Protecting your marriage during a crisisWritten by Dr. Debbie L. Cherry
This article is part of our series providing help for families during COVID-19. Find more related articles and resources here.
Two weeks ago, Tom was laid off. He and his wife, Renee, trust that God is in control and has another job for him. So why do they keep snapping at each other?
John and Mary lost their four-month-old girl to SIDS. They are extremely sad, but instead of crying together, they fight constantly. Worse yet, when they’re not fighting, they avoid each other.
Cherie and Brad have always kept a tight handle on their budget just to pay their bills. But as the prices for gas and food have skyrocketed, they can’t keep up. They feel helpless and have found themselves taking it out on each other.
Regardless of the type of crisis that might be affecting your marriage, you can be assured that it will be accompanied by stress. And as the physical, emotional and financial strain increases, so does the likelihood of conflicts between you and your spouse.
Here are five things you can do to protect your marriage and resolve the inevitable conflicts that come during a crisis:
- Utilize stress management skills. Taking care of yourself physically by getting adequate sleep, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can make a world of difference in how you interact with each other. Finding a healthy emotional release – such as joining a support group, journalling, talking with encouraging friends or family and spending time with God – is also a positive way to work through your feelings.
- Understand how you and your spouse react to crisis. Your spouse’s responses may be completely different than yours. Knowing this can help you reduce the conflicts that so easily develop in difficult times. In general, women tend to cope with crisis and stress by openly expressing how they feel while men are more likely to focus on "being strong" and helping others. Women need to talk about what’s going on, while men feel the need to fix the problem. Women are more likely to express sadness, whereas men’s emotional reaction may look more like frustration and anger. Be aware of how your spouse deals with crisis, and help your spouse learn about your typical reactions, too.
- Avoid playing the blame game. When we are scared, worried or hurting, we often look for someone to blame. Pointing a finger at each other, however, will not only drive a wedge between you but will also increase the likelihood of conflicts. Do your best to lift each other up, be gracious in both your words and deeds and pray for one another every day.
- Know each other’s "buttons." Certain things we do when we’re talking with our spouse can quickly escalate the discussion into a full-blown fight. These unhelpful actions may include walking out of the room, using sarcasm or bringing up a tender topic. Knowing specifically what your spouse’s buttons are can help you avoid these throughout your marriage – and especially in a time of crisis when emotions are already on edge and patience is running thin.
- Be a good listener. The key to resolving any conflict is listening and truly understanding what your spouse is trying to convey. Focus on what your spouse is saying. Take a minute to repeat what you heard to be sure you got it right. Then, you can share what’s on your heart. Many conflicts can be avoided or more easily resolved simply by taking time to listen and understand.
Even though conflicts are more likely during a crisis, your relationship doesn’t have to suffer. When you resolve conflicts in a respectful and healthy way, times of hardship can actually lead you and your spouse to a deeper level of intimacy than you ever thought possible.
Debbie L. Cherry was a licensed clinical psychologist, author and speaker specializing in marriage and family issues at the time of publication.
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