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Maintaining Your Marriage in the Midst of Suffering

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Marriage experts will tell you it’s vitally important to maintain your marriage during the child-raising years because one day, it will be just the two of you again. One day you will need to know how to live with each other and love each other without your children around.

My husband, Brennan, and I have been learning day by day how to maintain our marriage in light of the fact that it might be the two of us once again sooner than we ever imagined.

We’re only 10 months into this journey of having a terminally ill baby, but we have learned so much already about how to focus on our marriage and each other in spite of the constant care our daughter, Tori, requires.

Are we perfect? Nope. We fail daily. But it’s through those failures that we’ve learned many lessons, and we’ve grown stronger and closer together.

We share these lessons in hopes that it will encourage someone else who is walking a similar path. Many of these we learned by observing other couples, and we are so thankful for their wisdom. These are all things you should do as a couple under normal circumstances, but when you are subjected to a tragedy or other stressful season, it is even more important to be purposeful about these things.

So, how are we caring for our marriage?

1. We established from the beginning that this would not break our marriage.

The evening of January 30, 2015, as we sat in the ER awaiting results from Tori’s CT scan, I looked at Brennan and whispered, “We won’t let this break us.” He readily agreed. We made a decision before she was even diagnosed not to let the enemy use this to break us apart. It was like a vow renewal in a few simple words.

We make the daily choice to walk through this together because we promised to do so from the beginning. For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. We believe these vows don’t only apply to the two of us: they apply to our children as well.

We had our first child together, and now we are losing her together. Together.

You don’t make marriage vows because it’s a romantic thing to do; you make them because life is hard, times can get tough and the promise you made is a constant reminder that you are in this together. You promised.

2. We communicate openly, honestly and freely throughout this journey.

This has affected Brennan and I differently, so it has been so important to be real at all times. If we’re having an emotional moment, we talk about it. If we’re struggling with some aspect of our situation, we talk about it.

There’s no reason to hide our emotions in light of all we’re dealing with, yet we know that is a temptation for many couples. It’s easier just to put our feelings aside and ignore them.

Every day we are faced with the reality that our daughter is dying, and it isn’t something we ignore. We acknowledge the situation and work through the process of grief together as much as we can.

3. We try to apologize quickly when our emotions speak for us.

When you’re losing a child, the grief begins at the moment of diagnosis. At least it did for us. We have found there are often underlying emotions that shape our tone of voice and our words without us realizing it at first. Therefore, we do our best to analyze our feelings to find the root cause, because, more often than not, it is our grief that caused the outburst of emotion, not what the other person said or did.

4. We forgive each other freely and offer abundant grace.

Grace is probably the most important element of any relationship, but especially for situations like ours. Offer it freely. Remember that you are both dealing with the most traumatic situation you have ever dealt with, and it is new territory.

5. We are creative with our time to ensure that we still “date” even when we can’t leave the house.

We don’t get date nights. Until we have nursing help, there is simply no one comfortable with watching Tori because of the need to suction her frequently. Right now we rarely even get to sleep in the same bed because if we did, we would both be exhausted all the time. Tori simply doesn’t sleep well. Because she has to be close to us (suctioning), she sleeps on one half of the bed and one of us sleeps on the other half. The other person sleeps upstairs so they can get some rest. This is our reality right now, and we make the most of it.

So, in order to still “date” each other, we found a show we watch weekly together and laugh together as we enjoy it. We take advantage of Tori’s typical evening nap, and we eat dinner together and spend quality time together.

It isn’t about quantity in this season — it’s about the quality.

6. We allow the primary caretaker to have some alone time whenever possible — and we take care of the caregiver.

I care for Tori about 18 hours every day by myself, and I definitely need opportunities to get out of the house. Running errands — which I previously didn’t care to do — has become such a joy for me because I’m able to do things by myself, things that otherwise get neglected. As an introvert, this alone time recharges me and allows me to be the best possible caretaker and mother for Tori that I can be.

Brennan also does his best to do things to take care of me, as we realized that I wasn’t feeling cared for — by no fault of his own! Because my entire life is spent caring for Tori and for him, it has been important to have him do little unexpected things to care for me as well — things like making chiropractor appointments for me. These little things help ensure I’m taken care of in the midst of our crazy life.

As we continue along on this undesired path, we will continue to learn more about ourselves, our marriage and how to make it even stronger. We will share those lessons along the way because we want to help others as much as we can through their own tough situations.

Every day we choose joy and love instead of sadness and irritation. We choose to be a team instead of individuals. We honor the vows we made before God, family and friends. And we find reasons to be thankful even when it would be easier to complain.

Our marriage is not only going to survive this tragedy, but it is going to thrive because of our purposeful care of our relationship in the middle of all of this. And yours can, too.

Follow this journey on The Adventures of the Brackbill Family.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability and/or disease, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: November 22, 2015
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