How to Navigate Tough Times, Part 2

Years ago, a friend’s husband had an addiction that he wasn’t interested in kicking. One day my friend said to her husband, “Let’s go for a ride. I want to show you something.”

They got in the car. They drove to an apartment complex. They got out. She opened the door to an apartment.

She asked, “Do you like it?”

He said, “Yes.”

She said, “Great! This is where you will be living until you deal with this. I love you, and I will be waiting for you. But I cannot live with you right now.”

She hugged him, handed him the keys, and left.

He later kicked the addiction. They are back together in the same home.

Love is Not Black and White

It’s my belief that dropping her husband off at that apartment might have been the most loving thing my friend ever did for herself or for him.

If she had not loved herself or him, she would have continued to be a doormat to his abuse and she would have continued to enable his addiction. Because she loved him and herself, she did the one thing that was good for her—and inevitably for him, too.

Many people use a lot of “rights” and “wrongs” and “shoulds” when talking about love and marriage. But the truth is this: what is good for you and your marriage might not be good for mine and vice versa. Remind yourself of this whenever your marriage faces a great deal of stress because all sorts of people are going to be giving you all sorts of advice about the right or wrong thing that you should do.

In the end, you will want to do what’s good for you and your marriage—even if no one outside of your marriage understands it. There is no right and there is no wrong. Tough times don’t come with a one-solution-fits-all instruction manual.

Here is the rest of my advice on this subject.

Know your limits. I’ve told my husband that if he ever is to again break any bone in his body during a cycling accident, I will fly him to Florida so his mother can take care of him. I do not say this out of hatred. I tell him this because I know what I can handle. I love him, but I also love me. If there is no “me,” we will not have a “we.” So by loving myself, I am loving him by default.

Have the courage to be vulnerable. It really is okay to be weak. It really is okay to be fallible. It really is okay to not be able to rise to the occasion. Own your vulnerability. The day you stop hiding it and pretending that it isn’t there is the day that it will stop plaguing you.

Stand up for yourself. Being a doormat is not the same thing as loving someone unconditionally. If your marriage is under stress and your partner is taking that stress out on you, it’s really okay to politely, firmly, and succinctly say, “Please don’t talk to me like that. It hurts.” I’m guessing that your spouse does not intentionally set out to hurt you. Most people who displace their anger do not.

Warm things up. Small gestures of love are important all the time, but they are especially important when your marriage is under stress. Smile when your spouse walks into the room. Hug your spouse for no reason. Compliment your spouse as often as possible. Make your spouse feel like a fantastic, awesome human being.

But give your spouse space. If your spouse is grieving or suffering from a health issue, don’t try to make your spouse happy. Such a project will only frustrate you both. Illness sucks. Loss sucks. Hardship sucks. Give your spouse the space he or she needs to grieve. Yes, be there. Hold a hand. Listen. But don’t set out to make your spouse happy.

Communicate without blame. Those “I statements” are so important during stressful times. Here are a few examples:

I am exhausted. I don’t know if I can get through another day.

This grief is overwhelming. I can’t take it anymore.

I hate being sick. I’m mad at my own body. I never knew being sick could make me so angry.

I’m so frustrated. It doesn’t feel fair that we should have to go through this.

I love you and I want to get through this with you. Please tell me how.

I love you and I want to be there for you. Please tell me how.

I love you and I want to be there for you, but I don’t think I’m strong enough. I wish I were stronger.

This is so hard for me, but it would be less hard if we could face it together. Right now I feel like we are battling each other rather than supporting each other. How can we fix this?

Stop keeping score. If your spouse is going through a hard time and you are not, you might be tempted to do something like this: “Well, he wasn’t there for me when X happened, therefore I see no reason why I should…”

In a word: don’t. When marriage gets turned into a competition, you both lose. You might have to do much more than 50 percent for an extended period of time. That’s marriage. That’s love.

Know that it’s temporary. No hardship lasts forever. Think of it as a hurricane that you are riding out. Eventually the storm will pass.

