Marriage is certainly work, but most people would argue it’s hard work. I remember the first couple of years feeling blissfully unaware of the work everyone cautioned us about. Life was far from perfect, but it was hard to tell somedays. We had a roof over our heads. Food was always on the table. We vacationed when we wanted. We were an instant family, bypassing the stages of newborn and preschool life with our oldest daughter.
Till death do us part.
These weren’t exactly our words, as we opted for non-traditional vows we edited ourselves, but the message was the same: Our marriage was forever. At least, we hoped. We had witnessed and somewhat survived the divorces of our parents. The casualties of marriage were not lost on us. We experienced divorce as children of broken families and it was something that both of us agreed we wouldn’t want to repeat.
We worked hard at trying to figure out what made marriages fall apart. Money. Miscommunication. Kids. Infidelity. Boredom. Stress. Careers. Health problems. If we could work on avoiding these things, then maybe our promise to each other would be saved. What we soon learned was knowing what made marriages crumble, didn’t necessarily translate to knowing what made marriages work, or better yet thrive.
When the diagnosis came last fall, my thoughts instantly saturated with concerns about divorce. Marriages with typically developing children sometimes end in divorce, so it would make sense that parents of special needs children would end up in divorce more often. The stress can be higher. The needs of the children warrant more attention. The more I thought about it, the more I worried. Will our marriage survive this?
I hope so. I pray for a marriage that will span decades. A marriage where we get to raise our children together under one roof; the same home they know they can always come back to if they need. Is staying married for the sake of staying married always the right decision? No, I don’t think so. I’ve seen friends experience the heartbreak of divorce only to come out stronger and better than before. Does a married couple always mean a happy couple? No, not at all. So, what exactly is the key to staying married and staying happy?
4080 days of marriage later, and we’re still trying to figure this out. Some days it feels easy, other days there’s enough stress to move mountains. We walked down that aisle knowing it would require effort, so here’s what we’ve done in our more than decade as husband and wife:
- Participated in a Marriage Matters series at our local church where we were paired with a mentor couple who had been married for 20+ years
- Attended marriage counseling and individual therapy
- Read books from Dr. Jon Gottman: “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” and “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail?”
- Finally agreed to pay a babysitter so we could enjoy date night more regularly
- Take short trips as a couple when possible
- Invest and support in the things that are important to us as individuals
I should add that Juan is hands-down the most patient man in the world. Patient to a fault, almost. What he lacks in everything else is certainly made up by the fact that he’ll traverse the Disney theme parks with one kid propped on his shoulders while pushing the other in a stroller without so much as a complaint. The same kind of patient that will walk with me through the mall as I impatiently attempt to find something “cute, but age appropriate, that’s also on clearance” without even questioning my unrealistic expectations.
I asked Juan what he thought was my greatest contribution to our marriage and he said, thoughtfulness. This could be true, I suppose. Maternal instinct might be the driver of that characteristic, not necessarily personality. I thoroughly enjoy doing things for others, especially my children and sometimes my husband. If it’s sure to put a smile on someone’s face I’ll do it, even if it’s the most inconvenient thing on this planet.
If you’ve spent as much as 10 minutes with me, you probably know my husband by his first and last name: Juan Crespo. It’s how I usually refer to him, good and bad. When co-workers asked how I got food delivered for lunch, my answer is Juan Crespo. When I find a warm Starbucks drink on my desk in the midst of a hurried day, I already know it’s from Juan Crespo. How can it be that I am able to maintain my friendships and hobbies with three kids? Easy, Juan Crespo never makes me feel like my it’s my job to cook dinner, bathe the kids and put them down. Nope, it’s our job and if I’m not at home, then he’ll do it. I brag on my husband, even when I don’t mean to brag.
But, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. Trust me. We fight. We argue. We put each other down. We turn outward, as opposed to turning inward. We minimize each other’s feelings. We get defensive. We say things in the heat of the moment, that we regret almost immediately. We’re imperfect humans trying to manage as best as we can.
In addition to our faith, I believe that the work of Dr. John Gottman has played an integral part in how we view our role as husband and wife. I follow the Gottman Institute on social media and appreciate a lot of the information they share. What I’ve learned from Dr. Gottman’s research is that relationships are in constant flux. The ups and the downs are inevitable. His research tells us that conflict will always exist, so the key isn’t about how to avoid conflict. Instead, his research tells us it’s how couples handle conflict that can determine their likelihood of success. The Four Horsemen of Apocalypse is some of his greatest work and has helped me resolve conflict in healthier ways than I knew how.
My biggest hope is that the work we are doing will make a difference. When you know better, you do better – this is what has fueled my curiosity about relationships and marriage. We both have aspects to our personality that we are working on. For Juan, it’s about being more fun. For me, it’s about handling stress in a more productive way. We have three sets of eyes on us almost all the time: our kids. We take our responsibility as parents seriously, but the responsibility we have as husband and wife even more so.
Signed with love, Kat.