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Holding Your Marriage Together When Your Family is Falling Apart

Kathleen Kohler

Tears streamed down my cheeks as I drove to work. The angry exchange of words with my husband from the night before echoed in my head.

"Why did you do that?" Loren asked. "We agreed we weren't going to give him any more money."

"But he said he needed gas to go to work until payday." I reasoned. "And he promised to pay it back on Friday."

Angry, Loren shook his head. "How many times has he borrowed, promised to pay, and there's never any follow through?"

I knew my husband was right, but how could I say no to our eighteen-year-old son? Wouldn't that drive him further away?

Sure he needed money for gas; most likely he ran short spending his on any number of poor choices that had defined his life during the past two years. He had led us on a journey into the dark world of drugs and gang activity. It was a world we knew nothing about. We were in shock and neither of us knew how to respond. Loren thought I was too soft, and I thought he was too harsh.

Twenty years of a predominately happy marriage and now it seemed our whole life revolved around the choices our son was making. We couldn't agree on anything. I knew I loved Loren, but sometimes I felt like there was nothing left.

I pulled into work and sat in the car as I dried my face and struggled to regain my composure. I was exhausted; we both were. This is not how I want to live. I just can't take this anymore, I thought. Our son's behavior had pitted us against each other. I was sick of the almost daily arguments. Sleep deprived and in constant turmoil, my life had come to the point I didn't even want to go home at night. That was the moment I decided to check out of my marriage. That evening I would stay with my parents. Loren and I needed a break from each other anyway, I rationalized.

I walked into work to face the retail public. My heart hung heavy throughout the day, but only God and I knew the lie behind my smile as I waited on customers. Finally the last shopper left. I locked the door behind them and dimmed the lights. I stood at the counter closing out the day's books when the owner's wife came in the back door.

"How are you doing Kathy?" she asked.

She knew about the situation with our son and had prayed for me numerous times throughout the past two years. With a questioning smile she searched my eyes for a truthful answer. Through tears my heart split open and the pain gushed forth. When I had finished, she offered some wise words of advice.

"You're married to Loren, not your son. That's the relationship you committed to, and when the kids leave home that's the one that needs to stand." And she added, "I know you love Loren and he could never live without you."

"Thank you." I said, as we gave each other a hug.

"I'll finish up here, you go on home," she told me.


Somewhat relieved of the day's stress and my grief, I left the store. When I opened the door of my car there was a huge bouquet of flowers on the seat. The attached note read: "Kathy, I love you and I don't want anything to ever come between us, not even one of our children. We can work through this. I'll see you at home. Love, Loren."

That evening Loren and I had an honest talk. We recognized we had to cling tighter to each other and focus on the Lord and our faith in him. And we needed a plan in order to survive the chaos.

Relying on God & Each Other

We made an active choice to stop letting our son's lifestyle run our lives. That meant saying no when he called for money, even if it meant leaving him in jail instead of bailing him out. From that time on, whenever he asked for a loan I directed him to his dad. And I trusted Loren to make the right decision.

Then we knelt beside our bed and prayed for each other. Weeping before the Lord, we prayed for agreement between us, and for strength and wisdom in the days ahead. We also prayed for our son and released him into the Father's care. It was evident to us that only the Lord had the power to rescue him.

As soon as we could arrange it, Loren and I took a trip to the Oregon coast, our favorite vacation spot. Getting away helped us rest, refocus, and reconnect. Once refreshed we would be better able to deal with the crisis that bombarded us daily.

Pressing Forward with a Fresh Perspective

When we came home we continued to pray together every day. Whether it was in the morning before work or at night before bed, we made prayer a priority. We asked for greater understanding of each other in what we were going through. We prayed for the Lord's wisdom in our responses to our son. And we prayed for strength to say no: no to those who tried to put extra demands on us and no to our son when he tried to manipulate and involve us in his poor choices.

While our son continued his destructive path, we worked to preserve our marriage. Two years into this six-year ordeal our family continued to face challenges. Often too exhausted to kiss each other good night, we held hands when we went to sleep. Weighed down by grief and disappointment there were mornings we had to remind each other to breathe.

Our son's behavior didn't change. The change occurred in us as we worked on a focused response to our circumstances. The constant strain on our emotions drained our energy, so we reenergized by going to bed early and getting the rest we needed.

I'm thankful today we persevered through those years. Our son eventually emerged from the fog bank he was in and is rebuilding his life. What a tragedy it would have been if we had allowed those turbulent years to destroy our marriage. We realized the best thing we could do through this painful time was remain faithful to each other. And because we made the choice to hold on to the Lord and our commitment to each other, Loren and I will celebrate thirty years of marriage this year.

© 2008 Kathleen Kohler