During these tough and uncertain economic times, marriages are being tested at an all-time high! People are losing jobs or afraid they might lose their job any day! Income is lower than it’s been in a long time for most of the country and companies are laying off people in record numbers. Many marriages are taking a beating due to the stress associated with all this! I work a lot with married couples in the areas of building communication skills and resolving conflicts. For married couples, learning how to communicate well and often during these tough times has never been more important. Some married couples are dealing with feelings of fear and/or inadequacy; some are trying to figure out if they will make it in their current home or whether they need to sell and downsize until things get better. Here are 5 steps to help you overcome conflict during these economic struggles.
1. Have a Date Night
plan a regular date night. For us it’s Thursday nights. Going on a date may seem like you’re going the opposite direction when you should be saving money. On the contrary, building a date night into your life is a great way to increase the quality of your relationship. You don’t have to spend more money to do it either! In fact, part of the fun might be planning an outing that costs no more then eating at home. Go to a local park instead of a restaurant, take a picnic lunch, chill out, and just be together. Remember when you were dating? It didn’t matter what you did as long as you were together. Also, we all need a way to keep bringing our marriage relationship back together. Life creates distance the moment one person goes off to work. Each of you has different things on our minds; possibly different problems you are trying to solve or navigate through. Being intentional about being together helps bring you back to the oneness you used to experience. If there are children in the picture, find another family that would love to trade off in taking care of each other’s children. That’s free! (maybe a little crazy, but free) Regardless of the “when, where, and how,” make the time to be together to keep your marriage growing! I heard somewhere “you are either working on your marriage or you’re working on your divorce.” What a sobering thought!
2. Increase the Lines of Communication
This is a great time to begin communicating more than usual. Not just small talk, but this is a time to start talking about the matters of your heart. Make it a practice to be less reactive to what your spouse says, try not to take their personal thoughts and feelings so personally, and create a safe place for each of you to talk about how this economic situation has affected you individually. Everyone wants to be known by someone. We are just afraid to get hurt by being too vulnerable. A while back, I found a little box with questions inside called a “Chat Pack.” I started giving these to clients to take home with them to ask each other when they were on a date. The response was overwhelming! As wild as it sounds, the “Chat Pack” has proven to be successful in helping couples reconnect and rejuvenate their marriage. I use them frequently with couples I’m counseling now. Whatever you do, keep talking!
3. Husbands, Validate Your Wife’s Feelings!
This is not a time to take how your partner’s feeling during this time personally. But, rather this is a time to listen to the heart of your partner without offering suggestions, fix-it tips, or telling them not to worry. It is a time to move toward them as if what they are experiencing is the most important thing to you in the world. Though their concerns may threaten you or cause feelings of inadequacy, learn to listen without interruption. For example, if a woman expresses to her husband that she’s uncertain and fearful about what will happen you can:
a. Tell her it’s ridiculous to feel that way, which usually diminishes the importance of her concerns and she probably hears that you don’t care about what’s important to her and that her fears are stupid.
b. Tell her not to worry about it; everything’s going to be OK, which again doesn’t address her fears; it probably tells her that you think her fears are not worth feeling.
c. You can get angry because it questions your ability to provide and protect your wife and family…which will push her further away and she will probably emotionally distance herself from you.
d. You can say, “Tell me more about how you feel!” You can tell her, “I have some ideas, but I’m curious what would help you feel secure during these times.” This tells her that her concerns, and in fact she, is important to you and you care about her deeply. Chances are this will calm her fears because she knows you are in this together.
e. Ask your wife, before you speak, “do you want me to help you solve this problem or do you just want me to listen.” You’ll be amazed at the freedom that gives her to invite your opinions if she wants them. If she doesn’t, just listen and love her well.
4. Wives, Validate Your Husband’s Feelings Too!
Men are generally taught not to express their feelings. Many are taught that emotions are a sign of weakness. Hiding your emotions may help you close a deal, but it is counterproductive when trying to build an intimate, authentic relationship! Some women can’t really handle their man being vulnerable. Men can usually sense that. Most men will do just about anything to avoid being criticized or shamed. So, women, listen to your man and provide a safe place for him to talk about his emotions. If you can’t handle being with a man who has some fears, you may need to go to mars to find one without fears…we all have fears and most of us spend a lifetime making sure no one knows!
5. Lastly, confess your faults and forgive each other every time there have been hurtful words or actions between you. Too many people avoid conflicts. Usually, when couples tell me they resolve conflicts, I find out that they actually just stop being in a conflict; they don’t resolve them. In my opinion, a conflict isn’t resolved until both partners have confessed their part in the issue and asked for forgiveness. One may apologize for saying hurtful words and the other may need to say “I’m sorry” for having hurtful thoughts or for reacting in a hurtful way! Saying I’m sorry is great, but it does not complete the resolution process and put the issue to rest. I’ve seen many couples that stop with one of them saying “I’m sorry” and the other either being quiet, saying, “thanks,” or saying, “you don’t have to apologize for that.” That’s not resolved! It takes true humility and brokenness (the good kind) to both ask for and give forgiveness, but it’s critical. I assure you that when partners finally forgive each other, there’s a healing balm in the relationship. I always ask them how it feels after they went the extra mile and forgave each other and they always say that it feels better than just apologizing. It seems to be over. There is usually a twinkle in their eye and peace in their heart. But, it takes two people that are willing to get over their self-righteousness, their pride, and their arrogance for it to work. But it’s so worth it!
It is my prayer that God will use this “economic crisis” to both draw us to each other in building stronger marriages and to the Lord as we realize that He is our only true Provider…
Have a great marriage!