If you are married you will have challenges. If you are single you will have challenges. No matter what, there are going to be challenges in life. Might as well face them with a spouse. Two heads are better than one, someone said. Of course, two heads butting together can be a problem. The trick is to handle challenges as partners with a common goal. Then there’s no head butting, just honest-to-goodness figuring things out together.

I saw an example of this many years ago when I was just a young 11-year-old girl. My family had recently moved to a farm—my dad’s dream had finally come true. Times were tight but Mom and Dad were willing to sacrifice to enjoy the fruits of their dreams. It was during that first winter—a time to prepare the equipment for spring planting—that I learned how married people face challenges.

Daddy was working in what he referred to as the machine shed. Not only did it contain the new/used tractor he had just purchased but other equipment and a supply of fertilizer for the crops. He was working on the tractor. It was cold so he had the kerosene heater going. As he moved the tractor he accidently backed into the heater, tipping it over. The kerosene ran everywhere, with the flames following the trail. It quickly found its way to the highly combustible fertilizer. Suddenly the shed was ablaze. My dad screamed for help and my mother, big brothers, and the rest of us (8 kids at the time) came running to help put out the fire.

The fire department was miles away. As the garden hose poured water on the fire it became obvious that nothing we could do was going to put that fire out. Daddy tried to get the tractor out, but failed and had to abandon any hope of rescuing it or anything else. There we all stood, looking on in horror at what was happening. My father and mother had their arms around each other, with tears streaming down their cheeks. I wrapped my arms around Mom, and the others huddled close, too. There was a horrible feeling of doom in the air. Then I heard my mother as she looked up at my dad and, in despair, said, “What are we going to do?” His reply is one I never forgot. “I don’t know. But Heavenly Father knows. He will help us get through this.”

It had burned nearly to the ground by the time the fire department arrived. But my parents’ faith never burned out, it only burned brighter. I heard their daily pleadings for help. I saw how neighbors, family, and others came to the rescue. I saw how Heavenly Father was answering their prayers. It was a great lesson in how a couple makes it through a difficult challenge. I saw them holding on with faith.

A job loss

That’s how we make it through the difficulties that come. They come in many different forms. It can be serious health issues, rebellious children, or the death of a child. Some couples face the challenge of a job loss, as was the case of Sherrie and Glen (not their real names). They were already on a strict budget with the hope that this current job would pull them out of the mire. The opposite happened. The company cut back and Glen was laid off. He could hardly bear to tell his wife.

Sometimes when jobs are lost it can cause conflict in the marriage. Couples begin blaming each other for the failure, with comments like “Why didn’t you . . .” Or “If you had only . . .” Or the wife will go into panic mode and burst into a flood of emotional tears. That won’t do anything but make matters worse. There’s nothing wrong with a few shared tears, but not a continuous down pour. If a spouse loses a job, remember it is not the end of the world, it’s only the end of a job. There will be other jobs.

When Glen came home with the bad news, Sherrie realized how awful he felt. He didn’t need her to say anything that would place blame on him or make him feel even worse. She knew he was trying hard to provide for the family. Instead, she put her arms around him and said, “Oh, honey, I’m so sorry. That’s hard. I love you so much. I have confidence in you and I know we’ll be able to work this out somehow.” They sat down and went to work on creating a plan that would get them by until he found another job. That’s what successful couples do. They pull together and work things out.

The heartache of infertility

Sometimes married couples face the challenge of infertility. This can be a heartbreaking discovery, especially when you want children with all your hearts. That monthly disappointment of finding out yet again that you are not pregnant can wear on the couples relationship if they are not careful. This takes a lot of understanding and patience for both the husband and the wife. They will handle the disappointment in their own way. Wives are more emotion driven and will express the sorrow differently than her husband. That doesn’t mean he isn’t equally sad, it’s just that he may not appear to be as sad. She can take that as being uncaring and less concerned. Allow him to feel the sorrow in his own way—just know, he, too cares deeply.

In this case, it doesn’t matter who is the one responsible for the infertility. This is not an individual problem. It’s a couple problem. As one husband with this challenge put it, “I married her because I loved her, not because she could or could not produce babies.” Then he reiterated, “Of course, I wanted children, too, but I wanted her to know without question that I loved her no matter what. I just knew we would somehow find a way to have a family.” After years of prayer and seeking medical help they realized their only option was to adopt their children. She said, “We never stopped believing that God would help us find our family. And he did. Now we have five precious children.”

