‘Your marriage is dead. Accept it and move on.’ I believed EVERY word.’: Wife of 23 years shares incredible love story

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Disclaimer: This story mentions abuse and suicidal ideation and may be triggering to some.

“I never imagined being in a relationship for a quarter of a century. I never felt deserving of the kind of love and commitment it takes to survive 25 years of celebrating our first date. We continue to celebrate our first date, our engagement, and our wedding anniversary every year. Our love story was far from traditional, and some years were full of loss, heartbreak and more damage than either of us ever thought we could survive. We also packed the years full of love, survival, endurance, patience, and most of all, forgiveness in the greatest comeback story of our lifetime. My husband, Ryan, and I believe everything happens for a reason. We are often told people want the marriage we have now, but they forget all the hard work it took to get here!

A married couple sit in a restaurant booth
Courtesy of Mairin Plew

I used to believe I was born cursed. I was born in 1978 with a combination of 4 heart defects. I was the 5th child to parents with an already crumbling marriage, which would end just a couple of years later. I was too young to remember any details of their divorce, but it caused a chain of events which affected the course of my life for decades to come.

Our lives are defined by the secrets that we keep. We etch our traumas, our losses, and our most horrific memories into stone and file them away to be revisited like a reoccurring nightmare. While we write our victories, our good memories, and happiest times in the sand, just to be washed away by the rising tide. Ryan North says, ‘Our brains are wired for connection, but trauma rewires them for protection. That’s why healthy relationships are difficult for wounded people.’

My earliest childhood memory was being molested by my mom’s live-in boyfriend when I was 3 years old. I spent the following 9 years being sexually abused on a daily basis. I finally told my secret when I was 14. I testified against my molester, and he went to prison where he died in his cell 8 years later, but the damage to my fragile life was already set in motion. I started using drugs and alcohol to drown out the pain when I was only 11.

I became pregnant when I was 16, and this time, I decided to keep my baby. I suddenly had a reason to live, and I quit all my addictions the same day I found out I was pregnant. My mom decided I could either get married or move out. I was married less than 2 months after my 17th birthday, and my son was born 6 weeks later. He would be considered my saving grace!

It was the beginning of 1996, and I had just turned 18. I wasn’t looking for a relationship or love. In fact, I was simply looking for a job as a way to escape my life at the time. I was lost in an abusive marriage destroyed by drugs, alcohol, and fear with an infant son I was trying to protect. My husband decided he wanted to move back to his hometown. After settling, I chose to get a job so I wasn’t depending on my family to pay my bills, and I asked my in-laws to watch my son while I worked at a local convenience store. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be where my life would take its first huge turn.

On my first day, the owner had to leave due to an emergency, and she assured me the guy on 3rd shift would finish training me. The 18-year-old kid who walked in that night would become my white knight in shining armor. I was just a young girl who didn’t believe in fairytales or happy endings, but this is where our love story began.

A young woman hugs her husband outdoors near stairs
Courtesy of Mairin Plew

Ryan and I couldn’t have started out more backward even if we tried! In 1996 we moved in together, got engaged on the fourth of July, and had our first daughter in 1997 before my divorce was even finalized. To say we both brought so much baggage into our marriage was the understatement of the century. We both came from broken, divorced parents, traumatized childhood homes, raised primarily by our mothers. We lived our lives together in fast forward.

Ryan joined the army, and shortly after, we were married in October of 1997 at the age of 19 with as many family and friends as we could pack into our church. I was beyond thankful I found a man who didn’t only want me but wanted my son as well. My mother always told me I could never find a man since I had a child, and yet I proved her wrong.

Newlyweds dressed in wedding attire
Courtesy of Mairin Plew
A bride with her children and her new husband in a wedding dress
Courtesy of Mairin Plew

Ryan left for basic training 11 days after we were married, leaving me with a toddler and an infant. Saying goodbye at the airport would break my heart into a million pieces! Little did we know, 6 months later, Ryan would receive orders to be stationed on the opposite side of the country in Hawaii. I was 4 months pregnant, with a 3-year-old and 1-year-old, when we moved there to start our lives together. I never felt more homesick in my entire life! During our time there, Ryan would nearly die from an undiagnosed gallbladder and liver infection, I would graduate high school and deliver a premature baby, and Ryan would adopt my son. Ryan’s Army career was short-lived due to an injury, so we decided to move our lives back to Michigan.

A wife welcomes her husband home from the army
Courtesy of Mairin Plew

Believe it or not, I was raised going to church. Despite all the sexual abuse I suffered as a child, my mom took us to church every Sunday. Growing up through my rough teenage years after testifying and putting my molester behind bars, I was bitter. I placed blame for all the bad things that ever happened to me. I blamed God for ever placing me on this earth to live a life of pain. I wanted answers. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why me? Where was God when I needed him? Why was I chosen to live this life? I did everything in my power to drown out the pain. I didn’t value my life whatsoever. I didn’t care if I lived or died as long as I did not have to feel anything at all.

As I mentioned previously, I did stop the drugs and alcohol after I found out I was pregnant as a teenager, but I was still careless with my life. I spent the following years repressing the pain, and my health took a steady decline as well, to the point where at times, I was near death. We didn’t attend church regularly nor did we live Christian lives outside of the one hour on an occasional Sunday.

