It’s 2 a.m. and you can still hear the rain slapping against the window. The wind howls and the beams creak as they arm wrestle for superiority of this small corner of the world.
Maybe you should have gotten out of town. But you never imagined it would be this bad.
You walk over to the window and pull the curtain back just as the lightning briefly shows the water lapping at the top of your curb.
How long has it been anyway?
You count the days on your fingers.
…Five days. Five freaking days!
Never in your wildest dreams could you have imagined a storm of this magnitude invading your life. Threatening to crush everything you cherish.
Five days ago you could not have imagined the storm lasting this long. Now you find it hard to imagine that it will ever end.
Scenario after scenario after scenario races through your mind, like flash cards preparing you for the toughest exam you will ever take in your life.
“How will we get through this,” you wonder. “How will we ever recover?”
The Sad Truth Is…
Too many people know this experience today. Like myself, many Houstonians have question upon question hanging over their head in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. (As of this writing my family and I have evacuated and have no news yet about the status of our home) But others, people that don’t even live in Southeast Texas, have equally traumatic storms that they are weathering.
Some have experienced job loss.
Some are bankrupt.
Some have just discovered their spouse is cheating on them.
Some have received bad news from the doctor.
And some, heaven forbid, may even be grieving the loss of a child.
That’s the thing, isn’t it?
Loss comes in a variety of packages and in different shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s Mother Nature dumping over 15 trillion gallons of rain on you, and sometimes it is as subtle as your boss knocking on your door and saying, “Can I talk to you for a bit?”
But whatever way it occurs, the stress of such events can threaten even the strongest of marriages as anxiety sucks the blood out of your veins and replaces it with fear. But even at the height of your fear, you need your partner. And they need you. It is not enough to say you are their husband or wife. At moments like this we must be their husband or wife. We must come together during stressful times or risk losing each other.
So, how can you survive the storms in your life without sacrificing your marriage in the process?
#1 Be intentional.
Too many people cope with stress like a drowning man copes with the water, flailing about, grabbing at anything that promises them a way to catch their breath. Such an approach is the worst thing you can do for your relationship. At one point in your life, you promised: “for better or for worse…for as long as we both shall live.” Did you honestly think that such a vow could be accomplished by putting your relationship on cruise control? Well, it can’t. It requires you to manually shift the gears, change the oil, put gas in it, rotate the tires, and ensure that it is operating at maximum efficiency. This practice is especially true during stressful situations. If you are not focused on expressing at all times and in a variety of ways why you love your spouse, you will find yourself and your marriage quickly floundering.
#2 Maintain the strength of the relationship at all costs.
Admit it. At the core, you are a selfish person. 99% of most of your days are spent seeking how to fulfill your wants, desires, pleasures, and dreams. Your focus is on maintaining the self at all costs. But when you start to prioritize something above yourself, you begin to understand that there is something transcendent in this life, something greater than yourself. If you are in a situation that is stretching you beyond your comfort zone and threatening to take away all that you treasure, focusing on yourself will only spell DANGER for your marriage. You must put aside the natural inclination to look out for #1 and maintain the strength of the relationship at all costs.
#3 Make time for each other.
Find time to do something other than talk about the problem. Get your mind off of your problems for a while. No one can be “on” 24/7. Everyone needs a break. This means: take walks, do lunch, go to the gym together, find a favorite show on Netflix to share. Do something to create quality time with each other. If the situation has wiped you out financially, then get creative. For instance, set up a card table in your home to create a “faux coffee shop” where you and your spouse can talk about non-stressful things with your favorite cup of joe. Or, create a digital photo album for your spouse that includes pictures from past vacations or events together that only spur happy and funny memories. Allowing yourselves time to laugh can be a great healer and the photo album can remind you why you enjoy spending your life with your spouse.
#4 Don’t hold your partner’s mistakes over their heads.
People will often make irrational and impulsive decisions during times of extreme stress. Forgive them. And let them know that despite their failings, you are willing to work through it with them…to make the relationship stronger. Remember: There is no such thing as a marriage that thrives on self-centeredness. Only through the practice of selflessness, where the preservation of the relationship is more important than the self, can one begin to see the bigger picture and decided between “what is worth arguing about” and “what is not.” Additionally, don’t pick at each other. Sarcasm is not the salve for your wounds. Consideration and compassion is.
#5 Embrace the unknown
Everyone has an innate impulse to avoid suffering, but dire situations are not the time to plant your head in the sand. Ignoring the unknown will only increase your stress and complicate the problem you are facing. You must simultaneously be focused on two goals during this time: 1) standing up for what you believe is right and 2) affirming/valuing the relationship. As you do these things, take time to strategize together. Nothing creates more frustration than complaining about the problem without planning for a solution. Get out your paper and pen, if necessary, and create a decision tree of “if this, then we do that.” Leave no option unexplored. Write them all down. You will find that having a plan on paper will decrease your stress and allow you to budget where and how you will spend your emotional energies.
