One of my new routines during lockdown has been to head out of the house for a walk at lunchtime. Sometimes I walk alone, sometimes (when I can persuade him) with my husband, and occasionally (if lockdown rules permit) I go with a friend. It’s been great to have the opportunity for some exercise and fresh air, but something unexpected has also happened. I’ve discovered that the rhythm of walking together with someone has enabled our conversation to flow, and the things we talk about have become deeper and more intimate.
Perhaps that’s why, within minutes of setting out with a friend, I found myself listening as she poured out her hurt and disappointment in relation to her marriage. To any outsider, this couple would seem to have it all together, their marriage ticking along nicely over the last 15 years as they have navigated the challenges and irritations that are part and parcel of the landscape of every marriage. But lockdown had taken its toll on their relationship. My friend feels they have reached an impasse, neither can see a way forward, and separation is a real possibility.
The truth is, they are not alone. Divorce lawyers are reporting an increase in enquiries, domestic violence charities have seen a surge in calls, and Care for the Family’s CareLine service have had more couples in difficulty reaching out for help. It’s as if the pandemic has held up a magnifying glass to family life. Everything is intensified – the good and the bad.
Although lockdown has given some couples opportunities for increased intimacy and connection, many have come under strain in their relationship. Those whose marriages were already close to the fault line have found that living under the same roof 24/7, working on the same kitchen table, jostling for the same Wi-Fi, or managing the logistics of home-schooling – all in the context of the anxiety of a pandemic – has created tension and distance between them. Well-established routines have been thrown in the air, and support from family and friends is now conducted, by and large, via a 23” screen.
It’s a perfect storm. When we promised that we would love ‘for better for worse’, I am not sure many of us would have foreseen the challenges of loving through a pandemic.
A Bible reading often used at weddings, includes an encouragement to ‘put on love’. Just as we choose to put on our clothes every morning, we are urged to intentionally ‘put on love’. While no marriage can survive on will alone, this attitude of choosing to love each day is the cornerstone for building a healthy marriage that will withstand the pressures of life.
With so many changes and transitions happening in our lives because of COVID-19, we would do well to pay attention to the advice given to couples by psychologists Stanley and Markham of the Centre for Marital and Family Studies in Denver, to ‘decide, don’t slide.’ Rather than drifting along on autopilot in our relationship, tossed to and fro, what can make all the difference is to look at how the pandemic is impacting us, both in what is happening in our lives and in our interactions – and intentionally choose how we respond to it.
The pandemic has resulted in the rule book being thrown in the air – date nights and other ways of connecting no longer being an option. We have had to adjust our expectations in relation to patterns of living, including finance, parenting, and time spent together and apart. But in addition to intentionally renegotiating our roles and responsibilities, there are smaller choices that we can make – choices about everyday things – that will foster closeness and draw us together.
These could include choosing to:
- Limit screen time – put phones away and spend time with the one person you don’t need to socially distance from.
- Look out for each other – plan one thing you can do to give your partner emotional support.
- Be grateful – find something every day that you are both thankful for.
- Dream – remind yourselves of hopes and dreams you may have had to lay down, and decide which ones to pick up after lockdown.
- Laugh – look at old photos, watch a funny film.
- Show physical affection – sit close, hold hands, hug, make love.
- Pray – if you have a shared faith, find a time when you can pray together – maybe simply saying The Lord’s Prayer together. If you don’t have a shared faith, take a moment to ask how you can support each other.
If we choose to put into practice one of these small things every day, they will build togetherness. And rather than being one more casualty of the pandemic, we’ll find instead that little by little, our marriages are becoming stronger under pressure.
This article was first published in Premier Christianity magazine. For a free sample copy of the latest issue visit premierchristianity.com