God and Sharon ahead of myself, at least some of the time.
I (Sharon) learned to put God first through shear desperation to get me through each day. To be honest, I didn’t want to put Richard ahead of me, but again, it was trusting God to take care of my needs that I was able to do it.
I (Richard) can’t totally explain how things are different now except to say that the difference is huge and noticeable. Sharon has a desire to be with me now. When things do surface, I feel like with the tools we have learned, we have ways to deal with issues now. I sense a commitment on both of our parts not to go back to the old ways, and are willing to confront the other and say when something is wrong. We are quick to go through a Dialogue Guide, Emotional Jug, or another tool from PAIRS, so we can work through an issue.
I think one thing that has helped me have more compassion for Sharon has come from the time I have spent listening to women pour out their hearts – whether at Meier Clinic, Divorce Care sessions, or in Divorce Care tapes. I have had a new understanding of some of the issues Sharon has faced in her growing up years, but probably even more relevant, some of the pain women have gone through with their husbands who had similar struggles to mine with mental, sexual, financial, and anger issues.
One of the things that I truly admire about Sharon is her honesty with God about the positives and negatives she thinks and feels. Another thing I admire is how much people look up to her, both men and women. A lot of people just really admire and enjoy Sharon, and I gain a new appreciation for her by listening to them.
I (Sharon) am so much still in process. Still searching to find the balance in all things. But I have hope again. I have trust in and a relationship with God that has made this time all worth it. I believe God for so much more than I ever have. I believe He is a God who absolutely can do the impossible – who wants marriages healed and will do much with a person’s obedience and forgiveness. He is the God who performs miracles still this day. I believe we were allowed to go through what we have so we could help others. To share with others not to ever, ever, ever give up, no matter what.
Today, I see a husband who is not in his own little world all the time. A husband who may still struggle with negativity, but is trying, with God’s help to see the brighter side of life. He sees the good in me and is not trying to squelch it because I’m not like him. I see a man who has been humbled by God to change and seek His ways, not his own. He is finally taking responsibility for what he has done to our family by his behavior and attitudes, and who is seeking to learn from others how to be different. I see him reaching out to me and to others when we have a problem, are sad, or struggling, instead of ignoring it.
I see a father who knows he has messed up unbelievably with his kids, but who is working hard to mend the tears in the relationships. I see a father who wants the best for his family, and is finally putting us first in his life behind God, when we always seemed to come after the family farm, himself, and sometimes, God (in that order).
I see a friend to others who is reaching out, wanting to minister to them, and not have it all be about himself.
God has made all things new in our lives.