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Working Together to Overcome a Marital Crisis

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Steps to Take When Working Through a Marriage Crisis

A marital crisis generally occurs when an unexpected or traumatic event emerges in the relationship. This does not mean the crisis is necessarily sudden, often the biggest crisis are gradual and erupt when either a realization or truth comes out. However, a crisis can also come on suddenly with a traumatic or tragic event.

It is not uncommon for a crisis to feel as if it happened quickly, even if the problem had been long festering. Sometimes these types of marital problems have deep roots, but for whatever reason were not addressed and/or perhaps not immediately recognized. If any issues or warning signs were present, it could be these issues were either intentionally ignored or simply not seen. In the latter case, the problems may have been missed as the activities of daily life got in the way.

Whichever the case, when problems in a marriage either occur suddenly or go on unresolved for long periods of time, this can ultimately lead to a crisis situation. There are many different kinds of relationship crisis, and not all situations stem from the relationship directly. A crisis could be connected to an external situation that was beyond anyone's control.

When a marital crisis occurs, it's a good idea to address it as soon as possible. There are some ways couples can work together to take steps to strive towards working through the issues and getting back on track again.

Identify the Root Cause of the Crisis

Some marital crisis are obvious, while others are more subtle, but very deep-rooted. 1 Before any crisis can be resolved, the root cause has to be identified so an appropriate course of healing, forgiveness or therapy can be taken.

Couple fighting
Credit: Oscar Rohena accessed via Flickr/CC by 2.0

It can be looked at as an analogy - consider going to the doctor. For instance, if you have a broken leg and your medical professional treats you for the flu, your body isn't going to heal properly. A marital crisis is not very different if you look at from that perspective. The causes of the problem need to be diagnosed before they can be tended to. If the real issue isn't addressed, or is masked by something else going on, the crisis will prolong, possibly for extended periods of time. At least until the root issue is eventually examined.

Make a Promise to Commit

Commitment to overcoming a marital crisis cannot be one-sided. It takes a firm commitment from both spouses if the problem is going to be resolved. This takes a lot of effort, patience and understanding. It also takes a willingness to ride the proverbial rollercoaster, as there are likely to be lots of ups and downs when working through the crisis.

Couples who recognize they both have to do the work to resolve their differences, or deal with the problem head on, quickly learn that mutual commitment is so important to overcoming their problems. With firm commitment, many couples emerge from a crisis even stronger than ever.

Strengthen Communication / Consider Counseling

Communication is another foundational corner of a strong relationship. It takes two to repair a marital crisis and both partners have to be willing to share their thoughts and feelings with one another. This can go a long way in overcoming the crisis and in some cases it can also be a preventative measure for avoiding future crisis. Strong and honest communication is beneficial to any relationship.

Often outside intervention from a neutral third-party can help put things in perspective and help both parties come to terms with the crisis or to gain some coping techniques.3 In many types of marital crisis, counseling can be very beneficial.

Do Not Provoke / Know When to Step Back

While it is tempting to intentionally provoke a fight when angry or stressed out, it's best to avoid doing it. Trying to trigger a response from a spouse that is not responding in the way preferred is not going to solve the problem; it could actually make things worse.

Mid air squabble
Credit: Micolo J accessed via Flickr/CC by 2.0

Rather than get into a tangle that isn't going to resolve the problem, sometimes it's best to walk away - at least temporarily.

The best time to talk is when both spouses are calm and ready to listen to one another. Body language can also sometimes give cues on whether or not a discussion is the right time. Without a willingness to listen or try to work on the issues, nothing gets solved.

If things get too heated or intense, sometimes a person needs to step back, take a deep breath and stand on the outside. Then look in at the situation. Does perspective change?

Couple under an umbrella
Credit: Garry Knight accessed via Flickr/CC by 2.0

When in the midst of a crisis sometimes a situation is not seen clearly and, as a result, more problems can erupt due to individual reactions. During the times where things get too hot, know the boundaries and identify those moments when a "time out" is needed. This doesn't mean the problems should be pushed aside or shoved under the rug. What it does mean is to act proactively instead of just having a reaction. Reactive behavior can lead to escalating the crisis.

When both partners dedicate themselves to the marriage and want to make it work, the odds of overcoming a crisis are much higher. On the other hand, if one or both spouses are dealing with uncertainty or an unwillingness to do the work, chances of success decrease. Unfortunately, some couples cannot overcome a crisis. This may be due to dishonesty, an unwillingness to face the problem head on or avoiding making the commitment to do the hard work necessary to make the marriage work.

However, those who do persevere and overcome the obstacles are highly likely to find themselves in a more intimate and stronger marriage once the crisis has passed.

Couple lying on beach/Human chair
Credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simões accessed via Flickr/CC by 2.0


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  1. "“I Treated Myself to a Marital Crisis”." Psychology Today. 6/02/2016 <Web >
  2. "5 steps to save your marriage." aish.com. 6/02/2016 <Web >
  3. "A Band-Aid for a Marriage in Crisis." PsychCentral.com. 6/02/2016 <Web >

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