The recent COVID-19 pandemic has put unprecedented stress on most people, including marriages.
While couples that already have strong and healthy relationships might welcome the opportunity to spend more time together and strengthen their marital bond, the more vulnerable marriages could face some additional challenges during this time. Social isolation, job losses, financial struggles, disruption of structure, fear of getting sick or knowing someone who is already sick are some of the problems faced by couples as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The resulting stress, worry, and anxiety can have profound negative impact on their relationships.
Furthermore, most spouses are not used to spend so much time together inside the house. They might have different routines and different ideas about ways to go about their day that can easily conflict with each other. They might find themselves dealing with their stress, emotions and anxiety in ways that are incompatible with one another. As they become more irritated with each other, snap more easily, get angry more often, and take their frustration out on the other person, the relationship can seriously suffer.
So what can couples do to cope during those challenging times?
- Create opportunities to spend time alone.
Give each other as much space as possible during this time. Balance time alone with time spent as a couple. Set up a schedule when each spouse can go to another room and spend some “me” time without interruptions. Create artificial boundaries to protect that space.
- Be kind to each other.
Become very deliberate in efforts to show extra affection toward each other. Little gestures of affection from hugs to random kisses can go a long way. Make coffee for each other in the morning. Give your spouse a massage. Say “please”, “thank you”, “I’m sorry and “you’re welcome” more. Tell your spouse how much you appreciate him/her. Ask if there is anything you can do to help. Be aware of your mood so you do not take your stress out on your spouse.
- Connect with others.
Reach out to others with whom you socialized, individually or as a couple, before you were forced to stay home. Keep those connections alive as much as you can utilizing any technology available to you, from texting to three-way-calling to video chats. Host virtual happy hours regularly with your friends and family through FaceTime, Zoom, WhatsApp, or Facebook messenger. Reconnect with people you have not seen for a while and ask how they are doing during this challenging time.
- Practice gratitude.
No matter how stressful this time might be and how many losses you might have suffered, try your best to recognize and focus on things that you can be grateful for. Do you and your loved ones still have their health? Do you have a job? Are you able to work from home? Do you have savings to get you through this time? Do you have the ability to borrow money? Do you have supportive friends and family? Do you have roof over your head and food on the table? Are your kids safe at home with you? Start a gratitude journal and add to it each and every day to balance the challenges that you have been faced with.
Set aside time for active stress and anxiety management, both together and separately. Go for a walk, play board games, read a book, exercise, take a long relaxing bath, practice deep breathing, meditate, do yoga. Make sure to have regular sleep and healthy eating patterns. Avoid turning to alcohol and comfort food to deal with stress. Start a hobby, especially something you two would enjoy doing together as a couple.
Open communication is more important than ever during this stressful time. Express yourself using “I statements”. If something is bothering you, communicate it clearly to your spouse; do not expect him or her to read your mind and guess. Pick your battles and time limit discussing stressful subjects. Point out what your spouse is doing right. Listen, empathize, acknowledge and try your best to understand what your spouse is going through. Do your best to put yourself in her or his shoes.
Of course, couples counseling is always available to help your marriage get through this challenging time. You can see a marriage counselor from the comfort of your own home utilizing teletherapy. Don’t struggle alone! Help is available.