My husband and I are celebrating our sixth wedding anniversary this month, and eight years together. Although eight years is a drop in the bucket to the marriages of 20, 30, and 50+ years, we’ve experienced lots of highs and lows, including several rough patches.
My first marriage was destroyed by a rough patch after just two years. So surviving several rough patches in my second marriage has felt very empowering. It’s also incredibly comforting to know my husband and I can work together to resolve our conflicts without throwing in the towel.
Differences of opinion or personality can trigger rough patches, as was the case in my first marriage. But they can also be triggered by challenging situations—job loss, financial difficulties, serious illness, death in the family, and more—that expose our weaknesses and differences. It’s easy to love someone at their best, but much more challenging at their worst.
So how do you survive a rough patch in your marriage? How do you keep on marching through your current low until you reach your next high, without falling or giving up? We’re very far from experts, but here’s what’s working for us:
Extend the grace you would like to receive yourself. If I don’t want my husband to assume my worst intentions, read into things that aren’t there, or constantly bring up the past, then I should expect to return the favor.
Do for your spouse what you would like him to do for you, even if he doesn’t. If I want to receive flowers, gifts, and a romantic evening out to celebrate our anniversary, I need to be making similar efforts toward my husband. Love and appreciation have to go both ways to maintain a healthy, balanced relationship. And yes, it’s possible you may dole out love and see no reciprocation for a while. That can happen in different seasons of marriage. Maybe my partner feels worn down or stressed out, and needs a little extra support in this season of life. If I keep pouring into him, he’ll be filled up and ready to pour back into me when I’m facing my own challenges.
Resist nagging or nitpicking, and recognize your spouse’s efforts, big or small. It’s easy to focus on all of the areas we’d like our spouse to improve. But it’s demoralizing and not motivating if someone is constantly pointing out all of your shortcomings. Focus on what your spouse is doing, even if it’s not where you would prefer him to focus his efforts. My husband once built me a gorgeous rifle. Am I an avid shooter? Nope! Do I geek out over rifle builds? Nope! But he was sharing one of his passions with me, and he loved the idea of building me a rifle that other gun enthusiasts would really envy. Even though it wasn’t my personal preference, I could recognize and appreciate the thought behind it.
Speak up before resentment builds. On the other hand, don’t completely avoid talking about important things in an effort to keep the peace. It’s better for your spouse to know that something they’re doing is really bothering you, than to allow them to do that thing for several months, and then explode on them when things finally come to a head. Resentment will color everything your spouse does in a negative light, which doesn’t benefit either of you. And you’ll never see change if your spouse doesn’t even realize there’s an issue.
Choose to remember the truth over your own emotions. When you’re in a rough patch, it’s easy to generalize. “My husband has never listened to me when I talk.” “My wife has never appreciated what I do for our family.” But those generalizations are hardly ever true. They feel true because it’s your current reality, and that makes it hard to remember better times. Instead, remind yourself that your husband cares about what you have to say, but might feel too stressed or distracted to hear you at this time of the year. Remember that your wife has always appreciated your efforts, but might be feeling overwhelmed herself this month.
I’m sure the years will bring many more challenges to us, and much more difficulty than we’ve already faced. But I believe the practices we’re working to perfect today will serve us well when those challenges rear their ugly heads.
Originally published on the author’s blog