The Marriage During Quarantine Edition
Remember Plato's Allegory of the Cave? In it, he imagines that a group of prisoners have been confined since birth with no knowledge of the outside world. They're chained, facing a rock wall, with a fire behind them. All they know of life is the shadows cast by those living it. Eventually, one of the prisoners escapes and is startled by the outside world.
There's more to the allegory, but that's the gist. And right now, we're experiencing more or less the opposite of that prisoner. We're looking at shadows. The world has been reduced. But reality didn't change. Only our experience did. Many parents and partners and people are, understandably, struggling to adjust.
In some ways, the hardest thing to adjust to is each other. Being in the cave is fine -- a fire feels nice on your back, but being chained to people is hard. In China, now emerging from quarantine, divorce lawyers have waiting lists. That boom will come to America as well. Deep breathing can only get couples so far.
How to Help a Marriage Thrive Under Pressure
The coronavirus is putting an unprecedented amount of stress on couples. Here are some ways to cope
Understand That Everyone Needs Time to Realignt
Life has changed. Many among us have gone from a 'thriving' experience to a 'surviving' experience seemingly overnight. This isn't easy and requires time for everyone to adjust. Understanding this is crucial. "This difference in mindset can create a unique tension and demand a focus on psychological survival," says Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S, an Austin-based psychotherapist "The skill set that survival demands is different than what is required to thrive and can include: greater flexibility, presence of mind, a sense of urgency, and functionality over process."
Create New Structures
In times of chaos, those with structure thrive — and are less likely to smother one another in their sleep. As many of our pre-existing routines have been rendered useless, now's the time to create new ones. "It is critical that a new routine be established that allows each member of the family to satisfy some of their needs to be met in regards to personal space, virtual work, virtual communications with friends and family, groceries and meal times, exercise routines, and rest/relaxation," says therapist Robert A. Grigore. So, sit down together and figure it out . Consider all the details. Make a plan. Amend that plan. Plan it out again. Then plan it out some more.
Most couples are now forced to occupy the same living space, however large or small that may be. There is no way around that. But that doesn't mean that you have to be on top of each other all the time. Do what you can to draw lines of demarcation. Designate a work space for one another. Give yourselves the spaces you need to be productive and active without crowding them.
Be Honest About Time Alone
We all need time to ourselves. The need is even more so, what with no more commuting, gym-time, bar-time, barre-time, sports-time, or whatever-time. "Simply put, we are not used to being confined to our homes," says. Laves-Webb. "This dynamic can be taxing even under the best circumstances. Take time to go outside, go to another room or shut your door for a period of time in order to reset, create mental recalibration, and to have a pressure release valve for everyone involved." Couples need to communicate this need and make time for it to happen without resorting to passive aggression or resentment.
Figure Out How to Fight
"It can be extremely helpful to come up with expectations as to how to handle disagreements and tensions that will escalate into arguments," says Grigore. Here's a start: Agree that any family member can pause a disagreement in order to return to it at a later time when they need to work out their thoughts. Go from there.
Give One Another the Benefit of the Doub
"You're both dealing with increased stress and unpredictability, so it's likely that your partner isn't actually trying to annoy you or act selfishly — they're probably genuinely overwhelmed and not thinking as clearly as usual," says Jessie Bohnenkamp, a licensed professional counselor based in Virginia. "If you need to bring up an issue, focus on the specific behavior that's bothering you rather than criticizing your partner's character or personality."
Here's an example. Instead of saying something like You always expect me to clean up after you. Try, It would be really helpful if you could clean up after your breakfast before you start working.
Set Aside Specific Time to Vent
When it feels like the world is burning, some people tend to spend all day talking about each little flame. Others ignore the heat. Neither approach is worthwhile. Couples need to figure out times to vent to one another during the day. Bohnenkamp suggests that during this each partner gets 10 or 15 scheduled minutes to talk about whatever's on their mind — work stress, worry about their parents' health, the state of the world, money concerns, whatever. "This time to come together and support each other is a wonderful way to stay on the same page, reduce each other's stress, and stay connected and strong during this stressful time," she says.
Make Time for Other People
Friends, family, and co-workers help us vent, gain perspective, or just forget about the day-to-day for a while. Even while social distancing, we all need to find ways to connect with people outside of marriage. If you belong to a group or club, see if they can hang out over Zoom or another video conferencing service. If you want to connect with family members or friends one-on-one, set up a daily Facetime call. Making time for interests and connections outside of the marriage can ensure that everything stays level inside the marriage.
Remind Yourselves: These Are Crazy Times
"During times of uncertainty, we go into survival mode, becoming hyper focused on ourselves. By extension we become less tolerant of others and more likely to snap at our partners," says therapist Ebru Halper. "External stressors will take a toll on a marriage, even on really strong ones. When there's friction, tell yourself 'This is very stressful for both of us. We are doing our best.'" At the end of the day, our best is all we can do.