The coronavirus pandemic has challenged me to think more about my marriage. A question I’m asking myself (half-jokingly) is this: “Am I the kind of person I wouldn’t mind being quarantined with indefinitely?”
At first, our strategy for weathering the coronavirus was to watch too many press briefings and plow through our stash of emergency snacks during the first 36 hours of quarantine, but we soon realized that neither response calmed our nerves.
We’ve also realized that a crisis can either drive a couple apart or bring them closer. We’ve determined to draw closer. With that in mind, here are five tips to come together as a couple during a critical situation.
Go to your strengths (and respect your spouse’s)
The only class I ever failed was high school accounting. (And let’s be clear — I deserved that F.) So, it’s no surprise my husband Roger is in charge of our day-to-day finances. But there’s something about a crisis that makes me want to take over our finances (Control issues, perhaps?). Then I realize that my attempt to control our finances would be about as successful as trying to take over surgical duties from a neurosurgeon. That’s probably not going to work out well for anyone involved.
As a result, I’ve realized that my husband and I have different strengths in dealing with crises. I’m great at preparing meals, communicating with family members and making sure the day-to-day stuff of life gets done. Roger is at his best when he can solve problems; he can manage any emergency — whether we’re dealing with a blizzard or a massive financial crisis.
So, call out each other’s strengths to grow closer during the coronavirus. Let your spouse know you see their talent and respect it. Put that respect into action by listening to what they have to say and then following their lead. Discussions and agreements are great, but in a crisis, there may not be time to evaluate each scenario. This is the time to go with the gut of the person whose strength falls in that category.
Create a 5-Minute Plan for your most likely crisis
Even in the midst of the coronavirus crisis right now, it’s likely we will also face other, smaller crises. For example, one of my friends will have to furlough most of the people who work for their company because of the economic hardships brought about by the coronavirus. Another friend’s wife is in great pain because of a postponed elective surgery.
To help us navigate future crises, my husband I use a tool called the “5-Minute Plan.” We evaluate the most likely disaster to hit us (a job loss, an adult kid in crisis, a medical emergency or bad news from a doctor) and think through how each of us will act in those first five minutes of receiving the news. Here is our 5-Minute Plan should Roger face a layoff:
- Sit down and pray together
- Roger: Start the process of liquidating some of our emergency fund for the next couple of months.
- Kathi: Cancel optional services (Nextflix, gym membership) to save money.
Is there a reason steps No. 2 and No. 3 need to be done in the first five minutes? For me, it’s the concept of purpose over panic. Think about a first responder: He or she does not panic in even the worst of circumstances. Why? Part of the reason is they have a job to do, and other people rely on them to get that job done. If we think of ourselves as first responders who help our spouse during a crisis, it’s amazing how our attitude can change. Galatians 5:13 says, “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” God gives us a way to get out of ourselves and that’s by loving others and serving them well.
Pre-decide what your attitude will be
Along with making a 5-Minute Plan, determine how to support your spouse emotionally.
During hard times in the past, Roger has needed me to stay calm and to trust him. What do I need from Roger? Someone to assure me that even though things are hard, we’re in this together and he’s never going to leave anything entirely up to me.
So, aside from determining your attitude toward your spouse (before disaster strikes), the most helpful way to support your husband or wife is to ask, “What do you need from me right now to feel supported?” By simply asking the question, you’ll let your spouse know how much you love and care for them.
Pray for yourself, your spouse and your marriage
I know you’re already praying for yourself, your spouse and your marriage, but during a crisis, our needs reveal themselves in new and startling ways. And when we pray under duress, God reveals His power and love in ways we may not notice when life is easier. He says, “Call to me and I will answer you and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.”
Be open to God’s prompting and movement during this difficult time. You will gain insight into both your spouse and yourself and learn how to pray specifically and powerfully.
Trust your ability to make the best of a hard situation
This doesn’t mean we won’t have fearful moments, but it does mean that fear is not where we are to land.
You — and your spouse — have survived tough times before. And you know that you can choose the attitude you go in with and, often, the lessons you come out with. Ask God for the kind of attitude that will make you a better partner and help you and your spouse grow closer during the coronavirus.
As I sit across from my husband in a tiny corner of our bedroom (now known as our “shared workspace”), I know that we’ll have some hard times, and some hard conversations, ahead. But I also know this: When I turn off the news and turn to my husband to meet his needs, it meets my need for love and connection as well.