Pastor Paul Westbrook and his wife, Melody, talk with openness and honesty about the marital crisis they faced and describe how counseling from the National Institute of Marriage (now called Hope Restored) helped restore and strengthen their relationship. (Part 2 of 2)
John Fuller: On our last "Focus on the Family" program, we heard how deep-seated fears and a building sense of resentment almost destroyed a marriage and Melody Westbrook explains what changed.
Melody Westbrook: So, the counselor took us through each of our fears and tried to help us to see how those had really affected our marriage and I see how they affected me. So, as we finished that 20 hours of counseling, it was really good. It was really positive and we walked away with a definite newfound hope that God was gonna save our marriage.
End of Recap
John: Well, maybe your relationship is at a point of real need. There's fear; there's mistrust. There's a sense that we may not make it. Listen to Paul and Melody Westbrook today and hear how God worked in their lives and maybe you'll walk away with some hope. This is "Focus on the Family" with Focus president, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, what I love about this story is that Paul Westbrook is the senior pastor of a church and his wife, Melody helped lead the women's ministry there and yet, their marriage was slowly dying. Even when it looks like we're doing everything right for the Lord, if we don't tend to our marriages, they can die and we can't put our relationships with our spouse on the back burner for anything--not for ministry, not for a career, not even for our children and I know some moms and dads are gonna go, ooh, and wince a little with that.
John: Well, those are hard words, Jim, but we do need to stop and just remember that the marriage is the central relationship for us, once we've made that commitment. And we get a lot of positive reinforcement at work, in our career, maybe even as was the case for the Westbrooks, in ministry, but relationships are vague. They don't get affirmed so much and then you have a spouse who gets all upset. You wonder where the anger came from. There are patterns that set in and Melody described in our last program, some of those dynamics for them and we'll encourage you to get the CD or audio download or you can stream it or get the mobile app at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call us and we can tell you more; 800-A-FAMILY.
Jim: And John, as we heard from Paul and Melody last time, his focus on the growth of their church led her to feel pretty ignored and they were just ships passing in the night. But after 23 years of marriage, Melody's frustration boiled over and she sought help from a counselor and eventually, they decided to go to Focus on the Family's National Institute of Marriage and that's where we're gonna pick up the story today.
John: Well, here now with a brief recap as we begin, Paul and Melody Westbrook on today's "Focus on the Family."
Paul Westbrook: Well, it was … it was definitely very surreal to show up in Branson at this retreat center for the Marriage Intensive. Never thought that it would be us in that situation. They had asked me the same question they asked Melody, had been on a phone interview with me, "If God were to do a miracle in your marriage, would you be open to that?" And for me, it was, yes, you know, absolutely. I was wanting it, "God, whatever You want to do in me, whatever You want to do in our marriage, just do something."
In fact, during that time, I had been praying maybe the most intense and profound prayer, a very simple prayer, but maybe the most profound prayer I'd ever prayed. And maybe you've prayed this prayer. It was, "Help!" I would just pray, "God, help! Just help, help."
And God answered that prayer while we were there in Branson. I mean, He worked a miracle in our marriage. It was a major breakthrough for us. And there were multiple reasons for that. First and foremost was the fact that Jesus was at the center of each of our lives. Our lives were anchored in Jesus. I'm so, so grateful that I have a wife who's committed to Christ and throughout all this was willing to follow His ways and keep Him at the center of our lives. And that was the core behind everything.
But also during this time, we were given some insights. I'm not sure that we would've ever picked up without all this happening and one of the things that they began to help us with was what Melody was just talkin' about, what they referred to as this relational fear cycle thing. And she said, we had to go through this big long list of fears and check off all of our fears and then prioritize our top fears. And I know some of us as guys, we think, "Oh, I'm not afraid of anything. You know, I'm fine; I'm tough; I'm macho and all that."
