Infidelity. Jealousy. Neighbors from hell. A baby that cried for the first year of her life. These are the biggest challenges these relationships faced, and how they made it through together.
No marriage is easy. There are ups and downs and all manner of tests. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. That’s why building a strong foundation is so crucial; it’s why you do the work to be a united front. What is often surprising, however, is the particular assortment of challenges that appear. They’re impossible to prepare for and create circumstances that can push even the most unified couples to their breaking point.
While you can’t know what’s coming down the road, you can know what other couples faced and how they managed to get through with their relationship intact. That’s why we asked a dozen men about the biggest test their marriage ever faced. They spoke of dangerous habits, prideful moments, parenting-style clashes, unfortunate accidents, and infidelity. Each situation had the potential to turn out much worse. But through a combination of introspection, hard work, empathy, and even outside help, they worked with their partners to discover the love and hope that still existed, nurtured it, and rebuilt their relationships stronger than ever. Learn what they can teach you so that you’ll be ready and inspired when things get rough.
1. A parenting styles clash
“Parenting doesn’t look easy on paper, but it seems simple. It seems like a very prescriptive process and, while you know it’s going to be hard, you feel like you can plan for most of it. When our first son was born, my wife and I were at odds over almost every decision made about him for the first year. The honeymoon phase was wonderful. But then we started getting into things like, ‘Should he be allowed to use an iPad?’ ‘Should we feed him this?’ ‘I read this about this type of toy.’ And we blamed each other for our inability to agree on anything. There were times when I just went into the bathroom and cried. I think our marriage really hit rock bottom. And I know it’s cliché, but from there the only place to go was up. We tried to eliminate distractions outside of our family, and trust more in ourselves as parents. We probably made so many mistakes, but instead of blaming each other for them, we supported each other through them.” – Kyle, 37, North Carolina
2. A house fire
“My wife and I lost our house and all of our possessions in a house fire in February of 2017. I worked overnight at the time, and was asleep in our house when she left to pick our daughter up from preschool. She had accidentally left a candle burning in the home office which caught the window shades on fire and spread throughout the house in a matter of minutes. It took us months to find a contractor to rebuild, then Hurricane Harvey hit and made construction immensely more expensive and time consuming. In the middle of our rebuild, the contractor we hired just up and left, stealing $100,000 from us.
To say it was a trying time in our marriage is an understatement. The main thing that kept our marriage intact was we leaned on each other for comfort, healing and security. I suffered from some intense PTSD that gave me panic attacks at the mere sight of fire, or smell of smoke. My wife was also having severe panic attacks from her guilt and anxiety over the candle. Just the fact that she was there to hold my hand and speak comfort to me when I was in the void, and in turn being able to do the same for her when she was lost, made us bond in ways that weren’t not possible before the fire. We came out stronger because of it.” – Bill 38, Houston
3. My ego
“I got hurt in the NFL, came home, and became a ‘regular’ guy. I decided that I would open a gym to provide for my wife and kids, and ended up almost going bankrupt in the first year. I poured even more time into the business. What I didn’t realize was that I was also feeding my ego and being proud. My wife created a new life without me, and we eventually divorced. But, after multiple relationships with other people, and blaming each other for the failure of our marriage, we realized that we wanted our kids to have their parents. Somehow, in time, we got to the point where it clicked again. We started to ‘re-like’ each other as people, and the respect organically started to regrow. I started to see this was the woman I wanted to grow old with. Now I’m truly blessed that she’s my wife, and we have a loving family of 4. We really came back from the ashes.” – Anthony, 39, California
4. Our second child
“The biggest test my wife and I have had in our marriage was after the birth of our second child. Our new daughter refused to sleep without waking and crying 5 -10 times a night for the first year of her life. Of course, you expect that for a couple of months, but this just went on and on until we were almost driven insane. My wife and I had to sleep in different rooms, taking turns looking after our baby, but were both up for most of the night. We had some of the biggest arguments of our marriage during this time. The lack of sleep was like torture. The only thing that really got us through was looking to the future, helping each other out, giving one another a break to rest, and ultimately our daughter learning to sleep without waking so much. Of course, we absolutely adore our daughter — she’s turning four this week — and we realized that this was just part of our journey as a family.” – Dan, 35, New Zealand
5. Work-life balance
“About ten years ago, my company restructured and a new manager was brought in. He was a real prick, and everyone was on edge. He made all sorts of changes, and all of us were terrified we’d be fired. He made us stay late most nights, which resulted in me getting home around 9 or 10 at night. The late nights put a strain on my relationship with my wife and kids, to the point where my wife strongly suggested I prioritize my job or my family and live with it. We had fight after fight because I felt helpless. I didn’t want to be at work, but I needed to provide. Eventually, I realized that I could work hard and still be fired, so I decided that my family would be my focus. I had to work hard to regain their trust, but that was hard work I didn’t mind doing. Bonus – the manager got fired before I left for another company.” – Kevin, 47, New York
6. A clutter dust-up
