Proximity does not automatically equal connection. During the pandemic, you and your spouse may be spending many more hours together in the same location, but that doesn’t mean you’re connecting better – in fact, you may be having a harder time. Or if one or both of you are essential workers, you may not be “stuck” together all the time as many married couples are, but you may have additional stress from being out and about during the pandemic, probably working harder than usual and possibly being in greater risk of catching COVID-19.
These are the times that can try a marriage, but you can use this time to strengthen your marriage instead if you take proactive steps.
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Affirm your spouse daily. This is connected to a spirit of gratitude and positivity. While your spouse may have some annoying traits, recognize that he or she is not perfect and doesn’t have to be. Your spouse is his or her own person, as are you. You don’t want your spouse to try to mold you into the “perfect” person either. So take time to focus on your life partner’s positive traits and affirm them every day. Certainly, thank your spouse for kind acts (“Thanks so much for cleaning up that spill before someone slipped”) but also affirm qualities (“You always seem to notice what other people need before they ask. That’s a wonderful trait.”)
When you verbalize a person’s good points, not only does it make the other person feel appreciated, it makes you actually appreciate the person more. This strengthens your relationship against many stressors and creates an atmosphere in which you can, when necessary, discuss areas of your marriage that need improvement without damaging your bond.
Show mutual respect. With all the stress we’re under, either from being cooped up at home or being an essential worker, there is bound to be an increase of annoyances. If you are regularly affirming your spouse, you should be in a good place to be able to address important issues lovingly and respectfully without hurt feelings. If necessary, you can come up with a “code phrase” that evokes a sense of playful love as a precursor to the discussion. It could be a line from a movie you both know (“What we have here is a failure to communicate!”) that signals you need to talk. Admit candidly to each other that the other person might not want to hear what has to be said right now, but agree to disarm or drop barriers so that you can both discuss the issue civilly and peacefully and allow time to internalize.
Hug, kiss, and spend time together. Oxytocin is one of those hormones released from the brain that creates good feelings. This hormone is released in long embraces of 20 seconds or more and in kisses of 3 seconds or more. I recommend hugging and kissing like this at least twice a day, creating a physical and hormonal bond between you.
Still keep up your “date night,” or start one if you haven’t been in the habit. You don’t have to go out, just spend time together, away from the children, work, and chores. This can also include picking up a hobby together, like bicycling, puzzle-building, or origami. Whatever it is, let it include exercise and/or discussion, not sitting in front of the TV or video screen together. Though the occasional movie night can be fun, it doesn’t foster as much communication and bonding.
These pieces of advice apply to marriage at any time, but during the pandemic, sensitivity, respect, communication, and spending time together are critically important. Contact me if you find your marriage needs some help from a marriage counselor to make it through these tough times.