Every marriage goes through times of crisis. The crisis could be a personal, emotional crisis for one of the family members, financial crisis, a death in the family, a devastating illness or accident, or the focus of this site–infidelity. Here are some tips on how to keep hope alive and cope during this time:
1. Assess Your Commitment
“(Love)…does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” ~1 Corinthians 13: 5
During a crisis, it is fairly typical for one spouse or the other to think, “I did not sign up for this. I want to quit!” So one of the most important steps to dealing with any crisis is to evaluate your commitment. Re-read your marriage vows and remind yourself why you married your spouse. Even if your spouse is behaving badly, be sure that YOU are behaving in a way that honors the verse above! Sometimes, in the pain of the crisis, your spouse will say something hurtful, so determine not that you will not give up on your marriage no matter what your spouse may say. Decide that whatever happens in your marriage, it’s important to you to know that you gave it your best shot and that you tried everything you knew to do.
2. Improve Communication Patterns
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” ~Ephesians 4:29
During a crisis, it is also fairly typical for good communication skills to go out the window and for bad habits to take over. Spouses in pain tend to do everything from yelling and screaming, to blaming…from freaking out, to bad mouthing each other. Now is the time to pull out the communication techniques and tools you’ve learned and discipline yourself to use them. Use “I Statements”(not, “You always do this and never do that!”). Use tools like W-T-F-S (“When you… I Think… I Feel… So I’d like to ask….”) and M.U.U. (Mutual United Understanding). And for a couple of “Don’ts”… don’t take everything your spouse says personally; don’t blame each other; and don’t bad mouth your spouse to the children or other family members.
3. Change Your Thoughts
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” ~Romans 8:28
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” ~Romans 12:2
It is typical, during a crisis, to think very negatively about the crisis and what is causing you pain; very often people let that negativity drift over into also thinking negatively about their spouse. So now is the time to discipline your mind and think in new ways:
First, make a conscious choice to remain positive and to have the expectation that something good and helpful will come out of this experience in the long run. This is not to say that you have to be a Pollyanna and deny the crisis or that it’s painful, but rather, when your mind wanders into those hurtful, angry, negative thoughts, remind yourself that even suffering is used by God to teach us to be more like Him. God uses all things for good, and although we may not see it now and we may want the pain to stop, HE is using this crisis for good for you.
Second, really anchor in your mind that how you react to the situation will have a major impact on how things go from here. Keep focused on the present crisis rather than bringing up the past or bringing up “what’s going to happen” because we do not know what the future may hold.
4. Care for Your Spouse–Exercise Compassion
“ Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” ~Ephesians 4: 32
Envision the current crisis–for example let’s say it is a financial crisis where neither one of you can find a job and rent is due. The tendency might be for you to think things about your spouse that are less-than-loving and blame them for the situation you’re in. But the real truth is that every human being makes mistakes (even you) and that every human being wants to be loved and treated kindly. Even if you spouse really is to blame for the crisis, think about them as a fellow human and think about how much you want your marriage to survive. Face the crisis together as a team rather than as opponents. And if your spouse is a person who processes crisis internally, honor your spouse’s request for emotional space.
The only exception to the rule of “emotional space” is if your spouse is cheating and they ask for “space.” In that instance they are not asking for “emotional space”–that usually means they want to be free to fool around with the other person without you being in the picture. In that case, it is reasonable to NOT disappear into the woodwork and just let them cheat!
5. Care for Yourself–Draw Strength from Community
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” ~Galatians 6:2
In the same way that your spouse is a human being, remember that you are not a superhero either! You have your limits physically, emotionally, and mentally, so it is also reasonable for you to take care of yourself. Make yourself take the time to eat every meal, to get the proper sleep, and to get up and move. Give yourself time. Allow yourself to be “confused.” Make a list of all the different things you can do to ground yourself and get more balanced emotionally and physically.
6. Grow in Your Faith
“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” ~Psalm 56:3
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” ~Romans 5:3-4
Now is the time to build your faith:
- Study the Bible-don’t just read it, study it! Go to church or bible study because God tells us that “faith comes by hearing and hearing from the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).
- Actively love others–usually I recommend volunteering during a crisis. “What? Are you kidding?” you might ask, but no I’m not kidding. When you have a crisis and go to the homeless shelter to help someone less fortunate, you are quickly reminded of all you DO have and all the ways you ARE blessed.
- Trust in God–it can be really hard to let go of the thought that you control your own destiny, but in real life GOD is the one in control, not you. He created the entire universe and keeps it flawlessly–He can handle this crisis.
- Pray–God is not a vending machine. Do not expect to insert a prayer, push the button, and He will dispense what you asked for. He is the Almighty God of Heaven and Earth! When you enter His presence, pray as He taught us. Honor God’s holiness–praise Him. Ask for strength to do HIS WILL. Make your requests known to God. Intercede for others. Thank Him for everything (I Thes. 5:18)