The conditions for the journey weren’t looking good as the air between them was cooling to an icy chill. Instability and uncertainty reflected long miles of bad road relationally. It’s true that emotional fender-benders and marital dints and scrapes are common to most marriages. These are usually salvageable. But what if your marriage gets sideswiped, you lose control, and the worst thing imaginable happens? Your life is sent careening end-over-end to a sudden and tragic marital crash? You lay there, upside down and in shock, looking up from the ditch.
The pain is excruciating regardless of the nature of the impact. Whether it’s hearts ripped wide open because of an affair, the very deep, gaping cuts over repeated angry outbursts, or a head on collision with emotional abandonment, dreams are shattered of how things were supposed to be. Everybody hurts and nobody wins.
Panic sets in. Disbelief follows. Disillusionment is mounting. Trust has been broken. Anger grows. Hope seems lost. A difficult marital crash causes the worlds of many couples to spin out of control with enough centrifugal force to blow their relationships apart permanently.
That’s where people like me come in. I call it marital triage – a type of life-saving crisis counseling for couples that place the 911 calls for help in facing relational emergencies. The calls come every week. Their marital stress has come to a point of interpersonal collision much like the precise moment when two vehicles tragically collide on a freeway. The people carnage can be unbelievably traumatic.
And another marriage hits the ditch. Someone please call the ambulance.
As with any serious MVA where police and paramedics rush to the scene to bring the right first aid and life-giving support, a couple’s first steps after a relational mishap need to be right ones, wisely calculated to save the marriage. My goal is to give you the tried and true advice for those times when a marriage hits the ditch – whether yours or a friend’s.
How to Make the Most of Your Last Ditch Effort
Stop the Bleeding
Your first steps need to be your best ones. By suspending initial reactions, you won’t accidentally make things worse between you. Enough damage has been done. It is not the time to lash out and strike back in a wild attempt to inflict pain and get even. Facing the truth will come later. Also, limit the number of people who know what you are facing as a couple. The tendency is for the wounded spouse to tell the world of the hurt they are carrying. Bad news spreads like a cancer. Don’t cause more harm by careless reactions that give you both a deeper hole to climb out of.
Assess the Damage
It is important to face the real issues that exist in your marriage. Get your head out of the sand. Take a moment to look in the mirror. Denial of problems or downplaying concerns only prevents the right recovery steps from being taken. If it is a problem for one of you, it is a problem for both of you. The crisis is to be targeted and not each other. Take responsibility for your part. What are the problems that need to be addressed? Face them…together.
Call for Help Immediately
Seek credible marital support right away. Don’t bleed to death emotionally by delaying getting the help you need. Don’t try to carry your suffering alone. Ask for referrals of people you trust. Find the right person to anchor your recovery. Carefully work with them to resolve the issues. Beyond the likely need for professional counseling, surround yourself with good trusted confidantes who have strong marriages themselves and will be advocates for yours. Agree with your spouse on a small circle of trusted friends who will help you out of the ditch.
Rehab is Not Accidental
Know the truth about what it takes for recovery and act in keeping with what is right. There has to be a change in direction, an honest look at meeting of legitimate needs, and a serious effort to take responsibility for what you can. Recovery is always intentional and is based on commitment, not on how you feel. You have to work through the pain no matter what the problem was that put you in the ditch. Gain new awareness that leads to new patterns with the goal of preventing further accidents as you seek to rekindle the love between you.
Remember that Time Heals
Whether your marriage seemed to unravel slowly or through a sudden moment of careless and selfish stupidity, rebuilding will take time – more time than you think. Never doubt whether it will be worth the effort. It always is but you will have to be patient with your self and your spouse. Restoring of trust and credibility is a process. Extending and experiencing forgiveness is a series of many steps. Submitting to accountability and outside coaching isn’t easy. Respect that time heals but that recovery is a journey…a long journey but a good one.
Trust a Great Physician
Marital collisions require significant strength and insight to bring recovery. There is no doubt that God can and will bring the perspective and the courage you need as a couple to sustain you. All you need to do is ask Him. When the way is rough, your hope is thin and the worst seems inevitable, He will help you in doing marriage and family right. I have yet to see a marriage that has hit the ditch go to the wreckers when both hearts in the marriage are soft towards God. Braid Him into your recovery. You’ll never regret putting your marriage and family first.
© Dr. Dave Currie – February 2011