When you said “for better or worse” you meant it. But who knew worse could be this hard or that you would need to be this strong to support your spouse through it. Things were going so well, too; you and your spouse were getting along, the kids were good, finances were on point, relatively speaking life was going smoothly. Unfortunately you didn’t knock on wood and now – BAM – there is crisis and the hits just keep on coming. Sometimes its your stuff the causes the crisis and sometimes its your spouse’s stuff. When its your stuff, your spouse will hopefully be there for you (maybe hand him this article if needed), but right know he is in crisis and needs your support. Whether your spouse lost a job, a loved one, or is struggling with inner demons – it can take all you have to be strong for him/her as well as stay strong for yourself.
So how do you stay emotionally strong and supportive when your partner is falling apart?
Throw Away Expectations
Be mindful not to place your own or anyone else’s expectations on your spouse. Your spouse is going through something very personal and very difficult. They should be allowed to process it in anyway they sees fit. People will always tell you how they made it through a difficult time or how their uncle’s cousin’s barber made it through – as if that is really going to help you. Listen politely for what is relative and useful to your situations and then throw the rest away. Unrealistic expectations for dealing with and/or overcoming crisis just make things worse. Don’t push your spouse to return to normal sooner than they are ready and don’t push them to stay in crisis as long as you think is acceptable. Your spouse will let you know the parameters.
It may sound cliché, but I promise the best thing you can do to support your spouse is simply listen. Listen without judgement, without suggestions on how to fix the situation, and without pity. Let your spouse vent and yell and cry if needed. Let your spouse ask for your help to solve or overcome the crisis and then be ready to offer help and probably listen some more.
Remember You Love Your Spouse
When your spouse is in need of support there is a good chance they are not as lovable or kind as they have been in the past. Find a balance between being a punching bag and being a shoulder to lean on and share that line with your spouse. Chances are your spouse is not trying to hurt you, but it still might happen. You have the right to protect your heart from being hurt while you provide support. Keep in mind all of the things that you love and respect about your spouse and offer support with these things in mind.
Lean on Someone Else
Your spouse is your person, the person you turn to when things aren’t great and the person you celebrate with when things are amazing. So, it can be difficult not to share your experience with your spouse. But this is not the time to lean on your spouse no matter how accustom you are to doing it. Find a friend, a family member, or a professional – find anyone else who will let you vent, scream, or cry because you need to do those things in order to stay healthy. You just can’t expect your partner to support you when they are the one in crisis.
Curve balls suck and I’m not going to pretend that staying strong through them is going to be easy. It is going to be hard and you’re going to want more than anything for everything to go back to normal as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, normal might be gone forever and you will now have a new normal to adjust to. Supporting and loving your spouse through the curve balls of life is what those vows from your wedding day were all about – for better or worse.
The shining light in all of this is that if and when you successfully navigate and overcome the worse, the better is right around the corner. Getting through the bad parts of life as a team will allow you to grow even stronger as a couple and to appreciate your spouse more than you thought you could.
About the Author
Amber groves is a marriage and family counselor and infertility specialist at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. She helps couples, families and children to have the calm and peaceful life they want in their relationship and family. In her spare time, she is the mother of one busy toddler.