Q: How does one weather a relationship that is not going so well? My wife and I have been off and on for 28 years, but our relationship has gotten worse in the last two years. My wife lost her mother and at the same time became menopausal. How can I show my love in ways that do not seem self-serving or insincere? I love her dearly, yet I do not feel her love, primarily because of the things she is going through. I guess I'm asking for some tools to cope, to help me be strong and comforting while she goes through her anger and grief. I know she loves me, but I think she is unable to show it now. How do I hang in there?
--M. Chavez

A: When we say our vows on our wedding day, most of us believe that we are pledging our hearts and minds "for better or worse, in sickness and in health" forever. On that day, we cannot conceive of a time when staying with the one we love could become a chore. Yet almost every long-term relationship will face problems of emotional and physical health, financial difficulties, sexual difficulties, and a variety of dilemmas that make staying together problematic. And many couples give up.

Our guess is that several things are going on in your current situation. One is that the grief your wife feels over the death of her mother has triggered fears of abandonment. Your previous breakups are a signal to both of you that your relationship is not inviolable. All of us want someone who will not leave us, no matter what we do, no matter how difficult circumstances become. But most of us have something in our past that has taught us that we can't always have unconditional love and acceptance.

There is nothing you can say that will completely erase your wife's fears. She may not even be conscious of having them. Besides, we all know that words alone can be hollow. Also, there probably isn't anything you can say that will truly help your wife's grief. You certainly want to listen if she wishes to talk, but don't worry about trying to come up with the right words. Just be there. The longer you remain by her side, the more powerful a symbol your staying becomes.

Therefore, make the decision that you will outlast this problem. You will stay. This is your wife whom you love, and you will commit yourself to this marriage. Do this every morning as you awake. Commit deeply to the relationship for that one day. Don't worry about how long your problems will last. Simply commit.

You don't mention if you wife has sought help for her menopausal problems, but there are so many good approaches now that it is not necessary for women (or their partners) to suffer through this time of life "cold turkey." For example, hormone replacement therapy, whether one chooses an "all-natural" approach or a traditional medical approach, can be very effective. Often, however, a woman can become defensive if a man tells her she needs hormones. If there is another woman who is a friend to both of you, she might be able to broach this subject with your wife. Men often make the mistake of bringing up the subject of menopause during an argument, and this to a woman is an attack and a criticism. If there is some indirect way you can get information to her that will allow her more options, then certainly do that, but if this subject has become highly charged, it would be best to leave it alone.

One coping strategy that will help you get through this time is to stay in the present. This is simply a decision not to project problems into the future and not to do anything out of fear of the future. If your wife has a particularly bad day, you don't assume anything about tomorrow. Grief tends to come in waves and to last longer than most people think reasonable. Hormonal mood swings also can come and go as if by magic. But the truth you know about God's love and comforting presence is that it will never change. No matter what you're going through, remember your love for your wife and God's love for you both.

If you turn frequently to the One who is always faithful to you, this difficult period will gradually become easier and more peaceful. It is a great gift to remain in a relationship when problems arise. It makes a statement of faith that blesses not only your wife but also you and everyone your relationship touches.

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