Relationships: When The Going Gets Tough

How to stick with the ones you love when you're hurting

Have you had seasons when your relationships have felt stagnant?  I know I have.  I’ve even had times where I’ve been downright frustrated or offended in relationships and I’ve been ready to quit.  Sometimes it’s my marriage, other times it’s friendships; it has even been with family members.

Happy Couple

At the beginning of a relationship, there is usually season of infatuation.  It doesn’t matter what kind of relationship it is – most people are excited when the relationship starts.  Then, things will transition to a sort of normal state.  Nothing too exciting.  Not good or bad, just normal.

After some time, if you’re in a meaningful relationship, you will hit a rough spot.  Someone will offend you, hurt you, stand you up, let you down, or fall short of your expectations.  It’s inevitable.  If you’re like the rest of the world, the point of disillusionment is where you or the person you’re in the relationship with will bail.  It might look like a separation, a divorce, or a breakup.

In a committed relationship, while it might not lead to the relationship officially ending, it could be a fight with words that cause permanent damage.  It could be the cold shoulder or emotional disconnection.  Whatever the strategy, it will lead to more pain.

But being committed through that messy middle or a period of disillusionment is what allows relationships to thrive.  Often times, relationships grow not in spite of these hard times, but because of them.  The strength we develop through the difficulties is usually what makes us better.  Here are a few strategies or thoughts to help you through these seasons.  (I use spouse in these examples, but you can replace it for whatever relationship this applies to you in your life.)

  1. Love your spouse.  Love is a choice – it’s not an emotion.  Often times we won’t feel like doing the right thing, but choosing to do the next right thing anyway is what defines genuine love.
  2. Never treat your spouse harshly.  Repaying anger with anger will compound a situation.  Respond to anger, frustration, sarcasm, resentment, bitterness, etc with compassion.
  3. Avoid bitterness toward her.  This is tough, but necessary.  On offended heart that is allowed to stay offended will grow into a sort of relationship cancer.  Bitterness fuels that fire.  Avoid this like the plague.
  4. Be gentle.  A volatile situation can often be diffused with a gentle answer.  The Bible says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” (Proverbs 15:1 NIV)  I don’t know about you, but if there is a way to turn away wrath, I’m on it!
  5. Remind yourself you are together for a reason.  I have gone back to this so many times.  God knew exactly what was missing in my life and character when He brought my wife Kari and I together in  2000.  He knew I had gaps to fill.  Harshness that needed softening.  Impatience that needed curbing.  Fear that needed quelling.  Insecurities that needed exposed and healed.  Immaturity that needed growth.  And what’s so powerful about this is we aren’t married just so I can be a better person for myself.  That would be a selfish means to an end (she helps me be more selfless, too!).  God brought us together so we can serve others better.  I am a far better servant, leader, father, friend, and son because of all the ways Kari fills me in.  And if I had made decisions based on how I felt over the years, I would have missed out on all these amazing outcomes.

It would be so easy to say, “Forget it!” when the going gets tough.  But knowing I can trust God to know what’s best for me allows me to hang in there, even when I don’t feel like it.  God measures things differently than I do.  I want the easy way out – what will bring me comfort, or feed my ego, or bring me pleasure, or help me avoid pain or hard work.  God’s best is so much better for me and He knows exactly what I need.

If you’re having a hard time, it’s ok.  As Lonnie Barger says, “Go to God and do what’s right.”  We may not know the full outcome, but we usually know what the next right thing is.  Commit to doing that and watch what happens.  You won’t be disappointed.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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3 thoughts on “Relationships: When The Going Gets Tough

  1. Wonderful advice. Since I’m in the middle of the hardest thing I’ve ever done (caregiver to both parents with severe dementia) let me add one thing. Sometimes the best thing you can do for those you love is “wait”. Wait for tempers to die down. Wait for opinions to change. Wait for circumstances to resolve.
    Waiting won’t change your hurt feelings or cause singing birds and beautiful flowers to appear. But it will save you a fuss or fight that might damage your relationship further. There are many conversations where we need to correct the offender and we need to step up to the plate and stand for what’s right. Sometimes however, the offending person is caught up in the moment and will change his/her mind once they’ve had something to eat and time to rest. For example, an angry father who announces he wants to sell the house and move into an apartment. He goes on to rant that you spend too much money on the kids. Waiting until he calms down may reveal his boss was a jerk. Once he’s had time to process the injustice, he will apologize or ignore his original outburst.

    My parents live with me and hurt me on a daily basis. I’ve learned that if they take a nap, dementia will clear their heads and they will once again be grateful for what I do. It doesn’t make it easy and it doesn’t take away the pain of their initial words. Waiting does help me avoid even more aggression and pain.

    Thank you Dr. Lazar for all you do.

    • Thank you, Debbie. You are in a tough situation. Diffusing altercations is important – the challenge is when those altercations continue to happen. Clearly, your situation is different than when a spouse advises you not to buy the shirt you’re looking at, or challenges you on your attitude toward someone else. Caring for aging parents can be extremely difficult, draining, emotional, etc. My prayer is that God strengthens your back so you can carry the load He’s given you, or that He changes the situation so you’re not struggling so much with it. Thank you for all YOU do!