March 17, 2018

Can God Save a Marriage?

Inside This Episode

When it comes to marriage, does God make a difference? Are marriages between believers better off than "godless" unions? On this episode, Eric explores these questions with his wife, Geovanna, who shares stories of how God transformed their marriage. Eric's friend, Sara Beth, also shares her story about a shocking revelation and her subsequent divorce. Finally, Eric talks with Emily and Ricardo, a couple nearly torn apart by addiction and depression before finding God together and shifting their priorities.

Join The Community

Maybe God Newsletter

  • Be the first to know about new episodes
  • Exclusive content
  • Resources to help you reconstruct and grow your faith


Eric Huffman: I used to be religious, born again in the Bible Belt until I decided it was all a lie and went searching for truth, beauty, and goodness elsewhere. More than a decade later, I'm now a pastor but I'm still not religious and I'm still searching for the truth, beauty, and goodness of God in everyday life. I'm Eric Huffman and this is Maybe God.

[00:00:30] <music>

Eric Huffman: Hey there, and thanks for listening to Maybe God. On today's episode, we're going to talk about the mystery and wonder, and agony of marriage, specifically as it relates to God. The truth is I've known plenty of believers who've been miserable in marriage and gotten divorced. Meanwhile, I've known some agnostics and atheists who've managed to make their marriages work.

So what difference does believing in God even make? Does faith make for more fulfilling and longer-lasting marriages? Is a godless marriage more likely to fail? I'm not 100% sure, so I wanted to sit down with some other people today who could help shed some light on these issues.

To start today's episode, I couldn't think of a better guest than my co-pastor at The Story, Houston and my co-parent at the Huffman home, and my wife of almost 20 years, Geovanna.

Geovanna Huffman: Hi.

Eric Huffman: How are you, Babe?

Geovanna Huffman: I'm good.

Eric Huffman: You look good.

Geovanna Huffman: Thank you.

Eric Huffman: First things first, I thought Geo and I should sit and tell you all about our perfect and flawless and steamy, super easy marriage. Geo, that's how we're always talking about our marriage? Would you agree?

Geovanna Huffman: Definitely not.

Eric Huffman: Come on, Baby. People are listening. Because we got married so young and because we've always been somewhat mature for our age, people have always felt comfortable talking to us about their problems, especially their relationship issues. But it's not like our marriage has always been easy. The best advice we give couples is usually the stuff we learned by going through rough patches of our own.

The first 10 years of our marriage was rife with conflict and volatility. Geovanna is from Ecuador. She's the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher. And after a falling out with her parents, she came to the United States when she was 16, and completely alone. She couch served around inner city Houston for almost two years. So you can imagine she was forced to grow up very quickly.

I, on the other hand, come from a very sheltered childhood in rural East Texas. When I met Geovanna, we were both 18 but she was a very serious adult who trusted no one and I was a very playful kid who trusted everyone. We loved each other, but our relationship was uneven, and getting married didn't change that. If anything things got worse before they got better. And through it all somehow we held on and now we enjoy helping other couples find their way through tough times as well.

Your faith in God has always been just so ironclad and such a part of who you are fundamentally. Like you have this weird, personal relationship with God.

Geovanna Huffman: Weird?

Eric Huffman: Well, yeah. You're so deeply spiritual, and you always have been. And you pray like it's a real conversation, like, you're talking and He's talking back. I'm glad I've got you on my team because you've got this direct line to heaven that I've benefited from many times.

But I remember even before we got married, when we were dating in college, your faith in God drove a lot of our relationship and how we spent time together because there were things we could and could not do as boyfriend and girlfriend. But we made out a few times. Do you remember that one time we made out in the chapel in college?

Geovanna Huffman: Yes, the most sacrilege just making out of all history.

Eric Huffman: For some reason the prayer room in the chapel had a deadbolt lock on it and people thought there must have been some intense praying going on in that room that night. But man, the guilt really set in quickly with you on the way back to your dorm room that night.

Geovanna Huffman: Yes.

Eric Huffman: And you told me that God punishes people for doing things like kissing in the chapel.

Geovanna Huffman: It's too funny.

Eric Huffman: Tell us what happened that night.

Geovanna Huffman: Well, it was just the stormy night, you know?

Eric Huffman: It was. Let me tell you, I dropped you off your dorm, and on the walk from your dorm to mine, lightning is crashing in every direction and the wind starts to blow. And of course, my first thought is, "Oh my gosh, Geo is right. God is coming for us."

Geovanna Huffman: Oh, no.

Eric Huffman: Well, as it turns out, there was a tornado in town that that time.

Geovanna Huffman: Yes.

