I married my husband, Daniel, on a warm spring day in 2011. Actually, since we were married March 19, it was still technically winter. But a Georgia winter, meaning it was 65 degrees and sunny.
It was a beautiful day. My father-in-law performed the ceremony, and that day still goes down as one of the most fun of my life. We danced to all the wedding cliches, had enough candy to feed a medium-sized village, and even broke out into a flash mob at one point. It was perfect.
And then real life began. Ours, like so many young couples’, began with a joy all newlyweds have: The joy of lying. Not big lies. Not like you forgot to tell them you’re wanted in five states. But little, easy lies, like, “This dinner is delicious!” or “I definitely like this painting.” I used to sneak out of bed in the morning and brush my teeth before Daniel woke up so he would think my morning breath was naturally minty-fresh. You’re welcome for that free tip, humanity. We wanted to make each other happy, so we were willing to overlook towels on the floor or accidentally-destroyed projects (I’m still really sorry, Daniel). We made the extra effort because it was worth it.
We had been married for a year-and-a-half when we found out we were expecting our first baby. We were thrilled! As you probably know, our firstborn arrived a bit less traditionally than the average bear.
And that’s when our marriage ended the first time.
Gone were the days where our biggest worries were over whether to order pizza or go out for dinner instead. I didn’t get enough sleep to even think about waking up early to brush my teeth and sneak back into bed. Towels on the floor became just one more nuisance on a never-ending list I kept tabs on in my head.
Joshua needed our constant attention. After four months in the NICU, he came home to therapies, specialists, oxygen tubes, apnea monitors, and more. As time went on, the needs changed, but the stress of having a special-needs child didn’t.
You want to know one of the truths about having a kid with special needs? It kills your marriage. Kills it. We were both still there, still married, but the marriage we had known was gone forever. In its place was something almost unrecognizable. And it was getting worse every day.
I’ve said before that having a child like Josh changed me. In so many ways, it changed me for the better. It made me more compassionate, and more understanding of the struggles of others, and opened my eyes to an entirely new world.
In some ways, though, the changes weren’t as great. These were the changes that were the hardest to resist. I was so angry at God for allowing Joshua to have so many issues. I was angry at myself for not realizing something was wrong sooner in my pregnancy. I was angry at everyone around me. And while throughout the day, I made an effort to at least smile at other people, by the time I got home from the hospital or new specialist or therapy session, I decided I had given all I could. I couldn’t possibly deal with one more thing. And I took it out on Daniel.
Every forgotten task, every misunderstood conversation, every dish I washed alone — I kept track of it all. I knew how many times I had done the laundry and how many times Daniel hadn’t. Sure, he was working all day, but I was busy with the baby. It wasn’t fair. That’s what I kept repeating to myself. It wasn’t fair. I was a stay-at-home mom, but not by choice. I had never asked for this. I wasn’t even sure I wanted it for a long time. But then it arrived and was so much harder than I expected. And I knew I wasn’t up to the challenge. And not being up to the challenge made me defensive. And being defensive made me resentful. And being resentful made me bitter. And all of that culminated in my marriage slowly dissolving into two bickering parents who didn’t know how to stop arguing.
No one is ever 100% innocent in these kinds of things. But I will be honest and tell you that a lot of this was on me. Daniel tried his best to help me, but I didn’t want his help. And then I got angry at him for not helping me. And then he tried to help me again, and obviously, that meant he thought I wasn’t doing a good enough job, and then I was angry again. And then he didn’t help, and how dare he not help me? It was a vicious cycle.
We went on like this for a few years. We had our daughter, Jenna, just 15 months after Josh was born. Daniel worked full-time, and I worked part-time for a while, eventually moving to a full-time position where I worked from home. We had two kids under the age of two, hectic jobs, financial struggles, and so many appointments to go to. Life was busy. Too busy. Jenna was a fussy newborn. Josh didn’t walk until Jenna was almost a year old. There was no rest, no time for our marriage anymore. Even if we had wanted to work on it, there was simply no time.
Same people. Different marriage.
And then one day, Daniel and I had a big argument. (I’m not trying to air our dirty laundry or anything, and I asked Daniel if he was okay with me writing this. Just want to put full disclosure out there.) It was bad. I was so angry and so tired. Josh had started an intense feeding therapy program. Daniel was dealing with some (thankfully resolved!) health issues. It was stressful. And we argued, and then I shouted that I wanted a divorce.
It wasn’t true. I didn’t want a divorce. I was so tired, so angry and bitter, and I just decided to say it, to goad my husband into arguing with me. But he didn’t argue. Instead, we sat in silence for a while. I knew I should apologize. But I wouldn’t. I didn’t.
I thought that I was already so broken that nothing could touch me anymore. But I was wrong. The look on Daniel’s face when I said those words to him made me feel like I had shattered all over again, like the day Josh was born, and all the days after when we heard more bad news. And so I made a choice.
I decided to try to let the little things go.
It was hard at first, and is still a struggle for me, if I’m being perfectly honest. But my goal was to stop looking for ways to blame Daniel, and instead look at the ways he loved me and showed me his love every day. I decided to think about his intent — did he not take the garbage out just to make my day harder? Probably not. Probably he had just come home from a really hard day at work and it slipped his mind while he was helping me with the dishes or feeding the kids. Probably I could just remind him, or even do it myself. And then we wouldn’t have to fight. Things didn’t have to turn into an argument every time one of us made a little mistake.
My other goal was to get to back to reading my Bible every day. That isn’t meant to sound self-righteous; I just knew I needed to hear what God had to say instead of screaming my own words at Him. As we say in this house, it was no longer my turn.
So I started working on my goals. And I’ve messed up so many times. But it’s been getting easier and easier.
And that’s how my marriage ended the second time.
Same people. Different marriage.
Slowly but surely, the arguments grew to be less frequent. We sought ways to work together instead of ways to blame each other for the stresses in our life. Our other situations didn’t change. Josh still had a lot of needs and was a lot of work. We still had two very little kids and very little time for ourselves and our marriage. Those things wouldn’t change. But we could. We did.
When I first decided to write about this, I was hesitant. I didn’t want to paint Daniel in a bad light, because he is a wonderful, godly man, who married a slightly crazy, super short woman. I didn’t want people to judge us. I didn’t want to come across as having so many struggles.
But I don’t think we’re alone in these struggles. Even if you don’t have a kid with special needs, your marriage has likely hit a rough patch. If it hasn’t, please submit yourself for testing at the nearest health facility, because you might be a robot.
And if you do have a kid with special needs, and your marriage is struggling, and you’re not sure how you will possibly make it through one more day of therapy, and leg braces, and helmets, and practicing stairs, and giving choices, and being a constant cheerleader and advocate for your child so they never have to feel different — it’s going to be okay. Things might not change. But you can.