When a child has disabilities

Hardships can arise when a couple has a seriously ill or disabled child. Husband and wife do not always agree on the treatment or what should be done. If this is your challenge do your best to consider it a challenge you both must face together. Rely on each other. Help each other. We know two couples who were faced with a severely disabled child. Each couple handled it differently. In the first case, the wife felt that she was the only one capable of caring for the child properly. Little by little she shut her husband out of being in on the care and decisions needed. Before long her husband, who very much wanted to help, was pushed away. The child became everything to the wife. The husband felt rejected and unwanted. Sadly, they ended up divorcing.

The second case was similar in that the child was equally as disabled as the first, needing constant care and feeding. This couple decided that they would not let this destroy their marriage, but strengthen it by working together. They allowed family members, friends, and trained helpers to give assistance. They even made sure to have a date night once a week where they could relax and have some fun without the pressure of caring for their child, who lived to be 21 years old, and never becoming capable of caring for himself at all. They loved him and enjoyed his smiles. Their love flourished and lasted until their own deaths many years later. Their daughter said, “Mom and Dad were the perfect love story.” They knew how to deal with this challenge.

What to do

There are a multitude of problems that we could talk about, but this isn’t a book. Suffice it to say, when problems arise, and they will, couples can choose to let it put a wedge between them or bring them closer together, regardless of what the problem may be. Here are some ways to ensure that problems will bring you closer, creating an even stronger marriage.

  1. Always keep in mind that your marriage is an eternal commitment. You made sacred covenants with the Lord to keep it strong and make it last throughout all eternity. Never lose sight of that—even reaffirm it with each other from time to time. It is when this commitment is forgotten that couples allow their problems to drive them away from each other rather than bring them together.
  1. Pray together over your problems. When a couple kneels in prayer, taking each other by the hand, it creates a powerful bond of faith. They know that, with God all things are possible. With faith, no problem will be too big to overcome. You can’t pray away a burned down machine shed, but you can pray for a way to make it through the trial it created.
  1. Be open with each other. Talk things out together and discuss possible solutions. If you are having problems communicating with each other you may need to have a session or two with a marriage counselor. They have ideas that can help you know how to communicate more effectively. One key thing to remember is to let your spouse have a say without defending or justifying your position. When you seek to understand the other’s point of view progress can be made. Be a willing listener. Do not think your way is always the only way. There can be two right ways. Compromise and give each other a chance to have the answer.
  1. Get rid of blaming. Nothing can be accomplished if it’s always the other’s person’s fault. Assigning fault rarely leads to a solution. It only causes more arguing.
  1. Treat each other with respect. Yelling and calling names will only magnify a problem. Remember, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. ” (Proverbs 15:1) Be gentle and respectful to each other, even when you disagree. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing. We all have our own perspective. Respecting that perspective makes all the difference.
  1. Attend the temple. At the recent General Conference President Thomas S. Monson said, “As we go to the temple, as we remember the covenants we make there, we will be better able to overcome those temptations and bear our trials.” The temple is a place of peace to ponder and pray about our challenges. Take advantage of that opportunity as often as you can and you may be surprised at how your problems are somehow resolved. Not always in the way we hope, but in the way the Lord knows is best for us.
  1. Talk to friends or family who may have gone through a similar challenge. Ask them what they did that helped them resolve the issue. Read articles or books on the subject. Glean what you can from those who know. If it’s a financial struggle you may want to talk with a financial advisor. Your bishop can help you get the help you need. That’s what happened with Joel and Cathy. Their bishop arranged for them to meet with another ward member, an expert in the field, who volunteered to help them figure out a solution to their financial problems.
  1. Take time together to step away from the problem. Make time for some fun. Have date nights as the couple in the second case of the disabled child did. If you do this, it will freshen your minds and give you time to focus on your marriage. Having fun together, even on a shoe-string-budget, will do wonders to help you through challenges.

What really matters

We were touched by the story of an elderly gentleman whose wife had severe Alzheimer’s. He finally could no longer care for her so put her in a care center for patients in her situation. He visited her every day without fail. One day, after many months, a nurse said to him, “Why do you come? She doesn’t even know who you are.” His reply was, “It’s OK. I know who she is.” His love for her never died. That’s how we make it through life’s challenge. If we look at our mates with that depth of love, regardless of the struggles, and think “I know who she/he is,” we can make it through anything. Always keeping that center in your mind. This life is short. It’s our time to prepare for a glorious hereafter with our eternal companion.

Sister Linda K. Burton, in her recent General Conference address, reminded us of the Quaker proverb, “Thee lift me and I lift thee and we’ll ascend together.” That’s how it works.

[For more articles and books by the Lundbergs, including there book “Love That Lasts: 14 Secrets to a Joyful, Passionate, and Fulfilling Marriage”, click here.]