Many of us have consciously or unconsciously bought into a Cinderella outlook on marriage and family life. We have high expectations of having our needs met, how everyone should behave as well the happily ever after scenario. When we actually are married and raising a family, we can be discouraged and even resentful that things have not measured up.  A lot may be our own unrealistic expectations.

Life is really a roller coaster. There is anticipation, excitement and happiness.  At times it seems exhilarating.  Joys, closeness, and special moments fill us as we had hoped, but they are not the standard 24/7 practice and we are on an incredible journey that involves much more. There are a lot of ups and downs—struggles at work that trickle over into family life, financial stress, health problems, issues with children, relatives, people outside the family etc. They force us all to grow up and build our character, for good or bad.   Sometimes the problems are part of the normal growth of our marriage and family life — lack of sleep because of a new baby, adjustments to children beginning school, finding ways to keep our teenagers productively occupied, the changes of energy that go with aging. At other times, we confront crisis that really challenge us to the core – serious illness, unemployment, financial crisis, death of a loved one, depression, beginning life in a new city, etc. No matter how you look at life, whether we want problems or not, we cannot avoid them. They come our way. How we handle them makes all the difference.  Life takes us in directions that make our stomachs turn, throwing us upside down, feeling inside out. At points maybe we want to just throw up and wish we could just get off the darn roller coaster ride. Yet if we keep our seatbelt fastened, and have hope something better can be around the corner, we can move forward.  We eventually see the light at the end of the tunnel. The darkness fades and we so much appreciate the light once again and the calmer ride.

Life is truly a great adventure with twists and turns. We are constantly challenged and pushed out of our comfort zone. We are forced to grow as individuals, as couples and as families. To withstand the forces from within and without, we really need to put on the seat belt of faith, hope and love. Life’s problems certainly bring us to our knees. All couples go through moments of darkness. We feel incapable of rising to the occasion many times. We have the temptation to give into despair, to pack our bags and bail out. Yet, in the perspective of our whole life, these moments can be the opportunities for the greatest growth, leaps in love, greater maturity. The pulse of success is not in feelings but rather in a decision to stay true to our vows, to forge ahead through thick and thin. This personal decision will have great ramifications on your spouse, your children, your future grandchildren, and all the other people who are involved in your life –relatives, friends, neighbors and colleagues. The world is in need of heroes. Why not struggle to become one of them? Your ancestors were. So can you.

Many women comment that when their husband is going through crisis, they hardly see in him the man they married. He has changed so much, yet they see glimmers of his former self. Stand by him. Don’t abandon him. Consciously decide to love him unconditionally, in spite of what you are going through. Realize you are both strugglers, in the strugglers’ club. What matters is that you always get up and try again. You can make it through these rough times. Yes they are not easy; but they are not impossible. Decide to stay in the saddle and hold on tight. That’s what it’s all about.

Women, our goal must be to see our marriage through to our fiftieth anniversary and beyond, not to abandon ship or switch gears. We are the heart of our families, and we can oil the gears with a lot of p-a-t-i-e-n-c-e and tremendous kindness. Sometimes you do that easily for your children, but what’s critical is that you do it most importantly for your spouse! (I was utterly surprised when I did the 30days Kindness Challenge towards my husband and saw how much room I had for growth!)

– Find regular time to get together with friends who uplift you. They help you to lighten up, create good memories and fill your gas tank.

– Get more exercise. As stress increases, you need a cardiovascular workout to get your heart rate up and increase your coping capacity. Swim, walk, jog, cycle, dance, run or join an aerobics class. Find something that works for you. Maybe entice your spouse to join you.

– Make sure you and your family are eating nutritiously at set times in a relaxed and positive atmosphere. You need high quality fuel. Stress the positive and let what irritates you roll off.

– Get enough sleep, however you can – a short nap, earlier to bed a couple nights a week, whatever. Maybe an occasional epsom salt bath might help and even some melatonin.  Your husband needs your spunk and you should not always be a flat tire around him, especially at the end of the day when he rolls over to spend an intimate moment with you.

– Find strength in other women who can give you the relational connection you are looking for. Make sure they are women who look positively at life and marriage. Steer clear of women who bash their husbands and complain too much. They will only drain you and help pull your marriage apart.

– Self-care. This is not selfishness, but investment.  Make a conscious effort to do things that uplift you:  go for a walk, get your hair done, read a fun book, go out with your girlfriends, take time for a hobby, join an exercise class, take a course etc. Do something that does not adversely affect time, money and relationship in the family. You need to keep your battery boosted so that daily life does not  drain you excessively. Take care of yourself so you can take care of the others better, with more of a smile on your face and a kind word on your lips.

– Seek out the advice of a wise third person, whether a friend, mentor, counselor, minister or priest who has a vested interest in helping you weather the storms of life. You need this personal cheerleader to help buoy up your hope and personal strength.

– Realize you and your husband are very different by nature and also react differently to crisis. Men generally become less talkative, retreating more into their “cave”. Although women enjoy talking to friends about their problems and brainstorming solutions, men generally don’t follow this approach. Regardless, respect your husband’s different style and pace of problem-solving. Shaunti Feldhahn has key insights in this department you should check out!  Husbands have a great need to be respected, not nagged. Check how your respect level has been and work to improve it. I gleaned so much from the Love and Respect podcast on this topic.  I learned that I am often part of the problem and therefore part of the solution. It’s helped me so much.

