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A marriage refreshed

Graham Heaps with a personal reflection on coming through a rough patch

Graham Heaps

Figure Image
Graham and Sue Heaps

It’s a sad fact of life that most marriages, even ones between committed Christians, go through dry or even rough patches.

Life’s inevitable pressures and our unchecked sins combine to sap much of the joy, peace and togetherness from pretty well every marriage.

The happy union with which I was blessed for well over 40 years was no exception. Most of the time our friendship was warm and satisfying, and our home an oasis of real peace and emotional safety in this troubled world. Yet there were times of tension and misunderstanding, of hard words and blame shifting, when one or both of us felt frustrated, hurt and let down by the other.

We experienced one such time when we were both around 40 years of age. Looking back on it now that I am on my own, I blush with shame and tell the Lord of my grief over the personal failings that led to a cooling of my heart towards Sue. I am also deeply aware of how the sheer busyness of each of our lives, mine as a hard-pressed pastor and Sue’s as ‘household manager’ and mum to five lively youngsters, led to an almost unnoticed tailing off in the kind of investment in the relationship that is necessary to keep a marriage sweet and growing.

An unlikely refreshment

Whatever the causes as to why the marriage had lost at least some of its sparkle and become rather stale, the solution that the living God used to refresh and deepen it was as wonderful as it was delightfully bizarre. Sue asked me if I would teach her to drive! It was this experience of working together as teacher and pupil in our old Toyota Carina that led to a significant deepening and enhancing of what was always, in God’s mercy, a good marriage. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that we ‘fell in love’ all over again as Sue, the ultimate expert in multi-tasking, struggled to manage the seemingly impossible task of co-ordinating hand and foot in changing gear while at the same time both looking through the windscreen and glancing in the mirrors.

When I have told my experience to my closest (male) friends, my story has been met with a mixture of wonderment, incredulity and embarrassed laughter. Not infrequently they have also admitted that just the beginnings of a similar attempt almost led them to divorce! So clearly I need to try to explain how the often stressful business of teaching a spouse to drive could possibly have led to a profound growth in love and togetherness in our marriage relationship. Sharing that insight with you warms and instructs my own heart and, hopefully, may help others to see more clearly some of the factors that are important in growing a marriage or repairing one showing signs of fraying under the stresses of daily life.


1. Sue’s willingness to learn to drive brought home to me more clearly than ever just how committed she was to support me in fulfilling my calling as a pastor-teacher.

Sue had offered to learn to drive to take from my shoulders responsibilities like collecting her with the weekly shop and ferrying children to youth meetings, music lessons and sporting practices.

That kind offer was made in spite of Sue’s general anxiety over travelling by car, implanted in her mind by a terrible series of events in the early days of our marriage. In a period of just ten days she was involved in a random road accident, came across another in which, seconds before, a child had been decapitated and then lost a girl, of whose form she was class teacher, to a ‘hit and run’ on a zebra crossing. Yet here was this anxious lady asking me to teach her drive simply to make life easier for me, even though she knew that her poor spatial awareness and extreme nervousness in the car would make it quite an ordeal for her!

If all this didn’t strike me at once, watching her struggle for my sake to master a skill she didn’t really want to acquire opened my eyes to what was so clear to many others. The Lord had blessed me with an astonishingly loving and unusually servant-hearted wife. But I had taken all this for granted, so that I ceased to appreciate just how fortunate I was in having Sue – until it began to dawn on me in those precious driving lessons.

Time together

2. Sue’s efforts to learn to drive meant that we spent far more time together over the year it took than we had managed to do since our first child was born.

It is an obvious but oft-forgotten truth that marriages need the investment of time spent together, concentrating on each other, if they are to grow and deepen rather than decay. Coincidentally, it was exactly this kind of commitment that I realised I must give to Sue if she was to get through her driving test as an adequate driver for family tasks, however much it would intensify the rest of my work.

What I did not realise, however, was the huge benefits that would come to our marriage through those many hours spent together as Sue grafted to learn new skills. Sitting next to her for hour after hour as I sought to explain to her all things driving brought home to me again the sheer delight I had found in her company from the first day we walked out together.

In the hours we spent in the car we not only talked about ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ and ‘clutch point’, but all manner of other things – and Sue was always a wonderful and excitable conversationalist. It also meant that we could talk very personally together again, something that is not easy in a house full of children with ‘ears on stalks’! Being with her was just a delight, not least because she showed such trust in me as her teacher. And we spent all that time together without ever feeling guilty about it. It was just what our somewhat ‘tired’ marriage most needed.

Patience and positivity

3. Sue’s need to succeed in her desire to learn to drive meant that I needed to show great patience and positivity in teaching her.

I realised that if the venture was to be the success it needed to be, giving Sue time would not be enough. I was aware that I would need to speak gently, graciously and with words of encouragement and sympathy all the time if she was to be coaxed into a measure of confidence behind the wheel. That should not have needed a change in the behaviour of any man towards his wife but, alas, in my case it did.

In a nutshell, I knew I needed to return to ‘courtship mode’, in which the desire to please is paramount. It was a very good and important discipline for me and it brought a warm and appreciative response from Sue. It taught me how much sweeter life is if we really give ourselves to serve others and take delight in gentle, kind and supportive words. How much damage is done to the tender plant that is marriage by the gales of unkind and thoughtless comments and the frost of answering without really listening.

So there you have it: some explanation at least for the seemingly astonishing truth that our marriage was revitalised by my efforts to teach my Sue to drive. But, whether this analysis is correct or not, I cannot deny the fact that both of us knew that the relationship had been beautifully revived and strengthened by the whole experience. Indeed, the truth is more wonderful than that. I had ‘fallen in love’ with Sue again through those hours spent together in that rusting Toyota.

For the remaining 20-plus years of our marriage I never really lost that sense of ‘being in love’, in spite of occasional moments of sinful frustration or irritation. I lived almost all those days in the atmosphere of courtship, the memory of which remains a source of joy and strength in my life as a widower. It also reminds me that our gracious God often hides his greatest blessings in unlikely places.

Graham Heaps, is an allegedly retired Reformed Baptist pastor and happy member of Grace Church, Wakefield