We’ve been married almost 32 years, but looking back, I can see the cracks start around our 23rd year of marriage. It didn’t seem like anything major at the time, no front-page issues, just the factors that matter when left too long unintentionally. Barb had some communication struggles and was holding onto old baggage. I made a decision to emotionally pull back because I believed that I was nothing more than a duty or an obligation, that my job was to be a workhorse. That thought seeded bitterness, and I turned away from Barb in my heart. After about two years, those cracks culminated in a crisis in our marriage and in our ministry.
Those cracks were the construction materials that paved the road for the enemy to drive his trucks on. It’s like we were beginning the worst kind of construction project—the building of bitterness. Fast forward two years, and out of that bitterness and turning of my heart, my decision-making and my view of life were very clouded… I crossed some physical and emotional lines with another person.
After everything, I remember feeling like we were gradually driving out of a fog. Suddenly, I could see clearly and look back and wonder how I could have ever thought, said, or done any of those things. But bitterness is a dangerous, subtle thing—a place where I was blinded. I ignored the very advice that I had counseled men, women, and couples with for years. By the time I realized what was happening, it was almost like being on a runaway freight train. I was almost too afraid to admit where I was struggling, facing the war between fear and love. Love: Oh, man, let me just try to fix this—I don’t want to hurt Barbara any further. Fear: I don’t want to lose everything.
We had to take a step back from ministry and go through a process of restoration, not just in our church but in our marriage, and we were in a position where we couldn’t talk to anyone. The interesting dynamic with us being a pastoral couple and leading a congregation at the time was that we were surrounded by people at the most difficult moment in our lives. I was a leader in our denomination across several states, and we had our church family, but in the middle of our crisis, we’d never felt so alone. You feel like you can’t talk to your congregation when you’re having a marriage crisis—you’re their leaders! We felt like we were alone at the bottom of a pit, and we couldn’t see a way out.
The beautiful thing was that through everything, God was right there, so close to us, ministering to each of our souls individually, healing our hurts so we could come back together and heal further. It wasn’t something we planned—we didn’t sit down and decide this was our strategy—this was God’s plan for our healing.
As part of that healing, we began walking through a restoration process, rebuilding our marriage from the ground up. We still loved Jesus and each other, but we’d reached a place where we were having a hard time communicating. I’d caused tremendous pain to Barb and to our family, and there was broken trust, anger, and hurt. We sought good, qualified, Christian marriage counseling, but then Barb found XO and Jimmy and Karen Evans.
There was a period during that restoration process when almost every day, our devotion time as a couple was spent watching or listening to some kind of broadcast, podcast, ministry, or studio event that was available on the site. If it was there, we probably watched it, listened to it, prayed over it, and talked about it. For about 500 days, Jimmy and Karen walked along that process with us as active participants, even though they didn’t know us. They were de facto our long-distance marriage coaches, pouring into us as we put our life back together. We even did a Vision Retreat, and that was very powerful. It helped us steer the direction of our life’s calling and of our ministry from then on.
It sounds a little corny, but we like to say that XO’s influence on our marriage feels a bit like the 2009 movie Julie & Julia. Jimmy and Karen were our marriage counterparts, where we never got to meet them, but they walked us through a transforming process. They helped us see where our marriage could be stronger and healthier—they helped us address not just the big things but even the small things that could become big.
Out of it, God birthed a whole new facet of our ministry. We committed to Him that since He’d helped us, we would do all we could to help other couples find hope in crisis—or help them avoid crisis altogether. If they can see that God did it here, maybe they can see that He’ll do it for them too. God brought a lot of different young adults and couples into our path, and we advise them to listen to Jimmy and Karen. We send them XO resources and encourage them to go on a Vision Retreat.
We were even able to write a book, Dry Bones: Redeeming Your Past, where we talk about our journey back to healing in our marriage. We share that with other couples in the hope that our testimony helps them in their journey. It’s a vulnerable thing to open up this yucky area in your life and share it with people, but we really believe God can use our story to help other people, to give them hope where they may not see any. If they can point to someone else who’s been through it and come out the other side, I think it’s an encouragement. Our whole reason for wanting to help people is to point them to Jesus, to their healer. We want to show them that there is hope in broken and damaged relationships because God is our healer, and He can do great, amazing, miraculous things.
Our story has some major layers of redemption and restoration, and a lot of that is due to the influence of XO and Jimmy and Karen walking with us on our journey to healing. We’re at a point in our journey where shame has become a testimony. Like the Samaritan woman at the well, we’ve gone through shame and brokenness, but we know God is using that and making it a testimony of His goodness. In life, we like to speak out of areas of expertise, but in reality, it’s so much harder to warn people of where they might step on landmines in their life.
Words of Wisdom from Barb & Kevin: Communication is key.
There’s a phrase Jimmy repeats often, and it’s really freeing, “My feelings are real; they’re just not always right.” Because at the moment, the feeling can be so strong when you hit that rough patch or that crisis. There’s something that’s putting heat and pressure on the relationship: parenting, finances, career, the relationship. Some people explode on that feeling, escalating the conversation into a true conflict. But the way we often think about it is, Is that a decision-making feeling? Do I want to build a life making decisions based on the feeling of this moment? Very often, the answer to that question is no, but if you acknowledge the feeling, it is no longer the engine to the train.
A big part of good communication is assuming the best motives of the other person. We want other people to assume the best motives of us, but sometimes, we don’t always assume the same of our loved ones, and we pick up an offense. Assume the best motives out of your spouse and try not to pick up those offenses. When someone says something that might offend, rephrase it back to them and ask for clarity. Instead of just assuming the worst, disarm the situation. Usually, the other person is horrified by the assumption and is absolutely willing to clear any confusion and bitterness. Clearing up those miscommunications is key to healing in your marriage.
Do you have a story of how XO has impacted your marriage? We would love to hear it! Email us at [email protected].