As I write this, our headlines are filled with references to the current state of our economy. We are all trying to cope with massive job losses, downsizing, rising prices, and the fear and uncertainty about our futures. Pressures are mounting within our own families as well, since so many of us have been directly impacted by budget constraints, loss of crucial retirement funds and the necessity for restructuring our way of life.

People are commuting farther in order to find work, traveling more, adapting to reduced incomes and staying in jobs that are less than ideal because their options are so limited. All of this stress is affecting our marriages and our family relationships. We are having to scale back our spending and say "no" to things we are accustomed to saying "yes" to—vacations, home improvements, new clothes, cars, entertainment, etc.

So what can we do to protect our most precious investments—our marriages and our families? Well, first we must develop a "Disaster Recovery Plan."  

Almost 25 years ago, I was a young wife, full of hopes and dreams for our long and happy life together. We had vowed to stay committed "for better or for worse" and I had confidence that we would live by those words. We had just bought our first home and had started a small business that we believed would eventually provide us with a comfortable future.

Then the unthinkable happened--I had an ectopic pregnancy coupled with an ovarian cyst, which necessitated major surgery. I missed 12 weeks of work recovering. I was the primary breadwinner at the time since my husband was finishing school. The economy in our state was experiencing a recession and I subsequently lost my job. This ultimately led to the loss of our business and our home.

Within 18 months we were separated, and we divorced a couple of years later. In the short span of about 4 years, we lost a child, a business, our home and finally our marriage. We were involuntary participants in the death of our innocence and our dreams. The pressure, the feelings of failure, the blame, the guilt, and our youth and inexperience all played a role in the destruction of our marriage. When the "worst" happened to us; we weren't prepared to handle it.

I learned some very powerful lessons in the most painful of ways. When a catastrophe strikes a family, the marriage is put under tremendous strain. Without a "disaster recovery plan," many marriages do not survive such adversity.

So what is your "Marriage Disaster Recovery Plan"? Do you even have one? Or are you, like my first husband and I, at the mercy of trying to navigate the pitfalls of life without a map?

I went on to marry my wonderful husband and since we werer both married before, we have firsthand experience with what doesn't work. And we have spent the last 18 years of our marriage trying to figure out what does! Our "disaster recovery plan" has been put to use many times throughout our life together. And we continue to refine and enhance it as we have faced job losses, sickness, injury, family disconnect, death, and the trauma of suicide in our family.  

Our own disaster plan starts with prayer. We used to just pray the "God please help us" kind of prayer. But we have learned that God wants us to completely TRUST him, even when we are facing the "worst" of circumstances. So now, when trouble comes, we make an honest effort to surrender to God's plan and keep reminding ourselves that some good will ultimately arise from our pain and misery. We have learned to pray the "God, please help us to trust and follow your will" prayer.

We don't deny our hurt, but we try not to be consumed by it either. And make no mistake; it is HARD work. When you are faced with a crisis, there are days when it takes everything inside of you to keep from falling apart. The fear creeps in, and your mind races through all the awful things that have or could happen.

But that mindset is really of no benefit to our healing and our hope. Deepak Chopra says that true faith is being "comfortable with uncertainty." Trusting God means surrendering to his "grand plan" and moving forward with complete faith and confidence that the future will be better than today. It means being obedient to his will, even when you are scared and uncertain. And it means never losing hope, even when the odds seem to be against you, and God's timing is much slower than you think you need. As frustrating as it is to live through, there is much to be learned from "waiting on the Lord."

"Wait for the Lord. Be strong and don't lose hope…" ~ Psalms 27:14

In addition to prayer, we have found it very helpful to be involved in a small group at our church. We are members of a ChristCare group where we regularly see God's love and support demonstrated by others within our group as we seek to enhance our spiritual walk together. There is something very comforting about surrounding yourself with people who are walking, or have walked, in your shoes. You witness God's love in action in a very personal and meaningful way.

The other part of our disaster plan is to love and support one another. To talk--really talk, respectfully and lovingly, about our concerns, our hopes, our dreams and our fears. We are careful not to place blame on one another. This is critical if one of you has lost your job! And it is tough to do as you watch your savings vanish, your bills pile up, and your prospects dwindle. But take care not to turn on each other. Be your own best support system so that when you or your spouse has an interview, you can come across as capable and confident, not panicked and desperate.

