Marriage is hard.
It’s also beautiful and life-giving—but that’s a subject for another day. For today, we’re going to address the fact that marriage can be hard and a healthy marriage takes a certain amount of cultivating.
Relationships in general take a certain amount of cultivating.
And nothing throws a relationship off course like trauma.
It’s no secret that in the adoptive world, marriages can take a pretty hefty hit. If you’re parenting a traumatized child (or children), the circle of your world gets fairly narrow—with the child at the pivotal point.
The amount of energy I have for my husband depends entirely on how much energy was drained from me by trauma that day. The amount of patience my husband has for me may be entirely dependant on how much long he’s been working through a triggered trauma response from our child.
Basically, parenting adopted children with attachment disorders is messy. Really messy.
The kind of messy where if you’re not careful, you start looking for someone to blame. And since you feel guilty blaming a traumatized child, it’s easy to start pointing fingers at your spouse.
The one that lost their temper this morning, or reacted poorly, or doesn’t agree with the latest thing you read about attachment parenting (or maybe hasn’t ever heard of it before), or the one who is shutting down from exhaustion and their own trauma.
It’s especially easy when your child triangulates relationships and has you pitted against your husband. When they act one way in front of you and change when your husband steps into the room. When they tell you stories that are twisted versions of the truth and their accusations leave you wondering what is reality.
All little things that pile on and push at your mind and if you’re not careful to look at each other—to connect with your husband first, before worrying about the connection with your child—you might end up raising your weapons against each other.
Our marriage has shuddered under the weight of trauma-parenting. We learned that we needed a key, a reset button, a reminder that we can both use in the middle of messy tense moments.
And we found it.
He’s said it to me and other times I’ve said it to him. Four little words.
I’m on your side.
I’m on my husband’s side. I know him—chose to marry him and raise my children with him. I know his faults better than anyone and he knows mine, but that knowledge should never become something we fight with because we’re working on the same side.
It’s never a child and me against him. It’s never him and a child against me.
We’re on the same side, always. Working toward health and wholeness for our whole family.
In I Peter 3, right after the reminder for wives to be respectful and pure, and the reminder for husbands to be understanding and to show their wives honor, we’re given a list for every relationship between Believers. In this list we can find the antidote to the enemy’s schemes for using trauma to tear down the marriage relationship.
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (I Peter 3:8)
When my husband and I say to each other, “I’m on your side,” this is what we’re saying:
I’m on your side means having unity of mind with my spouse.
Literally, being like-minded, which for Believers means a Spirit-produced unity. In reference to parenting this means I know my husband’s mind and heart is for my children’s good, just like mine is—even if I’m struggling with a specific decision he has made.
I’m on your side means being sympathetic.
Literally, having compassion, not just for our child but also for each other. This is hard stuff. There may be some great “by the book” responses to angry and aggressive children—but we need to have compassion and sympathy for each other when lovely theories don’t actually translate easily to real life.
I’m on your side means having brotherly love.
Literally, affectionate family love. Yes, in marriage we should have some romantic love—but that’s not all and maybe not even the most important. We need to show affectionate family love to our spouse. Having an I’m-with-you and you’re-with-me attitude. We might bicker, we might argue, but we’re still going to end up standing together. End of story.
I’m on your side means having a tender heart.
Literally, merciful. I need to be merciful with my spouse, especially when he is struggling to respond well to trauma. I need to show him mercy, especially when he is feeling overwhelmed and angry and hurt. I need to be approaching our relationship with tenderness and he needs to do the same for me.
I’m on your side means having a humble mind.
Literally, lowliness of mind. The moment you start thinking that you’ve got this figured out and if he would just listen to you for two seconds maybe things would get better and… yeah. You’re not in the right anymore.
Lower yourself down, dear one.
Admit that you and your studies and the books you read and the speaker you listened to and the scientific study you spent time exploring—it might not be the end all. Oh, sure, it could be. But you don’t know.
So lower your opinions, lower your voice, lower your tone, gentle your mind.
Remember you’re on your husband’s side—and together, in unity, your ideas might be useful. But if they are arrows you’re shooting at him, then no matter how “right” you might have been, you’re 100% wrong.
And don’t be afraid, dear mama. Don’t be afraid to find counseling, to find an older couple you both trust, to find an outside ear to help you navigate the messiness of marriage struggles through any season, but especially during the intense years of attachment disorders and trauma healing.
May your marriage be solid and filled with hope,
For More Encouragement:
These letters are not exhaustive. They should not be used to diagnosis, and they only show the viewpoint of one person. While I share some of our personal story—some details may be purposefully vague or altered slightly for privacy. Thank you in advance for being respectful and trustworthy with the stories shared here.
This letter is part of a series titled “Dear Adoptive Mom”.