Can a Really Good Marriage Have a Really Hard Year?

russ and lisa

Russ and I celebrated 32 years of marriage last Thursday with as many tears as joy.

We agree this was the hardest year of our marriage.

June 9, 1984, when we were twenty years old, we made vows before God, our families, and friends. We loved Jesus. We loved each other. We were young and honestly, could never have dreamed what the years were going to bring.

By the grace and kindness of God, we’ve clung to those vows through everything.

The strain of parenting kids from “hard places” could have done us in, but we held on to Jesus, and Ā for the most part, we held on to each other.

It was lonely, and terrifying at times, and we were pretty sure nobody understood what we were going through. There were nights when we couldn’t sleep as we prayed, cried, and talked through the hours.

Russ was a rock for me over and over again.

When we felt judged and misunderstood, we had each other. When we were isolated and alone, prisoners in our own home, it wasn’t solitary confinement – we shared a cell.

We sat together through hours of therapy appointments, wept after visiting the pediatric inpatient psychiatric unit, and drove long hours over the mountains for family weekends at residential treatment.

There were times when tension was high and we weren’t each other’s best supporters, but time after time, we turned toward each other and not away.

ThenĀ on an icy highway in a tangle of metal, crushing pain, and the loudest shattering sound you can imagine, our lives changed forever.

Our initial instinct was to do what we’ve done in every other crisis of our lives, wrap around each other. Hold on. Protect one another and walk together every step of the way.

And we did – until we didn’t.

Months passed, theĀ shock wore off, and grief set in.

While we wanted to grieve together – grief has its own rhythm and it’s not the same for everyone, not even husbands and wives who love each other.

Russ went back to work (far too soon – we agree). I stayed home.

Russ talked to friends and even strangers. I was often silent.

Russ wanted to be with people. I couldn’t bear to be in public.

Russ wanted to visit Kalkidan’s burial site. It terrified me to go there – and it’s on our property.

Russ wanted to choose a statue for her garden. I couldn’t think about it because nothing seemed right.

The easy flow of our marriage disappeared in this complex maze of loss, pain, and grief.

A friend who lost his young daughter to cancer told us that 85% of couples who lose a child end up divorcing.

Call me crazy, but when I heard the first statistic I felt comforted. I figured it means we’re in the midst of something unbelievably hard and the fact that we are surviving means we’re rising above the odds.

So here we are, a little over thirty-two years from the day we promised our lives to one another. I love Russ more than I can say. We’ve been together since we were 17 and we’ve weathered so many challenges. Life is hard and through it all, our faith in Jesus, love for one another, the vows we made and the rings we wear keep us clinging to one another.

None of that changes the fact that this has been a very hard year. I can’t imagine where we would be without the Lord carrying us through.

We will beat the odds (if there is any truth to them), we’ll still be married decades from now.

Will it be easy? I don’t think so, at least not for the next year or two.

We’re pressing on, because that’s what marriage is about – for better and worse. We’re hoping next year brings us a whole lot more “better.”

Something sweet happened the evening of our anniversary – a tenderness came over our hearts and by God’s grace we’re holding on to it. Maybe the worst is behind us and we’re coming out of the darkness and into a lighter place.

All I know, is that we are breathing a little more deeply and leaning in a lot more, resting on one another.

Friend, if you’re in a season of hard – we’re with you.

Hold on and remember:

for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
till death us do part.

Lord, give all of us strength, joy, and have mercy. We love you. We trust you. We live and breathe in you.


If you need personal help, I now offer marriage mentoring and parent coaching on my resource site, The Adoption Connection. Set up a freeĀ  15 min. Virtual Coffee DateĀ to chat with me.

This is not an easy journey, friend, but there is hope.

with courage and love,

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRIĀ® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

28 Comments

  1. Lisa
    June 13, 2016

    I so appreciate your vulnerability and honesty. And the fact that you’re recognizing it and talking about it means that you WILL make it through this season and be such a witness to other couples walking a hard road.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 13, 2016

      It was not easy to publish this – I wasn’t sure I would. Admitting weakness is very vulnerable, but if it helps another couple know that their struggles are normal and they can make it through, it will be worth it.

