Because I write about marriage, I see lots of things in terms of what they show about marriage and marriage growth.
I’d like to share some random thoughts I had over the past few days as I’ve been dealing with Big Guy’s medical situation.
Things are easier when you’ve done them before.
The first time Big Guy had AFib, it was overwhelming and scary. At first we thought he was having a heart attack, and I wasn’t sure he was going to make it. We were in near-crisis mode. We didn’t know what procedures would be attempted or whether anything would even work. On top of that, he had another medical condition that added complications to the treatment plan at the time.
This time, he recognized the symptoms earlier and therefore sought treatment earlier—before things got too bad. We knew that the doctors would get it under control, and we had a pretty good idea what they would try and what would ultimately work. He no longer has the complicating medical issue due to surgery two years ago. The experience wasn’t nearly as overwhelming, and it wasn’t scary at all. Resolving the problem and returning to normal rhythm happened more easily and more quickly.
When our marriage was in near-crisis mode, we didn’t know if we were going to make it. We experienced symptoms, but we didn’t really understand what was going on. We didn’t know what to try, and we didn’t know if anything would work. We didn’t realize at the time how much my own baggage was affecting our marriage.
Although we’ve made progress in our marriage, we still have occasional setbacks. Old thoughts, feelings, or habits rise to the surface. Now, however, we approach each setback with the full knowledge that things will be okay. We know more about how to resolve the problems. Returning our marriage to normal rhythm happens more easily and more quickly.
Ask for help—or at least accept the help that is offered.
I don’t like to accept help. I’m stubborn and I’d rather do everything myself. However, when my family is experiencing a major challenge, I always reach out for prayer. I know that when I’m swamped with medical information, consent forms, and finding my way around a hospital, my prayers are sporadic and unfocused. While I waited for Big Guy to get ready to go to the hospital, I posted messages in a few places online to ask for prayer. I knew that others would pray for us in a more focused way than I could. I appreciated the comfort of knowing others were praying for us. The hours when Big Guy was in the emergency room and was then getting settled into a regular room saw a constant barrage of information and questions—yet I felt a calmness and peace that I know was from the prayers of my friends. I let them help me when my mind and body were weary.
I accepted small offers of help, too. My kids offered to call a couple family members for me. My husband’s wonderful nurses offered to bring me juice when they brought Big Guy something. I fought back my instinctive, “No, that’s okay. I’ll take care of it.” Instead, I responded with a simple, “Yes, thank you.” Allowing others to do those things freed me up to do the things that needed me specifically to do them.
Sometimes in marriage we need to ask for help, or accept what is offered. Sometimes we don’t know what to pray or what to do—but we can reach out to our prayer warrior friends and just say, “Hey, we’re trying to work on a struggle in our marriage, and I am having a hard time praying about it. Will you pray for us over the next couple months?” You may be surprised at the peace and calm that can come over you in your marriage when you know others are praying. When we face major challenges, it can be good to reach out to a pastor and counselor and ask for help. Sometimes a third party can help you in a more focused and consistent way than you can do for yourselves.
Even when we don’t want to ask for help, we should accept what is offered. If someone offers to babysit so you can have a date night or wants to give us tickets to some event, accepting what is offered, with simple thanks, goes a long way in giving us the freedom and opportunity to do the things that are helpful in strengthening our marriage.
Sometimes you’re stuck waiting and you feel all alone.
I wasn’t able to be with Big Guy for everything. I had to leave the room when they were doing an x-ray of his chest. When he had a heart ultrasound, I was allowed to stay as long as I was quiet and didn’t try to talk with him. His major procedure was done on a Sunday morning. Instead of being in church, I sat in a big family waiting room. On weekdays, the room is full of people and activity, with a receptionist, a kids’ area with toys and coloring books, knitting baskets, a TV, a faux fireplace, and several rows of comfortable chairs. On a Sunday morning, however, the room was empty. The rows of empty chairs and the tidy kids’ area were a bit eerie. I was alone in a space intended for many. No receptionist was there to make coffee or to tell me which patient number on the surgery progress monitor belonged to my husband. I was by myself, and there wasn’t anything I could do to move things forward or find out what was going on. I was waiting for the doctor to do what he needed to do. I didn’t know if it would take fifteen minutes or two hours. I had only the vaguest idea what was happening in some other room. All I could do was sit and wait–but I used that time to add a few rows to some knitting and for prayer.
At times, marriage can be the same way. We can feel alone in a relationship intended for two. Sometimes we have to wait in marriage, too. We wait for our husbands to do whatever they’re going to do as they work on a sin issue of their own, or as they work toward healing from hurt we’ve given them. We have only a vague idea of what they’re doing, and we don’t know how long it will take. All we can do is sit and wait for our husbands to do what is in front of them to do–but we can use that waiting time to pray and to work on our own progress as well.
Self-care is important.
When someone in my family faces a health issue or some kind of crisis, my heart wants to set everything aside so I can be there and provide nurture and care. If I do that without also taking care of myself, though, I’m going to run myself down to the point where I’m useless. After spending hours at the emergency room and then in Big Guy’s hospital room, my heart wanted to stay by his side so he wouldn’t be alone. But I knew that if I didn’t take care of myself, I would be useless for an entire week after his discharge. We live just a few blocks from the hospital, so I went home at night. Instead of cooking anything, I ordered out for Chinese food. I plopped my feet up on a space heater and turned on Netflix to watch White Christmas and Grease. (Fun fact: When your husband’s in the hospital, Saturday night “Netflix and chill” means actual Netflix and actual chill.) Taking care of myself helped me better be the wife my husband needed when I was back at the hospital the next day.
When I first realized how much I was hurting my husband in my constant sexual rejection, I tried to set aside all my own desires in our marriage. I approached most things in our marriage as a sacrifice. While this helped me start on the journey toward a restored marriage, it was not a good approach long-term. A marriage has two people, not just one. Ignoring my own desires all the time made our marriage about Big Guy. That was just as imbalanced as when I had controlled everything so it would be my way. A marriage should be mutually loving and beneficial.
Clearly self-care can be overdone, to the point that it is bad for both the individual and for the marriage. But constant self-sacrifice without replenishing ourselves is going to leave us without much left to give. In my marriage, self-care is mostly about authenticity and honesty. I communicate my needs (emotional, sexual, and otherwise) clearly and specifically. I don’t demand, but I do advocate for myself. Doing so helps me be the wife Big Guy needs, and it helps him be the husband I need.
It isn’t good for Big Guy’s Christian walk to think our marriage is all about him, either. His own spiritual development requires him to love me well and to live with me in an understanding way. In advocating for my own needs without trampling over his, our marriage is stronger, and my husband and I both do a better job of learning to live like Jesus. And when we “Netflix and chill,” we both enjoy our mutual experience.
Big Guy’s procedure yesterday worked beautifully, and we have a plan with his cardiologist for moving forward. Last night we were able to sleep together in our own bed again. Sleeping together has a lot to do with marriage, too—but I’m pretty sure you don’t need me to explain that one.
Image credit | Chris Taylor