Helping Your Spouse Through Seasons of Stress

Originally published Monday, 02 November 2015.

My husband and I knew we were embarking on a season of intensity. Lots of life changes, lots of expectations, and lots of unknowns awaited us. I told him I thought life would give us a tiny break in about eight months. He was sure there would be a season of respite sooner than that ... eight months rolled around and life was still coming at us at roller-coaster-like velocity with just about as many twists and turns. We’ve been so grateful for God’s faithful hand moving and growing our lives, even if we feel like life resembles more of a white-knuckle ride than a peaceful, stroll along quiet waters. We can’t expect life on this earth to be easy or placid. That isn’t the environment we grow in and God is after our growth!

Many of the people I know are also going through seasons of intensity. Financial fallout has coaxed many from cocoons of comfort out on the proverbial limb of trusting God rather than their retirement or bankroll. Health concerns weigh heavy on the hearts of many as they lift faces to heaven, hoping for a miracle that is beyond the hand of man. Family struggles are an ever present reality that couples process and deal with (hopefully) together. Dreams to pursue, dreams put on hold, dreams juggled -- blessings given and taken away all put a stress and strain on our marriages.

Regardless of whether we find ourselves in a season of stress right now, we will eventually! Life is just inevitably full of things that add up to stress and strain. How we handle the emotion of it all makes or breaks us as individuals and as a couple.

Consider the following passage recorded the night Jesus would be led away to His crucifixion:

“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, 'Sit here while I go over there and pray.' He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, 'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me'" (Matthew 26:36-38).

He sweat blood (Luke 22:44)! I’ve been stressed and deeply upset, but I’ve never been so distraught I sweat blood!

Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin.” Jesus is our High Priest who sympathizes with our weakness -- even our weak, frail, human emotional stresses and issues. He sympathizes with us because He understands pressure, grief, sorrow, stress, anger, etc. Yet in all the emotional drama that surrounded His earthly life, He never sinned. He didn’t snap at the disciples out of impatience, like we might snap at our spouses when we are out of patience. His blood sugar might have dropped low from hunger, but He didn’t get a horrid case of the grumpies like I do when that happens. He didn’t let anxiety over mean, hurtful, destructive people eat away at His insides until He was totally immobilized for His mission -- like I have done. Yet He understands my struggle -- and your struggle -- with the emotions that derail and distract us from the good stuff He has planned for us. He understands deep, intense emotions. And the hopeful part is this -- He knows what to do with them!

Here’s some practical ways to protect your marriage from the eroding force of stress:

1. Follow Jesus’ example and pray! Stats show that couples who pray together stay together! Come together as simple, needy children before your Father in heaven and seek Him together with honesty and trust. Also, pray for your spouse. Pray earnestly for their protection from temptation, the evil one and for their relationship with God to grow strong.

2. Be compassionate to one another. Stress causes us to do some weird things and we all need grace! Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (NIV).

3. Encourage your spouse to take the time they need to seek God, maintain physical health (time to sleep, exercise, eat well) and positive, Christian fellowship. My husband has always encouraged me to take time for women’s retreats, enjoy my sisters who are a great source of joy and encouragement for me, eat healthy and spend time in God’s word. Especially when life is stressful, it seems really hard to take care of yourself -- and that is often when you need to do it most! Encourage your spouse to take care of him/herself.

4. Spoil ‘em a little! Does your hubby really like foot rubs or a certain meal for dinner? Does it bless your wife when you wash up the dishes after dinner or rub her shoulders at the end of the day? Then go the extra mile and spoil your honey when life is stressful! (And this refers to you -- it’s not for you to elbow your spouse to read -- wink, wink!) If you find yourself in a season of stress, we are praying that God’s grace would surround you, that you would learn more of who God is, that your faith would grow deeper and that your marriage would grow stronger.

5. Lastly, see if there is any way you can simply avoid the stress. Recently some friends got new jobs. They were surprised how positively it affected their marriage. There was a bit of a pay cut, but the benefits outweighed any re-budgeting necessary. The negativity and pressure of their previos workplaces came home with them and into their family. It really got me thinking that sometimes the biggest stress on our marriages might be our jobs. In a world where the concept of family is so broken, I think we've got to consider if the almighty dollar is putting that much of a strain on our most precious relationships, it might be time to re-prioritize. And I know most of us are living paycheck to paycheck, so I don't say it flippantly. But our material comforts can't be more precious than our marriage or family, can they? Maybe it's not your job that is your biggest marital stressor. Maybe it's an extended family relationship or something as everyday as the shower schedule. Pray and ask God for wisdom if there is anyway around the stress instead of just muddling through it. Sometimes God moves mountains, and sometimes He wants us to hike to the top for the view, and sometimes He just wants us to walk around them! 

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