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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Love Stories: Learning to love again

Couple write book on how to rebuild broken marriage

An old Texaco slogan says, “You can trust your car to the man who wears the star,” but Gail Justesen has modified it a bit.

“I trusted my heart to the man who wears the star” 38 years ago, she said, smiling.

She met Gary Justesen when he worked at a Texaco station in Liberty Lake. Gail was there often because she worked at a girls horseback ranch and the owner of the station serviced the camp vehicles.

When Gary saw her pull in, he’d throw himself in front of her car and act like she’d hit him. “I’m such a suave dude,” he said, chuckling.

Suave or not, he made quite an impression on Gail. “She asked me to help her buy a part for her car,” he recalled. “I’d never heard that line before!”

He agreed and after shopping for the car part they had coffee. That coffee date led to them spending more and more time together. “We became good friends,” Gail said.

After about six months they decided they really liked being together. “Things were just more fun with Gail,” said Gary. He knew he wanted to marry her, but there was a problem.

“I told him I didn’t know if I could marry him because he didn’t know Jesus,” Gail said.

Gary wasn’t sure what to make of that. “It made me stop and think,” he said. “I started asking questions and reading the Bible.”

Meeting Gail’s pastor, an avid outdoorsman, helped, and Gary began attending her church.

They married on July 10, 1976. The next day they went to the hospital.

A friend of Gary’s brother had tackled him the night before the wedding. That unexpected wrestling match resulted in torn ligaments and tendons in Gary’s shoulder.

Gail had sprained her back four months before the wedding, so the couple faced the sickness part of “in sickness and health” immediately.

“I think we packed seven years of living into those first nine months of marriage,” she said. “We went from madly in love to hitting real life head on very quickly.”

They settled in Spokane Valley, and Gary took a job with Circle K. “I started running maintenance for seven stores here in Spokane,” he said. “Within six years I had 43 stores in four states.”

Gail shook her head. “That was the beginning of our problems. We had a really good marriage for the first nine years.”

The birth of their sons, Seth in 1979 and Grady in 1984, filled their home and their hearts with happiness, but rough waters loomed ahead.

Gary was often home only long enough to do laundry and pack for the road again. “He was a good dad when he was there,” Gail said.

Meanwhile she was struggling. “I had a miscarriage in 1983 and had a really hard time recovering emotionally and Gary just wasn’t there. It wasn’t what I’d expected in life.”

He wasn’t there physically, and soon he wasn’t there emotionally. He knew she was struggling with depression and with being a single parent most of the time, but he felt frustrated by his inability to help.

“I started calling home less frequently. I just didn’t want to deal with the frustration,” he admitted.

When he’d return from weeks on the road, he had a hard time fitting back into the family. His wife and sons had lives that for the most part, didn’t include him.

“I had a lot of resentment,” Gail said. “I wasn’t pleasant to live with when he came home. I didn’t feel like I was getting anything from him, and he sure didn’t get anything from me.”

Gary sighed. “That’s when I started making bad choices. I didn’t ‘fall into’ adultery – I made bad choices.”

He began an affair with a woman he worked with. “I thought I had to find love elsewhere,” he said, shaking his head. The double life offered him no peace and no satisfaction. He decided to end his marriage.

“One day he came home and told me he didn’t love me, he loved somebody else,” Gail recalled.

Though crushed and heartbroken, she blurted out through her tears, “I forgive you.” But Gary wasn’t interested in her forgiveness. He packed a few things and walked out.

Shaken, Gail realized, “After 12 years of marriage there was no love between us – none.” She fell to her knees on her kitchen floor and cried out to God. “I had no idea how to love my husband. I knew I wasn’t the person God made me to be.”

After several months of separation, Gary realized he didn’t want to marry his affair partner, so he ended the relationship. It didn’t make him feel any better. “I felt awful,” he said. “Like I’d torn up two people’s lives.”

He told Gail he wanted to come home, but made it clear he didn’t want to return to the marriage – just to the house. “I love my boys,” he told her. “So, I’m willing to live with you to have the boys in my life.” Gail agreed. The reason? “That night on the kitchen floor, God gave me a love for Gary. It’s totally unexplainable. I chose to forgive him whether he changed or not.”

Six months passed. “I began to notice nice things about her,” Gary said. “My heart softened. I began to live like I should live. We became friends again.”

One morning they went fishing at Banks Lake. Gary’s heart was full. “I wanted to tell her I was falling in love with her, but I was so scared. I didn’t want to be vulnerable,” he said. “Finally, I said, ‘I think I’m falling in love with you.’ ”

Gail’s eyes crinkled with laughter as she recalled her reply, “I said, ‘I know! Isn’t it wonderful?’ ”

And for the most part it has been. The road to reconciliation hasn’t been without its bumps, but the love that rekindled that day on the lake has grown and flourished, encompassing their sons, their daughters-in-law and their six grandchildren.

For many years, they’ve shared their story through groups like Marriage Ministries International (now known as 2=1, and speaking to churches and other organizations including the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

Recently, they wrote a book called “Better Than Before.” The book comes with his/her workbooks to help couples navigate their way through betrayal and into healing. It’s available at Life Center Foursquare Church, where Gary serves as a staff pastor, as well as on their blog, encouragers4marriages.

Gail says she’s never been sorry she chose to forgive Gary and fight for their marriage. Taking his hand, she smiled, “He’s my best friend.”

Tears filled his eyes as Gary squeezed her hand and said, “I love Gail more today than ever before.”

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