– Speak about the positive you see in your spouse, no matter how tiny at the time. Leave little notes for him to find in his drawer, pocket, shoe, or closet etc. expressing your affection for him. “I love you. Your smile makes me melt. I love the touch of your hand in mine. You are incredible. My hero. How hard you work for the family and how much I appreciate you. You are the light of my life. etc.” Consciously work at keeping quiet about what irritates. You are in the construction business of marriage, not the demolition unit. Watch your words!

– Search out things to do together that create positive memories. Go for walks and talks. Catch a movie. Do things you used to do when you were dating. Treat yourself to little perks. By generating good times, you build strength to deal with issues that drain. Dig up the past romance makers and dust them off to make them happen once again.

– Make a list of all the things you love about your husband: physical features, personality traits, things he’s done for you, his good habits. Note the qualities that attracted you to him when you got married. Trust those qualities are still there, hidden under the crisis you are going through. Stay by him. Remind him of your love for him by verbally affirming him. Realize he is so much more than the sum of his defects. Stop defining him as such and focus on those treasures of character that are in him!

– Make an effort to express more affection. Sometimes you may not feel like it, but remember that true love is not feelings. It is sacrifice, expressed in deed. Your husband needs you, now more than in easy times. Be there for him physically. Hold hands more. Hug him more genuinely. Massage his back. Snuggle up on the couch. Initiate your desire for physical intimacy. Men really need to feel desired and lovable when they are going through rough times. Be that person for him. This can involve a real heroic effort. It may not be easy, but it is worth it. It helps him battle the urge for another woman’s attention, as well as pornography. Remember you are his lover and he is your beloved. Let your actions speak this loud and clear. Shaunti Feldhahn speaks very well on this topic.

– Do things that make your husband feel loved by you. Study your man so you know his needs and quietly meet them, not expecting praise in return. If your husband is going through rough times, all these little deeds of love freely given by you, add up to a lot. They express volumes to your husband. I personally learned so much from 5 Love Languages survey and appreciate the newsletter that keeps reminding me how I can improve.

– Be flexible and proactive. Show concrete support for your husband. Let him know that he is the most important part of your life. Tell him you are willing to do whatever it takes for things to get better — move to another city, change family spending habits, re-arrange your schedule etc. Let him know he is your number one priority and you are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to make things work out.

– If necessary, seek professional help. Too often individuals see this as a sign of personal failure. Realize that life is challenging. Our reserves get depleted. We need support. To be directed to take sleeping pills or anti-depressants by the doctor is not something we should be ashamed of. It is rather a necessary help until this exceptional stage passes. The same goes for a recommendation to see a psychologist, psychiatrist or therapist. We all can feel overwhelmed. There can be lots of knots that need unraveling. Stop seeing it as a negative or something to be ashamed of. Seeking a professional’s help can be a big, big push forward to better times. Have the courage to follow through.
– Turn to God. Know he exists and loves you beyond measure. Talk to him. Tell him your scenario. Ask for his strength, his perspective, his love. Know he is all powerful, all loving, all goodness. Keep leaning on him. Focus more on him. Talk to him about your marriage, your family, your stress. Ask him for what you need. Trust your requests will be met. He permits these moments you are going through because he can draw a far greater good from it. Trust in him more. Strengthen your faith and your hope that he will take care of things. Let go and let God. This alone will propel you forward with more optimism and greater fortitude.

It is tough to persevere, but it is so worthwhile. How much our children will learn from our example. They might not understand the circumstances we are passing through, but they will remember our decision to persevere. They will learn that love is not warm fuzzy feelings, but a decision; that sacrifice is part of life and very much part of loving. We all make mistakes. We all need to learn from them. No one is perfect. It is the decision to get up each time and start again that counts. It is an example desperately needed by today’s youth.

Make the decisions that count for good. Be faithful. Be hopeful. Stand by your man. Love is a decision. Give it your best shot.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES (Check for audio version and also for their podcasts)

The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

The Temperament God Gave Your Spouse  and The Temperament God Gave You by Art and Laraine Bennett

For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn and For Men Only by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn

The Four Seasons of Marriage by Gary Chapman

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman

Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs

Love is A Decision by Gary Smalley and John Trent

Divorce Busting by Michele Weiner-Davis


GOOD WEBSITES offering all kinds of resources:

In Love While Parenting – free app providing latest research on bonding – Shaunti Feldhahn offers books, podcasts, DVDs and more. My favorite go-to spot.

Gottman Institute
A scientific researched approach to strengthening marriages started by Dr. John Gottman. Books, podcasts, apps and more!

Focus on the Family
A website for husbands and wives by Focus on the Family. Great ideas and articles that will strengthen your marriage.

Retrouvaille offers numerous articles and programs to strengthen marriages.

Marriage Encounter
Marriage Encounter offers weekend programs to strengthen engaged and married couples. Articles also provided.

The National Marriage Project
Another highly researched website in support of marriage begun by Dr. Brad Wilcox.

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