Use it as an opportunity. Most couples do not grow closer during the good times, but they either grow closer or grow apart during the tough times. Look at hardships as opportunities to grow closer to your spouse.

How have you dealt with hardship? What is your advice for strengthening a relationship during tough times?

25 comments… add one

  • Sabrina July 28, 2010, 1:46 pm

    Some of you know my situation and some dont, but I was facing a hardship, I even filed for divorce. On the day i was scheduled for the divorce, I dismissed it. We are going to work on our marriage and ourselves and give this one more shot. Most people think I am crazy for doing this because of everything he put me through, but it feels right to do this, so I did.

  • Kathy July 28, 2010, 2:03 pm

    Hubby and I have had hardships since before we said our “I Do’s”. Almost 5 years later, we’re going thru yet another one. One I’m not used to – hubby is overly stressed from work and crabby. My hubby doesn’t normally stay crabby once I point it out to him. This has been going on for three months now.

    We’ve talked and it’s been better. But every day he comes home and gives me the scale of stress for the day – this way he doesn’t have to talk about it, but I get an idea of what it was like for him during the day. Yesterday was a 9 1/2 out of 10 being the worse. He followed that up with a bit of information about what made it so bad. He talked, I listened.

    These are NOT our usual rolls in our marriage. I’m usually the talker.

    I don’t know exactly how we’ve gotten thru all the tough times. I guess, just because neither one of us is ready to call it quits. Also, in looking over it – it’s not us that’s messed up – it’s life that’s getting in our way. I hope that makes sense.

    Great blog, Alisa. I just realized a few somethings with the last paragraph I wrote. Thank you!!!

  • Kathy July 28, 2010, 2:07 pm

    Sabrina, Only ever do what is right for you. No one has lived in your shoes to tell you what is right or wrong for you to do. This is why I never take “advice” about my hubby or my marriage – I only hear what the person is saying (or read what they write) and use the bits that work for me and my relationship. Because no one really knows, except the two of us. And hell, we even get it wrong because memories get a bit twisted during a fight or some long ago button gets pushed and one of you isn’t thinking clearly.

    I hope you’re new approach works for you both.

  • Joanne & Ray July 28, 2010, 2:14 pm

    You all know Ray and I have been going through very hard times. I don’t honestly know what the future holds for us. Through counseling we are coming to some hard to face truths and it may be best if we stop trying but we just aren’t there yet. I love when you wrote ” This is so hard for me, but it would be less hard if we can face it together” that hits very close to home.

  • Teresa July 29, 2010, 7:09 am


  • Robin July 29, 2010, 8:05 am

    This email stopped me this morning. I can’t begin to explain how much of a roller coaster these last few months have been and how well and how badly I’ve handled it. I keep looking around and thinking, “Do I really want to do this for another 20-30 years?” and “When do I get hugged, touched or cared about without having to have a melt down first?” It’s insanity. These two thoughts are the ones that I have when I’m handling things badly. And then, I do have a meltdown. But when I hold the perspective of friendship, we draw closer. It’s when I have compassionate thoughts, act tenderly and don’t think that I have all the answers that we do better. This morning, I am not there. The battle raging in my mind is incredible, trying to get back there. But there is a part of me that is so stubborn and just wants to take my toys and quit playing. Maybe in a little while, a few hours, or a day, I can come back and have a more positive response. Everything in your email, Alisa, is exactly what I need to hear. I am counting it a blessing, but grumbling the whole time.

  • Drummer Guy July 29, 2010, 9:08 am

    So many great points in this post. I really latched on to the keeping score. If I did that with my beloved the score card would be really lopsided. It is really difficult with her illness to do things for me. But I so admire that even though her illness can really make her sick she still really tries. I can tell her over & over that she doesn’t have to & have even used the words, “honey it’s not a competition”. But her love for me is such that she wants to do all she can. It is just her way of saying “thank you”. I used to try to stop her from doing anything because I didn’t want to feel selfish. It could be something as simple as making pancakes on a day when I know she doesn’t really feel up to it. I do 95% of the cooking & enjoy doing it. I latter realized how good it makes her feel. I truly have a wonderful wife.

