“By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare treasure.” Proverbs 24:3-4
During our dating years and early married life I heard many talks and sermons about how couples should always place each other above their children. I remember making mental notes of the key points for when I had children one day:
- Children need to see their parents spend time together and show love and affection to one another
- Children need to feel secure in their home and a crucial element of that is seeing their parents get along and not argue in front of them
- Mothers are often tempted to give themselves entirely to their children, which often leaves husbands feeling resentful and left out
-And finally, children need to see a God-centered marriage so when they grow up and get married they will have a healthy marraige to model their own after.
All seemed easy enough at the time. Now, not quite so much. I don't think its a coincidence that both my doctor and Maggie's nurse have both made it a point to tell me recently how high the divorce rate is among couples with premature babies. Who would have thought? I always knew that the rate was high among couples with very sick children. But you would think that something life-changing like bringing home a baby that was so close to death would make your marriage so much stronger. But that's not often the case. After being home for nearly two months with Maggie I now can understand how the stress of caring for a fragile child can really affect an otherwise strong marriage. Resentment can build up easily. The "who has done more" game never really results in a winner. Two people that love each other deeply end can easily become two ships passing in the night.
Now don't read too much into this posting. Justin and I are hanging in there. But I am not going to lie - it is tough. We felt like we were closer than ever during the time I on bed rest. Justin spent many nights with me in the hospital, sleeping on that horrible pull out chair, and we had lots of good talks. We prayed together. We laughed a lot. We cried often.
But now that everyone is home, it has gotten more difficult to focus on each other. I mean how can you ever spend any time together when your baby requires near constant attention? And your two year old is needing extra attention, too, because she is suffering as well. Babysitters haven't really been an option. I feel like I need to get out on the weekends but he feels like he needs a break from working all week. Since we can't take Maggie out we take turn doing errands, so the four of us rarely spend time together. Even when we are in the house, we seem to be in different rooms. It is just not easy to follow Mary Lawrence around the house with Maggie attached to her equipment. The other night we tried to all sit down in the dining room for dinner and Maggie started crying in her crib. If she was a normal baby I would have just gotten her from her room and held her in my arms while we all ate. But since her cords don't reach that far (and I was too lazy to move everything for a 10 minute dinner!) our family dinner turned into a Justin and Mary Lawrence dinner. (We tried, right?) Now I know why at every checkup, Maggie's doctor specifically asks me how Justin and I are doing. At first, I thought it was just casual conversation. Now I see that he probably has seen many marriages fall apart before his eyes. It's so sad.
We feel so thankful that we were somewhat prepared for this hard time. It is no accident that we found ourselves at a Family Life Marriage conference last winter right before I got pregnant. (And, trust me, we are not the marriage conference types but boy am I thankful we went). While there we made a commitment to each other to start praying together every night no matter what the circumstances. While we haven't lived up to that commitment perfectly, we have prayed together this past year more than any other time in our marriage and I truly believe our relationship was stronger because of it. Inviting God into our marriage was the most powerful thing we could have done to strengthen it.
So to all nearly and newly weds out there, I don't mean to be a pessimist or anything but hard times, they are a comin'! So now, when things are good and easy, is the time to build a strong foundation for your marriage. Pray together, built up a fortress of trust around your marriage. Treat the relationship you have with your husband as the precious treasure that it is. Protect and nurture it. So the day when adversity comes your marriage will be able to withstand it. And don't fall for the myth that just because you both are Christians you are immune to the common causes of a failed marriage. Because tiny little cracks in the foundation of the so-called "house" you are building together can creep up on you when you are not looking. Deterioration of that house can come easily when times get tough. And that foundation that you assumed was sufficient can actually collapse under too much pressure if you are not careful.
I was thinking, you know how at bachelorette parties a popular game is for all the ladies to write down a sage little tip for marital bliss. Like "never go to bed angry" or "always wear something cute to sleep." I wish we could play this game on the NICU floor and all give each other tips for keeping our marriages strong, since they are obviously at more risk. My little nugget of wisdom would be the best piece of marital advice we have ever received and it is this: Don't ever use the word "divorce" in your home. Not while arguing, not even in casual conversation. Because once the D-word is out there, it is out there. And it is a dangerous word. And if it's in our vocabulary it can much more easily become an option if things get too tough. And we vowed that would never be an option for us.
In closing, I know things will get easier for us. For some families, they never get easier. And I will never take that for granted. I am so thankful for these trials because I know they are strengthening our family unit. And I am thankful because I know that one day we will look back on this time and be able to say, "Look, we got through that, we can get through anything."