Five Steps to Surviving a Crisis in Marriage

When engaged couples busily and earnestly plan their whimsical, romantic wedding and honeymoon, they seldom consider the possibility of truly heavy crosses afterwards.  I’m not saying that everyone who gets married should carry a cloud of doom above their heads and in their hearts, but it’s important for those who are called to the vocation of marriage to recognize the stark reality that till death do us part is usually a very long time.

My husband and I were no different when we planned our authentic Scottish wedding eight years ago this month.  I was captivated by the perfect dress, matching tartan stripes on everything, and palatable cuisine for our guests to enjoy.  But in the back of my mind, I knew that marriage might, in fact, be really hard.  Marriage is everything that happens after the wedding and honeymoon.  Marriage is everyday life.

Ben and I never imagined that our life would turn out the way it has. We initially pursued “the American Dream” (whatever that is, anyway) with a life of luxury, comforts, and pleasures. We wanted our forever home with a white picket fence, several children, and a dog.  What we got was a well-worn nineteenth century home in a Mayberry-like town, a rescue dog, and two girls with special needs.

Our crisis hit hard when Sarah was born over two years ago.  But we realize that many other crises await us in the future. We prefer to call them crosses of marriage: our infertility journey, the financial strain and stress of constantly paying medical bills, and the chronic grief in caring for a medically fragile child and psychologically anxious preschooler.

Every marriage encounters the tempests of life.  That’s the nature of humanity: the struggle and strain of bringing two entirely different people together from completely separate families of origin and possibly cultures, not to mention the differences between men and women (another topic altogether).  Our society and – dare I say – our churches don’t truthfully and adequately prepare us for these storms, trials, and spiritual attacks.

How, then, are we to survive?  I will share five ways Ben and I have endured the crises and trials that we have encountered in our nuptial journey so far.

Do Not Make Divorce an Option

How many of us honestly talk about this with our spouse?  Within the first year of our marriage, Ben and I firmly resolved never to bring up the “d” word during our arguments.  It was what we called a roadblock to communication, something that only further divided and hurt the other person.  Even if the thought of divorce has ever been a temptation for either of us (for me it has), we both agreed to quickly and silently pray to overcome that temptation and not to spew and sputter that thought aloud.

When spouses consistently and persistently throw out the possibility of divorce when days, weeks, and even months or years are really challenging the marital relationship, then the alternative is that they must work things out.  In turn, they are more likely to dialogue with each other to come to solutions at what is straining the marriage.

Approach the Altar of Life with Humility

Ben and I are not humble people by nature. We are both self-declared choleric temperaments, so we tend to enjoy lively debates without recoiling in horror. The double-edged sword to that is that squabbles between us are often heated and sometimes end up being mutually hurtful.

What helps us both is taking an honest look at ourselves with humility.  This is much, much more difficult than it sounds.  When we are arguing, Ben and I both believe we are right and the other has wronged us.  So it can indeed be excruciating for both of us to stop talking, pause for a moment, and ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten our hearts with an honest look at how we are contributing to the other person’s hurt or frustration.

The Holy Spirit always delivers, but not necessarily in the midst of an intense verbal altercation.  During those times, Ben and I agree to revisit the discussion after we both have taken some time to pray about our contribution to the argument and how we both can grow from difficult conversations.

Recognize Your Enemy

There is nothing that delights the devil more than to conquer and divide holy marriages (or marriages in general), which is evident in the macrocosm of divorce and separation in our modern milieu.  Ben and I are both attuned to the language of spiritual warfare, so there are days and weeks when division and misunderstandings creep into our marriage.

Almost always one of us will approach the other in a moment of spiritual revelation with the idea, “Maybe we have been under spiritual attack lately.”  This opens an authentic and emotionally transparent conversation with the other spouse, and we end up looking in retrospect at the patterns of fear, division, pride, anger, etc. that have entered our marriage at that point.  Once we talk about it, we close in prayer, and it is almost as if a cloud has been lifted from our hearts.  The burden and battles cease for a time, and our marital bond is strengthened in our faith.

