Couples Counseling Topic: How adversity can either bring us closer together or break us apart

When people see a married couple experiencing adversity, their first thought often goes something like this: “Thank goodness they have each other.” But facing adversity together as a couple can pose unique challenges.

The good news is that this awareness increases your chances of surviving a traumatic situation intact. If a child becomes seriously ill, a family faces a financial crisis or during any other time of adversity, too often spouses presume their feelings and reactions will be similar. When they aren’t, it can lead to misunderstanding, anger, hurt feelings, and ultimately drive a wedge between even the most committed of couples.

No two people confront adversity alike. Moreover, a lot of experts believe that men and women in general tend to grieve differently. A man might be more likely to shift into a take-action mode that downplays emotion. He goes into overdrive trying to “fix” a crisis; if he can’t, he throws himself into work or other activities to stay busy and avoid thinking about it.

A woman, on the other hand, may tend to be more expressive and relationship-oriented, taking time to cry and talk about her fears, sadness or anger.

A common result is for the wife to believe her husband simply doesn’t care. She feels alone in her pain and is more likely to reach out to others for solace—which can work to drive a couple apart. The husband, on the other hand, might feel overwhelmed by the combination of his own grief and fear that his wife’s reactions are unhealthy or even dangerous. Soon, he’s spending more hours at the office and less time at home, which only escalates her sense of isolation. It is a vicious cycle.

In a situation like this, communication is key. The husband who tends to shun open expressions of grief needs to assure his wife that while he might deal with it differently, he does feel the pain of their shared loss or challenges just as acutely as she does. She, meanwhile, might assure him that she is simply coping in the way that comes naturally to her.

Of course, when it comes to gender, these are broad generalizations and every situation is unique. There are plenty of women who are less expressive about their emotions, plenty of men who are very expressive and many more who fall somewhere in between. The important thing is to recognize that we all cope and communicate differently, and it doesn’t mean we care less.

What’s important now is to look for common ground. Set aside time each day to talk about what each of you is going through and how you’re feeling. If difficult circumstances are ongoing, now is the time to strategize as well as commiserate—which can turn a negative into a positive by building a sense of partnership. If the adversity is a finite event, such as a loss in the family, it could be a time to compare favorite memories of that person and think of ways to honor his or her memory. How long you choose to do this is up to you, as long as you both agree. (If one of you feels particularly afraid of being tied into a long, emotional talk, you might even set a time limit.)

It won’t always be comfortable, and you still can’t force your feelings to be in synch. But it keeps the doors open and can be a special opportunity for your relationship to grow, even when times are tough.

You deserve to have a great love life.  Let’s see if we can make yours better. Contact our professional therapists at the Relationship Center of Orange County. Schedule your appointment online using our online scheduling tool, call us at (949) 393-8662, or text us.

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