Eric Huffman: And it destroyed part of the home and the tree fell on the car of this sweet old lady that worked at the college. You and I met for breakfast that morning and you looked at me in the eyes and you said... Do you remember what you said?

Geovanna Huffman: No, I don't.

Eric Huffman: You said, "We did this, Eric."

Geovanna Huffman: That's just too funny.

Eric Huffman: 18 years old, we caused a tornado. And we went over to poor Helen's house and we apologized to Helen and her husband Mark for ruining their car and their house by making out in the chapel that night.

Geovanna Huffman: It's too funny.

Eric Huffman: And they looked at us like we were the craziest people.

Geovanna Huffman: Oh, well, it was crazy. I think it just came out of this deep sense of guilt that I had because I felt in my heart that we shouldn't have been going there.

Eric Huffman: Geo, and I waited until we were married to have sex. I assure you that was her choice and not mine, and that was because of her convictions about God. The truth is during that time my faith was crumbling and less than a year into our marriage, I rejected evangelical Christianity altogether. And I became an agnostic.

For most of the next 10 years, I continued to work as a pastor and a church leader, but in truth, I was just a glorified community organizer with some charisma and people skills. I wasn't interested in talking about Jesus, except when I could use His teachings to support my favorite political causes. I didn't really care about teaching the Bible, except when I could use it to back up my own secular humanism.

This put a huge amount of stress on our marriage because Geo's faith in God never wavered. And at times, I know she felt ashamed of who her husband was becoming. You had to kind of hang on through that because your expectation was that God was given you a man who loves God. And that's what your dream marriage looked like. So how did you hold on during all that time?

Geovanna Huffman: I don't view marriage as something that makes me happy all the time. I viewed marriage as my commitment to you before God. So for me that commandment matter so much because I wouldn't abandon you, because I knew that was against the will of God. And just my respect and love and care for this God I serve just gave me the fortitude and give me the strength to make sure that I could go through this very difficult seasons understanding that that was just a season.

And a lot of times, I think people lose hope in their marriages because they don't see it as a season of their marriage. They think that's the moment in which they have to decide if they're going to be happy for the rest of their lives or not. And opposite to that, when you see it as just as a season, you understand that you have to be faithful and endure because God is greater than even the toughest challenges that come in a marriage. So I don't understand how that works, how a marriage whose foundation is not God can really survive the long term.

Eric Huffman: Really? Like for you, it's just that big of a line in the sand. Like without God, you don't see how marriage works at all?

Geovanna Huffman: I mean, I hear from couples that marriage works in some situations, but these people are some of the sweetest people I've ever met. And I am not that sweet. I mean-

Eric Huffman: I think you're sweet. You're getting sweeter with age.

Geovanna Huffman: With age probably. But I mean, you knew me when I was younger.

Eric Huffman: I did. You were not as sweet. But I do think that the way you look at marriage, and this is not always the way I've looked at marriage, frankly, honestly, for our listeners. Like Geo and I do not see the world the same way. But you have always seen and made a connection between your love of God and your love in marriage. Like God fills your cup, I don't fill your cup. Whatever I give you is icing on the cake, to mix metaphors. And whatever you give me is what, you know, is what God has already given you also.

It's like the love of God is not compartmentalized from the love you have for me and our kids. I think most people think about their religious life over here and their married life over here, but it seems to you to be more connected.

Geovanna Huffman: Yes, because relationships, especially relationships that are going to last a lifetime are very volatile. You're going to go through very difficult seasons. Like, you know, as soon as the passion is over, a lot of people feel this despair. Oh my goodness, what do I do now that we are not, you know, into each other like we were at the beginning? Or I thought this person was going to, you know, make me feel the same thing for the rest of my life. And that never happens.

And if my hope would have been in a marriage, in our marriage, and not in God, I just don't see how I could have overcome all of our trouble and fights and things. Now looking back, I see that the presence of God in all of those things. And I am even grateful for you having that season of doubt and becoming even an atheist because your faith wouldn't be what it is now had you not gone through those things.

Eric Huffman: Yeah. So I suppose we're in a pretty good place today. Our marriage is stronger and more fun than it's ever been. That's my opinion. Do you feel the same?

Geovanna Huffman: Yes, it definitely is better.

Eric Huffman: I think there's more trust-

Geovanna Huffman: Mm-hmm.

Eric Huffman: ...and there's more, I want to say intimacy, but everybody's gonna think I mean sex. Sex is a small part of intimacy, right? There's more eye contact, touch, just like togetherness. There's a real sense of that we're in this together, more so than ever.

Geovanna Huffman: Well, we feel that we are literally like one body now. I mean, we're very coordinated. We understand each other, and we respect each other enough to really appreciate each other.

