While this woman’s plight may seem extreme, most of us can relate. You may pride yourself in being a “good” person, perhaps even “a strong Christian,” and yet you face a serious marriage crisis. Let’s explore what can be done to stabilize even the most challenging issue.
First, recognize that all marriages have times of difficulty. It is tempting to believe that if we love each other, we’ll stop having marriage problems. Unfortunately, we are not perfect, and subsequently we’ll fall back into old behavior patterns that cause marriage issues. While you must take these issues seriously, you must also keep them in perspective. No single problem has to derail your marriage.
Second, if it’s predictable, it’s preventable. If you find yourself in a marriage crisis, fighting over the same issues or acting in a similar pattern to the last crisis you had, that pattern of behavior can be interrupted. In my work with couples at The Marriage Recovery Center, I encourage people to watch carefully for patterns of behavior that cause crises. Learning to recognize actions that escalate problems will empower you to stop those very actions. If your crises are predictable, they are largely preventable.
Third, do no harm. As with any crisis, one of the first things to do is nothing. In other words, your more powerful tool is to stop doing the things that hurt your mate. Look closely at the words said and the actions taken that lead to trouble. Agree with your mate that you will cause no further harm—refuse to fight. As with a medical emergency, you need to stop the hemorrhaging.
Fourth, show acts of kindness. While it is counter-intuitive to be kind to someone whom you feel is hurting you, the Bible tells us that we are to love those who cause us harm. Finding ways to show kindness and love are mature responses to a very difficult situation. Kindness and grace are fantastic ways to stop the emotional spiral.
Fifth, own your part in the dance. It is very tempting to focus on your mate’s behavior. Don’t do it. Keep the focus on your part of the marriage crisis. Notice what you do that escalates the crisis. Pay close attention to your words and actions that cause harm, and then interrupt the pattern. Take the higher road when it’s tempting to act as hurtful as your mate. Again, don’t do it. Through God’s power and strength you can step back, notice what is happening, and be the more mature person.
Sixth, practice ‘conflict containment.’ A crisis takes emotional fuel to continue. Agreeing with your mate to call a time out or put a problem on hold until you’re both ready and emotionally able to talk about it is a powerful strategy. I teach couples to use ‘The Plutonium Box’ for their issues, taking them out one at a time, as they are able. Don’t allow problems to seep into every aspect of your marriage.
Seventh, get the best professional help you can find. Just as you would seek the best help for your body in a medical emergency, seek seasoned help for your marriage crisis. Find a psychologist or counselor who will take an active interest in your situation, who is willing to offer special help to stabilize your marriage. Then, once you’ve found the right person, stick with them. Once your crisis is stabilized, don’t stop counseling. Agree together that your marriage is sufficiently stable to cut back before even considering stopping.
If you find yourself and your mate in a crisis, don’t assume things will naturally get better without taking definitive action. That is rarely the case. Be active in solving the problems, and arm yourself with tools for the next crisis you face.
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Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my Web site, www.marriagerecoverycenter.com and yourrelationshipdoctor.com. You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency, rejection by your mate, and affair-proofing your marriage.