Sooner or later, the calm waters of life will turn into a raging storm, and you and your spouse will be caught in the middle of it. These aren’t the storms that result from conflict within your marriage, but if not handled with care, such external trials can weaken your connection with your husband or your wife. At the same time, when handled well, these periods of adversity can strengthen your marriage. When clouds roll in, and life rages around you, how can you and your spouse weather the storm?
God never promises that life will be easy; quite the contrary. The prophet Isaiah reminds us in chapter 43:2, “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you…when you walk through fire you shall not be burned.” Notice Isaiah’s choice of words: it is a matter of when, and not if, God’s people will face the floods and the fires of life. Layoffs at the company turn financial stability into uncertainty about how to put food on the table next week. An aging parent’s declining health might mean exchanging a comfortable life for the long-term responsibility of caring for them as their health declines. A controversy or a conflict within your church might put you in the crossfire of criticism. These are hardships that are not between you and your spouse they are not issues of infidelity, addiction, poor communication or other inter-marital difficulties. Such internal matters are indeed trials, but they are trials within the marriage and they require a special set of skills to navigate. Storms outside of your marriage, on the other hand, demand teamwork, commitment to one another, and wisdom in order that you will emerge from these challenges as a stronger partnership.
Some time back, I watched my daughter play soccer. At one point, two players got so caught up in their individual efforts to dribble the ball that they failed to see that they were teammates! Immediately, a chorus of parents piped up: “YOU’RE ON THE SAME TEAM!” Unfortunately, married couples can make the same error. When stress mounts, and patience drains, we tend to lash out at those closest to us-- which can mean aiming our frustration square at our spouse. But you’re on the same team! Picking fights, lashing out, or taking your pain out on your spouse is like sawing off the tree branch that you’re both sitting on. Remind each other that you are partners, not adversaries. Show extra grace with your spouse, overlooking minor annoyances, and be patient when your husband or wife isn’t at their best. Keep in mind that your spouse isn’t the problem–-it’s that storm blowing around you that is causing you grief.
When you are swept up in a job loss, caring for a loved one, facing a chronic illness, or some other such difficulty, we can easily become so focused on managing the crisis that we ignore our own needs, and worse yet, we neglect the proper care of our marriage. Soon, we feel distant from our spouse. Communication becomes strained. We lose the joy in one another. This only exacerbates the situation you are in. it’s crucial that you both make the time and effort to practice self-care, and to nurture your marriage through this season. Exercise. Go on a walk together each evening and talk about anything but the crisis at hand. Schedule a date. Play a board game. Have sex. Feed the connection between you, because it is in these seasons that you need your relationship to be strong and healthy.
Emotions can run high during a crisis, and when a period of adversity stretches into weeks or months, it will take a toll on you. Creating safe space to listen and to share how you are each doing is important. James reminds us that we ought to be “quick to listen, and slow to speak” (James 1:19). Allow your husband or your wife to vent or to express their feelings of anger, fear, hurt, or any other emotion, all while resisting the urge to correct, solve, or minimize their feelings. By giving the gift of good listening you are walking together with your spouse through the darkness, and you will both sense that you are not alone.
Every season of hardship has an expiration date. Unfortunately, most of the time we don’t get to know in advance when it will come! In fact, sometimes just when the worst seems over, you discover that you are only in the eye of the storm. Rather than focus on arbitrary dates when you think the trouble will pass, it’s sometimes better to cling to the assurance that even if you don’t know when life will return to normal, it almost always stabilizes. True, life may not be the same as it was before. True, there are often lingering scars. But the intensity of even the most painful experiences will lessen such that you are no longer caught up in the ferocity of the storm. The waves will calm down, even if the sky remains overcast.
Furthermore, we can cling to a promise that God makes to us in the book of James: “…the testing of your faith produces perseverance, and perseverance must finish its work so that you may be full and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4). Our trials--even the worst of them-–are not meaningless. They are doing something because God is doing something in the midst of it all. It may be too early when you’re in the middle of the storm to identify what that “something” is, but cling to the promise that God’s goal for you is holiness, and he will use even the most bitter experiences to work us toward that goal.
Remember those words from Isaiah 43:2? God did not promise His people that life would always be easy. Quite the contrary--fires would come, as would floods. But God does make one promise to us: We won’t walk them alone. As you and your spouse walk through these seasons, be assured that God is walking with you, and so such floods, as threatening as they may seem, will never overwhelm you.
Rev. Deb Koster
Dr. Robert Ritzema
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra