Except for centenarians, people have no experience when it comes to how to live through a pandemic. We all have had to follow the constantly changing guidelines to get through these times. Parents are juggling working from home while having their children, even adult children, at home.
Relationships are strained. Good luck trying to find resources available on this topic, much less about “How to Stay Married During a Pandemic.” We had been used to our living conditions, working conditions, schedules, and routines. Suddenly, it was all turned upside and shaken. We scrambled to find safety, stability, and structure.
My house is my domain. I regularly work from home and manage all of the household responsibilities. I have one teen left at home, but other than making sure he has showered and has eaten something other than pizza, he’s managing his own life. My husband runs his private practice out of a small office.
My husband and son are now in my domain
But thanks to stay-at-home orders, my husband and son are both currently in my domain. Every day. ALL THE TIME. My husband works from our bedroom, which means I have to vacate it by 7:30 a.m. My son does college from his room. I have learned to adjust like the rest of the country. We definitely get to spend more time together at a much slower life pace, which is nice. Over time, we have acclimated to new schedules, routines and expectations. We have settled into a new normal.
But my husband and I did not account for the effects that this new norm caused in our marriage. Throughout all of our years of marriage, we would have a weekly “hot date.” The date would be planned and anticipated. We would try new places and activities but also just enjoy the comfort of our favorites. We’d dress up and enjoy getting away from the house together. We’d hold hands in the car and sneak kisses as we could. With our son busy living his own life, we’d also have the house frequently to ourselves. This allowed for open flirtation and a sense of freedom throughout the house. This also meant we could have private discussions without eavesdropping ears.
Essentially, we cherished the times we could just be a couple. Not parents, not housecleaners, not dog owners, and not just best friends. But, a couple in love.
The longer we are home, the greater the strain on the marriage
We could have handled these changes for the short term, but the longer the stay-at-home orders lasted, the more negative effects it caused. The lack of romance, dating, time alone, privacy, and even physical touch, caused a slowly spreading crack in the connection of our marriage. Add in other problems like running out of things to talk about because we were together all the time. And, being together all the time made us more aware and less tolerant of the habits we have that annoy each other. He had no idea I talked so much. I had no idea how loudly he chewed. He had no idea I didn’t eat meals on a schedule. I had no idea his stomach growled at noon on the dot. All things that deepened and widened the pandemic-causing relationship cracks.
After several weeks of unusual arguing, my husband and I finally had a talk. No, rather, a business meeting. Our marriage is our business. We are the owners and put our blood, sweat, and tears into making it successful. And just like any business, a pandemic will affect it.
It would probably help if I mention that I am married to a licensed counselor. A therapist who works with married couples for a living. He has heard the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly in marriages. He knows what typically works and what is destined to fail. So, when I mention that we have “Marriage Meetings,” I am not being sarcastic. To keep a business running smoothly, like a marriage, productive meetings have proven beneficial.
Businesses all over the country were making changes to how to manage day-to-day operations. Until we began consistently bickering, we hadn’t thought to re-evaluate how our business of marriage needed to change. Patience was running thin. Tolerance was almost gone. Meanwhile, frustration and annoyance were sky-high. These emotions were causing cracks that were beginning to crumble our foundation.
What we did to reconnect as a couple
Time for a business meeting. Like any meeting, we agreed on a time and place: our back patio on a Sunday evening. I typed up an agenda with a list of things bothering me and a list of things bothering him. I included topics of discussion such as our disconnect, our lack of romance, and our need for time alone. I brought my computer to the meeting to take notes, to hold us accountable for decisions we made.
We’ve been having Marriage Meetings long enough to know the rules. One person talks at a time. Calm voices. No negativity or complaining. Keep the focus on problem-solving. Ask to rephrase something said that is not understood. Agree and commit to solutions. When the meeting is over, it’s over. Move forward and start fresh. Remember the solutions and put them into action.
Let’s call this meeting to order. So, how could we fill in the cracks that living in this new situation had caused? Not being able to go on our hot dates, be a couple, and be alone were at the heart of the problem. Recognizing that this was the problem was a great start. We were now aware and prepared to do something.
However, going out to eat at a romantic restaurant was not possible. Being alone in the house was also not possible. How could we reconnect as a couple? We had to get creative. We had to meet our needs within the boundaries our circumstances allowed. We needed new norms for our relationship.
It was time to get out of our T-shirts and sweatpants and actually dress up. Order takeout at our favorite restaurants. Or, use this time to try somewhere new! Bring a candle, park somewhere with a pretty sunset view, and enjoy our meal. Get out of the car and slow dance to the radio. When we just need to be alone, go for a car ride. Maybe even make-out like the good ol’ days. Pick up coffee or ice cream.
Walk hand-in-hand down the street. Connect. Depending on how long we have to live like this, we might have to really think outside the box. Explore options and stay focused. Don’t let another week in the rut go by. Actively pursue a fun, romantic, closely connected marriage, despite the darn pandemic.
We are so thankful that we noticed these cracks before they caused our home to crumble. None of us were prepared for this. None of us knew, “Oh, during a crisis, it is important to do these five things to keep your marriage on track.” We are all learning as we go.
So, before you decide your spouse deserves to be strangled with his own tongue for chewing so loudly, have a Marriage Meeting. Discuss ways to create a new, but happy and healthy, norm for your strongly connected marriage. It will be worth it.
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