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5 Ways I Keep My Marriage Strong, Even in the Toughest of Times

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“You could have been more supportive” were the first words I said to my husband the morning after learning of my diagnosis, which suddenly pushed me out of the category of paranoid worry-wart and into the category of intuitive woman who knows her body.

For months I had been complaining of chronic back aches, overwhelming exhaustion, and feeling like my brain never really woke up for the day. Mixed in with my body’s tendency to get strep throat at the drop of a hat, I was slowly becoming a stranger to myself. As someone who had for years been healthy, fully of energy and motivation, this new me wasn’t quite jibing, and each time I voiced that something was wrong, my husband dismissed my worries and reassured me I was just tired and trying to do too much.

In retrospect, he wasn’t trying to be dismissive to be rude, but as the resident optimist of our family, he was trying to be encouraging, positive, and uplifting. I get that now, but for months hearing him tell me that nothing was wrong with me, or at least nothing a good rest wouldn’t cure, left me feeling hurt and resentful. In addition, life only seemed to be getting more stressful over the past few months. He was often working long hours and coming home a ball of nerves from increased pressure at his job, only to be confronted by an exhausted wife who couldn’t hand off the kids and homework duty soon enough. We were both dealing with our own unique stressors, and when we needed each other the most, we seemed to just be piling on more pressure to each other. For me, he couldn’t get home fast enough, and once home, I dumped what I could on him after already having a long and tiring day. He was rarely home on time, didn’t seem to understand or even care about my health concerns, and often seemed too wrapped up in his own work to really be in-tune with family life.

It sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it? Fortunately it wasn’t, and after over 15 years of marriage, we’ve learned to ride these ups and downs with an increasing amount of grace and a decreasing amount of drama. Of course we still have our fights and bouts of silent treatments, but as we age and our relationship continues to mature, even after all this time, there’s not as much heat and fervor in these spats. We’ve learned along the way that overcoming the inevitable mountains of stress our marriage is continuously subjected to isn’t just a matter of saying sorry and validating each other with an “I love you.” In other words, we don’t just hug it out or have a little make-up sex and move on. Here are a few of the ways we deal with each other, and our marriage, when stress gets the better of it. Of course it should go without saying that at the root of all these suggestions is a marriage full of love, understanding, and any other positive synonym you can think of that belongs in a healthy marriage. These are just intended to be snippets of the most common ways we get through stress and come out sane on the other side.

Don’t make a bigger deal out of it than it needs to be.

In our early years of marriage, I confronted any problem and rough patch in our marriage with the typical “We need to talk” engagement. Every off-handed remark, every failure to show constant love/respect/in-syncness was met with an hours long sit-down discussing the state of our marriage. Perhaps we were young and immature, or perhaps just bored, but I’ve come to learn that not every gripe and argument needs to lead to a day-long marriage therapy session. Many times our problems can now be solved with a simple confrontation and a commitment to just move on. No stewing in hurt feelings or trying to get the last word, just saying our piece and moving on. You learn to save a lot of time, and your freaking sanity, this way.

Acknowledge the good with the bad, never using absolutes.

This is something I’ve really worked on over the last year or two because nothing is more infuriating to your partner than accusing them of “always” doing something or “never” doing anything. The last time I checked, we’re humans not robots, so unless our actions are pre-programmed, we never really “always” do the same thing. So to accuse my husband of “never” getting home on time is simply not true. You can still acknowledge each other’s annoying or hurtful actions, but by taking away the absolutes, you also acknowledge that your partner isn’t always acting like a jerk 100 percent of the time. It sounds like a silly and meaningless change in verbiage, but trust me, it makes a huge difference in whether your argument escalates or deescalates.

Accept responsibility.

Oh my goodness this is a hard one, but once you start working through your marriage in a more giving and respectful manner, you’ll see that taking blame and assuming responsibility in your part of the problem goes a long freaking way. Once we both started accepting how our actions hurt or angered each other, our arguments started fizzling out a lot faster. When I told my husband that he could have been more supportive during my recent health struggles and he simply replied, “Yes, I know, and I’ll do better going forward,” what more could I say or ask for? There was certainly nothing left to argue about, or rather, an argument was quickly cut off at the pass. It’s a beautiful thing when you both can start admitting that we’re all jerks sometimes, say sorry, and then move on.

Infuse humor.

This doesn’t always work, and timing is everything when it comes to infusing humor during stressful times, but more often than not, a stupidly silly text from my husband or laughing over a really hilarious and spot-on meme has saved us. Remember, not everything has to be dramatic and serious. Lighten up a little, and in return, your spouse will probably do the same.

Break the ice over a cold beer or piece of pie.

Now I’m not saying this is always the healthiest way to get around an argument, but every now and then, you just need a drink or a late night fro-yo run to chill everyone out. A couple of weekends ago, we had had an unusually busy and stressful Sunday and you could cut the tension with a knife in our home. While making dinner, I decided to make a margarita and as a subtle peace offering, made one for my husband as well. In no time, tensions eased and we soon found ourselves outside as a family, enjoying a warm Sunday evening. By no means does alcohol and sugar solve marital problems, but every now and then, it’s a good way to ease some tensions and make everyone just a little bit happier. I mean, who can really be mad when your guy runs out and gets you both a piece of chocolate silk pie? No one, that’s who!

For the most part, we try to keep our fights and trials private, never jumping to social media to gripe and being careful not to have a bitch sesh about each other with friends. But I think as adults confronted with one of the most challenging times in which to be married, with divorce rates at a staggering 50 percent, talking about the ups and downs of marriage is crucial to our overall sanity. As we’ve slowly entered a time in our lives where we are seeing more and more of our peers getting divorced or separated, we often scratch our heads in disbelief, or worse, we admit that we knew it was coming all along. Sadly, I can’t deny that we choose wrong or people change, but for a good percentage of us married folks, whether you’re madly in love with your spouse or you’re sticking together for the kids, we owe it to ourselves and to each other to have honest dialogue about how to make marriage work, and hopefully thrive. Speaking from experience, nothing can be more disheartening to the state of your marriage than living in constant comparison to others’ seemingly ideal unions. It wasn’t until I started opening up more with close girlfriends, in a respectful way, that I honestly started seeing my marriage in a new light. Seeing that our struggles weren’t all that different than other couples raising young kids was beyond comforting, and having faith and dedication that we’ll get through this period made me confident that we’d be strong enough to face the inevitable future struggles we’d be dealt.

So have a laugh with your spouse, admit when you’re wrong, maybe commiserate with each other over a cold beer, and if all else fails, have a good talk with a girlfriend. There is no perfect marriage manual, but the tips and strategies you learn and put into practice along the way are what will sustain you through the tough times and leave you growing old together.

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

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