Marriage Under Quarantine

In recent days there have been a lot of articles and opinion pieces written about the ongoing Coronavirus situation. Most focus on the health and economic impacts of this crisis.

Some focus on the effects of children who will be home for extended periods of times.

I read an opinion piece from the New York Times entitled “Welcome to Marriage During the Coronavirus: Remember both of you are right,” about the effects it will have on marriage, and I want to briefly comment on it.

The columnist, Jennifer Senior, wrote:

“The coronavirus may turn out to be the ultimate stress test for couples.”

Later in the piece, after expounding on the fact that partners in LTR’s often have “very different coping styles,” she offers the following suggestion:

“To keep our relationships sane, we’ll all need to turn to virtual communities of outsiders, whether it’s through work or FaceTime or virtual dinner parties…”

Much like the many jokes on Twitter by parents about their need for extra alcohol during the time their children are home, this take on the current situation, to me, is deeply fatalistic and emblematic of the state of marriage and the family today.

Frankly, if you view the idea of spending unexpected extra time with your spouse, as a “stress test,” and feel the need to talk to others on FaceTime to keep you “sane” then I would wager that there’s something profoundly wrong with that relationship.

During times of crisis and uncertainty, we should find comfort and strength in our spouses and children. The columnist focuses much attention on the fact that both spouses might have “stylistic differences” in coping styles during adversity. This, she posits, creates conflict, which will be exacerbated by time spent together over the coming weeks.  

If that’s the case that’s a failure of communication, and possibly a failure of leadership on the husband’s part. I have dealt with several stressful situations in the past, including 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, and I can say that my sole goal during both was to get home during to be with my family. I wanted to provide comfort for them and gain strength and extra resolve from them.

That’s my “coping style” during stressful situations. I draw nearer to my wife and children and seek to protect them, just as I’m doing now. By doing so, I gain strength. 

Communicate with your spouse

Instead of looking at time spent with your spouse as a chore, simple mindset changes can help you see it as a blessing. If your marriage hasn’t been that great in recent times, now is a good time to fix it. You may never get this opportunity again to connect in ways not possible during the regular hustle and bustle of life.

Truly get to know each other.

One way of doing it that I have found to be effective is to pick a different topic to discuss each day. One book that’s helpful to get conversations started on topics you might not otherwise talk about during everyday life is: Questions for Couples: 469 Thought-Provoking Conversation Starters for Connecting, Building Trust, and Rekindling Intimacy.

My wife and I have used this book to effectively spark conversations about a variety of topics. The best way to do it is to randomly pick a question (they are numbered) the night before by using a random number generator online, so there’s no bias about the type of question to be considered. By doing this, both of you have the whole night to ponder the next day’s question. Then, use the following day to talk it through. I guarantee you will learn new things about how your partner thinks by doing this.

Depending on your at-home work schedules and the kids’ schedules, you can pick a time to sit down alone and discuss, perhaps over a glass of wine, or you can discuss it in snippets throughout the day.

Then, repeat the process with a new question the following day.

It’s easy as a married couple to find ourselves always talking about the same things. This is particularly true when you have children since the default discussion topic often becomes the children. 

Using a book like Questions for Couples helps break you out of the routine. It could also have the added benefit of taking your mind, for a bit, off the events taking place in the world. The fact is what’s happening outside of our front doors is all out of our direct control, so we have to do our best to let events happen and view this time together as a blessing and an opportunity to connect in new ways.

If the prospect of spending a few weeks cooped up in a house together with your spouse creates a sense of dread and you feel the overwhelming need to FaceTime with other people, perhaps now is the time to work on that, and discuss what’s wrong.  

This is certainly a stressful time for all, and the world is changing in ways we couldn’t have imagined a few weeks ago. Embrace this time to connect deeply with your spouse. Times of great uncertainty out of your control should bring you closer, not drive you apart.