Julian Tan and his wife, Eunice, were on a high after attending the Marriage Encounter (ME) Weekend in March 2011. The retreat offers tools and concepts to enhance intimate communication between couples and recharge their marriage. Then came a bolt from the blue that nearly tore them apart. Ahead of World Marriage Day on Feb 12, Julian and Eunice, who have been married for 13 years, recount their harrowing experience and reflect on how it has made them treasure each other even more.
Eunice: Our lives turned topsy-turvy on Friday the 13th in May 2011.
I’d barely slept the night before due to excruciating abdominal pains, and thought I had severe food poisoning. I was told later that Julian and Joshua, our firstborn, found me lying on the floor between our bed and the bathroom. I lost consciousness each time Julian and my father tried getting me to stand up. Eventually, they had to call for an ambulance.
The doctors discovered that I was pregnant and suspected an ectopic pregnancy, as they could find nothing in my womb. I had to be operated on immediately as I was bleeding profusely internally. It turned out I was suffering from a rare case of ovarian ectopic pregnancy, where the zygote was implanted in my right ovary instead of in the fallopian tube. The surgeon told us later he was “shocked to see the right ovary spraying blood”.
Julian: I was shocked when Eunice lost consciousness every time I tried to lift her upright. Her eyes rolled back, her face was as white as a sheet and her lips were almost black. I actually slapped her a few times to wake her up as I was afraid I would lose her forever.
At the hospital, the doctor asked for my consent to remove her fallopian tubes and ovaries if need be. He also asked if I was prepared not to have any more children. Saving her life was all that mattered to me. We were told she would most certainly have died if we had gone to the hospital any later.
During the operation, I prayed frantically for Jesus to guide the hands of the surgeons and keep Eunice safe and alive. I called my mother and sent messages to friends to ask for prayers. I was in tears. I thought about our marriage as well. I was grateful we had attended the ME Weekend. We had been spending quality time together after the weekend and communicating more deeply with each other. I would have been devastated if she didn’t pull through just as we were rekindling the fire in our relationship.
Eunice: When I woke up from the two-hour surgery, it felt like I had been resurrected from the dead. I knew I was being given a second chance. The previous year had been a rough one for Julian and me. We were drifting apart as we were busy building our careers and caring for our two children, then aged four and two. We hardly slept in the same bed and had little time for ourselves.
The near-death experience was a wake-up call to seize the day and to live out our marriage vows with more conviction. Our relationship had always been stable, albeit rather bland. We hardly argued, but neither did we share our innermost thoughts and feelings.
I took this close brush with death as God’s way of telling me to change my ways or risk losing all the people I love.
Julian: After what happened, I told myself I had to treasure Eunice more as she could be taken from me anytime. Through this incident, I truly experienced the love of God. He pulled us through the most difficult moments and, more importantly, gave our marriage a new lease of life.
We started to share our feelings more openly. The dialogue tool, which we picked up from ME, was especially helpful.
We used to sweep things under the carpet and avoid confrontation. Now, we set aside a time to discuss matters without being interrupted. For instance, we managed to sort out some disagreement concerning our extended family recently. We now make time for each other, such as scheduling date nights. We even managed to go for a short getaway to mark our 10th wedding anniversary in November 2013. We also joined the ME ministry to serve as a couple. Our relationship has never been stronger.
Eunice: The conviction to live my life more passionately and meaningfully helped in many ways to improve our marriage. I have learnt to put Julian first before the children and to take more care in my interactions with him. For example, I will give him more space to share his thoughts and feelings without interrupting. Sometimes, I pick him up from work when it rains.
Even when we assumed heavier responsibilities at work – Julian travels almost every week while I used to clock about 16 hours a day at work – we felt fulfilled and connected with each other. We sometimes conduct our regular dialogue via e-mail and Skype.
Julian: Even though Eunice’s chances of conceiving were slim after part of her ovaries were removed, we were blessed with two more wonderful boys. We now have a really lively home, with Joshua, nine, Emily, seven, Gabriel, four, and Dominic who turned one last December.
It is a challenge squeezing out couple time while juggling a large family and a busy career. Often, we just want to hit the sack after a long day and we sometimes lapse into our old ways and forget to make the decision to love. Thankfully, being rooted in the ME community of like-minded couples motivates us to always think of each other’s needs. The road ahead is long, but we know we have God and each other to take the journey with.
Find out more about Marriage Encounter here.