My husband and I were married on a hot, muggy July day in 1977. His tux size remains the same, and I still fit in my wedding dress. We both have all our teeth. So sometimes we look at each other across the supper table, scratch our heads, and ask, “40 years? Have we really been married 40 years?” Then I notice his thinning hair, he notices my collection of wrinkles, and we do the math in our heads.
Yep, we’ve been married for 40 years – not all of them easy. The early years were hard as our diverse family cultures merged, and our different communication methods often clashed.
He was a twin, who talked in a shorthand composed of mostly gestures and expressions.
I loved to talk and play word games with my family and friends.
He wanted constant contact with a constant companion.
I wanted time alone to think and debrief after we were together for a while.
He could play his guitar or listen to music for hours.
I could curl up in a quiet corner and read for hours.
But we both loved Jesus, we loved each other, and we loved children. So when we learned we were expecting, we eagerly embraced the challenges and joys of parenting. We had no idea that the arrival of our baby boy, born with a condition that required immediate life-saving surgery and years of medical intervention and therapy, would usher in the toughest 4 years of our marriage.
For 4 years, our communication styles didn’t matter because we were too busy caring for a sick baby, working, scheduling surgeries, and filing insurance to talk.
For 4 years, my husband’s need for a constant companion and my need for time alone went unmet as I slept with our son in his hospital room following one corrective surgery after another.
For 4 years, he was too tired to play his guitar, and I was too tired to read a book.
During those 4 years, our marriage could have fallen apart. It should have fallen apart.
Because, in 1982, there were no books for parents about how to cling to Christ while caring for children who were fighting for their lives. There were no blogs to encourage families of kids with special needs. There were no Facebook groups where stressed dads and moms could share tips. There were no marriage seminars for parents like us.
By the grace of God, our marriage didn’t fall apart.
Thanks to the intervention of a pastor and his wife who lived in our small town, my husband and I learned to trust God and look for His grace as we parented our child with special needs. The glue of faith strengthened our marriage, but communicating with each other still wasn’t easy, even after our son’s health stabilized.
Years later, when we moved to a bigger town, our new church offered a Sunday school class based on a brand new book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman. We learned that out of the five love languages–gift giving, quality time, words of affirmation, gifts of service, and physical touch–my husband’s primary love languages were physical touch and quality time while mine were gifts of service and words of affirmation.
No wonder communicating was hard for us. We were speaking different languages!
I’ve often reflected on how helpful a five love languages book would have been after our son was born. How using the five love languages could have strengthened our marriage during those hard years. How they could have made our son feel more secure during hospital stays and tests. How sharing them with our son and his younger sister could have improved their relationship. How adapting them for special needs families could provide a resource to foster relationships between parents and with their children.
This year, God has opened doors for Gary Chapman and me to co-author a five love languages book for special needs families. Before the writing begins, we want to hear from parents like you. So you’re invited to offer your feedback by clicking here and completing a short 2 minute survey. Thanks in advance to everyone who completes the survey. We really appreciate your help.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get ready for a dinner date with my husband. We’re celebrating 40 years of marriage, wrinkles and all!
Jolene Philo grew up with a disabled father and raised a child with special needs. She has also welcomed kids with special needs into her elementary classroom for 25 years. She is the author of several books about special needs parenting, caregiving, and special needs ministry. She blogs at www.DifferentDream.com and speaks around the country about special needs parenting and inclusion ministry. Jolene and her husband live in Iowa, are parents to two adult children, and are known as Grammy Jo and Papoo to their three adorable grandchildren. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.