What Having Surgery Taught Me about My Marriage

What Having Surgery Taught Me about My Marriage | JustAGirlAndHerBlog.com

Surgery? Marriage? “Abby, have you lost your mind?” you’re thinking. I haven’t. (I hope! 😉 ) But I’ve had this post brewing in my head since I was recovering from surgery in July, and it was time to write it all out on paper type it all out on my computer. If you’re new here and have no idea what surgery I’m talking about, I had a preventative mastectomy and reconstruction just over three months ago due to a genetic mutation that I found out about when I was 20. If you’re interested in reading the full story, I shared all of the details in this post. While I expected surgery to teach me life lessons as any major event typically does, I wasn’t thinking that my marriage would be one of the things I learned most about.

What Having Surgery Taught Me about My Marriage | JustAGirlAndHerBlog.com

{Donnie and I not long after we met, 2003}

Don’t get me wrong, I already knew I had a wonderful husband. Donnie has been with me since the very beginning of this whole genetic journey. We were dating and in college when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and it was his 21st birthday the day we found out that my sister and I were carriers of the BRCA1 genetic mutation that would cause us to go down the surgery road eventually. He has always been completely supportive, encouraging, and wise throughout everything. (This is not to say we have a perfect marriage. We have our share of fights and are both a little more stubborn than we would like to admit. I’m difficult most of the time and he has his quirks, too, but we get through it and at the end of the day, we’re a team.)

What Having Surgery Taught Me about My Marriage | JustAGirlAndHerBlog.com

{our wedding day, 2006}

The thing I had never experienced before, though, was the feeling of being unable to do much at all on my own. I was completely reliant on others– a lot of the time on Donnie– to do just about everything for me. Donnie was working from home during the time of the surgery, so he would be in his basement office working for the majority of the day, come up to check on me, bring me lunch, wrangle the boys when needed, carry endless baskets of laundry and other things that I wasn’t allowed to lift…the list goes on and on. When the work day was over, he took over care of the Cs and once they were in bed, he would work on our bathroom remodel most nights. I spent most of this time laying on the couch, falling in and out of sleep, unable to even focus long enough to answer emails let alone muster the strength to do anything around the house.

He had to be exhausted. He had to feel stressed, being pulled in so many different directions. And yet he never complained. He just continued to serve and serve and serve, not expecting anything in return.

And do you know what I realized?

Most of the time, marriage is anything but 50/50. In fact during that time of my recovery, it was more like Donnie- 200, Abby- 0. Sometimes, even with things that are much smaller than surgery, one spouse is called on to give more, to be more, to help the other one more. Seasons of life change, needs change, circumstances change, and if through all these changes we’re insisting that everything stay 50/50, if no one is willing to give more of themselves, we will both lose in the end.

What Having Surgery Taught Me about My Marriage | JustAGirlAndHerBlog.com

{about a year after we were married, 2008}

I am entirely guilty of insisting on the 50/50 rule. In fact, I think that many times I would insist on something more like 70 (on Donnie’s end) / 30 (on mine). I have had this “all about me” attitude when it comes to marriage. Instead of looking for ways to encourage Donnie or help him or make his day, I would be thinking, “Well why isn’t he doing X for me? Why isn’t he helping with X?” (When in reality he always has done a lot for me and the boys and others he sees are in need.) It was all about me, me, me. But when I was caught up in that selfish attitude, it wasn’t helpful for anyone. I walked around feeling bitter because I felt like he wasn’t doing enough, and he was feeling miserable because I was putting all this pressure on him to do more and more and more.

But while my sinful nature defaults to selfishness, what I’ve learned is that when I put my energy into doing things to serve my husband, into looking for ways to help him rather than demanding “Me, me, me!” all the time, our house is more at peace. Gone are the bitterness and resentment and the hard feelings. Gone are the tension and the fighting and the stress. And it has been amazing to see how much closer we’ve grown through this one little change.