Eric Huffman: I think the difference now is we're kind of on the same page with the whole God thing. I think that helps because we're both intent on putting God as the most important relationship and letting everything else flow from there. And I think that was an unmet expectation of yours for much of our marriage. And I think I had my own expectations of you. And I don't know why I had these expectations. It's just because the only marriage I'd ever seen up close were my mom and dad.

Geovanna Huffman: Right.

Eric Huffman: And I thought that I would be my dad, and you would be my mom. You were nothing like my mom-

Geovanna Huffman: No.

Eric Huffman: ...when we were dating. But-

Geovanna Huffman: I probably was the opposite.

Eric Huffman: You were. Truthfully, I'm sure there's some [inaudible 00:12:09] in here but truthfully, you're more like my dad in your personality.

Geovanna Huffman: This is too much.

Eric Huffman: I don't want to go down that path too far.

Geovanna Huffman: No, let's not go down there.

Eric Huffman: But I think deep down I thought you would, after marriage become, like my mom. I thought that's what happened when we got married. Like a switch went off in her head, and she starts cooking and cleaning and stuff. And that never happened.

Geovanna Huffman: This is too funny.

Eric Huffman: You never became that person. Actually, it's weird, kind of, like over 20 years' time. You do clean a lot now and you cook a lot. So I'm just saying like, watch out.

Geovanna Huffman: God answered your prayers.

Eric Huffman: He did overtime for 20 years.

Geovanna Huffman: You have very simple prayer.

Eric Huffman: But we went through this season where I just could not believe you weren't being nice to me like my mom always is nice. Like even when I got in trouble, my mom was always a softy, you know, that I could go to the soft place to land. When we fight, I used to say, "What I need, what I'm lacking in my life is like a soft place to fall, you know.

Geovanna Huffman: My mom.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, I need mom. Mommy. I think I think those unmet expectations in me and the unmet expectations in you kind of led us to this perfect storm of resentment, where we were putting on a good show, for people to think we were still, you know, getting along or whatever. But on the inside, I think you secretly resented me and I secretly resented you. But resentment is never a secret.

Geovanna Huffman: No, it's never a secret.

Eric Huffman: It's always there.

Geovanna Huffman: When people haven't sorted out resentment and learn how to deal with it, and learn how to give it to God, I feel people build our marriages on a shaky foundation. So it sounds hilarious now that you're saying it that way. But I really truly was the opposite of what you needed and wanted. But I have learned with the years that it is not all about me being the same person I've always been and defending that person. It is about me learning how to love you better, how to care for you like you need to be cared for.

And if that means that I need to essentially change and adjust who I am, so that I can love you better, that's a sacrificial step to take. So yes, you're right. I mean, I cook and clean more than ever before. Do I enjoy those things? Probably not. But do I see that it is something that it's good for my family? Yes. And I enjoy it because of that reason.

Because when you come home and my kids are there and we're all having this amazing time, it's all worth it. I have learned how to be more tender in my interactions with you because I really want you to be loved the way that you want to be loved. And you have made the same sacrifices for me. It's not a one way thing. I have seen you change and adjust to more to the man that I've always dreamed of and not, you know, not change sensually who you are, but make small changes and make a huge difference for me. And in the same way, I've made small changes because I know it makes a difference for you.

Eric Huffman: Yeah. I think that's how you get over resentment is you realize first and foremost, there's things you can change.

Geovanna Huffman: Yeah. It has to start from what it is that you can do better. Because when you start blaming the other person, it becomes a fight. And it has taken a lot of humility in my own heart to say, "Hey, how is it that you want and wish to be loved?"

Eric Huffman: How was God's love for you shown that to you?

Geovanna Huffman: Because God has found me at all the stages of my life. And when I was a rebellious teenager to the time that I grew up into the woman I'm now, throughout all of that God has come and met me where I am, and has understood me and cared for me. I imagine that's a very sacrificial kind of love. That is what I see now and my eyes have been opened. That it is not all about me. It's not about how I feel. It's not about what I want all the time.

At times, yes, it is. But most of the time, I'm thinking, how can I really love my husband and my family and raise kids that have this beauty in their hearts, that is God's beauty in them. And that caused me to be a different person and to act differently and to adjust my moods and my behaviors so that I can love my family with the love of God.

[00:17:02] <music>

Sarah Beth: Hello.

Eric Huffman: Sarah Beth.

Sarah Beth: Hey, Eric.

Eric Huffman: You are live on the air.

Sarah Beth: Okay.

Eric Huffman: I'm just kidding. No, you're not. We're just recording.

Sarah Beth: Thanks for the heads up.

Eric Huffman: I miss you, man.

Sarah Beth: How are you?

