10 ways to keep your marriage strong when life gets hard

When my husband and I got married back in 1999, we were young at 20 and 22 and excited for the life ahead of us. We looked forward to years of having a happy married life. We didn’t, however, think about the challenges of life.

You never know the hard times that are coming. Hard times usually arrive without much warning and — bam! — your life changes. In the more than two decades we’ve been married, we’ve been through a lot of challenges in life from chronic health issues to death to job loss and more.

Through all of our struggles, we’ve learned how to continue having a happy married life in spite of the problems we face. Life certainly isn’t always easy, but my husband and I have found our way through so many challenges.

Maintain a team mentality.

We weren’t far into our marriage when we learned that maintaining a teamwork mentality is important for having a happy married life. (In fact, we’ve continued the teamwork mentality in family life with our kiddos now.) When hard times come, we need to be more united than ever.

Life stressors can either drive a wedge in your relationship or draw you closer to each other. Having a team mentality leads to a closer relationship. It becomes you and your spouse against the world, so to speak. And it also helps you avoid casting blame. Whether the difficult situation is the result of something one of you did, the reality is, you still have to navigate through the situation together. Approaching that as a team is vital. Our motto is: “I’d rather go through hard times with you than good times without you.”

Find ways to laugh together.

While it’s always important to keep a sense of humor in marriage, you need to even when life is difficult. My husband can make me laugh more than anyone else in the world. There are definitely times laughter isn’t appropriate, but when you get a chance to laugh together take it. You can even utilize gallows humor.

My husband and I have shared chuckles in hospital rooms. We’ve joked as one of us is recovery from an injury or surgery. Sometimes just a bit of humor can help you bond together even as you face challenges.

Show grace to each other.

You know I’ve got to include grace. Part of a happy married life means having a grace-filled marriage. When you’re going through something difficult, you need even more grace than usual. Some situations have impacted my husband and me equally. But many situations impact one of us more. When that happens, then the person most impacted needs the most grace.

In our humanness, we have moments of being jerks. We don’t always use the right words or have the patience we need when we are stressed. While that’s definitely something to continue working on (and we have both gotten much better at), it’s also something that deserves grace sometimes. I know when my husband is struggling that he may get shorter with me than usual. And vice versa. Instead of lashing back at each other, we give grace.

Use compassion just like when your spouse is ill.

When my husband is ill, I have extra compassion for him. He does the same for me. So, if one of you is going through a difficult time, then the other can treat them in much the same way as if they are physically ill. Give them a pass or way out on family activities if needed. Do some of their chores for them. Make their favorite food.

We most need to be cared for when our hearts our broken. Feeling love and care through small acts of service make a hard time just a bit easier for our spouse.

Pray together and/or separately.

During challenging times, you probably are already praying about the situation itself. But be sure to also pray for your spouse and yourself. Ask God to give you both strength, wisdom, peace, compassion, patience and grace as you navigate the situation. Many times I have prayed and asked God to help me be the wife my husband needs in the midst of a difficult moment. You can try a prayer like this:

Heavenly Father, I ask that You continue to be with us as we deal with this challenge. Lord, draw us closer to one another. Give us grace and compassion for each other. Show us what Your will is for us as we go through this. Open and close the right doors, according to Your will. Father, wrap us in Your arms to give us peace and comfort as we deal with this. Thank You that we are able to face this together. Thank You for never leaving us and always remaining faithful. Continue to cover us with your protection, love and grace. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Know when to just listen.

Sometimes we just need to vent or talk through something without getting advice. Usually you can tell when your spouse is feeling this way, but it’s also OK to communicate that. I have started conversations with my husband like this: “I don’t want advice. I just need to talk about this.”

Of course, sometimes there aren’t solutions to give. Sometimes there’s just broken hearts that need to be heard. Just listening can be the greatest gift we can give our spouse when they’re going through a difficult time.

Distract yourselves.

We need breaks from hard times. Unfortunately we can’t wave a magic wand and make everything disappear for a few hours or days. But, we can find ways to distract ourselves. One of the things my husband and I do together is watch a movie. For a couple of hours, we are immersed in another world.

In fact, a few years ago on the day he got down-sized from his job, we went to a movie. We still had problems waiting for us after the movie, but for two hours we were able to forget about what was happening. Our brains and hearts need that!

We also enjoy playing games together. When we’re gaming, we’re focusing on the game nothing else, which is refreshing.

Communicate with each other.

Communication is certainly the key to a happy married life, and this is even more true when you’re going through a hard time together. My husband is an awesome guy who can do many things, but one thing he can’t do is read my mind. So, unless I share what I’m thinking, needing or struggling with, he’s not going to really know.

A few years ago, for instance, we had to put our beloved dog, Buckles, to sleep quite suddenly thanks to aggressive cancer. I remember a couple of nights later that my husband asked what I most needed that evening. Was it OK for him to play a video game or did I need him to just sit with me? He was sincere in asking, and I was sincere in answering. We had to work together to move on, and communicating made that much easier.

Go to church together.

Keeping God in the midst of your hard time is important. Going to church together is a great way to do that. Not only do you get spiritually fed, but you get to do so together. In fact, it can even serve as a distraction from reality for a little bit. Don’t stop attending church when life gets hard. That’s when you need to be there most.

So many times I’ve gone when I didn’t feel like it and then felt the sermon was just for me. My husband and I have talked after church and shared how we were impacted, which can be in different ways. God has used church to encourage and strengthen us when we are going through a struggle.

Show kindness in small ways.

Small acts of kindness are some of my favorites. They can be the most impactful. Buy your spouse their favorite candy bar. Fill up their car with gas so they won’t have to deal with it in the morning. Take their dishes to the sink. Give them a hug at a random time. Send a text in the middle of a workday just to say “I love you and am praying for you.”

One of the most memorable small act of kindness my husband has done for me is leaving a note on our son’s changing table when our son was a newborn. I was having a really hard time, because our baby boy didn’t sleep at night. Our daughter was 3 and needed me during the day. I told my husband about a particularly rough night and how I had a breakdown while he was asleep. That night, I found a note he left for me telling me to wake him up, and he would help any time. (He had a 60-mile commute at the time, so I tried to avoid waking him unless necessary.) He reminded me that I wasn’t in this alone. I felt seen, heard, understood and supported with just the one simple note.

Hard times are going to come regardless. We can choose to go through them together and grow stronger in our relationship as we come out on the other side. Because even in the midst of strife and challenges, we can still have a happy married life. And then will be the difficult times just a bit more bearable.

About the Author: Stacey A. Shannon

Stacey A. Shannon is a freelance journalist and blogger who has been published internationally. She's also a Christian, a wife and a mom of two school-aged children. She started Families with Grace in 2019 to encourage Christian moms as they create homes filled with grace, love and faith.

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