This is the first of a two-part blog. This is mine (Julie) and my husband’s (Bill) story. We wanted to share with you how we have been able to not just “stay married” after paralysis, but how our marriage has actually been able to thrive.
I am not sure if we would still be married today if my husband hadn’t surrendered his life to Jesus just one year into our marriage. We dated for 3 years and were engaged for 1 year before we married on September 30, 2000. I loved him more than I had ever loved any man in my life. We had a good relationship but we definitely didn’t know how to communicate effectively. We are both very stubborn and competitive which made for some interesting battles. When we disagreed we fought and we weren’t very kind. We yelled at each other, brought up things from the past and often I would just stop talking to him. I honestly believe that if we had continued on the path that we started on, our marriage would have only lasted a few years before we both got tired of the fighting and stone walling and just gave up. But on September 13, 2001, just 2 days after 9/11…everything changed. We had attended a youth event with my brother and his wife at their church and the youth pastor spoke about end times. It was a powerful message that spoke directly to Bill’s heart and that night he gave his life to Jesus. Now I am not saying that everything magically changed in that moment, but I am saying that God started working in both our lives that very evening. Changes started to gradually happen as I returned to my faith (I was raised as a Christian but had walked away from my faith for about 5 years) and as Bill started to understand who he was in Christ.
The one thing that didn’t seem to get any better was the way we communicated, or rather didn’t communicate. We still fought and struggled to work through conflict in a productive manner. The Sunday morning bible study we started to attend offered a marriage conference and we both agreed that this was something we needed. During this conference they addressed communication straight on. They made us sit alone together, face to face, and gently tell each other things about each other that we didn’t like. We had to be calm, we had to make it about how we felt and not belittle or degrade the other person. It was the healthiest communication of sensitive subjects we had ever done. We were actually able to share our pet peeves with each other without getting into an argument. Once we were aware of those pet peeves and because they were shared in a loving way, we actually both wanted to work on them because we wanted to show each other we cared. When we learned to value the other persons needs and wants more than our own, we learned how to communicate more effectively and use our conflict to actually resolve issues rather than just stuffing them away only to have them boil over later. We attended several marriage conferences and our Sunday Bible study was for couples so we were able to go through many studies and understand God’s intent for marriage and how we could use our marriage to point others to Christ. These conferences and studies literally saved our marriage.
After about 2 years of learning and growing our marriage we decided we would love to help engaged couples learn these valuable tools before marriage to save them from the struggles that we faced. We became marriage mentors and were blessed to help out with several 8-week mentoring classes for engaged or dating couples at our church. Every time we went through the lessons with these couples, we reminded ourselves of the tools we now had and it just strengthened our marriage each time. I believe with all my heart that having this experience behind us made our ability to thrive in marriage even after paralysis that much easier.
However, I know not everyone had the same type of marriage before paralysis. I can just hear some of you reading this saying, “yeah, that’s great for you, but my marriage wasn’t all that great before paralysis and now it’s even worse”. I hear you and I want to assure you that there is still hope for your marriage. We truly believe that there is hope and healing available to any marriage if both parties are willing to do the work to make it better.
One of things that has helped us communicate effectively is humility. Learning to “die to self” basically and put the other persons needs and wants ahead of our own. You see, we both believe that our spouse loves us and truly wants what is best for us. We also believe that we are not each other’s enemies. With just those basic beliefs about each other, we are able to approach conflict with a much healthier attitude. We still disagree about some things but the way we handle those disagreements is what keeps our marriage thriving.
Learning to express how you FEEL when your spouse says or does something you disagree with can make all the difference in a conflict. Instead of attacking him, you are letting him know how his actions or lack thereof make you feel. For example, let’s say I feel hurt when my husband doesn’t appreciate the care I provide for him. However, I don’t tell him how I feel, I just take out my hurt feelings by being making rude, snarky comments or being short tempered with him. In doing this, I am only making a bad situation worse. He can’t read my mind!! He is never going to figure out that I am hurt if I am just rude to him. Like if I said, “You don’t appreciate anything I do for you, you are such a selfish jerk.” To which he is most likely to respond with an angry and unloving comment that just makes me feel less appreciated and hurt and causes me to want to be rude and disrespectful back.
However, if I can share with him in a calm and respectful tone, he is more likely to have a positive response. I might say “Honey, I do a lot to take care of you, and I want to take care of you because I love you very much. But sometimes I FEEL like you don’t appreciate what I do and you take me for granted.” The best time to communicate such feelings is during a time of non-conflict when you can look him in the eyes and speak in a soft tone. You can also encourage your spouse to communicate his feelings to you in a similar manner. This type of loving and respectful communication can drastically change how you feel towards your spouse and your marriage.
Communication is important for any marriage to thrive, but when you add in a disability of any kind it becomes even more important. Loving your spouse is a choice, everyday you have the opportunity to choose to love them. Just like everyday you have the opportunity to choose joy. Taking personal responsibility for your own role in your marriage is essential. If you want your marriage to thrive, you have to choose joy and choose love daily, even when…. are you ready for this…? even when you don’t feel like it and/or you feel that your spouse doesn’t deserve it! You are only responsible for your choices, not theirs.
There are several books and studies I would recommend as a guide for you and your spouse to help your marriage thrive.
First is the book Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs, by Emerson Eggerich (link below). If you can find a local church that is offering this course, I highly recommend it. However, if not, just reading the book can help make a dramatic impact on your marriage.
I would also recommend learning your spouses love language and having him do the same. It really helps you understand how your spouse receives love which is most likely different from you. There are 5 basic love languages and this book will really help you see things about yourself and your spouse that you didn’t realize were actually considered a love language.
The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts
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