      Reply
      1. Sophie
        June 15, 2016

        My life is more unlike yours than you can possibly imagine, and I think you’d probably disapprove of me, but I got so much comfort and hope from this post. I’m getting married in September. Thank you for publishing this.

        Reply
        1. Lisa Qualls
          June 15, 2016

          I’m so glad you got hope and comfort from this post Sophie, and I can’t imagine why I would disapprove of you. You are loved by a good Father. Congratulations on your upcoming marriage – many blessings upon you.

          Reply
  2. Joy Headrick
    June 13, 2016

    This really made me cry. Maybe because my first marriage failed, and we did not even come close to the hardships you have. We just did not trust the Lord for everything. We let go too soon and this caused a lot of pain for us and for our children. Thank God, He is faithful and never lets go of us no matter what. Thank you for this writing.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 13, 2016

      So often I’ve said that it’s a good thing God holds on to us because sometimes I don’t have the strength to hold on to him. He is a good father – so loving and strong. Thanks for your kind words, Joy.

      Reply
  3. Elizabeth
    June 13, 2016

    Thank you for your honesty. There is a beauty in the messy, awful road you are walking.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 13, 2016

      So true, Elizabeth.

      Reply
  4. Em and Ben
    June 13, 2016

    We love you both so much, friend. We are inspired by your marriage and praying for it and you and the kids, always.

    I’m remembering the passage you and Russ read in our wedding ceremony. It was/is so meaningful to us that it came from you two, because of how you have lived and continue to live it out.

    “Now I know what we were trying to stand for, and what I believe we did stand for: the possibility that among the world’s wars and sufferings two people could love each other for a long time, until death and beyond.”

    “This love would be one of the acts of the greater love, that holds and cherishes all the world.” Amen.

    Love you.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 13, 2016

      We love you too. You know, we had to practice reading that passage in order to get through it without crying. Those are beautiful words.

      Reply
  5. Ann
    June 13, 2016

    Beautiful essay. Love to both of you.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 13, 2016

      Thank you, Ann. Love to you too.

      Reply
  6. Emily
    June 13, 2016

    Thank you for your raw honesty.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 13, 2016

      You’re very welcome, Emily.

      Reply
  7. Blessed
    June 13, 2016

    I’m crying reading this too. I’m so sorry. So sorry for your loss and for all this pain and suffering. This has been the worst year of my marriage too–suddenly we realized we had no strong foundation and it all came falling down. We’re tenuously trying to go forward, to love, to obey Christ, to try to heal in the midst of fear and all our brokenness. It feels like we have such a long way to go. I’m so sorry you and Russ have walked through this hard time, but am so glad that you are committed and looking for restoration. I am praying for you both, that God will be glorified in your marriage and that you will find all the hope and perseverance and everything you need from Him. Blessings to both of you, and your family.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 28, 2016

      I pray that you will find your sure footing in Christ – you can make it through, friend, you can. Press into Christ, lean toward one another and not away. Get help – a good counselor is worth his/her weight in gold. And pray. I send you love.

      Reply
  8. anonymous
    June 13, 2016

    Lisa, thank you so much for this. I appreciate your tender honesty, and have no doubt that you and Russ will beat that statistic. Your marriage has been a shining light to me in the way you have walked through the hard things so united and full of faith. It also caused me to cry because I felt very much alone in our family’s trials. Praise God that is changing, but I am grateful you have had a rock-solid husband by your side all the way through. Congratulations to you both on a wonderfully lived 32 years of marriage.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 28, 2016

      It was so hard to write this post and be this honest, but as time has passed, I’m glad I did. When we pretend that marriage is easy, we do a disservice to those who are coming behind us. They look at us and think that there is something wrong when they struggle, and they give up. Life is full of struggle and our marriages happen in the midst of life, so it makes sense that sometimes marriage is hard too. We have to hold on through it all knowing it won’t always be this way. Praise God that I think we’re coming through the hard and into a sweeter, better time. Jesus never leaves us.

