The Effects of a Natural Disaster on Marriage
I’m not the first person in the world who was stricken by a serious health crisis that had an enormous negative impact on my marriage. I survived the crisis, but my marriage did not. I suppose I can only speak about what having a stroke at age 35 while I was pregnant did to my marriage, but I would venture to say that whatever the health challenge, there will be consequences as far as your relationship that will be tough to weather. They might even destroy it. From my experience, I will tell you that you cannot create the buffers that will be necessary in this situation by yourself. Is that too much of a statement of the obvious?
My husband remembers following the ambulance that was taking me to the ER on February 14, 1999, and thinking that life as we knew it would never be the same. He knew something very serious was wrong after calling 911 because I couldn’t move one side of my body and had a crippling headache. He was correct about our lives being permanently changed, and in many ways, not for the better.
I became permanently disabled from the stroke which meant I was unable to take care of our 2 year old and newborn babies. We were fortunate we were able to hire live in help Monday through Friday, but on the weekends the burden (or privilege, depending on how you look at it) fell completely on my husband. He had up to this point been very much a traditional father who went to work every day, and participated in child care when he had the time and inclination. Now every weekend was fully consumed by caring for 2 babies as well as for me as I was not independent as far as self care for many months after I was released from the hospital.
I slowly regained my independence, but I was left with a physical disability. This meant that our usual ways of connecting through doing things like hiking or skiing together were lost for good. It created serious drift in our relationship because for 20 years of being together that was how we kept our relationship going by doing physical things with each other. We realized that we needed to change the way we related. I pushed for regular date nights which was suddenly simpler because we had a built in babysitter during the week. With my physical limitations, there weren’t many interesting date ideas.
We shared a love of movies, and went regularly:
There was no physical intimacy for 5 years. In many cases, I imagine sex is put on a back burner or completely extinguished following a health crisis. I wasn’t up to it physically for probably a year. After that time, whenever I brought it up my husband said he couldn’t do it because he was “traumatized”. We both were. However, I kept my focus on being grateful that I survived and was able to live life at all.
Perhaps the most important bit of advice I heard in the rehabilitation hospital was to focus on what I CAN do as opposed to what I couldn’t. This is good advice for making the most of what’s left of your marriage after a natural disaster. Look for the good, and appreciate it. Don’t wait for things to magically get better. There will probably be some magic, but it won’t be enough if you don’t stoke it. Before you know it, years will have passed and the drift will become too large to recover from.
My husband officially checked out of the marriage 16 years after I had the stroke, but the signs were there that he had been slowly drifting away since that fateful ambulance ride.
Thank you for reading :)