Who could have guessed the changes the coronavirus would bring to our nation, our neighborhoods and our homes? Within a matter of days, we’ve gone from business as usual to a society that practices self-isolation and social distancing. We’re working from home and sheltering in place. As an introvert, this is my idea of bliss!
I’ve talked to friends and heard how others are surviving the coronavirus quarantine. Some families are enjoying the changes in routines — mom or dad is taking on the role of homeschool teacher. Other family members are organizing board-game marathons. Some are setting up binge-watching parties for kids and adults. The coronavirus quarantine means there’s time to enjoy meals together and spend time as a family.
How the coronavirus quarantine can affect troubled marriages
But not everyone is ready to relax and play. For some couples, the thought of a coronavirus quarantine — the thought of being cooped up 24/7 with their spouse — seems the worst thing that can happen. Their fear and resentment have nothing to do with COVID-19 and everything to do with ongoing strife in their marriage.
Maybe that describes your situation right now. Maybe you and your spouse are struggling through the damage caused by pornography, addiction or an affair. Until now, you’ve been able to cope with that pain because you’ve had space to escape the situation by attending social functions, going to church, working out at the gym or spending a few extra hours at the office.
But you can’t do that now. Now you’re stuck with your spouse. You’re quarantined, locked down. And there’s not enough square footage in your home to escape the pain and frustration. Maybe you’re just waiting until all this is over to call it quits on your marriage. But there are options.
- Be honest about your fear of being quarantined together. The fear is legitimate. The troubles are real. So, admit it. Talk to your spouse about your concerns and think about arranging a “truce” during the quarantine. Look for ways to best support each other during this crazy time.
- Grieve the change that’s happening. You’re dealing with more than a virus and a troubled marriage. You’re dealing with social distancing, remote work, lockdown and quarantine. All these issues have a common element: change. By nature, we’re drawn to the familiar — it causes us to feel safe because we know what to expect. Something unexpected — like the coronavirus quarantine — can make us feel helpless or out of control. It’s natural for you and your spouse to grieve the loss of the familiar routine. As you process these losses, make a commitment to care about your spouse’s feelings and losses. While it’s easy to keep communication limited to family schedules and to-do lists, this can be a time to empathize with your spouse about the changes the quarantine brings.
- Talk about inner-life issues. One way to avoid “family business meetings” is to ask your spouse about the highs and lows of their day. Listen to their worries, fears, hopes and emotions. And care. Care about their emotions. Care about them as a person. Try doing this for 10 minutes every day. Call it your “daily check-in.”
- Take breaks from each other. No marriage does well when spouses are together 24/7. Speak — out loud — about the type of break that works for you. No silent treatment here. Talking about your expectations — break time in another room, 20 minutes online or an uninterrupted TV show — helps keep those goals realistic and keeps you and your spouse on the same page.
- Practice good self-care. You are fully responsible for your well-being: spiritually, physically and emotionally. Your goal should be to recharge and care for yourself in these three areas so you have something to give to your spouse and family.
- Unite against an adversary. The events of September 11, 2001, caused our divided nation to rally together against a common enemy: terrorism. The same can be true of your marriage in the face of the coronavirus quarantine. This is an opportunity to rally as a married couple and function as a team.
- Make your home a safe environment. When two people feel safe, hearts open and connections happen. When people feel unsafe, hearts close and individuals disconnect. Talk to your spouse about how to create a home that feels safe for each person. Start by asking your spouse to complete this sentence: “I feel safe when you…”
- Don’t try to work through hot topics or long-term issues in your marriage. If you’re confined to your home, set boundaries around difficult conversations about pornography, infidelity or addictions. This doesn’t mean you’re sweeping issues under the rug. Instead, you’re acknowledging the difficult situation you’re in because of the coronavirus and you’re setting appropriate boundaries so you can manage this difficult season.
- Participate in virtual therapy or phone calls with a Christian counselor. Since you’re both at home, get a jump start on marriage counseling. In addition, a counselor may be able to help you and your spouse make good decisions about your time together during the coronavirus quarantine.
- Reach out for support. If you and a good friend regularly go out for coffee, make it a point to schedule online coffee chats. Phone calls or video chats — while not quite the same as a face-to-face setting — can still give you the opportunity to connect for support and encouragement.
The next several days or weeks may not be easy, but this season will pass. In the meantime, you and your spouse can work to make your home a safe place and maybe even rediscover the connections and activities that once brought joy to your relationship.