My husband Gene and I were married only three years when crisis struck. We were living in Nepal at the time, working for a Christian mission. Gene was overseeing a hospital construction project and I was a pregnant stay-at-home mom caring for our 20-month-old son. Life was good. And then the unexpected hit.
“Your baby has hydrocephalus,” said the surgeon, minutes after delivering our second child. “She has too much water on her brain. She needs neurosurgery, but we can’t perform it here. You must return to North America on the first flight available.”
The first international flight was scheduled to depart in three days. That left us with one day to deal with our earthly possessions. We’d spend the second day driving 12 hours to Kathmandu. We’d fly on the third day, or so we thought.
The travel agency told us otherwise. Because I’d had a Caesarean section, they labeled me a medical high risk and refused to issue me a ticket. That left Gene to fly alone with our critically ill infant. I remained in Nepal with our son for another week, praying non-stop that our daughter would live.
God heard that prayer and countless others that followed.
We faced an unknown future with no job, no house, no car, no health insurance (we lived in Washington state), and a child in a neo-natal intensive care unit. Besides that, our sudden return from rural Nepal to metropolitan USA thrust us into reverse culture shock.
Our daughter’s medical needs meant frequent surgeries and hospitalizations for the next two years. Stress finally took a toll. I still remember the night I stood in our kitchen utterly exhausted, yelling untrue accusations at my husband. When I finished my tirade, his eyes filled with tears. He said quietly, “I didn’t deserve that.” He was right.
Our situation resembled a perfect storm capable of wreaking havoc on our marriage. Thankfully we weathered it and are still happily married 33 years later. Not all couples fare as well. Many marriages shipwreck when crisis strikes, but devastation can be avoided. Here are a few insights I’ve learned through personal experience and by watching other couples:
1. Pray together.
I believe that praying together on a regular basis — especially while holding each other, or at least holding hands — works like glue to bind spouses’ hearts.
My husband and I end each day with prayer. He leads, and I follow. Together we thank God for His blessings and we tell Him our needs. Doing this ensures we fall asleep in harmony with each other and with the Lord. Keeping God central in our relationship makes our marriage stronger than our best efforts could muster. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says it well — “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
2. Be empathetic.
Husbands and wives respond differently in crisis for several reasons including upbringing, personality type, outside pressures, and spiritual maturity. It’s easy to let the differences cause friction, but that eventually leads to further pain. Been there; done that.
Gene grew up in a home where yelling was non-existent no matter the stress level. My upbringing was different than his, so I entered our marriage assuming that releasing a pressure valve involved loud verbal venting. This caused Gene to withdraw rather than open his heart to me.
I had to apply Romans 12:10 — “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” These words challenged me to change my response when under stress. I learned to control my mouth, regard my spouse as a priceless treasure, and love him through the storm.
3. Guard our heart.
A partner who feels neglected by the other might be tempted to seek counsel or comfort elsewhere. The marriage is headed for trouble if that “elsewhere” is with a member of the opposite sex.
We need to guard our hearts, especially when we’re hurting and emotionally vulnerable. No one’s above moral failure. If our spouse withdraws or refuses to pray with us, then let’s talk and pray with a friend of the same sex.
4. Fight for, not with, each other.
We have an enemy, but it’s not our spouse. John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Satan wants to use crises to tear couples apart, but God can use them to cement them together.
When crisis strikes, let’s remember that we’re on the same team as our spouse. Let’s pull together to defeat our common enemy who’s working hard to destroy our marriage and family.
5. Move forward.
Our crisis thrust our marriage into a new normal filled with frequent medical appointments and the need to adjust schedules to take turns sitting at our daughter’s hospital bedside. Nothing seemed easy anymore. Even going on a coffee date required finding mature babysitters able to care properly for our daughter.
Gene and I adjusted our lives as needed, asking for God’s help along the way. He answered, giving us wisdom and strength one day at a time. We found consolation in knowing our circumstances were no surprise to Him, and confidence in trusting Him to walk with us through the changes and challenges.
Crisis is inevitable. It will strike, and it will impact us as individuals and as couples. Let’s not run from it. Instead, let’s embrace life’s tough stuff as opportunities to grow and strengthen our marriages.