Coping with Shattering Crises

Published August 16, 1986. During marriage, almost every married couple will face a crisis or two. The crises may be major or minor, short or drawn out, highly detrimental to the couple or actually beneficial. It all depends.

The question is logically asked, “How could a crisis, trial, or major setback in life be beneficial?” The answer might be referred to as the “Humpty Dumpty Syndrome.”

As children, we recall repeating the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme many times:

Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the King’s horses
And all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Why Humpty Dumpty couldn’t be put back together is interesting. First, horses obviously aren’t very good at reassembling broken eggs. And second, once an egg breaks, the shell is broken into many small pieces. Therefore, Humpty Dumpty remained shattered.

Many people are, indeed, like Humpty Dumpty. After a fall their life seems to be shattered. And like the king’s horses and men, no one can seem to help them reconstruct their lives.

However, unlike Humpty Dumpy, others experience crises in life, and after they fall, the pieces of their life are put back together. How these pieces are reassembled often make the person, or couple stronger, more resilient, and better able to cope with life. In these cases, the crisis actually proves to be a blessing rather than a burden.

How well a person, couple, or family deals with a crisis depends on several things. First, what is the state of the emotional health of the person or persons prior to the crisis? Second, what is the nature, intensity, and duration of the crisis? And third, and perhaps most important, what is done about it once the crisis occurs? What are their crisis-coping skills? All these, plus the help sought in dealing with a crisis, contribute to the outcome and impact of a crisis in life.

A few years ago, I was teaching in Wisconsin. I had a graduate student in her late 20s who was doing very well. She told me one day that she married when she was in her late teens. For unknown reasons, her husband committed suicide four months after their marriage. Understandably, the experience devastated her. She said she went into a major depression and had to seek professional counseling for several months. She related how she was eventually able to come to grips with her husband’s death. And she was also able to deal with many of the personal problems and concerns she had prior to her marriage.

Because of the counseling she had during this very difficult time in her life, she said she became a better, stronger person. She had eventually remarried, had two children, and was then at the university pursuing a graduate degree. In her case she had carefully reassembled the pieces of her life.

There are many crises married couples encounter in life. It might be the death of a child, alcoholism, drug abuse, infidelity, potential divorce, loss of employment, prolonged illness or any number of other difficult, trying and painful times.

Remember. It’s not the crisis. It’s what you do about the crisis that counts. You may end up like Humpty Dumpty with a life that is shattered and unable to be reassembled. (But learn from Humpty Dumpty and don’t let horses help you with the process.)

Or, you might be like my graduate student in Wisconsin. Even though you experience a painful, overwhelming event, you can emerge from it a stronger, better person or married couple.

It all depends on what you do about it.

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