Pray Together Every Day

Isn’t this so obvious?  But do we diligently and faithfully make time to pray with our spouse?  Ben and I struggle with this, because there are evenings when he is gone for a church meeting or community event, or perhaps I have an evening phone appointment or writing deadline.  Then we both end up too drained to make it happen.

But there is incredible power in prayer, especially in a marriage.  I recall a friend once telling me, shortly before Ben and I wed in 2007, “Never forget that God bestows a special grace upon your marriage because of the sacramental bond.  When you call upon that grace, it will be granted to you both every day.”  Sometimes I am desperate in that petition, but the Holy Spirit always intervenes.  And when Ben and I pray aloud with heartfelt sincerity for each other and for our children, the immensity of God’s strength and power are granted to our family.

Never, ever underestimate the healing effect prayer has upon your marriage.

Incorporate Fun Into Your Own Schedule

Ben and I often get bogged down with the drudgery of filling out paperwork: Ben at the office and me for Sarah’s medical records.  In addition, the sheer exhaustion of keeping up with the demands of Sarah’s and Felicity’s occupational therapy, counseling, and specialist appointments can drain us both emotionally and physically.  Needless to say, having fun long ago lost its luster in our vocabulary.  Fun has been replaced by sleep or time for solitude (both of which are legitimately important).

There is something healing about laughter, though, especially when something weighs heavily upon your marriage.  Reminiscing about the early days of wedded bliss is encouraging, but it’s not enough.  We have to plan for fun (as oxymoronic as it sounds) in order to rediscover our love for each other and return to a playful, carefree existential state.

Ben and I find this to be truly enlivening and enriching to our marriage.  When we laugh together, the stress we carry temporarily vanishes, and we are left with a new luster gratitude for the life God has granted us.  Having fun together is part of maintaining a sense of balance; Ben and I are also strong advocates for incorporating time for prayer and reflection, work and home responsibilities, and rest on a daily basis.  Recreation is also necessary, especially when you and your spouse are in the midst of a difficulty.

Conclusion

When we get married, we all know that “love is patient, love is kind.”  But we don’t always prepare our hearts for the unforeseen struggles we may be called to endure on our nuptial journey.  A sobering part of our Nuptial Mass was when Ben and I placed our hands on top of a blessed crucifix following our vows.  The crucifix was then hung in a prominent place in our home as a daily reminder that we both needed to look to the Cross when we were tempted to respond to each other in selfishness or anger.

Pope Francis beautifully stated it thus: “Love is stronger than the moments in which we argue.”  Indeed it is, for love supersedes our vices, even and especially in marriage.  When we keep our eyes and hearts fixed on the Cross, we crucify all that must die within us in order for us to fully love our spouse in a wholeheartedly sacrificial way.  This, I believe, is the only way true love prevails and marriages survive the crises of life.

By

Jeannie Ewing believes the world ignores and rejects the value of the Cross. She writes about the hidden value of suffering and even discovering joy in the midst of grief.  As a disability advocate, Jeannie shares her heart as a mom of two girls with special needs in Navigating Deep Waters and is the author of From Grief to Grace , A Sea Without A Shore , and Waiting with Purpose.  Jeannie is a frequent guest on Catholic radio and contributes to several online and print Catholic magazines.   She, her husband, and three daughters live in northern Indiana. For more information, please visit her website jeannieewing.com.

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  • Antonia

    Sorry, Jeannie, you mean well but having been married for 44 years I think you have a lot to learn.

  • John Keating

    Here’s a suggestion, Antonia. Read some of Jeanie’s experience and what info she has to offer: http://lovealonecreates.com/apert-syndrome/

    If you think you can build on it, great! Offer an article. If you’re only contribution is to be an old and cranky troll, we’re all stocked up here.

