The following post was adapted from an article published in the Winter 2013 edition of Inside Journal. Inside Journal is a quarterly newspaper published by Prison Fellowship® just for prisoners.
Nothing is harder on a marriage than incarceration. Under the weight of distance, shame, financial hardship, and mutual misunderstanding, even unions that seemed strong can fall apart.
A New York Times article estimates that "between a married man's arrest and the end of his first year in prison, 80 percent of marriages break up … For female inmates, the divorce rate is closer to 100 percent."
Even if your marriage survives a prison sentence, you're not out of the woods after the release date.
HOW TO MAINTAIN A MARRIAGE DURING INCARCERATION
If you are facing a prison sentence, or if your spouse is incarcerated, and you are still married, you've got an uphill battle to fight.
However, you and your family can still succeed with a lot of faith, love, and hard work. Here are some tips to help you maintain your marriage during this prison sentence—and lay a firm foundation for the future:
USE TIME APART TO GROW FROM THE INSIDE OUT
Use this time of separation from your spouse to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Study the Bible and learn what it says about Jesus Christ’s purpose for your life. You can be the greatest asset to your spouse and your family if you are in the processing of becoming a new man or a new woman.*
Look inside yourself to ask some hard questions: How has your lifestyle hurt your spouse? Have you told them you are sorry? Are you ready to change?
If you're in prison, connect with Prison Fellowship or other programs available to support and encourage you during your sentence. If you're waiting on the outside for your incarcerated spouse, reach out to a church in your local community. Find strong people who can be a shoulder to lean on during this time.
* If you're not sure where you stand with God, it's never too late to start a relationship with Him. He is eager to accept you. See our page "What It Means to Be a Christian" for more information.
LET YOUR SPOUSE KNOW THEY ARE YOUR TOP PRIORITY
Maintain an interest in your spouse and family. Let them know not only that you miss them, but that you care for them. Pray for them every day.
If your spouse is incarcerated, write your spouse letters. Visit your spouse in prison if you can. Be open with your children about where your spouse is and why, but also on why you haven't given up on them yet.
If your spouse is waiting for you on the outside, write letters. Make phone calls. If you have a job, send money or buy gifts.
If you have children, sign them up for Angel Tree® so that at Christmas they can receive gifts from you.
MOVE FORWARD, NOT BACK
Does your spouse have a substance abuse or alcohol problem? Do you?
You need to have a healthy relationship. If you have been clean during this time apart, don't allow your home to become a place where drugs and alcohol are readily available.
The very best thing you can do for your spouse and your family is to keep away from overwhelming temptation and let them see you living a new life. If you've struggled with addiction in the past, your recovery has to come first. It will be hard, but if you are Christian, you can know that in Christ all things are possible.* Let things come together in God's time.
Seek out counselors who can help you and your spouse become better partners and better parents.