Navigating Marital Strife in a Relationship Winter

Couple on snowy mountain peak looking out
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Over the years, my husband and I have learned to navigate times of marital strife. I call tough seasons like those “relationship winters.”

Several years ago, my husband, Jared, and I went through a tough season in our marriage. I call these rough patches “relationship winters” because they remind me of a bitter frost of marital strife — cold words, harsh tones and arctic attitudes.

This storm rose after our first child was born. In the wake of postpartum recovery and sleepless nights, we struggled to connect. We’d talk but not understand each other’s needs. We faced competing circumstances — Jared advanced in his career while I attempted to return to mine with a new baby in tow. We’d argue and make up without finding resolution. I’d sit in a room with my husband and feel alone while he felt confused and misunderstood.

I don’t pretend to know the difficulties you’ve experienced. However, I do come with hope because I’ve weathered wintry seasons and know that God is faithful during troubling times.

We fall to pieces in God’s presence

Jared and I are husband and wife. But, above all else, we are beloved children of God. That means that God, as a good Father, has a personal interest in our lives, our well-being, our spiritual development and our marriage.

In times of frustration or confusion, Jared and I have learned to avoid unleashing on each other. Instead, we’ve embraced the freedom to step away and express our raw emotions to the Lord. He can handle our pain and wants to be with us. We can trust Him with difficult moments and receive His comfort and direction. He becomes our safe space as we ask for healing and redemption and then present ourselves and our marriage to Him.

We engage without erupting

I process conflict internally, so I rarely give immediate feedback unless I’m angry and defensive. Jared bottles up feelings inside and doesn’t process them until his frustration reaches a boiling point. So to handle matters wisely, we rely on God’s presence and ask Him to help us communicate without exploding emotionally on each other.

Our most constructive communication begins when we’re vulnerable enough to own our shortcomings and then work to understand and meet each other’s needs. We’ll use techniques like:

  • Choosing “I feel” instead of “You always (or never)” statements.
  • Repeating what we heard instead of assuming we already understand.
  • Repenting when our emotions take over.
  • Acknowledging the validity of the other person’s perspective.
  • Apologizing throughout the conversation, not just at the end.
  • Humbly admitting lack of understanding: “When you say X, I don’t know what that means.”

We confirm our commitment

The hardship of seasons and marital strife don’t outweigh our love for each other. We now choose to view and address a difficult situation for what it is: an external event that — although it hurts — is a storm we can weather together. While we may wound each other by making poor decisions, we realize that even in our mistakes, we’re a team. We’re fighting for, not against, each other.

When I confirm my commitment to Jared, I change the atmosphere in our home and my attitude toward him. Imagine the difference this could make in your marriage. You’re in the middle of a heated discussion with your spouse. But rather than raise your voice, you stop and remind him that you are committed to your relationship. You want God’s blessings in his life and you want to be a blessing to him. And then, you relate those desires to the discussion at hand. Such actions can make a significant difference in how he sees the issue.

We work hard and play hard

Jared and I refuse to give up. When one method of conflict resolution doesn’t work, we try something else. We find a different way to explain ourselves, try a fresh approach, test a different routine. We keep at it, work to listen with humility and believe the best in each other.

In prolonged seasons of marital strife, we’ve learned that we can’t make every conversation or interaction about the problem. Work by itself doesn’t build intimacy, so we’ve also discovered the importance of playing together. When we’re frustrated or dissatisfied, looking for an escape or avoiding the other can be easier. But this only increases the disconnect. Instead, we intentionally pause those difficult conversations and choose to enjoy time together.

We learn from Jesus

I often focus too much on my circumstances. I convince myself that winning the argument, solving the problem or fixing the situation will free my marriage from the icy winds. Such achievements may relieve marital strife for the moment, but the next difficulty is just around the corner.

Prioritizing time in Jesus’ presence means I have to change my focus. My priority shifts from making sure I’m heard to hearing what God wants to say. I want to adjust to His perspective. Usually that has little to do with winning the argument. It’s more about developing my character.

That’s the beauty of learning from Jesus. We receive wisdom that we cannot gain on our own. Peace beyond understanding. Loving-kindness that outlasts human ability. Everything changes when we invite Jesus into our circumstances and trust Him to lead. I don’t need to escape the wintry winds; I need to come to Jesus. Everywhere He goes, Jesus carries spring with Him.

Note: Abuse is not a passing season that gets better over time. God can redeem your marriage, but you don’t have to face the abuse alone. If you are being abused, get help right away. Contact Focus on the Family Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain time) at: 855-771-HELP (4357) or [email protected].

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