A Single Phrase Helped Save This Marriage

Bishop Paprocki’s Norms on ‘Same-Sex Marriage’
July 17, 2017
How the Left Hijacked the American Psychiatric Association and Normalized Personality Disorders
July 17, 2017

While crying in the shower, one husband “challenges God” in desperation and is let in on a great secret

While crying in the shower, one husband “challenges God” in desperation and is let in on a great secret

On paper, Richard Paul Evans seemed like he should be one of the happiest men on earth. A father of five, the wildly successful fiction writer, whose name is often atop the New York Times bestseller list, seemed to have it all. Yet despite the impressively loyal readers, the lovely kids, and the nice house in Utah, Evans was miserable, and it stemmed from unhappiness in his marriage — something he recently shared on his official website.

Facebook / Richard Paul Evans

“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.’”

It wasn’t easy. Evans and his wife, Keri, had seemed mismatched from their earliest days, and doomed to struggle almost from the start of their marriage.

“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.”

Facebook / Keri DiSera Evans

The couple was fighting so much that Evans began to look forward to traveling book tours that would take him away from home, but the fights continued over the phone, and the couple’s moods became “perpetually defensive.” During one particularly passionate long-distance fight, Keri slammed down the phone on Evans in mid-yell. It was like an exclamation point that signaled an abrupt end.

“That’s when I turned to God. Or turned on God,” writes Evans on his website. “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… 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.”

The next day, Evans greeted Keri with the same phrase, at which she narrowed her eyes, and sent him to cleaning the garage.

It went on like that. Each morning, Evans would ask his wife, “What can I do to make your day better?” Each morning, Keri would say in exasperation, “You can’t,” often followed by “Please stop saying that.”

“I can’t,” Evans said. 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.”

After two weeks of gently harassing his wife into letting him do things to make her happy, Keri broke down, sobbing. “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.”

Facebook / Keri DiSera Evans

It was a moment of recognition and connection, full of the real intimacy that comes when apologies are made and accepted, though words, and actions, and simple presence. When Evans then asked Keri what he could do to make her day better, she said, “Can we spend time together, maybe?”

“I would love to,” he replied.

It was the needed breakthrough. Evans and Keri had moved from wanting to be away from each other, to desiring each other’s company and companionship.

Evans kept asking his ritual question for more than a month. The fights stopped, and soon Keri began asking, “What do you need from me?”

“The walls between us fell.” Evans writes. “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.”

Marriage is difficult. It is the rare couple that does not find it so, and Evans acknowledges that, but he concludes: “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.”

Facebook / Keri DiSera Evans

Evans’ phrase is a good one. Often as couples become bogged down in their roles amid family, career, and church obligations, it becomes surprisingly easy to lose sight of others and their needs, even when they are lying right next to you. “What can I do to make your life better,” asked seriously and attentively is – or should be – the fundamental question of love, one that actively and intentionally clears a path away from self-interest, opening us up to others.

“Real love is not to desire a person, but to truly desire their happiness–sometimes, even, at the expense of our own happiness….I am incredibly grateful for the inspiration that came to me that day so long ago.”

Inspired is the word for it. The insight given to Evans – that real love desires the happiness of the other, even at one’s own expense – came as the answer to the prayer, and in the end it pointed precisely to Christ, as yet another means of explaining to a man, and to all of us, that love, in the end, always has a connection to the Cross.

Read more: Appreciating your spouse; Sometimes you have to write it out before you can see it