6 Marriage Milestones That Can Help Or Hurt a Couple
The first crisis in most marriages is the birth of their first child.
Though it’s tempting to nurture our children above our marriage, statistics tell us that children in homes with parents in strong marriages are more successful, mentally stable and have more self-esteem on average than children in homes with parents in weak relationships.
With all the stresses of caring for a toddler, it’s easy to see why trouble could erupt. To keep your marriage out of crisis, several things need to be considered.
Who’s Your Baby?
One of the things I often say in my marriage seminars is that the reason the birth of the first child is often the first crisis in a marriage is because “mama has a new baby.”
How can both husband and wife ensure that the other feels valued, wanted, and cherished?
- Remember Your Vows to Each Other. Commit to making sure the other feels fulfilled and happy.
- Reserve at least one night a week for the two of you to relax at home or go out for dinner. Care.com is one place where you can find a babysitter if you don’t have friends or family close. You can also contact your church to see if there are well-trusted individuals who regularly care for children.
- When the baby naps, whoever needs sleep needs to nap as well. If we’re talking about a traditional marriage where mom takes care of the child while dad is at work, then mom should sleep while the baby naps. It’ll be good for her and she’ll feel more like date night or spending time with her husband when the baby goes to sleep for the night.
- In order to sneak in a meal together at home, dad can feed the baby while mom cooks supper. Then they can eat together and actually have a conversation in stead of shoveling food in between spooning it in for the baby as well.
- Stay on the same team! As your child grows to be a toddler (and a teenager), he/she will likely learn to seek permission from one and then if the answer isn’t what he/she wants, to seek permission from the other. Have the same answer. You might even want to double check with your spouse to see if your child has already spoken to them before you answer (that will also give you time to think and come to a decision). Let your child see that the two of you are united as parents and as husband and wife.
This is more than not being able to get pregnant. This encompasses the challenges a marriage faces when one spouse doesn’t want to get pregnant, but the other does.
It’s important to know where the other stands and to know why he/she feels that way. Maybe you spouse feels they’d fail as a parent.
Maybe they’re afraid the child will replace them in your heart (see number 1 on this list).
As they say in G.I. Joe, knowing is half the battle. Patiently, kindly, and compassionately talk these things through.
If the two of you aren’t able to get pregnant, remember that there are many other options available to couples today such as surrogacy and adoption. But be on the same page and take your time. You need each other to lean on through everything, especially this.
Surveys differ as to the exact percentage, but I think my friend Bill Harley, author of His Needs, Her Needs, is on target when he states that 60% of American marriages are affected by an extramarital affair sometime in the course of the marriage.
It may be the husband, wife, or both, but many marriages face it eventually and the aftermath of hurt, loss of trust, and doubt in future of the marriage often brings the relationship to an end.
To better understand extramarital affairs, I sorted them into three large categories with several subcategories.
The Short-Lived Affair lasts from one night to several months and is primarily about sex. Subcategories included Revenge Affairs, Affairs of Opportunity (at the right place at the right time to do the wrong thing), Self-Esteem Booster Affairs, and more.
The Permission Affair has become more prevalent with the graying of morality. It was once called Swinging, later Wife-Swapping, and now its participants just call it “The Lifestyle.”
The most difficult to overcome is the Relationship Affair. It typically starts as friendship that evolves into shared emotions and eventually shared bodies.
The reason it is tougher to overcome is because those in Relationship Affairs usually are in love with each other. Madly in love in fact.
That’s why so many of these affairs lead to divorce, no matter how strongly you tell the person that s/he is sinning and no matter how hard the offended spouse tries to save the marriage.
Though we in the “marriage business” usually don’t proclaim this little jewel from the rooftops, if a marriage survives an affair it will be stronger and more loving than it was before the affair. (We tend to keep that to ourselves so that some idiot doesn’t think, “Hey, I know how to make my marriage better…”)
However, salvaging a marriage when one spouse is in love with someone else usually isn’t accomplished by pointing the adulterer to scripture, logic, or consequences. If I had time, I’d explain why. It’s called limerence.
The short version is that they are driven by strong and compelling emotions that they’re convinced you have no way of understanding.
Therefore, you are dismissed, along with your Bible verses, lectures, and piety.
Very often they’ll even tell you that God sent the lover to them.
So what do you do to save these marriages?
Based on my experience (75% success rate in saving these marriages over the last decade or so), I suggest the following to both the offended spouse and to all Christians attempting to help:
- Believe that an affair – even an exceptionally strong Relationship/Love Affair – is not necessarily the end of a marriage. It may well be, but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t give up. Keep praying and keep doing the right things, no matter how hopeless it may seem at the moment.
- Don’t beg, cajole, or attempt to manipulate the adulterer. S/he is already emotionally on edge; emotional actions from you exacerbate the situation. Be firm and calm. (This is especially important for the offended spouse NOT to do.)
- Don’t try to convince him or her that the lover is a bad person or primarily responsible for the affair. That might work in a Short-Lived Affair. It always causes a person in a Relationship Affair to develop an “us against the world” union with the lover.
- Drag out any divorce proceedings as long as possible. The intense emotions involved with being “madly in love” usually last anywhere from six to thirty-six months. Though the straying spouse may become angry and try to manipulate the offended spouse into divorce (“I’ll make things tougher for you if you don’t go along with me…”), the abandoned spouse should be strong, endure the other’s wrath, and drag it out as long as possible. There is a very real possibility that the abandoning spouse will eventually lose the intensity of desire to be with the lover.