Eric Huffman: Nine years ago while living in Kansas City, Geo and I met and became friends with Sarah Beth and her husband John. They were so bright and cheerful and they were both natural leaders who were successful in their careers. From the outside looking in, their marriage seemed perfect, the stuff of fairy tales. And pretty much everyone who knew Sarah Beth and John envied them in some way.

Sarah Beth: We met in college, we both went to Drake up in Des Moines. He was like the fourth guy I asked my sorority formal one winter. And, you know, it went from there.

Eric Huffman: Was it love at first sight for you?

Sarah Beth: No, I'm not a big believer in that, to be perfectly honest. But we hit it off pretty quick and we dated through our last couple years of college and got married about a year after we graduated.

Eric Huffman: When I met you guys, I think myself and everyone who knew you just really admired you guys and the kind of family that you were raising together and the kind of vibe you guys had together. It was just this idyllic picture. At that point, did you feel like there was a strong on the inside that appeared to be the rest of us on the outside?

Sarah Beth: It felt the same from the inside. We had what I thought was a really great marriage. I mean, we had our moments like any humans do, but yeah, we, you know, had just had our third kid and had struggled through all of that, you know, dealing with newborns and just a total shift in your life when you kind of become parents. And yeah, we were leading a couple study and churches, you know, and we were both really involved in the community. It was a good time. There was no hidden struggle happening behind the scenes.

Eric Huffman: There was one night in 2012 that I'll never forget. I was at home helping Geo put the kids to bed when Sarah Beth called and asked me to come over right away to talk to her and John. I was scared to death. I had no idea what was going on. I just knew Sarah Beth was crying on the phone and I could hear John sobbing in the background.

Sarah Beth: That was actually the next day so I'd had a whole day to recover and I'm not sure it made any difference. John sat me down on the couch. We've had a couple of weeks of something feeling kind of off, not crazy, but we just weren't communicating well, and that was literally the only lead up to this was, you know, we're not communicating super well for two weeks of our 10-year marriage.

And he sat me down on the couch and told me that he was gay. That he always had thought that he was, that he was raised to believe that that was a choice and a simple one of that. So he kind of worked his whole since he was eight to overcome it and to kind of not be who he felt like he was. And I think, you know, we had hit a point in our marriage where, you know, there was no more newborn distraction. John had taken a new job the year before, so he just kind of settled in his career at that point, I was too. So it felt like we were settling into what I was thinking of as, you know, kind of smoother sailing, easier, you know, days ahead, and the hecticness of babies and diapers and all that stuff.

But I think what it meant for him was there wasn't any more giant distraction and he had to deal with, you know, who he was and what he was looking forward at, which was a life of living out somebody that he had at that point just finally figured out he couldn't pretend not to be. It's hard for me to put myself back on that couch again because it was such a devastating moment. It was completely awful.

I remember a lot of things. But one was I had an entire roll of toilet paper I think that I went through that. And I ended up with like lint all over myself. And we just sat on the couch and cried together. And I was terrified. Terrified because I thought, "Oh, man, I'm going to lose my kids. Everything that I know to be true, all my defaults are completely gone, right?

Eric Huffman: Yeah.

Sarah Beth: Anyway, so it was that next night when we invited you over into our mess because we did not know what to do.

Eric Huffman: You were so upset when I got there. Honestly, I've thought until this moment that he had just come out to you.

Sarah Beth: Yeah, no.

Eric Huffman: That it just happened.

Sarah Beth: Yeah, it was the next night.

Eric Huffman: What was your initial reaction? Did you say, are you sure? Did you say, No way? Did you say,  Let's pray about it, or let's stay together? What did you say?

Sarah Beth: This is ridiculous. He was really upset obviously, when he was telling me. He started crying and then could barely get it out. I mean, the first thing I did was say, "We'll figure this out and gave him a hug because again, it's your defaults, right?

Eric Huffman: Right.

Sarah Beth: We had been best friends and married for 10 years. If he's really upset, I'm going to comfort him because that's what we do. And before I went to bed that night, he had arranged for a place to stay that night, which was also just like, again, completely jarring. I had gone to bed beside him the night before and tonight, he tells me he's gay and he goes and sleeps somewhere else. So I was just reeling. I didn't sleep that whole night or for a lot of nights to come.

I remember we talked, before he left, about, what do we do from here? What should we do? And we both agreed and this is that... You didn't plan this but we said, well, we should just talk to Eric. He'll help us think through what we should do. And I think that probably does speak to the role that you played in our marriage.

Eric Huffman: I'm pretty sure I was zero help to you at that point in your life because I was as shell-shocked as anyone. I mean, I remember asking you at some point in the weeks following this just shocking moment if you had any idea, if you ever suspected anything along these lines. And I don't think you did.

