The last few weeks have been so emotional. Though the inner parts of my life have held steady, those around me are hurting deeply. In those seasons where everyone around you seems to be hurting, it is such a privilege to go to the Lord in prayer on their behalf. When we as believers feel we can do nothing, we can call on our creator and Savior to minister to our friends and loved ones. (Thank you, Lord, that the veil tore when Jesus died, and we can now approach the throne of grace boldly [cf. Hebrews 4:16].)
As I have observed some extreme heaviness recently, my mind has wandered back to marriage and the portion of marriage which is surrounded by grief. Eric and I, like most others in America, stood before a sanctuary full of people and declared to be there for each other when life was better and when life was worse; and, if we are honest, the better seemed pretty close at hand, and the worse seemed so far away it was hard to imagine… or so we thought.
It did not take long for worse to catch up with us. We had disappointment that our lives were not meshing as easily as we had expected. We had disillusionment that our marriage was different than we expected it to be. We had the grief of infertility and anger about our different ways of dealing with it. We experienced prioritization differences and handling daily life in separate ways (later, we would find out this was tied to our enneagram type combination dynamic). We did grow though, and our oneness solidified more over time; but, we realized that better and worse started on day one. We cannot simply decide when life will be better and when life will be worse.
One major ministry we have in our marriage is to comfort each other in seasons of grief. Showing extra grace when work is stressing out your partner. Giving extra hugs when that pregnancy test is negative… again. The course of the human existence is covered in emotions. We experience highs and lows and all the joy and anguish which comes with them.
Once you are a spouse, being a consistent supporter for your husband or wife is a major role you are called to play. And this calling is difficult when you are both hurting and, for that reason (among others), we encourage couples to talk about likely (and even potential) struggles they may face together. Though a couple cannot prepare for every scenario, you can dip your toes in and discuss ways to approach the rough patches many couples face.
Intentionally Preparing for the Worse
Lord willing, each of our married lives will be filled with better. Sunshine, clean sheets, laughter, snuggly pets, friendship, holidays, and vacations. But, we know there will also be some worse. As Job 14 expresses, we are only here for a little while and our days are full of trouble. John 16:33 says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (ESV). The Bible promises us we will have trouble and that God wins. It also tells us in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (ESV). Trouble is coming, but God wins and eternity with Christ will far outweigh any trial, tribulation… any worse… this life brings us.
With that said, those tough seasons hurt. If we are not careful, they can divide us from the one we vowed to love, honor, and cherish. We hold tightly to the truth that those who are in Christ will be with Him for an eternity enjoying Heaven; but, the difficult moments on Earth still crush our weak bodies.
In preparing for a life together, think not only about children, building a financial portfolio, or marking off your bucket list together, but also about the tough times to come. You cannot know what you will face in the future, but you can tentatively plan for seasons of struggle and grief (and which will help you get through those times a bit easier as some of the preparatory labor has been done).
- The death of a parent. When we lost Dad, I was unprepared emotionally. However, Eric had already been through the loss of a parent and he helped me walk through the process which was invaluable to me. During the death of a spouse’s parent, be a quiet force behind him or her – taking care of the small decisions, protecting him or her from drama, and being a patient, available listener.
- The death of siblings, extended family, and friends. If you have not been through such a loss, it is tough to know how to prepare. Plus, we all deal with grief differently. So, plan as much as you can. What lengths will we go to attend funerals or visit sick friends and family? How will we help our parents or grieving friends financially during seasons of loss? Is there anything we need to say or do today since we are not promised tomorrow?
- Miscarriage or loss of a child. This is a hurt so many young couples have faced. Read blogs and books about other’s experiences with this grief. Listen to couples talk about the range of emotions they faced as well as the logistical details with which they dealt – such as time spent in treatment, finances, and personal services needed (e.g., grief counseling, medical needs, etc.).
- Trouble conceiving. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be difficult to conceive children. You get married; you have babies… it is just what you do… or so I thought. Lord willing, you and your future mate will be blessed with babies, but in the meantime, discuss what measures you are willing to take should you face fertility problems. Plus, if you know someone who has been on that journey, you can learn a lot from them about the emotional and logistical process of trying to conceive.
- Unexpected medical problems. When two young, healthy people stand in front of each other at the altar, debilitating health scares are not usually on their mind. Sometimes health problems come out of the blue or accidents cause lasting problems. Every couple hopes for a long and healthy marriage (and hopefully that is exactly what you will have), but we recommend talking about the what ifs. Should we save a little money in case we face medical bills we are not expecting? Who would we ask to keep our children if we were unable to be home with them? How close do we want to live to family in case something happens, and we need help?