But the reality is, we all have fears. We all do and don't get caught up in the word, 'cause you may not want to call it a "fear." You may call it something that stresses you out, something that makes your uncomfortable, anxiety, you know, frustrations, whatever it is, but they're fears. They're inside of us and so, we had to peg our top, these core fears we really have and really get honest with ourselves about that.
But they asked us to peg our top fears, but they asked us to identify our reactions to those fears. And you have this big long list of all these potential reactions. And then after, we were to prioritize our top five. These were the natural ways that we tend to react to our fears.
When we have these fears and one of our fears, the fear button gets pushed, in this case, say that it starts with the husband's fear button gets pushed, then what naturally typically happens is, we react to that, a lot of times in not the best way, not necessary a real healthy way. We react. And then in turn, what was so interesting about this was discovering that so many times when we react, our reaction to our fear then triggers, pushes our spouse's button. And then once our spouse's button, fear button gets pushed, any one of their core fears, they tend to react. And a lot of times their natural reaction then in turn, triggers our fear button again. And we just keep cycling and just goin' round and round and we realized we'd been doing that for years.
Let me give you an example here what this looks like with somethin' a little bit more specific. Let's just say that the husband's, one of his core fears—we're not gonna go into all of 'em—but just one of his core fears is the fear of being controlled. And the wife's fear, core fear, one of 'em is the fear of abandonment. These are somewhat common fears for guys. A lot of 'em don't want to be controlled and for women, abandonment, not feeling valued, loved, not feeling significant for her.
Now when a guy's fear button gets pushed, his fear of being controlled, let's say, he can react. And we typically react in some way. And we can react all kinds of different ways. It can escalate. We can get sarcastic. We can blow a gasket. Well, let's just say that the husband responds by withdrawing and so, he withdraws, which again, is a very common fear or reaction rather for guys a lot of times apparently, that we just pull away from things, just go, ah, just give me space from all this. But if a wife's core fear is abandonment, of feeling not being valued, when the husband withdraws, all of a sudden, she's like, "Oh, he doesn't love me. He doesn't care about me. I'm not significant. I'm not important to him."
And then so she reacts. Now let's say her natural reaction is to pursue. So, all of a sudden, she starts pursuing her husband even more. What happens to him? It pushes his button again. He feels like he's being controlled and so, he withdraws even further and just keep goin' round and round and round. And this is just one of the fears. And we have all these fears where we're doing this all the time. And we looked back and all of a sudden, we had this graphic, this visual. That was the story of our marriage. We'd been doin' that for 27 years, just goin' round and round.
One of my big fears as I said earlier, was the fear of failure--fear of failure in my marriage, fear of failure that the church wouldn't go and stuff. And so, when that fear button in me would get pushed, I would typically react. And there are lots of ways you can react. Sometimes you go into fix-it mode. Sometimes I'd just get frustrated with Melody. Why doesn't she understand? If I don't do more, then things might fall apart or whatever, and I'd just get frustrated with her.
Well, when I would get frustrated with her, I'd go into the fix-it mode. Her feelings which were her core fears, were feeling insignificant and unimportant. Well, I'm frustrated with her and I'm putting in more time and that just made her feel even more insignificant and it would tap and push those buttons of fear in her. And so, what would she do? One of her typical reactions was to withdraw. So then she would withdraw and then it would push my fear button of failure again, but related to the marriage, like, "Oh, she's withdrawing. She doesn't love me. She doesn't really care about me, doesn't want to be with me." And so, then I would react and we would just cycle and we would just keep going round and round and round.
And we looked at this and go, "Oh, this is a mess." And we were doing that all the time and we realized part of what was so powerful and this was one, understanding that we both contribute to this. Both individuals do, but what was also powerful about it was realizing that all it takes is one individual to stop this. It doesn't even take both individuals. One individual can take responsibility for their fears and decide that they're gonna pause or create space in order to keep from reacting in ways that just keep this fear cycle going round and round and round.
And the way that you create this pause and care for yourself is beginning to tend to your heart, care for it like this past Scripture that talks about this, Proverbs 4:23, look at this, up here. It says, "Above all else" and anytime you run across a Scripture that makes that kind of statement, "above all else," you want to pay special attention.
"Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." We gotta guard our heart. You see, we can't change our spouse. I mean, that's what we all tend to want, isn't it? When there's some kind of problem or issue, ah, if she would just change. If Melody would just quit doing this. If she would start doing that, she would just change and everything would be great. And it's all her fault, right?
Do you realize, that never works. We can't change the other person. The only person I can change with God's help is me. And so, I need to pause. I need to care for my heart. And when I begin to care for my heart, that sets us up to be able to break this fear cycle. When both individuals commit to caring for themselves, man, just amazing can happen in a marriage.
John: Pastor Paul Westbrook is speaking on today's "Focus on the Family" and in a moment, you'll hear an effective antidote to that fear cycle that he's talking about. Get a CD of this program, the entire two-part presentation when you call 800-A-FAMILY or find the instant download and our mobile app, so you can listen again on your phone or tablet at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Let's return now as Paul's wife, Melody, shares what she's learned through this difficult process, as we continue our "Focus on the Family" program.
End of Program Note
Melody: You know, throughout my life I had heard the phrase and I'm sure you guys have, too, of you know, we need to take care of ourself. And for me, that was, I don't know, I guess take a long bike ride or get a massage or something like that. But what I've learned, what I am learning, 'cause I am so not there, is that what they're talking about is taking care of your own heart. Now please understand a very foreign concept for me. Without going into the deep details, I was raised in a very severely dysfunctional home and so, in my home, it was kinda like my heart was just up for grabs for whoever wanted to trample on it.
When you're raised in a home like that, the concept of taking care of yourself, it just doesn't exist. So, I got in this pattern of caring for everybody else in my life except for me. So the concept of caring for myself is … is life-changing for me. It will be life changing. I'm gonna continue on this journey to figure out what that means.
But in my childhood home, the key was survival. And you know, if you're here tonight and you have been raised in a severely dysfunctional home, you'll understand what I'm talking about that, you do whatever you can to survive. You don't understand that's what you're doing, but you know that that's what you're doing. So, one of the ways that I survived in my home was not to speak up, not to say anything. The few times that I did, the consequences were not pretty. So, as you learn not to speak up, then you can't take care of your heart. So, again, this whole concept, I think it's gonna be really life-changing for me. I think it's gonna really rock my world, so I'm kind of excited that the journey that I've been put on.
But one of the things that we realized and I'm learning is, that I can take care of my heart first before I even take care of Paul's. And the counselors that we've gone to see and the books that I've been reading have given me permission to do that.
Paul talked just brief about the fear cycle. Well, the care cycle is actually the antidote to the fear cycle. So, our counselors have given us permission basically when things are triggered to take a pause, kind of a time-out. And for me, at times it's actually walking out of the room to take care of my heart first, to figure out what is going on in my heart before I can go back and communicate with Paul about whatever issue that it is.
If you look in your outline we've got it listed on here and they gave us five A's and it's kinda funny. When I pick up my book, that the manual that they gave us, mine's kinda worn out, 'cause I keep going back to it, trying to figure all this out.
So, if you take a look at it, the first A is "aware." Being aware of the signals that alert myself to my feelings. Do I feel flushed? Is my heart beating faster? The second one is "accept." Welcome my feelings. Rather than trying to immediately rid myself of these feelings, am I willing to care for my feelings? The next one is "allow." Take a moment to invite and allow God to provide guidance and ways to care for myself. The next one is "attend." Identify the feeling and explore what is needed to move towards well-being. What am I feeling? Where is it coming from? Am I contributing to the feeling? What is the truth? What do I want? Who do I want to be? And then the last one is "act." What can I do to care for me while maintaining my honor and integrity?
Paul: So, this right here, this is the antidote to the fear cycle, is caring for our heart, because when we begin to take responsibility for ourselves and we begin to deal with these fears instead of responding in an unhealthy way, we begin to respond in more appropriate ways.
