In part one of this blog series, I presented the complications we all experience relationally because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the “stay at home” order. I believe these complications are present in many cases because there is so much time together with some people in our households. We are also experiencing distance and disconnection from others outside our homes. Of course, every relationship has its problems. However, it is common for marriage to be the most complicated and painful of all relationships in a person’s life.
In my first blog in this series, I mentioned that there is an expectation that divorce rates will skyrocket as a result of the pandemic. Marriages are suffering even more than usual because of this extra time together. The distress that was present before quarantine is amplified as time together is more painful than helpful. If you already felt disconnected from your spouse, you may feel that even more acutely as you are in the same home, yet not talking or experiencing quality connections.
It is a travesty that this person who at one time was your favorite in all the world has now become your worst enemy. How did this happen that you have grown so far apart? Is it possible to restore the breach that is present between you? Where do you begin? It may seem it would be easier to step away from this relationship and start a new life because the complications seem beyond repair.
In some relationships, the way of disconnect will inevitably take place. However, others will choose to stay in the marriage and work toward restoration and connection. If you have even a glimmer of hope for your relationship, this blog post offers some helpful ideas around how to make that happen.
At this point, we have been in our homes for weeks. It appears that getting back to our “old normal” will be a slow process. For marriage restoration, I first encourage you to take this time to look at yourself and the way you are engaging in your relationship. Below may be some things you can do to shift your interactions in a different direction:
1) Mind your manners.
Remember that your spouse is a human being worthy of love and respect. No matter what has happened between you, it is not healthy or appropriate for you to treat him/her with disregard, rudeness or cruelty. Would you treat a stranger the way you treat your spouse? It is important to adjust your behavior and practice self-control.
Action step: Think of things that you said or did toward your spouse that you regret. Ask your partner for forgiveness and make a commitment to stop these words and behaviors from continuing. You may need to get a book, listen to some podcasts, or talk to a therapist or pastor for direction if you find you cannot stop unhealthy patterns of communication.
2) See accurately.
As humans, our response to pain is to act as a “wounded” person, which I will also refer to as a self or part of self. When we are in this “wounded” part, we say and do things that aren’t like our “true” or “best” part. We fell in love with the “true” part of this other individual, and they fell in love with the “true” part of us. As the “wounded” parts come to the surface in the relationship, the feeling of love, goes dormant. We may think we are falling “out of love”, but this experience of disconnect is true in any relationship. It takes a lot of work to feel positive feelings and maintain healthy connection in marriage. Reminding yourself who you really are and reminding yourself who your spouse really is can help you keep the relationship bigger than the problems. This may help you get the perspective you need to stay on track in the relationship.
Action step: Make “true self” lists. Make a list of positive character attributes for yourself and one for your spouse. Who is this person really? When they aren’t angry or upset, and when they are engaged relationally, how do they act? What character attributes attracted you to them or how do you see them interacting with the children or in the community in positive ways? Read through these lists daily to remind yourself of a healthy perspective, and make this perspective dominant in your mind.
3) Show appreciation.
The best way to restore peace within a marriage is to practice being appreciative. The Gottman Method teaches that couples are either in positive sentiment override or negative sentiment override in their relationship. It’s the difference of having money in your relationship bank account versus having an overdraft in your relationship bank account. You can restore positivity to your relationship most simply by practicing appreciation. A lot of appreciation for the little things will turn the tide of the relationship in the right direction.
Action step: Think about the things your partner is doing right. Communicate present or past character qualities or actions you appreciate about your partner. You can communicate to your spouse in-person and in real-time, or you could send them a text, voicemail/video or write a card or letter. In-person/real-time communication is the best, but don’t limit yourself if this feels too difficult. Also, don’t limit this to a one-time experience. Daily appreciation is needed to continue to keep your relationship moving in the right direction. Make this a habit by choosing a regular time of day and a method of communicating, and don’t miss even one day telling your spouse the positive things he/she has done or said. Starting or ending your day with appreciation will move the marriage relationship forward.
4) Don’t always talk.
Obviously, verbal communication and conflict resolution are imperative at some point. However, relationships are often in such a complicated space that simple quiet is needed to restore a healthy bond. According to Dr. James Wilder, quieting together is the birthplace of bonding. If your marriage bond has been impaired, being together in quiet appreciation could make all of the difference in the world. There is time to learn communication strategies and get the help you need to do conflict resolution on those grid-locked issues. However, if you can put the big issues to the side for a moment and let your minds and bodies rest together, you will find that your heart will begin to heal. This will give you the strength for the next steps of marital transformation.
Action step: A few ideas for quieting together are as follows: sit on the couch without the television on, lie closely in bed and just listen to the breathing of your spouse, take a walk without talking, or work on a project together with each person quietly playing their role. As you do one of these things, focus on your breathing and let the awareness of negative tension or energy come into your mind. Make the choice to release the negative tension or energy by recalling the positive things about the other person. Focus on the positive, simplify your thoughts, and allow your body and mind to rest in the presence of your partner. Peaceful physical touch is recommended, but not required.
It would be such a gift to come out of this pandemic better than before. You can grow stronger and more connected, as well as position yourself for full healing and restoration of your relationship. All your complications can’t be healed overnight, but taking one small step in the right direction on a daily basis can change the trajectory of your relationship.
Coursey, C. M., Warner, M. (2019). The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled Marriages. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing, Inc.
Life Model Works. Passing the Peace after a Crisis. East Peoria, IL: Shepherd’s House Inc.
Lisitsa, Ellie. “The Sound Relationship House: The Positive Perspective” The Gottman Institute. 28 Nov. 2012, https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-sound-relationship-house-the-positive-perspective/. Accessed 19 April 2020.
Wilder, E.J. Thrive Track 1 Lectures. (2011). East Peoria, IL: Shepherd’s House Inc.