Avoiding the traps and pitfalls of a season in close quarters.
Published on: 03-25-2020
“Day 2 without sports. Found a woman sitting on my couch. Apparently she’s my wife. She seems nice.”
That’s what the meme my friend posted on Facebook said. In the comments section below, his wife replied, “Nice to meet you too.”
I know my friends posted this playfully, but it reflects an all-too-familiar reality for some couples. If married life before COVID-19 was utterly detached and devoid of marital connection, now quarantined, it will suddenly become a hurdle impossible to ignore.
Some couples have welcomed this time as finally having the opportunity to be together after a usually hectic pace of life. Many other couples, however, had become so distant before the current crisis that they feel they don’t know their spouse anymore and have more questions than answers about how to get through this season.
As the quarantine is being lifted in China, the country is reporting a spike in divorce requests. Some believe this is because of the couples’ overexposure to each other during the quarantine, while others think it’s due to the closure of council offices throughout the pandemic. Whatever the reason may be, it’s undeniable that close quarters during a quarantine will eventually lead to conflict.
Some of the most challenging aspects of being in close quarters throughout a quarantine of uncertain duration are what to do all day, how to survive financially, and how to put up with your spouse’s annoying habits.
A quarantine has different phases. First is the honeymoon stage, where the novelty of being at home together is going to translate into best efforts, enjoyment, creativity, and willingness to make this work. As time goes on, however, the novelty wears off, and the uncertainty of when this will end creates more stress. Couples—and families, for that matter—will undoubtedly enter into a more conflict-filled stage. No matter whose advice or what guidelines you follow, you’ll have conflict.
What can we do, then, to work on the ties that Ellen White described as “the closest, the most tender and sacred, of any on earth”? Here are some do’s and don’ts for your relationship to survive the quarantine.
What You Can Do
Have some sense of structure. Different people need stronger structures and more predictability than others; but, in general, humans benefit from structure, especially when children are involved. You may want to create structure for the day by having regular, predictable times for waking and sleeping, mealtimes, physical activity, and so forth.
Consider individual needs that come from personality differences: introverts need more alone time than extroverts. The latter need constant interaction to feel energized. Try to find a happy balance that’s a win-win for both parties, and integrate alone time as well as together time into your daily structure.
Discover each other’s “love language” and work diligently to fill your spouse’s love tank on a daily basis. Free online tests are available to help you determine what your love language is.
Be the best, most loving version of yourself. Remember that sometimes we treat a stranger with more respect than we do our closest family members. You can at least be polite to your spouse.
Ask yourself, “What can I do to better the relationship during the quarantine?” Are there projects you could work on together, is there something you could learn to do differently that will impact the relationship positively?
When the going gets tough, as the days wear on, and you’re experiencing distress in the relationship, remind yourself why you chose your spouse in the first place. I once read about a man who used to regularly write down reasons he loved his wife. He kept up this practice so that when they fought, he would go back and read those reasons, and it would help him to repair the relationship.
If your relationship needs urgent intervention from an outside agency during quarantine, phone services and online e-counseling have emerged as ways to help people get through the crisis. Find out what services are available in your area.
Pitfalls to Avoid
A crisis is the worst possible time to make a decision about the future of the relationship. A crisis can bring out the worst or the best in people, and a couple is no exception. Don’t determine the well-being or future of the relationship based on your reactions in quarantine. It’s an exceptional circumstance.
Don’t fall into the bad habit of “kitchen sinking.” That’s when a person throws all the complaints they’ve had about their partner into breathless, run-on sentences. It never works. Stay in the “here and now,” addressing the one issue in front of you and not building upon resentments from years ago.
Don’t interpret your spouse’s actions as directly targeted at you. Your spouse may be struggling to cope with their own anxieties or associations to illness. Try to understand where they’re coming from.
Don’t expect your spouse to problem-solve something that you can do. For example, if you need a silent room to take a call, don’t wait for your partner and children to drop what they’re doing and leave. Instead, be responsible for going into a different space to take that call.
My husband knows I love to talk, so this past Valentine’s Day he gave me a deck of fun cards called “Our Moments for Couples: 100 Thought-Provoking Conversation Starters for Great Relationships.” Little did he know that he would be given the golden opportunity to use them while under quarantine!
Above all, remember that 1 Corinthians 13 includes not just a list of good traits to learn by heart or hang on a wall. That love “suffers long and is kind” (verse 4) should be applied to everyday life, including during a mandatory quarantine. The same can be said about “does not seek its own . . . bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (verses 5, 7).
May the Lord help couples who quarantine together, stay together.
Cintia Block is a couple and family therapist in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home (Hagerstown, Md.: Review & Herald Publ. Assn., 1952), p. 18.