By Greg Smalley
For some couples, being quarantined together has helped them grow closer. They feel more connected and a deeper sense of love and appreciation for their spouse.
However, China and Turkey are reporting rising divorce filings by couples who are spending too much time in close quarters under quarantine. The added strain on the marriage intensifies pre-existing problems and has forced sheltered couples to deal with these problems on their own — often unsuccessfully.
Why are divorce rates rising?
Social isolation, stress, fear, financial strain, job uncertainty or loss, failing businesses, bored children, home-schooling, close quarters, mounting losses … these challenges become a pressure cooker waiting to blow. Many people are ill-equipped to deal with the increasing stress in healthy ways. Trivial things that were often overlooked or went unnoticed because a couple wasn’t together have led to more conflict and dissatisfaction.
Deep issues and unresolved conflicts surface that have been ignored and buried for years. Many couples are master avoiders. Often, people have concealed their marriage problems by creating emotional and physical distance — buffers that allowed them to stay disconnected but married. Time away from each other working, caring for children, pursuing hobbies, working out at fitness centers, spending time with friends, going to school functions, watching TV and browsing social media created space from their spouse and marriage problems. When you’re busy doing these things, you don’t have to invest in your spouse or open your heart to being known by your spouse. You can keep conversation at a superficial level. You can maintain a safe emotional and physical distance. These activities monopolise time and attention — and keep couples from facing problems in their marriage. Couples could avoid the emotional connection at a safer distance before the quarantine, but now the disconnection is painfully obvious.
People feel their spouse has become more like a roommate. Many couples fall in love fast but the romance gradually fades. This may not have been obvious until they were quarantined together. Being together 24/7 is like shining a powerful spotlight on their relationship. Now, they can’t hide from the disconnection or separate lives they’ve been living. There is a heightened awareness of the loneliness that has been ignored for years. Loneliness in marriage is a painful existence and one that some people feel they can’t tolerate any longer.
Communication and making decisions as a team are key to a healthy marriage. However, some couples lack these basic skills and tools.
Can you improve your relationship instead of filing for divorce?
Of course, you don’t have to let stress lead to divorce. Instead of ignoring or avoiding the problems in your marriage, here are some things you can do to turn things around and start building a stronger marriage:
Be honest about your fears and concerns of being quarantined together in light of the problems that you’ve been experiencing. What would a truce look like in your marriage? How could you best support each other during this crazy time? It’s easy (and probably safer) to keep your communication limited to schedules, to-do lists (“business” meetings) and managing the children. However, hearts are connected when you spend time caring and empathising around how your spouse feels when faced with change.
Grieve all the change that is happening — sometimes hourly. Social distancing, shelter in place, working remotely and lockdown create change. By nature, humans are drawn to the familiar — knowing what to expect causes us to feel safe and secure. The unexpected can throw us off because we feel out of control and helpless.
Take breaks from each other — most marriages don’t do well when couples are together 24/7. Verbalise what type of break works best for each person. Talking about your expectations helps them to be realistic and keeps both of you on the same page.
Practise good self-care. You are fully responsible for your well-being — spiritually, emotionally and physically. Your goal is to find ways to recharge and care for yourself in those three important areas so that you have something to give your spouse and family.
Rally together against a common enemy. The opportunity is to rally together against a common enemy (the coronavirus, financial crisis, family issues, etc.) and function as a team.
Make your goal to create a home environment that feels safe. When two people feel safe, hearts open and connection can happen. On the other hand, when people feel unsafe, hearts close and they disconnect. Talk with your spouse about how you will create a home that feels safe for each person. Ask your spouse to complete this statement, “I feel safe when you …”
Don’t try to work through hot topics or long-term issues that have been festering for years. If issues like pornography, infidelity or addictions are present, set some boundaries around conversations that are off limits when you’re both confined to your home. This isn’t sweeping issues under the rug. Instead, you’re acknowledging the difficult situation you’re in because of the coronavirus and you’re setting appropriate boundaries so that you can effectively manage this difficult season.
Reach out for support. Although you might be used to coffee dates with a good friend where you’re sitting face-to-face, you still need ongoing support and encouragement. Schedule calls or video chats with safe friends. Or get in touch with a counsellor to get a jump start on restoring your marriage while you have more disposable time.
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© 2020 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published on FocusOnTheFamily.com.