How to grow stronger ... together.
I just heard it again today. A friend was speaking about his life and reported on how different it is now than what he thought it would be at this point.
Yes, friends, life happens!
Life has a way of taking unexpected twists and turns and there is often little or no warning.
Some changes are welcome and bring great joy and celebration. Some changes result in more work and effort, and some changes can knock us flat, bringing change to the entire course of our lives.
The old and traditional wedding vows include the words “for better or for worse" for a reason.
The big idea here is that we are committing to stick it out together, regardless of the things that life throws at us.
It is not so hard to deal with the good things that come along. It's when we have to deal with “worse" that it can create a lot of stress, hardship, work and even conflict and division in our relationships.
Some of the changes in life that are hard to deal with might include: the loss of a job, getting a job that requires a major move, a natural disaster striking, an unexpected pregnancy, the loss of a child, a serious and/or chronic illness in your immediate family, the loss of close friends, caring for aging parents or the loss of a parent, a serious injury, and many others.
You made promises to each other to stick together, to stick it out and to be there for each other no matter what.
You had a dream of how life was going to be.
Things have changed, or if they haven’t changed yet, they will; and you are struggling. The reality is, so is your partner and whether or not you realize it, you might be taking it out on them.
What do you need to know and what do you need to do to get through it and not only stay intact as a couple but still able to thrive in your relationship?
These six basic concepts are a great place to start:
1. Be prepared for change, because it's going to happen.
As stated before, life happens, and it can change radically in a moment of time.
If we have never accepted the idea that things can change on us, it can be a hard pill to swallow.
Some never are able to come to terms with the change they didn’t ask for, didn’t deserve and didn’t want and remain distraught, depressed and disappointed for far too long.
Come to terms with the idea that things can change, and that you can and will adapt if and when it happens.
2. Allow yourself to whine, complain, moan and to grieve!
Most of the changes listed above come as an unexpected shock and can hurt deeply. Depending on what you are dealing with, it may hit one of you much harder than the other, or it may nail both of you equally as hard.
In either case, allow time to have an emotional response.
When something hurts and hurts badly, we have to cry out in pain — there is nothing wrong with it — in fact, it is the right thing to do.
Not everyone you know may be able to handle your particular emotional reactions, so only share it with those who are safe for you, but let it out.
While this is going on, give each other a lot of grace.
This part of dealing with change is no fun at all and is hard work, but it is part of the process.
3. Work to move PAST the emotions.
While we all need time to sit in our pain and whine a little, it is NOT healthy to stay stuck in this step.
You are two different people, and the time needed for this may vary for each of you. You may move past the pain for a while, and then be sucked back into it.
This is to be expected, and requires patience and grace when you and your spouse are moving at different paces.
Lots of honest, open communication needs to take place, many times late into the night.
Allow your spouse to move out of the pain when ready — even if you are not (and vice versa).
4. Be determined to pull close together, not be pulled apart.
Because we all deal with grief and loss differently, we cannot expect our spouse to handle it exactly as we do.
Grief and loss sometimes cause confusion, at other times anger; and we sometimes need someone or something to blame.
You came into this loss together.
As you learn on a deeply intimate level what it is like to grieve together, you can come out of this stronger than before it all started; but, it will take effort, work, and determination.
5. Don’t go through it alone.
While the two of you may be feeling all alone, you are not the only couple to ever face this challenge.
The details of your ordeal may be different than others, but you are not the first to face the basic challenge in front of you.
Others have faced it and have successfully gotten through it. You can too.
If you have spiritual resources, tap into them, turn to trusted friends or find a support group or chat room online that is helpful and supportive.
6. Remember your commitment to each other.
Get back to the business of living your lives as soon as you are able to do so.
The thing that changed your lives may be a permanent part of your story now, but you still have the need and the right to live your lives and to enjoy your relationship.
It is OK to begin planning to enter back into a new “normal” of life and to begin having fun and celebrating the “better” that is still a part of your life.
If life is going well for you right now — enjoy every minute of it.
Just stick these thoughts in the back of your mind so that you don’t get knocked down for too long when life changes — because chances are it will.
When it does, you can successfully navigate it and continue to thrive as a couple.
Dr. David McFadden is a couple’s counselor at Village Counseling Center. Receive your free copy of the Better Life Magazine filled with articles with topics from taking good care of yourself, resolving conflicts in your relationship and discovering how to have success in your life.