One of the unexpected delights of our final couple of months in Africa was the arrival of a college friend who’s known my husband and I since the beginning. She watched us meet, cautiously date, giddily become engaged. She played the piano when the two of us spring chickens said “I do” forever. Later, I stood with her as she spoke her own vows beneath a spreading tree. And when she visited us in Africa and we stayed up entirely too late, she gave us this gift: I told my husband, “I love that she reminds us how good we are together. That you and I together are a really good thing.”
I wrote before that this time of leaving Africa, of setting a foot on two highly divergent continents, has delivered unavoidable stress to our relationship. Both of us are strained, so it makes sense that our most intimate relationships would bear that weight. So it was kind of God to remind us that despite the ways we occasionally feel like the losers in a three-legged-race right now—“us” is still a really good thing.
Part I of this post outlined some essential reasons we need to identify when we’re stressed. If you’re convinced, let’s get down to it. What are the signs your marriage is under stress?
Sometimes in stress, we actually ask some of the wrong questions–which lead us to some of the wrong answers. We might be thinking stuff like, Did I even marry the right person? Would I be happier if I weren’t with you? Are we a good match? Are we going to get through this? Should I think about getting out? Questions like those, I realize, don’t lead us to be more married. They don’t lead us to “unity of mind” (1 Peter 3:8). They lead us further apart.
A tip: Set aside a time to talk about this when you’re not about to explode in frustration. Your goal isn’t an argument, but some constructive conversation: togetherness-talk. Consider sitting next to each other while you talk, cuddling or holding hands.
The goal of these questions? To push us further into a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Examining the Stressed Version of You (Plural)
- As individuals, what patterns do you and I fall into?
- How do I know when you’re stressed? (Again, this list will help.)
- How do you know when I’m stressed?
- What are your go-to ways of relating? He goes into man-cave mode. I work until long after the kids are asleep. He gets critical. I get insecure. I don’t talk. He doesn’t listen. He doesn’t really “see” me and my needs. I can’t get out of bed in the morning.
- What are each of your favorite coping mechanisms? Some of those will be helpful. In what ways do you each overuse your coping strategies?
- Ask each other:
- What’s one tangible way I can help you cope?
- At what point are each of our coping mechanisms unhelpful?
- How can I help you steer clear of that point?
- How can I be a “safe place” for you when you’re in hard times? How can I advocate for you?
- In what ways do I make you suffer the consequences of my stress?
- If you were to write a “stress relief prescription” of activities for me, what would be on it?
- What do I dislike about “us” when we’re stressed? How do our weaknesses tend to create friction?
- What lies do we each tend to believe when we’re stressed? I’m powerless. When I’m overwhelmed, passivity is all I can muster. I’m a failure. I don’t have what it takes. If people don’t think well of me, I’m nothing.
- What truth can I gently remind you of when you’re in those dark places?
- Who’s been helpful to us in the past when we can’t see our way out? Is there anyone new who might help us? Who encourages us to be more “married”, prays for us, and/or helps us see the good we can’t see on our own?
- Pray specifically for your marriage.
- For future reference in tough times:
- What do we love about us?
- What made us fall in love?
- What keeps us trying?
- What are our overarching reasons we push for a better marriage?
- What do I love about you?
- What am I thankful for in our marriage and our journey together? (Lord, don’t ever let us forget. Keep truth at the front of our minds, and show us what lies we’re believing. When we want to turn away, help us remember. Help us choose us, over and over.)
As you wade through thoughts like these, perhaps this prayer will encourage you as it did me this morning:
Lord, we pray we never find ourselves without hope, without a glimpse of the empty tomb each time we happen upon a cross. Help us begin our daily journey expecting both crosses and empty tombs and rejoicing when we encounter either because we know you are with us.
– Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (it’s a new favorite of mine!), p. 255
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