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Anne Lee



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If you and your spouse were facing a real emergency like an earthquake, fire, death of a loved one, car accident…what would you do?

I think we would naturally move to action to survive and protect.  Hopefully you’d move into a mode that says, “I will take my strengths and resources and rise to meet this and protect my family, my spouse and my home…because we will not lose what is most precious to us.”

You might turn into Mr. And Mrs. INCREDIBLE and lift that car off the pinned child, run five miles for help, or jump into shark invested waters to save your parents or siblings…okay so maybe not your spouse’s no-good brother.

But should we not attempt to administer the same attention and care to our beloved when they are lying injured on the side of the marital road as we would do for injured strangers we come across in a roadside emergency?

 All couples hit a state of emergency sometimes during their marriage.  This type of crisis comes in two categories.

Some can be classified as a “Natural Disaster,” which are those things more out of your control.  Like crises of health, death, job loss, victim of crime or actual natural disasters like fire, earthquakes, tornados, mudslides and riots.  Or as those of us living in Los Angeles refer to as “a day in the life.”

The second state of emergency can be referred to as “Man/Woman made Disasters.” These crises are easily traced back to us, but more often we quickly attribute them to our spouse! Alcoholism, infidelity, domestic violence, pornography, drug abuse, gambling, destructive relationships, sexual incompatibility, and workaholism fall into this category.

These emergency situations can come sneak up out of the blue and smack you across the back of the head, or they can walk up along side you and pick-pocket the life right out of your marriage and leave you in a state of shock.

The nature of emergencies are tough on the mind, body and heart!

When emergencies surprise you they can put you in a state of panic, anxiety, anger, and fear and elevate basic emotions beyond your usual tolerance level. You think “It won’t happen to us, we’re strong, capable…we’ll see it coming. We’ll do what we always do.”

Your usual means of coping, or sometimes not coping, with this kind of trauma may not work and you may feel ill-equipped or under-prepared for the triage it requires…and that can be very scary for you and your partner.  So you think –– How long will this crisis last? It couldn’t have happened at a worse time! Can we wait it out and do nothing?  I’ll sit back and pray for a miracle…God change my spouse! When will this emergency end? What will we be left with when it does?

Our human physiology is designed to respond to acute short term crisis and trauma situations in specific ways.

Fight: you may be quite familiar with that offensive-defensive response; Flight: disengage and run fast in the other direction; –Freeze: which renders you frozen, numb and stuck; or even Please: which is a form of rolling over and taking it as a victim to appease the situation against your will or better judgment.

These responses may work in the wild, but in marriage if these modes are repeated time and time again, when the trauma and drama of our lives keep repeating, our body, mind and spirit can shut down because they are not designed to handle crisis long term with healthy results.

If trauma continues for very long the neurotransmitters, the chemicals and hormones in men and women that run all of our body’s various systems become overworked, out of balance and they can no longer maximize our natural safety and survival response system.  Our brain, central nervous system, spleen, glands, bone marrow and lymph nodes are joined in a multidirectional network of communication.

So if the traumatic environment doesn’t change and the body’s response is maintained at the heightened level of fight, flight, freeze or please, the resulting damage has the potential to take the form of injury, illness; mental, physical and emotional breakdowns.

There is an uncanny parallel of similar negative results when a marriage is put into emergency mode for too long.

The American College of Emergency Physicians “First Aid Manual” gives the following list of what to do for First Aid Relief.  As you read these things see how they directly translate into key approaches to what a husband and wife should do for each other when their marriage is in a state of trauma.  So where it says “victim,” insert the name of your wife, husband or significant other and apply this good advice.

Protect victim and others at the scene from possible danger.

Identify as much as possible the injury or nature of the illness’ effect on the victim.

Give each victim early and appropriate treatment.  Treating the most serious condition first.

Arrange for the victim’s transport to get help.

Remain with the victim to give further assistance if required.

So how do we communicate with our partner when in a crisis mode and we’re poised to have another code blue meltdown?  Again the Emergency Physicians Manual states how to communicate when you are handling an emergency (And this is word for word from them!)  See how these things are totally transferable and essential in the dynamic of marital communication:

Both be in control of your own reactions to the problem.

  1. Act calmly and logically.
  2. Be gentle but firm.
  3. Speak to the victim (spouse) kindly, but in a clear and purposeful way
  4. Continue to reassure the victim (spouse)
  5. Do not leave someone that you believe to be dying, seriously ill or badly injured.

Continue to talk to the victim and hold their hand, NEVER ALLOW THE PERSON TO FEEL ALONE!

What a great approach to meet the needs of your spouse when they are suffering in a natural disaster or a man/woman made disaster. So slip on your own white medical coat, come to their side and ask them where it hurts.  Then listen closely to their heart!

See Part 2 for creating your own Medical Emergency Kit for Marriage!

Anne W. Lee, M.A., MFT is a conference speaker and licensed Marriage and Family Therapist is the Los Angeles area, specializing in work with couples and women in transitions of life.  She has been married 30 years to comedian Robert G. Lee, raised and emptied the nest of two adventurous and creative children and lived to tell the tale with a grin.  If she were to get a tattoo it would proclaim; Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much! in red.  Find her at

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