  • What do you mean specifically Antonia?

  • Sev

    Sounds like something we got on our wedding two years ago. All the older people we knew didn’t exactly wish us well. Sentiments in their cards read along the lines of “It’s nice that you’re in love now, but wait until you get to be married as long as we have… it all comes down to *tolerating* each other.” It was crazy! Not just one or two people said that to us, but MANY!

    What we concluded was that they let the devil in the works and so they ended up having a typical ho-hum marriage where they are barely friends. So, they thought they were doing us some sort of favor of “warning” us that we’ll end up just like them.

    The number one thing we do is pray together (we even did that before we were married), that’s the most important step. Second, we pray for each other AND our marriage, regardless if we think we hit a bump or not. We invoke the sacrament that binds us together to ask God for graces needed to help overcome any difficulties and to help us to grow more love, trust, respect, acceptance, appreciation, faith, and fidelity with each other. (To us fidelity also includes guarding our eyes, ogling other people creates a wedge which the devil can use)

    While we do not have large burdens as you do, we really believe that prayers help, oh, and we also go to daily mass together. I can count how many fights we had since we’ve known each other: none. Yeah, we hit some bumps along the way, but we TALK about it, we don’t yell and scream and call each other names, etc etc etc. We may get disgruntled with one another once in a while, but we still RESPECT each other and TALK as to what is bothering us.

    I hope and pray we do not end up like our “well-wishers” because I can NOT imagine EVERY marriage that last for years becomes a pain in the neck. We do understand that if we aren’t careful, we may end up like them, that’s why we pray that it won’t happen! Misery loves company, so it’s best not to listen to their negativity.

    Pax!

  • acox42

    Very unkind comment. Judge not lest you be judged. You have only carried your cross and not hers. Each cross comes with the grace to carry it.

  • George Cameron

    Sorry, Antonia, you mean well (or maybe not), but having been married for 31 years, I think she’s right on the mark! This is good advice for engaged couples or newlyweds. I wish I’d been given this advice during my pre-cana classes. We nearly divorced after 20 years of marriage, but, thanks be to God and Retrouvaille, we were able to save our family. Jeannie, God bless you and keep up the good fight!

  • Heather

    Well said, Jeannie! Thanks for sharing this.

  • Woodwind Song

    Such good and timely advice! Thank you for this. Satan’s entire focus at this time is to completely destroy the Sacrament of Marriage and the family and the war is really heating up to the boiling point. I try to pray the Divine Mercy daily for my marriage…and all marriages and families.

  • I agree wholeheartedly! It’s probably the primary source of the stress in my own marriage.

  • Thank you for the encouragement, George! I know well that Ben and I have a lot to learn. We’ve only been married 8 years, not decades like many others. But what we have learned I think is golden and worth sharing, especially since we live in a unique situation. Blessings to you and your family!

  • Thank you, acox42. I was thinking about that – each of us has a different story to tell, different life experiences. We all manage them differently, too.

  • I agree, Sev. My parents have been happily married for 35 years. They were excellent models of mutual love and respect when I was growing up. I learned a lot from them as I prepared for my own vocation to marriage. Plus, they taught pre-Cana for over 20 years, so I met a lot of the couples they counseled, and I remember my parents offering really practical advice about making sure the more things you have in common, the less potential disasters you will encounter. Thankfully my husband and I have very little that differs between us (besides the obvious male/female differences). Many thanks and blessings to you!

  • Woodwind Song

    I know it is in mine. I am slowly turning my focus to deal with Satan and avoiding arguing with my husband because I really believe it is more of a spiritual battle than an earthly battle. It can get exhausting but I keep praying and forgiving and begging for God’s grace!