Your marriage should be the one thing you don't have to worry about during a crisis. But you can't neglect it or take it for granted, either. You have to continue to develop and cultivate it.

If you or your spouse has to work longer hours or travel more, that will obviously pose a certain hardship on the marriage and the family. One of you will have to assume more of the household responsibilities. Trying to make family decisions over the telephone can prove to be difficult. The kids will be impacted by not having both parents there to support them. And you will probably just miss each other and miss spending time together. This can be very frustrating over time.

But it is important not to take your frustrations out on each other. Recognize that you are both doing the best you can to rise to the occasion and that this situation is temporary. It may last much longer than you wish, but things will get better. Be optimistic and supportive of one another and enjoy the times you do get to spend together. Have some FUN; release your stress with some inexpensive family exercise—walking, hiking, bike riding, swimming, etc.

And be mindful that the travel may open new opportunities for you--exposure to different people in a new work environment, the chance to prove yourself with a new challenge, or you just might be seated next to your new boss on a plane sometime! You never know how God may work and what situation he may use to open doors for you.

So "trust the process" and take care to protect the health of your relationship whenever adversity strikes. And while it may be the last thing on your mind, be sure to connect physically and intimately. It will sustain your commitment and remind you that you still love and need one another even if your world seems to be crumbling around you.

Nurturing your marriage when times are tough will strengthen it in a way that success and prosperity will never do. You will forge a bond of trust, reliance, and closeness that will enhance your relationship in ways you never dreamed possible. You will learn the freedom that comes from exposing your true selves to one another, complete with all your vulnerabilities and weaknesses. And you will grow and mature together while creating a healthy sanctuary from the stresses of life.

As you pray together for guidance, help and hope, also pray that your family will turn to God and to one another in love and support to weather the storms you face together. Pray that you will emerge stronger, more unified and more focused on the things in life that are most important. These types of experiences can prove to be very healing and times of great spiritual growth, if you keep your priorities in the proper order.

The next important component of a disaster plan is to celebrate the little things. A sunny day when it has been raining, a gentle shower when your garden needs watering, your child's passing test score, a lovingly prepared dinner shared together, a birthday, the car repair not costing as much as your feared it might, an unexpected visit or call from loved ones, the exuberance of your puppy at play, the laughter of neighborhood children, making all the lights on your way home, the first flower of Spring, the birds singing outside your window, and on and on. The simplest of things should be noticed and appreciated.

And be sure to extend that to one another. That unexpected note or card tucked into a suitcase for a spouse who is now having to travel for work, a kiss that "interrupts" when one of you is dejectedly revising your resume', remembering to prepare a favorite meal, telling your spouse how proud you are of them (even though they may be out of work), a candlelight bath, a walk in the park holding hands—these little thoughtful gestures will go a long way towards demonstrating that you still love and desire one another even though life is tough right now and you are not where you want to be.  

I am no longer a "young" wife, but I am still filled with hopes and dreams for a long and happy life with my husband. My life did not follow the original plan that I had for myself, but God dreamed a bigger dream for me and even though it has not been without trials and tribulations, I am learning to trust that the future is filled with amazing possibilities if I can get "comfortable with uncertainty" and truly trust God's plan for my life. And I am sure that as my life continues to unfold, and our vows of "for better or for worse" are tested, we will have many more opportunities to put our disaster recovery plan into action.

But I have also learned this valuable lesson, "True Wisdom flows from God and comes to those who are not jaded by experience or circumstance, but enlightened because of it." I pray that you will not become jaded by your own adversity, but instead, by faith, will experience the enlightenment of God's wisdom because of it.

"Only in returning to me and waiting for me will you be saved; in quietness and confidence is your strength."  ~ Isaiah 30:15

September 5, 2009


Deborah J. Thompson is a writer, artist and Stephen Minister.  Please visit her website http://www.inspiredreflections.info/ for additional "Reflections" on Life and Marriage.  She is working on her first book, Your Life, Your Choice, which gives 5 simple steps to bring more Love, Joy and Peace into your life. Join her on Facebook and Twitter/InspireReflect.