How a Marriage Can Survive the Worst; 6 keys to maintaining a relationship through terrible times

Richard SontagSpiritual Reflections

(Relevant, by Jason Jones) It had only been a few months since our son died, and I was depressed and desperately missing him.

After an emotional family trip, I was on the verge of completely losing it, with tears streaming down my face. I quickly unpacked the car while avoiding my wife, Brea, and our daughters as best I could. In no mood for talking and with a mission in mind, I snuck into our bathroom to get my hair clippers. Then I went and got my Bible and an extension cord. Yes, this is where the story starts to get weird.

I set my Bible down on the driveway, plugged in my hair clippers and started shaving my head.

If the neighbors had seen me, I’m sure they would have called 911, because it had to be quite a sight. A grown man, lying down on the driveway in the dark, crying and shaving his head. Even though I looked out of my mind, I did have a reason I wanted to shave my head. Just months before my son Jacob’s accident, I had started cutting his hair with these clippers.

If you decide that your marriage is worth fighting for, then be committed to running toward each other in hard times and figuring out a way forward together.

For whatever reason, this was a way I felt closer to him. I wanted to cut my hair like his. Sounds strange, I know. But, this type of behavior is actually par for the course with a bereaved parent.

After shaving my head, my next impulse was to start yelling at God and reading Bible verses out loud. I went on my usual rant asking for God to speak to me. “God, can you see how much I need you now? Where are you? How am I going to make it?”

Having looked for me all over the house, Brea came outside. She must have been a little freaked out by the state she found me in. I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had been scared or angry with me. But, what she did do was a defining moment in our marriage.

She walked over and sat down next to me. She pulled me over close to her and laid my head in her lap. And she started rubbing her fingers through my newly chopped hair and let me cry like a baby. She didn’t tell me I was crazy or yell at me for shaving my head. She didn’t try to fix me. She was quiet and just sat with me.

Eventually, every marriage is tested to some degree. Maybe through financial troubles, infidelity, loss of a job, a spouse who is checked out, emotional issues due to childhood trauma or health problems. The friction and stress brought on can lead us to question how we’re going to hold our marriage together.

Had we not already been in therapy together by this point, I’m not sure how Brea would have reacted. In our sessions, we were able to talk through our difficulties, our pain and our disagreements. Thankfully, we were given tools and insights we could use to help us navigate the strains put on our relationship. We certainly don’t have it all figured out, and we struggle just like everyone else. But here are a few things we’ve learned about maintaining our marriage through this terrible time:

1. Pursue Your Spouse During Difficult Times
Don’t run away. Sit with them in their pain. Sometimes it’s hard to watch. It’s tempting to want to stick your head in the sand and pretend things will get better on their own. But, if you decide that your marriage is worth fighting for, then be committed to running toward each other in hard times and figuring out a way forward together.

2. Let Each Other Have Good Days and Bad Days
This was one of the most important pieces of advice we received. Out of co-dependence, Brea and I used to feel like we had to pull each other out of their funk. If Brea was feeling bad, then I felt like I had to either join her in her sadness or figure out how to get her to feel better.

Also, if one of you is having a good day and the other isn’t, you don’t have to feel guilty that you’re having a good day. It’s not the responsibility of your spouse to make you feel a certain way—and vice versa.

3. Go See a Therapist Together and or Separately
Some people are embarrassed to admit they need the help of a therapist. Men, especially, feel like it means they are weak. Seeing a therapist together and one on one has been a significant part of our healing process and has strengthened our relationship.

4. Find Purpose Outside of Yourselves
We have to accept that some life-changing moments are going to change the way we interact, feel and think going forward.

Finding meaningful projects we could work on together was tremendously helpful. In 2012, we started raising money to support and sponsor orphans in Uganda through Children’s Hopechest. To date, we’ve raised over $150,000 to honor Jacob and raise funds for capital projects at a fundraiser we called The Superhero Ball.

It was helpful for us to take the focus off ourselves and our present suffering and find meaning and purpose in helping others together.

5. Forgive One Another Over and Over Again
This may be pretty self explanatory and obvious, but it’s incredibly important. Ultimately, forgiveness is a choice. Plain and simple. You have the power to choose to forgive. It takes work on some issues, but if you’re committed to staying with your spouse and you love them, you make the choice and move on.

6. Accept the Change That Happens in Each Other as a Result of Life’s Challenges
There is no doubt that Brea and I are different people in some ways now. It can be a struggle, but we have to accept that some life-changing moments are going to change the way we interact, feel and think going forward.

Brea could have reacted differently that night I broke down. She could have turned around and walked off. She could have yelled at me and started crying.

But she didn’t. She chose to love and hold onto the broken man who was different in many ways than the one she married.

We’ve said many times that we have walked through hell together. Our marriage could have easily been torn apart by the death of our son. But, instead, I know that our marriage is much stronger than it was before, and we have been given some amazing tools to guide us.

One thing is for sure, whatever inevitable difficulty we face in the future—we’ll be doing it together.