For Better or For Worse: Dealing With Tough Times in Marriage

“More marriages might survive if the partners realized that sometimes the better comes after the worse.”
– Anonymous

If you and your spouse know how to navigate the tough times in your marriage, you’ll come out on the other side closer than ever before. Hard times and conflict are inevitable–they’re just a part of life. When you overcome those times together, that can really deepen your sense of partnership.

Whether you’re dealing with internal conflicts (disagreement or stalemate, infidelity, health crises, mental illness, etc.) or external conflicts (loss, tragedy, job stress or loss, family or in-law issues, etc.), you’re going to come up against some mix of these challenges over the course of your marriage. The trick is knowing how to stick together through it all.

Remember, You’re Teammates

Difficulties in your life can throw your entire marriage off kilter. While each situation must be assessed and approached in its own unique way, a good overarching idea is to remember that you’re on the same team; you aren’t enemies.

When you function as teammates, it’s easier to tackle life’s problems together–and less likely that you’ll turn on one another. Here are some tips for sticking together:

Face your conflict head-on together; don’t bury or avoid it!
Don’t assassinate one another’s character or belittle each other.
Communicate openly about what you’re going through, and listen to one another.
Be present for each other; no checking out allowed.

If you’re finding it increasingly difficult to work together as partners through this season, consider getting outside, objective help from a trusted counselor or pastor. This can help you get focused on your primary objective: sticking together and coming out of this stronger.

Cultivate Intimacy

In general, every relationship has seasons; love has its own natural ebb and flow. But it’s almost a guarantee that most marriages will experience dry spells in the midst of hard times. Tough situations are very consuming, and that can drain all your energy before you’re able to give your marriage the attention it needs.

It’s pretty typical, at some point in most marriages, for spouses to express, “We were soulmates, but now we’re roommates.” When you’ve been dealing with difficult issues, you might come out of it feeling like this.

If you’ve managed to hold onto each other and get through your unique situation together, you’re one step ahead of the pack already. Clearly, your commitment to each other is still there–but it has been tested, and emotionally, it might feel pretty empty.

Just because your relationship doesn’t feel fulfilling in this season doesn’t mean it’s dead. It just needs to be revived. You’re not going to feel emotionally connected to each other 100% of the time, and that’s just how life is. The trick is getting connected again, and you can do this by cultivating intimacy.

To ignite more intimacy in your marriage:

  • Revisit things you have in common.
  • Reminisce together.
  • Invest in the interests or activities that excite your spouse.
  • Laugh together!

We can’t emphasize this enough: laughing together will help you revive the connection you’ve been lacking. Tough times can take a lot out of you, including simple things like laughter. Bring that back to life, and you’ll be amazed at what it does for your marriage.

Take One Day at a Time

Hard seasons in marriage make time feel like it’s dragging by. We know how hard it is to wait for a particular season to pass. Grief, heartbreak, job loss, disconnection, illness, and similar issues all have to run their course, and sometimes it feels like the pain will never end. Just take one day at a time, keep holding onto one another, and you’ll come out on the other side stronger than ever.

How did you and your spouse deal with difficult times in your marriage? Share your stories with us in the comments section!

24 Comments

  • Kathy says:

    Yes! I so agree. I would add one more thing: To cultivate intimacy – and to weather those tough times better – find a time each day to pray together!

    We have discovered that often while listening to the other one pray we realize we are more on the same wavelength than we previously thought. It also reminds us that God is the one who sovereignty ordains our days and he is the one who will carry us through them…together!

    • Katie peebles says:

      We, too, have discovered this wonderful ‘glue’ of praying together in marriage. It also helps to cultivate a habit of praying for your spouse in the ‘good’ times. When our 4 year old died, our commitment to God was the cord that held our marriage together for the difficult year following. ‘A cord of three is not so easily broken. ‘

    • Michael Van Dyke - Living Hope Church in Mn. says:

      I agree. My wife and I are praying people. We pray for each other and family and friends all the time. But when we began praying for each other before we go to bed we started facing each other instead of the ole side by side prayer. We face each other sometimes with eyes open and sometimes closed. We pray for each other’s success, prosperity, peace, needs etc. It has become my favorite part of our day. Whatever we face each day, that few moments is more important to me than any moment of the day. And I have learned its very hard to distant or upset with my wife when I am looking into her eyes and praying for her life and well being. It is backward at first, just looking at one another while you pray, but give it a try you may find a peace there you have never felt before.