Sarah Beth: No.

Eric Huffman: And from the outside looking in, I think it's hard to understand how that's possible. But you know, like human sexuality and stuff is a funny thing, you know, and it's not as black or white as we sometimes make it out to be. You guys were so in love and truly respectful of each other. Your marriage was not a sham, you know. Even with this element, it was sincere and authentic. You weren't faking it.

Sarah Beth: Right. That was the focus of his life to be straight, and he was good at it. He had a lot of practice. And until the very end there until those last six months when he really sort of faced that this wasn't a choice and it wasn't something that was going to change no matter how hard he prayed or, you know how much he replastered himself and his life, until that point, I mean, he was really good at it. And yes, our marriage was healthy and heterosexual in every aspect.

Eric Huffman: Another thing that's pretty normal is for the person who is surprised, you know, in this case, you, you, you had the rug pulled out from under you, you've got children ages two, four, and six at home. And suddenly this happens, I think a normal response would be to kick him to the curb and to be the victim of his antics or his choices. And you never did that.

Sarah Beth: It was really important to me that we keep the kids' lives as love-filled and consistent as possible. And that doesn't really leave room for spite or hate or putting my emotions above, you know, their real needs. So that I think we were both able to keep pretty central the whole time.

Eric Huffman: I wonder, going back to that season, given a choice, if he had been down for this, would you have stayed with him?

Sarah Beth: No. I mean, within those first couple of nights, we decided that we would get divorced because it felt... I felt very, very confident about that choice and he did to that too, that continue our marriage would be to perpetuate, you know, this lie, to continue pretending was sort of bad on both of us. Like it was me keeping him in something that wasn't real for him and it was obviously forcing him to continue to pretend to be somebody that he wasn't.

So we pretty quickly and jointly decided that we would get divorced. And I'll be honest, it was hard because the neighborhood Bible study that we had been in for so long are these couples that we've kind of grown up with as married people, more than one of them, you know, really pushed us on that they sort of came from more conservative set of beliefs. They pushed us on like, you could still be married and just not have sex. I don't know, I didn't have to think about that for very long because I just... Marriage isn't about sex anyway. It's-

Eric Huffman: But honestly.

Sarah Beth: It's about being your whole self, right?

Eric Huffman: Mm-hmm. Like uniting as a better one than you could ever be separately in service to God. I just felt like that was just not possible, you know, because it would actually keep us, either one of us from being able to be that. So the decision to divorce even though my whole life, I mean, my whole life, John had this phrase like "divorce isn't an option". I mean, we're so cocky and confident about that, like, it's not an option. It's just not. Nope. I mean, we worked through things.

But you can't work through being gay. It was a thing. So suddenly I went from being someone who's so super clear about the black and whiteness of it to smack dab in the, you know, most mid-gray that you could find. But it felt right at the time and I continue to believe that it was the right choice for us.

Eric Huffman: What did that process of having your whole earth rocked and starting over, picking up the pieces, and trying to still love this person while you're also just, you know, going through these moments of madness and anger? How did God get you through that and what do you learn about Him?

Sarah Beth: Oh, man. I'm not sure that it's right but I would say I often had the same emotions toward God during that period that I had toward John. So I spent a lot of time being just really pissed at Him that I had tried so hard. I lead a Bible study with this man, I did everything right, I saved myself for marriage. Like just all the stuff and for what God? For what? Just so you could, you know, make it all false? You knew who he was, and you didn't even warn me. I was mad for a long time at God. Like beat on the steering wheel, scream alone in my car sort of mad.

Those emotions were true with John a lot too. And he took it and he knew that that was part of it. Like if we're gonna have to get through this. I prayed a lot because, you know, if I'm honest, I didn't really know what else to do. So I tried to listen for God, I journaled a lot. I did a lot of that.

Eric Huffman: And I guess you haven't become an atheist, right? So you must still have a relationship with God, which is a miracle in and of itself, given everything that transpired. But how did you end up, I guess, the phrase is "forgiving God"?

Sarah Beth: I learned and probably always will be in the process of learning, He's bigger than I can imagine him to be. He's not who I thought that he was, but not because He's untrue because I just can't get my head around it all that He is. What I was so mad about is I had thought that He was, you know, my protector. Like I tried really hard to please Him and I thought He blessed me because of that.

I think what I had to come to terms with was his blessing me really had nothing to do with my action, which is, you know, devastating when you grow up trying really hard to be the good girl, but so freeing when you get your arms around that, that He loved John and me exactly the same, and always has and always will.

I think coming around to that reality that His perspective is always going to be way bigger than mine and His role is not to make my life lovely, or easy, or logical. But despite that or maybe even, you know better than that, He can make good from all things.

