In an episode of Parenthood recently, Christina Braverman, mother of Max, agonizes over a statistic she heard: that married couples raising a child on the spectrum suffer an 80% divorce rate. I was taken aback by the statistic as well, but a little research and article-reading proved that the alarming 80% rate as been recently debunked by the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Kennedy Krieger Institute. The study did show that parents who are raising a child who is on the spectrum suffer a high level of stress.
Well, no kidding, I said aloud to the article.
The bottom line is stress of any kind can be a strain on a partnership. Before I got married, I proudly told my dad one day that Scott and I never fought. He told me that the true test of any relationship is how you weather the tough times; the times when you don't see eye-to-eye, and have to navigate through turbulent marital waters. I listened to his advice but to me, back then, at 26 years old, the words didn't mean too much. But I've thought about them much over the years, and about how true his advice was. It's easy to get along with someone you live with 24/7 when the times are good, and fun, and carefree. But it's a very different ballgame when the stress is pushing down on the both of you; when you're newborn-baby-to-the-bone exhausted, or the-house-is-a-mess-I-quit frustrated; when big decisions have to be made, or when your world spins away from its expected orbit, and you are thrown into some new place, and you're feeling for the way out, the two of you, both equally blind and uncertain.
Luckily, Scott and I make a good team. I can't imagine life if we didn't, or how either one of us would cope with the challenges thrown our way if the other were disengaged or just not available, physically and/or emotionally. It hasn't been all clear sailing, of course, and I'd be lying if I said it had been but no partnership ever is--and maybe we wouldn't want it to be, either, because challenges can shape us in good ways, too.
Yesterday Scott and I drove separately to L.'s doctor's office and met for over an hour with her, talking about recent challenges and discussing strategies. It was, I joked in the waiting room, like an improbable date almost--just the two of us, sitting side-by-side in the waiting room chairs, sharing that odd I've-forgotten-something-feeling you get as a parent whenever you're out and about without your kids.
We told the doctor, together, the story of our past couple of months, weaving information in, picking up details where the other left off, finishing sentences in that cliched way. "Are you finding time to get out together?" The doctor asked us, her face crinkling up in concern after we had unburdened ourselves. Then she told us what we already know, that it's important to work couple-time in to any relationship, but especially to one that bears the burden of so much daily stress.
We drove the 40 minutes back to our town in separate cars, but I met Scott at our favorite local pizza shop, so I could snag a slice to bring L., on my way into work. We sat for all of ten minutes at the round red table, Scott eating his slice, and me eating my vegan-I-hoped garlic knots dipped in tomato sauce. We didn't talk about the kids, or the appointment. We watched the college kids munching down their slices and we made whispered comments about the Life of an Undergrad. We laughed at silly stuff. When it was time to go, we kissed goodbye at the metal door leading to the parking lot, then got into our separate cars and headed back into our respective days, to be swallowed by the chaos of what was left of Monday.
Maybe it wasn't a night out on the town, or a dinner at a fancy restaurant, but sometimes the best couple-time moments are those small important ones you grab when you can, or that rise up out of nowhere--a few minutes at the dinner table alone, a kiss at the back of a greasy college-town pizza shop, or a shared joke; a secret look, one that sends that rope spinning out across the divide of work, and stress, and sorrow, and frustration, and short-tempers, and fear, and the mundane and the just too-much-to-bear, and binds you close. Marriage isn't always years of rounded pleasant curves and loops and soaring, giddy times. Sometimes it's about being the two walls side by side that hold up and protect what you love the most: each other, your children, all those moments of understanding hanging between you like light.