When a Really Bad Thing Happens to a Really Nice Couple
A parent dies. You lose a baby. Someone gets seriously ill or injured. Any of these events has the potential to bring a couple closer, but more likely, to truly rock a relationship. "A death or a major crisis can spur people to take stock of their lives, and you may begin to question everything, including your marriage," says Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., professor of sociology at the University of Washington, in Seattle.
Suddenly, icky little grievances that you've tried to ignore get right in your face. Everyone handles traumatic events differently, and when the differences are great, couples can grow apart. If you haven't invested time and energy in maintaining your connection, you may find yourselves feeling like total strangers, or you may start treating each other in unfamiliar, hurtful ways.
You're going to have to reach deep to get through this one. Compassion is the word of the moment. If your spouse seems neglectful, maybe he's just busy coping. If he complains that you seem distant or uncaring, try to let him know what you need -- even if it's just the time and space to be alone. Open up to your partner about what you're feeling. Ask him how he's doing. Keep this up for the weeks, months, or even years it might take to regain your equilibrium.
But keep reminding each other that this too shall pass. Try to tap into better times: Reminisce about amazing experiences you've shared; talk about your successes big and small (he's learned that bras don't go in the dryer! You've memorized the offensive line of the Steelers!). Shared memories are like omega-3s for your marriage; there's no better way to nourish your love and make it smart, strong, and powerful enough to go the distance. Bottom line: Respect and cherish each other as much and as often as you can. Do this over the long haul, and you'll always find blue skies ahead.
Copyright © 2005. Reprinted with permission from the June 2005 issue of Parents magazine.