Tough Times in Marriage

Most marriages will eventually face tough times in the form of serious hardship or tragedy. To name just a few examples, couples may face a serious illness or injury, the loss of a job, the closing of a family business, a house fire or flood, the death of a loved one, and so forth. When some couples encounter these and other types of heartrending circumstances they discover a deep bond that serves to make them closer and more committed than ever before. Unfortunately, other couples experience difficulties that drive them apart in similar circumstances. Why is it that some marriages thrive during tough times while others destruct?

There are several factors that help explain this phenomenon. One factor is the emotional and psychological stress created by crisis and tragedy. People generally think and behave in unpredictable and counterproductive ways when they are under severe stress. We tend to spend our energy on self-preservation and daily survival when coping with deeply troubling situations. Relationships are not seen as a priority during such times and can fade into the background – a tendency which can severely undermine a marriage.

Another factor is related to the inclination of people undergoing crisis to try to make sense of a situation or gain some semblance of control in their lives. This is a type of defense mechanism that people unconsciously employ to deal with emotional pain or protect themselves from further hurt. Unfortunately this often manifests itself in blaming and finding fault with others – including one’s spouse.

Unrealistic expectations of one’s mate can be magnified by uncertainty and confusion in times of crisis. One may believe that his/her spouse should do much more to support, comfort, and help when faced with greater need. The problem with this expectation is that one’s spouse is likely also hurting, confused, stressed and affected in many other ways both emotionally and psychologically. This can lead to increased finger pointing and scorekeeping as both spouses are unsatisfied due to the perceived insensitivity and lack of responsiveness of the other.

Perhaps one of the most common factors is that the marriage may not have been built on a strong foundation before the tough times commenced. If the commitment to the marriage is already weak prior to the onset of significant hardship or tragedy, there is a far greater chance of damage to the relationship. It’s unlikely that a major crisis will draw two partners together who were already drifting apart. If a couple’s commitment to marriage and to their relationship is not unshakable, then tough times just might come along and shake it.
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