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On Outside Influences ~ Marriage Letters

Dear Scott,

When I think about outside influences on our marriage, I think of everything outside the two of us. We have had many outside influences, but if I had to identify two of the most significant so far, I would point to Children’s Hospital and the church in which you served as an elder.

ultrasoundWe met our first significant crisis as a couple in a dimly-lit room in the Emergency Department of Children’s. The words “heart defects” were very closely followed by, “This kind of thing is very difficult on relationships. It’s okay to get help.”

We learned how each other handles fear and uncertainty, and how crazy I get when I’m sleep deprived. The nights after her heart surgeries, we squeezed into a twin bed in the ICU sleep rooms just a few dozen yards from her room. You impressed me with your willingness to keep me company while I undertook the incredibly unsexy task of pumping breast milk every 3-4 hours (I think it’s nothing short of a miracle that you are still attracted to me after seeing that). We made charts so we could keep track of who gave which meds, and you cheered me on as I learned how to insert an NG tube into Elli’s nose and down into her stomach. Hardest of all, as the years went on we began to spend evenings discussing how to care for her when we were old and she was full-grown, and how to handle the end of her life.

It turns out that we wouldn’t need formal help until after she died.

The pressure of raising a child who needed frequent long stays at Children’s Hospital changed us. So did the pressure of taking on responsibilities at church. I have written before on how we shared the load, deferring to the one who had the most time or the strongest ability in a given area. We had learned how to work together under hospital pressure – learning foreign tasks, living in uncertainty, making life-or-death decisions. In the church, we learned how to work under a different kind of pressure – the kind that comes with working closely with different kinds of people, various degrees of expectations, and all the communication and coordination that working with people requires. We uncovered weaknesses in ourselves we didn’t know about before, like how deeply hurt and angry I get when you are misunderstood or falsely accused, and how difficult it is to bring yourself to confront someone who is already struggling.

Outside influences can’t change the core of who we are. But they bring who we are to light, in all its beauty or ugliness. Outside influences either soften hard edges and refine impurities away, or they scar and burn and shrivel. We’re a combination of all of this, with plenty of ugly, refinement, scars and softer edges, but I think we fit more tightly today than we did fourteen years ago. That’s one thing I can be thankful for in all of the heartache.

Love,

Joy

We’ve been sharing the real-life ups and downs of marriage in this weekly series in hopes that we can encourage one another to fight hard for our marriages. This week’s writing prompt was “On Outside Influences.” If you joined Scott, Seth, Amber, and I writing this week’s letters, link up at Amber’s place. We plan to take the month of May off from this series, but follow The RunaMuck on Facebook for updates because I suspect we’ll be writing letters again soon. What topics should we write on next?

What have outside influences done for your marriage?

 

Enduring Loss Together ~ Marriage Letters

Dear Scott,

We’ve lost a lot in our almost 14 years: pets, keys, tempers, money, time. We’ve lost our way, and we’ve lost our youthful innocence (and now I’m trying to lose the cynicism that took Innocence’s place). None of this was too much of a surprise, really – anyone who lives and loves should expect to lose something.

couple crying

We didn’t expect to lose healthy average childhoods for two of our children. We didn’t expect to bury our daughter before she turned nine years old.

We were clueless and overwhelmed (completely normal) first-time parents. My pregnancy and delivery was textbook, and when Elli emerged all slippery-white and squawking, we had no reason to think she was anything but healthy. After all, the womb is a safe place, we thought. We were blissfully ignorant of the children who were born sick or with defects. We were stunned by the one-two-three-punch of Elli’s struggles to breastfeed, her severe jaundice, and discovery of her malformed heart. We had no idea this news was only the beginning of an avalanche of escalating losses. The next morning, the words “I wish I could say ‘but the good news is’ but I can’t” buried us in grief and fear. She had almost died right there in the NICU, and they were preparing us for the worst.

We faced (still face) losses differently. I’ll never forget our dilemma when the doctor gave us the terrible news about her cardiac arrest. She was still alive, but barely, and you didn’t want to go back and see her.

You said, “I don’t want my last memory of her to be with all those wires and tubes and machines hooked up to her.”

I understood that, but I didn’t want her to die surrounded by strangers. I wanted her to hear our voices, my voice, the one she’d heard through the womb for 9 months (or however long a baby’s hearing works). I wanted to comfort her and hold her til the end. But I didn’t want to do it alone, and I didn’t want to leave your side. I waited as you wrestled. You must have seen the desperation in my face because you finally agreed to come with me (after our pastor went back and then told us what to expect).