What Having Surgery Taught Me about My Marriage | JustAGirlAndHerBlog.com

{right after Connor was born, 2009}

Donnie recently started a new job where he doesn’t work from home any more. He works longer hours and his schedule isn’t nearly as flexible as it used to be. I have taken on some of the things with the house and the Cs that he used to do because during this season of our lives, that’s what needs to happen for our family. And while there was a time in my life where this kind of change would have bred more bitterness in my heart, I’ve found delight in being able to do things to lighten his load and serve him a little more. I’m sure as the pendulum of need and responsibility continues to swing from one of us to the other during the duration of our marriage, we’ll adjust, we’ll give, we’ll sometimes need to take, and we’ll grow together through it all.

Of course we still have our days when we want to ring each other’s necks. 😉 Marriage is hard, no matter which way you slice it. But while going through a major surgery and recovery isn’t my favorite thing I’ve ever done, I am thankful for all of the things– especially the unexpected things– I have learned in the process.

What Having Surgery Taught Me about My Marriage | JustAGirlAndHerBlog.com

{our family last fall, 2013; photo credit- Photography by JoLynne}

So thanks for letting me be a little bit mushy today. 🙂 Sometimes I just have an idea milling around in my head, and I know it’s something I’m supposed to share, though I don’t always know why. Give your spouse a hug and tell them you love them today… and maybe look for an extra special way to love on them too!

Have a wonderful week!

Delightful Sign Off



  1. A valuable lesson for both you and your family. After 30 years of marriage the most valuable lesson was realizing the give and take nature of marriage and all relationships for that matter.

    Thank you for sharing and encouraging us to live the walk. 1 Cor. 13

    1. Shana Kitsos says:

      I can’t even put into words how much I appreciate you sharing such a personal story about your life.

  2. I know exactly why you needed to share this, because God knew wives and moms like me will read it 🙂 I sure needed this today, let me tell you! It really made me stop and think about my own marriage lately and I am in exactly that spot where I walk around bitter wondering why he’s not doing this or that and feeling like I do everything on my own yet I rarely stop to try to make his day better 🙁 So thank you for sharing, this gives me a perspective I had walled off in my selfish human heart and now I must repent and rely on Christ to soften my heart towards my other half who I know does all he can for us, including working 12 hour days for a week straight 6 hours away from his family just so we can live comfortably then coming home to my chaos and whining about how crazy/stressful/awful my week was without thinking of how his might have been on the rig! So again, Thank You Abby! And God bless you and your sweet family 🙂

  3. I love this post!. My hubs & I have always said that if it ever came to cancer – I would do what you did- no hesitation.

    As for the marriage stuff. I have found over the years that it’s the truly hard & painful things we go through that really test us. But in the end – if we put up the fight & give our all to our spouse – it makes the marriage stronger. We have found that the more we give of ourselves for our spouse – the more the other wants to do the same. We become closer & the love grows deeper. We start going out of our way to do for the other & the focus shifts from what are they doing for me- to what can I do for them. When this happens on both sides – no one feels like it’s one sided & each feels loved & fulfilled.

    I’m so happy to hear you are doing better & things are in a good place for you & your family. It takes these harder times to really put everything in perspective & gives great opportunity for personal growth.

  4. Olivia Gunnell says:

    One little thing LDS Church leaders have taught me that has always stayed with me is that marriage needs to be 100/100. If you think the workload is going to be equal, you’ve got another thing coming. I am very much like you (stubborn in some things and I tend to blame or exercise the same brand of selfishness you mentioned) but I have learned that I am happier every time I serve my husband and when I recognize the ways he serves me every day. He does so much and it’s not always easy to see. In November, we do gratitude journals with each other and write one thing each night that we are grateful for about the other person. I am a sneak and like to peek at what my husband writes the next day, and it really helps me see that he does value the things I do (like the first one he did this month was that I always make the bed so nicely–I do?!?). Anyway, this is a great post! You are awesome, Abby! I hope to get our home in shape like yours someday! (That is, when we have a home).

