Stronger at the Broken Places

How challenges can strengthen your relationship

How Great Couples Get Through Great Difficulties

Crises are inevitable. Your response is not.

Under the influence of the "happily ever after" myth, we may have the illusion that marriage should be all spring and summer, all fun and games. But being “crazy about each other” doesn’t guarantee long term bliss or a conflict-free relationship. It can be a shock to discover that levels of trust and good will go up and down. There will be some very difficult times in every relationship. We may be averse to going through such periods of uncertainty, fear, disappointment, or even betrayal, and so when the nearly-inevitable occurs, we may feel furious or stunned, or doubtful about our partnership surviving the desolate period.

At some point, each of us will face a test of faith. Relationships that grow from, rather than succumb to these ordeals are not distinguished by the depth of the challenges, but by the willingness of both partners to face them honestly and directly. This willingness promotes the strength that provides the heat that warms us during the cold season. Just as spring follows winter, we can navigate through the difficult period, and see our relationship born anew.

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How One Couple Made It Through

Brandon and Suzanne (their names are changed here) were married with two children. They loved each other but there was a serious problem—Brandon had a gambling addiction. Over time, Suzanne became increasingly distraught and overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness. Her love became contaminated by resentment, as nothing she tried influenced Brandon to take action and change. His lies were as damaging to their marriage as his financial losses. Finally, Suzanne could barely stand to look at him anymore. They both knew that the marriage was over. They separated, and began plans for a divorce. Brandon moved to a different community; Suzanne stayed in their home with their kids.

Without Suzanne's constant monitoring, Brandon plunged deeper into his addiction. He'd expected to feel relieved and free without her restraints; instead, he experienced overwhelming loneliness and shame. Gambling had lost the power to soothe his pain. He sunk into a private hell. And yet, in his despair, he found the motivation to change his life.

Brandon got into therapy and joined Gamblers Anonymous. He eventually realized that long-standing wounds had fostered his need for the constant stimulation and excitement of gambling. During his appointed times for visitation with the children, Brandon attempted to make emotional contact with Suzanne. She remained cold and business-like. He tried to tell her of his realizations and recovery; she was closed to his efforts. He wrote her letters; she sent none in return. Nevertheless, he kept trying. Convinced that he had substantively and permanently changed, and was now worthy of her love and trust, Brandon launched a serious campaign to win her back. He was determined to show her, not just tell her, that he had changed. It was a long, harsh Winter. But he never stopped trying.

Spring eventually did arrive. A year-and-a-half after the divorce, Suzanne’s feelings began to thaw. Despite her fear of more betrayal and disappointment, she let herself begin to trust his words and actions again. In time, she let him move back in with the family. Two years after the divorce, they re-married. They had two more children, and Brandon has remained on the wagon for over 10 years with no signs of falling off. More important, he has demonstrated his commitment through his actions, not simply his words. They share a marriage today far more solid than the one they had before.

Most couples don’t go through such a dramatic severance and reunification as Brandon and Suzanne, but nearly all endure some version of this death-and-rebirth cycle.

Sometimes the coldest Winter can precipitate the most joyful Spring renewal.

Linda Bloom, L.C.S.W., and Charlie Bloom, M.S.W., are the authors of Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truths from Real Couples About Lasting Love.

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