Relationship Connection: Staying close through challenges

Photo by Nikhil Desai

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, UT. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Question:

My husband and I have been married for almost two years.  Within the past year and  a half I have been very sick with a painful and sometimes debilitating disease.  After almost two years of searching, I just got a diagnosis; however, by now the illness has done damage to our relationship.  We both feel we are very close and open with one another, but to counteract the medical expenses, my husband has to work two jobs – over 70 hours a week.  As you can imagine, the fun and romantic spontaneity was eliminated due to bills and medical problems.  Now that I’ll be treated for the disease, we are having trouble getting back to our newlywed selves.  How can we get back to that happy state after so long?

Answer:

This is certainly a rough start for your two-year marriage!  I’m glad you’re asking for some direction before unhealthy patterns developed in this “survival mode” period become the norm for your marriage.

Even though the honeymoon phase was abruptly canceled by a terrible illness, there is still tremendous hope and potential for you and your husband to continue building a strong and connected marriage.  Perhaps a little perspective on what you’ve been through as a couple might encourage the two of you.

The newlywed state certainly seems like an elusive moment that seems to slip away at the first sign of struggle.  Thankfully, the magic doesn’t have to disappear just because you’ve been through the emotional upheaval caused by serious medical problems.  In fact, there isn’t anything really mysterious or magical about why early marriage seems so wonderful.

The reason newlyweds seem to be so much in love is because they place high value on each other and on the relationship.  Newlyweds have a laser-like focus on building and securing the couple connection.  It seems that everything else takes a back seat to their desire to be connected physically and emotionally.

Couples that continue to have this type of fierce commitment to one another find that the joy of early marriage not only stays with them, but also improves as they mature and experience life’s challenges.

The depth of commitment and connection you both feel after going through this together may not seem very romantic or dazzling; however, it’s the stuff healthy long-term marriages are made of.  I love the book “The Good Marriage” by Judith Wallterstein and Sandra Blakeslee.  The authors interview 25 couples that have been through every possible marital crisis and show what’s possible when couples keep working to strengthen their bond.

If you’re expecting to feel as innocent and naîve as you did in the early months of newlywed bliss, you might be disappointed.  Instead, I would encourage you to look back at how you were able to be there for each other, support each other, and face the challenges of your situation together.  Again, it doesn’t seem like it would make a fabulous screenplay for a date movie, but it’s the real deal when it comes to long-lasting love.

Even though you both value your relationship (after all, you are still together after this difficult start!), it may seem impossible to find the time to rebuild your connection.  Busy couples benefit from building in rituals of connection that they can count on no matter what life throws them (check out Bill Doherty’s “Take Back Your Marriage” for his take on building rituals).

Again, the goal is to make time for each other and show the other that you’ll be there for them, no matter what.  That secure base will allow you to add fun and spontaneity.  Of course, if you keep getting stuck, find a good marriage counselor who can help the two of you heal your marriage.

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