Change is inevitable throughout a lifetime, especially in a marriage or committed relationship.
You’re not just dealing with what life throws at you as an individual. As a couple, you share all those transitions with each other, plus others that are unique to your particular marriage.
Good or bad, they often create some level of uncertainty and emotional vulnerability - from becoming parents to a career change, illness, loss, or anything in between.
These changes and transitions are frequently a critical factor that leads couples to seek counseling.
For better or for worse, though, you’re in it together.
So, how can you learn to roll with it and handle all those changes successfully as a couple?
Consider a few tips:
Managing Life Transitions As a Couple
Tip #1: Work as a team
Sometimes when there are changes, there is a tendency to shut each other out and try to handle the matter internally. But the best thing you can do to manage life transitions is to turn toward one another, not away, and deal with the situation as a team.
Example: You’re moving to a new home. Even positive changes require processing and adjusting. Talk about how you feel and what worries you, as well as what excites you, about the move.
Stay on the same page and tackle solutions as a team, such as managing your budget. And once the move is done, look for ways to make new connections with other as a couple in your new location.
Tip #2: Maintain an intimate bond
Some life transitions can take a while. Instead of letting yourself be inundated by the situation, take a break and have some fun together. In order to be a team, you have to nurture your bond and ensure that you keep your intimate connection strong.
Example: You’re having a baby. While everybody knows it’s a real game changer, few seem to be really prepared for it. The most important thing you can do is keep your one-on-one relationship strong.
Don’t wait until you have time to spend together, make the time! Just spending 10-15 minutes daily on alone time, like cuddling on the couch, will help you not lose sight of your intimate relationship.
Tip #3: Understand each other’s viewpoint
Listening to each other will help you avoid communication breakdown when life changes put you under stress. Active listening means you carefully consider each other’s perspective, experiences, and needs. And if the change came about due to some mistake one of you made, being empathetic will keep you from blaming each other.
Example: One of you changes careers or loses a job. Worries about how to manage your finances and future plans can easily cause tension. Rather than hide your true feelings, keep the lines of communication open when negotiating the situation. Above all, listen to and understand each other’s viewpoint first by discussing your expectations.
Tip #4: Nurture your individual interests
While teamwork is key when dealing with life transitions as a couple, don’t forget that you are still two individuals. Recognizing that you have different interests and coping styles will help you to be more supportive of one another. Respecting those differences calls for you giving each other some space.
Example: All your children have left the house. An empty nest can change the dynamic of your marriage tremendously. After years of fixing your attention on raising your children, your whole focus is shifting.
If you haven’t paid enough attention to your marriage during child-rearing years, you may have to get to know each other all over again. The best way to do that it is not just pursuing activities as a couple but also nurturing each other’s personal interests as individuasl.
Tip #5: Make your “self” a priority
Usually, it’s those changes in life you didn’t expect that cause the biggest upset, like becoming limited in what you can do. The biggest danger this poses is losing your “self” or sliding down the slippery slope of depression. The best way to help someone else is to help yourself first, making self-care a priority. That includes recognizing when to seek outside help for unhealthy coping patterns.
Example: You fall ill or you become the caretaker of a family member. Aside from having to deal with practical issues, like handling insurance and medical bills, you may also feel taxed emotionally due to lacking support or missing out on intimate connections.
In order to manage this major transition with success, you will have to make your “self”—your mental, emotional, and physical well-being—a priority so that you don’t start resenting those you love most.
Tip #6: Give each other expectation-free support
When you acknowledge that you’re in a challenging situation, you’ve already won part of the battle. That’s because it allows you to begin moving through it and finding solutions. If you support one another freely—without expectations—and show appreciation for each other’s support, you can cope with anything that comes along.
Example: Grieving the death of a loved one. Losing a parent or a child will affect you both in different ways. While you work through it together, remember to give each other the time and freedom to grieve in your own way. Don’t expect that just because you may have reached the point of healing that your spouse has, too. Be understanding and give each other expectation-free support.
Above all, remember that handling the inevitable transitions in your lives together is less about the specific situation and more about how you deal with it together. Work on acceptance, communication, and support, and you’ll be able to roll with anything life doles out.