My dad had his private pilot’s license when I was growing up and I was always fascinated and scared to death to fly with him.  He seemed unsure about different aspects of getting the plane off the ground.  My kid’s memory pictures him covering his checklist 5 times where more experienced pilots were good with one run through.  He was a CPA, so every box needed to be checked and then double-checked.  I could have viewed this as a setback but because I expected it, it was annoyingly comforting.

Listening to the tower and their instructions to change headings and altitude always seemed confusing.  I never really could understand what they were saying, sounded almost like static to me.  He explained that during flying lessons, you’re given a lot of apprentice time working with an instructor to help you “understand” the tower.  The instructor tutors you in the tower “speak” and lets you know what to expect at certain times of the take-off, flight, and landing.

What Do You Expect?

Most couples we meet go into marriage with this rainbows and unicorn idea of what it will be.  Guess what, they hit some setbacks, just like Mike and I have in our marriage.  I don’t know any couple who lives the “happily ever after” life even though that may be the way it seems on social media.

Setbacks to Expect

Financial – Mike and I have had multiple business setbacks and failures over the course of our marriage.  Most times, we had no clue how we would get through.  But we did get through it.  It was tough but there were huge lessons learned and applied.

Physical – Usually we expect that there will be health issues as we age.  And there are.  But sometimes health issues spring up with you don’t expect them.  I had a scare and hysterectomy at age 59.  Not super unusual for that age but a little younger than most.  Thank goodness for excellent healthcare and surgeon!

Children – Most of us don’t think of our kids as setbacks but they do greatly impact our marriages.  Many couples we work with say that having kids creates one of the hardest times in their marriage.  And guess what, it’s the gift that keeps on giving!  Kids are a challenge and the first few years of sleep deprivation and moms drifting toward more and more focus on kids can create hurt feelings and a sense of separation for couples.

More Setbacks

Jobs – I don’t know anyone who thinks their job is easy.  There is always stress involved (some jobs, more than others).  And we can carry job stress to our home life thanks to our 24/7 connectivity.  Then there’s the loss of job which most of us go through at some point.  The company we work for is bought out and our position eliminated, or we’re just let go – fired – canned.  Whatever you call it, it stinks.

Family – This aspect of life can be a joy or a burden and sometimes both.  As married couples, God’s word calls us to leave our family of origin and start our own family with our spouse.  This can be a challenge depending on your families and how they interact and mingle with your marriage.  Mike and I are so blessed to have supportive parents and extended family.  They never offered opinions unless we asked and so we made our own family with good decisions and mistakes.  Our parents were always there for moral support through the good and hard times too.

If you know there will be setbacks, then you won’t be surprised.  Having a plan for setbacks and knowing what the “tower” may be telling you will help you understand how to navigate through that valley.


Plus, Setbacks can give you a huge opportunity to draw closer as a couple.  In fact, Setbacks will either pull you together or drive you apart.  There’s no neutral ground.  So, preparing for them will allow your plan to include ways for you and your spouse to draw closer.

Action Steps – Draw Closer as a Couple

  • Talk about how you both want to handle a setback. Be open and honest about fears and the unknown.  Turn toward one another with words and actions.  This will help you see circumstances from your spouse’s point of view and come to a shared solution that works for you both.


  • Don’t blame your spouse or yourself. OK, so they are the one that gets sick, or loses their job, or can’t seem to let go of being with the kids 24/7.  Blaming will always drive you apart in any relationship and is defined by Dr. Brene’ Brown as “the discharge of discomfort and pain”.  Use the situation to understand them and their fear and perspective.  This will draw you closer.  Use our Task Talk/Heart Talk method to help you get to some more constructive conversation instead of accusing and blaming them.

Your marriage is way too important to let setbacks move you apart as a couple. 


  • Create more time in your schedule. Anytime you have higher stress in your life, everyday tasks can seem overwhelming.  Try cutting out some of the fluff.  Only you can determine which appointments, social gatherings and family obligations can be postponed or canceled.  BUT making more space in your schedule will help you process the stress of the setback.


  • Move on. Some of us, me included, get stuck in the setbacks.  For whatever reason, I tend to turn the situation over and over in my mind trying to make sense.  However, some things just don’t make sense. Trying to figure out if things could be better, or not happened as they did, is a waste of time.  I’ve heard it said, “God just closed that door” when something doesn’t go as we expect.  Maybe you just need to take another approach and go at it again.  Move on to a different approach, don’t get stuck. Don’t let self-doubt and fear put you in a holding pattern.

Be encouraged!  And Don’t Be Surprised.

You will have setbacks.

Use every setback to become closer as a couple.