Helping Your Spouse When They’re Overwhelmed

couple arguing on park bench_ overwhelmed spouse
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Your spouse is the one person with whom you can be truly honest and still feel seen and cared for. What do you do when your spouse is overwhelmed?

Watching the news about George Floyd’s death and keeping up with the violence and racial tensions that followed in the summer of 2020 left me feeling angry and hurt. I couldn’t stop scrolling through my news feed but the more I saw, the more overwhelmed I became. My husband tried to comfort me, but at first, we couldn’t see eye to eye. I felt helpless and exposed. We were stuck.

A big part of marriage is feeling safe to express yourself. Your spouse is the one person with whom you can be truly honest and still feel seen and cared for. When you feel overwhelmed, your spouse is the person who should be able to comfort you and help you find your way. This support is all the more necessary given the turmoil America is facing today. The issues bring out strong emotions in almost everyone. Many are overwhelmed by feelings of fear, anger, guilt, anxiety and despair.

What do you do when your spouse is overwhelmed and struggling? How can you engage them in ways that are meaningful and encouraging?

It took a few days and some prayer but eventually we came to an agreement. In moments like this, it’s more useful for us to turn together to God’s word for encouragement and guidance than to debate our personal solutions to society’s problems.

In a devotional video, Brittany Turner quotes Romans 12:12 as the appropriate response to being overwhelmed. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”  The apostle Paul reminds us that we can rejoice in the hope that God walks with us through all our experiences. He is with us. We can be patient and know that eventually He will make all things right. We can pray, not just prayers for change, but prayers of lament where we pour out our tears to God and know that He catches every one as precious.

There’s a great story in the Bible of a person who applied the principles found in this verse in a practical way and was able to encourage and uplift an entire nation. His example shows what the power of God can do when invited into our moments of overwhelm. 

Rejoice in hope

Exodus 14 tells the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt. As they approach the Red Sea, they see the Egyptian armies bearing down on them, determined to bring them back to captivity. With mountains on one side, a sea on the other and an army behind them, this was an overwhelming situation. In fear and anger, they turn on Moses, “Have you taken us away to die in the wilderness?”

Moses’ response shows us where his hope lies. He points the people to God. “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. … The Lord will fight for you.” (Exodus 14:13-14).

Moses is completely confident that God, who miraculously brought the Israelites out of slavery, is completely capable and willing to rescue them from this seemingly impossible situation. He encourages the people to trust in God.

This is something that we can all do for our spouse when they’re down or devastated. We can look for passages of Scripture that speak into our specific situation. There are plenty of examples in the Bible of people who were overwhelmed and yet comforted, from Elijah to David to Jesus. Seeing how God has worked in the past gives us confidence for His faithfulness in the future.

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Be patient

There’s a reason that God allows us to encounter difficult situations. He could have set up a highway from Egypt to Canaan and had the Israelites ride luxury camels all the way. That would probably have saved Moses some gray hair. However, God put them in a difficult situation, and they had to sit in it for a while. Moses and the Israelites had to endure the discomfort of not knowing what was going to happen and waiting for God to come through.

James 1:4 (KJV) says that we should let patience have her perfect work. What is this perfect work? God is saying that there is something about confronting difficulties that perfects our character — that helps us become more godly. This makes sense because God is always waiting for us. His love is patient.

When our spouse hurts, we hurt. And sometimes we would like them to just snap out of it so we all feel better.

But be patient. God is working on your spouse. God is working on you too. Let patience have her perfect work.

Pray constantly

Finally, God speaks to Moses. He asks a question. “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward” (verse 15). This question implies that Moses, instead of lamenting to the Israelites in this situation, turned to God. He could not solve their problem, but he could intercede on their behalf. And God gives a clear and straightforward answer: Go forward.

Sometimes we struggle to find answers for ourselves and for our spouse when the best solution is to bring our problem to the feet of Jesus. Moses could not have imagined a response greater than what God had in store. Because he prayed and trusted, God parted an entire sea.

When the troubles of life surround our family, and we don’t have the answers, we can cry out to the God who parts the seas. We can encourage each other with God’s Word and be ready to step out in faith when He tells us to. Knowing that if we trust in Him, regardless of the mountains and seas and armies of overwhelming circumstances, we will see the salvation of the Lord.

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