And I would say in hindsight, although I would never in a million years choose to relive it or wish it on anybody else, I think I can bear better witness to God because of the devastation in my life than I could ever as a really happy married family that is, you know, would be celebrating their 16th or 18th wedding anniversary. I think what I would, you know, externally, I think,, view as my broken life, I think there's more faithful witness to who God is than it did when it looked pretty pulled together.

Eric Huffman: I'm smiling so big over here. That is so beautiful. I needed to hear that this week. So thank you.

Sarah Beth: You know, I remember you sent me an email at some point, you know, several months after Johnny come out in the process of the divorce and I was upset about how quickly he was moving on. He had a new set of friends, he was going out, he was moving into his new life being finally who he was and I was not able to do that. I was still really devastated.

And I remember you said in the email, "You're gonna have to seek out light in the midst of darkness. So whether that's seeing the light of God and your kids, whatever it is, you're gonna have to be really purposeful about seeking out light." And you said, "Some days that will even mean opening your heart up to romantic love again..."

Eric Huffman: Imagine myself saying.

Sarah Beth: I remember thinking like, "F you, Eric. I am not gonna seek out romantic love again. Do you see what romantic love did to me? The heck no, I'm not." And I kept it. I kept it because it was a good reminder for me of hope. And also because I had some inkling at the time. Like, I hope someday I don't feel this way. I hope someday I can say yeah, he was totally right and prove myself wrong.

Eric Huffman: She did prove herself wrong. A few years after her divorce, Sarah Beth married a man named Jared who also has a son from his previous marriage. Today, it's not uncommon to find Sarah Beth, Jared, John, and all four kids sitting around the same table having dinner together.

Sarah Beth: It feels shockingly normal and exactly right. Man, we laugh all the time now that I don't really know how families with only two parents. Like just last night, we had all three of us on a different kid drop off and pick up. So it's just this lovely thing where we're all kind of rallied around, you know, loving and trying to raise these kids with adults to love them. You know, Jared's son call John uncle sometimes. It has been really beautiful, impossible to orchestrate but really lovely thing.

[00:34:11] <music>

Eric Huffman: I met Emily and Ricardo two years ago when they walked into The Story for the first time. Geo and I took to them right away. They're multiracial couple like us, but right away, we could also tell they were going through a pretty hard time together.

Emily: I would say a little bit more than rough. I think, Eric, we were ready to call it quits. And coming to The Story was kind of a last-ditch effort.

Eric Huffman: Really? How long have you been together at that point?

Ricardo: Eight years.

Emily: Eight years.

Eric Huffman: And married?

Emily: Well, we have married after four months of knowing each other. The marriage thing came pretty quickly in our relationship. We decided just to go down to the courthouse. There was no witness needed in Texas, apparently.

Eric Huffman: Really?

Ricardo: Yeah.

Emily: So it's just the two of us.

Ricardo: We got married in Deer Park, Texas.

Eric Huffman: In Deer Park, Texas. You didn't tell your families or anything?

Ricardo: No.

Emily: No.

Ricardo: My family knew. Not yours.

Emily: Yeah. That was literally-

Ricardo: Because here's the thing. I'm from Colombia, maybe her family thought that was getting married for the papers.

Eric Huffman: Similar story here. Everybody thought Geo wanted papers in our marriage, and we had to answer all kinds of questions. They thought she was pregnant. They thought she wanted papers. When you get married at 20, people have all kinds of questions. But little known fact, we also ran away and kind of eloped before our church wedding.

Emily: Ah.

Eric Huffman: Geo and I ran off to a courthouse in Louisiana and it was in a bar. So the justice of the peace owned the bar. It was out in the woods. And the only witness was his wife who was tending bar. So we've got her signature and some drunk guy who couldn't even write his name. Those that do signatures on our marriage certificate. It was memorable. What was it about each other that made you decide to take that leap?

Ricardo: Well, me I always like, honestly, white girls.

Eric Huffman: Okay.

Ricardo: They were like Latinas.

Eric Huffman: That's just hard.

Ricardo: That was a good start.

Eric Huffman: She's white.

Ricardo: Yes. I always really like white girls, and since day one and we connected really easy.

Emily: We had a lot of fun. We partied a lot together and we enjoyed spending time together. You know, I could kind of see us growing together, you know, in the future, but at a 22 to 23-year-old, you know, mind that was partying every weekend.

Eric Huffman: Is that kind of what your relationship was about at that point?

Ricardo: It was just thought, yeah, party, party, and party.

Eric Huffman: When I hear that word, it can mean a lot of different things. What did it mean to y'all to party?

