• Robert & Diane Ruiz

Our re|engage Story


My story started when my mother came to the US from Mexico. I was born in Passaic, NJ then moved to Paterson. My mother married a man, and they raised me until I was about 10. During that time, they had three more children. Then separated. After that my mother moved in with another man. My view in life and marriage was that you could change your relationships anytime you wanted when things became tough, in hopes that a new relationship would be better. Those feelings were not clear to me at the time, but as I grew up, I was following those steps even though I didn't plan it that way. By the time, I was in high school, those were the types of relationships that I saw everywhere. I became a father at 16, and as much as I tried to work on the relationship, it ended up just like all the other relationships in my life. When it got tough, we separated. Over time I had several other relationships but always protected my daughter from them because I felt that they wouldn't last.


I grew up with my mom and her boyfriend whom I knew as my dad. He raised me from the time that I was about three years old. My biological dad had separated from my mom when I was very young. I don't remember him being in my life before age 11, but I always knew of him through pictures and what my mother told me about him. Although my mom and her boyfriend had what seemed to be a loving and secure relationship, I grew up with the idea that people could fall out of love and if the relationship wasn't working, a separation was always an option. Over the years, my mother occasionally took me to church, and I knew of God but didn't know what it meant to have a relationship with Him or what His gift of grace meant. I grew up in Paterson, NJ in the 1980s and 1990s. Growing up in that neighborhood, I learned very early to keep to myself. People were hurtful and often unkind. Because of my surroundings, I often worried about what would happen to me in my daily travels. Emotionally, I was miserable, and I felt like no one in my life cared enough to help. By age 12, I had decided that if I was going to survive in my environment, I was going to need to adapt to it. So, by the time I became a teenager, I had begun to seek acceptance, comfort, protection and what I thought was love, in the form of a man. Rather than looking to God for these things. By age 21, I had brought two children into the world but ended up with a broken relationship and spirit.


A few years before I met Diane I wanted to live a party life that involved drinking and other poor choices. I was hiding in life, from my failures and broken relationships. I was embarrassed to get involved in another relationship because I thought it would be another failure. Then I met Diane. She was different. She was quiet and looked responsible. I met her in the apartment building where I was living. All I knew about her was that she had a mom and two girls and I did not see any male figure in their lives. Every time she walked down the hallway in the building, I could smell her perfume. After a few weeks of enjoying the aroma of the hall, I knew that I had to speak to her, no matter what the outcome was.


When I met Robert, I had just spent the past two years trying to get on my feet and make a stable life for my daughters. He was the neighbor in my apartment building where I was living, and he began pursuing me in small ways like helping with my car, making small talk and eventually inviting my daughters and me on a Chucky Cheese date to get to know us. I still didn’t quite have a grasp on what it looked like to be in a healthy relationship. I wasn’t even sure that I was ready for a new relationship, but I was lonely, and Robert seemed liked he had good intentions, and I had high hopes for a future that included a loving relationship and a positive male figure in my daughters' lives.


Before I pursued Diane, I fell on hard times because of the life I was living. I was three months behind on rent and had the final eviction notice. From growing in a family that identified as Catholic, I knew a little about God. I remembered to pray when things were hard. In my mind, it felt like someone was always there. Even when I was alone, I felt that something was always with me. At that time, I believed that I could make deals with God and I certainly tried. I decided to try to reduce my unhealthy lifestyle and pursue Diane 100%. I started looking for ways to talk to her and find ways to cross her path. After dating her for some time, Diane gave me an ultimatum. In my head, I thought she was telling me, either we are dating exclusively, or we are open to date other people. I knew I didn't want her to date other people, and I was tired of the life I was living, but I didn't know how to stop. I kept praying to be able to change my unhealthy lifestyle. I had to make a choice, either continue with this lifestyle or be with Diane and live a healthier life. I chose Diane.


After dating for a few years and then moving in together, some red flags were showing that our relationship was struggling, but I brushed it off as typical relationship troubles. We tried to see the best in our relationship and decided to get married in 2009. Over the next year after getting married those red flags began to escalate. There were so many arguments erupting between us, ranging from the way we raise our children to what we ate for dinner. Sometimes things just made no sense at all. I started to feel like I couldn't do anything right for him. I was beginning to feel hopeless and almost ready to give up. It felt as though we were about to lose our marriage.


