Everyone has heard stories of people who have fallen in love after surviving a traumatic ordeal together. These romantic dramas make for great books and movies. Perhaps time spent together overcoming a mutual trial can create these deep bond. We think about the couple who met and married after Sully landed his plane in Hudson, or people who met through 9/11 and other tragic ordeals. Then there are the stories of patients and their nurses who fall in love. I’m sure the list could go on to include stories from every war throughout history and so much more.
Research shows that people facing acute stress, as in a natural disaster, show an increase in cooperation, friendliness, and increased connections between individuals.
Parenting teenager definitely qualifies as acute stress, and I would argue it has to constitute a natural disaster. Parenting is hard! Raising human beings into adulthood and releasing them into the wild is a lot of pressure. If being trapped in the house with a child you have grounded doesn’t constitute a hostage situation (for you), I don’t know what does. And, if I had a dollar for every time I told an irate teenager that, “This administration doesn’t negotiate with terrorists,” I’d have at least enough money to put myself into a world-class sugar coma. Trust me, I know stress.
In all seriousness, some couples fall apart when they confront the increasingly difficult struggles of raising their children. Add to that the conflict created by real crisis or loss, and it can be too much for some couples to bear. Life is hard, and all couples have times of brokenness and sorrow; you can’t be on the same page all the time. Crisis often throws couples into whirlwinds. When the storm passes, couples can find that they have landed in different places. They feel lost and alone.
But not everyone stays that way. Sometimes couples endure and come out stronger. They land in different places, but they find each other again. I think that’s what happened to Jay and I.
We’ve had the normal ups and downs that every marriage faces, but there were a few years in which we were never on the same page, not even in the same book. I had changed so much already, and the heartaches of life made our differences all the more profound. The challenges of parenting teens, demanding careers, caring for aging parents, and all the costs associated with these things seemed like ever strengthening waves that were constantly crashing over us and making it hard to even catch our breath before a new wave would send us tumbling head over heels.
I think what made the difference for us was the belief that marriage is forever; divorce is not an option. I remember a Valentine’s Day Couples dinner at church once where the speaker reminded couples that their partners were not their enemies. I have needed to remind myself of that many times. I didn’t have the strength to take on a new enemy anyway. We needed to join forces to survive; so we did. Every time the dust settled, we looked for each other. Our marriage, not our kids, takes priority of our home.
We found each other not because we had common interests, but because we had common ground. I can’t speak for Jay, but I clung to him for dear life. There were times I honestly thought I might die. In the midst of the absolute worst, I fell in love with him every day that I didn’t hate him, until the days I hated him were fewer and fewer and my love grew deeper and deeper. I know that probably sounds horrible, but it’s true. One day we’d be screaming and the next day he’d hold me as I sobbed. I’m a very passionate person, so it can often be all or nothing with me. And if you think you are going to die, and someone rescues you, you just about can’t help but fall in love with them.
I’m all in with our marriage, and so is Jay and that’s why it works. And bonus: every time we find each other again, I not only love him more, I like him more.