Can Marriage Survive the Loss of a Child?
Guest Post by Paul
One of the scariest statistics I read after our daughter was stillborn was that up to 80 percent of marriages end in divorce after the loss of a child. I remember reading this percentage, and then re-reading it, to convince myself that I’d read it correctly. 80 percent?! Was that even possible? Did that mean my wife and I had only a 20 percent chance that our 12-year marriage would make it? What side of this horrifying statistic would we end up on? These questions raced around my head making me dizzy.
My wife, Nicole, and I are thirteen months removed from the day we lost our daughter, Bella. For the most part we have circumvented the events that have challenged us. We have taken it one day at a time, moving along at a slow, but steady pace. In the beginning, however, it seemed as though there was several situations that would send us into a tailspin resulting in arguments. Situations that before would never have fazed us had developed new strategies to penetrate the defenses of our relationship.
As possessor of the husband role, I tried to be the strong one. I held back tears at the doctor’s office when they told us our daughter’s heart had stopped. I fought off moments of weakness in the delivery room as we delivered a silent baby. I made it a priority to get my wife on the path of recovery.
I didn’t do these things because I’m a hero but rather because that was the only way I knew how to react. I was not prepared to face this tragedy, but I knew how to love my wife. I grabbed onto the familiar habit with a feverish grip.
The main struggle comes from the unfamiliarity of the situation. As common as it may be, losing a child will never be the norm. We had no point of reference. There was nothing my wife and I could look back on and remember, ‘Oh, that’s how we fix this’. We seemed permanently stuck in a cycle that was repeating itself.
From the moment we lost Bella, I instantly realized how close to the surface our emotions had become. A dozen years of marriage had created thick layers of trust, love, selflessness and respect. These layers were peeled away and now revealed nerves that were there; raw and unprotected. The heartache of losing a child had subsequently unleashed a series of secondary losses that shook the very foundation of our marriage.
Bella’s death began to unravel the seams of all Nicole and I had built together; as if the twelve years of our marriage had been reset and we had just met. We had to relearn how to interact and handle even the most mundane problems that arose.
We had to learn to handle these moments; it was either that or become a statistic. The key was, we were both willing.
Attending 13 weeks of grief counseling helped us magnify the areas where we needed to focus. Even though every part of your grief screams that you are alone, it isn’t true. This was one of the most liberating moments of our grief journey. Not just the head-knowledge, but the heart-knowledge, of this crucial truth loosened the grips of pain. The feeling of isolation is more devastating if you feel you are alone in a marriage after the loss of a child. You don’t have to be.
You may be experiencing some new difficulties in your relationship since you have lost a child — you are not alone. New problems can arise. New emotions will be felt. New techniques to solve them may be needed. While the exact anecdote may vary per couple, I do know that the same love and trust you had for your spouse before the pain you are going through now, is still there. The pain just buries it and you have to dig deeper to find it again, but it’s still there.
No one wants to end up in that 80 percentile statistic. I can’t even imagine what my life would look like without my wife in it. I don’t want to even try. Every burden can be a blessing. This can strengthen a marriage. We can fall in love with each other even more. We can reach a new level of trust and respect. A conscious effort is required. Make this your goal.