How Trials Can Strengthen Your Marriage

Couple in the doorway of a lighted house at night

Greg and I (Erin) experienced many changes that happened quickly in the first months of our marriage. Greg had been attending Denver Seminary, so I joined him there, and we moved into our first apartment on campus. I worked at a new job in a high-stress environment, and Greg attended school full time. I had a new address, name, city, climate, friends and church denomination. Plus, I was away from my family and officially sharing a bathroom with someone for the first time! It was a recipe for stress and possible conflict, especially because we hadn't participated in premarital counseling. So we were given the opportunity to seek counseling after the wedding. It was helpful to us amid all the changes. And we can say confidently that 23 years later, those "rough waters" were instrumental in building the marriage relationship we have today. God promises to use our trials for good in our lives, and if we allow them to, they will strengthen our marriage, as well.

Let's look at what you can do as a couple to manage the stresses and challenges you encounter.

View your marriage as a journey. We love to use the analogy of the explorers Lewis and Clark to describe marriage. They went on a great expedition down the Missouri River with a group called the Corps of Discovery. The reason we think this is a perfect description of marriage is that married couples are on a great adventure, as well. Lewis and Clark never knew what was around the next bend of the river. Sometimes the river was easy — calm and peaceful. Other times, the river was difficult — filled with unexpected raging rapids, plunging waterfalls and hostile situations. Although they didn't know what was awaiting them, they were together. This is what marriage is like. The point is that you're in the amazing adventure called marriage together. Whatever happens, you can face it as a team.

The Oxford Dictionary defines unity as "the state of being united or joined as a whole." This couldn't be a better definition as it applies to marriage, because when we're married, we become a "whole" or a unit — " 'The two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh" (Mark 10:8). Therefore, when we approach changes, conflict and stressors as individuals, more difficulties arise because we're fighting what is true — that we are one, or a whole. When we are unified, we can tackle any storm that comes our way! So, we encourage you to apply this wisdom in your relationship.

Treasure-hunt when trials come. Much like Chris and Rachel, you cannot predict what will come your way during your marriage, but God can use those very struggles to strengthen your marriage. Persevering through fear, anxiety, conflict and misunderstandings can lead to unexpected blessings and gifts.

We can't predict what is around the bend for each of you, but you are guaranteed to experience enormous change after saying, "I do." This is a normal part of adventuring into the unknown — much like traveling to a foreign country. Many of the stressors will be internal or within your relationship, and other stressors will be external or outside the relationship. But teammates work together for the good of the whole as they journey together. By developing a healthy pattern of coping in your marriage, you'll be much more likely to deal with issues together. It seems so simple, and yet it will have a profound impact on your relationship. So no matter what trials come your way, always remember that you're on the same team!

Has your marriage hit a roadblock?

Detours don't necessarily have to lead couples off course. With practical advice and stories from their own relationship and counseling experiences, the Smalleys explore 12 biblically based strategies to help you work around roadblocks. Couples who want a happy marriage will appreciate the secrets in Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage. Get a free chapter

Erin Smalley serves in the Marriage and Family Formation department at Focus on the Family. Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Family Ministries at Focus on the Family. 

Adapted from Ready to Wed, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. © 2015 Focus on the Family

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