      • Maria says:

        Thank you Michael for sharing how you and your wife pray for each other. My husband and I pray for our children and family every day. This is something we can add to our prayers right away. Thank you very much!

  • Savedbygrace says:

    We have weathered infidelity. It has created the opportunity to see each other at our lowest and love each other. It is a difficult road to walk without God but He has taught me that my marriage is just representative of Christ’s relationship with the church. In my choice to forgive my husband and love him through this difficult time, I have chosen to do so in obedience to Christ’s commands. The experience has impacted my relationship with God as well as I have come to experience His love in a different way. Praying together during the crisis helped with our healing. I have also come to realize that forgiveness is a gift and that but for God’s grace , there go I as well.

  • hal425 says:

    This is helpful and encouraging. But when your spouse is not praying with you, you dont feel like praying, and you are struggling with insecurities. I want us to pray together, but its hard when its not really reciprocated. Bedtime prayer with our kiddos is about where it’s at right now.

    • BB says:

      I am going thru the same thing. I am reading Power of a praying wife. It helps alot. There is also Power of a praying husband and parent

  • SG says:

    I wish it was as easy as this advise. Unfortunately for me it is not. I’m only 35 – got married at 19 and after 1 Divorce and Remarry to the same person, and a total of 17 years of Marriage I have no fight left in me. Our paths are different…. our desires are different… our friends are different… I don’t know if I’ll ever do marriage again after this… it’s hard to love someone with all you have for 17 years and it be so easy for them to walk away…. My heart hurts, and I never thought I would be leaving a comment in a blog post… Please pray for me, Peace, faith, and strength are lacking in me right now!

    • Leanne says:

      Saying a prayer for you, SG. I am sorry for your pain, and I believe God hurts with you. This makes me think of the Footprints poem… He really is closest when He may seem absent. God bless you.

    • DGR says:

      I’m praying for you right now SG. May the Lord Himself give you the strength you need. He is a God who Redeems and Saves. He has enough strength for you. May you feel His presence in a very real way. I also pray in Jesus’ name for others to come alongside you and help you a you carry this burden. I pray that He will heal your wounded heart. And I ask for that Peace, Faith and Strength that you desire and need.

  • Anidy says:

    I love the term cultivate intimacy. It is a practical response to a practical relationship, however, it is difficult when one party is not connected. How do you cultivate intimacy alone?

  • Andy says:

    I love the term cultivate intimacy. It is a practical response to a practical relationship, however, it is difficult when one party is not connected. How do you cultivate intimacy alone?

    • Leanne says:

      Andy, I have been very encouraged by the book A Praying Life about the power of prayer, in all areas, but especially for another person.

  • BR says:

    How are we teammates? She joined a different team when she had a 6 month affair after 17 years of marriage. We both grew up in strict Christian homes and raised our 4 kids the same. I have lost a lot of faith in God over this.

    • Leanne says:

      I’m sorry for your pain, BR. It is hard to imagine what that must be like. Remember your Lord and Savior was betrayed by friends and forsaken by the Father. Blessings.

    • ANB says:

      If we look back to the story of Adam and Eve in the garden, we see that it was the Serpent who snuck into the garden to deceive the couple, then, as sneaky as he is, he left and was never to be found. It is easy to look at God and blame Him for the problem, when all along, it was really the working of the devil. I say this to encourage you to not blame our Good Father for the hurt and pain in your heart, but to place that anger into praying AGAINST the evil working of Satan in your life.