Still, Ryan and I suffered devastating blows to our marriage over the years, as well as one tragedy and loss after another. In May of 2011, a tornado hit the corner of the road near our house. Our house was flooded in the storm, and even though I wasn’t home when the storm hit, I would suffer an airway closure from breathing the mildewed drywall. I was placed on life support and left with a permanent airway disorder. Our insurance agency would only agree to pay for $12,000 of the $42,000 worth of damage. My doctor said that unless we tore down our home, I could never live there again due to the mold. We would file for bankruptcy and walk away from our first home and all of our belongings.

A married couple and their children sit together in an armchair
Courtesy of Mairin Plew

I ended up losing my job as well as my health benefits and Ryan had to drop out of college to get a job. It would take us 7 years to buy another home. I had spent years of our marriage building walls faster than Ryan could tear them down, and it led to years of cheating and heartbreak. We placed our children first over our marriage and God.

When I felt like I couldn’t take this life I had been given for a moment longer, I tried to take my own life. Ryan found me and called for an ambulance. I felt I had messed everything up in my life to that point, and I couldn’t even try to kill myself and get that right. I tore my own husband to shreds as punishment for saving me. I was hurting so bad at the time, I couldn’t see how much he was hurting, but he kept coming to the hospital day after day. I was once again angry with God for not allowing me to die. I had suffered so much in life. I was riddled with panic attacks, suffered terribly from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and was severely depressed. I had lived my entire life in survival mode up until this point. This was our rock bottom, and Ryan wanted a divorce.

A married couple with their three children
Courtesy of Mairin Plew
A husband and wife with their three children
Courtesy of Mairin Plew

After I was released from the hospital, I began with yet another new therapist, and I figured I would be given sound advice from his forty years of experience. He began by telling me in his forty years of being a therapist he could tell which marriages he could save and which ones he couldn’t. He informed me my marriage was dead in the water from the moment we walked in the door and I pretty much needed to accept it, get divorced, and move on. He said he would help me emotionally get through it. I believed every single word he said.

Ryan didn’t like my therapist from the get-go and asked me to find someone else, but I wouldn’t listen. I had already been through several therapists in the 8 years since my mom died, and I was sick of starting over and catching someone new up to speed. I then moved out, but Ryan never gave up on me.

One day in the midst of all this turmoil, with our marriage on the verge of ending, Ryan called me from the middle of a cornfield while reading a meter and asked me one simple question, ‘Will you come back to church with me?’ I said yes, and Ryan said he instantly felt the weight he was carrying on his shoulders release. He described it as an actual, physical feeling of instant peace, not just an emotion he felt. We had just recently attended Easter service with his younger brother and his wife at their church, and we agreed we would try going there with them. Our pastor had left our church after seventeen years and moved on to another church in North Carolina. It was time for a change anyway. The Easter service was a powerful message for the lost, which we both were.

A wife holds her husband's face while smiling
Courtesy of Mairin Plew

We continued going to Sunday service, and I made an appointment with the pastor for marriage counseling. I stopped seeing my whack-job therapist, and Ryan and I started a new journey together. For once, we were heading in the right direction, and we finally had someone who would set us both straight. There were some harsh truths we both needed to face, but in short, our pastor told us to lead our family by placing God first.

God has always been in my life, however I chose to shut Him off like a light switch instead of allowing him to lead my life in the right direction. Ryan decided to recreate our marriage, and it is stronger than it has ever been in 23 years. I tell Ryan all the time if I had known things would or could be this easy in life, it would have made all the harder times easier to handle. Our marriage was saved by God’s grace alone because there isn’t any other way we could’ve fixed the mess we made of it on our own.

A husband and wife sit together in a restaurant booth
Courtesy of Mairin Plew

Journaling my past traumas became a lifesaving way to purge all of my feelings and emotions. I would later turn those journals into a blog to help other victims of abuse and decided to write a book 13 years ago I still cannot seem to finish.

Ryan and I decided years ago to become foster parents and use our own backgrounds to help heal other children. Over the years, we have had 25 children come through our home by way of biological, guardianship, and foster care, as well as mentored birth parents. Our goal is to teach children their own traumas are survivable with early intervention and they can go on to live normal lives.

Ryan currently works for a gas service company, and I work for a foster care agency as a foster care recruiter. We have 7 children in our home from the ages of 2 to 9, and we are in the process of our first adoption. We now enjoy this life we share by continually choosing one another. We make time by regularly going on date nights and vacations together to keep the spark of our marriage alive.

A husband stands with his arms around his wife
Courtesy of Mairin Plew

Now, here is the final part of my story where I’ll warn you to fasten your seat belts because I’m about to slam you into a brick wall! I wouldn’t change anything about what happened to me or to our marriage. I would never choose to go back and relive any of it, but I now know changing my past would change my future. I can’t help but reflect back on the life I have lived, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without every single step of it.

I have also forgiven every person who has ever hurt me because forgiveness isn’t about them, it’s about not letting the pain of a tragic past burn a hole through my soul. I was given this life to live because I was strong enough to handle it. I now have all the tools I need to survive, and I also know there is a life after this one with God in Heaven, but I still have a lot to learn and a lot to teach others while I am still here. My light will continue to shine bright because God simply isn’t finished with me yet.”

A bride and groom surrounded by their family
Courtesy of Judy Grace Photography
A married couple stand together outside by a waterfall
Courtesy of Mairin Plew

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Mairin Plew of Howell, Michigan. You can follow her journey on her blog. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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