By Mark E. Smith
In my roles within the mobility industry, I often encounter very difficult situations. No, I don’t mean broken wheelchairs or grumpy customers – those are typically easy to resolve. Rather, the difficult situations I face are families in emotional crises, where a husband is newly paralyzed or parents have lost a child to a progressive condition like muscular dystrophy. And, along that harrowing road over the past 15 years, I’ve seen such families turn tragedy into triumph, while others crumbled into ruins. What is it, then, that separates these two outcomes? What is it that allows couples to survive devastating circumstance while others dissolve?
I’m not a psychologist or a sociologist, nor have I done any scientific studies. But, I am a real, thinking, feeling person with empathy toward those facing adversity – I’ve been there and I know what it’s like. And, as I’ve been in the trenches with families in crises, I’ve observed two very distinct factors that allow couples to face and overcome life’s most profound tragedies, actually strengthening relationships, not destroying them.
The first is factor that successful couples have in the face of adversity is unyielding love and respect for each other. Now, all couples will say that they have unyielding love and respect for each other, and it seems obvious that couples would have this. But, we live in a culture where relationships are about as sacred as trip through a drive-thru, and there’s too often very little respect among partners. Think about couples around you, or maybe your own relationship, where each individual makes him or herself the priority, not the relationship or partner. Or, think about how moodiness, arguing and name calling are deemed acceptable by many. Those are traits of dishonor and disrespect, and when crisis hits, such couples are doomed. In crises, the blame-game ensues and rather than protecting each other’s hearts, they go for the jugular.
However, surviving couples are different. Mutual respect reigns over moodiness, arguing and name calling. Surviving couples run toward the safety and shelter of their relationship during crises, not away from it. There’s a sanctity to the relationship that’s upheld, serving as an unconditional safety net during crises.
Statistically, the average length of marriage prior to divorce is eight years. Why eight years? Money magazine recently reported that over any 10-year period, we have a 98% chance of facing a major life crisis, albeit financial, health-related, and so on. Therefore, if we’re in rocky relationships, and are all but certain to face a crisis, of course it’s just a matter of time before it’s game over, logically right around that 8-year mark.
Yet, truly loving, respectful couples ultimately find crises as opportunities to grow close together. So, at eight years, having faced crises and embraced each other, their commitment is stronger. A couple simply has to have unyielding love and respect to weather crises. I have yet to meet a couple who’s stayed together through a life-changing crisis who didn’t have a foundation of unyielding love and respect for each other.
The second trait that I’ve found couples must have in order to survive a life-changing crisis is a sense of a higher power. Now, I don’t mean formal religion – although it’s often the case – but a true belief in a guiding force that everything happens for a reason, with larger meaning and purpose. This is such a powerful tool toward coping and healing because it often explains the inexplicable.
I was born with severe cerebral palsy. If I looked at that as a random act, solely making me suffer, can you imagine how bleak my world view would be – there’d be no purpose for my life. However, if I truly believe that there’s a purpose to why I received cerebral palsy, I then naturally look for the positives, giving my life purpose and meaning. Couples who succeed through tragedy do exactly this – that is, they share a belief in a larger purpose and meaning to all. If one or both partners are bitter or resentful over a crisis, again, they’ll go for the jugular, not the heart – and the relationship won’t survive. Both partners must believe in a higher power of meaning and purpose.
What I know is that given enough time – statistically within a 10-year period – couples will face crises. And, having witnessed many families experience the most harrowing of circumstances, I can attest to this fact: As long as you and your partner have unyielding love and respect, and believe in a larger meaning and purpose to all, you’ll make it hand-in-hand to the light at the end of the tunnel.