Emily: We're gonna be real honest today. I mean, we were doing a lot of cocaine, and that was our party. I mean, we would just get really high on the weekends and forget about our troubles. A lot of alcohol.

Eric Huffman: Were you able to maintain a relationship through that??

Emily: No.

Ricardo: It was hard.

Emily: It was hard. You know, that lifestyle leads to a lot of bad decisions. We started going out without each other and there's a lot of resentment that build up because of that. We became very distant, emotionally.

Eric Huffman: So you were living for fun, basically.

Ricardo: Yeah, it was fun. We never went to church. I was raised Catholic. So I always told her, "Let's go to church." She never believed in God, technically. She was atheist. So I respected that.

Eric Huffman: Do you remember when it started to really go dark?

Emily: Yeah. I think when you have the party lifestyle, you get to a point where you have to do more and more and more to be satisfied. So when it wasn't the drugs and alcohol, it became, you know, what's the next car we're gonna buy? What's the next vacation we're going to take? But we did hit a point where, you know, we were in debt that was stressful. We didn't like each other at that point. That was stressful. And we had these addictions that, you know, had grown to become dependent on and that wasn't working either.

And when you get to that point and you're financially stressed, emotionally stressed, it's like waiting for the fire to start. All the tinder is there and it was just like, what's gonna be the last little to get the burning started?

Eric Huffman: How close did you get to call it quits?

Ricardo: Well, we were gonna divorce at that point. Actually, it got so bad that I wanted to take my own life. One day, yes, jump in my car. It was like a Wednesday 3 p.m. I turned the car in the house, like the garage. It was close, I turned it on and said, "This is it." So I wait there for five minutes and that's when I felt God touch me. That was the moment that He touched me and He told me He was there for me. So it was not my time.

So I turned it off and I called one of my good friends Marcels, so he show up. He canceled every meeting he had that day. So he introduced me to The Story, started talking to me about The Story, how it changed his life, and about the Bible and the Bible study and everything. Then the next day, he went to Bible study in the morning, so they pray for me without knowing me. You guys prayed for me and that was very touching for me.  So I was like, "I need to go there." And that was the beginning of-

Eric Huffman: That happened right before we met?

Ricardo: Yes.

Eric Huffman: Oh my goodness.

Emily: He really got into a very deep depression and I was trying to just fix it, and I didn't know how to fix it. And so I was just like, "Fine, whatever, we'll go to church if you think that'll help."

Eric Huffman: You at that point still didn't really believe?

Emily: I really didn't believe in anything. So I just said, "Okay, whatever. If you think church will help we'll go."

Eric Huffman: Yeah, for sure.

Emily: That was kind of where I was at. I was just trying to desperately fix it together.

Ricardo: But I will never forget that day the first time that we went to The Story, there were the songs and everything and we heard you, you're preaching everything and Emily start crying. I was like, "Wow, she believed in something, you know."

Eric Huffman: Yeah.

Ricardo: Something touched her.

Eric Huffman: She was crying a lot in those days.

Emily: Oh, yeah.

Ricardo: Oh, yeah. I know. But she was crying for a different reason.

Eric Huffman: Yeah. No, I mean, she was crying a lot in Church in those days. So-

Eric Huffman: We called her crying Emily. I mean, that

Ricardo: Oh, really?

Emily: Oh, that girl again.

Eric Huffman: Emily, what was going on with you during that time? What was moving inside of you? Why were you brought to tears in those times?

Emily: I just put total point of how, you know, we are not alone here and God is real. And through those songs at The Story, and I think, you know, through the God speaking through you and in me also trying to learn on my own, I just had overwhelming just, awe of, wow, really missing the mark before.

Eric Huffman: Oh, yeah.

Emily: Living for the emptiness was just not filling me up.

Eric Huffman: How do you think some people do... and I don't mean this as condescending as it might sound for a preacher to say this. But some people do have fulfilling relationships without God. Why do you think you couldn't?

Emily: Just so many other things we were trying to live for?

Eric Huffman: Well, I don't want to say that everyone who doesn't believe in God will struggle in marriage. It's not what I'm saying. I do think that when God's not in that central place in your relationship, like someone else has to be. So I like to have honest conversations with people that don't have the same beliefs I do and just hear them out on what kinds of things, besides God can fit in that place.

Because if it's each other, even if it's not yourself, if it's each other, you're bound to let each other down too. No one can carry that kind of a burden the whole weight of a marriage, on their own shoulders. And so how did you guys, once you kind of start to me that turn, Emily's crying every Sunday and Ricardo's in church with her, like, how did you see like real changes? Don't just give me like the church talk. Like what actually changed in your day-to-day when you both kind of started to reintroduce God into your marriage?