    On the other side of the coin I remember having a neighbor several years ago when I lived in another area. They had some problems in their marriage. On the outside they seemed pretty minor but I didn’t live in their house so we really don’t know. But they had gone through a series of therapist until she finally found one that would take her side. She came up with a laundry list of things that he had to do to “make her happy”. The poor guy would get through 9 of the list of 10, make one little slip & she would make him start over. It could have been something as simple as he didn’t make the lunch for the kids that she wanted him to make (I actually saw that one happen) & he would have to start over at #1. One of the conditions of having sex was for him to do everything on her scorecard. I guess the poor guy was celebate… I am not saying it is a female thing at all. I am sure many husbands have done the same. This just happened to be a her case. I moved away after a while but would love to know what ever happened to them. My guess would be they either found a therapist that didn’t keep score or they are no longer together. It did make me see that keeping score can be very destructive. So sad.


  • Lisa July 29, 2010, 9:24 am

    It is so hard to say I when you really want to scream You, You, You. I am really trying hard to say I. how does one handle the old stuff that doesn’t really matter anymore? My husband seems to bottle it up and save it for a big fight. Most of It I dont even remember and if I do I remember it differently. What do you do when your fight involves an old flame(for Him). he thought he should be with her? and that leaving me for all this old stuff was going to be worth it. I did all the wrong things at first: I begged, cried and remained passive. Then I woke up and let him know that I deserved better and that I wasnt taking it anymore. How ridiculous he was being to leave his wife and kids to support someone else’s.(see there’s the You) I cant help it. I did the opposite of what people were advising me to do, although I only told a couple of people, so no one would judge him. I go to bed with him every night and have sex with him every night, I get up with him in the morning to make his lunch, I let him know he is important to us. I changed the You and I to WE. things are so much better now! I take care of my self and everything around me better. I had to look hard at me to make a change.It is amazing how much you take for granted. Sorry this is so long!

  • Drummer Guy July 29, 2010, 10:15 am

    Lisa so sorry to hear of the obvious pain you have been put through. I think the dragging up old issues is a common thing. Probably because in any fight we want to blame the other for “our bad behavior”. Or we justify bad behavior by pointing out the bad behavior of others. Must be a human trait or something. In other words “yea I did that but you did this”. Forget the fact that it happened years ago & has NO baring on the current issue. It’s funny how we as grown adults can revert to childish behavior. We probably all do it. Maybe it is that need we all have to be right rather than take action to really change something.

    I can’t imagine the pain you must have felt. Your husband probably got caught up in the whole “fantasy” that an affair (emotional or physical) can be. Yea it all seems so wonderful but has no basis in reality. Sure it looks great from the outside because you don’t have to live with that person. You don’t see the bad & see only the good in a person because you don’t have to do the daily grind I E children, financial responsibilities, that is part of “real life”. As soon as somebody does move in with the flame the daily “reality” that life is hits & the fantasy is over. It is ashamed so many don’t see that until they have broken up a family. Glad to hear that he saw the truth & did something about it. I know forgiveness can be difficult. I imagine it is doubly difficult in your situation. I really admire you for taking strides in that area. Marriage really is a WE proposition.

    In my first marriage I used to think if I just did this, or that. If I changed A or B about myself then she would love me again. I had a therapist though that really made me see that all I can do is just be the best me I can be. Me doing a list of things does nothing to “change her mind”. She told me the most wonderful analogy. Trying to do something to change the behavior of another is like taking a pill for somebody else’s illness. If my ex wife had an infection how would my taking an antibiodic make them well? Pretty simple but that had so much truth. Anyway my best to you & your hubby. My thoughts & prayers are with you both.