    1. I agree with you, if each person gave 100% imagine how wonderful your partner would feel and in return hopefully want to return that love and commitment. This is a new concept to me and I look forward to my future relationship.

  5. Great post Abby,

    I learned such a similar lesson. We are so lucky to have such supportive husbands. I can not tell you how many women I have met that have said to me that there husbands would not have been on board with the surgery and all the extra responsibilities it brought for a season. So great the lessons that I learned through the same season. Reminds me that God really does work all for the good!

  6. Selene Galindo says:

    Great marriage lesson, Abby! I always disliked the whole 50/50 rule too. How in the world would one be able to measure how much each partner is doing anyway? I believe that both the husband and wife are to serve one another just like Jesus served: with a whole heart, without complaining, without keeping score, without trying to prove ones own. And yes, seasons change and demands come and go but as long as a marriage is centered on Christ, it will keep standing 🙂 It’s so easy to loose perspective of what’s really important when we see complaining, nagging, and judging all around us 24/7 but keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus definitely helps stay the course 🙂 I pray the best for you and your beautiful family friend!!

  7. Holly @ Coconutheadsurvivalguide says:

    My dear, sweet Abby – I can’t tell you how many women I’ve met whose husbands or boyfriends left them at the first whisper of the Big C. It really does give “for better or worse, in sickness and health” a true test. God has blessed you and your family to bless others. Thank you for having the guts and heart to share such a personal story. Hugs, Holly

  8. Beth Anne says:

    Love this post, Abby. I think your analysis of the 50/50 rule is right on. It’s so rarely 50/50. It’s a partnership where we each pick up the others’ slack.

    And I’m so guilty of taking Chris for granted. “You just worked a 12 hour day? Awesome! Want to play with Holden?! Want to fold laundry after he’s in bed?!”

    I’m still hopeful for a day when each of us has more than 50/50 to share. Less demanding jobs and lives…. that would be wonderful. But in the meantime, I need to be more sensitive to what he needs and how I can best support him.

    Great reminders here.

  9. JaneEllen says:

    I’m not your parent but I am so darned proud of the young woman you have grown to be. Being married is never easy, we all grow in different ways at different levels working towards being a grown up, then trying to do that growing with another person along on the ride is not always easy. The love has to be there.
    Yeah I wonder sometimes if I’m grownup. I was your age I had my fourth child with my second husband. Yeah this crazy guy took on me (hard enuf) and 3 small children. He asked me to marry him first night we went out. I was about as grown up as my 6 yr. old maybe at that time. You’ve got a big head start and most likely what you’ve had to go thru has pushed you a big part of the way.
    After being married almost 46 yrs. now (11/30/68) I still want to strangle my poor hubs but when I take time to think about it I’m so glad we’re able to grow older together. My Dad died before my Mom was even 52. That must have been so blasted hard for her. She never remarried. Not easy growing old alone. Not easy growing old period.
    I read every word you said and had tears in my eyes. Looking at the photos of you and your Donnie told me you two are sure meant to be together. The love just beams out of both of you. Marriage is also about love, support, feeling good about who you’re with for life, know that person will be there for you, if you have a bad hair day or temper tantrum or whatever. Marriage is about a lot of things nobody can tell you until you live it lovingly.
    You are one heck of a wonderful young woman. I’m so glad I found your blog while ago. You’re the best young lady. Bet your Mom is so proud of you she can’t contain it. She’s been there and knows how hard it is to live sometimes.
    I’ll be hanging in on your blog as long as you’ll have me. One wonderful thing about this blog stuff is getting to “meet” so many wonderful generous talented people. You’re a star Abby. Your boys are lucky to have you for their Mom. Happy week and season

  10. Marty Walden says:

    You should be mushy! What a testimony to God’s faithfulness during difficult times. My husband is facing rotator cuff surgery this month and our livelihood will be gone for those 6 months of recovery but we’re trusting God as He leads us in a different direction. Thanks for sharing your heart. God will bless i!

