What does it mean to take care of your marriage in the midst of a pandemic?
Has the world gone crazy? You may wonder. And perhaps you think, Maybe my spouse gone crazy too?
As you may have noticed, a rise in stress causes good people to do odd things. And elevated stress can cause strange people to act even stranger. Increased stress is why the news is filled with stories of people going on tirades when asked to wear a simple face mask. One article proclaims, “Woman pepper-sprayed man for not wearing face mask,” while another proclaims, “Missouri Woman Pepper-Sprays Workers Who Asked Her to Wear a Face Mask.”
We’ll bring all of this back to marriage and our closest relationships in a minute.
But first, let’s ask, “How is any of this even happening in America?”
After all, we’re supposed to be “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” right? Not the land of people who pepper-spray each other over disagreements about face masks.
COVID and Stress
According to the diathesis-stress model of mental illness, if we don’t manage stress well, we really can drive ourselves crazy. The word diathesis is a fancy way of saying that all of us have a genetic propensity for mental illness. Some of us are more prone to depression. For other’s it’s anxiety. And for some, it’s disorders like schizophrenia.
In other words, these problematic behaviors lay dormant, waiting for enough pressure to accumulate before they erupt.If we don't manage stress well, we really can drive ourselves crazy! Click To Tweet
How Much Stress is Too Much?
So how much stress is too much? And when will a diathesis be triggered?
Those are great questions, and the problem is that no one knows because each of us is different. Some people are born with lucky genes. That is, they have a high stress-tolerance and can handle a lot before the symptoms of mental illness kick in. Others have a low level of tolerance, and it doesn’t take much.
What’s important for you and I to know is that stress is closely linked to problematic behaviors.
Stress and Marriage
If you’ve felt more stress in 2020 than usual, then congratulations, you are normal. Obviously, 2020 is an atypical year. And if this stress is affecting your marriage, that’s pretty normal too. COVID can make or break your relationships. Here are a few strategies to draw closer during these high-pressure times.
1. Strengthen Your Marriage With Dovers
The popular board game, Monopoly, offers a “Get out of jail free” card. In golf, you can always take a mulligan (at least in the way I play). So why not offer these same options to your spouse?
Extreme times, create extreme stress and create a need for extreme grace. Dictionary.com defines grace as courteous goodwill. I describe grace as not giving your loved one something they deserve. Perhaps your loved one deserves your anger. They messed up, did something extraordinarily stupid, or were snippy for no apparent reason.
The bad news is that during COVID, stress-buildup is going to occur. The good news is that this stress increase creates an excellent opportunity to practice marriage do-overs.
- Can we start over?
- I’m sorry. Let’s pretend like that didn’t just happen?
- What I said was ridiculous and mean. Can we take a do-over?
This is the language of the do-over. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that all bad behavior should be excused. And increased stress should never become a reason for our loved ones to misbehave. There is a balance here.
On the other hand, increased stress will likely cause our spouse to be more on edge than usual. In a happy marriage, couples work together to get back to a happy baseline fast. So, if your loved one messes up, recognize it, apologizes quickly, and seeks to reconnect. One way you can help is to accept the apology, extend grace, and offer a do-over.
2. Care for Your Marriage by Courageously Reaching Out
You can’t make your loved one connect with you. But you can courageously reach out! This is one of our fifteen key Elevate Your Love principles. Reaching for your loved one is a win, regardless of the response.
We call this “connecting like Velcro.” Velcro connects. It disconnects. And over time, the hooks and loops stretch out. Examine a worn piece of velcro carefully, and it will appear as if the hooks and loops are reaching for one another. Of course, this is how happy couples connect too. Like velcro, happy couples connect, disconnect, and courageously reach out.
So when you notice your loved one is stressed, choose to take care of your marriage by:
- Reaching for your partner’s hand.
- Watching a movie together and sitting silently, side by side.
- Taking a walk together.
- Telling a joke.
- Offering a gentle touch or a soft smile.
- Talk, listen deeply, and find areas of agreement.
Human beings are hardwired for relationships. And often it’s the little acts of kindness that matter most. Your loved one’s very best way of reducing stress is probably by spending time with YOU! To help you and your loved one connect, we have written several conversation starters’ books. We also compiled a list of money conversation starters to help you get on the same page with your finances.
3. Care for Your Marriage by Caring for You
Finally, take care of your marriage by taking care of yourself. It’s that old principle of putting on your oxygen mask first so that you can care for others. Obviously, you won’t be able to help your partner manage stress if you are on edge.
Jenny and I have a spoken pact. We agree that an occasional “freak-out” is perfectly acceptable—as long as we don’t both freak-out at the same time. So use your stress-reducing lifelines.
- Phone a friend
- Breath deeply and sip your coffee slowly
- Take a 1-minute pause to pray
- Indulge in a favorite book
- Go for a run
- And take a break from the news
Contrary to what we sometimes think, self-care is not selfish. In fact, taking care of ourselves is one of the best things we can do for our marriage. Relationships work best when no one freaks out. However, this simply isn’t a realistic expectation. The bright side is that managing stress well is a great way to reduce the freakouts and to be emotionally available when your loved one needs you most.
One of my favorite marriage phrases is, be the thermostat in your home and not the thermometer. A thermometer rises and falls based on how hot or cold the air is around it. On the other hand, the thermostat sets the temperature of the home. Because attitudes are contagious, all it takes is one person to elevate the temperature of the marriage.
Next Steps to Care for Your Marriage
Caring for your marriage is important because, as you may know, I believe your marriage is greater that you.
Would you like to dive deeper? Coaching can help! Be sure to request your free consultation today. We’ll examine current challenges, momentum-building strategies, and put together a growth plan. According to an article in Psychology Today, “Only about one-fourth of divorcing couples report seeking professional help of any kind to improve their relationship and those who do wait an average of 6 years after serious problems develop to seek marital therapy.” Don’t be that couple!
All it takes is one person to change the state of a relationship. When a pebble is tossed into a pond, it sends ripples that extend all the way to shore. Instead of waiting, reach out to a therapist, pastor, coach, or good friend for additional support when needed. Be that pebbles that send ripples of positive change into your bond. It’s a great way to take care of your marriage!
So how are you caring for your marriage in the midst of this pandemic? What strategies draw you and your loved one closer? I’d love to hear your thoughts and continue the conversation in the comments below!