  • […] crisis over the last few years. This article came to my email today and it is quite appropriate For Better or For Worse: Dealing With Tough Times in Marriage – SYMBIS Assessment This part in particular resonated with me: In general, every relationship has seasons; love has […]

  • I hurt for the pain of those describing their discouragement with marriage above. One of the things that was so helpful to me was a gift given to me by a man who later became our my pastor when we moved to Austin, Texas. He also reminded us that “we are not God’s perfect gift for one another; rather we are God’s gift to perfect one another” Reminding me of the story of a large piece of granite that had been turned down by DiVinci, & all of the other sculptors of his day because of a massive flaw, Michelangelo took that piece & from it carved the glorious statue of David. When asked how he did it he responded that he simply “knocked off all that wasn’t David.” My pastor said that God saw in us the finished work, the image of His Son reflected in us & he used the sharp edges, the things about one another that really annoyed us, to rub off the flesh that hid the image of Jesus. “As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17_ At times we are one another’s heavenly sandpaper in each other’s life. But true love, is a commitment to be the loving person & to do the loving thing to our spouse regardless of how we feel at any given time & in hard times true love gets busy & fixes things even when we are being one another’s heavenly sandpaper. Marriage has been hard work. It is the hardest thing I have ever done; but it has been worth every painful problem we worked through. After 35 years of rubbing & fixing we are not rubbing & fixing quite as much, but the process will continue until death parts us. My first marriage failed because my husband was not willing to do the work; it was just too hard for him. My current husband has had what it took to stay the course. So regardless of how discouraged you may be, do not give up. Marriage was God’s plan & it is a good plan. It takes committed souls who are willing to work & wise mentors who are willing to help the young couple to find their way. If you are an older couple I challenge you to help mentor younger couples – it is a rewarding ministry. If you are a younger couple, find a mentor or a counselor who can help you through the tough times.

  • Lucy says:

    How do you advise people who have been weathering a lot for very extended times, due to having had a child with special needs. Basically in our case the child is now an adult who just started working a F-T job a year ago but who still lives at home and needs some independent type life supports. Its is hard to find your special times back when this is a constant in the background of leading a 3rd family member forward to be independent hopefully in a few years. I never see this topic handled in the column.

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  • Michael Van Dyke - Living Hope Church in Mn. says:

    I am an older man, married once for 36 years. My wife and I are mentors and counselors in our region of Minnesota. We have been doing it for almost 5 years now. I agree with Kathyrn Armstrong. I believe any marriage no matter how bad can be saved. Like she said it takes both to make that happen. It has been my experience that people in general think marriage just happens. That when I said I do so did she. But if this were true and marriage was so easy, then why is divorce so prevalent. You can say well she did not care or he had an affair, or she lies, or you name your situation. The fact of the matter is no matter who you are marriage is work and if we as older marrieds have one resource to pass on to a young married couple, it is how to become an old married couple. Marriage is not and never has been about making you or your spouse happy. Oh you can try, but it is an exercise in frustration. We are all individuals created by God and wonderfully made with a sinful nature from birth. No one has to tell us to be selfish, we are naturally. No one has to tell us we are prideful, it comes naturally. Because of our fallen state marriage becomes tough automatic. Oh that Adam and Eve had left well enough alone. Marriage is about making us holy, not happy. If you get happy too, then that’s great. People might be tempted to say well you don’t have my spouse, or you don’t understand, or you have only been married once. This all true. But don’t judge a book so to speak. What I do know is in 36 years is that my wife and I have survived infidelity on two different occasions, anger, disappointment, lack of forgiveness, you get the point. We had to fight to get back what God intended for good. We could have chosen to throw in the towel. God gives us that liberty. But we didn’t. It took 25 years for us to upend and destroy as much as we could. It took almost three years for God to put it back together. I know full well not all marriages are equal. I am just saying through everything good or bad, God is asking us, good marriage, bad or somewhere in between, to place our trust in his wisdom. If you will choose to do that, and it is your choice, he will do great things. It pains me to hear the sad stories here because I truly believe God can heal any relationship. I pray for all listed here that God will touch your lives with his power and show you just how important you and your life are to him. If you are willing to put it all out there, push through the pain and make it out to the other side, God can and will do great things with your relationships. God bless you.

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