“Into each life, some rain must fall…” ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Few are exempt from this poetic aphorism by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who, twice widowed, was well acquainted with rainy days. It is said that bad times test a marriage, but my observations of marriage conclude that in many cases, those very trying times are what build a strong marriage. Pushing a muscle beyond its capacity is what tears down and creates new sinew. Likewise, the bond of a couple gets stronger with every hurdle overcome.
The Band of Brothers effect
Members of military troops, facing grueling life-and-death scenarios, find themselves bonding with each other regardless of their peace-time personality differences. This phenomenon was featured in the Spielberg flick “Band of Brothers” as well as many other war movies from “Wind Talkers,” “Saints and Soldiers,” and “Saving Private Ryan.” There is a real psychological and biological change that takes place in our brains when we face threatening situations with others. A recent study revealed that the same hormone, oxytocin, that floods a mother’s body as she breastfeeds her newborn (and creates the mother-child bond) also courses through the bodies of men fighting alongside each other during war; this is thought to strengthen trust and bonding among those perceived to be on the same team.
Married couples facing crisis can benefit from the same phenomenon as long as they see themselves on the same team.
How couples get through the bad times
They stay on the same side. They take a “it’s us-against-the-world” stance to overcome any outside threat. Crises in finances, fidelity, health, career, parenting, in-laws, addictions. They fight these perils together.
They tag team it. Just when one person runs out of emotional or physical energy, he or she passes the baton to his mate. It’s similar to how a troop takes turns being on watch. For example, our youngest child had a developmental disability that included a sleep disorder. He slept literally only three hours a night for five years straight. Just when I collapsed, my husband took over, and vice versa. Tag teaming also employs each other’s strengths. Who is better at bringing in the higher paycheck or handling the kids? Which of you is better at diffusing the conflicts with the in-laws, managing the finances or dealing with emergencies? My husband keeps us level during peace time but I am the go-to person during crisis. Play to your strengths.
They ride out the storms. In strong marriages, partners don’t resort to knee jerk reactions. They don’t make sweeping life changes during emotionally-charged moments. They wait until the calm returns and then reassess how they feel. “This too shall pass” is a credo of hope that strong marriage partners hold in their hearts. Good times always return.
They don’t expect perfection.. Spouses in strong marriages don’t waste their time whining because they don’t have perfect, smooth-sailing lives. They just deal with what comes up. Bad times are part of life. They serve an important purpose in our personal growth
They don’t attack each other. Sometimes, lashing at each other is a natural reaction to feeling hurt, angry or scared, but in strong marriages, this is usually short-lived and quickly forgiven.
They refrain from blaming each other. Even if a bad episode is brought on by the other spouse, they stay on the same side to get through it. Anger towards each other is tabled to deal with at another time. The priority at hand is to get through the crisis.
Break it or make it
Bad times can destroy the relationship when the couple harbors resentments, grudges and blame so let your love for each other override any personal hurts. Practice the ability to forgive and—equally important—to forget. Remember your well-intentioned and passionate vows to stay on the same side, and use these bad times as challenges to solidify your team/family/tribe/pair bond so you can develop deeper trust and loyalty with every crisis overcome.