When people hear about our failed adoption and what we've been through, we often get asked the question, "How is your marriage holding up?" Pre-failed adoption I would have been perhaps a bit righteously indignant about that question - after all, I meant it when I said, "For better or worse." But having just gone through the "worse" (at least so far) in our marriage, I understand that question far better now. I appreciate the tender spirit in which it's been asked, because I can see how very easily a difficult time like this could cause a marriage to fall apart. Start with a traumatic event, add emotional and spiritual breakdowns, throw in two very diverse coping mechanisms and grieving timetables...and you have a recipe for marital disaster.
I always take a moment to really give it some thought before I answer the "How is your marriage doing?" question now, because I do see how delicate this relationship can be. I realize how precarious a situation we're in, and I want to be sure I watch for any breaches in our defenses. I have to say though, we are doing well. For all the emotions and questions and pain and grieving Mark and I have been wrestling with, we still have a strong marriage - perhaps even stronger than when this first happened. I've spent some time thinking about why that is. How have we managed to stay connected through the most difficult season we've ever been through as a couple? Let me be clear - I am no marriage counselor. This is not Dr. Phil speaking. But here are just some of my own observations about our marriage through this trial.
1. We started strong. I am the first to admit (and Mark will be a close second to admit!) we do not have a fairy tale marriage. We aren't living Cinderella and Prince Charming here. (You know at some point in the sequel Prince Charming muttered, "Why can't she put these &%$! glass slippers in the closet where they belong?!?"...) We have our moments of frustration and our pet peeves like everyone else. But to be honest, we really like each other. We laugh a lot. We are learning how to work through issues instead of stewing about them. We talk to each other. We went into this adoption process with a typical, but healthy marriage and I think that has helped immensely.
2. Our scars match. There is no one else in this world who saw the looks on the faces of the orphan court with me. There is no one else who can understand the pain of walking down the stairway of that government building without the daughter of our hearts. There is no one else who knows, truly knows, what that one night did to our hearts. Losing I. changed a lot of people forever, but for Mark and I the scars that are left are identical. We both lived through those moments side by side. While we don't grieve the same, and we probably won't heal the same, the scars that will always remain are a match. There is great comfort in that.
3. We made a decision. Once we got settled in a hotel the night we lost I. Mark did something that I will forever be grateful for. We were both in shock, heartbroken, confused, and afraid. Even in all that, Mark turned to me and said, "Let's make a promise. We will never use what happened here against each other, and we will never allow what happened here to cause us to turn away from Christ." That was probably the most defining moment for us - we made a conscious decision about how we were going to survive the coming days and weeks. The really important boundaries we needed were put in place that night, and that has given us a lot of safety and freedom to experience what we feel without fear. This isn't to say that we haven't allowed ourselves to question God. As I told a friend, this experience hasn't separated me from God, but it sure has caused our conversations to be a lot more sober and uncomfortable. The same is true of our marriage - we don't pretend we aren't hurting, we just hurt collectively and not at each other.
4. We say the awful things to each other. When I am struggling with sorrow or anger or fear, I tell Mark. When he has moments that are hard for him, he confides in me. I don't expect him to be able to make it better, but at least I know he understands. We were with a group of friends the other day when a particular song that I. loved came on. Our eyes met, and without words we both knew...ugh. One of those moments was happening, and there was nothing we could do about it but share it with a look. I can say how I feel without any filter, no matter how ridiculous or spiritually immature it may be.
5. Rummy. Sounds crazy, but as I thought about why we have been able to get through these first months with our marriage still strong, I immediately thought of rummy. Mark and I took cards with us to Latvia and we spent a lot of time playing rummy. We have continued that almost as therapy! We sat in the airport in Riga waiting for our flight home playing rummy, we played at night when we couldn't sleep from jet lag, and we still play a few hands each day. The mindlessness of the card game combined with a chance to talk (sometimes serious, sometimes smack talk) has been some of our sweetest time through one of the roughest seasons. I know it sounds crazy, but when I start to catch myself feeling blue, I'll ask Mark to play cards and even if I lose (which I don't much, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes), I always feel a little better. I have no idea why, I just know it works.
I realize that we still have a long ways to go, and that there will always be another trial around the corner. Going through this loss is giving us a lot of practice with difficulties and marriage. I have a new appreciation for the delicate nature of a marriage. Shared grief is often unwanted but beautiful intimacy. Like I said, I am no expert, but I am thankful that we have made it this far as a couple. I am praying we continue to heal together.