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Two mended hearts

Kathi and Hal Higley (Handout)


Two mended hearts

Forgiveness enabled Kathi and Hal Higley to heal from trauma and an affair (Third in a series on long marriages)

In 1986, Hal Higley found a letter addressed to his wife in the mail. When he asked Kathi, she said it was from a friend in Louisiana, but their strained marriage had left him suspicious. Later, as they put their three kids in the car to go to dinner, Hal slipped inside to search for the letter and found it hidden in a drawer. When he read it, he said, his “whole world fell apart.” The letter was from another man.

Hal and Kathi had been married 18 years. Her father had abused and raped her, so Kathi entered the marriage expecting Hal to rescue her. Hal’s authoritarian father and military experience influenced him to control everything in the marriage: balancing the checkbook, paying the bills, putting gas in the car—and even how many children they had.

Over time, Kathi became miserable and resentful toward Hal. When the Air Force sent him to Greenland, she anticipated “a year of freedom.” Instead, managing the three young children and the tasks her husband usually handled made things even harder. On top of that, someone broke into their house, and a tornado damaged their property. Hal returned with no idea how hard things were for Kathi.

Something else was different when he got home: Kathi had started dating another man, the first of several. When the Higleys moved from Louisiana to New York, Kathi and her current lover secretly kept in touch by mail. That’s when Hal found the letter. The couple went to a chaplain for counseling, to little effect. Hal prayed, argued with Kathi, and lost 15 pounds from the stress. Eventually, he told her to return to Louisiana and decide if she would stay in the marriage.

Kathi agreed, feeling angry that Hal had found the letter but also convicted that the affair was wrong. The decisive moment came in Louisiana when the Christian friend she was staying with told her, “Go home. Your husband loves you.” Kathi said it took the friend being “brave enough to say that to me. ... I knew that was the truth.”

Hal remembers picking up Kathi at the airport: She said she had decided to stay in the marriage, but her expression said she wasn’t happy about it. Hal wondered, “How do I put this all back together again?” One important step he took was getting their family into a good church, something they had not prioritized during all their military moves, despite being Christians. Kathi remembers Hal chose to love her, despite her unkindness. She said, “The biggest thing that he did was he never brought it up again.” 

Through their church, Kathi took a 12-week class about dealing with the past. The next-to-last chapter was on forgiveness: “I knew I’d come a long way, and I knew I had to forgive my parents, but I just wasn’t there,” said Kathi. So she took the class again. At the end of the next 12 weeks, she could forgive her abusive parents. As Kathi understood God’s forgiveness, she stopped holding things against Hal: “I really fell in love with my husband.” They began to enjoy talking and spending time together. Others observed the new joy in their marriage and asked what they were doing differently. The Higleys were eager to help. They started a marriage ministry in 1998.

Last year they celebrated 50 years of marriage. They live in Virginia, near some of their grown children and 11 grandchildren. “It wasn’t all roses,” Hal says, “but I can’t imagine a better situation now, loving my wife more, or any marriage that’s any better than ours.”