  • Amy

    I appreciate your perspective being the mother of six children, two with special needs. It took a lot for us to step out in faith but we had 4 more kiddos and try not to let fear rule our marriage. I can relate to every word having been married 16 years. There is something about having special needs kiddos that matures your marriage in the best sense or ages it in the worst sense :). Prayer has been the best defense and the best healing. One can never know what’s coming down the pike but if you pray as a couple and as a family you are giving your family the best chance by putting God at the helm. God bless!

  • acox42

    Yes indeed. I am Gramma to two young adults with very special needs, & have experience in walking that walk, they both have lived with us from birth! They are a joy, but a challenge as well. May God bless you!

  • This is wise advice. Thank you. Will be reposting on the http://www.ConversationwithWomen.org facebook page.

  • jdumon

    Michèle and I together with our five young children once made a consecration of our family and specially of our children to the care of our Lady in a simple and short ceremony in our holidays home many years ago.
    Now 4 of our chidren are married with nice, loving and faithful persons. 9 grandchildren are born and were baptised in the catholic faith.
    Michèle and I were forcefully obliged to acknowledge the hand of our Blessed Mother in our lives, though my wife has fully forgotten that humble ceremony of consecration.

  • Thank you, Emily! That’s awesome. 🙂

  • I agree, Amy, that having kids with special needs matures one’s marriage. So very true. Ben and I sense that, but we never put it quite into the words you used. Prayer has always been our rock, too, especially praying together for each other and our family.

  • M. Williams, I hear what you are saying. Ben does lead our family well, both spiritually and materially. I think some of the things you expressed are based on two things – one, men and women think and react differently to everything. What women perceive as standoffish or aloof from their husbands may simply be a difference in how men and women process emotions. Two, it requires immense, sacrificial humility to be in the place where you described – ill, the one leading the family spiritually, etc., and not have your husband respond in the way you need. I have been there, too, but we just keep going back to the Cross and the Sacraments. Confession has really helped us both respond to each other with more humility and enter into conversations about the pain we are feeling or lack of support.

  • Chris, “be stouthearted and wait for the Lord” is one of my favorite verses from Psalm 27. It comes to me time and again in prayer. I am so happy that you responded to Antonia in this way. It’s great to hear the male/husband perspective on a topic like this. I think we too seldom hear how men think and respond to grief and crises. Women are, by nature, the feelers and communicators. Men are the thinkers. It’s just how we were made, and we complement each other to grow in the respective areas, I think.

  • Antonia

    Thank you, M, I came to to the same conclusion. All I can do is accept my situation with as much grace as I can muster (which isn’t a lot). And thanks, Chris, for the offer of prayer. Lord knows M and I need it.

  • kathelleen

    great article. Shared it with the Worldwide Marriage Encounter community. They loved it.

  • AttitudeofGratitude

    That’s a great practice! I love the Divine Mercy Chaplet and have prayed it for years now daily. Marriage and families are most definitely severely under attack at this time. The evil one tries to divide and conquer. We need the Almighty and His angels and saints more than ever.

  • donjohn9

    Wow

  • noelfitz

    Thank you so much for this powerful, moving and encouraging article. Judging by the number of comments it has struck a nerve with many people.
    Having children with special needs is a huge burden and creates tremendous strains. I think it is healthy to recognize this and realize support is needed.

  • Woodwind Song

    Oh, I agree completely! Thank God there are people like you praying! Thank God!!

  • jenny

    Thank you…

  • Thank you, noelfitz. That means so much. It is really trying on our marriage and family, but we have found strength in our faith. The support from great people like you really helps, too!

  • Thank you, John for sharing that link!

  • RoP

    But what about when one partner engages in an adulterous
    affair unknown to the faithful spouse, then files for divorce despite the objections
    of the faithful partner? Our civil laws don’t protect the innocent partner.