  • Lisa July 29, 2010, 12:19 pm

    Thank you Drummer guy (Ron),
    It has been hard for us these last few months. For me forgiveness is easier because it wasnt physical. I know emotional is sometimes harder for him to get over, but she is also married and her husband made some threats and possibly some actions to his car(cant really prove it) Your analogy is great. It is so true. That is why I changed me for the better and he was able to see it. we have been together 22 years and it sometimes just becomes comfortable. I dont feel comfortable anymore. I miss that. I think we are stronger together now. I am understanding how he got sucked into her web. he just wanted to feel important and special like he was the only one in someones life. well that is not possible when kids are involved. So I told him would he have still felt the same way if when ever they met she brought her kids along or his kids along? Of course not. I dont picture living my life without him ever!! we have been through it all. Sorry if I ramble. I just need to get this off my chest. LOL! I do go to counseling which helps. It is funny I thought I could get her to be on my side, I was wrong. She is really unbiased and explains to me why my husband felt the way he did especially with the other woman.

  • Drummer Guy July 29, 2010, 1:39 pm

    Lisa not to worry. I am the king of ramble…lol :-)
    Sounds like you two are on the right track. Sounds like you have a good therapist as well. I had one similar years ago. I learned things about myself I didn’t even know. Same is true with one recently. I went through a couple before seeing this one. They specialize in helping caregivers & in grief counseling. The first one I went to actually told me I should leave my sick wife because being a care giver can make you miserable & after all I had the “right to be happy”. SHEESH!!! This person was supposed to be a marriage counseler? I think she should change her title to a divorce Sad fact is it is a common theme today. Okay now I’m rambling……LOL
    Best of luck.
    Ron :-)

  • Sarah G. July 29, 2010, 10:19 pm

    My husband and I had a hard time of it our first six months of marriage, but what really changed things around was some tough love, as that wife did with her husband.

    We were dealing with trust issues because of disappointment in each other after marriage, as well as some things that were said. My husband was obsessed with the thought that I was going to cheat on him emotionally and that I was always comparing him to other guys. He would check my phone, my email and my facebook messages for signs that I was. I sometimes correspond with a few guys I consider my brothers, good friends, and he found enough to justify his point of view. I had a hard lesson in man-jealousy, let me tell you! I learned so much about privacy between us though, keeping our relationship sacred, and how to change my relationships with other guys (even one’s I consider my brother’s) in a way that my husband felt respected.

    Before I had learned all of this though, I finally locked my phone and changed the passwords to all of my accounts. It shocked him that I did that, and hurt him. It was the healthiest thing I could have done though, and it woke him up to his issue, because he wanted trust to be between us.

    As we’ve been seeing a counselor and opening up about everything, I have been letting him have access to some of my personal accounts and phone, just to let him know that trust is building again. It has been a beautiful thing, though very difficult to go through during the time. Alisa is right, you can either grow closer or further apart, but it sure does take two to do so.

  • Faith July 30, 2010, 5:32 am

    Robins comments sound exactly like what I have been living through the past 3 years. I realize that we have to control our own thoughts but sometimes it feels like the negative thoughts get drilled down into my head and I can think of nothing else. My husband & I have been together for 18 years. He had an emotional affair 3 years ago and I was totally blindsided by it. He claims that it never became physical but I don’t believe him and I am afraid that I never will. The trust have been destroyed in my marriage and has put a great deal of stress on both of us. Somedays I am glad that we are still working on our marriage and other days I start to mentally divide our assets. I feel like a fool for staying with a man who is capable of hurting me like this. The stress of all of this has been monumental but I do not want to have any regrets for not trying. I find comfort in praying and reading this blog. It definately helps to know that you are not alone.

