Stores are empty. Restaurants are closed. Events are cancelled. Even your church has cancelled worship services. You might be working from home. Although you’re not sick or “officially quarantined,” you’re spending a lot of time in the house with your spouse. Will this time be filled with frustration and tension, or will you use the time to strengthen your marriage?
Dr. Greg Smalley, vice president of Marriage at Focus on the Family, says, “You will annoy each other, so give loads of grace. Keep asking yourself if the issue is a ‘big deal’ or a ‘little deal.’ ” Dr. Smalley says you should be able to let go of the little annoyances, but he recommends that couples address bigger issues so they don’t build into resentment.
Whether you’ll be at home together for two weeks or two months, your attitude and approach to the situation can make all the difference. Here are some guidelines for the most positive experience, in spite of the stressful situation:
Start with the Word
You could speculate about all that might happen surrounding the COVID-19 crisis: health and financial issues; spending too much time with your spouse and kids; running out of supplies. But “which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Luke 12:25). Of course, reasonable preparation and precautions aren’t unbiblical.
Certainly many people will experience difficult situations, such as illness, grief or hunger. Thankfulness during a crisis isn’t a natural response for most people. But the Bible has some great advice to frame the discussion. First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” And Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
The choice is between being anxious or praying with thanksgiving. To keep a positive outlook, the best options seem to be prayer and thanksgiving.
Make a plan
Communicating with your spouse is a good thing at any time, but in a crisis, it’s crucial. Here are some questions to ask your spouse when you know you’ll be spending lots of time together in close quarters:
- What are your biggest concerns about the crisis?
- If you have concerns about our spending so much time together, how can we best give each other enough space while still working as a team through this difficult time?
- How much alone time would you like each day, and what does that look like for you?
- What would you like us to do together?
- What are your expectations for times you’re working from home?
- How can we use this time to build our marriage?
- How can we use this time to grow closer to God?
Dr. Smalley adds one more thing to the list of questions. “Talk about specific behaviours that help you feel loved,” he says. “My wife and I have each other complete this statement: ‘I feel loved when you …’ ”
As you discuss these questions, keep in mind that some people need more space than others. “You need space and alone time — time to focus on individual interests,” Dr. Smalley says. “Figure out what that looks like for each person and schedule workout times, TV watching, walks, hobbies and quiet times that can be done alone.”
Balance the load
Some additional household chores may be part of the quarantine routine, and dividing chores in a way that’s a win for both of you is important. Dr. Smalley says, “Talk about who’s going to do what during this season of being together. When circumstances change, it’s good to review expectations so that they’re agreed upon. This is how to make expectations realistic.”
But you don’t have to split all the duties. Managing responsibilities together can be a great solution, too. “Take advantage of doing chores together that would usually be done alone — especially cooking.” Dr. Smalley says, “Cooking together can bring you closer and make you feel more connected as a couple.”
Another specific example he gives for managing expectations is a situation where both spouses work full time but one is primarily responsible for certain routines with the kids. He says, “When you’re together 24/7, one spouse may do something contrary to the ‘way things are done normally.’ This can create arguments and frustration for the spouse who normally makes these decisions.” Dr. Smalley says, “The key is to verbalise this dynamic — if it exists — and to figure out a solution that feels good to both spouses. Focus on teamwork and partnership.”
Grieve change and loss
All sorts of things are changing, and this can create a sense of loss. Dr. Smalley says, “You and your spouse are experiencing losses like routine, control (even if control is an illusion), independence, social interaction, eating out, sports, activities, hobbies, finances, travel, and other important moments or experiences.”
So your spouse may be experiencing more than just frustration, fear or exhaustion. They might also be grieving. To support each other through this time, you first need to understand what your spouse is feeling. You could ask your spouse, for example, “What do you miss most during this crisis?”
“Make your goal to care about how the coronavirus crisis is impacting your spouse (and yourself),” Dr. Smalley says. “Hearts are connected when you spend time caring and empathising around how your spouse feels when faced with change and loss.”
Grow closer to your spouse
If you use this extra time together well, you could come out of the crisis with a stronger, healthier marriage. Stepping away from news and social media updates would be a good place to start. That will give you an opportunity to have some meaningful conversations with your spouse — instead of just the exchange of information when you’re running from one event to another.
And remember those fun things you used to do when you first started dating? This might be the perfect time to play games or shoot baskets together. You could go for walks if some nearby trails aren’t crowded. One of the best things to help you reconnect in your relationship is to dream together and plan for a positive future. “Spend at least 10 minutes per day just focused on ‘inner-life’ issues (i.e., emotions, fears, worries, hopes and needs),” Dr. Smalley says. “This will keep you current on how your spouse is really doing.”
This might also be a great time to discover new activities that you can do together or new routines that you’d like to introduce into your life. Dr. Smalley says, “Create some fun traditions while you’re stuck in the house: Play board games or video games. Work on puzzles. Watch movies and TV shows that you’ve wanted to catch up on. Cook together. Fold laundry together.”
Grow closer to God
If you have young kids in the house, this time of avoiding contact with other people outside of your family might not be particularly quiet; however, if you have available time without disruption, it might allow you to study the Bible with your spouse. That can be especially beneficial if one or both of you are fearful of the crisis.
Maybe you and your spouse pray before going to bed each night or before leaving for work each morning. But if you’re both home for an extended period of time, you could add another time of couples prayer at noon or some other time during the day. Part of that special prayer time might be devoted to asking God for the health of family and friends and for wisdom for leaders as they deal with the crisis.
Any time of crisis can be a great opportunity to love and serve your spouse. You can do that through grace, patience and open communication tempered by Christ-like love.