There are factors that put a strain on marriage. Some are internal ones like pride, selfishness, bitterness, unforgiveness, etc., while others are external ones like finances, (un)employment, sickness, etc. (Both internal and external ones can or do occur mutually!)
Many have used the traditional vow in their marriage ceremony:
“I, (________), take you (__________), to be my lawfully wedded (wife/husband), to have and behold from this day on, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; until death do us part.”
The negative part of each of those vows (worse, poorer, sickness) is hardly considered at the altar, for typically a couple’s dreams are floating on their present state of mind and emotion.
But what happens when that couple finds themselves in an unplanned storm of worse, poorer, or sickness? Suddenly the vows take on new weight. And for some, it is overwhelming.
Each one of those factors deserve attention, and can be addressed extensively, but my focus today is on the “in sickness and in health” part of the vow.
The marriage commitment is put to the test when a spouse becomes seriously ill, diagnosed with a disease, or develops an incurable condition. Many pass the test and their love and commitment grow stronger, while for others it seems to be the beginning of the end of their marriage. (We have walked through this with my husband’s diagnosis of epilepsy nine years ago. That valley (everything that occurred as a result from his first tonic-clonic seizure in another country) shook us, but our commitment to each other and especially MY commitment to him, emerged fortified.)
Worse for a marriage than a spouse becoming ill is when a child is struck with a life-threatening illness or is born with a serious medical condition. From what I have read and been told, it seems that most of those marriages fall under a stress that eventually fractures the union entirely. (If you know of any studies in this area, please leave a comment. I’d be curious to see factual statistics.)
This is heartbreaking on so many levels.
I said most, not all. In the book Between Heaven and Healing, author and pastor’s wife Melanie Boulis shares the story of their daughter’s diagnosis and battle with cancer, and how it affected their marriage:
“Kevin and I were starting to fight a lot over Danielle’s care. The stress was building and we were taking it out on each other. The tension was awful. Caring for Danielle became a 24-hour a day job.”
Even spiritual leaders are not exempt from the stress and strain of this type of battle. The good news is that the Boulis’ passed through that storm, and are still together. The sad news is that their daughter passed away.
A friend who is walking through a difficult time with her sick child wrote me, upon my request, with the top ten ways to pray for parents of seriously ill children. The first request on the list was for the marriage:
“Most couples I know from the hospital are divorcing or their marriage is shaking badly. I would ask for prayer for the marriage, and time for couples to continue showing their love. Before the child, you are a couple; but when you have a sick child you forget that… and if the child dies there’s not much to rescue if the couple didn’t have time for each other.”
I think it’s both brave and wise of her to share that, and to make it the top prayer request. If you know of a family in this situation, would you pause momentarily and pray for their marriage? Also feel free to leave a comment below with the names and current situation of a family with an ill child, so that we can pray for them as well.