Bond through life passages — 09 January 2011
Life crises can strengthen your bond with each other

It is commonly assumed that relationship crises weaken the fiber of love between committed partners. It is true for some issues but not others. Verbal/physical abuse, chronic infidelity and untreated addictions often do destroy relationships. Yet, other interpersonal stresses may actually strengthen couples’ bond.

Allan Schwartz, Ph.D. in “Whatever Does Not Kill Us: Cumulative Lifetime Adversity, Vulnerability and Resilience,” studied reactions to serious illness, violence, bereavement, relationship stress, fires, floods and other disasters. His findings concluded, “Adversity and trauma cause emotional damage, unless a person had a life of moderate prior trauma.” It suggests that earlier hardships foster resilience in facing subsequent trauma.

Columbia University researcher, George Bonanno reports in “Loss, Trauma and Human Resilience” that, “Resilience to the unsettling effects of loss is not rare but relatively common and does not appear to indicate pathology but rather healthy adjustment.”

Professor Bonanno describes three pathways to resilience: Hardiness, Self-enhancement (positive self-view) and Positive Emotion and Laughter.

“Hardiness consists of three dimensions: being committed to finding meaningful purpose in life, the belief that one can influence one’s surroundings and the outcome of events, and the belief that one can learn and grow from both positive and negative life experiences.”

Couples, who have experienced either an individual or a relationship crisis, can certainly use Dr. Bonanno’s formula of resiliency to bolster their reactions of trauma.

When living with loss and grief, pairs need to accept the emotions of sadness and emptiness as they focus on their new purpose in life. Many individuals, who lost loved ones to disease, crime or accidents, have recommitted themselves to better the lives of others by working to eradicate the causes that led to their losses. When couples join in their newfound life mission, their bond strengthens and the quest affirms that their loss had not been in vain.

Maintaining trust in your ability to affect change in your life empowers you and your mate to become a stronger team in seeking change. A loss of home, possessions, job or financial standings may be viewed as an irrecoverable condition or as a setback that requires harder work, greater ingenuity, use of others’ help and reawakening of strong inner resources. Couples who can muster this type of courage and reassure each other when either losses faith, are much more likely to recover and thrive.

Being optimistic in face of loss and stress is possible. Using laughter, and fun actually activates the production of healthy hormones that facilitate greater endurance and determination toward attaining success.

In reaction to stressful events:

• Resist the notion that the trauma can overpower your resiliency.
• Allow yourself to feel sadness, grief and loss without fearing that these emotions will persist, weaken or overwhelm you.
• Believe in your power to affect positive change and become wiser.
• Permit laughter and play.
• Treat even individual stress as a couple’s challenge. The team approach will cement your connection and strengthen your love.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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