Now even as we bring this up, as Melody's talked about this, some of you may think, "well, but you know, caring for yourself. I mean, that just sounds selfish. I don't know." But you don't understand, this is biblical. Jesus Himself taught this. Look at this. In Matthew 22:39, this is what Jesus said. He said, "Love your neighbor." And your neighbor is people around you, including your spouse. You know, love your spouse, but then look at this, as who? "As yourself," as yourself.
You see, God expects us to love and care for ourselves. If we aren't caring for ourselves, we will invariably end up interacting with the people that we are in relationship with in unhealthy ways. And that's what I did for years without even realizing it. Instead of pausing to attend to my fears and to figure out what's going on and then reacting in a healthy way, I'd just react. And there we went, back into the fear cycle. And what I began to realize is, I could take responsibility for myself and react differently with God's help, react in healthier ways.
And when that happens, when you're both doing that, what happens is, is you just begin to shatter and to tear this fear cycle that you've been spinning in apart.
We haven't arrived. We still have our ups and downs, but looking back, I would have to say, I am so thankful for a wife who is willing to step out and create some turmoil in our marriage in order to break us out of this status quo, this pattern, this cycle that we had been in.
As I look back, I don't know that we would've ever gotten to the point that we're at today without her having the courage to step up. I mean, it has moved us to a whole 'nother level in our marriage and in our relationship. And we are looking forward to the future together. We're looking forward to having a great marriage.
And all right, it's interesting, As I look back, I also realize that I had actually lowered the bar when it came to the definition of a great marriage at some point in my life. And of course, when you lower the bar for a great marriage, it's easier to hit it. And through this, I realized I don't need to lower the bar. With God's help, we keep Him at the center of our lives and our marriage and as we're willing to deal with our stuff, with our baggage, with our fears, we can have a better marriage than we've ever had, not just a 'fine', not just an 'okay' marriage, but a marriage, better marriage than we've ever had.
Now when we're struggling, when any of us are struggling in a marriage and we're struggling in a relationship, there aren't typically any quick, one, two, three easy steps, you know, five steps to a perfect marriage. And if in any way you sense that, that's what we've said today, you've missed it. That's not what we're saying. What we are hoping that you will walk away with is a sense of hope. And I would just challenge you, don't be satisfied with just a mediocre marriage, with just a 'fine' or an 'okay' marriage. One statistic that I came across, during this time, was that only about 12 percent of married people even begin to come close to enjoying the kind of marriage they dreamed of. That's so sad. Eighty-eight percent of people walking around, way less of a marriage than they hoped to have.
And what I hope and what we hope, I mean, we're praying that you will get hold of, is that there is hope. If you'll anchor your life in Jesus and you're willing to do the work. It's not necessarily gonna be easiest. You're not necessarily gonna turn things around overnight. But you can have a better marriage than you've ever had. Things are so different for us. We're not perfect. We haven't arrived, but we're at a whole different place and we are so excited about what God's doing.
Melody: We were at times wondering if we would ever get here, but we are and my first thankfulness is to Christ. You know, we talk about Christ being our Savior and realized in this that, you know, even in just the word "Savior," that Christ wants to save us from something. And He wanted to save our marriage and He did. And I look that Christ wanted to save me from all that anger and that resentment that I had built up for so long. So, I'm very grateful for that in Him.
Another thing is, I'm grateful to my husband, your pastor, for sticking in there with me. At the beginning there was so much anger coming out, poor guy. I don't know how he handled all of it, but he did. And I realized, he had a choice. He didn't have to stay there. He didn't have to stick in there with me. To be honest, if he hadn't, I would've let him go and that's a really scary place to be. One of the things that Paul kept saying, even in my nasty, nasty anger, is that he was gonna chase me and that he was gonna keep chasing me until I stopped running. And I finally stopped running and he caught me and I know he won't ever let me go.