- Loss of job or career and the identity shift. For some, losing a job is hurtful but only a bump in the road. For others, it shatters them to their core. How can you and your partner prepare for potential job loss? Should we make sure we have more than one marketable skill? Should we do continuing education classes each year? Should we learn a trade so we know a practical skill which can be bartered? Should we attend gatherings where we meet people who can help us when we need work (i.e., networking)?
- Intense financial strain. What choices do we need to make now to prepare for less fruitful times? How have others we respect worked through financial hardships? Under which circumstances will we accept help?
- Changes in the world, in government, and in war. We live in uncertain times, and no one knows for sure how the decisions of world leaders will ultimately affect them and their families. What can be done to mitigate the effect of problems at home or abroad? Should we renew our passports? Should we make sure we have extra supplies? Do we have a bag of supplies prepared in case we need to leave immediately? Should we have a back up housing plan?
- Loss of friendship and/or being hurt by the Church. Being betrayed by a friend or being hurt from members of your church can take a long time to heal. What steps can you take to pre-plan your response for such an occasion? One way is to study Scripture and become well-versed in how God calls us to react in those situations. Write down verses and expectations for how you will approach different problems (e.g., a friend accusing you unjustly, a friend betraying your trust, etc.). When you face an experience leaving your heart hurting, it will be easier to approach the situation biblically if you have prepared in advance for such a time.
- Midlife questioning and potential depression. It is common for people to evaluate their lives when they reach around middle age. The process of moving from the first half of your life to the second half can feel heavy and, for some, even desperate. That second half approaches faster than most realize; so, even if you are twenty, consider how you want to approach each stage of your life and marriage.
- Teenage or adult children breaking your heart. A saying goes, “When they are little, they walk on your feet. When they are older, they walk on your heart.” Children are an absolute blessing from the Lord, but at a certain point, they will go their own way in life. You will likely shed some tears and see some sleepless nights because of parenthood. Prepare from early in your children’s lives to be a united front at all stages of their lives. Talk to an older couple who has grown children and ask them to pour their wisdom into your marriage and parenting.
- Marriage trouble. Marriages are fragile. Like gardens, they must be tended and watered, or they will die. Talk about ways to stay connected with each other. Discuss if you would ever accept marital help and when. Talk about divorce and if you would consider it under any circumstances. Plan daily ways to safeguard your marriage.
- Seasons of loneliness. It is common for even the most outgoing of individuals to experience seasons of loneliness. We can be around ten friends and still feel alone. When your partner experiences loneliness, be a good listener and an empathetic What could you do to help your partner alleviate their isolation or loneliness?
- Losing personal independence. After a lifetime of coming and going as we please, needing assistance to do normal activities – walking, eating, or commuting – is difficult to swallow. Prepare to be a loving and patient spouse when this day comes. Give the consistent love you vowed to show in sickness and in health.
- Losing each other. No one wants to think about this day. Even though it is a promised part of marriage for one of you (till death do us part… – unless you happen to both pass at the exact same time), we typically do not want to consider going through that extreme loss. The loss of a partner is unlike any other. Watching Mom go through the ups and downs after suddenly losing Dad and seeing her work through paperwork and run errands, I realized so much more goes into the loss of a spouse than I realized. As my friend’s mom said after losing her dad, “It takes a lot to close out a life.” One of the best parting gifts you can leave your spouse is taking care of as many end-of-life decisions as possible – planning your funeral, having insurance paperwork readily available, updating your will, having necessary papers in one place, and easily accessible. It will not make the experience less painful, but it will make the experience just a little less stressful.
We can never fully prepare for the curve balls life throws at us, but we can start the discussion, learn from those who have walked different paths, and have some contingency plans in place should we find ourselves traveling down an unexpected road.
No matter what, we need to remember God is sovereign. He is in control. In times of great sorrow, we do not always want to hear that – especially when we cannot understand why God allows pain to happen. But, when the dust settles and we can see more clearly, we take comfort in knowing that God is still on the throne, and He is the winner. We already know who reigns victorious.
So, we encourage you and your partner to talk about many possibilities and put some plans in place; but, above all, remember God promised not to leave us and that we can rest knowing nothing catches Him by surprise.
Nothing is out of His control.
Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 121:4, ESV)
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, ESV)
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23, ESV)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27, ESV)
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20b, ESV)
How are you preparing to comfort and support each other in difficult seasons of life?