Is Your Marriage Falling Apart in this Global Pandemic?
By now, it’s pretty evident that the COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented experience. But is your marriage falling apart because of the coronavirus?
If you’re struggling, you’re not alone.
It’s highly likely that the coronavirus will wreak a great deal of havoc on marriages both during and after this crisis.
Being confined to our home is a strange and stressful experience for all of us.
Research published 8 years ago in The Journal of Family Psychology examined marriages impacted by Hurricane Hugo.
This research compared South Carolina couples who’d lived in the path of that devastating 1989 event, from those couples who had been spared. The research findings were a bit unclear.
In the aftermath, marriages were falling apart in the devastated areas of South Carolina, but it’s also true that there were more new marriages.
The shared experience and collective trauma of hurricane Hugo was an emotional catalyst. Hurricane Hugo provoked emotional unraveling and connection in different people at the same time.
Some couples managed the crisis with skill. Other marriages fell apart under the pressure.
But This is Much, Much Bigger…
We are now reckoning with a vast global crisis which is getting worse every day. We have all the local stressors to deal with economic, social, and mental. But, unfortunately, as we all get more antsy and stir-crazy, we will also feel a looming dread as well.
One of the most stressful experiences for human beings is confronting uncertainty. The inflection points of this global pandemic are multiple, and there is no clear path to normalcy.
One of the ways marriages may fall apart is when differences between partners are aggravated. Gottman says that 69% of the problems that couples typically face in ordinary times are fundamentally unsolvable.
Couples are experiencing conflicts around taking risks, inappropriate emotional responses, and disagreements on how to move forward. In Gottman Couples Therapy, we call these differences Perpetual Problems.
In ordinary times, we teach couples how to manage these conflicts with skill. But now, during this home lockdown, managing these perpetual problems is far more critical than ever.
Don’t Let Personal Differences Become Unmanageable Perpetual Problems in this Pandemic
Here are a few of the differences couples struggle with that may be heightened during this global pandemic:
- Independence vs. Togetherness. Home quarantine is going to aggravate these differences. Partners sometimes differ around their emotional needs. Some calm themselves down by being with others, while others need alone time to bear the stress of not being alone.
If you prefer to be alone, you might feel cramped while sheltering in place if you don’t get enough “me-time.”
On the other hand, if you calm yourself down by being with your spouse, you may feel neglected when they prefer solitude. You might even create a story about the partner in your head who neglects you.
- Present vs. Future. Some partners will hyper-focus on surviving and getting to “when this is all over.” They will hunker down emotionally and want to focus on assuring future security.
They may have a dour and grave attitude during this home quarantine. And if their partner is focused on the spontaneous joy of living today, they scold them for being “childish and irresponsible.”
- Structure vs. Spontaneity. Some spouses enduring home quarantine will set tight schedules, make lists, and attempt to reduce their coronavirus anxiety by hyper-focusing on meticulous and careful plans.
If they are married to a partner who has a “ready-fire-aim” approach to life, they may criticize them for being “reckless and impulsive.”
If Your Marriage Falling Apart Because of Different Ways of Thinking Under Stress?
- Cool vs. Hot Reactivity. There are some partners who will chill while sheltering in place. They won’t make a big deal out of what they see as petty annoyances.
If they’re married to a spouse who is continuously pro-actively dissatisfied, they might accuse them of being “anxious and neurotic.”
- Solve the Problem vs. Understand the Problem. Some spouses calm themselves down by taking massive action at the first sign of a problem. There are many stories on the internet about one spouse becoming hyper-vigilant about COVIOD-19, while their spouse accused them of “overreacting.”
These arguments often became explosive. Differences about how to allocate resources, whether or not to go to work, the merits of stocking up food stores, etc.
Some partners tend to linger over an issue to understand it fully. But their more decisive spouse may call them a “procrastinator” who never wants to prevail over a problem by actually solving it. This perpetual marital problem often hinders mutual understanding. But during home quarantine, this difference may provoke an epic power struggle.
