Nearly every day we get emails from our Thriving Marriages family asking for advice. Oftentimes these readers are in crisis, their marriage holding on by threads, the rope ready to snap at any moment. What I’ve found is that while the circumstances are always different, the advice we give is always the same. What I know about our readership is that many of you are right now experiencing some sort of crisis point: abuse from the past that’s surfaced, an affair, a spouse you don’t feel love toward anymore, a seriousness illness, etc. And as much as I hate to write this, if you aren’t in crisis-mode right now, there’s a chance you might be someday. Life is painful and marriage is beautiful but very hard. So whether you’re in crisis right now or not, here’s what to do when it feels like your marriage is about to fall apart.
Pray and pray and pray and pray …
Go is the number 1 fan of your marriage. He loves the messy, painful, powerful, life-giving beauty of it, and he hates the wreckage that comes from one falling apart. He’s on your marriages side and also the only one powerful enough to change the human heart, which is often what has to happen during a crisis. So reach out to him. Often. Always. Cry. Yell. Plead. Curse. In the Bible we see people do all those things when talking to God, and you can too. He doesn’t want your pious, cleaned up prayers, he just wants you.
Find trusted Christian friends
Christians cannot thrive in isolation. They just can’t. You are meant to be a part of a community of committed spiritual friends who will surround you in your time of need. Unfortunately the most common response to crisis is to isolate, to go to church and smile and say “bless you” and “I’m fine” and to look the part. Don’t.
Find friends who can do what Job’s friends did (at first), who just sat with him, mourned, and said “I’m so sorry.” Don’t turn to that acquaintance who has to fix everything. Find the most empathetic, emotionally-intelligent Christians you know and say “I just need to know you’re here with me.”
Talk to a wise, emotionally healthy pastor
Just because someone works at a church doesn’t make them a safe person. I hate that that statement is true, but it absolutely is. Some pastors are deeply unhealthy people. Others are fantastic human beings, but they aren’t good at that pesky part of the human experience called “emotions.”
The right pastor for you to share your struggle with may or may not be your head pastor. If you’re at a church with multiple staff think through which person makes you feel the safest, most loved, heard and cared for. Then ask that person to lunch or coffee, share your story, and listen.
Find a great counselor
Depending on how you were raised, your feelings about counseling will vary. A lot of you might have a deep revulsion to the very idea. I say this with love and compassion for you: get over it. If you had a broken arm you’d go to a doctor. If you have a broken marriage, go to a great therapist, the key word being ” great.”
Talk to the friends/pastor I mentioned above and ask if they recommend anyone. What you’re looking for is when someone says “when I was going through a hard time I saw this person and they were great.”
Commitment to the journey
A wise pastor friend of mine is notorious for telling people in crisis “listen, I can’t fix in five minutes what you’ve spent 15 years breaking.” It’s probably not the nicest way to say it, but man is it true. If your marriage is in crisis it is going to take more than a couple conversations to get things back on track. The journey back toward your spouse will be long and painful, but you know what? It’s worth it.
In my own journey I’ve had to go through all the steps I mention above, and while it was one of the hardest journeys of my life, it I wouldn’t trade my current intimacy with my wife for anything. That can be your story too. God is with you.
Don’t give up.