“I like a clean house, but it doesn’t ruin my day if there is clutter on the coffee table or a few dishes in the sink. But, clutter gives my wife anxiety. Like genuine panic attacks, the severity of which I didn’t totally realize until we got married. And it happened so frequently that I would often throw my hands up and just wonder how we could live that way for the rest of our lives. I didn’t understand it. I still don’t completely, to be honest. But what I do understand is that there’s a thing (clutter) that makes a person I love with all my heart (my wife) upset. I did some reading and educated myself about how that type of anxiety works. It’s basically like fear. It’s not necessarily rational, but it can produce a big reaction. Once I reframed my thinking, my wife and I were able to figure out specific places that I could leave things without it causing her to panic. We definitely had to meet each other halfway, but I’m glad we did. I wouldn’t forgive myself if I’d let the love of my life go because of something I refused to understand.” – Marty, 40, Nevada
7. My drinking
“My wife has a traumatic history with past relationships, most of which involved substance abuse. I started a new, high-stress job, and found myself coming home and drinking more than usual. I went from two or three beers a week to two or three beers a night. I didn’t see the problem, but my wife was terrified. She didn’t say anything at first, and then it just boiled over one night. She told me how much she loved me, but that she couldn’t be with me if I was headed down this road. At first, I was pissed. But then I realized how the situation must’ve seemed from her perspective. I tried my best to be empathetic and realized I could deal with my work stress in other ways to show her I cared about her the most. So, a combination of empathy and nipping a potentially big problem in the bud — or, in my case, the Coors Light — saved our marriage.” – Michael, 39, Texas
“My wife’s career took off about five years ago. Around the same time, I switched careers and was basically starting out at the bottom of the barrel. So, while I was barely earning a minimum salary, she was getting raises, bonuses, a fancy office, and all of these things I was jealous of. I kept it in for a long time, but the tension was obvious. Eventually, I came out with it and was honest about how I felt. Once everything was out on the table, we agreed to give therapy a try. Our therapist helped me realize that changing careers was a huge accomplishment in itself and that my wife and I were a team. So my success was hers, and vice versa. I think I lost sight of that amongst all the trappings and material things that seemed so important and unfair. There are definitely times when I still feel jealous, but the lessons I learned in therapy help me deal with them instead of resenting my wife.” – Jimmy, 41, Oklahoma
“I cheated on my wife 10 years ago. It was with a girl at work, and I’m still ashamed of it. But it happened. She found out through a mutual friend, and things slowly started to unravel after that. We separated, and she took the kids with her to her sister’s house. As soon as she left, I realized the magnitude of my screw-up. It’s literally the worst thing you can do to a person. Especially a person who loves you. That love allowed us to have conversations regarding our future, and we ultimately got back together. But our marriage is not the same as it was. It never will be. And that’s my fault. All I can do is live knowing that I have to regain her trust every day. It’s something I’ll always have to live with, but I hope it will help me become a better person – the person she deserves.” – Christopher, 47, Colorado
10. A kitchen remodel
It was a combination of money, stress, and priorities. We agreed to finance a kitchen remodel in our home, which was easily the biggest project we’d ever undertaken as a married couple. We argued from the start about how we wanted things to look, colors, and all that, but the real test came when we incurred some unexpected medical expenses and couldn’t agree on whether or not to continue the remodel. The sides aren’t important, but one of us wanted to keep going with the kitchen and dig deeper into debt, and the other wanted to halt the project until things were more stable. It would’ve been about another year before we could resume the kitchen. We each spoke to family and friends and, through lots of fights and conversations, agreed that we wanted our marriage to outlast the kitchen. So we lived with a weird, unfinished kitchen for 14 months, and then were finally able to complete the project. It took a lot of compromises, but we got there.” – Dan, 42, Michigan
11. Neighbors from hell
“My wife and I almost divorced because of our neighbors. They’re trash, and we both hate them. They started harassing us. Like they would just sit in their yard and look at our house. They played loud music at all hours of the night. They were purposefully obnoxious. We tried the police, but they were no help. And the neighbors had ties with some people high up in the city. So no one was going to help us. I wanted to keep fighting for our home and teach them a lesson, no matter what it took. My wife didn’t want to provoke them any further. We hit an impasse that was basically an ultimatum of letting it go, or splitting up. But then we realized there was a third option — moving. It wasn’t ideal, going from one stressful situation right into another, but we realized that the stress of moving had a light at the end of the tunnel. And that made it worthwhile. Now we have a new home, a beautiful baby girl, and lovely neighbors.” – William, 40, Ontario, Canada
12. Unrealistic expectations
“My wife and I set the bar unrealistically high very early in our marriage. We were both products of social media, and the idea of a ‘perfect’ marriage. Within the first two months, we were seriously considering divorce. Neither of us realized the actual amount of work it takes to be married. We thought it would be effortless, just like it seems on Instagram. So when we would fight, we assumed that we weren’t meant to be. It wasn’t until we started talking with other couples — friends who we’d followed on social media for years — that we realized their marriages weren’t perfect at all. That’s when we loosened up. We started being more comfortable in our marriage, instead of trying to make it look like everyone else’s.” – Jon, 39, Pennsylvania
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