8 Solid To Stop Your Marriage from Falling Apart During a Global Pandemic
- Accept that Your Differences Will be More Aggravated Than Ever Before. You didn’t see the world in precisely the same way before COVID-19, and you certainly won’t see it the same way now.
You’re probably going to annoy each other on a regular basis. Roll with it. You don’t want to be emotionally gridlocked under the same roof for months at a time.
My friend Michele Weiner-Davis reminds us that it’s essential to be more generous and accommodating to our partners at this challenging time. Lean into your more cautious partner.
Give ground, not because you necessarily agree. Do it because you want to help soothe their frazzled nervous system. It may be a cliche, but it truly is better to be safe than sorry.
The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting. Fran Lebowitz.
- Listen as You Have Never Listened Before. Don’t only wait until it’s your turn. Try to understand what your partner is saying. Repeat back what you heard them say, to make sure they “feel felt.”
- Be Grateful and Show Compassion. This is a major global pandemic. We are living in history. People yet unborn will be talking about this point in time a hundred years from now. Find your best self and display it often.
We are stressed out, thrust together with our partners and kids in home confinement. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, many of us have to juggle working at home while parenting our children who would typically be in school. Many couples are also worried about their finances and what the future will look like.
- Use Softened Start-ups and “I Feel” Statements. Use a softened start-up. Share what you are feeling and what you need with “I feel” statements. “You always” or “you never” is a critical way to start a conversation. Your partner’s nervous system, like yours, is probably more on edge than ever before.
Is Your Marriage Falling Apart Because You Don’t Know How to Make Repair Attempts?
- Make Repair Attempts Early and Often. When you blow it, admit it. Take it back. Ask for a Mulligan. As soon as you recognize that you said something painful to your partner, make a repair attempt.
Say “I’m sorry…That didn’t come out the way I wanted… let me try that again.” Repair attempts are an essential skill. They can diffuse arguments and restore your emotional connection.
Model Repair Attempts for your Children
Modeling repair attempts are not only crucial for the two of you now, but they will also help teach your children how to attend to the feelings of people they love. Your children need a good example of resilience and grace under pressure. Show it to them.
- The “Partner in Your Head” is in Home Quarantine Too. Assumptions about our partner can be more disruptive than ever before at this critical time. Communication skills are essential. We all have an imagined “partner in our head,” and very often we are very wrong. Get into the habit of summarizing by saying, “this is how I understand what you are saying…”
- Have Regular Generative Conversations. I write a lot in this blog about having Generative Conversations. The benefit of Generative Conversations is that it requires each of you to ask questions about your differing points of view, eventually summarizing and validating each other’s perspective.
- Talk About Your Feelings and Invite Your Partner to Do Likewise. I’m talking about all feelings…large and small. Have a Stress-Reducing Conversation to process the everyday stuff. But also listen to each other’s general complaints, however pointless their complaints may seem. This sucks, doesn’t it? How does it suck for you? What do you miss most?
Is Your Marriage Falling Apart Because You’re Not Talking About Feelings?
Don’t forget to ask about their more complicated feelings.
Listen as a best friend would listen. Hear their fears, hopes, worries, and frustrations.
Show them that you care about their feelings as much as your own. This daily conversation can help you both stay emotionally connected during these difficult days.
Talking about feelings may be hard. But make the effort.
Don’t let your partner spend every waking moment in your company and still feel incredibly lonely. Ask and listen.
Is Your Marriage Falling Apart? Get Science-Based Couples Therapy and Coaching Online
CTI has always been a thought-leader in the field of couples therapy. We have over 7 years of daily experience working with clients online. Our highly trained couples therapy team is our most valuable asset. And now, they are all available to you online. You can even schedule your first session with the press of a button.
Marriage coaching online is just as effective as in-person therapy, and it allows couples to process the stress of living in these extraordinary times as we maintain social distance.
Now that you’re sheltering in place, is your marriage falling apart? It doesn’t have to. Getting good couples therapy is more important now than ever before.