It is a good thing to grow in your marriage. When you’re used to making progress and enjoying the fruits of your effort, though, it can be frustrating when that growth comes to a standstill.
I’ve been on a path of growth in my marriage for a few years. Right now, however, I seem to have stalled just a bit.
Stress is the culprit.
Doing the right thing takes more intention and effort when I’m under stress. The things that I’d thought had become automatic? It turns out that they hadn’t. Old habits and thought patterns are still there, waiting to rise to the surface while I am busy trying to deal with stress.
As I wrote about last week, we are in the middle of a stressful move. Our family and our stuff is all split between our old home and our new one. I feel unsettled, and while I generally am content, I have felt overwhelmed much of the past week. I’ve been crying a lot.
When I feel stressed, it is harder for me to do and be as I should. Despite what I know in my head about my husband, myself, our marriage, and sex, what I feel isn’t a whole lot different from what I felt for years.
Meanwhile, my husband is stressed, too. His role as provider is being put to the test, we’ve had car troubles in the middle of moving things over, and he has a bad cold. On top of all that, he has a weepy wife to deal with.
Things are not so easy in the Taylor house at the moment.
The other day, my husband and I had a sexual encounter that was lovely and intimate in many respects—until it was over. Afterward, his words and actions were a little too similar to how things used to be between us after sex.
Just like I used to, I felt a little like a piece of meat, like it wasn’t me that he wanted as much as that it was just me who was available. I felt used.
What he did and said was exactly the same as it was for so many years—including recently. Most of the time these days, those words and actions speak love and contentment to me.
The other day? Not so much.
I know now that his feelings and intentions never were and are not now what I’d always assumed they were.
Yet my feelings, well, they didn’t see it that way.
I let my heart feel hurt.
Every difficult situation contains an opportunity for growth, and this season is no different.
How do you work on growing—or at least not falling back into old habits—when you’re in a season of stress?
Here are three things that I a finding helpful right now.
Although it isn’t easy, I am making a point to try to do things as I should.
I take lots and lots of deep breaths before responding to my husband. I can feel the reactions trying to bubble up out of me, but I take deep breaths to help me stay calm and control my responses.
I’m having to do a lot of talking to myself these days. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve always talked to myself. The difference now is that I’m doing it on purpose.) I remind myself of God’s truth about marriage and about sexual intimacy. I go through a litany of all the ways that my husband and I fit together in our shared lives. I replay some of the lovely things he has done and said to me about our marriage and his feelings.
Even in the midst of my stress, I remind myself that I need to make an effort.
It helps to be intentional in my efforts—but when I’m stressed I’m not always good at doing and being the way I know I should. That’s where grace comes in.
I am working hard to do the things that I thought had become automatic. My intentional efforts do make a difference, but they aren’t enough to keep me from stumbling. I can tell myself God’s truth about marriage over and over—but I still have moments like the other day when I was feeling used and unloved.
I recognize that it’s okay for me not to be perfect in this. I felt hurt the other day. I cried a little. And then after I reminded myself of how deeply my husband loves me and calmed myself down, I simply resumed my normal activities.
I didn’t sit there and berate myself for having allowed my feelings to take precedence over my mind for a while. I allowed myself to feel what I was feeling, and then I got back on track.
Grace also comes into play as I watch my husband try to deal with his stress. When neither of us is at our best, it is even harder to deal with the other person’s stress-induced responses. Somehow, I manage to remember that my husband needs my grace and compassion just as much as I do.
When I am stressed, I often feel like everything is just pouring out of me—so I make a point to soak in the things that nourish my heart and soul.
I stand outside in the sunshine. I knit. I watch mindless TV. I allow myself to cry. I take relaxing bubble baths. I spend time in the Psalms every day, sometimes reading them aloud and other times writing out the verses that speak to my own stress. I pray.
I seek out the things that require little output from me and feed my spirit in some way.
The other day my stress interfered with my feelings about my marriage. So I knitted a dishcloth while I watched a really dumb movie. I watched silly videos online. All my kids gathered together and I simply sat and enjoyed watching them interact with each other.
As my husband and I sat together, I could feel my heart reset. The stress is still there, and it will be there for a while yet. It is lovely to find small islands away from that stress.
Growth isn’t always moving forward. Sometimes growth is just recognizing that things are going to be tough for a while and accepting that it’s okay to just work on standing still for a bit.
I am growing just as much when I develop tools to help me deal with the blips and hiccups of life. When this season of stress is over, I will carry forward the knowledge that my marriage can still work when life is difficult. This is knowledge I can gain in no other way.
Growth can’t be measured the same way during every season in your marriage. If you let the lack of visible growth make you feel even more stressed, you aren’t helping yourself or your marriage.
Figuring out what helps you deal with stress can help you keep your marriage growth on track.
Intention, grace, and nurturing have helped me recognize that what seems like stalled growth is really just a different kind of growth in my marriage.
Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net