About six months ago, Bill and Katie were forced to shut down their deli/coffee shop, which they had used their life savings to start only a year earlier. "Losing the business was especially hard on Bill," Katie says. "He'd just sit around the house every day, hardly saying a word. If I suggested he send out some resumes, he'd take that as criticism and storm out the door in a huff. Eventually he found work, which helped our finances. But still there's a distance between us that wasn't there a year ago."
Another couple, Bob and Carol, ended up moving in with her parents for three stressful months after he lost his job. "I was on unemployment, and we were broke. We had one hassle after another with Carol's mom," Bob says. "But, even though it was a rough time, my wife and I both look back at what happened and feel we have a stronger marriage as a result."
For better or for worse
Going through hard times can leave a husband and wife feeling closer and more committed to each other than ever before, or it can pull them apart and sever their relationship. How will your marriage fare in tough times? Will it survive or will it thrive?
When the going gets tough, spouses often do things unwittingly that undermines their relationship, just when they need each other most. Oftentimes, couples get so caught up in day-to-day survival, that they put their relationship on the back burner. We need to be careful not to focus all our time and energy on the problems, and not have energy left for our mate and our marriage.
Pointing the finger is another hallmark of spouses under stress. It's easy to start thinking your mate is not pulling his or her share of the responsibilities, and start keeping score. We're inclined to see more of what we're doing that's positive in the relationship, but only a fraction of what our partner does. But scorekeeping can be dangerous because when you start keeping score, even if you're accurate, you're likely to end up resenting your mate before too long. That just creates more tension and strain on the relationship. It can end up you versus your mate and become a wedge that drives you apart.
The challenge is to draw closer to your mate and build a stronger marriage, rather than letting the tough times drive a wedge between the two of you. Let me suggest 6 ways to strengthen your relationship and keep your marriage strong through tough times:
1.Lean on each other. A favorite 60's song of mine is James Taylor's "Lean On Me." It goes, "Lean on me when you're not strong, and I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on. For it won't be long, til I'm gonna need somebody to lean on." That's what we need from each other sometimes- somebody to lean on. We need to be able to share our concerns, fears and hopes without being criticized or judged. We need to be there for each other, to listen to each other, and talk things out. When couples are under a lot of stress, they need to reach out to each other with an open ear and a shoulder to lean on. Scripture encourages us, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:2 (TNIV).
2.Keep your challenges in perspective. Distinguish your fears of the worst-case scenario from the facts. We have a tendency to "catastrophize" when we're under stress. This can either freeze you into helplessness or catapult you into hysteria. Ask yourself, "What is the worst thing that actually could happen?" When you think things through, often you'll realize the situation isn't as bad as you thought. We need to prepare for the worst, but pray for the best, and trust God whatever the outcome. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind," 2 Timothy 1:7
3.Get connected and stay connected. In Ephesians 5:22-6:4, God gave us several keys to having a successful Christian marriage and family. In chapter 5, verses 18-21, one of the keys is that it be grounded in a Spirit-filled, worshipping community. A Christian marriage without the instruction, encouragement, and support found through involvement in the life of a church, certainly won't thrive, and likely won't survive the tough times. As married couples, we need the encouragement, support, and all the other many benefits of belonging to a caring church family. Make it a priority as a couple to get connected in a like-minded community of believers, attend a weekly home group or Bible Study group where you can seek God and grow in your faith together.
4.Accentuate the positive. Don't let negativity dominate your lives. According to behavioral scientists, 77 percent of the average person's internal self-talk is negative. One negative thought can neutralize dozens of positive ones. Imagine the impact this can have on a marriage. It can short circuit your attitude toward your mate and cause you to disconnect. The focus of our thoughts is what determines our attitudes and feelings. Once you own that fact you can set your mind on a positive track. You can begin to live out what the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians (4:8-9): "Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things ... and the God of peace will be with you." Replace your negative thoughts with positive ones, and you'll change your attitude, your feelings- and your life for good.
5.Relax and taketime to enjoy. Mark 6:31 tells about when the disciples had been working hard and were weary. Jesus told them, "Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while." Jesus often went to the mountains or desert for relaxation. Block out some time in your schedule to be alone with your mate and get away from whatever is causing you stress. Go on a walk, to a park, or the beach. Share a cup of tea after the kids are in bed. Get involved with a new activity. Take a dance class together. Spend the night at a Bed & Breakfast. Have some fun.
6.Show your affection. In times of tension and disagreement, make a special effort to forgive, mend and reaffirm your love. Make it a point to tell each other "I love you," and say it often. Don't just assume your mate knows how you feel, "It's during the tough times that your partner needs the reassurance of your love even more. Put a note in his briefcase to say how much you appreciate him. Acknowledge that she has had a rough day and offer to finish her chores. Small gestures like these can go a long way. "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you," (Ephesians 4:32).
"Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret" (Psalm 37:7).
Father, we pause to quiet our minds and release to You all our concerns about the challenges we're facing, our fears and worries about the future, and the pressures that weigh heavily on us today. Give us wisdom and understanding to turn these difficult times into opportunities to draw closer to you and to each other. We know that you use trials to test and strengthen us, and our marriage. And this is truly what we desire Lord. We want a love and a relationship that is strong, full of kindness, patience, faith and hope. We want a love that will never fail. We surrender ourselves to You LORD, and thank you for what you are doing in each of us and in our marriage. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.
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