Stick around long enough and bad things happen to all of us. And sometimes at no fault of our own. In those times, you’re just a victim of the circumstances.

Perhaps one of the most helpless feelings I’ve had is watching something I care about get destroyed by hail, and there’s nothing you can do but watch in horror.

I remember the first time it happened, about 10 years ago, we were at home. It was the first home we ever owned, and my wife made it beautiful. And there we stood, inside, listening and watching it get destroyed.

It happened most recently to my custom designed Mustang, which I recently decided I loved enough to buy and not just lease. And while I thought it was beautiful before, now that it’s mine I’ve got plans to make it even better. Well, after I get the hail damaged fixed, of course. And there I stood watching it get destroyed.

Others in our area, of course, have even more damage. Homes, cars, trees, and even a few people, took a beating from our recent round of hail, wind, and rain. And just when one storm passed, another came right behind it. And there was nothing we could do but brace for impact! And it came at no fault of our own.

During such times of difficulty, even though we may not be able to prevent the storm from hitting, having the right people around us can make all the difference.

I remember when my father died there was clearly no way I could fix my pain and loss. And yet with time, and the right people to buoy me up, things did get better.

Few, if any, seem to welcome such difficult times into their lives. And rightfully so. But welcomed or not, challenging times seem to find their way into each of our lives sooner or later.

Many times they appear with seemingly no fault of our own. Perhaps it’s an unpreventable illness, job loss, flood, difficulty with a child, or the passing of a loved one.

When tough times fall upon us our couple relationship can be a powerful force to help us stay afloat until life gets better. Here’s a few hints on how to use your “relationship life raft” during these times:

1) Turn Towards: When stress hits, couples either turn towards each other or against each other. Unfortunately, when the stress is high, we often turn against those closest to us. Our tempers flare, our fuse is short, and we become irritable and unapproachable.

Of no fault of their own, those closest to us often pay the price for stressors they haven’t even caused, like a hail storm. And when this happens, we have shut out those who are most able to lessen our burden during difficult times.

By turning towards our spouses instead, we can find comfort and rest during turbulent times. Maybe it’s a shoulder to cry on, hearing encouraging words, or someone just to listen. As they say, misery loves company, and the chance to commiserate together during tough times allows bonding to happen .

2) We-ness: By turning towards one another, happy couples can develop a “we-against-them” attitude. This not only helps them endure difficult times, but actually can help strengthen the relationship, too.

Most recently, couples may be out cleaning up their yards together, or removing a downed tree, or giving each other a ride to work while a car is in the shop being fixed. Some even worked together to put a tarp on their roof until professionals could come to the rescue.

3) Call Time-outs: During the most difficult times of a sporting event, teams often call a time-out. This allows them a chance to regroup, get a quick breath, take a break, and discuss a strategy.

During difficult times in our own lives, we need to call a time-out. Maybe that means walking away from it all and going out to dinner as a couple, taking a walk hand-in-hand, or going to play tennis together. Many teams, both in sports and in marriage, come back stronger after taking a well needed time-out.

Few welcome difficult times. Yet some of our greatest victories and proudest moments come when we endure, pull together, and become victorious against the odds.

By turning towards our spouse, developing weness and taking a time out to help regroup when necessary, we can make sure that difficult times become an opportunity to strengthen our relationships, not destroy it.

And who knows, you just might like that new roof you get better than the one you had before. And if you play your cards right, that rental car you drive while yours is in the shop may be a great car to take your spouse out on a date.

For more tips on keeping your love alive, visit www.panhandlecouples.com.

Remember, couple relationships are easier than you think, but harder than you act.

Mark Anderson, MS, LIMHP is a mental health therapist specializing in couples therapy. He is in private practice at Oregon Trail Mental Health in Scottsbluff and can be contacted at 635-2800 or online at www.panhandlecouples.com.

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