There’s been a lot of discussion about the impact of 2020 on workplaces, healthcare, schools, and other high-profile parts of life. But one of the most significant impacts of the unknowns we’ve been facing doesn’t receive a lot of public discussion. What is it? Marriage. What can you do to keep your marriage strong in this world of unknowns?
We all know that keeping a marriage healthy is more difficult than most people realize when they head to the altar. It’s tough under normal circumstances, when both parties are dealing with the stresses of normal life and their own needs. When working from home and social distancing put couples under the same roof 24/7, problems within the relationships magnified. What are normally little annoyances become major irritations, and significant problems become overwhelming. Sadly, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a spike in divorce filings in the coming months.
Whether you’re just a little annoyed with each other or sensing a big rift, the good news is you can protect and strengthen your relationship even in the face of uncertainties.
First, let’s be honest about marriage. When we’re young, we dream about magical romances. When we fall in love, we see only the best our partner has to offer. Then he forgets to put the toilet seat down. Then she fills every shelf and counter top with cosmetics. He snores and she never cleans out the car. You seem to be on different timetables for intimacy, and decisions about disciplining the kids become battles of will.
For one moment, take a breath and slowly breathe it out. We are all human, with human faults. If we believe our marriage should be perfect as often personified on social media, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. Even those couples who seem to have perfect relationships struggle. Trust me … I counsel many of them. it is way beyond time to accept that marriage is never going to be something out of a storybook and so it is time to focus on learning how to work through the differences, focusing on building connections, trust, and a lifelong friendship.
Let’s pay attention. These are unusually stressful times, and outside stresses can spill over into your relationship. Watch for signs that pressure or situations are getting to your spouse and pay attention to your own behavior. No need to pretend you’re not frustrated. Own up it, speak it respectfully, and move on.
Address stress. This is key. Too many couples fail to address what they’re feeling, whether it’s a strain in the marriage or some outside influence. When you deal with issues and feelings immediately, you keep them from growing out of control and becoming loud arguments. If you see that stress is getting to your spouse, as for ways to support him/her. For example, if a walk through a nearby park puts your husband in a better mood, and you see him becoming tense, suggest taking a walk together. Acknowledging the stress is sometimes a first stop to relieving it and there are literally dozens of ways to reduce stress – even in the midst of unknowns.
Forgive. There isn’t a perfect person walking the earth, which means we have lots of opportunity to be offended, disappointed, and hurt. Harboring old wounds only leads to division and bitterness, which is like battery acid to a marriage. Offering forgiveness is a daily habit that requires intentionality and practice, so give yourself grace when old mistakes come to mind. I’m not suggesting that boundaries aren’t needed, or that abusive behavior is permitted – so please seek help if either are in question, but what I’m saying is that living with a flawed person, as a flawed person means forgiveness will need to be part of routine just like brushing your teeth is.
These are just a few first steps to begin thinking about and remembering as we’re still living in a world full of unknowns. Don’t expect perfection. Pay attention to where your own stress level is, acknowledge the stress you feel, and forgive for the daily nuances that life brings. Couples who have realistic views of marriage, who are aware of how each reacts to situations, and who make the effort to deal with issues while they’re still small are more likely to celebrate many more anniversaries. If what I’ve described here sounds impossible, or too simplistic, or you’re not sure how to start, schedule a time to talk with one of our professional counselors. We can listen to your concerns and help you develop strategies to keep your marriage and your love for each other strong.
John is one of our counselors who helps men, marriages, and leaders walk through struggles in life, marriage, and work.