We’ve been giving each other space and time to be different ever since. I tend to pour it all out as I ride the roller coaster of loss – the anger, the guilt, the tears, the numbness. You process silently, giving only small briefly glimpses of where you are. I have to watch carefully, ask questions, and sit in silence while you find the words to express yourself.

We’ve lost so much since those first days. I suppose one could say that we have a lot of practice giving each other space to grieve in our own way, and making mistakes (like taking each other for granted). You learned how desperate I was for your return from work every evening and how critical it was for my sanity to let me know you were on your way home. I’ve held your hand wordless as we heard we faced complex medical issues with a second child. You’ve pulled me close when I crumbled sobbing onto your chest in the midst of a long slow kiss. I’ve entrusted you with my failures – when the strain broke me and I lashed out with pots banged, doors slammed, and walls punched. You’ve pushed me to accept the help I desperately needed but proudly resisted, gently scolding me when I threw my grown-up tantrums when things in my house weren’t done my way.

I wish I could boil this down into a fool-proof formula for every other couple who is facing or will face devastating loss together. We’ve found two parts of the formula: giving each other permission to grieve in our own way (even when it doesn’t make sense), and refusing to give ourselves permission to quit. I cling to the idea that facing this together, even with all the complexity and stress of two different people yoked together, is far better than facing it alone. So far, we’ve defied the odds predicting that couples who face raising a special-needs child and who bury a child will also endure the loss of their marriage.

We’re in a good place now, but we’ve felt our way through some dark painful terrifying days when we both wondered if we’d make it. We’re still working it out, one moment at a time, listening and waiting and loving each other.

I don’t know what lies ahead, but I do know this: I’m in this marriage with you for life. No matter what.

Love,
Joy


This week’s Marriage Letters prompt was “Enduring Loss Together.” If you joined Scott, Seth, Amber, and I writing this week’s letters, link up below. Or share your thoughts and lessons learned about enduring loss together the comments. Next week we’ll write “On Outside Influences.”

I Trust You Because… ~ Marriage Letters

Dear Scott,

We’ve weathered many rocky and dark roads together, two children born with life-threatening conditions, the day-to-day bone-wearying struggle to care for a child with special needs, the end of a church, the death of a child. Statistics say that the burden of all of that should have ripped us apart years ago. I am convinced that we would not be together without trust.

You’ve heard me say more than once that I can’t separate respect and trust. I respect and embrace you as a man, friend, confidante, and lover because I trust you. You say things to me that I refuse to hear from anyone else because you’ve earned my trust and my respect. If you tell me that I’ve said or written something harsh (as is common) or rash, I probably won’t like it (okay, you and I both know I definitely won’t like it), but I’ll listen. I don’t respect, I don’t listen to, and I don’t submit to people who I don’t trust.

respect signThis trust has been hard-won. You know better than anyone the struggles I have being vulnerable with you. I think it has taken you by surprise since I pour my guts out in writing on a blog (by now you know that I feel safer and more in control in written than in spoken word). I don’t let my guard down easily. Control may be an illusion, but I have a death-grip on that illusion. Letting go, even for pleasure, has required time and practice and patience. Trusting you with the shadows in my soul – the doubts, the questions, the fears, and especially the parts that are becoming different than when we first met and married – has been terrifying. How would you respond to me? Would you be disgusted? Disappointed? Turned off?

One of the most valuable lessons I learned about trusting you came after our daughter died. I couldn’t understand why you weren’t adrift in a sea of blackness like I was, and I was irritated that you seemed to be functioning and holding together while I was falling apart. I plucked up enough courage to check out a few books on child loss from the library. In one of them, I read that couples are more likely to stay together when they allow each other to grieve in their own unique way.

I’ve discovered that this applies to everything, not just mourning. When you give each other space to be individuals, to respond to life differently, it tells them that you love them for who they are, not who you want them to be. In the revealing of who I am to you, I have to give you the same space to be you as you hear and respond to it. In the listening, you give me space to be who I am becoming.

So far, every time I tell you something difficult (like that I didn’t know if I believed the Bible was inerrant or that I simply cannot submit to an authority that asks me to relinquish my intellectual, artistic, and expressive freedom), you rise to the occasion. Even after the occasional exasperated, “Why are you are so stubborn?” you hold me close and whisper “I love you” anyway. And every time you do, you sink another pillar of steel into the trust we’ve built together. I know that you’ve got my back, and I hope you know that I’ve got yours.

Your strongest ally,

Joy

Every Monday Scott and I join Seth and Amber to write letters to each other on the fight to keep our marriages happy and healthy. This week’s prompt was “I trust you because” and you can link your letter on Amber’s blog. Next week we’re writing on “Enduring loss together.” (See the schedule of writing prompts for April here.)