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 labelled 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 29 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.
- Pray together. If you're not already praying together regularly, then it's time to start. Keep God in the centre of your relationship and you'll be stronger for it. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says it well—“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (NIV).
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. The solution? Respect the other's needs. Commit to helping each other survive and thrive.
Practise Romans 12:10—“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Regard the other as a priceless treasure and love him through the storm.
Guard your 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. Flee that temptation! If your spouse withdraws or refuses to pray with you, then pray with a friend of the same sex.
Fight for, not with, each other. You have an enemy, but it's not your 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 can use crises to tear couples apart; God can use crises to cement them together.
Move forward. A crisis might thrust your marriage into a new normal. Ask God to help you adjust well. Together, thank Him for being faithful to you. Commit to being faithful to Him.