Anxious to reconnect and close the distance growing between them, Randall and Jessica Elliott joined the couple’s marriage enrichment class at First Baptist Church Rockport. Sadly, the lessons taught served to highlight everything they had done wrong. Randall and Jessica lost hope of reconciliation.

Through the ministry of the church, they learned about STCH Ministries Family Counseling and called for an appointment, but there was a waiting list several months long. Neither Randall nor Jessica wanted a divorce, and they certainly did not want to tell family and supporters back home—those who prayed, encouraged and believed in them—that the ministry had wrecked their marriage.

God called Randall and Jessica to volunteer missions in disaster relief in 2016. They sold all of their belongings, packed their three kids into a 5th wheel camper and left home, traveling wherever they were needed. They never expected that the close quarters and demands of ministry life would expose disastrous communication issues.

The Elliotts traveled to Rockport, Texas to help Samaritan’s Purse disaster relief efforts after Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Having served on multiple sites for over a year, spending a month on the Texas coast seemed the next step in their journey. In the beginning, everything happened as expected. Randall spent the days on the site and Jessica cared for their three preschoolers. His efficiency and knack for the role led to a full-time offer to work for one year on the Rockport rebuild project with Samaritan’s Purse.

Randall and Jessica prayed about the possibility. They asked their families and prayer supporters to join with them in prayer. The Elliotts accepted the position; a full year in one place with a steady paycheck would benefit their budget and provide valuable contacts for the future.

The days grew longer for Jessica, with no friends nearby and only small children for company Jessica experienced isolation and loneliness. She fought to find her purpose. Randall recognized the change in his wife and also wrestled with what seemed like an unfair situation. “God, what do you have me down here for? Why do I get to have this dream job and she doesn’t?”

The walls of the camper seemed to close in and created a sensation of captivity rather than coziness. The adventure turned to resentment and every conversation appeared to lead to an argument. After one particularly loud disagreement, then four-year-old Mack asked Jessica, “Why do you talk to Daddy that way?” Heartbroken and discouraged, Jessica considered simply staying in North Carolina with the kids after the family vacation rather than return to Texas.

Finally, they received word that STCH Ministries Counselor, Kelly Harris had an opening. At this point, every conversation between the two of them felt like a confirmation that each no longer loved the other. Yet, they forced themselves to attend the sessions. Kelly asked the couple to remember what brought them together and why had they married in the first place. Remembering those reasons and speaking them out loud brought reconciliation. Hearing Randall say he still loved her and wanted to stay married, gave Jessica comfort. She admitted the same.

The work was not easy, the harmful habits and assumptions created patterns, negative cycles of communication, which kept the arguing as their standard form of communication. Kelly gave them a list of fair fighting rules – something they struggled to use because, in the heat of the moment, hurt feelings held priority over fairness and they forgot their good intentions.

Kelly led the couple to recognize cues that sparked offense in the other and challenged them to remember what they loved about one another. That idea allowed them to find a new perspective. They reminded one another neither meant to hurt the other and to choose words that encouraged true communication. Kelly taught them to stop and express, “This is what I heard you say.” Most of the time, the message received had nothing to do with the intent of the speaker.

Jessica realized that she had become anxious over the state of their marriage and that caused her to attempt to control situations in a manner that made Randall sense she did not trust him. Once they recognized how those emotions created conflict and overshadowed the truth of their commitment to one another, a real change took place in their hearts and minds. The two have changed the way they think about, respond to and speak to one another. The fair fighting rules were not necessary anymore once they recognized negative cycles and change their words before saying hurtful things.

The first time they successfully worked through a disagreement on their own, they stopped arguing and shared what they were truly thinking. This allowed them to solve the issue and enjoy the day together as a family on the beach. “We had an ‘ah-ha’ moment! It worked, we had figured it out. For the first time, I had a bunch of hope!”

Recently, Randall and Jessica encouraged a young friend to seek pre-marital counseling and learn to communicate well before their upcoming marriage. “We knew communication was not our strong point for a long time,” Jessica said. “It didn’t get to a point that we couldn’t handle it until we were all stuck in a camper together with nowhere to go. We hope others can learn from our story.”

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