Our house should have been quarantined.
We were getting sick of each other, and I mean that literally. Our stress level had made us all physically ill.
Because of changes in our finances and lifestyle, our marriage disintegrated. Even though my husband and I sought counseling, bitterness consumed our lives and affected our family.
My daughter suffered severe migraines. My son caught a never-ending cold. My husband's back stiffened from the tension between us. I'd watch the pain rifle through his body: He'd clench his jaw, close his eyes, grab his back with one hand, and reach for the countertop or the wall with the other.
While my physical health was fine, I was an emotional mess. For years, I spent my lunch hour in the gym, but as depression set in, I didn't have the energy or desire to walk the four blocks from my office to the club. I gained weight and felt miserable about my life and my body.
I resented Jack's long hours at the office and how his work seemed more important than family. He lectured me about the time I spent online. We argued about in-laws, lunch with friends, chores, and bedtimes. Nearly everything we did or said rubbed the wrong way.
Our anger began to spill over to our children. We shouted at them, so they shouted back at us. When Jack and I started yet another screaming match, the kids cowered in another room, praying (they later admitted) that we would just divorce. They stopped bringing their friends to the house.
At bedtime, Jack and I would pray together, asking for help that our marriage be healed, but the prayers seemed hopeless. Each Sunday, we went to church—but rarely as a family. Jack often woke before the rest of us and went to the early service. While the kids and I went to the later service, I didn't sit with them because I sang in the choir. Going to church had become an extension of the way we were living: alone and detached.
As summer approached, my son asked for a pool pass. The public swimming pool is close by, making it a safe meeting spot for preteen boys.
"That's a good idea," my husband said. "I'll get a pool pass for myself too."
Thinking it would be nice to spend a summer Saturday at poolside rather than doing housework, I decided to join the guys. We offered the option to our daughter, but she turned us down. She'd rather hang out with her friends, she said.
On the first warm Saturday, we headed to the pool. My son quickly went off with his buddies. I pulled a paperback from my beach bag and began to read. Jack glared at me. "I can't believe you spent all that money on a pool pass just to sit here and read."
"I want to relax," I said. "I need to unwind."
"Well, I'm going to swim laps," he said. "You're welcome to join me."
He hadn't invited me to do anything with him in months. I put down the book and put on my swim goggles. He'd already found a lane so I dove in next to him. We each managed four laps before we'd exhausted ourselves.
"Do you feel relaxed yet?" he asked. I did. It felt good to exercise again.
We began swimming every evening. As the summer went on, our stamina increased. Eventually, we were both able to swim for a full hour. We swam next to each other, encouraging each other, and timing our rest breaks together.
I'm not sure if it was the exercise or the unstressed time we spent together in the pool, but swimming changed our lives. We'd never been healthier. I lost weight and his back stopped hurting.
While swimming, we worked in tandem, and that began to carry over into other aspects of our lives.
We'd come home from the pool and make a light supper before an evening of reading or watching old movies. There didn't seem to be much to bicker about anymore. Perhaps we were too tired from the exercise, but more likely, it was because, finally, we focused on positive things rather than negative ones.
By mid-June, our son wanted to hang out with us, rather than spending all his time with his friends. Our daughter's migraines decreased as the tension in the house subsided.
This isn't to say Jack and I have completely stopped fighting. Every so often a bad day creeps in. However, we've discovered how much we enjoy spending time together—and how much better we feel about ourselves when we exercise. Over that summer, we stopped acting as individuals and began to be a family. That included going to church at the same time whenever possible and making our nightly prayer sessions more meaningful.
When the summer ended, we bought a family membership to a local gym. Most evenings, Jack and I still have our exercise date, only now we spend time in the weight room as well as the pool. The kids join us at their leisure.
Today, our marriage, like our bodies, is strong. It takes a lot of dedication and schedule-juggling. Yet our exercise time is vital to our happiness, so we'll always make room for it in our busy lives.
Our home, at last, is healthy.
Sue Marquette Poremba, an employee of Penn State University, lives with her family in Pennsylvania.
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.