Our marriage has certainly changed over the years with the addition of our children. We learned quickly after becoming parents to two little girls within two years that things would be different and that selfishness would not work.
Nothing in life could have prepared us, or our marriage, for the stress that comes with a special needs child, however.
Our son Austin was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, in February of 2016. While we have seen progress as he gets older, we've also seen our stress levels rise as some of his behaviors worsen.
We have the stress of being sleep deprived for years. The stress of a child's constant screaming and throwing everything he can get his hands on.
We deal with the grief of seeing our child hurt himself because of his struggles to communicate.
The grief of seeing him trapped in his own world, unable, or uninterested in making friends.
All of these things can and do affect our marriage. At times it feels like we simply can't hold up under the chaos and stress that overwhelm our lives at home, and for my law-enforcement husband, work as well.
With autism has come additional stress and grief.
We've lost our tempers in the middle of the night while dealing a little boy who just can't seem to stay asleep.
Some days we are unable to carry on a conversation without yelling over Austin's screaming.
I'll never forget the day Mike looked at me and said, "I'm sorry, but I hate being home. It's just how I feel". I remember meeting his eyes and saying, "I get it. It's hard."
The things that can tear us apart also make us cling tighter to each other.
No one else knows what our day to day lives are like. He and I are the only two that know the challenges and heartache that we experience.
Only he and I can truly appreciate the joy of hearing that first word after waiting three and a half years.
Autism has also brought me the opportunity to see things about my husband that I might never have otherwise.
He spends time with Austin doing what he enjoys. No, it's not playing with superhero toys like Mike had once imagined they might, but he meets him where his interests are.
I see them spending time together outside on the swings. Mike sits next to him and patiently picks up the sticks and leaves Austin throws and then screams for.
I see Mike drop whatever he's doing even when he's in the middle of getting ready for work, to take Austin out to his patrol car whenever he asks, "keys?"
I see Mike out on a ladder at 9 pm to retrieve the swim goggles Austin threw on the patio roof and won't go to sleep without.
I hear him getting up in the middle of the night with Austin when he's off to give me a break.
I see him hugging and tickling and and laughing with his boy the same way he does with his girls. And in those moments, I forget about autism.
We had no idea the craziness that comes with having children, and certainly not the chaos of autism, when we said "I do" twelve and a half years ago. Our romantic dates or time together is mostly collapsing on the couch together and enjoying take-out after the kids are in bed.
Romance at this phase of our lives isn't about candlelit dinners, weekend getaways or date nights.
What it is is seeing his love, patience and selflessness during some really hard times. It's leaning on each other when the days and nights seem endless, and the future uncertain.