Marriage: For better or worse

Sometimes, marriage is hard.  Sometimes, marriage takes work.  Sometimes, marriage takes understanding, and sometimes it just takes communication.  This weekend reminded me that marriage is for better or worse, and this weekend for my family would test the idea of marriage at the worst.

My husband has been struggling with depression and anxiety and this weekend it seemed to overwhelm him.  I would use all my experience as a therapist to get through a very difficult time, but I wonder if other couples would be able to get through an event like we had.  Marriage doesn’t end with happily ever after.  It takes a great deal of work, communication, and understanding to keep marriages alive for many years.

I have worked with people in treatment around communication and relationship skills, but that hardest thing is to get couples through more difficult times.  Those times, when they loose the ability  to think clearly, focus on each other, and move beyond the issue are hard because it takes focus, faith, patience and a belief that things will get better.  When you are in the heat of the moment, it’s hard to remember that things can get better.  People are on edge and have trouble talking things through in the heat of the event.  But in the following days, when things are calmer, couples can talk and survive the issue.  It’s also important to review the event and talk about how to avoid the issue in the future, develop a plan.

Never underestimate the power of a cooling off period.  I know my husband, over the weekend, would not have been able to have a reasonable conversation when he was in the middle of the event we had.  But the day after, we were able to talk about what happened and how to prevent the issue in the future.

So what should you do after an event?  If you need assistance, find help.  Talk with a counselor and talk through the event.  If you don’t have a counselor, possibly a family member can help talk through the event.  If you don’t have help, try writing letters to each other about the event, talking about how you felt and what you would like to do differently next time.  Talk about how it started, and any other information you feel that you need to share.  Talking about it on paper, then talking in person can help manage some of the emotion that comes up.  I once had a couple that talked about difficult things over text, then talked in person after they shared what they needed to say.  They said that it helped them talk and take turns.

Please understand, however, that if the event included aggressive physical contact of any kind, get help.  Don’t try to manage that kind of event on your own.  When you talk about threats to the safety of either party, whether physical or emotional, you need help.  Stay safe, and get help.

I also recommend getting help if there is an affair by one of the partners.  Having an affair brings up issues of trust and so many other things.  Those things need to be talked through or it will work like cancer in a relationship.  It doesn’t have to mean that the relationship is over, but it talks a lot of work to stabilize the relationship again.

Marriage isn’t easy.  It’s really hard to manage healthy relationships, but it is worth the effort.  It is not as easy as giving up, which I think many couples do.  Most statistics report that the divorce rate is still 50% or more.  Although that statistic is changing, understanding that it takes work when you get married can help you beat the statistics and have a better relationship, even when you enjoy the better, but come to the worst.