Man jumping over a gap: Overcoming external stressors

10 Tips to Save Your Relationship When Life Throws You a Curveball

If one were to choose the worst thing that could happen to a married couple, having their child disappear would have to be near the top of the list.

In January 1994, Ylenia Carrisi vanished off the face of the Earth.  She was visiting New Orleans at the time, and so far as everyone knew, having a great time.  And then she was gone.  There has been no trace of her since.

Ylenia was the eldest daughter of Albano Carrisi (stage name, “Al Bano,”) and Romina Power, among the most famous singers and actors in Italy at the time.  Power was the daughter of Tyrone Power, himself a major actor in Hollywood.

Carrisi and Power did many concerts together, which still can be seen on YouTube, and one would swear, watching them, that a couple could not be more in love.

No one knows what happened to Ylenia.  Was she abducted?  Murdered?   Did she take her own life?  Did she decide just to disappear?  Almost 30 years later, still no one knows.

After Ylenia disappeared, it appears that things took a downhill dive between Carrisi and Power.  They apparently disagreed about how to handle the death of their daughter, and the daughter was eventually declared dead at the request of the father.

Albano Carrisi and Romina Power divorced in 1999, after 29 years of marriage.  That’s a long run for a celebrity couple.

But at the time, Albano Carrisi said that his wife no longer wanted him in her life and that, in any case, she was no longer recognizable as the woman he had married.

He attributed the breakup in large part to Ylenia’s disappearance.  The relationship was broken.  Carrisi and Power reunited for some concerts and many fans hoped that they would get together again, but it never happened.

The story of Ylenia, and of the marriage, is the kind of sad story that almost no one wishes on anyone, even their enemies.  Children are not supposed to predecease their parents!

But bad things happen to many people, perhaps most people.  And some of these things are almost unbearable, as in the case of the disappearance of Ylenia.

Life happens, and relationships get caught in the middle of it

In my blogposts, I have written many times about all the things that can go wrong with loving relationships.  My focus has been primarily internal—on how love can slip away, break, start to dissolve, or just fall victim to boredom.

But often, external circumstances chip away even at what the couple believed to be “true love.”

Of course, we all know the cases of competing relationships and the resulting affairs that can threaten a relationship.  In those cases, the relationship is in distress because the love is going elsewhere.

But sometimes, the love just cannot stand the stress and the pain.  In the case of Carrisi and Power, the circumstance was the mysterious disappearance of their daughter.

But the circumstances can be extremely diverse: financial problems, loss of a job (which of course can bring with it financial problems), deterioration in the physical or mental health of one or both partners, problems with substance abuse, legal problems, or whatever.

The list of possible problems is endless but also unpredictable.  People rarely foresee the disasters that strike them. I certainly haven’t!  They just strike, usually with no warning.  One day things are fine; the next day, they are very not fine.

Couples need to learn to cope together or they risk losing each other

So is there a key to why some couples get through incredibly stressful events and others do not?

There probably is no one single key, but almost certainly, an important key is resilience.  Resilience is the ability to cope with hardship and crisis and then to recover as quickly as possible, returning, to the extent possible, to one’s pre-crisis state of mind.

Psychological resilience is the ability to cope mentally or emotionally with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis status quickly.  There is no one secret to developing resilience and thereby possibly saving your relationship.  But there are eight concrete steps anyone can take.

1. Put your relationship first.

You have to realize immediately that stressful events, whatever their cause, will stress your relationship.  Be proactive in working to save and possibly to help grow your relationship.

Stressors can kill relationships but also can make them stronger.  You probably know the expression what “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” Make that expression apply to your relationship.

2. Seek help.

Join a support group.  Seek therapy.  Lean on your extended family and friends.

When things go to hell in a handbasket is exactly the time to seek from others the support they likely have sought from you over the years.  Ideally, seek help with your partner so you can deal with your issues together.

3. Learn from any mistakes you may have made.

Some disasters come through sheer bad luck.  For example, no one plans to acquire a chronic illness.  No one plans to be laid off because of bad economic conditions.

But some disasters are directly or indirectly of our own making.  Whatever you may have done that might have precipitated the disaster, learn from it and how not to repeat it!

4. Don’t “circle the drain.”

Circling the drain means that you descend into a downward spiral on your way to total collapse (disappearance down the drain).  There are so many ways to enter into that spiral—substance abuse, moping, feeling perpetually sorry for yourself, not taking care of yourself, overeating, engaging in anti-social behavior.

It’s all tempting—what difference does it make anymore, anyway, or so you may think?  But you can and will come out of this, but not if you spiral downward.

5. Show your “adaptive intelligence.”

Intelligence is not really about IQ test scores or scores on standardized tests. It’s about your solving hard problems in everyday life.

When the sh.t hits the fan—that’s the time when you find out whether you are really intelligent, not when you take a standardized test.  Show yourself and others what you can do!

Adaptive intelligence is collective. It’s not just about you.  Work with your partner and, if relevant, your family to solve the challenges life has thrown at you.

6. Set goals—maybe new ones.

You may need to change your goals and even the trajectory of your life.  Do it!

If possible, turn your crisis into an opportunity to find a new direction for yourself.

Best, find a new set of goals for you and your partner jointly. 

7. Be optimistic.

If you are pessimistic, you can inadvertently create a self-fulfilling prophecy: You expect the worst; you make it happen.

Similarly, optimism can lead to better results because you expect them and work toward them.

Also, pessimism is a relationship-destroyer.  It’s hard to make a relationship work when both partners expect the worst, or even if one does.

8. Be proactive.

Don’t sit around waiting for things to happen.  Make them happen!

You may have been royally screwed in your life.  Most people are, at one point or another.

Go out. Make your life better.  Make it a joint project with your partner.  Whatever you do together likely will help you stay together.

9. Be creative.

Don’t just rely on past patterns in your behavior.  Think about new ways to structure your life and your relationship.

10. Be wise.

Don’t focus just on yourself.  Focus also on helping others who may have been affected by the blow you have endured.  Seek a common good, not just what is good for you personally.  Make the best of what may seem like an unbelievably bad situation.

Bad things happen to everyone.  Some people, of course, encounter particularly bad luck.

What distinguishes people from each other is their response—their resilience in the face of the blows they encounter.  Make yourself one of the resilient ones.  It’s your choice.

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2 thoughts on “10 Tips to Save Your Relationship When Life Throws You a Curveball”

  1. Debra L Smiley-Adams

    I love the idea of taking the blow and using it to change the trajectory of your life. Setting new goals as a couple, being proactive.

    1. Thank you! It’s just a matter of time until we encounter challenges in life; what matters is how we respond to those challenges.

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