You adopted a child with medical needs and the game changed. The Coach altered the playbook. The new little life in your family has your whole team scrambling to reorient themselves. You survived the stretching adoption process with its paperwork, lack of control, waiting and financial stress. You made it home, and you’d like to settle in for family bonding, but you can’t. You’ve got a bunch of new balls to carry: nurse, equipment manager, advocate, caretaker, researcher and appointment chauffeur. You start pushing so hard, shifting from offense to defense, and back again, that you can think of little else. You deem yourself team captain and suit up for battle, sometimes forgetting the teammate you share a life with. It’s enough to rattle a marriage.
The game has changed and all things are new. It’s a good new, but it just might take some time to feel the victory.
Whether your child needs no surgeries, one or six, years of therapies or a couple months of treatment, you experience some level of family triage. You prioritize needs. A treatment plan? Pain? Attachment? Sleep issues? Needs of siblings? Educational catch-up? Your exhaustion? Everyone’s emotions?
You give and treat, care and advocate, nurture and research, nurse and hold, schedule appointments and administer medicines. The nurse role sometimes trumps the parent role and parenting sometimes trumps marriage. Living in parenting-adoption-medical needs survival mode sends marriage down on the triage list.
Medical needs busy your days and can usher in feelings of fear, powerlessness, guilt, denial, anger, disappointment, and grief. I seem to be working my way through several of them, and try to remind myself that my husband is too. This is new territory to navigate, both together and individually.
Our relationship playbook is different now. For us, a surprise is the fierce, new protective parent anger. It is intense, and it’s hard not to let it color communication with everyone in our lives, especially each other. It bubbles up after medical tests, surgeries or even weeks later. It’s laced with fear and powerlessness, and we’re trying to figure out how to name and overcome it. It’s a powerful marriage opponent.
Our marriage has battle scars. And those wounds teach us that strong marriages are earned from intention. It’s not easy. Many days we’d rather either unleash our frustrations on each other or shut down completely. We are weary, but slowly becoming new. Better even.
Ten ways to move our marriages up the triage list.
1. Acknowledge that the ground under you has shifted. If your marriage is floundering a bit, admit that it is a hard season and give yourselves grace. It will take time to find your footing again.
2. Trust that the Lord can put you on the same page for decision-making. The amount of decisions that need to be made as a medical parent has surprised us. Are you wanting to hold off on a therapy, or get a second opinion, but your spouse doesn’t agree? If you are not in agreement, communicate, then wait. Harmony is not impossible for God. Pray for it.
3. Make time. It’s easy to become physically and emotionally unavailable to everyone except your child. Prioritize pockets of time to be a couple. It might seem impossible, or that you are too tired, but do it anyway. Reach out for childcare help, even after bedtime if necessary. Take a breather from the crazy, and show your spouse that you still value time spent together.
4. Talk. Verbalize what you need emotionally or physically. Don’t assume your spouse can read your mind, or guess your feelings. Ask what he needs too. Fight the urge to shut down mentally or retreat emotionally. Fight the urge to process it mostly with friends.
Download Parenting Time Out: 20 Discussion Questions, grab a quiet moment, or plan a date night, and let the questions spark conversation.
5. Consider personalities. When facing hard things, remember you are uniquely wired. For us, he’s logic then feelings. I am feelings then logic. This makes for challenges, but knowing our personality types helps us understand each other better.
Take the Meyers Briggs personality test. It explains how personality impacts decision-making and stress.
6. Show gratitude. Is your spouse making sacrifices? Researching specialists and treatments? Steadying your fluctuating emotions? Making the insurance calls? On his knees praying? Stepping up with the other kids? Is she perfect? Definitely not, but your spouse is likely meeting needs. Let them know you see it.
7. Celebrate together. Hard appointment over? Survive the first year? The day? Hear positive test results? Celebrate big and little things.
8. Play. Get outside and toss a ball to each other. YouTube a Fallon clip and sit next to your husband. Rent a comedy. Go hiking. Relieve some stress, connect and laugh. You might not have time, but it’s life giving.
9. Give grace. It’s been hard for you both. Reach for the hand. Give the hug.
10. Pray together. Nothing solidifies a marriage more. With eyes closed and fingers clasped, you just might be touched at the prayers of your spouse.
The needs are great, emotions high, and tasks plenty. I need a teammate. I can’t do this alone, and don’t want to. I want to drop my captain’s jersey, and pass the ball to my husband more. Something new is building, and though we can’t always trust ourselves, we can trust the One who designed our union and created our team. He creatively pooled our collective strength, and offered us marriage as a gift. We need only surrender again each day, and be intentional, in sickness and in health, for better or worse.
So, weary medical parents, get childcare for a date night, download Parenting Time Out: 20 Discussion Questions, and spend some time being teammates.