- The abandoned spouse should demonstrate his or her ability to not only survive but prosper without the abandoning spouse. S/he must concentrate on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. This accomplishes two things. 1) The abandoned spouse needs this for him- herself. 2) The abandoned spouse becomes more attractive when strong and self-sufficient.
- In fervent prayer ask God to bring chaos, financial distress, and anything else He will do to cause pain as a result of the sinner’s actions and to make it difficult for him or her to continue in the affair.
- The abandoned spouse needs an attorney that will protect his or her rights, finances, and the like. Though this may sound vengeful, this attorney should make the divorce as painful as possible – financially and otherwise – to the abandoning spouse. Expect that spouse to react with anger. However, making sin have strong negative consequences is the right thing to do.
- The church should practice discipline, though in our day and age that hasn’t nearly the effect it had in Bible times. It’s just so easy now to walk down the street and go to another church. However, if done in love and compassion, it still may have the needed effect.
- Practice intervention. (If you need more information on how to do this, see the Intervention Document.)
- Convince the straying spouse to take one last action before ending the marriage. Sometimes the abandoned spouse does this by offering a concession such as “I’ll give on this point in the divorce if you do this.” Sometimes a friend, church leader, or even the person’s child may convince him or her that for conscience sake s/he should do one more thing to see if there is any hope.
Over nearly a decade we’ve witnessed one seemingly hopeless marriage after another turn around during that weekend.
4. A Serious Illness
This can be a big challenge for all involved. It can be heartbreaking, painful, and frightening. But this is where you get to live out your vows of being there for each other “in sickness and in health.”
You get to show your spouse. You get to serve him.
She see’s that you’re there for her no matter what. It can make the two of you stronger.
Seek support. Seek God. Take things one day at a time. It might even be easier to take things on hour at a time.
5. Caring for a Sick Parent
Many times this can be a repeat of the skills you learned from the first milestone on this list. It can take money, time, and energy in addition to having the potential to make both of you feel extremely sad.
Make sure to schedule time for each other. Accept help from others. And, as number 4 encouraged, take things one day or even one hour at a time.
6. Losing a Job or other Financial Stress
Much of this would apply for a wife as well, but we’ll use the husband as an example for the sake of simplicity in this milestone.
A “downsized” person having difficulty keeping focused on finding a new job isn’t unusual. It does not mean that he’s lazy, worthless, or uncaring.
More likely, it means he suffers from some level of depression which makes his job seeking more difficult. Often a man’s identity is tied into with what he does.
Therefore, losing a job does more than cause financial difficulty; it also can cause identity crisis and a sense of hopelessness.
If you genuinely wish to help your husband, make his path forward easier rather than more difficult.
Not only will that likely help you avoid marital difficulty, it also is the best thing to do to help him find work.
- First, gently coax him to find out if he is depressed. There are several online tests to determine depression. If he is depressed, seeking wise counsel can help him recover. There are other things such as exercise, which has been shown to be as effective as antidepressants in helping someone overcome depression. Encourage walks, make love, play tag with the kids in the yard – get him moving. Modern science has also shown us that sunlight is a powerful remedy for depression. Researchers from the Baker Heart Research Institute in Melbourne found that levels of serotonin—a neurotransmitter that regulates appetite, sleep, memory, and mood—are lower during the winter than the summer. The research team noted that the only factor that affected participants’ moods was the amount of sunlight they were exposed to on any given day. More sunlight meant better moods; less sunlight lead to symptoms of depression. So get him outside in the sunlight! Do what you can to help him fight his depression naturally and through wise counsel. As a last resort, if this doesn’t work, there are medications that might assist, but remember that the real cure is in him finding value in himself and in feeling purpose again. You can help him feel loved and supported which will be a valuable foundation for him during this time. The next step will help you in this.
- Second, while you shouldn’t encourage his lying around doing nothing, you need to be understanding and encouraging. A man who lies around – looking a little but not trying hard – probably is questioning his abilities, wondering if he can make the grade, and worrying that he isn’t as good as he thought he was. Guys in that situation often see themselves as failures, inadequate, or helpless. Don’t add to those negative feelings by prodding and nagging. He’ll hear that as further evidence that he’s a failure. Instead, encourage him. Give him space and time. Sincerely and seriously tell him what you see in him that leads you to believe in him. Be careful that it in no way sounds manipulative or insincere. Bad acting will be harmful. Slowly and mildly build him up by reminding him of who he is, what he is, and what his future can be.
- Third, rather than evidencing panic, you demonstrate as much confidence as possible that everything will work out. That doesn’t mean that it’s all up to you. You may be afraid and worried just as he is. However, when a man is acting in “man mode” he is very strong. When he is operating in “am-I-a-failure?” mode, for a little while he needs comforting rather than being the comforter. Do that for him now and you’ll likely see great results later.
- Fourth, dream with him about new and different things that he or the two of you can do in the future. New business ideas. New career path. New educational processes. New area of the country. Rather than locking into what was before and hoping to restore it, become creative to see if this temporary setback may lead to something new and exciting.
- Fifth, involve friends in whom he has confidence. Ask them to spend time with him over coffee or to go together to some event. Don’t let him spend too much time focusing on the problems by gently prodding his friends to help out.
- Sixth, draw closer to God. Both of you. Kids, too.
- Seventh, when necessary – NOT TOO SOON! – tell him that the two of you have mourned and worried enough and now it is time to do something. Pull out a pad of paper and ask (don’t tell) him to brainstorm with you about all pertinent points. Bills. Selling things. Downsizing your lifestyle. Finding short-term income even if it’s not what he/you wish for long term. In other words, there comes a time when it’s time to DO rather than just FEEL.
Don’t let any of these milestones break your marriage!
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