  • Lisa July 30, 2010, 9:41 am

    Faith you are definitely not alone. I feel your pain, I too was blindsided by my husbands emotional affair. I am trying hard to trust him. I have questions for him, some I want the answers to some not.He too said it wasnt physical and I do believe him. I have read alot on the internet and alot in books. You really need to change you. Only you can make you happy. I took a stand and made a change to me. I feel better now, and he can see the difference. It really made a difference in our lives. I hope 3 yrs from now this will be a distant memory because he is making the real effort to love me. This is happened to me this year in Feb. so it is still a sore subject. One of the reasons for emotional affairs is the fairytale of it all. Men apparently want to feel like you worship the ground they walk on. One of my books says put your man first above all else. It feels weird at first to devote yourself to him especially if you have children. I now ask what can I do for you and I just tend to him as if he were one of my kids. He appreciates it. I tell Him often that I appreciate, love and want him. I want him to feel like if he left he would be missing out. we have been together for 22 years.

  • Robin July 30, 2010, 9:44 am

    Faith, Your circumstances sound much like mine. These last few days have been asset dividing ones in my mind. But I am aware that letting him go and accepting him with all his faults, as I would any friend, is what will stop the vicious downward spin I am in. These old thoughts and wariness keep sliding through my mind.

    I believe the part of this post about being vulnerable is the toughest part for me to accomplish. Hopefully, today I will be a better me than I was yesterday.

  • Robin July 30, 2010, 9:58 am

    Funny that you say that Lisa. I’ve been trying to be trusting, at least in God, if I can’t fully trust my husband. And I’ve made changes but going back to work and school after 20 years of staying at home, while it’s made me feel better, has not helped my situation. My biggest fault, and the one that creates so much distance is my anger/yelling. I just can’t seem to change that the instant response to most emotions that I have, is that I cover it all up in a big blanket of anger and yelling. I do not do it as often, especially with the kids. But I still do it and my husband seems to keep track of it. I think it may be hopeless to change this and it’s the one thing that he points to.

  • Lisa July 30, 2010, 10:17 am

    Faith, I firmly believe that you have the power to change your feelings. even when I was going thru all of this stuff I looked back in my mind to the past and remembered why I love this guy. I remember our first kiss, it warms my heart. I look around my yard at the flowers we have planted thru the years and they are all in bloom again it warms my heart, I look at my kids and know that he gave them to me. Instead of feeling sad which believe me I did feel I just want to be greatful for what I have right now. you have to make a choice. Either forgive or move on. You sh

  • Lisa July 30, 2010, 10:18 am

    sorry about that. You should look back and remember ask yourself what is more important to be right or to be happy?

  • anne July 31, 2010, 8:31 pm

    same story here…23 years and high school reunion with old girlfriend…both married, both staying married…but with cell phones and the internet…too easy to re-connect and have an emotional affair…still communicate some (I’m guessing, since he hasn’t told me otherwise)

    having said that, I looked at it as an opportunity to restructure our marriage, once we decided we were both wanting to continue it…counseling…learning what happened to create an atmosphere where someone else could step in…and yes, some days (minutes!)
    are easier than others…sometimes I “divide the assets in my mind” too(as I’m sure he has also)

    and there are moments when I remember why I married him in the first place and there are moments when I could kill him in his sleep…

    his solution is to say it’s all over; they’re just friends and I need to forget about it…
    time does heal wounds…and love goes on…just a different kind of love…older, wiser, more cynical?

    I know I can’t change him or make him do (or not do) anything…
    I can change myself
    and not push the hot buttons…
    and hope he sees what real love is…honoring vows and commitments and loving in good times and bad…
    not just daydreaming about times gone by when life was young and there were no responsibilities…those people don’t really exist anymore…

  • Drummer Guy August 1, 2010, 8:08 am

    Anne I really found your comments interesting. Much wisdom there. It also caused me to go back & read some of the many comments on the same situation just different people. I wonder if this is a newer thing happening today. I only say that because until a few years ago I had never even heard the term “Emotional Affair”. But I can see how easily one could get caught up in it. I read a book a few years back that I wish I could remember the name of & the author. The book for the most part was all about the fantasy that affairs (either emotional or physical) usually are. I commented on it in a couple of post.