  • M. Williams

    Thank you Chris. We sure could use the prayers. I am interested, however, in how you wife dealt with it all those years. I do not have a priest or counselor I can go to on a regular basis for counseling. Our priest, shall I just say, is not available to us. While we still go to mass where we live we cannot take ourselves or our children to confession here as it would be detrimental to their souls. So we have to drive at least 35 minutes to another very small parish in the middle of nowhere to go to confession. The other town we go to is about 50 minutes and the priests don’t have the time to regularly see you. I have had priest after priest tell me, “you need counseling, someone you can talk to on a regular basis, spiritual direction”. Yet none of them can or will do it. It is NO WHERE to be found. We live in an area where it’s just not available without driving over an hour away. That is why I said I have recently realized that I have to completely just hand myself over to the Lord. I have no where to go but to Him. I try to imagine myself as a child in His loving arms. Then I have to imagine myself as a completely obedient child that does not question His direction……..”Trust in me! It will all work out in the end if you just trust”. What I need in the mean time is strength to do that.

  • I am sorry that other priests have not had time for you or would advise you to find “spiritual direction” from others (?) You may find my apostolate, Families for Families at http://www.familyandchild.net helpful and http://www.facebook.com/familiesforfamilieshouse. Should you happen to live nearby or can bear the travel I live in Orange County, New York and would be happy to meet you.

    I sense that many men today have been emasculated and are not prepared in our culture for the work of fatherhood which is so apparent in your family discord. Much of this is due to the epidemic of narcissism I deal with in my website above. I will include you and your family in my Mass intentions.

    Let me add, too, the rest of 1 Corinthians 13:4 some have quoted here but only the first two sentences “Love is patient. Love is kind”:

    “It is not jealous, is not pompous. It is not inflated, it is not rude. It does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered. It does not brood over injury. It does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

    “Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing. If tongues, they will cease. If knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially. Then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”

  • Jennifer S.

    I’ve certainly been surprised at the crosses that our marriage has faced… situations that I never expected to be in and challenges which are not easily resolved. Nonetheless, we have endured and are still happily married. Thank you for this honest look at relationships and tips for surviving the tough times and ultimately strengthening your relationship.

  • Justa Guy

    Interesting comment in your story… MY WAY. It should have been our way. Maybe the reason your husband is so frustrating is that he sees it as your way or no way. No way to tell who is right on a blog. His doing it HIS WAY while you were sick was exactly the same treatment as what it seems you were/are giving him except for those 18 months. Maybe it is time to reach a happy medium with him and your teens. If they do not understand the faith from their heart any thing you make them do only drives them from it. I teach high school religion and I see teens who go to church but have no idea why. Our generation was the rebellion from the Baltimore Catechism generation the Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell Catholics. Your husband sounds like me a few years ago. I didn’t really know why I was catholic until I was 46. I saw my daughter living as a Catholic and wondered what she found…. I wanted it. Now I can tell you exactly why I am Catholic… because we are doing the same worship as those who learned from the Apostles were doing. No other faith can say that. If your husband is being told how to act rather than why it is important and where it comes from I can see his reaction. You need to meet them where they are, not where you want them to be. You might even find that you criticize less and find out that maybe you don’t have all the answers… and that is OK. I did, Life is much easier for everyone. Of course, I am just a dude and those are just the words of one with the scars of my experience. They may fit or may not. No matter, you can only change you… If you, like my daughter, show them by action they will wonder and will seek to find out more… not the first day… but trust me they will. So often we decide we know the answer and it is for them to change. Of course they have the exact same right to tell us we are wrong. When one starts to live it rather than talk about it people wonder what is up and how you can put up with things… they want to find that thing too. Holy Spirit is going to convert him or get him to dig deeper. Not a human. When the questions come have answer ready… wait it will happen. In the meantime look at what has not been working. Drop the word you from your vocabulary. Use I I feel, I think… and remember no one can MAKE us feel anything. We choose to feel hurt, sad, happy or any feeling. Remember Love is a verb, not a feeling.. love your enemy is not something we feel… it calls for an action we do not want to take… That is what Jesus said for us to do. Hard very hard to do. God Bless.

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