Sometimes Marriage is like being in a Boat on a very Rough Sea

The boat is pitching so hard that each one has to cling onto the boat to prevent being thrown overboard. They cannot hang onto each other.  Each feels alone. Each struggles to survive. When the ocean calms down, then they can comfort and reassure each other. Then they can reconnect.

Sometimes life gets really rough – financial difficulties, overwork, illness, aging relatives, death and disaster. In really dark times there is usually more than one area of life that is deeply troubled. In times like these, people use up their resources, both externally and internally.  Some people get depressed and go quiet. Others get depressed and become cranky – anger is the only way they know how to survive emotionally. Love and attention is experienced as a burden or a demand at a time when they have the least to give.

This is very difficult on loved ones. When they try to love, their partner cannot receive. When they try to get loved, their partners cannot respond.  Everyone suffers.

Bad times test relationships but couples don’t stop loving each other just because times are bad. It’s how the couple handles the bad times that determine whether their relationship will survive or not.  Couples who overcome adversity develop strong bonds.

Scenario: Jay was going through a difficult time financially. He was in danger of losing his business and worried about paying the mortgage. He had people on his case for money all the time. One day a writ server drove into his carport, left his engine running, hammered a nail into his front door, hung papers on it and then peeled away. He was deeply depressed and had trouble getting out of bed in the mornings. He dreaded facing another day. It was all he could do to keep going.

Samantha knew Jay was stressed and she was too. She was patient and understanding for awhile, but she felt really distant from him. She tried to get close to him. She asked him for hugs. She initiated love-making. But Jay did not respond in kind. He knew she wanted reassurance but he could not give it to her. He also knew she wanted to help but he did not want to worry her with the problems. He withdrew from her. When he asked for space, she would panic and cling to him. The thought of losing him was unbearable. After many incidents of him calmly asking for space and Samantha’s inability to give him any, he got cranky. Usually Jay was a reasonable man who did not like to fight. Now he was exhausted and emotionally drained. He had nothing left for himself much less anything for Samantha. The more Jay withdrew from her the more frightened and alone Samantha felt. The more disconnected she felt, the more she sought out contact with Jay. But he was emotionally bankrupt. It was a vicious cycle.

Jay was just trying to survive. His wife’s requests for reassurance and connection felt like demands. He felt if he got close to her she would swallow him up. If that happened, as crazy as it seemed, he felt like he would cease to exist. He did not understand this himself so he could not explain it to her. He could only be angry.

In this case the purpose of anger is to help Jay maintain his sense of self. He loves Samantha and does not want her to go away, just back off. Anger helped him to hold himself together in these difficult times.

Samantha had been talking to a couple of her most trusted friends about her fears and hurt. Finally she was able to stop clinging to him. They gave her the support she needed while her husband did what he had to do to survive. He was able to save his business and get his life back in order.  When he felt more in control he reached out to his wife. Together they decided to seek couples counseling to help them talk through what each had experienced.  They were able to reconnect.

What to do?

If you are the one who is angry and pushing your loved one away, reach out to someone you trust, someone who will keep what you say confidential.  Or, seek out professional help and get the support you need.

If your partner is the one who is angry, offer help but do not push or pressure.  Seek out others that you can trust to support you until your partner is able to reconnect.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Comments are closed.