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The fourth task: confronting crises together

Judith S. Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee, authors of The Good Marriage, identify nine specific tasks couples must tackle in order to create a good marriage. The fourth task is a tough one: "to confront and master the inevitable crises of life, maintaining the strength of the bond in the face of adversity."  This is probably the last thing a young couple is thinking about when they fall in love and look at each other-and life-through rose-colored glasses. But there is no doubt they will have to deal with some serious issues during the course of their marriage.

It's sometimes said what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. The same thing can be said about a marriage: tragedies, crises, difficulties have the potential to make or break a marriage. Couples will face illness, death of loved ones, loss of jobs, problems with children, and  a host of other challenges throughout the course of a lifetime. The couples who pull together in times of trouble follow certain steps, according to Wallerstein and Blakeslee. First, they look at the situation realistically and are able to think how their lives, and the lives of other family members, would be affected. They avoid"awfulizing" the situation: while they recognize the realities of the challenges they are facing, they're able to also take time out from dealing with the problem and try to enjoy life.

They don't blame each other or say, "I told you so," because they know everybody's human and prone to error. "In fact, they went further by trying to protect each other from inappropriate self-blame," the authors said of the couples who managed this task successfully. "They protected each other against self-reproach and shame."  But they don't have to pretend everything is hunky-dory: they are able to acknowledge their fears, anxiety, sadness, and anger in appropriate ways, and sometimes not so appropriately. They can allow themselves, and their partner, to lose their cool once in awhile (without being abusive) and not take it too seriously.

Finally, "they blocked the crises they could see coming," said Wallerstein and Blakeslee. "Rather than waiting until a spouse's drinking or acting out or depression was overwhelming, they intervened at an earlier stage." They don't allow their partner to go over the edge in response to whatever crises is at hand: they let them know how much they care about them, and also let them know they will not stand by and watch their partner self-destruct.

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