My husband, Russ, and I are coming up on our 36th anniversary, which makes me feel like I really know what I’m doing marriage-wise.

In 2006, with seven children ranging from 19 to 3, I sensed God leading us to something new. I thought it would involve finally going to graduate school. Then a call came from a dear friend who told me they were adopting two little boys from Ethiopia. That call changed our lives. God began moving in our hearts as we learned of orphans in need of families.

We prayed and talked, researched, cried, then finally decided to adopt two little boys younger than our youngest child. This would be just right. But God stretched us further when we learned that the little girl we’d been sponsoring at an orphanage for children living with HIV was also available to be adopted.

We knew very little about HIV, but when I thought of her motherless in an orphanage I couldn’t bear it. After conversations with an Infectious Disease specialist and even more prayer, we decided to adopt her too. We felt compelled to love and care for children in desperate need.

In February 2007, my husband and I traveled to Ethiopia where we met our three children. Our daughter was five-and-a-half, and our sons were 23 months and five months old. We were complete strangers to them, but after many months of waiting and constantly thinking of them, they felt well established in our hearts.

We didn’t know it then, but we also met another little girl who would not leave our minds. A year later we returned to Ethiopia and she joined our family.

What I do know is how to persevere and look for healing connections.

Fast forward to fourteen years later, and we’re still in the midst of parenting kids with complex needs, which sometimes makes me think I know very little. What I do know is how to persevere and look for healing connections.

There have been easy seasons and hard seasons in our marriage – richer and poorer, sickness and health, tons of kid challenges, and even the deep suffering of losing a child.

All of this adds up to the need to focus on our marriage as adoptive and foster parents. This is a unique parenting experience, filled with many questions and challenges. It can be lonely too.

So what are the solutions? Here are my six marriage tips:

1. My spouse is more important than our children.

Russ has to take first place in my heart and life. I need to make time for him, think of him, listen to him, and connect. We had each other before we had our kids, and we want to have each other after they are grown.

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2. Love my neighbor as myself.

Russ is the closest ” neighbor” I have – so close he sleeps next to me each night. I can love him more than myself in big ways, like encouraging him to trek Machu Picchu with some of our big kids. I can also love him more than myself in tiny ways that make a difference, such as offering to pick up a child when he was planning on it, making a favorite meal, or even being the one to get out of bed to take care of a child’s need.

3. Give each other breaks.

Parenting kids with unique needs is exhausting. Getting away together is fantastic, but not always possible. Be sure to give each other breaks, even if it’s only an evening or a Saturday. When Russ has the kids and I can do something restful or fun, it restores energy and joy. Russ needs breaks too and I try to make opportunities for him to get the time he needs.

4. Have at-home dates.

Put younger kids to bed and instruct the older ones to give you some space. Order take-out, cook a special meal, or get your favorite ice cream to enjoy together. Watch a movie, read aloud, play a game, choose a special show you only watch together. If you can leave the house, but not go too far, walk around the block several times in the evening, or try early in the morning with coffee cups in hand. You can check on the kids after each lap.

5. Don’t hesitate to see a counselor.

A good marriage counselor can help you through some of the complex stress of parenting kids from “hard places.” Ask your friends if they can recommend someone. Your church may even have a pastor or someone on staff who can help and support you.

6. Pray for each other and your marriage.

I am more committed than ever to praying for our marriage. What a tragedy it would be if our obedience to God in adopting and loving children who needed families became the very thing that broke our marriages. This is a battle that cannot be seen with our eyes, but we know it is waged against us.

Pray hard. Pray without ceasing. Hold one another up when you’re weary. Ask God to give you his eyes for your spouse.

Lisa Qualls and her husband, Russ, are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. She is the co-author of The Connected Parent: Real-Life Strategies for Building Trust and Attachment and the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms.

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