Some experts are finding that six or seven weeks of pressure is as much as human relationships can last before they crack. Here’s a piece we all should read right now.—Editors
COVID-19 has dramatically and drastically changed life in our homes. Many of us are feeling anxious, uncertain, and stressed while trying to adjust to a new and hopefully temporary normal. Marriage and family life are already full of challenges, where we inevitably have conflict and hurt one another. But now the virus has added another layer to regular stressors. It’s easy during this time for tensions to rise, tempers to flare, and to get on each other’s nerves. Initially, the time together seemed like a blessing, but extra time has created more opportunity for misunderstandings and dysfunctional interactions. This is especially true for husbands and wives where previous relational struggles may have become magnified.
Keeping your marriage healthy during the COVID-19 quarantine needs to be a high priority for all couples. There are no easy answers and quick fixes, and we don’t know how long we’ll be living under these conditions. So, while we can’t control the virus and our current circumstances, we can take control and change our response to what’s happening around us. Here are some tips to help your marriage survive and thrive during COVID-19 and beyond.
As people of faith, now is the time to use our spiritual disciplines, especially prayer. We’re constantly being reminded during this pandemic to protect ourselves by washing our hands, not touching our face, and practicing social distancing. These tasks, however, don’t necessarily protect us from the emotional, mental, and spiritual distress we’re encountering. This is the reason prayer is so critical at this time. Prayer takes us outside of ourselves and reminds us that our reliance is on God and not ourselves. Paul reminds us: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6, 7).1
Prayer has to be the first protection for our marriage and family. With tensions rising and tempers flaring, we need a sense of calm and peace in our homes. From a physiological perspective, prayer is highly effective in reducing our reaction to trauma and crises. Prayer takes us out of the fight, flight, or freeze mode and pushes us into a more thoughtful and reflective mode.
When we pray, God speaks to our hearts and transforms our minds. We’ve witnessed miraculous healing in marriages where one or both spouses commit to praying earnestly for the marriage. Ellen White says: “When we come to ask mercy and blessing from God we should have a spirit of love and forgiveness in our own hearts.”[ii]
Practice the PPC Model
Throughout this pandemic, we’ve heard the term PPE (personal protective equipment), which includes items to defend against the virus such as face masks, gloves, and other protective gear. The PPC Model (pause, pray and choose), however, is a defense strategy to protect your relationship. Using this skill will help you create and ensure a safe environment for your marriage and family.
Pause—when tensions are rising, pause and breathe. Taking deep breaths will activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which conserves energy and slows the heart rate, relaxes the body, and allows the brain to think more clearly.
Pray—say a quick prayer and ask God to help you calm down and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23), despite feeling stressed, anxious, and frustrated.
Choose—choose a response that will create a safe space and foster peace in your home.
Are little things about your spouse beginning to irritate you? You’ve started noticing some things that were probably there before, but all of a sudden they seem more magnified. Don’t sweat the small stuff—it’s all small stuff! You’ll naturally get a little snippy with each other unintentionally, so practice being kind and nice. Give each other lots of grace, and remember that you’re on the same team.
Ask Your Spouse What He or She Needs
Set aside at least 10 minutes every day for a checkup with each other. The simple act of asking and responding as needed validates and supports each partner and sends a message of caring. There might be some things that seem obvious and maybe even things that you normally do to support each other, but now they’ve become more important. It’s easy during this crisis to take each other for granted. Taking the time to communicate your thoughts, fears, needs, and desires will help you to remain in tune with each other.
Be Warm and Affectionate
Social distancing rules don’t apply to your marriage unless you’ve tested positive for COVID-19. Make time in your relationship to connect and to be warm and affectionate in your daily interactions. Develop a habit of hugging and kissing each other in the morning when you wake up and before you go to sleep at night, or even in the middle of the day. This will help relieve tension and connect you to each other emotionally. Schedule a weekly date night for just the two of you. Be creative, have fun, and laugh a lot.
Take Breaks From Each Other
While marriage is designed to bring out the best in us, it also tends to bring out the worst in us. That’s what makes this forced togetherness so difficult. Therefore, it’s more than OK to take at least 20 to 30 minutes of uninterrupted time alone every day for the health and well-being of your relationship. Of course, we’re not talking about silent treatment or ignoring each other. So talk about it and agree together when you will carve out some personal time each day. Then respect those boundaries going forward.
Keep a Positive Attitude
Having a positive attitude about your spouse and your marriage directly impacts the quality of your relationship. Rather than thinking your problems can’t be solved, change your self-talk and the way you view your relationship. If you think your marriage is relatively good with some challenges, you’ll tend to focus on how you can survive this crisis together and even thrive on the other side. Positive thinking will give you hope about the future and about your marriage. “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones” (Prov. 17:22).
Connect With Others
Connecting with friends and family through FaceTime, Zoom, SMS, or a simple telephone call will help to lessen the tension and strain on your marriage. In this way, your spouse or children are not the only people you interact with. If allowed, you can even go outside and say hello to your neighbors while practicing social distancing. Be sure, however, not to connect clandestinely with anyone. This will only invite additional problems into your marriage during this stressful time.
Because you’re human, it’s inevitable that at some point during these tension-filled days you may say something or do something that might hurt your spouse, or vice-versa. As soon as someone conveys being hurt, the one causing the pain should be quick to apologize. For this to work, the offended party should also be swift to forgive. This will help your relationship to get back on track and keep the evil one from further damaging your oneness. The Bible says: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32, emphasis supplied).
If Necessary, Reach Out for Help
If you’re having problems that you’re unable to resolve on your own, seek help from a qualified Christian counselor who shares your values about marriage. Most therapists are offering telehealth for individuals and couples these days. So, talking to a counselor about the challenges you’re having can be invaluable during and after the lockdown.
By responding to your challenges in constructive ways, your marriage will survive and thrive during COVID-19. “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).
For more marriage and family resources to help you through COVID-19, visit family.adventist.org. If you’re afraid that your spouse might hurt you or your children, or if you’re already experiencing some form of domestic violence, reach out for help now. In the United States, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline anytime by calling 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or online at https://www.thehotline.org/help/. They offer help in more than 200 languages. If you’re outside the United States, look for hotlines that are available in your country.
1 All Bible texts are from the New King James Version. Copyright ã 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2 Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1892), p. 97.
Willie Oliver, a family sociologist, pastoral counselor, and certified family life educator, is director of Adventist Family Ministries at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
Elaine P. Oliver, a licensed clinical professional counselor and certified family life educator, is associate director.