Marriage is hard, isn’t it?
Without the stress of a global virus and stay-at-home orders and radical changes to our routines and structures, being married is already a hard task on its own. Relationships aren’t perfect, spouses can sometimes bring those imperfections out in each other, and being married takes regular work.
When you add all of the stressors of a pandemic that I listed above, things become even more challenging. And the danger arises that some marriages won’t last through this crisis in which we find ourselves.
Spouses are dealing with financial stress, maybe, from loss of employment, or from their business being temporarily shut down. Everyone is at home together ALL THE TIME, which can create tension, conflict, or regular stress. Issues that were maybe brewing beneath the surface now have time and opportunity to rise to the top, when combined with the stress and tension of everyday life. The Coronavirus can create fear in some people, which can then evolve into anxiety, which then becomes anger or hostility.
Any of these things can start to wear down a marital relationship and create the risk for a crumbling home.
That can be a fearful thing. Or it can make you determined to pandemic-proof your own marriage so that, on the other side of this chaotic time in our world, your relationship is stronger.
You want to have a thriving marriage, and you want to be able to survive the stress and anxiety of this pandemic. So, to help you with that, let me share with you some tips and ideas to “Pandemic-Proof” your relationship, so that this global crisis doesn’t cause destruction in your home.
#1 – Inquire about your spouse’s feelings with genuine concern.
As humans, listening doesn’t come easily or naturally. We are way more prone to talk than to actually listen to other people. But listening and paying attention is precisely what we need to do, especially during some confusing and frustrating times.
Your spouse needs to know that you care about their feelings and how they might be handling this pandemic that we’re living in. Ask good questions, and be completely genuine about it. “How are you feeling today? What’s on your mind? How are you handling all of this craziness? Is there anything you want to talk about?” Then, after you ask, just sit and listen. Give your spouse your undivided attention. Let them know that you truly care about what’s going on inside. This is going to do wonders for your communication, which will set the stage for further success in your marriage.
#2 – Be open and honest, but also know when to shut up.
When I counseled families who were struggling with conflict with each other, one of the things I would frequently recommend was the use of “I statements.” Here’s what that looks like:
“I feel ________ when you ______, because ________.”
Using an “I Statement” takes the focus away from what you find irritating about your spouse, and instead emphasizes how YOU feel about something they’ve done or said. It’s a great way to tone down any potential conflict and focus only on the primary issue. It’s important for us to learn to communicate openly with each other when we are feeling annoyed or frustrated, or when our spouse has done or said something (or currently is) that bothers us. But it’s also important to know when to let something go and not mention it at all!
Before you start bringing up how you feel when your spouse forgets to load the dishwasher, or you express your frustration that she sleeps in too late, or you talk about how irritated you feel when he didn’t put your butter dish exactly where it belongs, you need to ask yourself if it’s really worth the conversation. Not every “issue” needs to be addressed. We need to be open and honest about our feelings, but we also need to know when to let go and move on.
#3 – Give each other some personal space – for your sanity and theirs.
My wife and I have been at home with our three kids since March. We are both teachers, so for the remainder of last school year we worked from home while also trying to help our son complete his own schoolwork. This summer, we’ve been home together every single day, all day long, with no breaks. Before you think I’m complaining about that, here is what you need to understand:
I’m not bothered by it because we have done a pretty good job (in my opinion) of giving each other enough space that the closeness doesn’t become overwhelming.
Sometimes I leave for the day and go fishing, or I take the kids to run some errands and give my wife some alone time. Sometimes she goes to her classroom or meets with a friend or goes for a long walk by herself. There are times when our “break” simply consists of doing our work in separate spaces – me in the backyard and her in the living room – so that it feels like we aren’t right next to each other all day. What we’ve discovered is that when we allow for these breaks and even encourage the personal space, we actually like being around each other more. Maybe this is something you need to try this week. Maybe it starts with understanding the sacredness of personal space and time, and realizing how the strength of the individual contributes to the strength of the marriage.
#4 – Don’t let stress kill affection.
One thing that marriages need in order to be healthy and thriving is affection. And I’m not just talking about sex. I’m talking about the simple act of FEELING and SHOWING affection to each other and living like you are in love. This may seem sappy to some of us, but we can’t deny that there is something appealing to our human nature in the idea of affection and touch. Our bodies crave it, and our marriages should be the place where we find it.
What does this look like, especially during a pandemic? It can be as simple as a hug every day, or holding hands while your’e binging Netflix together, or a flirtatious touch to simply say, “I still like you.” It’s important that we don’t let the stress of our chaotic world kill whatever affection still exists in our marriages.
#5 – Establish some routines for your marriage and stick with them.
Finally – and this is huge – it’s important for you and your spouse to establish some routines and patterns that strengthen your marriage, and then actually stick with them. Every morning, my wife and I get out of bed with the baby, grab a cup of coffee, and sit outside in the backyard to read our Bibles, pray, and talk about whatever comes to mind. This has become such a rich routine for us, and it’s something that I look forward to everyday. In addition to this, we try to schedule a date night once a month. This has looked different since Covid became a reality. Now, it typically consists of getting takeout, watching a movie at home, or going for a drive for ice cream or a soda.
Having these routines shows that you value your relationship. You devote time to the things that matter to you. This is why you spend so much time at your job or performing your hobbies. If your marriage matters to you, you are going to invest time and energy into it. When you do, you’ll soon discover a thriving marriage built on love, attention, and affection.
Marriage is hard, but it’s not impossible. Don’t let the stress and tension of our crazy world cause you to give up on something important. Your marriage can survive these turbulent times, and you’ll be stronger and thriving on the other side.