Two Practices for Keeping Your Marriage Afloat

Zimbabwe Warning
Zimbabwe Warning

Have you ever been river rafting? I never went until after college and then found that while I loved the thrill of the rapids, I didn't really love being chilled to the bone between sets.  What I REALLY wanted was non-stop action!

Or at least that's what I thought I wanted.

Then Billy and I went river rafting in Zimbabwe on the largest commercially-run river in the world, the Zambezi.  This river has a series of 25 rapids with charming names like, "Commercial Suicide" and "Gnashing Jaws of Death."

After seeing the videos, I paid special attention to the safety instructions.

On this trip, our guide assured us that most of us would fall out of the boat at some point during the day and while HE wasn't worried about Hippos or Crocodiles "in this part of the river," he was worried about "hydraulics."  This is a technical term used to describe a spinning circle of water that can "keep" you under water spinning in a vortex of pounding waves.

Unfortunately, there aren't many ways to escape a hydraulic EXCEPT to do something very unnatural, as explained below:

(the) technique for extracting oneself from a hydraulic is completely contrary to natural instincts, but it is, nonetheless, often an effective way to get free from the recirculation of the hydraulic quickly. That technique involves getting into a "cannonball" position, letting the hydraulic carry you to the bottom of the river, then extending your body (face up and feet downriver) and allowing the strong, bottom current to wash you out of the hydraulic downriver and away from the hazard. For this to work effectively, you need to take a very deep breath of air just before going to the bottom of the hole, and you MUST remain calm and mentally in control during the procedure because you may be underwater for several seconds to a couple of minutes or more.   (full link here)

Maybe it's an odd connection, butI remembered this word picture when chatting with a friend who has hit a challenging series of rapids in her marriage. Their relationship has always been a wee bit volatile, but the rapids are bigger and more threatening these days and any number of things could "throw her out of the boat."

Every time we talk, I feel as if I'm giving some variation of the talk I heard from our river guide. Everything I say sounds counter-intuitive to her.  And yet, there are two important habits she needs to have if her relationship has any hope of surviving.

#1 Go to the bottom of the hole

When your marriage is struggling, avoidance and denial are your mortal enemies.  Not only will the pattern of disconnection and misunderstanding NOT magically disappear, it will get worse.  There is no escaping the current problems unless you actively pursue resolution.  Closing gaps must become a habit and there are plenty of practical ways to do this.  What usually stands in the way is our tendency to avoid vulnerability.

No sane person looks forward to swimming to the bottom of a vortex.

While getting to the bottom of the issue is key, how you get there is at least as important as the decision to go.  And that's where step two comes up.

#2 Calm your body and your brain

Panic usually results in a fight or flight response.  This is a helpful response when you're facing a wild animal, but it's rarely helpful in relationships.  People don't generally open up to someone who approaches conversations as either a combatant or victim. As the famous saying of  Brene Brown goes, “You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”

Do you believe that about yourself?  Really?

If so, then you can breathe deeply and engage in the process of WORKING on your marriage.

Staying together is a long-term proposition.  You need a willingness to do what often feels unnatural, facing your issues and staying calm in the process.