    The book may have been called “the Pitfalls of Affairs” or the “Fantasy of Affairs”. It had many studies in it & stats that back them up. It stated that most but not all of them happen during mid life for both men & women. It also stated that most people caught up in emotional affairs don’t even see it as an affair because sex was never involved. But on the other hand it also said that most who see just how fantasy based they are stop the behavior. One of the sats was that marriages that started out as an affair have a 90%+ rate of falier. I wonder if anybody has read the book & knows the author could post it here to help others?

    I would imagine as with most things in marriage that if the offender is told all of this from their spouse they will reject it outright. But perhaps if they read it in a book or even offered the same thoughts on the subject from somebody else they may actually listen & contemplate the issue. It is an odd thing that this seems to be true but I have seen it from my beloved many times as well as in my first marriage. It is kind of humorous. Not about an affair (NOTHING humorous about that) but about us giving advice & how it is received from us by our spouses.

    I don’t know how many times I have told my beloved something that she brushes off or see’s it otherwise. But let a friend or relative offer the same advice & she says “yea that makes sense”. That used to dumbfound me but I have learned to look at it with humor. After all is seem to just be a human trait. But perhaps those who are in the midst of this & the pain an emotional affair can cause would benefit from the book. I am sure there probably are other books that address this same issue the same way. But it would seem to be helpful to both the spouse who has had this done to them & the spouse who would be the offender. Maybe if somebody knows it they could post it.

    Best of luck to everybody
    Ron :-)

  • anne August 1, 2010, 3:38 pm

    I remembering saying to him, “if you had to write a real letter and mail it to her house for her to open in the presence of her entire family…would you write the same thing?”

    cell phones and the internet have made it so easy to do things that would not have happened in the past – so there are now “emotional affairs” from hundreds of miles apart

    and it is easy to sit and type things that you wouldn’t say if you had to follow through…if you had to live together day in and day out…real life!

    it’s easy to be cheerful and encouraging and sexy…all while taking care of your own family and responsiblities…I guess….haven’t done that and never will…too busy taking care of my own life to want to take on another husband : )

  • Drummer Guy August 2, 2010, 7:22 am

    Thanks Anne. That would make sense. The internet has made a lot of things possible that wouldn’t have been so many years ago. I am with you also. I love my wife more than anything but I sure don’t have time for nor desire 2 wives…lol I have seen a couple of shows on the subject of poligamy & thought “why would you want more than one wife, physically or emotionally? That would just be too much work….lol :-)


  • Lisa August 2, 2010, 9:08 am

    Anne I too asked my husband if he would have felt the same if he or even she brought their children along to meet. Of course it would be different. Yes the internet has made things easier, but that is not the case with my husband. I just wish right now I could go back and feel the comfort level I had before. Yesterday we had company, his friend and his new girlfriend. She did not leave his side for a minute. I personally see that as insecurity. My husband and I had been so comfortable before that he could go and do what he wanted and vice versa. Now he wants to be near me 24/7. Maybe it is his insecurity. I dont know. Maybe I was wrong maybe the freedom made him feel alone. and unhappy. Maybe he wants to be by my side. I just dont really get it. Ron maybe you have an answer for this one?

  • Drummer Guy August 2, 2010, 11:55 am

    Lisa not sure I would have an answer for that one. Personally I like a little space & some me time once in a while. I guess I am also a bit of a loner in some ways. Now that my beloved is so sick I rarely get any of that, so on the rare ocassion I do, I enjoy it. It may go back to my first marriage. My ex was an Air Force Officer so she was gone a lot, so I got used to it. But that is just me & I would think different people are different in that area. have a GREAT day.

    Ron :-)

  • Bern August 2, 2010, 8:15 pm

    Annes story is one that is all too common, but I think she has the right attitude; you can’t change the other person, you can only work on yourself. If they want to come along they will, and if they think the options out there are better then they won’t. Drummer Guy succinctly spells out the realities of affairs (emotional and physical) – the odds are heavily stacked against them working out long term, and look at the damage done to a spouse, children, extended family, etc.


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