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.


  1. Marriage is a mystery. Even the Bible tells us that. Somehow through all the craziness God teaches us about His love. I so want my marriage to be easy and it so is not and I think that is part of the point, it is struggling together that actually holds us together and keeps us desiring God. Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. Every day I come back for more of your words, even when nothing new has been published. I just love you, Shannon. In the years - and years, and probably a few more years even after that - to come, your words will be a beacon of light for me and those in my house.

  3. As always, perfectly and beautifully said. There have been times with D when I've wondered if this is the end- if we can pull back from the edge of the cliff we fought ourselves to and so far, we've been able work the hard things out. There's still no one else I would rather fight with, even after 10 years.
    Congrats to Eric on his accomplishment- grad school is a big deal!

  4. Amber! Your evil computer finally let you comment! haha Welcome, friend.

    No one else I'd rather fight with... love that

  5. I'm on cloud 9 girl. What an amazing compliment. Can't wait to see your life unfold.

  6. It really is true, I feel like if somehow we magically managed to avoid serious struggles we would then get bored of each other and have a whole new problem! I saw a quote on Pinterest once that said "the struggle is part of the story", and it's so true in everything, marriage not excluded.

  7. I know! I feel like I should race back through all your posts and comment on them really quickly before it changes it's mind!

  8. My husband just walked across the stage that same day with his MPA diploma which he's been working pretty much since we said 'I do', and there certainly was a palpable weight lifted from both of us. (We also have two children who've been born since he started.) School with a family is not for the faint of heart.

    Congratulations to your husband -- and you!!!

  9. Good words. Honest words. And really good pictures that tell your story in both your eyes:-)

  10. beautifully put and that's not doing your words and story justice - I read this right after posting about our 12 year anniversary. we laughed and said we wouldn't trade any of the last 12 years and then said well maybe. but really it's beautiful because the pain to bear it together makes it beautiful.

  11. Congratulations to you and your husband both, Laurel! You're absolutely right, school with a family is a whole 'nother can of worms!

  12. Hey, congratulations on 12 years Mandy and Keegan!

  13. Okay. This is GOLD. I'm glad i found this blog. You share very beautiful stories about life that create so much impact.

  14. Wow Gilbert, thank you. Seriously. What a beautiful compliment. I really appreciate having a male voice chiming in on this one!

  15. Shannon, your brutal honesty is so refreshing in a time when our culture as a whole, and sometimes the church, teaches us to put on a mask and defend it with our lives. Apparently, Jesus thought not pretending was so important that the only things he took back to heaven from earth were his scars. Why, oh why, do we humans try so hard to cover ours? Scars indicate deep wounds that have healed, and that is something worth celebrating!

  16. "the only things he took back to heaven from earth were his scars."

    WOW. I love this so much, Ann. What wisdom. Thank you for sharing here!


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)