We live in an age of flux. Transitions — such as job changes, moves or new stages of parenting — bring their share of challenges to any marriage. These changes can be fertile ground for stress and conflict, but they don't have to be. With the right strategy, you can keep your marriage strong through times of transition.
First, anticipate changes before they happen. Look ahead so that transitions don't come as a surprise. For example, if your parents are aging and their health is beginning to wane, you might need to start thinking about what needs your parents could have and how you might meet those needs. Or, if your children are reaching college age, think about the financial and emotional preparations that are needed to make this transition smoother. As you look to the future, you and your spouse can begin talking about the coming challenges and how to prepare for them. This will help prevent added stress on your marriage when the changes do happen.
Second, maintain a financial cushion. Even if you don't foresee any transitions in the near future, it's always worth being prepared financially. Experts advise having two to six months of living expenses saved just in case. The extra margin in your finances will help alleviate some of the tension that transitions often bring to a marriage.
Third, when a major event does occur, take steps to proactively handle the emotions and stress. As you do, you'll find that you're better able to support your spouse and avoid unhealthy conflict. Here are some positive steps you can take:
- Acknowledge your feelings. You will have some emotions associated with the transition. You may feel angry, sad, hurt, scared, excited, happy or all of the above. Some changes, such as the loss of a job, can even tap into deeper feelings of failure, inadequacy or loss of control. Rather than deny or ignore your emotions, allow yourself to experience them and deal with them appropriately.
- Take care of yourself. The healthier you are, the more capable you will be of handling the emotional, mental and physical challenges associated with change. Exercise, eat right and get proper amounts of rest.
- Hold on to the constants in your life. During transitions, it can seem as if your whole world is changing. Remind yourself about what remains constant. For example, God is still with you. Write down other parts of your life that will remain consistent.
- Communicate. Discuss your feelings and thoughts with your spouse. By giving each other a chance to share honestly, you create a safe environment for dealing with the changes. Remember, you are on the same team, so work together.
- Brainstorm the positives. Take time as a couple to discuss what is exciting about the transition. Talk about any new opportunities the change will bring. For example, if you are facing a move to another city, research all the fun recreational activities there.
Transitions can be scary and difficult, or they can be exciting and adventure-filled. What makes the difference? Being prepared. By doing so, you and your spouse won't just survive life's transitions; you will thrive together in them. And you may just find that these seasons ultimately bring you closer together.
Based on research and experience from Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley, Focus on the Family has created valid and reliable questions that evaluate the strength of your marriage. Take our free assessment now.