#6 Practice transparency
Express how and why (to the best of your knowledge) this situation is affecting you. This will increase vulnerability to your spouse, which will also increase the potential for connection. It is a basic rule of relationship: You cannot have connection without vulnerability. Therefore, be open. Share what’s going on with you. And compassionately listen to what is going on with them. This may also be an excellent time to reevaluate your priorities. Ask yourself: When it comes down to it what would I rather lose? My home? My finances? My children? My husband/wife? Obviously, people and relationships trump things. Why? Because you can replace things. But you can never replace the loss of loved ones. Keeping this basic principle in mind can focus your heart on how to actively build/preserve the priceless relationships in your life.
#7 Hold out hope without being patronizing
It’s not enough to say “everything will be ok.” Be specific. It’s too easy for someone to say, “You don’t know that! How can you possibly know that!” Even in the direst situations being able to say, “It’s going to be okay, because…” is especially helpful. Tailor these “because” statements specifically to communicate that you understand what is causing anxiety in your partner and how you intend on helping him/her with those fears. Don’t get discouraged if you cannot think of a five step solution right now. Sometimes the most actionable thing a person can do for their partner is to remind their spouse of the plan they devised together and the progress that is being made.
#8 Avoid the pessimists in your life like the plague
I have always told people that it is easier to pull someone down than it is to lift them up. Therefore, staying away from the “negative Nancy’s” in your life will remove those external voices of hopelessness and despair. You probably have enough of those statements going through your head each day. You don’t need to add to it. However, if you need help getting rid of the negative thoughts within your own head, talk to a counselor, pastor, or other trained professional.
#9 Move towards your spouse spiritually
Pray together especially. There are times when we cannot control all of the possible outcomes/variables. Our only hope is in God. Learn to listen to Him and how to submit to His voice. Refresh your soul on God’s promises. Go to the Psalms and listen to how God continually demonstrates Himself to be “an ever-present help” in times of need. Share these insights with your spouse, and discuss how you can each live out your faith in God through this situation. Bible study should always move beyond knowledge acquisition to knowledge application.
#10 Move only in one direction — forward
This is where you begin to implement the plan you put in place with EACH OTHER. Looking back on what happened to get you to this point only reinforces the stress and anxiety of your situation. But allowing yourself to accept that the situation is what it is and locking elbows with your partner to move in the direction of “how we want it to be” is much more unifying than pretending to be the Lone Ranger. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever freak out, but when you do, do so only to the degree that it will allow you to move in the direction needed and be willing to receive comfort from your spouse. Remember, even the Lone Ranger had his “faithful Indian companion, Tonto.”
#11 Allow yourself to cry or to be held as needed
If you are the crier, hold nothing back. If you need to cry so hard you need a whole box of Kleenex, then let it out. If you are the holder, hold tightly and soothingly. You don’t have to say a lot about the solution But you do need to reinforce that you are here for your partner and that you are glad that you are going through this situation with them. Make sure they know that you would not want to go through this with anyone else. REMEMBER: crying can look like anger many times, especially for men. If this is the case, let the “angry” person know that you believe in them. That you know that although they are frustrated you believe that they are up to the task of overcoming, of doing whatever needs to be done to get the family through this situation. Such exhortation can be energizing, giving them enough power to persevere for another day.
#12 Do not let the situation decide whether you want to remain married to your spouse
If asked, many divorcing people will tell you that they are not divorcing because they are out of love with their spouse; rather, they are divorcing the chaos within their relationship. Whenever I hear this, I immediately know two things: 1) the embers of love between these two people may still be able to be blown into a passionate fire once again and 2) their enemy is not their partner. It’s hopelessness. That means they cannot see a way out of their situation and are letting it dictate their future more than anything else. Exhausted, they have sat down within the labyrinth, placed their hands upon their eyes, and decided that there is simply no way out. To remedy, stop focusing on the situation and begin focusing on what it is that you value about the relationship and the person that you married. When you put your focus here and do so consistently, you begin to remember why you married the person in the first place and you begin to see that with their help, there is no obstacle that you (the irresistible force) and them (the immovable object) cannot overcome when you join against a common enemy (the situation that threatens you).
#13 Never neglect the importance of physical touch
Intimacy comes in many forms, but every human being has the need to be touched. Regardless of age, ethnicity, personality, mental health, religion, or worldview, everyone needs to know that another human being cares about them. This is especially true for your spouse. Hold their hand whenever you are sitting still or walking somewhere. This little act communicates to your partner that there is an unbreakable solidarity between the two of you. That you are in this together. But focusing only on the logistics of a situation can cause a couple to become so engrossed in the to-do list that they forget they have a partner in all of this. Therefore, don’t abandon the various forms of physical touch. Rub their back. Be generous with the hugs. Make love. Such behaviors will energize your soul and will remind you of how deeply you and your spouse love each other.
Treat the “Wrong” Person As If They Were the “Right” Person
Let’s be honest. Not all marriages are strong and tough times can stretch many of them to their breaking point. But if each partner will be willing to receive their spouse in kindness and patience, without rudeness or arrogance, without insisting on their own way, not being irritable or resentful, not rejoicing in wrongdoing, but rejoicing with the truth, then they will find that love truly does bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. Indeed, love never ends.