For me, watching coupling trends or items of the like are of interest to me. I mean, real trends, not gossip. For example, China reported a record-high number for divorce filings in March, after their nation exited lockdown. This was timely and interesting to me as I found the report just as we entered sheltering-in-place protocols in Texas. I have always held the adage, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” as a universal truth, particularly given my own personalities and needs for time alone. For me, this applies to the kids, too! Albeit, in smaller amounts or time increments. So, I have held the opposite to be true as well. Too much time results in somebody getting on someone else’s nerves, and the pandemic protocols begged the questions: Why? Can I prevent reaching the breaking the point? Will I still want to after the smoke has cleared?
What is it about closeness, and specifically lots of time spent together in close quarters, that is so damn hard. I started to look for answers before the proverbial shoe dropped so I could arm myself. My mom is widow, so this was one reason I did ask her. I was fortunate enough to have a friend who is older and married. He and his wife have been married for 50 years and are both retired. He takes a dance class with me. He does this without his wife, who is really a lovely person. I reached out via facebook and he responded enthusiastically.
Basically, he said when it is just the two of you, you hyper-focus on the things you don’t like about a person. The trick is to tick off the things you do like as well. Make it a mental exercise. Also, you have got to do something that is yours. For us, we both love the Y. She swims while I dance. We have mutual friends there but may not see them together all of the time.
Ahh! I felt like I could help keep the scales balanced. Any time a light was cast on a what I considered to be a personality flaw, I would say, “but he is/also does _____”. No problem, right?
When I tell you the scales were broke, busted, and I was disgusted in a matter of days, please know I mean it. Things like the way he slept or breathed while he slept had really started to be all I could focus on. Like, how is he even sleep already? But about 10 days in, I realized that I was the only one who was feeling like this. Why? My husband got to leave the house. His business is essential and he got to leave the house-daily. While I was inside with an invisible teenager (except when the meals were ready) and a super-attached primary school child with diverse needs (hint all of her needs required physical contact at all times with –in her mind).
So, before I filed for divorce, I reached out to the teenager and told her she needed to step up and entertain her sis more so I can have some alone time so I do not commit homicide. I hinted that I might start with her. This special time , which I have come to call Quarantine Squared, is a little quarantine within the bigger overall quarantine, and it made huge difference. Everyone in our family has called a Q2 time-out. The concept was then explained to the husband and I told him where I needed him to step, too.
Immediately, some pressure was released. In addition, we both tried to find some ways to do couple things. The following are things that you can try, even now, as many are still living pretty restricted lives, as we are.
- Talk about what we miss from our former lives and how it makes us feel. Restricted movement patterns/freedom, loss in finances, or even loved ones to this illness are all things that may need a compassionate ear. This alone helped us a lot. As racial inequities have been highlighted and exacerbated (especially in my day job) talking about it really helped!
- Relive fond memories and day-dream about when this is over…
- Enlisting a friend to be a sounding board for the usually harmless vetting that needs to happen at times. I know I have a married friend and we serve on each other’s personal board of directors in this capacity. We don’t belittle the spouse or divulge personal or sensitive details. It is just girl talk about if I find one more unmatched sock… NOTE: Take care if this person is family! Will vetting change their view of your spouse if you stay together?
- Use the time together to get to know each other better. Hands down, this was my favorite thing. We have been married ten years and I have learned quite a bit about him during this time. Little things about his family, pre-us memories, small things, big things. It certainly explained some things and I ended up with an even deeper connection and appreciation for him and his perspective on things. I also taught him a thing or two about me! LOL!
- If these don’t help, please don’t hesitate to try teletherapy. Sadly, I have witnessed some marriages end during this time, and likely there were pre-existing issues or resentments. Either way, the help of a professional can help give you the tools to resolve them or at least get to a healthy place emotionally so that there is no baggage in a new relationship going forward.
Every relationship a person had was likely tested in a variety of ways during the sheltering in place. For me and my husband, we are no longer in the strictest phases and have survived not just in tact, but better off, relationship-wise. It was not a breeze. Nerves were
stepped stomped breakdanced on. But the single most important thing I learned was a true gem I gleaned from an article I read. In a marriage, or partnership, you must play to each other’s strengths. Me whining about doing more housework or juggling the little’s school and therapy demands is not likely going to change. But I am also not going to lug 100 lbs. back and forth as we move boxes for my mom (I could but it is infinitely easier for my husband), worry about all the vehicles, security and other things that have fallen into his realm of duties. These delineations are not all based on conformity to stereotypical gender roles either. They are where our strengths lie. He is physically stronger. He carries the heavy stuff. He is a carpenter and builds homes. He fixes stuff. I am a former elementary educator. I do the school stuff. We promised each other that we would be a helper and partner to the other. Sometimes, it is not equal, but it is equitable. I do the things that help him do the things he is good at and vice versa. He does this unwaveringly and without complaint. I learned that this is my biggest struggle and I have a new perspective on our partnership. And, things have never been better.
What are ways that you relationships have or are weathering the storm of the pandemic? Please drop a tip, comment, or question!