Tag Archives: loss

A Marriage with No Regrets

TearThe phone call out of nowhere. The shaking voice. The bad news comes. We’ve all been there. You will likely remember exactly where you were when you received the news. I can recall several instances of losing loved ones like this, the hardest when I lost my sister suddenly.

Last week was another time of grief for my husband and I as a good friend and fellow pilot died in his sleep while on a layover in a city far from home. We were blessed and crushed to stand with his wife, also our good friend, who is left with two young daughters. It’s a helpless feeling to know that something shocking and sad has happened, and that time cannot go back.

Thankfully, theirs was a marriage that everyone admired, full of humor and adventure. No one is perfect, but he was a father who enjoyed spending as much time with his children as possible. He was not the distracted dad staring at his cell phone. He was the fun dad, the husband who was happy to help out in the yard or the kitchen. He read books that his 12-year-old daughter enjoyed so that they could discuss them. He took his wife on many getaways, just the two of them. He spent time relaxing with his family on their pontoon boat. He made time to laugh with friends. And when he kissed his wife goodbye to leave on his last trip, he had no idea that would be their last kiss.

The point of this post is that we never know when that last day will be.

-It is our responsibility to have our affairs in order for our spouse and our children. (I wrote a post a while back on this called “What is in your legacy drawer? Are you prepared?” Please refer to it to ensure that you are prepared.)
-Take the time each day to let your loved ones, particularly your spouse, know how much they mean to you.
-Kiss hello and goodbye like you mean it.
-Invest in your marriage with time, money, and attention. It takes effort to not drift apart, but if you find yourselves drifting, get in the boat and paddle back to one another.
-Keep an eye on the big picture, and don’t let the little things get you down.
-Be prepared spiritually, mentally and physically through daily effort.
-Spread love and joy.

While we were technically “prepared” before this happened, this loss has brought about many conversations between my husband and me regarding funeral wishes and discussions about our children and assets. They aren’t easy topics, but it’s better to have them than to wonder what your spouse would have wanted. Don’t leave any regrets.

It is actually a gift to be reminded every so often that how we will be remembered has nothing to do with how much work we produce or how clean our house is or how many activities our kids are involved in. The things that often stress us out will not matter in the end. What matters is that we learned how to love.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Enhance the Resilience of Your Relationship

Resiliency:  The capacity to adapt and bounce back in the face of adversity. It’s a trait we would all like to have. And we would like our relationships to benefit from the trait as well. Wherever you are on your marriage journey, infusing your relationship with more characteristics of resiliency can be beneficial.

Scott Haltzman, M.D., recently shared with me a couple of interesting facts about resiliency. The first is that one-third of our predictive ability to withstand stress is based on genetics. The second is that children exposed to moderate levels of adversity or failure are shown to better handle adversity later in life.  So, part of being resilient you may attribute to your family of origin or how you were raised. A large part is still self-determined.

This is the last post in which I will share some tidbits from the book, Healing Together, which I have recommended for couples dealing with any kind of loss or trauma. Authors Suzanne Phillips and Diane Kane say resilience is needed for couples to move forward with their lives after a loss. Resilience, in my view, is important to all of us, particularly at crisis times in our lives. In the book, Phillips and Kane assess factors that are associated with resilience and guide the reader on how to incorporate those qualities in the relationship. So these factors are discussed below in terms of relationship resilience, not individual resilience. These are only some of the factors discussed in the book.

Hardiness—This quality is essential for thriving under stress. Hardiness is made up of commitment, control and challenge. As a couple you actively work on the addressing the situation and express commitment to one another during the recovery. (“I’ll be there for you no matter what it takes.”) Each person recognizes what they can and cannot control. (You cannot control an illness, but you can face it together.) Together, you view the event as a challenge, reframing it for the opportunities it presents in your life. You find inner resources you didn’t know you had.

Positive Outlook—Resilient people don’t just put a smile on their faces. They use positive coping strategies, including seeking the benefits of a situation, using humor, or finding a positive meaning.

Positive Affirmations—I’ve previously shared research on how celebrating positive events in one another’s lives can boost our relationship bond. When going through a trauma, particularly a loss of someone close, the tendency is to avoid celebrations of your own life and happiness. Our loved ones would not want that for us. “Celebration of life and each other gives you the strength to recover as well as to hold on to the memories of those you have loved,” say the authors. Couples should take time to affirm one another’s successes (even small ones!) and positive experiences. Celebrate the joys and pleasures that you experience in life, and share them with your spouse.

Social Networks—Meaningful, supportive connection with others, including a spouse, is the most important component of recovery. Discuss as a couple how you can benefit from the support of others while maintaining your privacy and boundaries of confidentiality.

Laughter/Humor—Being able to laugh together during tough times can be very healing. “Humor has been reported to promote intimacy, belonging, and cohesiveness,” say the authors.

The Capacity for Hope—After a trauma, people often can’t see the future as anything positive. There are no dreams for a better life, only pain. “Hope is the ability to have options” according to trauma expert Yael Danieli, who adds that the greatest source of hope is the feeling of belonging. Thinking of others who love or need us gives us hope.

Problem-Solving Skills—Assess the problem, brainstorm solutions, evaluate pros and cons, decide on a plan, including who is best suited for what part of the plan.

Couples going through a crisis often take turns being resilient, supportive and hopeful, while the other is struggling. It may help to remind your partner of the resilient traits they possess, such as a great sense of humor.

Hope is such a strong concept for me. It’s the hopes and dreams for ourselves and our loved ones that make life so exciting. This blog really is dedicated to providing hope to couples that they can experience what marriage is meant to be. My hope for you is that whether you are healthy and happy this year or recovering from illness or loss, that you can remain hopeful in your relationship. Share your hopes and dreams with your spouse, and support one another as you move toward those dreams.