During those struggles we were having, I started to feel like the relationships that I experienced when I was young were happening again. I felt hopeless. I kept saying to myself, "How could she be this way? This is unfair." I would think, "what is wrong with her?" I always thought she was the problem. To be honest with you, most of the arguments I started. Can you believe we had a big fight over chicken wings? Many things pointed to me being unfair, selfish, mean, and maybe even as far as mentally abusive, but I didn't want to believe that was true. I tried to blame someone else.


Around that time, Robert had mentioned to me that he thought we should start going to church. I had already been attending Skyline, but Robert had never joined me. He had begun attending another church that spoke primarily Spanish and asked me to go with him. I promised to go to and see what it was like, but only if he would come and visit Skyline. So, he decided to check it out and give it a chance and fell in love with it. After attending for some time, we began to realize that for our relationship to succeed, Jesus needed to be at the center of it. If we wanted to raise our children on the right path, we needed to be on the right path. We needed to have God in our hearts and his word in our minds. So, we jumped in and took every class that Skyline had to offer and with each step that we made, our hearts grew and changed. It was evident that God was at work in our lives. We started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was Jesus…


Looking back, I realize that I was making everything difficult and impossible for Diane. Even though I thought to go to church was a good idea, I wanted to bring her to a Spanish speaking church. She was brave, and she went even though the only English part of the service was "thank you" and "your welcome." Because of the impact that the world had on me, I didn't have the courage to go to Skyline right away, but finally, I decided to join her and check it out. When I did, I felt a peace and joy that I had never seen before. Especially when we took our children to the Easter Egg Hunt. The teachings encouraged me to have a better relationship with God. After some time, I realized that if we want to have a better relationship with one another and our kids, I would have to surrender to God.


When we heard about the re|engage arena, we were excited to see what God would teach us through this new experience. What we found was that it not only reinforced many of the principals that we had already been learning, but it also taught us new principals that we had not worked through before. It focused specifically on how we could change our marriage.


As we took the class, I kept seeing the same principals in the Bible. I kept telling myself, “there is only one way Robert.” I would have to trust and give in. I would have to trade in my macho-ness and my pride because it was killing my joy. I had been letting that guide me my whole life. It was time to give it up and trade it for something else.


Re|engage helped me to identify that I was holding onto a long list of hurts and pulling them back up as ammunition and this was only adding fuel to the fire. Dealing with Robert harshly when he upset me was not going to fix anything. I needed to let those go and stop using them against him.

Psalm 103:10-11 it says, "He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth." (NLT)

As many times as God has forgiven me for my sins, I could forgive Robert of his. I could look past his faults and offer him grace. This became my goal.


I learned and worked on many principles in re|engage. The most impactful one was staying in the circle. The reason that this was impactful for me was that I used to love telling Diane about the wrong that she was doing. I didn’t look at myself. I always looked at her when anything went wrong.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye when all the time there is a plank in your own eye." Matthew 7:3-4

What I learned is, if I want this relationship to work, the change would have to start with me. With the help of God, I can change things about myself that I am unable to change by my own strength. I am learning how to take responsibility when I stay in my circle. I no longer look to her as the fault. I look at her and ask, “how can I love her better?” In other words, I ask God to guide me to take responsibility for my actions and look at my own reflection.


Re|engage also taught me that we need to be one in our relationship. This was super impactful. Since both of us came from broken relationships with children and we were used to making decisions and parenting separately, it was hard to remember to talk things through with each other before making decisions and agree on how we should handle each situation. This was the cause of many of our arguments.


The bible says, "and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Mark 10:8-9

When we started working together and consulting each other with parenting decisions, it changed our level of intimacy. It also changed the dynamic that we had with our children. When our kids saw that we were working together, we were amazed to see how they changed the way that they were interacting with us.

We took re|engage about one year ago and it's not something that you take once and move on from it. We are making it a lifestyle forever. Not because it helped us change our relationship, but because it's based on biblical principles, and we have seen that it works from our experience. I may not be a scholar in all of those principles, but I can say that when life happens, and we apply them, we grow together and closer to God. We are changed forever because of it.

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