What Qualities Distinguish a Resilient Marriage?
Resilient couples refuse the temptation to blame each other in the face of adversity. For example, if a child is diagnosed with a serious illness or a disability, the shock and impulse to understand why might lead a less resilient parent to blame or lash out with accusing questions like: “Why didn’t you try harder to breastfeed?” or “Why haven’t you been more hands on with the kids?” A resilient couple is able to become a team in a crisis and do whatever it takes to support the child, address the challenge, and also support each other. Instead of internally and verbally blaming their spouse, they experience and express concern and support for one another, and aim to make each other feel valued.
Resilience is also a meaningful quality in the absence of a crisis. Daily pressures and responsibilities related to finances, childrearing and workplace demands sometimes lead to conflict and tension. A noteworthy hallmark of a resilient marriage is a willingness to laugh or use humor to halt unproductive communications. A couple I worked with noticed that if their fights were spiraling, it often helped if one was willing to break the tension by smiling, opening their arms and exclaiming: “let’s hug it out!” Fans of the television show Entourage will recognize this gesture as a tribute to the legendary character Ari Gold for whom this couple shared a sense of amusement and fondness. There are obviously other communication strategies that help couples navigate more serious conflict. But a willingness to employ humor where appropriate is a characteristic shared by many resilient relationships.
As Sheryl Sandberg emphasizes in her new book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, the good news is that resilience is not an inherited trait; it is fluid and can be built. To develop resilience in a marriage, consider the value of offering support in a crisis rather than blaming and lashing out. And don’t underestimate the value of positive humor.