For twice-wed couple, every day feels like Valentine’s Day

Feb. 13, 2013 @ 07:45 PM

Dan and Jackie Marshburn are both in their second marriage, and they love that it’s the complete opposite of their first try at matrimony. The main catch is this is their second time married to each other.

The Marshburns first tied the knot in 1971, when he was 19 and she was 17. High school sweethearts, they said they got married for all the wrong reasons and got divorced after just four years.

“There was no way she was coming back to me,” Dan said Wednesday while cuddled on the couch with Jackie at their Sanford home. “She hated me.”

Although the couple is open about their past in general, they didn’t go into the specifics about why they divorced. But it was bad, that much is clear. There were drugs and other bad decisions. She threw away her wedding ring, he stalked her, and in a bout of despair he even tried to commit suicide. But when he was somehow stopped from launching himself and his truck to a violent end, Dan said, he found God and in the process brought Jackie into the church and then back into his life. Despite strong warnings from her family, she agreed to give him a second chance.

That second chance has lasted more than three decades, and now the couple say they’ve been married 42 years, even though they were actually married for four years, then divorced for three, then married for 35. They have two kids — both born in the second marriage and thus spared from the stresses of divorce — and have been grandparents for 16 months.

“Our life totally went from dark to light, like a light switch was flipped,” Jackie said.

The Marshburns are now deeply religious despite growing up in self-described dysfunctional families with little or no religious background. The story of their transformation, oddly enough, can be told by the guest ledger of a Raleigh Holiday Inn.

The first time they got married, their friends rented a room and threw a raucous party that Jackie now laughs about with a grimace. The second time they were married — in a church they literally helped build from the ground up — they got a room at the same hotel, just down the hall from their original room. Dan said the image he has of that night is of Jackie kneeling, reading a Bible.

When asked how he convinced her to sign marriage papers after three years of acrimonious divorce, Dan didn’t have an answer — but Jackie did. She saw him genuinely change after being saved — literally and figuratively — and watched him interact with his church group, displaying humility and faithfulness. Plus, she said, he stopped stalking her and started praying for her.

Dan said that he always wanted what was best for Jackie. But he realized, once he went from atheism to Christianity, that he wasn’t the answer — Christ was.

“Whether or not we were together, I knew it would be OK,” he said of that time in his life. “If we were together, that would be perfect, but all I did was pray for her every day. ... When I accepted Christ, I don’t know if you understand, but you do a complete turnaround. I was going one way, and then I was going the opposite way.”

He was living with his grandma, barely scraping by financially, and furthermore knew that Jackie wanted no part of him: “There was a whole, whole lot of dark stuff between her and I, her parents and I,” he said.

But Jackie said she knew, because he was so sincere in wanting her to be saved, that even if she didn’t get back with him, he was finally mature enough to carry out to a serious relationship.

“It’s about commitment,” she said. “Dan and I had no idea what commitment meant when we first got married.”

Now, they say, divorce isn’t even on the table. They believe it’s against God’s will, as well as being bad for multiple generations of a family. Anything short of abuse, Jackie said, a couple can resolve without doing what she did so many years ago to the man she loves more than anyone except for Jesus himself.

“You can overcome it,” she said. “You can get on the other side of it. There’s always hope.”

The Marshburns still have fights, but they approach them knowing that their commitment is until death, just like the vows say. That lets them forgive. It also lets them live with as much love after 42 years as they had when they first laid eyes on each other in high school.

And that’s why this Valentine’s Day, they’re not doing anything too out of the ordinary.

“For me, every day is Valentine’s Day with her,” Dan said. “... It sounds hokey, but it’s always like that.”