Relationships are challenging. Just navigating the everyday minefield of expectations, little annoyance and grievances, and different ways of approaching life can cause significant strain on a relationship.
And then, sometimes, tragedy strikes and makes the everyday pain seem small and insignificant. Relationships slingshot from challenging to critical pretty quickly. The world is spinning and everyone is just trying to get their feet on the ground.
Both the massive tragedies and the everyday pains of relationships can bind us together. Intimacy develops through suffering. Through it, we find an external thing to unite against. Through trial and struggle and pain, we share in vulnerabilities, see the best and worst in one another, and learn and grow together.
Intimacy deepens in tragedy. Togetherness strengthens through suffering. As painful as suffering is, it is a binding agent that brings us together.
However, this is only true if we allow it to be true. Suffering, whether it is tragedy or the daily annoyances of unmet expectations, is an invitation into intimacy. The other choice is to make it a source of division.
Plenty of marriages have broken up after tragedies. Infertility, the death of a family member, and other sources of tragedy that are not the fault of either spouse can nonetheless lead to a great schism in relationships.
The reason this happens is because each partner is an individual and has to deal with grief on an individual front. We want the other person to validate (or heal) our grief without a willingness to listen to them and what they need. We take the pain we often cannot confront directly and turn it into the spouse across from us not doing x,y, and z. Instead of unity, we blame. Instead of intimacy, we isolate. Instead of communicating, we manipulate or shut down.
Who is the Enemy?
The key to making the best choice for you and your relationship in the midst of suffering is to ask, “Who is the enemy?”. What are the forces you are fighting against and what is the most effective way to fight it?
We cannot change circumstances, so fighting against the reality of what has happened is going to be a dead end. Your spouse is, likely, not the enemy – but is trying to figure out how to respond just like you are.
In the wake of tragedy, the enemy is most often a false narrative. Because we do not like pain, we start to find ways to control it. We try to find something we can fight against a little more tangibly. And the way we do this is to create a story in our heads about the motives of others, the injustice of our surroundings, and the victimization these have caused us. Our spouses often take on the persona of all of these narratives simply by their proximity to us and association with the pain.
There is a very strong feeling that if we allow the pain, it will destroy us. And so we destroy us first. The reality is the only way through suffering is through it. And we need one another for that. We need to bind together, to hold hands, and get through the day.
Making the choice to come together in pain rather than push apart can save your relationship. If you do, you will see intimacy develop, trust strengthen, and the truth celebrated – even in the midst of hard times.