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Whether it's the death of a parent, the loss of a job, or a fertility problem, a traumatic experience can cause even the best of marriages to careen off-course. What can you do when an outside circumstance is so stressful that it starts to pull you and your husband apart? Stephen Betchen, DSW, a marital and sex therapist in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and author of Real Life Relationships: Q's & A's About Love, Sex, and the Dynamics of Couples, suggests the following steps to keep you connected during a crisis:
Step 1. Each of you must accept the magnitude of the loss or problem. The more painful the situation, the more likely couples are to bury the experience as soon as possible. But failing to address the loss can lead to the development of anxiety, depression, ulcers, and migraines. Recognize that it's happened -- and that it's best for you to deal with it.
Step 2. Grieve together. Set aside a specific time in the evening when you both can express a wide range of emotions and then take turns practicing "active listening," says Betchen. In active listening, you repeat what your husband has said to make sure that you understand his feelings. Then, ask him to repeat what you've said. This approach will ensure that you truly understand -- or at least respect -- each other's perspective.
Step 3. Show empathy. If your husband has experienced a loss, try to relate to his pain by remembering a time when you felt particularly vulnerable and express your concerns. But don't pressure him to "get over" the trauma prematurely. And if you're the one who experienced the loss, ask him to do the same for you.
Step 4. Get help. If one or both of you is struggling to cope, don't be too stubborn or too proud to consult a professional. For major life traumas, counseling may help you process what's happened and allow you to accept it.