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What to do when external factors cause a crisis in your marriage


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Mercedes Honrubia García de la Noceda - published on 07/06/21

When problems cause stress in your marriage, follow these strategies to overcome obstacles together and become a better team.

Talking about a marriage crisis isn’t pleasant, but it’s a reality that couples live with once they start their life together.

Crises in a couple’s relationship can arise from factors within the couple, such as differences in character or contrasting ideas about household duties, traditions, etc. However, external factors can also play a role, and it’s important to be aware of their existence so we can manage them and overcome them.

Indeed, a crisis doesn’t have to be fatal to a relationship. It can be an opportunity for growth. As Pope Francis says, “Each crisis has a lesson to teach us; we need to learn how to listen for it with the ear of the heart.”

So, let’s look at some causes of crises that can come our way.

When children arrive

Let’s assume that as a couple we’ve already successfully overcome the challenge of starting a life together, with all the baggage that each spouse brings. We’ll face a new challenge with the arrival of children: the fact of no longer being just “you and me,” but “we,” with a little person who depends absolutely on us (at least during the first few years of life, and later too, but in a different way).

This newcomer steals our hearts, and of course, our time, our rest and sleep. This can lead to some difficulties and in some cases to a real crisis that requires patience and a great deal of mutual support and empathy between the spouses. Of course, it also has wonderful benefits, inviting us to be surprised every day by the miracle of life.

Parents and in-laws

While well-intentioned, the affection that our families of origin have for us as a new couple or as brand new parents can become a source of conflict. Sometimes they give more than their fair share of opinions about how we should be doing things, or try to be involved in our lives more than we’d like. Starting a new family requires some degree of independence from our own parents.

This independence can be further complicated when, due to various circumstances, the new couple has some degree of economic dependence on their parents.

Other times, our families of origin can give rise to differences of criteria when it comes to deciding how to educate our children or care for the elder members of the family, how much time to spend with them, and so forth.

Knowing how to communicate clearly as spouses, establish limits, and strengthen the nucleus of our new family will save us a lot of unpleasantness.

Work and friendships

Other times, crises can arise from lack of work, or from working too much, either out of necessity or because of not knowing how to say “no.”

Difficulties can also appear when one of the spouses doesn’t regulate their social life properly, to the detriment of spending time with their spouse. Whether in person or online (the latter especially during the pandemic), we can end up spending more time with our friends, neighbors or work colleagues than with our own family.

Of course, we have to socialize—it’s necessary and very healthy—but we must choose properly with whom, where, and when, so that everything is in balance.

Economic woes

Sometimes, our family finances can be a problem. This is true especially at times like the present when the economy is in turmoil. How many families have had to drain their savings (if they even have them) or search for other assistance just to get by day by day and feed their children!

This complicated situation generates a lot of stress, insecurity and suffering, affecting each of the family members in their own way. It’s important to face these challenges as a team, with both spouses being willing to make sacrifices and contribute in their own way.

Life circumstances

Illness, death, or quarantine are external factors that cannot be foreseen, but when they present themselves, we must deal with them. This pandemic has taught us to value even more than before our health and relationships with family and friends.

Denying the difficult realities life throws at us only brings extra stress. If instead we accept whatever comes and change our outlook about these difficulties, trying to discover what this situation is teaching us, we’ll be able to adapt better to the reality we face. 

Investing time in “us

Pope Francis talks about this in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, where he dedicates a chapter to crises:

The life of every family is marked by all kinds of crises, yet these are also part of its dramatic beauty. Couples should be helped to realize that surmounting a crisis need not weaken their relationship; instead, it can improve, settle and mature the wine of their union. Life together should not diminish but increase their contentment; every new step along the way can help couples find new ways to happiness. Each crisis becomes an apprenticeship in growing closer together or learning a little more about what it means to be married. There is no need for couples to resign themselves to an inevitable downward spiral or a tolerable mediocrity. On the contrary, when marriage is seen as a challenge that involves overcoming obstacles, each crisis becomes an opportunity to let the wine of their relationship age and improve. (Amoris Laetitia 232)

Investing time in ourselves as a couple, talking about what kind of family we want to create, about our marriage and where we want to go, will be the key for this adventure to be successful. Despite the unavoidable setbacks, we can grow by overcoming obstacles together as a team.

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