Paul: God wants to help you. He wants to help you turn your life around. He wants to help you turn your marriage around. And maybe that some of you need to open up your heart to Jesus. Maybe you've been playin' games. You come to church, but you've never really been really open to allowing God to change your heart.
And maybe you need to make Jesus the center of your life and the center of your marriage. And tell Him, "I want to do my life Your way. I want to follow Your truths. God, help me to deal, to get honest about my fears," so we can break out of this fear cycle and we can have a better relationship, better marriage than we've ever had. God wants to do something special in your life.
John: Great words of encouragement as we come to the end of a two-day presentation from Pastor Paul Westbrook and his wife, Melody on "Focus on the Family."
Jim: John, this is such a great testimony of how a marriage can be saved with some hard work and a willingness to do a few things. Let me recap what I caught. Look at your own faults, not just the faults of your spouse and that is hard to do when you're self-focused and we're all guilty of that.
Secondly, look at your fears and how you act when they're triggered. I think we all have some of those. Next, seek God's help in the process. And then lastly, make your relationship with your spouse a high priority and as we said last time, if you're in an abusive situation, take the appropriate steps to get to a place of safety before you start seeking help. It's very important. Most of you are saying, why? That does happen and you don't want to remain in an unsafe situation.
I also want to thank the Westbrooks for really their honesty in sharing their story and for giving all of us a taste of what's going on at Focus's National Institute of Marriage in Branson, Missouri, which by the way, has an 85, yep, 85 percent success rate with marriages that are in the most desperate places, the ones that are just hanging on and they literally need a miracle to survive. It's a great tool that God is using and I am so grateful that the National Institute of Marriage gave Paul and Melody these tools that they needed to save their marriage.
John: It really is encouraging to see how God works in so many different ways, but especially through the National Institute of Marriage and that's just one aspect of what we're doing here at Focus on the Family to help save marriages that are in trouble and nurture those marriages that are doin' pretty well and then to educate young adults on building a firm foundation, so that when they do get married, that relationship can stand the test of time.
Jim: Well, that's it John and we can't do it alone. Focus on the Family is a non-profit ministry and we need your partnership. In the coming year, we expect to help 195,000 couples restore their troubled marriages. They're coming to us for that help and we want to be there for them. We want to be able to meet that need.
I think it's one of the most profound things going on in the country when we can help save that many marriages.
If you'd like to help Focus on the Family in this work, please, please partner with us financially. Your gift of $50 a month will make it possible to provide the hope and support necessary to help restore marriages. And remember, when we save a marriage, we also save a family and we're helping to provide a stable home for raising children and sparing them from the pain of divorce and the poverty that comes with that divorce.
John: And one of the great marriage resources we have here is for any marriage that needs some help. It's a book called The DNA of Relationships for Couples and it addresses a lot of the issues that the Westbrooks mentioned, that fear cycle that we can get stuck in and the care cycle that helps you respond to your spouse in a positive way. The book is filled with a wealth of marriage helps from Dr. Greg Smalley, building on principles from his dad, Gary Smalley.
Jim: John, you know, the Smalleys have years of counseling experience and The DNA of Relationships for Couples, it really does provide a counseling toolbox that can be used at home. And if your marriage needs help, a lot or just a tune-up, this is a small investment that could reap huge rewards for your marriage. In fact, we'll send you The DNA of Relationships for Couples for your generous donation of any amount to Focus on the Family.
John: Well, call today to make a donation or to contact a counselor. Our number is 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or contribute online at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio .
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, hoping you have a great weekend and inviting you back on Monday. You'll get to know James and Betty Robison and what they've learned through 50 years of marriage. It's encouragement for every couple on Monday, when we'll once again, help your family thrive.
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Paul and Melody WestbrookView Bio
Paul Westbrook is the senior pastor of a church in Illinois that he and his wife, Melody, co-founded in 1991. While Paul has been the primary leader and vision-caster at the church, Melody, a stay-at-home-mom, has also played a critical role in starting and leading women's small groups over the years. The couple has three grown sons named Caleb, Luke and Joshua.