A longtime South Carolina pastor, Eddie Leopard, and his wife, Dawn, have launched a ministry together devoted to helping couples who love each other learn to like each other again.
While they’ve heard some spouses say, “I love him or her, but I just don’t like them,” Dawn noted, “Well, at some point you had to have, because you wouldn’t have gotten married if you didn’t like each other.”
“Sometimes it’s just helping them revisit that time, going back a little bit,” she said. “We tell young couples, especially when they get married, that you bring so much of yourself to this puzzle, and you each have these puzzle pieces, but you’ve got to find a new puzzle” to work on together and make the pieces fit.
Now in the “empty nest” phase of life, they’ve had to do some of that again, Dawn said. “We’ve had to find some new things that we both enjoy together.”
“Some folks go through their marriage pouring all the time into kids or their job — and I get that,” Eddie said. “And then the kids leave and you look at one another and say, ‘Well, who are you?’ ”
Eddie and Dawn both say that it hasn’t been that way for them, though. “We enjoy doing the same things,” Eddie said. “And it’s like we are good friends, best friends, soulmates — we enjoy being together.”
That’s what they hope they can help other couples rediscover. Together, Eddie, who retired last month from Fairview Baptist in Greer after nearly 10 years there, and Dawn, who has her own business, Young Living Essential Oils, have founded Leopard Home Base Ministries. Their shared ministry focuses on family health, offering marriage and parenting conferences and retreats.
And together, they co-wrote a book, titled “Home Base Marriage: Essentials for a Healthy Marriage That Will Last Through the Generations.” In their book, they take turns sharing their life experiences and offering practical, biblically based advice to help couples build a more solid, fulfilling, and mutually supportive relationship.
“There are a lot of challenges [that can interfere with the marriage relationship], especially if you throw in a few children and busy work schedules and other things — health issues, family issues, in-law issues, parenting issues. But it’s so vital to prioritize your marriage,” said Eddie.
“We’ve tried to do that through the years, and we encourage couples to do it,” he added. “You’ve got to make time for your marriage, and, whether that’s a date night or a date lunch, just doing those things that help keep a marriage fresh.”
“Think about what you want things to look like 40 years down the road, when the kids are gone,” Dawn suggests to younger couples. “We knew we wanted to actually like each other, be friends, and still know each other. So we just poured ourselves into doing a lot of things with one another and keeping our relationship primary.”
But being intentional about making it a priority is essential, Dawn noted. “Not only [are we] busy, but it’s the distractions everywhere. Now, I think with social media, that’s taken everything a step-up. So we now have these devices we hold in the palm of our hand that distract us,” she said.
She suggests for couples to go back to “the little things” to rekindle their relationship. Borrowing a phrase, she reminds couples that “everything we ever needed to know, we learned in kindergarten — how you talk to people, you learn to share, you learn to take your turn, just the way you treat one another.”
Practical courtesies like these are so important, especially in a marriage, Dawn explained. “Sometimes we get married, and then somehow we just leave those things aside. We forget our thank-yous and our pleases and things like that, but showing respect for each other is really important.”
And the way spouses treat one another day-to-day is of utmost importance, Dawn said. “It’s like sometimes we treat other people so much better than those people who are under our own roof — and we should treat everybody well, but those people [who are under our own roof] take priority,” she said.
Rather than being like a turtle and crawling back into a shell, “be really quick to deal with your issues,” Dawn also counsels. “It’s a lot easier when you’re dealing with it when it’s fresh and new, than to keep sweeping things under the rug and thinking they’ll go away.”
Many people struggle in dealing with conflict in a healthy way, “because we’re all selfish to one degree or another,” Eddie said, acknowledging that it sometimes can be difficult “to put your spouse’s needs first, to put their desires first, to put their interests first.”
Little things, though, can often make a big difference in maintaining a healthy relationship, Dawn said. For example, it can be as simple as holding hands, she said.
“I’m a big hand holder,” she said. “Whether we’re sitting there watching TV, or we’re walking across the parking lot, there’s just something about connecting with each other in that way that says, ‘We’re together. We’re a team.’ ”
Another “little thing” they suggest is continuing to date one another, even after having kids.
“You don’t have to have a lot of money. You can date at home,” she reminds young couples. “We put our kids to bed early so that we had the evenings to ourselves — that was kind of our way to connect, to stay in touch with each other.”
Again, being intentional about spending time together is important, Eddie emphasized. “We’ve been very fortunate in churches that we’ve served to always have some really good babysitters,” he said. “But it is just getting it on the calendar, and being very intentional about it — every now and then, just getting away just to pour into one another.
“In ministry life, in any life, it can get so busy and circumstances can be such that, yeah, you might miss that date night,” he said. “Maybe things are happening in your family, in your business, and just in life in general, that will demand your time and attention, but hopefully the next week or the next month, you’ll be able to get back on track and reprioritize.”
Most important for a healthy marriage, though, is beginning with and maintaining a strong foundation, they said.
“Our foundation has always been our faith. We’re believers in Jesus, and we have been since we were young. We were raised that way,” Dawn explained. “So I think we went into it knowing that this is for good. There’s no turning back. We’ve got to make this work,” she continued.
And having a strong community for support, like a church, is also essential, they said.
“Having a community of people who uphold the sanctity of marriage, who are not going to let you get by with saying, ‘I’m just tired of it. I’m going to throw in the towel,’ that community is extremely important,” Dawn said.
Through their conferences, retreats and book, the Leopards want couples to feel a sense of hope, a sense of encouragement. “We don’t have it all together. We don’t have all the answers,” Eddie said. “Most of us know what to do. We just need to be encouraged to do it and to live it out.”
While he doesn’t know who to give credit for the words, Eddie shared a prayer for couples he likes to use in wedding ceremonies: “Lord, may they never take each other’s love for granted, but always experience that wonder that exclaims, ‘Out of all this world, you have chosen me.’ And when life is done and the sun is setting, may they be found then as now — hand-in-hand, still thanking God for each other, in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
For more about their ministry and book, visit leopardhomebaseministries.com.
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