Marriage came easy to us for years. There were no first-year clichés, no dramatic tearful fights, no significant growing pains at all. It’s not that we didn’t argue — we did — but it only rocked the boat a little and was quickly forgotten.
But then life happened. My husband returned to college and money was always lacking. We had moved at a rate of almost once per year and had no established group of friends or church. We became parents to a child with intense needs and every traditional parenting method we tried only made things worse. Our equilibrium was wrecked and soon we found ourselves overwhelmed, discouraged, guilt-ridden, and confused.
We had been living in a state of internal and external stress for a long time already when, in the fall of 2012, we hit the kind of rock bottom that leaves you sore for years.
You don’t need to know the details of our pain any more than we need to know the details of yours for us all to look at each other with eyebrows raised and say “Aah! You too?” Every marriage will have that season at least once, I’m sure of it.
My husband and I couldn’t take each other’s pain away and we couldn’t figure out how to heal our own. We swam in our grief and hurt and shame until our limbs would ache from the dog paddling and we’d just flat out quit for awhile. Sometimes sinking feels so good you forget that it is going to kill you.
But eventually your lungs start to rage, and you are faced with a choice: come up for air or let yourself sink to the bottom. I don’t know how, but we always seemed to receive a sliver of grace just big enough to take a deep breath and start kicking again. Sometimes that’s all you can possibly do, and miraculously, it’s enough.
But it’s not enough to make it back to the surface. You have to have somewhere to go — some new direction to take — when you come up for air. No one ever wants to be the couple signing up for family therapy and we were no exception. Yet there we were gasping for breath and in need of rescue. We found an amazing therapist who had experience helping kids like our son, and parents like us whose marriage had taken a beating. She threw us a life raft, and we caught it, along with a flicker of hope.
Then we signed up for group training on parenting kids with particular needs; in reality, we signed up to be reminded that we are never alone. When we’re honest with others about the pain, it somehow starts to become more bearable. We licked our wounds and we counted our losses and we started to swim. Together.
Two years have passed since we embarked on this new course. The emotional, financial, and practical stress of graduate school have continued to lord over us, but we have found healing in the community of our family, the community of our friends, the community of therapy, and most importantly, the community of our marriage. Those relationships have kept us afloat, and in the process made us a lighthouse for others.
Now that we’ve reached a shore, I’m glad we went on the journey. When I look back on the blissful newlyweds we once were, I’m surprised by how little we knew one another. The painful struggle to keep afloat in those deep waters brought with it a new depth of intimacy, trust, and friendship. I look at my husband these days and, with a smile and a wink, I tell him there is no one I would rather have almost killed and stayed married to. No one.
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