It’s the second week the stay home circuit breaker measures have been implemented in Singapore. Mass gatherings have been suspended for about a month now. Students have to adapt to home-based learning and working parents have to figure out how to work from home.
This is a time of adjustment for many individuals, families, communities and organisations. While some may be enjoying how the change in routines has allowed them to spend more time with their family members, others may find staying home for an extended period of time stressful.
For couples with troubled marriages, the thought of being cooped up all day 24/7 with their spouse may seem to be the worst thing that can happen. Their fear and resentment about the situation have less to do with the coronavirus, but more to do with the ongoing tension and strife with their spouse.
Maybe that describes your situation right now. Maybe you and your spouse are struggling with some long-standing relational issues or you are both still reeling from the damage caused by an affair, pornography, or other kinds of addiction. Until now, you’ve been able to cope with that pain because you’ve had space to escape the situation by going to work, hanging out with your friends, attending social functions, or spending time outdoors with exercise or hobbies.
But you can’t do that now. Now you’re stuck with your spouse at home and there are constant reminders of the disappointment, pain, and frustration. Maybe you can’t wait for this whole crisis to blow over.
Please know you’re not alone. There are ways that can help make a troubled marriage better. Give them a shot with your spouse. Who knows? Seeing each other more while staying home together may just provide the opportunities to improve your marriage relationship. And don’t wait for him or her to make the first move. Taking the initiative to work on your relationship may just be the turning point for your marriage in this season.
Here are eight ways to help you strengthen your relationship with your spouse, spelled M-A-R-R-I-A-G-E:
1. M - Make meaningful conversations
When the relationship between husband and wife is tense or have soured, it can become easy to just talk about matters to do with household management or taking care of the children. While these are important, they cannot replace meaningful conversations that allow us to know our spouse better.
Try asking your husband or wife about the highs and lows of their day. Listen to their worries, fears, hopes, and care about their emotions. Just start with 10 minutes every day. Think of it as your “daily check-in” with each other.
2. A - Acknowledge your feelings to each other
Another way to connect meaningfully with your spouse is to talk about your feelings toward the present COVID-19 situation. This could help you both ease into talking about things at the heart-level, especially if there is awkwardness from not having such conversations for a long time.
Be honest about your anxieties and fears; these feelings are normal and valid. On top of that and your marriage relationship, you are also dealing with many adjustments due to social distancing guidelines—from flexible work arrangements to your kids doing home-based learning, to being unable to get groceries and household items as promptly as before. There’s a lot on your plate to deal with right now, and it’s understandable if you are feeling overwhelmed.
All these issues have a common element—change. By nature, we’re drawn to the familiar because it causes us to feel safe when we know what to expect. Something unexpected—like the present situation—can make us feel helpless or out of control. It’s natural for you and your spouse to be affected by the loss of familiar routines in various areas of your lives.
The troubles are real. So acknowledge them. It is a shared experience that can be unifying. Think about arranging a “truce” and look for ways to best support each other through these unusual time.
As you process these changes and their effects, make a commitment to care about your spouse’s feelings and losses. The current situation provides opportunities for you to empathise with your spouse about the changes that are happening.
3. R - Recharge and care for yourself
It is especially important in this time to practice good self-care. You are fully responsible for your own well-being—physically and emotionally. Your goal should be to recharge and care for yourself in these two important areas.
It is also helpful for you and your spouse to take breaks from each other. No marriage does well when spouses are together around the clock. This isn’t about a silent treatment. Rather, it’s about communicating the kind of activities that allows each other to recharge. Share the type of break that works for you. Is it having time by yourself in another room? Or an uninterrupted hour online or watching television?
Remember—communicating your needs and expectations is setting the family up to succeed. None of us are mind readers, especially as we all try to keep working amidst a global crisis.
4. R - Rally together as a team
This crisis has caused our country to rally together against a shared enemy - the COVID-19 pandemic. The same can be true of your marriage. This is an opportunity for you and your spouse to unite as a married couple against a common threat.
Learn to function as a team to protect yourselves (and your children) with good personal hygiene practices and socially responsible measures. Use this common rallying point to build more synergy with each other in your marriage for the safety of the family.
5. I - Instil a safe environment
When two people feel safe with each other, their hearts open up and deeper connections happen. The reverse is true, too; people will close up and disconnect when they feel unsafe.
Talk to your spouse about how to create a home that feels safe. What does each person need to see happen before they can feel that way? What would both of you hope from the other person to move toward this?
One possible way to start this conversation is to ask your spouse to complete this sentence: “I feel safe when you...” When you or your spouse are sharing, try to avoid defensiveness or interruptions. Do your best to listen in order to understand their need for safety. Help each other to create a safe environment in your home.
6. A - Avoid working through thorny issues
This may not be the best time to work through thorny issues or long-standing troubles in your marriage in an intensive way. Because you are both staying home more, you don’t have the usual opportunities to get some physical space apart to process issues by yourself when the need arise.
Communicate to your spouse clear boundaries around difficult conversations about infidelity, pornography, or addictions. Share honestly what you’re comfortable with addressing and what you’d prefer not to talk about right now. This doesn’t mean you’re sweeping issues under the rug. Instead, you’re acknowledging the difficult situation you’re in because of COVID-19, and you’re setting appropriate boundaries to help you both better navigate this difficult season together as a couple.
When you work as a team through this pandemic, you will become more united and, in time, become stronger to tackle the hard topics.
7. G - Get professional help if needed
Since you and your spouse are both at home, perhaps this could be a good time to get a jump start on counselling. Source out places that provide online or phone counselling for married couples. In addition, a counsellor may be able to help both of you make good decisions about your time together during the present situation.
There may be reluctance or resistance to this idea, but what have you got to lose? If you and your spouse find that this isn’t really working well, you can always try a different approach after giving it a shot for a few sessions. But if it does pan out well, then you both would have made a worthy investment to strengthen your marriage.
8. E - Engage friends for support
Finally, even though you may not be able to physically meet up with your friends now, do make it a point to still reach out to them for support. Schedule online coffee chats. Phone calls or video conversations—while not quite the same as a face-to-face meeting—can still give you the opportunity to connect for support, comfort, and encouragement.
The extended period of time that you and your spouse need to stay home together may not be easy, but this season will pass. We hope that these ways could help you both rediscover and restore the connections that once brought joy and love to your marital relationship.
Adapted from 10 Ways Your Marriage Can Survive the Coronavirus Quarantine by Greg Smalley © 2020 All rights reserved. Used with permission from Focus on the Family.
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