One of my new routines during lockdown has been to head out of the house for a walk at lunch time. Sometimes I walk alone, sometimes (when I can persuade him) with my husband, and occasionally (if the rules permit) I go with a friend.
It has been great to get some exercise and fresh air, but something unexpected has also happened. I’ve discovered that the rhythm of walking with someone has enabled our conversation to flow, and the things we talk about have become deeper and more intimate. Perhaps that’s why, within minutes of setting out with a friend recently, I found myself listening as she poured out her hurt and disappointment in relation to her marriage.
To any outsider, this couple would seem to have it all together, their marriage ticking along nicely over the last 15 years as they have navigated the challenges and irritations that are part and parcel of the landscape of every marriage. But lockdown had taken its toll on their relationship. My friend feels they have reached an impasse, neither can see a way forward, and separation is a real possibility.
The truth is, they are not alone. Divorce lawyers are reporting an increase in enquiries (Stewarts logged a 122% increase between July and October 2020), domestic violence has been labelled "the shadow pandemic", and Care for the Family’s CareLine service has also seen an increase in more couples reaching out for help.
Those whose marriages were already close to the fault line have found that living under the same roof 24/7, working on the same kitchen table, jostling for the same Wi-Fi, or managing the logistics of home-schooling – all in the context of the anxiety of a pandemic – has created tension and distance between them.
It’s a perfect storm. When we promised that we would love "for better for worse" I am not sure many of us would have foreseen the challenges of loving through a pandemic.
One of my favourite Bible passages, often read at weddings, contains Paul’s encouragement to the Colossians to "put on love". Just as we choose to put on our clothes every morning, he urges us to intentionally "put on love". While no marriage can survive on will alone, this attitude of choosing to love each day is the cornerstone for building a healthy marriage that will withstand the pressures of life.
This attitude of choosing to love each day is the cornerstone of a healthy marriage
The pandemic has resulted in the rule book being thrown in the air – date nights and other ways of connecting no longer being an option. We have had to adjust our expectations in relation to patterns of living, including finance, parenting, and time spent together and apart. But in addition to intentionally renegotiating our roles and responsibilities, there are smaller choices that we can make – choices about everyday things – that will foster closeness and draw us together.
These could include choosing to:
- Limit screen time – put phones away and spend time with the one person you don’t need to socially distance from.
- Look out for each other - plan one thing you can do to give your partner emotional support.
- Be grateful – find something every day that you are both thankful for.
- Dream – remind yourselves of hopes and dreams you may have had to lay down, and decide which ones to pick up after lockdown.
- Laugh – look at old photos, watch a funny film.
- Show physical affection – sit close, hold hands, hug, make love.
- Pray – if you have a shared faith, find a time when you can pray together – maybe simply saying The Lord’s Prayer together. If your husband or wife doesn’t share your faith, take a moment to ask how you can support them.
The Bible says "Do not despise the day of small things." (Zechariah 4:10) If we choose to put into practice one of these small things every day, they will build togetherness. And rather than being one more casualty of the pandemic, we’ll find instead that little by little, our marriages are becoming stronger under pressure.
For more advice and support for couples, as well as parents and those bereaved, see the Covid support area on the Care for the Family website