Which of these factors do you think are most important to resiliency? Do you come from a resilient family? Do you believe your relationship is resilient or not? Why?

Photo Credit: ©TEA/PhotoExpress.com

Helping a Partner Heal from Loss or Trauma

While December is a time of joy for many, the holidays can also increase a sense of loneliness or depression for those who have experienced trauma or loss of a loved one. If you or your spouse—or both of you—are experiencing a difficult season, the following tips may help you. The good news is that research says having a spouse by your side while coping with the aftermath of a life disaster can be quite helpful with long-term healing.

The book Healing Together: A couple’s Guide to Coping with Trauma & Post-Traumatic Stress has a wealth of insight for spouses who have experienced a natural disaster, a serious injury or accident, violence, loss of a loved one, war service, or other kids of trauma. It also provides some guidance on when professional assistance may be needed. If you’re doing well this season, keep an eye out for neighbors or friends who may be hurting, and perhaps recommend the book.

I’ve interviewed enough couples to know it isn’t rare to experience a crisis or loss in one’s marriage. It can be almost unbearable to watch a partner experience a terrible loss or tragedy. Sometimes both partners are suffering and grieving in their own way, such as with the loss of a child. It’s difficult to know how to help a partner cope, even when both spouses are are suffering from the same loss. That is because each person will experience different emotions and thoughts about the event. It’s important to support one another and express your commitment, concern and acceptance.

Any kind of trauma will affect our relationships, say co-authors Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., and Dianne Kane. “Trauma puts up a wall that for a time locks a couple out of their familiar world and leaves them frozen in the traumatic event. Suddenly there is no past, and the future feels impossible.” Sometimes we experience trauma as individuals—as when a violent act is committed against one person—and sometimes the loss is shared. In both cases, by virtue of being married, both partners as well as the marriage itself are affected.

Avoidance, withdrawal, numbness and hyperarousal are common symptoms of trauma, but most of these symptoms are resolved to a large degree within about a month, say the authors, adding that flare-ups are common for some time. A persistent pattern of symptoms may mean the person has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While the book provides insights on how and why the events affect relationships, I will focus on some of the tips I gleaned. However, I strongly recommend the book for a greater understanding as well as lots of helpful examples of how couples effectively managed various crises.

Recovery steps:

  • Remembering and mourning the event helps individuals to move it into their history, rather than their present.
  • Slowly the couple can begin to revisit the trauma to make sense of it. A spouse has an important role in listening to the partner’s feelings, memories, thoughts, and dreams.
  • The act of reconstructing an event to someone in a safe and protected relationship has been shown in research to produce changes in the way the brain processes a traumatic memory—helping a person move it to a part of their life story without the traumatic feelings associated.
  • Mourning the loss as a couple allows both spouses to slowly face and redefine the loss while supporting one another.
  • Even when a group of people experiences the same event, trauma disconnects people from those they trust and leaves them feeling isolated with their feelings, for example, blame, loss, shame or despair.  The authors say reconnection is the final and most crucial state of recovery from trauma, and state that the presence of a caring partner can be very helpful in establishing this reconnection.

In the first hours and weeks after a traumatic event, the authors say offering psychological first aid is important. This involves providing human connection, safety, basic needs, information and support. Partners often have the most soothing effect due to the compassion, long-term support and empathy they have built in their relationship.

The four principles of couples’ psychological first aid, according to Healing Together, are:

  1. Be a compassionate presence for each other—The physical presence of someone we find to be compassionate can reduce stress and hyperarousal after a traumatic event. Just being there when words do not suffice, and listening when words finally come, can be healing.
  2. Establish physical and psychological safety—A 2005 study showed if a person feels supported and cared for by others in the early hours after the event, there was a greater likelihood he or she would seek connection in the following days and months. Help the affected person to feel safe and secure, as well as accepted no matter what.
  3. Identify and respond to needs—Ensure your partner is sleeping and eating adequately, because their body may be so stressed as to neglect their basic needs. But don’t enforce solutions. Instead, simply ask how they are doing and offer to help. Try to reduce stress. The person suffering should try to use “I words” to express their needs, and perhaps suggest a solution. For example, “I feel lonely. I need to be with someone.” Needs that are not expressed or met, can over time lead to resentment.
  4. Offer practical assistance. For instance, you or another family member may offer to help with bill paying, errands or cooking meals.

Unfortunately, recovery from a traumatic event isn’t as simple as following a few tips or steps. Unexpected feelings, such as anger, depression or resentment, can enter the relationship. In fact, anger and hostility are associated with PTSD as a common response to trauma. And depression is a “common sequel” to the experience of trauma. Men may express depression by showing fatigue, irritability, and anger, according to a 2005 study by the National Institute of Mental Health. I found it reassuring to read that the expression of anger is not damaging in itself; it is simply a human emotion. However, anger can become part of a destructive path if not managed well.

The authors say, “We believe that anger can be managed effectively within a relationship if partners have a mutual commitment to respect and protect each other from destructive anger, use preventive steps and communication to control the escalation of anger, and take on the challenge of couple anger management.” Again, the book has many more specifics on how to respond to difficulties associated with trauma.

Next week, I will provide information to help couples recognize when professional help may be needed, as well as the importance of sharing dreams (the sleeping kind), and factors of resilience.

Is this a topic that hits close to home for you? Do you have experience recovering from a personal crisis? What words of experience do you have for those suffering from loss this holiday season?

Photo Credit: ©Stanisa Martinovic/PhotoXpress.com

Stop Annoying Me, Dear!

Is the snoring keeping you on edge? Are the socks on the floor driving you to drink? What’s gotten you all worked up today? This award-winning, poignant TV spot by ThinkFamily may change your views about life’s annoyances as well as its beautiful imperfections.