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TROUBLE IN PARADISE
Dale and Jena Forehand seemed like the perfect couple. Both Dale and Jena were raised in church and come from fine Christian homes; they felt pretty secure about entering their married life. They had a nice house. Dale was a successful real estate agent, and they both were active in their church. But by 1996 their marriage had reached an all-time low.
“There was no love, no joy, no relationship,” they say.
Throughout all this time both were very active in church – Dale a deacon and Jena a wonderful singer. They taught a young married Sunday School class. From the outside in, they seemed to have a perfect marriage. Looks were deceiving. The Forehands marriage was riddled with anger, fights, and a struggle for control. Dale had a problem with anger. Looking back, he says his anger stemmed from the fact that he sought answers in his marriage that couldn’t be found there. Jena admits that she had problems with self esteem, looking to Dale to fulfill a need in her that he was not equipped to do. Their unmet expectations meant two very unhappy people who took out their frustrations on each other. Caught in the middle of this tug-of-war were two young children, son Cole and daughter Jorga.
On a Saturday in July 1996, Dale walked into their home, packed Jena’s bags and told her to get out. The marriage was over. Their fight ended up with Dale grabbing the children and driving away as Jena stood sobbing in the driveway. He headed to the golf course, leaving the children with his mother at the pool. Jena got the children and headed to her sister’s house which angered Dale incredibly.
“I called Dale and explained that I was afraid of him and wanted to stay away for a while until I felt safe to return,” Jena says.
Unbeknownst to Jena, Dale went to see a lawyer who said the children were just as much his as Jena’s, and “If I were you, I’d go and get them.” One week later at Vacation Bible School, Dale came determined to get the children. Panicked, Jena left Jorga briefly to run get Cole before Dale grabbed Jorga and ran to the car. Jena tried to comfort Cole. She returned to the gym where she met Dale’s twin brother Dave who pulled Cole out of her arms, knocked her to the ground and ran to a waiting car. Jena sat confused and shocked at what had just happened; people quickly made themselves scarce. When her family arrived, Jena began reporting the incident, but the policeman said there was nothing he could do since Dale was their father. He advised her to call an attorney.
Dale went to his parents’ house, packed some bags, and disappeared for seven days. Unable to locate the kids, Jena finally called a lawyer who advised her that the only way she could get the kids back into the state was to file for divorce. While in Tennessee Dale’s employer notified him that he had received divorce papers. Both Dale and Jena wanted full custody of the kids, and both refused to leave the marital residence. The judge was left with no choice but to place them back into the house pending a divorce trial.
For 15 months the Forehands lived in the house together, awaiting the trial date. The house that was a home became a prison. They lived separately and fought over everything. Many nights Jena cried herself to sleep while six-year-old Cole patted her in the back. Because of Dale’s anger and desire for control, he withheld all money from Jena. They began conducting themselves as if the other did not exist. Most conversations escalated into full-blown arguments so heated that Cole would sit in the corner of the dining room and cry with his hands over his ears, begging for it to stop.
“We threw things, pointed our fingers, and verbally abused one another,” they say. Because of so much manipulation, the children learned to manipulate their parents as well. Per their spiritual life, Dale began sitting in the back of the church; Jena started attending another church. Their families took sides. All along their lawyers coached each of them on how to win. Their home became a war zone. Finally the divorce was over, but the elation was short-lived as frustrations built over having to communicate with each other about matters with the children.
“Every weekend as we passed the children to the other, we felt as if our own hearts were physically being ripped apart,” Jena says. The frustration, pain, and anger were indescribable.
Four weeks after the divorce, Dale and Jena got into yet another argument. But this time Jena did something that was very risky: she let her guard down and let him see her heart. “Dale, what have we done? Why don’t you come get me, and let’s fix this thing,” she said. Dale was caught off guard, and instantly said, “I can’t look at the feet of our children without seeing you.” Jena says that statement was like a bouquet of roses to her. The Holy Spirit began to “melt the hardened mess of our hearts.” Within minutes they were sharing and sobbing uncontrollably.
The Forehands spent the next four months in frequent, intentional marriage counseling with a Godly Christian counselor who walked them through the healing process. Though they worked through some hard days, at the end of that time, they knew in their minds that re-marriage was what God wanted for them.
“So, on December 21, 1997, we were remarried to the glory of God,” they say. On the morning of their remarriage, Cole told them that since they were getting together with each other, he wanted to pray and get together with God. He gave his life to Christ.
Upon hearing of their plans to remarry, many people questioned if the Forehands were doing the right thing. But after seeking the Lord they knew what was right for them. They say it was God’s amazing grace that enabled them to leave their old ways behind and submit their hearts and lives to Him. They now share with others the importance of keeping their marriage strong.
THE SUBJECT OF VERBAL ABUSE
Verbal abuse is a popular excuse for today’s troubled couples to end their marriages, but Dale says it is important to define what verbal abuse is. Sometimes the abuse does not involve words; it is in what is not said. It can be in the form of body language, i.e. one not listening or responding to their partner. Or if hurtful words are spoken, the recipient may not know how to respond. Jena said verbal abuse is usually about one person winning and being in control, being right, and being heard and seen.
In retrospect Dale and Jena say there was major tension and a gradual internal disintegration in the marriage. The choices they made in coping with issues in their marriage weren't working. Jena would try to cope with conflict in the marriage by what she would say or by emotionally shutting down. Dale started feeling disconnected from Jena. As more time passed, they felt more disconnected. There was a lot of anger and they would say things to inflict pain intentionally. Dale and Jena wounded each other so much, but they just wanted the hurt and pain to stop. Jena says the reason she continued to verbally abuse Dale was because she hoped someday to break through and have him see her point of view. The Forehands say that most people in verbal abuse situations are just trying to find relief, but God wants true restoration. Jena says even in getting a divorce, she thought the pain would stop, but it was still there.
A TIME TO HEAL
Dale says the most frequent question he and Jena are asked is: How did they get the love back? He says they started acting like they were in love and the feelings followed. Dale says he was committed to do everything he could, practical steps. A practical step that Jena says she learned was to walk away and not engage in the argument. She says one or both spouses need to learn to douse the flame of a heated argument. They need to learn to remove themselves and disengage (reevaluate where one is and follow the Holy Spirit's leading) the bomb. Dale says to do this couples need to: self evaluate, self validate, and self soothe (basically reaffirm themselves in Christ. Dale also says that rebuilding a marriage requires people willing to do whatever it takes for marriage to succeed -- they need to rebuild safety.
The Forehands say that there is true hope for troubled marriages and that God is the ultimate reconciler. Their first step to reconciliation was to get Christian marriage counseling. This helped the Forehands tackle the fears they had in trying to rebuild their marriage. They found that they had to make their marriage a safe place for both of them emotionally. This included having to be available for each other, which meant dying to selfish desires and embrace the other’s needs by being available to them; being approachable for one another; being accepting of each other and knowing that your spouse is not your enemy; being accountable to one another; and being vulnerable.
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