Life is hard and sometimes we experience circumstances that challenge us, scare us or rock us to the core. These circumstances often result in seasons, periods of life, that are difficult to navigate for one or both spouses in a marriage.
While we do we experience these struggles together, sometimes these circumstances directly affect one spouse more than another. A job loss, depression, the death of a loved one, the divorce of parents, or caring for aging parents are just a few examples of things we sometimes face. These losses and changes bring about the grieving process, which isn’t simple or quick. It comes and goes and some days are harder than others.
As the spouse of the person going through something difficult, it can be hard to discern how you can be helpful. Here are five ideas:
1. Listen: Even if you think you have a solution to offer, just listen to your spouse when he/she wants to share. We often feel frustrated when someone doesn’t let us talk because we don’t feel heard. Give your spouse the gift of active listening. Later, you can always go back and ask if he/she would like to hear your input on how to navigate the situation.
2. Accept and Validate Their Feelings: Even if you don’t understand or completely agree with your spouse’s feelings, try to validate them. Try to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their perspective. How would you feel in the same scenario? How would you want to be treated? Use positive words and affirm him/her.
3. Anticipate Needs and Ask What They Need: Think about how you can go out of your way to make life easier for your spouse. Take the initiative to be helpful: cook or pick up dinner; transport the children to and from school or activities; plan a date night so you can spend time together.
In addition to anticipating and meeting practical needs, ask your spouse what he/she needs from you and try to meet those needs as best you can.
4. Give Them Space and Grace: One of the things your spouse might need is some space, some alone time to breathe. Don’t take it personally and give your spouse the gift of space to think and process their emotions.
The hurting spouse also needs a lot of grace. Be extra patient and give lots of extra love as they are grieving or feeling hurt, frustrated or sad.
5. Assure Them You’re There to Walk Through the Situation With Them: Knowing that you are there to support, love and encourage your spouse may make this difficult season easier on them. Living out the “for worse” part of our vows isn’t easy, but reminds us that we promised to stick with our spouse through all of it. Pray together and have hope that better days are to come.
As the caregiver of your hurting spouse, make sure that you also take time to process your feelings and needs. Remember that the difficult season will pass and that God can bring beautiful things out of any situation.