Four Ways to Support Your Spouse in Tough Times

Marriage Dynamics InstituteCommunication, Conflict, Listening, Marriage Health, When Life is Difficult

Ever been caught unexpectedly in a severe storm? There aren’t many things more terrifying. Even if you are not physically harmed by the wind or high water, the long term after-effects of a major storm can derail your life as you deal with damage to home and property. Forbes recently published a list of some of the worst storms ever to hit the United States. What people go through cleaning up after storms is jaw-dropping. Maybe you’ve been there.

Before a storm, it’s helpful to be prepared. And during a storm, it’s essential to take precautions. Get caught in the elements, and you’ll put yourself, and maybe others, at risk. You need cover during a big storm. Without it, you are at a considerable disadvantage.

But there are other kinds of storms that impact our well-being and our relationships.

Sometimes your spouse is going through a stormy season at work or in some other arena of life. Maybe it’s tough time dealing with an emotional event or a difficult person. It’s tempting to support your spouse in tough times by swooping in——— to fix things. But that’s not always the best idea.

Here are four reminders that’ll end up protecting you, and your spouse, when dealing with the whirlwinds of life.

Don’t Diagnose
When there’s a tornado bearing down on you, it’s not helpful to say, “I think the instability in the atmosphere caused by the intersection of cold and warm air and interacting with crosswinds is creating a vortex.” No, it’s time to find a safe place and ride it out.

Save the technical analysis when your spouse is dealing with other storms. That may seem like just rehashing the problem. And they know there’s a problem.

When your spouse is right in the middle of a tough time, they just want to get to the other side. It’s not helpful when tensions are high to point out root causes for the difficulty.

Don’t Offer Solutions Unless Asked
Similarly, it’s not helpful to unfold a three-step path to higher ground when your spouse is sinking. If you’ve stepped in quicksand and someone says, “You know, if you reach over and break off that vine, fashion a lasso, and hook that branch you should be able to pull yourself out.”

That may be what your spouse hears if you try to solve their problems when they feel like they are going under.  What they need is a hand to grab hold of so they don’t drown. So offer practical help until things are stable and you can both see the situation more clearly. Then you can solve problems.

Two ways to offer practical help:

Listen Without Judgment
It’s one thing to offer a listening ear. It’s another to give full attention to your spouse with an attitude of understanding. If you find your eyes rolling back into your head when your spouse is explaining their dilemma, or a heavy sigh escapes your lips, your listening skills may need some work.

In a storm, we are all looking for a safe haven. And it’s important to be that place of safety for your spouse. Listening well validates what they are feeling. You don’t have to say much. Having someone willing to just sit with you in the middle of a difficult time can be incredibly comforting.

Sympathize Without Making it About You
Whatever you do, don’t turn this into a competition of who has it worse. “Well, if you think that’s bad, listen to this” is the opposite of offering help. If the storm hanging over your spouse is heavy, they don’t need to know how hard things are hitting you right that moment; to support your spouse in tough times, just hold an umbrella.

Finally, if you are both riding out tough times, take turns holding that umbrella. And if what you are facing individually starts taking a real toll on your relationship, realize that sometimes you need a bigger canopy.

Storm recovery often requires community effort. So perhaps a mentor couple at your church can help you navigate the season together. Or maybe a small group or a marriage class is just the place to rediscover that you are not alone. And you can encourage other couples as you straighten out the debris and make some minor repairs to your own relationship after a stormy time.

When the skies clear, don’t forget to put fresh batteries in the flashlights and restock emergency supplies.

And keep growing with your spouse. Be there for each other. You will enjoy the sunny days together, and you’ll be ready for whatever the weather brings.

About the Author

Marriage Dynamics Institute

Marriage Dynamics Institute (MDI) wants to cultivate healthy families, churches, and communities by helping create marriages full of joy, meaning, and purpose. Having served more than 75,000 couples since 1994, MDI offers workshops and seminars for marriages at every stage, including those in crisis.