      Reply
  9. Tricia Wilson
    June 13, 2016

    beautiful. Thank you for being vulnerable and real. Hugs to you and yours as you make your way through this difficult time.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 28, 2016

      Thank you, Tricia.

      Reply
  10. Lori
    June 14, 2016

    As always, Lisa, your words provoke deep emotion in me. This post even more so, because, you see, I am the mother of the young man who died in Yellowstone a week ago. I’ve always appreciated your vulnerability, but now it is a balm to my aching heart. I am also the mom who recently finished reading your blog from start to finish, gleaning wisdom from you for my adopted sons, both recently diagnosed with attachment disorders. Your ability to put your emotions into words resonates so deeply in me today. Thank you for accepting the Spirit’s invitation to be real and honest in your grief. I know I am not the only one who has benefitted.

    Please keep my family, and especially my 21-year old daughter who was with her brother, Colin, when he died, in your prayers. He loved and lived big and he was so much more than a sensational story in the media. The circumstance of his death were only the vehicle our good, good father used to usher him into eternity.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 28, 2016

      Lori, I am so very sorry for your loss – I just saw your comment today. I wish I could sit with you today, and just be present with you in your sorrow.

      Reply
  11. Sarah
    June 14, 2016

    Honesty like this is a gift. People who walk the road ahead of us and admit their weakness and offer a hand–it is like Jesus– just like what he would do, I know it. He didn’t have to let us know that he cried in the garden. I love you guys and I will not forget this. I don’t know what the road ahead will hold for me and Jordan but I will not forget this. May God give you his peace. May you really be coming up out of the pit now!!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 15, 2016

      Sarah, it’s so sweet to hear from you after all these years. This was not easy to publish – it’s so much easier to appear like we have it all together and be admired as the couple with the perfect marriage. But how much better to be honest and share the truth that sometimes it is hard and we have to work through the hard and persevere! Jesus has been so good to us, so faithful and kind. We’re going to laugh more this year than last, and hopefully life will keep growing lighter and sweeter. Many blessings to you and your family.

      Reply
  12. Ed Schermerhorn
    June 18, 2016

    Lisa, it has been 18years since our daughter went before us to God’s presence. You will make it through! I love encourage each of you to watch for the other’s blind side, and recognize that you grieve differently. There will be many milestones in the live of her friends/peers you will see and it will trigger more grief (have I mentioned how much I hated graduation season this year?), but with God’s grace you will overcome!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 18, 2016

      Thank you, Ed. I have to admit, I have already thought about how hard it will be to watch Claire graduate without Kalkidan. We thought we would be celebrating them together. It will be bittersweet. They would have been starting high school together this fall. I appreciate your encouragement.

      Reply
  13. anonymous
    July 9, 2016

    I think of you sometimes when i am at a loss to help my sister. The last year has been incredibly hard for her. First a 17 mo old foster child of her sister inlaw tragically lost her life. They were together a LOT and she was the same age as my sisters foster girl. Then my sister got married in Aug which she says was the only happy day in 2015. but try adjusting to marriage while you’re still grieving. Then in Oct her husband’s cousin who is like a brother died of a heart attack in the night. That was so hard for them. Also there kept being a pending unification with foster girl’s biomom which was huge stress. then this spring she had a miscarriage of a very longed for baby. That really about did her in. And I didn’t know how to help. She keeps having physical maladies that i think are probably stress. She gives it all to Jesus but there is still the hard living to do. I know there are no simple answers like i wish there were. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself. We also have a foster child and i love your blog.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 10, 2016

      I’m so sorry for all of your sister’s losses and yours – it’s so much to bear. I’m glad you found my blog and hope you find some support here.

      Reply

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