How We Manage the Stress in Our Marriage

I was going to call this article "Avoiding Stress in Your Marriage," but honestly that's just not possible.

We're into year seven of our experience as a couple with a child who is blind. I'll admit upfront there has been great stress for us. This short article will focus on how we have managed it and survived.

Some background: We had our first baby, our one pound two ounce wonder, nine years into our marriage. By then we were a couple with a very strong marriage that had lived, loved, lost and survived together. We had already known the stress of multi-month military deployments (I was in the U.S. Air Force serving as aircrew member on refueling jets for almost ten years). We had already endured a sudden death in the family and resulting crisis.

Nothing, however, had fully prepared us for the ROP diagnosis 2 1/2 months into a 5 1/2 month NICU hospitalization. Yet neither of us ran away. We remained steadfastly strong for each other and for our child until she finally came home. We then made changes in our work lives to work primarily at home. This minimized the hours wasted commuting—very important when you're doing multiple breathing treatments daily for a fragile baby on oxygen who can't be in daycare! We arranged for in-home daycare so we could work.

We accepted all offers of help. We received respite services as part of the early intervention program. Monthly, this gave us a night off for a nice calm dinner, a movie or a night together at the gym.

We never lost sight that "we" was a prerequisite for our child's future. We honored our marriage by nourishing it regularly. If we didn't, the signs of stress became quickly apparent: frequent snapping at each other, mean-spirited comments and general "yuckiness."

In subsequent years, we've had two more children, thankfully both full-term, typically-developing kids. Now we have three kids under age six. We now give each other a night off weekly. I play competitive volleyball, then do creative writing at a coffee house. We both still primarily work from home and minimize travel obligations. We juggle our work/nanny schedules to get that monthly "date." We enjoy a "cuddle night" midweek—we're just together, watching a favorite show.

We prepare for and attend all IEP meetings together—always. If one of us isn't available, we simply don't have a meeting.

We try to plan meals to alleviate the "what's for dinner?" stress. We divide up household tasks (you cook, I clean). We split the time-consuming mail-opening/bill-paying processes: one handles all medical invoices and insurance papers; one handles keeping up with all other bills/financial issues.

On weekend days, we medicate our fatigue—we take a family nap.

That's what's working for us, keeping the stress in check by keeping our marriage at the forefront of what needs our attention. Everything else must be secondary to that. It was "us" before "them" (kids)—we must never forget that!

Grace Tiscareno-Sato
Mother of a six-year-old daughter with retinopathy of prematurity
San Francisco Bay Area, California

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