How many of us, when vowing “for better or for worse,” really expect to have to deal with the “worse”?
After reading hundreds of stories that end with “And the prince and the princess lived happily ever after,” it can be easy to be stunned when we’re faced with difficulties in marriage. But so many of us do–infertility, loss, employment difficulties, or any other tragedy.
But what if you could do something when you’re faced with these times that would help you be stronger as a couple when you go through the worse in your marriage? Hard times aren’t a death sentence for your marriage–and they provide unique opportunities to love at a deeper level than we do on a day-to-day basis during the good times.
I know when our son Christopher died Keith felt like our marriage was at a crossroads, too. We could either cling to each other and grow closer, or we could let this tear us apart. And we decided that we had already lost a son; we didn’t want to lose each other, too.
Elizabeth Laing Thompson is here today to share 10 things you can do to nurture your marriage when you’re going through grief. I hope these bless your marriage if you’re going through this dark patch:
And they lived happily ever after… except when they didn’t. Because they weren’t always happy. Sometimes they were sad.
Even the strongest and happiest of marriages face difficulty and grief: illness, infertility, depression, loss. And those times test our marriages as nothing else.
My husband and I have faced several painful seasons in our seventeen-year marriage: unexpected moves, financial strain, family sickness, infertility, loss. Five years ago, our life fell to pieces in a matter of three weeks. My husband found out he had to make a sudden, immediate job change. One day we were planting perennials; the next we were sticking a “For Rent” sign into the yard of our dream house, packing up our life, and moving two states away from family and friends, all while suffering a miscarriage. We limped into our new town reeling and mourning—bleeding inside and out—wondering if we’d ever find happiness, ever find home, again.
Here are 10 ways we have learned to maintain a healthy marriage during seasons of grief:
1. Go to God first.
When we are going through painful times, it’s tempting to unleash every emotion on our husbands full-force. Most husbands will gladly offer a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on as often as they can, but even so, everyone has limits—especially if they are also grieving. Let’s remember: Our spouse can never take the place of our relationship with God. No relationship can! Only God can truly understand the depth of our feelings, and the great news is, He is always available, and His shoulders are always big enough, to carry our emotional burdens.
2. Don’t expect your husband to feel or communicate grief the same way you do.
Men and women experience and express grief differently. Your husband may not seem as emotional as you are, but that doesn’t mean he does not feel the loss or relate to your feelings. He just processes the loss in his own way. Study him. Listen to him—learn to hear the things he says without words. Pray for insight and wisdom.
3. Don’t expect mind-reading.
When we are feeling especially down or needy, it’s not fair to expect our spouses to read our minds, and then get angry when they miss our cues. We have to tell our husbands what we feel and what we need.
4. Accept imperfect understanding.
I’ve always taken great comfort from Proverbs 14:10: “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.” People—even husbands, the people who love us most—will not fully understand every nuance of what we feel. That’s okay. Perfect understanding is God’s job, not a person’s job.
5. Remember, relationships go two ways.
Sometimes grief can make us self-absorbed, lost in our own pain. Remember that he is hurting and struggling, too, even if he expresses it differently than you do. Make a point to ask him how he is doing, how he is feeling. Go out of your way to do the things that make him feel loved.
6. Share the load.
One single person can’t carry our entire burden, however much he may want to. Even though grief may feel like a private struggle, I encourage you to find the courage to open your heart to a few more confidants. You will be surprised by how many people love you enough to want to shoulder a part of your burden. Miscarriage and infertility forced me to expand my support system. I am forever grateful to precious friends who prayed and fasted with and for me, listened to me, and sat and cried with me. They preserved my sanity and walk with God, and they protected my marriage.
7. Say thank you.
When we are grieving, we may feel cheated out of something we feel we deserve. We may feel entitled to special attention and service from our husbands, and chances are, they are happy to offer it. But let’s not take their generosity for granted. Let’s go out of our way to express love, affection, gratitude, and encouragement. Try saying things like, “I appreciate your sensitivity during this crazy time,” or “I know things have been hard and I haven’t quite been myself lately, and I’m thankful for your patience and sense of humor during this time.”
8. Give the grace you need.
It goes something like this: Say you struggle with chronic pain, and you’ve had a rough week. But Friday night at dinner your husband says, “Hey, honey, I’m going to play golf all day tomorrow on my day off—you’ve got the kids, right?” Before you karate-chop your husband—the man you promised God you would love and protect and not karate-chop for the rest of your life—let’s remember: everyone is going to say the wrong thing at some point. No matter how compassionate our husbands are, they cannot understand exactly how we feel; they cannot anticipate our reactions to every comment or situation. They won’t know what to say sometimes. But hey—we don’t know what to say to ourselves sometimes! We can choose to preserve our marriages by paying grace forward. Chances are, we will need some grace ourselves before long.
9. Remember to have fun.
Who wants to have fun when they’re sad? But sometimes fun is exactly what the doctor ordered, and laughter really is the best medicine. Go out on a date, make time for the things you’ve always loved to do together—you’ll be surprised to find how much you are still able to enjoy yourself and enjoy your husband, even when you’re struggling through a painful time.
10. Don’t abandon your love life.
It’s tough to get “in the mood” when you’re—well, not in the mood. But romance and sexual intimacy help to keep our marriages connected and strong even during tough times. We may not have fireworks and thrills—our intimacy during hard times may be gentle and quiet, even bittersweet—but making love helps us draw comfort from each other’s presence. It helps us feel safe and loved. It allows us to express love and faithfulness without words.
Happily ever after isn’t always happy…but it can last forever after, if we will continue to nurture our marriages no matter what twists and turns our stories take.