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The Third Ring, by Byron Ware

    “Marriage is a three-ring circus: engagement ring, wedding ring, and suffering.”

    I found this joke on the Internet. Notice how that the person that came up with it did not bother taking credit for it!

    A certain amount of humor in marriage is necessary and important to you and your spouse’s mental health. It eases tensions and can completely turn around everyone’s attitude when applied at the right time, in the right situation. While there is great truth in this description, we need to recognize that the third ring of this circus is ours whether we are married or not! It is a fact of life, no matter our marital status, that we will experience some suffering in our lives. What is life anyway? “Opportunity mixed with difficulty and routine.” This was a definition our marriage class came up with recently. If life has difficulty and suffering, then how do we react to it as individuals? How do we react to it as marriage partners? Our reactions to these crises are what can make or break us, and they can make or break our marriages.

    Dr. Royce Money, in his book Building Stronger Families, explains that “A crisis is an emotional response to a hazardous situation. It is a crossroads, a turning point, a transitional period. ...A true crisis occurs when people find themselves unable to solve a problem by their usual means. They have a feeling of helplessness and are unable to reason effectively and cope normally.”

    These crises can come in all varieties. They can be catastrophic, like the crisis experience by the families of those killed in Jonesboro, Arkansas. These crises leave noone unchanged.

    Then there are those “regular” crises that pop up in the middle of our routine. I’ll give you a specific example. On a recent Friday afternoon, my wife delivered two family pets for adoption. There were tears from our daughters and from Mom. Next, the back part of the mini-van that didn’t quite make it all the way into the garage before the door came down. Then a daughter fell hard on her arm while rollerblading and had to be rushed to the emergency room. On most days this would be considered a bad day. When it all happens within two hours, like it did, you might call it one of those “regular” kinds of crises that pop up and obliterate us emotionally and make us appreciate our hectic, but predictable routines.

    The big question is, “How do we deal with these emotional turning points and how do we react and treat each other when a crisis happens?” Lloyd Ahlem, in his excellent book, How to Cope with Conflict, Crisis and Change, divides the crisis sequence into four parts:

  1. Impact
  2. Withdrawal-Confusion
  3. Adjustment
  4. Reconstruction-Reconciliation.

    In the impact stage, denial is worse than reality. We have to honestly face our problem and take responsibility. Absorbing the reality of the crisis is hard. Denying it and putting off it’s effects is much harder, at least in the long run.

“Marriage is a three-ring circus: engagement ring, wedding ring, and suffering.”
    In the withdrawal-confusion stage, we must be honest with our feelings. We must grieve our pain. We must give ourselves a realistic amount of time to do this. We do have to be careful here not to push blame on others that we love because we are angry or mad. Feelings need to be released, but carefully, striving not just unload them on those that we love at the wrong time or place. One other important aspect about this state of confusion, we need to avoid extreme thoughts and actions. There is good that can come out of just about everything bad. Trusting that God can and will work to bring something positive out our deepest struggles can help us see the valuable lessons and gain new insights to help us face the future.

    Adjustment to crisis means talking through problems with others and bouncing ideas off of trusted allies. This is where we can work together with our spouse as a team. If we are used to praying together, this is a natural time to hang on to each other and to God. Adjusting means changing the course to the new set of facts we are facing.

    When I think of the last stage, reconstruction-reconciliation, I think of “counting our pearls.” Gary Smalley, the noted author, talks about how an oyster develops pearls from the irritation of sand grains. From that irritating incident something beautiful is formed. I know we can usually count our grains of grit in our crises, let’s also anticipate our pearls!

    Nothing can bind two individuals together faster than a struggle against the Enemy. Unfortunately, sometimes a crisis can break couples apart just as fast. If our marriage is already drained with an unhealthy relationship, it’s possible that a crisis could be the “straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back.” Our past track record in dealing with our crises is an indicator of how we will deal with future ones if we continue our present course. For some, this is reassuring. For others, it is very threatening. We need to remember that the best time to handle our crisis is now, before it hits. Strengthening our relationship and developing a team approach to marriage and family can help us when the next crisis comes.

    No one hunts for tragedy, but if it strikes at your door, or your garage door, you can strengthen your marriage. God intended for us to call on him and work together as a family learning about the opportunities and the difficulties in life. While you are out there in the water clinging to your life ring, you might as well count those pearls.

Resources: I referred to two books: Building Stronger Families, by Dr. Royce Money from Victor Books and How to Cope with Conflict, Crisis, and Change, by Lloyd Ahlem from Regal Books. You can also find out more about “Counting your Pearls” from Gary Smalley in Making Love Last Forever from LifeWay Press.


HEARTLIGHT(R) Magazine is a ministry of loving Christians and the Westover Hills church of Christ.
Edited by Phil Ware and Paul Lee.
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Article copyright © 1998, Byron Ware. Used by permission.
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