  11. Amanda @ Dwelling in Happiness says:

    Such sweet and truthful words, Abby! I think it’s so easy to get stuck in the 50/50 rule, and it’s just as easy to be selfish and want them to do more. Maybe us Type A’s have it worse? 😉 At any rate, you really hit the nail on the head here!! God created us to serve, and in our marriage, we need to serve each other and give joyfully, rather than taking and wanting more. Great reminders friend, thank you! 🙂

  12. Krista @the happy housie says:

    I totally agree- such great learning. I think marriage has to be 100-100. Both parties should be giving their all and serving one another with their full selves. Not resenting doing things for one another, right??

  13. I love this! So beautiful 🙂 I’m convinced that you learn more about who you are and who you’re with when times are hard versus when they’re good. I’m glad you were able to take some life lessons away from your time recovering from surgery. And I’m even more glad that you’re up and running and back in blog land!


  14. Excellent post and so much truth. If you enter marriage with a 50/50 attitude everyone loses. But it is a daily battle to put your spouse first and self second. Thanks for the reminder!

  15. Denise Ross Australia says:

    Thanks for this post Abby. My heart feels a little softer and I’m ready to get up and bike doe thing my husband will especially like. I’ve been feeling all about me and irritable lately too. I’m not too good at stopping to smell the roses, so I do believe tiredness is a factor here, but I need to change my mindset and do what’s important which is out God first, My husband second and my family after that, and put everything else on the list after these. Thank you for the reminder. Have a blessed day and mushy is good in my book xo

  16. Abby, I am so glad everything went so well for you. It was a very moving blog. I hope all is going well for you. I also help all goes well for your sister if she is going to make the same choices you did. You, your sister and your mom are beautiful. I loved reading your story and seeing your pictures. Thank you for sharing. Wishing you peace!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Thank you so much Dee! You are too sweet! Hope you’re having a wonderful week! ~Abby =)

  17. Rev. Suzanne L. Taylor says:

    Abby, you are wise beyond your years and your honesty is fresh. My hubby of just short of 46 years passed away November 6, 2015. It’s a time of major adjustment in my life and the lives of our family, but it’s the presence of God in my life, and the things I shared with and learned from Larry that make it possible. May God bless your marriage to stay fresh and young every day, in Jesus’ name, amen and amen.

  18. Reading this makes me feel glad for you but brings home what I am missing. I am 6-days post cancer surgery with a large skin graft to my lower leg, amd am supposed to be confined to my bed. But by day 3, I was having to clean up our kitchen after my husband just to get it in a sanitised condition so I could safely make food. Today I had to clean poop from the cat litter tray despite open wounds. I wish I had a partner who really stepped up the way yours has.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Oh I’m so sorry for all you’ve had to go through, Zofia! I wish I could be there to give you a hand! Sending prayers and hugs your way! <3

      ~Abby =)

  19. You are so right, that marriage is rarely 50/50. I struggle with selfishness, and I forget so quickly how seasons change. Nothing lasts forever. We are in a busy and difficult season right now with our 4 kids. My husband does what he can, yetI have been bitter about how little time we have together as a family right now. I will make the tiny shift in my perspective to “what can I do to help my husband?”

    Thank you for sharing. I hope you are well.

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Totally understand and can relate to that struggle, Kat. Our mindset and attitude make all the difference, don’t they? <3

      ~Abby =)

  20. Thanks for this post, after an emergency appendectomy my fiancé was getting angry at me for doing things around the house, and I got upset at him for giving me a hard time. After reading this I reminded myself it was because of his concerns for my health and we sat down and had a big chat about it, we talked to my doctor about what I can and can’t do and are much better. Thanks for sharing

    1. justagirlabby says:

      So glad it was helpful for you, Tess! <3

      ~Abby =)

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