Q. We have experienced a perfect storm of trials in the last year: loss of a parent, financial changes and my spouse going through some depression. How do we grow closer together rather than further apart in this stress?
A. This question reminds me of the time Barb and I were coaching a group of young marrieds in our church during the first two years of their marriages. We called it The Great Marriage Newlywed Experience. One of these teachable couples once said, “Gary, I can’t wait for the trials to come so we can practice persevering love (one of the 6 Secrets to a Lasting Love). I recall thinking, “Oh my, put on your seatbelt!” When Barb and I and this great couple, now two kids and lots of trials later, reflect on her comment, we all smile. Not at the problems, because just like all of us there have been major concerns in this young family. But we smile because on the front end of our marriages we can’t quite get our mind around the realities of what is coming.
Barb and I often coach couples that have two problems when it comes to trials: they don’t see them coming and then when they do hit, they often don't respond well. Years ago I heard that a famous missionary commented, “when stress comes down on a couple, it either divides them, sending them off into isolation, or comes down on the side of them, pressing them closer to each other and to Christ.” It really is our choice, isn’t it?
Just like Barb and me, when you face off trials including losses, illnesses, financial setbacks and more, you come to a fork in the road. We have been there and so have you. So let us coach you on a couple of takeaways as you triage your stressors.
First, seek the Lord, individually and together. When a husband and a wife start vertically with the Creator of the Universe and bring our fears, concerns and trials to Him we are assured that He listens and wants to carry our burden. It may begin with praying and confessing anything blocking you from the Lord—seeking His comfort, forgiveness, encouragement and blessings. And then reminding each other that He is indeed sovereign.
Secondly, connect to each other. As we have connected vertically it is then time to connect horizontally. Look into each other’s eyes. Reassure each other that no matter what has happened you are not going through this solo. Remind each other of your unconditional love for each other and your commitment to helping your spouse carry the burden you are encountering. Ask each other, “what is your greatest fear?” Remind each other that there is a beginning, a middle and an end to every trial and although we may not be at the end, we are one day closer to the resolution of the concerns we are facing.
And third, with each other’s blessing, don’t carry your burdens alone. Reach out to other couples, a marriage coach, pastor or counselor if you need to and have someone join with you in what you are experiencing. Ask them to give you insights from their own experiences and help you check out any blind spots you may have as you are trying to respond to what you are encountering.
Trials don’t mean something is wrong with your marriage. Yet trials can become God’s tools to remind us that He is capable of carrying them and easing our burdens. When we understand that God’s strength is perfect when our strength fails, we’ll rely on Him more than ever before. Believe that God is teaching and drawing you close, even through difficult seasons.