1. How have you reacted in the past to serious life problems , such as a death or job loss?
It’s inevitable that some life crises will occur during your lives together as a couple. Maybe you’ve already experienced a tragic or disruptive life event that has tested you as individuals and as a couple. Talk with each other about how you each tend to react, feel, and behave during a crisis. Your reactions might be different depending on the type of event (a job loss compared to the death of a loved one, for example). Consider the possible serious life events you might face together, discuss these, and try to understand how your partner will respond if these should occur.
2. How can I support you during a time of crisis?
Once you’ve discussed past and possible future serious life crises, ask your partner what he or she might need from you in way of support and compassion. For example, if your partner loses a parent or gets fired from a job, what specific actions or attitudes would he or she need from you? If a life event is equally devastating to both of you (you lose a beloved pet or your mutual business fails, for example), how can you be there for each other and get the emotional support you need as individuals? Before you are blindsided by a crisis, talk about your support plan.
3. How could we prepare for a job loss or financial crisis?
In previous questions, you’ve addressed the practical actions of planning for financial emergencies. But how can you plan for the emotional aspects if one of loses a job or suffers a serious financial loss? These situations usually create issues about confidence, self-esteem, fear, self-doubt, and lack of motivation. Should this kind of crisis occur, what are your likely responses, both as the one most directly affected and as the supportive partner? What will you need to do create a softer landing and to reduce stress during these times? What outside support from friends, family, or professionals might you need?
4. If I had a life-threatening illness, how would you react and cope?
No one wants to consider the possibility of a loved one having a serious illness or disability. But these situations occur, and it’s valuable to understand how your partner might react in this situation and what coping mechanisms he or she might employ. How much care-giving is your partner willing and able to do? How does illness in the house make him or her feel? Who would he or she call on for emotional and/or physical support? An important part of this discussion is sharing what both of you want in the way of a living will and any other specific end-of-life wishes.
5. What kind of crisis could potentially harm our relationship, and how would we handle it?
When a crisis occurs, the fear and pain often makes us lash out at the one we are closest to. We are looking for someone to blame, and this person is the easiest target. Some serious crises are known to pull couples apart (like the death of a child, for example), but if you recognize this as a possibility and proactively deal with the feelings of anger and pain, you can save your relationship, and in some cases make your relationship stronger. Do you envision any crisis situations in which your relationship might be in jeopardy? Talk about these and how you would address the problem.
6. What do we need to do to plan and prepare should one or both of us die unexpectedly?
If your partner were to die today, do you know how to access all of his or her important information and documents? Are you up-to-speed on where all of your financial information is? Do you have a will prepared and have you established guardians for your children? Should this tragedy occur, the last thing you or someone in your family will want to do is scramble around for directives, documents, and passwords. As uncomfortable as it is, you need to discuss these preparations and when you plan to take care of them.
7. How do you grieve the loss of something or someone you cherish?
We all grieve differently. Some of us openly express our pain and allow tears to flow freely, while others go within and suffer in silence. Loss doesn’t always mean the loss of someone you care about. We can grieve the loss of our youth, moving from one home to another, or our kids leaving home. Understanding how your partner grieves and what his or her grief looks like can help you be more compassionate, supportive, and empathetic.
8. What life crisis do you fear the most? Why?
Most of us have that one big fear that puts a knot in our stomach or creates low-level anxiety. Maybe it’s getting cancer, losing a child, or your business failing. Find out what your partner fears the most and why he or she has so much fear about this particular crisis. By talking about our fears in a safe and loving environment, it can actually lessen the anxiety and make us feel more in control.
9. What else can we do to prepare or protect ourselves from unexpected crises?
Discuss if there are any practical or emotional actions you need to take to prepare or protect yourself from a life crisis or tragedy. For example, maybe you’re living in an unsafe area, and you need to consider moving. Maybe one of you has a job that is risky physically or financially, and you should consider changing jobs. Your car might have bald tires, and you need to spring for a new set. In what ways might you be putting yourselves as risk for tragedy that you can address by taking action now?
10. How can we adopt a “growth mindset” when a big life crisis occurs?
A growth mindset means you believe you have the ability to not only survive the crisis, but also to learn and grow from it. Growth-minded people recognize they have the inner resources to move past a crisis after an appropriate period of grief and pain. It involves practicing optimism and hope, allowing yourself to fully feel and express your emotions, and finding a great meaning in your struggle. Do you practice a growth mindset during the small difficulties of your life? How can you work together as a couple to practice optimism and reinforce your ability to handle whatever life throws at you?
Follow-up: Are there any life crises you’d like to better understand from your partner’s viewpoint? What specific action steps will you both take to support each other in these life concerns as a couple? Write these down and determine how and when you will initiate these changes or actions.