Is COVID-19 Infecting your marriage? Is your marriage surviving the COVID-19 craziness? Has all of this time together made you stronger? Or has it made you weaker?
How on earth are you and your spouse doing after over 100+ days of COVID-19 living?
To be clear, I am not asking if you have had COVID-19, rather how are you and your spouse doing after spending all of this time together?
Has it felt like “quality time” or “timed served?”
A crucial part of maintaining a close, resilient, well-functioning marriage is that individuals see their spouses as accepting, concerned, understanding, and supportive. In other words, they feel that their spouse is responsive to their needs. The negative impact of stressors, such as unemployment, economic hardship, and work stress, can create an environment where being sensitive to each other’s needs, can be difficult. When faced with layers of external pressure, couples are more likely to communicate in ways that can be overly critical or confrontational. They can tend to blame their spouse and have a harder time listening to their spouse’s concerns and talking about their spouse’s perspective.
The good news is that these negative interactions are not inevitable. People can attempt to communicate and behave in ways that are normal for meaningful marriages, including overlooking critical remarks, forgiving hurtful behavior, trying to understand the spouse’s perspective, and avoiding the tendency to blame, be hostile, and be contemptuous. Relationships will benefit when spouses engage in activities that produce lower stress-like playing games, and sharing good memories and enjoying a movie are other forms of relaxation.
Multiple studies[i] and my personal observations of couples involved in national disasters show that a crisis can highlight the strengths in relationships, but it can also reveal problems. Research beginning with Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and other disasters reveal two things; constant, connected couples were having more sex, and more babies and disconnected couples were having more distancing and divorces.
In addition to divorces, we know that domestic violence can also increase during times of social isolation.[ii]
The current mess with COVID-19 and people’s response to it combine parts of both natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Some of the by-products of natural disasters (the effects unfold over months and possibly years) have been linked to an increase in divorce. Whereas, the impact of terrorist attacks (many people have lost their lives, uncertainty and fear are pervasive), has been linked to a decrease in divorce and an increase in personal connectivity.[iii]
Most couples typically spend the bulk of their day apart since one or both partners work outside of the home. With the unusual dynamics of the COVID-19 quarantine, couples are required to spend all day together. In addition to dynamic changes in routine and being together 24/7, a couple can be influenced by other factors such as anxiety about health, potential unemployment, and financial insecurity. Other distractions that might cause trouble are caregiving for elderly parents, lack of social connections outside of your immediate family, juggling childcare and homeschooling, managing chores, and general uncertainty about the future.
If there are existing vulnerabilities in the relationships, they are more likely to be unmasked due to the stress of being together. Being around each other’s quirks all day, combined with the additional stressors, can bring up issues that had been bubbling under the surface.
Also, couples may use varied coping mechanisms during stressful times. For example, one spouse might be preoccupied with risk; the other might be focused on keeping life as regular as possible. One might take a proactive approach and feel empowered; the other may have a more reactive approach and feel angry or hopeless. These differences cause couples to clash, and this polarity can end relationships if the couple doesn’t take mitigating steps.
So What Can You Do:
Have more intimacy!
A common remedy for conflict – and a way to increase closeness – is sex. This might not be at the top of your mind while you are worried about infection, finances, and kids. However, if your partner is not up for intimacy, do not nag or shame them, because that attitude will only make them feel worse. Hand holding, safe touch, offering massages, and anything that soothes and comforts is a great way to enhance your relationship.[iv] By the way, did you know that there are five areas of intimacy? Here they are; physical intimacy, intellectual intimacy, emotional intimacy, social intimacy, and spiritual intimacy. Want to know more about this, read my article Shades of Grey, Shades of Love – 5 Types of Intimacy.
Pick and choose your battles carefully!
One of the most important things you have to do to effectively manage conflict is to be careful about what you fight about.
Did you know that most of what we fight about really does not matter? As a matter of fact, Dr. John Gottman, the leading authority on relationships, says, “Our research has shown 69% of relationship conflict is about perpetual problems. All couples have them — these problems are grounded in the fundamental differences that any two people face. They are either significant differences in your personalities that repeatedly create conflict or structural differences in your lifestyle needs.
The key to fighting fair is to maintain control. You do not have the right to be immature, childish, or abusive. If you do have legitimate feelings and issues, you are entitled to give a consistent voice to those feelings in a constructive way. That includes not being self-righteous or taking yourself too seriously.[v]
If you need some tools to help handle conflict more constructively, then be sure to read my article, 10 Rules for Fighting Fair.
Don’t gripe about relationship issues.
One of the ways you can do this is by putting a time limit (15-20 minutes) on talking about tough issues. And when the discussion is over, leave it alone. You might even include building short time outs when things get too hot, and you can pick the conversation up later.
The easiest thing to do is to walk or jog. Also, you can find online classes that can give you some excellent ideas.
Begin or restart a hobby.
What are some things that you have done in the past that have given you pleasure? My favorite hobby is photography and has been for decades. Having a hobby is a way of building skills, doing something productive, and having a sense of satisfaction. It is also a great way to lower stress. So, what is something you want to do?
Get out of your PJ’s and get busy.
Wake up, shower, and get dressed for the day. Try to establish and maintain a schedule.
Do what you can to stay connected with others.
Enjoy the curbside, patio, of safe picnicking with friends and family. Use technology like FaceTime, Snap Chat, Duo, or Zoom to host meetings, game nights, and other activities. This way, you lower the stress on each other and help meet all of your socializing needs.
Avoid or limit conflict about money matters.
Be sure to use your personal resilience to focus on ways to survive financially through this current crisis. Do all you can to take things a day at a time.
If COVID-19 is infecting your Marriage, get help!
Most therapists, including myself, can offer safe and meaningful appointments for counseling, coaching, and consulting via secure video sessions. If you want more information, we can get together for a free consultation. If you are interested in that, call my office 505-343-2011 and leave me a voice mail or email me firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get back with you to set up a time for that consultation.
“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
Ephesians 4:23 (NLT)
I am a Christ Follower, I am imperfect, sometimes stubborn, and set in my own ways. Having said that, I am also clay in His hands, and he is shaping me into the man he wants me to be.
These are truly tough times, and my hope for you is that you will reach out to the Lord for help.
My name is John Thurman, and I am an Author, Counselor, and Worklife Consultant. If you are struggling in this area, maybe I can help. For a free consult, you can call me at 505-343-2011. If I don’t answer, just leave a message, or you can email me at email@example.com, and we can set up a 15-20 minute free consultation.
PS. Leave a comment and let’s begin a conversation!
[i] The Journal of Family Psychology Life course transitions and natural disaster: Marriage, birth, and divorce following Hurricane Hugo.https://www.semel.ucla.edu/sites/default/files/publications/Mar%202002%20-%20Life%20Course%20Transitions%20and%20Natural%20Disaster.pdfBy Cohan, Catherine L., Cole, Steve W.
Journal of Family Psychology, Vol 16(1), Mar 2002, 14-25
[iv] The Journal of Family Psychology Life course transitions and natural disaster: Marriage, birth, and divorce following Hurricane Hugo.https://www.semel.ucla.edu/sites/default/files/publications/Mar%202002%20-%20Life%20Course%20Transitions%20and%20Natural%20Disaster.pdfBy Cohan, Catherine L., Cole, Steve W.