The true test of a marriage's strength comes through crisis: death, illness, unemployment or other personal disasters. During these difficult times a couple either learns to lean on each other, or they simply isolate and the fabric of the relationship comes unravelled. Why?
Many people were never adequately prepared to deal with adversity. When faced with a spouses disability, or the illness or loss of a child, they simply refuse to deal with reality and abandon the situation. Others play the blame game. If only you had, if you listened, and on and on, they unload their grief and anger on each other.
How does a couple avoid the pitfalls inherent in such situations? First, avoid the temptation to cast blame. It is too easy when emotions are running high to lash out in anger. Try and recognize and validate your partner's feelings. Let each other know how much you need each other. Put off any sort of intensive talks until the situation has calmed down. I remember when Cam was 3 years old and sustained a severe head injury. I lashed out at Dave, telling him it was his fault for not watching him more closely. When I saw the look of profound hurt in his eyes, I immediately went to him and apologized. As we went through the long hours of waiting and praying, we held each other. From that day forward, no matter what happens in our lives to bring on a crisis, we automatically reach out to each other.
Don't isolate from your partner. Let each other know what you are feeling and why. There is no shame in expressing grief and hurt. Men are particularly good at trying to keep a stiff upper lip, and internalizing their emotions. They often need the reassurance that we don't think any less of them for crying or showing grief. This can be a very moving and profound moment in your marriage. Very often, a man, once he's been given permission to express his deepest feelings, will find himself much more open and loving in all other areas of his relationship with his wife.
If sudden unemployment is the issue, sit down and calmly discuss options and plans to weather the financial loss. Complaining about it or casting aspersions on your partner's abilities as a wage earner is cruel and counterproductive. Reassure him/her that something positive will come of this, and you both will work through this together.
The marriage vows state for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. If your loved one is diagnosed with a chronic illness, it will place great stress on the marriage. Enormous sensitivity is called for in dealing with this issue. When I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, both of us were totally overwhelmed by it all. When in 1990 I was also diagnosed with SLE, I thought our marriage would surely fall apart. I was wrong. But it took hard work, mainly on my part. When one is feeling bad every day, it's hard not to complain.
But I realized how stressful and depressing for Dave it was to hear and see my discomfort. Now, I simply avoid mentioning how I feel, unless I'm out of remission. I've tried to create as "normal" a lifestyle for us as is possible. In doing this, I allow him the space and time to get away from "sick" talk and view me as a healthy active woman. As a result, when I do need him, he's there for me. Using support groups and my physician for feedback and comfort takes the burden of my being ill off his shoulders.
Use crisis situations to deepen and intensify the love you have for each other. Instead of avoiding or fighting the situation, go through it step by step, side by side. Your marriage will deepen and build layers of rich complexity as a result.
Self Analysis: Have you ever faced a truly difficult situation together? How did the both of you handle it?