One of the first predictions I noticed when COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders began was that a baby boom would happen in the winter this year, like “blizzard babies” born nine months after major winter storms. But a darker forecast also caught my eye: increased divorce filings. Lots of couples who didn’t know how to solve relationship issues during quarantine just split up instead.
Though some media outlets report that the quarantine encouraged reconciliation and reduced divorces as states reopened, others confirmed that the pandemic pushed hurting marriages to the brink. One high profile example is vocalist Kelly Clarkson, who filed for divorce after quarantining with her husband in Montana didn’t help them salvage their troubled relationship. Perhaps your marriage is hurting now, too. Maybe it was hurting before the quarantine. Here are 4 important steps to take next.
1. Give each other some space.
In normal circumstances, most couples have to work intentionally to create time together. But in this pandemic, couples who are used to spending maybe six waking hours together a day suddenly spent every waking hour together. Find ways to spend time apart within the home. Such solitude can allow you time to set your perspective and collect your thoughts. It’s OK to make that time. And when you do share space, make sure you’re working on creating uniquely safe spaces for each other.
2. Identify cycles or scripts that are on repeat in your marriage.
It’s important to recognize that times of crisis don’t cause problems as much as they reveal them. Maybe one spouse seems constantly distant, in part because the other spouse is carelessly unkind. But that spouse reacts unkindly in part because of the hurt caused by the first spouse being so distant emotionally. And on it goes. If you see default “scripts” in your interactions, be determined to interrupt those cycles and work on putting those conflicts to rest.
It’s important to recognize that times of crisis don’t cause problems as much as they reveal them.
3. Address your part of the problem.
During those times when Susan and I have struggled in our 30 years of marriage, I have to remember to take a look at myself, not just at what she could change or be doing better. And sometimes, frankly, the tension has been so thick between us that we can’t even work our way out of conflict until at least one of us decides we are willing to look at ourselves. Moving forward often begins not by brooding over what your spouse could do differently, but by asking yourself, “What can I do differently?” When I own my mistakes and my part of the problem, I’m helping us both. Being humble is being helpful in my marriage.
4. Take some steps to break the cycle.
In the prior example, the spouse who is distant might choose to move closer emotionally to the unkind spouse. Or the unkind spouse might choose to show more grace even if the other remains frustratingly distant. When a marriage is in a rut, it doesn’t matter who started it. It’s more important to make a move to get out of the rut. Recognize the warning signs, get some traction together, and be open to a helping hand if you need one.
It isn’t easy to decide how to solve relationship issues. During quarantine might be the first time you realized your marriage has some. But you can use this handful of important steps before you call it quits in your marriage. We’ve found that some of the greatest steps that breathe hope into once-hopeless marriages are also some of the simplest. Though the pressures and challenges can feel very complicated, take heart. The solutions can start with some simple steps rooted in love, patience, and kindness.
If you have ideas for how to solve relationship issues during quarantine, share in a comment below.