How It Began
“Have you washed your hands?”
I have probably heard my wife ask me this question at least 50 times a day during the last several weeks. Sometimes I had remembered, sometimes I had not. Sound familiar?
During the first several days of this “historic” Pandemic, it became such a nuisance. And the more frequently she asked me (after almost everything I touched), the more irritated I became.
And then the governor issued the “Stay-at-Home” edict throughout Louisiana. My first reaction to this entire pandemic was one of skepticism. I am not a “conspiracy” buff, but the idea of being told how dangerous something is (or can be) when projections are all we have seemed a little premature. I basically did not like people telling me how careful I needed to be. (Ok, I may have been wrong in my initial response, but don’t tell my wife.)
The more I saw businesses close, people losing their jobs and schools closing, the angrier I became.
And now I was “forced” to reduce to only “essential” trips to the grocery store and had to conduct tele-therapy sessions with clients via the internet instead of face-to-face.
How I Reacted
Faced with this reality, my “go to” reaction – my “coping” strategy — to this type of stress and environment was rearing its ugly head.
My wife responded to the danger by being ultra-cautious about everything we did. The process to “decontaminate” food shipped to our home included a number of steps that had to be conducted in a particular sequence. Imagine gloves, wipes, disinfectant spray, and (of course) . . . washing hands several times!
My tendency was to ridicule her ultra-caution. Her tendency was to take it personally and feel unprotected by me. Our old pattern was being re-discovered – to our dismay!
How Does this Affect Your Relationship with Your Spouse?
I don’t know how you and your spouse are handling this Pandemic and the “stay-at-home” order, but chances are each of you are reacting/responding to it differently. The added stresses of kids 24/7, working from home (or perhaps not at all), and the unknown financial future are certainly situations we did not expect and are not prepared for.
For the first week, my wife and I found that our relationship moved into a difficult phase – perhaps more difficult than it had been in years. What happened? And how did we work through this “new normal” as individuals and as a couple?
We don’t know how long this is going to last, and we want to enjoy our extended time together. We certainly do NOT want to spend our time either fighting, arguing or (even worse!) not talking to each other. So what do we do?
Why is This Happening?
This is an unusual time – described as “historic” by most. We are not prepared for it, so we revert back to the types of coping strategies that give us the most comfort.
We are transitioning into an unfamiliar “both working at home” mode. The stresses that we usually experience at work and try not to bring back to our family are now part of our home life as well.
Too many of these new challenges do not have well established “agreements.” We normally have plenty of time to figure out the “give and take” of compromise with a new situation, and we can work it out over time. But now we have to resolve these issues on a moment-by-moment basis. We don’t have the luxury of slowly deciding what will best work for us as a couple.
Some examples of new situations and the questions they raise are:
- What do we do when both of us are on “Zoom” meetings and our internet can only handle one?
- Who handles the kids when both of us have work to do?
- Homeschooling and 2 working parents—how does that work? (How do teachers do this?)
And all of a sudden, those little quirks that bothered us (but we normally don’t mention) become HUGE!
Remember that We Still Love and Care About Each Other
- Our spouse is not intentionally attacking us or shutting us out– their reactions that seem intense may be self-protection. Our spouse is not our enemy – and we are not theirs. The stresses are external – and we are simply returning to our “pattern” of coping under stress. And we know it is not working!
- We are not naturally going to change . . . unless we are willing to intentionally accept each other and our responses during this Pandemic. Try to understand what emotions are going on underneath the surface –for both you and your spouse.
- We will not be able to convince our spouse that their perspective of this Pandemic is wrong and ours is right. If we spend our time arguing about how “ridiculous” or “unhealthy” the other person’s responses are, we will fail. We cannot change the other person by what we consider “rational” arguments – they (and we) are reacting to our emotions and the patterns we have developed over decades.
Ideas on How to Create New Patterns
We both want this time to not only be “productive,” but to create memories. We may never have another chance to experience this type of 24/7 time together. (I know, many of you are thinking: “I sure hope not!”) Here are some ways to make this happen:
- Reflect on how we are handling the situation and how we are reacting to our spouse. It is helpful to actually write it down into words. What are some of the emotions I am feeling? Irritation, anger, and resentment come to mind almost immediately.
- Affirm that we both are acting in a way that we think is appropriate and makes sense to us. But it isn’t working!
- Recognize that underneath are some other less obvious emotions: Worry, concern, feeling alone and isolated, feeling uncertain about the future, feeling overwhelmed, perhaps even fear, to name a few.
- There could also be a sense of disappointment and sadness. We were hoping that this time of “stay-at-home” distancing might allow us to spend quality time with our spouse and our children – and it does not seem to be happening.
- Ask your spouse what behavior, words, or tone of voice, seem to be triggering them. Don’t take it personally! The tendency it to become defensive and defend how we reacted or why we said what we did and to justify it. Ask instead with a perspective of curiosity.
- Own our actions and how they are affecting our spouse.
From there, plan to spend 15 minutes together every evening talking about how the day went, what we were/are feeling (see above!), and how we can do better tomorrow. We’ll call this “couch time.”
- During this “couch time,” express the desire to act differently. Each spouse can ask the other one for what they need. Be willing to give insight without attacking and to hear input without becoming defensive or angry.
- Agree to take a “time out” when we feel our irritation at each other rising. And agree to talk about it during our “couch time” when we have both calmed down.
- Intentionally read a short Scripture passage together and talk about how God might use this in our own lives. It allows us to focus on God’s Truth, rather than on our circumstances or on ourselves. (See the suggestions below.)
- Pray together that God will give us awareness, insight, creativity, and the courage and intentionality to treat our spouse in a way that demonstrates the love and respect that we feel inside, but are simply not showing.
Trying out these ideas will help us regain the relationship that we have experienced in the past — or even deepen and enhance our connection. In this time of stress and trials, let’s learn how to join together to face these times as a couple united. We need each other now more than ever.
Bible Verses for “Couch Time”:
- 2 Timothy 1:7 — For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.
- Philippians 4:6-7 — Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
- Joshua 1:9 — ”Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
- John 14:27 — “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
- Isaiah 41:10 — “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
- Deuteronomy 31:8 — “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
- Psalm 27:1 — The LORD is my light and my salvation – so why should I be afraid? The LORD is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?
- Psalm 23:4 — “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
- I Peter 5:7 — “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
- Psalm 34:4 — “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.”
- Psalm 91 — “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.”