What if your marriage is in the trenches?
There is so much beautiful advice out there for marriage – how to strengthen your marriage, how to keep it alive, how to make sure your partner feels loved. It’s all right on and true.
But, what if your marriage – for whatever reasons – is in the trenches?
All the advice reads like:
1) See gaping wound
2) Open box of Bandaids
3) Apply to center of wound, ignore uncovered areas.
All marriages go through tough times. Many also go through rough times, and it might not be about the marriage at all.
It might be a struggle with your child.
It might be a work-related trial.
It might be due to alcohol, depression, anxiety or any number of things.
Everything a couple goes through can affect the marriage.
Sometimes those beautifully crafted articles about how to spice up your marriage might read like salt in the wound. They might feel like an article on how to pick the best swimsuit for your figure, when what you’re really doing is treading water.
So, for all of those marriages in the trenches, this one is for you.
1. There is something beautiful about going through fire and coming out the other side. Whatever you’re going through, it might not be apparent, but it is shaping you – and your spouse. At some point in time, you both will come out stronger on the other end. Whatever that end looks like.
2. It’s okay to be angry. Our feelings are valid, whatever they may be. If you’re angry, let yourself be angry. The only caveat is that while anything we feel may be valid, our behavior doesn’t get the same pass. Feel your feelings, work hard to accept them as they are and watch your behavior. In the end, you’ll feel better if you do.
3. It’s okay to take a break. When your marriage is in a great place, the adage – don’t go to bed angry – is a wonderful one. When you’re going through a really rough spot, it’s okay to go to bed angry. Sometimes sleeping on big emotions is just the thing you both need to temper the big feelings and start again the next day.
4. This is normal. Marriage – especially one that is being tested – is not always happily-ever-after. It’s not always surprise flowers at work and love notes taped to the mirror. It is hard work. It has its ups and downs, and sometimes the downs are more down than the ups are up. That. is. totally. normal. When we get the message that it isn’t, that’s when we get scared and make decisions out of fear, instead of basing them on reality.
5. Look for love in unlikely places. You’ve been fighting for days, but he still leaves enough coffee in the pot for you. You’re so mad you can’t see straight, but you still pick up his prescription on the way home. That’s love. That’s commitment. See it for what it is and let that be a point of light in a tough time. Put your attention on that light, and you’ll start to see more points of light in what previously felt like a total eclipse.
6. Find the good. So much easier to say than to do when you are struggling. Each day, find three good things and name them to yourself. He bathed the kids. She packed the lunches. He took out the trash. She left the light on. It might be tough when times are tough, but we can all find three things. Find those first before you focus on the bad. Over time, do your best to increase it from three and see what it does for your mindset.
7. Speak good to your children. You might have every reason to be mad at your spouse, but they are your child’s mom, or dad. To your child, they are half of the world. Guard yourself, and speak only positively about them to your children and in front of your children. You are helping your child feel more secure in his or her world by doing so. There is also something to be said for feeling good about yourself for your behavior.
8. Phone a friend. There is something healing in venting to a person who cares and will listen. We all need to use a release valve from time to time. It helps us stop spinning and let the worst of our feelings out. It can only be good for your marriage to “blow off steam” and find yourself on calmer ground.
9. This too shall pass. Remind yourself of this when the days are long – and the nights are too. The ending might not look like you once imagined, but it will come. Things will get better, or things will get worse, but this moment right here? This one will pass.
10. It’s worth the hard work. Disney hasn’t done anyone any favors. The storybook prerequisite for marriage is a good singing voice and the ability to wake people from slumber with a kiss. After that, perfect strangers ride off into the sunset of pure marital bliss. And if your marriage doesn’t look like that, it can feel like something’s wrong. Like there must be something better out there. But the truth is, it’s all hard work. The good marriages and the bad.
I am certainly not advocating that anyone stay in a harmful marriage – absolutely not!
I am saying that the marriage you have right now – if it is truthfully more good than bad – is worth the hard work.
Because it will be that with someone else. Hard work.
And there was a reason you chose this person. It might be hard to remember right now, but there is a reason that you thought that this was the person you wanted to share life with.
And for that reason, your marriage is worth the investment – whatever that looks like. Maybe it’s couples counseling. Or individual. Maybe it’s a short-term break to re-prioritize. Maybe it’s deciding that it’s better to have a right relationship than to be right.