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Marriage 911

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Dr. David Hawkins is the director of The Marriage Recovery Center and has been helping couples in crisis restore and revitalize their relationships for more than 30 years.

At The Marriage Recovery Center, Dr. Hawkins promotes '3 Days To a New Marriage, Guaranteed!' Contact TMRC for a free 20-minute consultation.

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Stabilizing the Crisis

There is a time in every marriage when a couple hits a crisis. Even the best marriages struggle sometime. Being prepared for such crises, or at least knowing how to effectively respond to them, is critical. A call recently from a young man reminded me of this importance.


“I don’t know what to do,” the man on the other end of the phone said. “My wife and I are fighting and things are spinning out of control.”


“Tell me more about what’s happening,” I said.


“We’re like a couple of porcupines,” he said. “We can’t seem to talk about anything without it escalating into a fight. We can’t stop fighting, and now she’s even talking about moving out. I’m afraid for our marriage.”


“It sounds like things are very unstable,” I said to the anxious man. “We need to talk about some practical things you can do to stop the slide.”


I spent the next several minutes sharing some tools I’ve developed and written about in my book, 10 Lifesavers for Every Couple. We explored ways he contributed to his marriage crisis, how to change his behavior, and ways to respond to actions his wife was taking that aggravated the situation.


As a marriage counselor, I receive many calls like the one from this young man. Many couples lack the skills to cope with the conflict, and not knowing how they got to where they are, struggle to find ways to end the crisis. Such was also the case of a woman who wrote to me recently.

Dear Dr. David,


I am really frustrated. It seems like my husband is very touchy. I can’t say anything without him blowing up at me. I try not to react, but I can’t help it when he is so irritable. The more irritable he is, the more irritable I become. Before I know it, we’re out of control, yelling at each other. We act in ways we would never have acted before. I’m embarrassed at the things I say when I’m mad at him, and I know he feels bad for what he says when he is angry. What can we do so we don’t slip into these terrible times? I’m afraid that if we don’t change, it will begin to affect our marriage permanently. Please help!

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 and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my Web site, and You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency, rejection by your mate, and affair-proofing your marriage.


Print      Email to a Friend    posted on Tuesday, February 09, 2010 5:18 PM

Comments on this post

# RE: Stabilizing the Crisis

I really needed that article. Thank you
Left by Winnet on Feb 10, 2010 3:57 AM