7 Steps to Survive a Marriage Crisis

When my brother lost his job, I worried about how it would affect his marriage. Would he and his wife cave under the added pressure and turn on one another? Or would they survive the storm with their marriage—and family—intact?

All too often, marriages are collateral damage in other storms of life—a job loss, the loss of a loved one, parenting a problem child, etc. When couples are exposed to the heavy winds of difficult circumstances, all the cracks in the foundation of their relationship are exposed. For many, a crisis is a fast track to divorce.
But there are exceptions! In the case of my brother, his job loss and the financial pressure it brought actually helped him and his wife become closer.  They became doubly focused on supporting one another and working as a team as a means of survival. They took some of these 7 Steps to Survive a Marriage Crisis.

1. Take turns being strong.

When Angie’s* baby was born prematurely, she and her husband had been married less than a year. They barely knew one another, and were suddenly overwhelmed with a very sick child clinging to life in the NICU. “What really helped us to cope during those months was to take turns being the strong one. Some days I would just need to cry and fall apart, and he would be tough and reassure me. Other days, we switched roles” she says. “And through it all, we shared scripture with one another to bolster our faith.” No one can be strong all the time, but if you tag-team and pick one another up as necessary, you’ll make it.

2. Give as much grace as you want to receive.

When a couple is suffering, it can be easy to look for a villain and start playing the blame game. But does that ever really fix anything? Emory says that when he lost his job and went through months of unemployment, he was devastated. “I felt like such a failure as a husband and father. There were days that I could hardly get out of bed. But through all of that, my wife  Laura never blamed me for our financial strain, never complained, and never stopped believing that God was going to provide another job for me soon.” She was right. And when that new job came around, she also had a husband who knew that his wife was a treasure.

3. Forgive.

Sometimes the scars in a marriage are inflicted because of the actions of one spouse. It may be a past infidelity, financial mismanagement, or any number of poor choices. But if the marriage is to survive, forgiveness must take place. That doesn’t mean that you don’t learn from the past experience and make changes to prevent a repeat of the problem. It does, however, mean that you lay down your right to be angry or hold the mistake over your spouse’s head indefinitely. You both have enough work to do in just repairing the damage the crisis brought to your lives, both practically and emotionally. The clean-up is much easier if you’re doing it as a team.

4. Have your spouse’s “back.”

Have you ever seen an action movie where two buddies are suddenly engaged in a fight against a much larger group? The duo has a better chance of success if they stand back-to-back, so that each can protect the other’s blind spot from attack. Do you look out for your spouse, especially when the chips are down? It’s a mean world out there. Each of you needs to be able to know that there’s at least one safe place, one person you can count on, no matter what. One person who speaks up in your defense and who chooses to believe the best about you.

5. Allow one another to grieve a loss.

A heartbreaking loss can be a real trial in a marriage. For some couples, that loss comes in the form of infertility. Sarah and her husband learned after more than a year of trying to have a child that his prior battle with cancer had rendered him infertile. They each had to lay down the dream of having a biological child together. “We both grieved that loss,” Sarah says. “In different ways, and on slightly different timetables, but we both needed to grieve to be able to move on.” Their grief eventually gave way to healing, and the couple adopted a beautiful little boy.

6. Remember whose team you’re on.

Extended family is great, but your number one priority in life must be the home team: your spouse and your children. Shortly after their wedding, Claire learned that her new husband’s parents were in a state of self-induced financial ruin and emotional disarray. Suddenly, their honeymoon shifted to a season of essentially “parenting” his parents and caring for their needs. “The thing Scott did that protected our marriage was to draw a line in the sand when needed and say, ‘I will help you as much as I can, but my own family must come first.’ As exhausting as our relationship with them has been over the years, I’ve had the assurance that we were his first priority, and that he wouldn’t let their bad choices take us down, too.”

7. Maintain perspective.

Whatever the struggle, it’s wise to realize that—although it may seem impossible today—this, too, shall pass. So just take it one day at a time, give one another extra encouragement, pray for patience, endurance and wisdom, and watch God work His plan. Because He has one—we promise.

* All names have been changed for privacy

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