by Mary May Larmoyeux

Alicia Ramm admits that she’s made a lot of poor choices in her life. She and her husband, Brett, lived together before they were married and they had an 18-month-old daughter when they recited their wedding vows. “Definitely not God’s way,” she says, “and I knew it wasn’t God’s way.”

Twelve months after they married, the Ramms had a son. But by the time he was about a year old, their marriage had reached a breaking point. It seemed like every conversation turned into a heated argument that ended with Brett and Alicia giving one another the silent treatment. “We were like strangers living in the same house,” Alicia says. “It was the worst time of my life.”

Brett moved out; Alicia did not know what to do. “I had two small children who loved their dad so much,” she says, “and I needed to explain why he was leaving home.” Alicia felt embarrassed … ashamed … like a complete failure.

She remembers falling on her knees, praying to God with outstretched arms. “This is too big for me,” she pleaded. “I can’t do this anymore.” Then, like the warmth of a hand on her back, she sensed that God would take care of her and the children.

The Ramms had been separated for three months when Brett asked Alicia if he could move back home. She agreed. “I made a commitment to Brett during our wedding vows,” she explains. But shortly after he returned home, that commitment was tested. Alicia discovered that her husband had been having an affair. “It was shocking,” she says, “I could not believe it.”

Alicia and Brett began marriage counseling, but it was not focused on spiritual principles. Although it helped, Alicia believed that the Lord could help more. She began to spend time in individual prayer and grew in her relationship with God. Brett, on the other hand, sank deeper and deeper into a dark hole of shame. ”My constant reminding him of what he had done,” Alicia says, “did not help with the way he was feeling.”

Once again, Alicia and Brett began the cycle of heated arguments followed by days of silence. Alicia wondered if she and Brett weren’t supposed to be together. She asked herself, Is it time for me to walk away?

The contest

At the same time, Salem’s Cleveland station 95.5 “The Fish” was launching a contest called Extreme Makeover: Life Edition. One of the categories was Relationship Rescue. The winning couple for this category would receive marriage counseling and would also be on-the-air radio guests. “I don’t usually submit entries for contests,” Alicia says, “but I felt like I had to send my story.”

After praying, Alicia wrote what was on her heart on an entry form:

My husband and I are both Christians and about two years ago our relationship took a turn for the worse. We separated and he moved out to live with a friend. We have two small children and I prayed each and every day that the Lord would comfort us during this horrible time. After three months of separation and many prayers, my husband and I decided that we would try to heal our wounds and try our best to make our relationship work. There was some baggage that came along with him coming back home and much hurt … We started seeing a counselor, however, he wasn’t a Christian and I really think that is what we needed to truly heal our relationship and move on from the past … My husband has also been off his path with the Lord and I pray every day that he will get right with God … This may be the answer to my prayers … and I will leave it in the Lord’s hands … Thank you.

Dan Burgoyne, a former radio personality and pastor of Cleveland’s Neo church, had agreed to counsel the winning couple for the Relationship Rescue contest. The radio station chose four entries and asked him to select the winner. He prayed that God would clearly show him which couple to choose.

“When I read Brett and Alicia’s story,” he says, “I just felt like that was the direction that the Lord wanted me to go. It touched my heart.”

When Alicia heard she and Brett had been chosen for the Relationship Rescue contest, she began to cry. “It was a prayer that had been answered.” But because Brett didn’t know about it, Alicia wasn’t sure what he would say about winning.

“To my surprise,” she says, “he said ‘Okay,’ … and the real story began.”

A time for honesty

The Ramms’ initial meeting with Pastor Burgoyne was in his office. “I began that first session with a box of Kleenex,” Burgoyne says, “and what I call, ‘a time for honesty.’”

He asked Alicia to tell Brett how she really felt about their marriage. And he asked Brett to listen and reflect on her words. Then, when Brett disclosed his own feelings, Alicia silently considered what her husband was saying. “There were lots of tears,” Burgoyne says. “It was a very long first session.”

Alicia explained to Brett how his actions had made her feel and how the kids were impacted. “It was one of the most excruciating days I’ve ever gone through,” Brett says. Until then he had been an angry man.

By the end of the first session, Brett had forgiven not only his wife and father for past hurts, but also himself. He admitted that he had been unfaithful to Alicia. “I just broke down and I was a pile of goo.”

Pastor Burgoyne told Brett that Jesus Christ wanted to forgive him and heal him. “Will you be the man that God has called you to be?” he asked. Brett said yes and asked Jesus to forgive him for his sins.

Alicia says that forgiveness was their biggest issue. Having been hurt by numerous people growing up, she had reached a point in her life when she had said to herself, I’m not going to let people hurt me anymore. If you hurt me, you’re not going to be part of my life.

She had labeled people who hurt her with imaginary red dots and would have nothing to do with them. Brett was one of her “red dot” people. Alicia forgave everyone who had hurt her including herself. “For years I walked around with a very heavy load of all the poor choices I had made in the past,” she says. Then she verbally told her husband, “Brett, I forgive you.”

By the end of their first counseling session, Brett and Alicia were no longer strangers who lived in the same house. They were comforting one another and committed to making their marriage work.

On the right track

As winners of the Relationship Rescue contest, the Ramms and Pastor Burgoyne shared live counseling updates on air for six consecutive Thursday mornings. Alicia and Brett explained how they were learning to make God their primary focus and to rebuild trust.

Pastor Burgoyne gave the Ramms some resources from FamilyLife to help them put God in the center of their marriage. Alicia says that Simply Romantic® Nights and the HomeBuilders Couples Series® Bible study Improving Communication in Your Marriage were especially beneficial, as well as Choosing Forgiveness by Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Brett and Alicia describe the past year as amazing. “Brett and I are on the right track,” Alicia says, “and every day we take a few steps forward.” She describes their home as much more peaceful and says when there’s a need for a difficult discussion, there’s a calmness about it. “We look forward to the future. God has really changed our lives.”

The Ramms are now members of Pastor Burgoyne’s Neo Church, and they were both baptized in June 2009. They are involved in a small group at church and continue to meet with Pastor Burgoyne from time to time.

Brett says that he has made a commitment to Alicia to never be unfaithful again. “We will live the rest of our lives until the day we die, together.”

Pastor Burgoyne says that it has been exciting to see God transform Brett and Alicia’s marriage. “God has a plan for relationships,” he says. “And just about the time that you think it’s over and that God’s not going to move anymore, that’s about the moment when He steps in.”

Mary May Larmoyeux is a writer and editor for FamilyLife. She is the author of My Heart’s at Home: Encouragement for Working Moms, co-author of There’s No Place Like Home: Steps to Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom, and co-author of the Resurrection Eggs® Activity Book.