When Marriage Feels Like Treading Water


Marriage came easy to us for years.

There were no first year cliches, no dramatic tearful fights, no significant growing pains at all. Not that we didn't have arguments, of course we did, but they never rocked the boat too much and were quickly forgotten soon after.

We went through ministry training, we moved to Indonesia, we celebrated our third anniversary in Bali and our fourth in Sydney, we adopted a son whom we loved but couldn't for the life of us understand.

You already know that story.  How parenthood broke us down, crushed us under it's feet, and asked us to build life again out of the fragments of our dry bones.  And we've somehow done that, and it's been beautiful, but there is yet much of the story that you don't know, too.

As we began parenting this fascinatingly complex child whose person we were just beginning to learn, Eric was finishing his undergraduate degree and applying to graduate schools (which is all but a requirement in the field of music composition).  By the time he started his first Master's class, we were overwhelmed, discouraged, guilt-wrecked, and confused by the reality that mainstream parenting practices were failing our son.  (Did you know I was a Child and Family Studies major?  Can you guess how much I thought I knew about parenting?  Hmm Mmm. More.)

We had been living in a state of stress, both internally and externally, for too long already.  But in the fall of 2012, Eric's first semester of graduate school, we hit the kind of rock bottom that leaves your bum 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 to 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.

We 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.  Isn't it weird how sinking can feel so good that you forget it's going to kill you?

But eventually your lungs start to rage and you have to choose: come up or go down.  And I don't know how, but there always seemed to be just enough skinny grace to take a deep breath and start kicking again.  Sometimes that's all you can possibly do, but miraculously, it's enough.

Did you know that in the liturgical church calendar the new year starts in December, with Advent?  The new year came for us right on time, ushered in by a child and family trauma therapist whom I am still not convinced is not actually an angelic being.  The spring semester came knocking and found Eric shaking his head.  He would go part time so that we could focus on healing our family.  It sounds seamless and simple but I can assure you we are deeply emotional people and I am shockingly stubborn and though it felt peaceful, it was anything but easy.

We got more help and we signed up for a group training on parenting kids like Aly, and in doing so we signed up to be reminded that we were never alone.  We licked our wounds and we counted our losses and we started to swim.  Together.

In the two years since the emotional, financial, and practical stress of graduate school has continued to lord itself over us, but still we have healed in community.  The community of our marriage, the community of our family, the community of our friends, the community of therapy.  We could never have stayed afloat otherwise, and we will forever seek to be such a lighthouse for others.

And so it's with a little bit of pride but a heck of a lot more gratitude that I get to tell you about this:

May 15, 2015.

There is no one I would rather have almost killed and stayed married to.  No one.

Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)