Ricardo: We were more connected to each other. I just want it to be with Emily. Like I spend more time with her. Like before, I try to be all day at work. And then I schedule dinner meetings so I can show up home like around 9:00, 9:30.

Eric Huffman: Avoiding?

Ricardo: Avoiding, I guess, the situation. But after that, I never schedule our dinner again.

Eric Huffman: Really?

Ricardo: I want to be home at 5 p.m. I want to be with her. I want to enjoy my home and my homies, my palace now. It is my temple.

Eric Huffman: Because something changed in you or because you saw something change in her that you wanted to be around her more?

Ricardo: I think me and her, both.

Eric Huffman: Both?

Ricardo: Yeah.

Emily: Mm-hmm. We really spent a lot of time in counseling as well, a little homework assignments where we were kind of forced to spend quiet time together is where we really started connecting again, and having that time with eye contact and just conversation that we were completely missing before. I think another big part of it was we were in a small group together, I just think, you know that time with other couples kind of helped us connect together better as well.

Eric Huffman: You know, it's interesting there's like all this data out there about belief and marriage. And on the surface, it looks like belief in God makes no difference in terms of how long your marriage lasts or if your marriage lasts. So the divorce rates for people that claim to be Christians and people that aren't pretty much the same. If anything, it's slightly higher among people who claim Christianity.

But for people who are deeply involved in communities of faith, so like what you're talking about, you know, that kind of small group involvement and regular kinds of worship practices and things like that, people that take it seriously rather than just have the label. You know, there's a lot of Christians for whom it's just kind of label, kind of an act, you know. People that take it seriously the divorce rates are like 35%, 40% lower than people that don't. So it's not always necessarily just what you believe or just how you identify in terms of your faith. It's what you're doing with your faith that really makes a difference in marriage.

Emily, how have you seen Ricardo change as a man over the last couple of years?

Emily: This is what I love. So like the first eight years of our marriage, I probably cooked and cleaned all the time. I don't think I ever saw Ricardo clean a toilet or do the laundry. He even said he didn't know how to like turn on the dishwasher, which I'm like finding out that he did.

Ricardo: I came from a third-world country. We don't have those machines.

Emily: I mean, Eric, I'm gonna tell you and probably people listening are not gonna believe me, but I literally come home from work and the house is clean and like there's dinner on the table, like, almost every single night. My love language is acts of service and I'm just like, he's filling my tank every single day. I mean, it's amazing.

Ricardo: She didn't ask for anything. She just asked to be loved. She wanted to be loved and taken care of. So now is the way God guided me to do what I'm doing right now. So I feel I had to do it every day. And any something that is comes out of me naturally and I enjoy doing it.

Eric Huffman: Geo and I were just talking about the ways that love in marriage really has to become a choice and not just a feeling and that the feelings come and they go. Like you guys, when you first met, you know,  you fell in love and that stuff was powerful. And this stuff comes and goes, and then what?

And I hear you saying that with discovering God together in the last couple of years, you've discovered this kind of love that's more than a feeling. It's truly a choice. And it's a choice to love the other person on their terms and for their sake. So it's not a choice to love them so they'll love you back. All right, it's not a choice to love them so you'll look like the hero, so you'll look good. It's really just emptying yourself out because all you want to do is make this other person happy.

Ricardo: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: It's magical, man.

Ricardo: I think about it and I never expect anything in return for her. I just did it because I wanted to do it and make her happy.

Eric Huffman: That is an unnatural sort of otherworldly kind of love. That's awesome.

[00:47:31] <music>

Eric Huffman: I want to thank Emily and Ricardo, Sarah Beth, and Geovanna for having the courage to share their very personal and sometimes very painful stories with all of us. It's really amazing to hear the difference that God can make in marriages that seem broken beyond repair.

However, if you listen to Maybe God and maybe you describe yourself as an agnostic or an atheist, I really want to hear from you on this because I'm really interested to hear how you make relationships thrive without God. Especially if you're happily married, for instance, absent your allegiance to an ultimate moral being, what goes at the center of that relationship? What goes at the center of your marriage to hold it all together? I would love to hear your ideas.

So I hope you'll take the time to email me at [email protected]. Thank you all so much for listening. We're going to be back next week with episode seven of Maybe God.

[00:48:26] <music>

Julie Mirlicourtois: Maybe God is produced by Eric Huffman, Brandon Duke, and me, Julie Mirlicourtois. Our sound engineer is Pat Laughrey. Our editor is Brittany Holland, and music is by Nathan Bonus. If you have questions or doubts you'd like us to address in upcoming episodes of Maybe God, email us at [email protected] or start a discussion with us on our Facebook page, Maybe God Podcast. And don't forget to subscribe today on Apple Podcast or your favorite podcast app.