Originally posted at http://www.erinelizabethaustin.com/blog/drifting-together
Our family of four was in crisis mode tending to only the most critical of wounds, which happened to be our one year old son Emmett. Everything else was prioritized accordingly and tossed to the back burner, including our marriage until everything we piled up back there and forgot all about threatened to pull us apart.
Out of the blue, my husband suggested we go out for what would be the first time since our son Emmett’s first seizure and the harrowing turn of events that had followed. It also just happened to be less than two weeks before Emmett’s first skull surgery. While we waited for a table to open up, we had wandered into the shoe section of a department store. Totally exciting, I know! I was mindlessly walking through each aisle when the thoughts I had been working so hard to keep out infiltrated my mind. What if he has a seizure on the operating room table while they are cutting him open? What if he doesn’t wake up? What if I never see him alive again? Surrounded by flip flops and other unassuming shoppers, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. “I don’t want him to die” I blurted out in a voice entirely too loud for Friday night department store shopping. I tried to hide my face from the curious onlookers as the tears began to fall. My husband put his arm around me and I began to cry even harder. “Get me out of here, I don’t want to be here, I have to get out of here” I gasped through sobs. My husband grabbed my hand and started a half walk/half run towards the nearest exit, while people stared after us. When we got out to the car, I sobbed into my purse until all of the makeup I had worked so hard on streaked into one big messy pile upon my face. So much for a nice night out I thought. I just wanted to go home. I wanted to touch my sweet baby’s head, see him asleep in his crib, and know that he was ok. We gave up on dinner and hightailed it back home. Even though that night hadn’t gone the way we intended, we were brave enough to try.
Nobody tells you the effect that a diagnosis will have on your marriage. Of course it impacts your daily life, your faith, your schedule, your finances, and you personally as a parent, but your marriage? For me, that was completely unexpected. A diagnosis can drive a deep and immediate wedge right in between you and your spouse. The slow drifting apart that you’re too stressed to care about at first, but then stop noticing can finish off your marriage altogether. There is a higher divorce rate among couples with special needs children. There are many different theories as to why: the extreme rollercoaster-like ups and downs, disappointment over the way the other has handled the situation, the constant stress and worry about the future, the astronomical cost involved in taking care of your child, and most importantly disagreeing about medical treatment for your child, which can rip to shreds even the most loving of couples. Take all of that emotional baggage and then add to it the regular, ho-hum, every day demands of a marriage and it is no wonder why we feel ready to break at any moment. This is really, really hard. The life you knew, gone. The marriage you thought you had, on the brink of destruction.
It’s hard to prioritize your marriage when you are knee deep in this life. If you have a special needs child: money, schedules, medical needs, and a babysitter that you can feel confident in all became an issue, among other things. It seems ridiculous to be concerned with a date night when there are serious problems you face everyday. But what I have realized that if we are to have any hope of surviving, we need God and we need each other. Our marriage is now as important as ever in the wake of this turmoil. We need to be there for each other and our children. We have to work twice as hard as everybody else to keep this sinking ship that is our life afloat sometimes and although it seems like one more injustice in our lives, it’s important and worthwhile.
You don’t even have to go outside of the house to prioritize your marriage, although it’s nice. We turn off the tv after the kids go to bed and actually talk to one another, not just rattle off schedules and a brief synopsis of our day in between commercial breaks. Once a week, we do a half hour marriage devotional. It helps us keep God in our marriage, brings up good conversation points, and reminds us that nothing is impossible with Him on our side. We pray together each night as well. We have a date nearly every Friday night. On date night, there is absolutely no medical talk, it is not allowed. We stay in most date nights but we eat a nice, or not so nice depending on the day we’ve had, dinner after the kids go to bed. We play a game, watch a new movie, have a fire in the backyard, etc. We also try to get out of the house together once a month with just the two of us. It’s not much but all of that together helps cement the fact that we are in this together. We are intentional about keeping our marriage together, about keeping God in it, and not allowing anymore drifting apart.
I’m here to tell you from experience that your marriage can not only weather the storm but thrive in the storm when you are both committed to making it work. My prayer for you today is that God blesses your marriage, wherever you are it in it.