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Stronger than Stress

I recently read this passage at a wedding I performed. When I got home later, I started to think of everything I wish I had time to unpack regarding this scripture. Part of the reason is that I know personally how stressful life can be and the toll it can take on your marriage. The other reason is that I have counseled hundreds of couples through stressful seasons of their marriage and have learned a lot about what to do and what not to do when you are stressed or carrying a heavy burden within your marriage.

Let’s look at a few things that I think would be helpful that would enable us to carry out this passage within the context of our marriages when both partners are stressed.

When we are stressed or overwhelmed, we tend to get preoccupied with our own emotional distress. Instead of leaning into how our spouse is feeling, we become fixated on our own emotional discomfort. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with self-care. The problem resides when we forget our spouse is going through their own parallel experience with the same set of stressors. In addition, they probably don’t manage it in the exact same way we do either. This can create all sorts of sideways arguments, distance, withdrawal, and escapism. The proper move is to take the necessary time required to turn toward one another. It requires time to care for one another and slow down long enough to process together emotionally. Exploring each other’s feelings together is a real bonding experience. Getting to the heart of what each other is experiencing without judgment or attempting to fix it is extremely powerful.

Often times when both partners are stressed about an issue, we can turn against each other. We start to blame, attack, and judge one another. This mainly happens to me when I feel helpless. I think many of us men struggle when we can’t find an answer or a way to solve a problem. Instead of admitting our weakness or appropriate ineptness, we try and prematurely force a situation into a solution that doesn’t exist. This can really leave your spouse feeling uncared for and shut down. Nobody wants to hear what “you” need to be thinking, feeling, or doing differently. Even if there is some truth in it. People don’t care to hear those remarks when they feel emotional pain. We are humans with spirits who must lament, express anguish, and openly disclose our pain. When we do that, we can then talk about the stress as an “it” together rather than thumping our spouses over the head with “you” statements.

One of the key ways God supplies our needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus is through His church body. Obviously, we need those to be of the same sex if meeting one-on-one. But God has gifted and equipped His children to bear in each other’s burdens. We need only to be open and vulnerable with trusted people about the stresses we are facing. This will help keep our spouses from being our only ear to bend when their cup is overflowing already. This is utilizing that third strain in the cord that Ecclesiastes references. By diversifying our relational support, we can actually be more present with our spouse’s burdens. In the end, we can have a stronger marriage by the sustaining graces of God.