Why did Covid 19 and the ensuing quarantine devastate so many marriage relationships? Even as life starts to slowly return to normal, the effects of the pandemic on marriage caused by the Coronavirus are still being felt across the country. While the phrase “a new normal” has been overused, the reality is that the new normal for many marriages is one of tension, distance, and conflict because of the Covid pandemic.
The Coronavirus Pandemic Exposed Problems Already There
One reason that the Coronavirus pandemic threatened to destroy many marriages is that it revealed many of the problems that were already present in the marriage. In other words, it exposed many of the cracks already in the foundation.
Poor Communication: If the couple had poor communication prior to quarantine, then the pandemic exacerbated this deficit as well. One reason for this is the pandemic elicited many strong and difficult emotions. Partners tend to react differently when they feel strong and difficult emotions. Some bottle up and withdraw. Some feel overwhelmed by these emotions and unintentionally overwhelm their partner with them. In healthy marriages, couples learn to connect and comfort each other when they are hurting.
Lack of Support with Household Responsibilities: For example, if there was a problem with a lack of support with household chores and other responsibilities in the marriage, then the pandemic magnified the problem. Kids were home from school. Parents were stuck trying to navigate working from home and overseeing their children’s schoolwork. If there was already a felt sense of inequity in the distribution of household and parenting duties, then the effects of the pandemic grew this imbalance exponentially.
The truth is there is no such thing as “women’s work” or “men’s work”. When it comes to the things that need to be done around the house, there is just “work to be done” A couple is wise to navigate what needs to be done with a heart of mutual submission. Ephesians 5:21 says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” When we approach the division of household responsibility with a heart of mutuality, we will find “win/win” solutions that communicate love.
Conflict: Another problem caused by the pandemic was it created a massive level of increased stress coupled with a whole lot of forced togetherness which led to many more marital conflicts. Marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman talks about the magic ratio of positive to negative interactions as being 5 to 1 meaning that it takes five positive interactions to overcome one negative interaction. Prior to the pandemic, maintaining this ratio may have been a challenge, but it felt way more sustainable than the reality of being “married in quarantine”.
When our spouse pushes our buttons, it is so easy to want to respond in kind. Romans 12:17 says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” When our spouse pushes our buttons, it is easy to escalate the conflict with our own counterattack. For many, the added stress and togetherness of the pandemic created a powder keg of escalating conflicts that started to pile up way faster than they could be resolved.
Furthermore, most couples don’t have a reliable, predictable method of resolving conflicts as they occur. When most couples have a conflict, it heats up quickly. Then, as things begin to cool down, partners become distant from each other, but over time they eventually come back together as if everything is fine because they have a household to run together. But coming back together like everything is fine is not the same as truly resolving the conflict. Couples that do this for months, years, or decades find themselves unable to have a conflict without it bringing up many of these past unresolved conflicts. At the Hopeful Tomorrow’s retreat, couples learn how to handle and resolve conflict in a way that helps both partners to feel heard and understood resulting in the issue truly being resolved rather than being swept under the rug.
The Covid Pandemic Increased Stress and Anxiety
People thrive on predictability. We like knowing our schedules. We take comfort in our routines. In general, we like to know what to expect, but the Covid pandemic turned all this upside down. So many of the things we had taken for granted, were now closed. We could no longer go to the gym, our favorite coffee shop, work, church or even gather with friends. Our support systems were being shut down at the same time our anxiety and stress were skyrocketing. It was a perfect storm. No wonder, the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic wreaked havoc on our mental health and our relationships.
Fear and Isolation: Additionally, the Covid pandemic created a lot of fear for marriages and families. Would my loved ones be safe? How could I protect my aging parents, spouse, or children? What would be the long-term effects of the virus? Also, the pandemic had a devasting financial impact on many families. Many lost their job and lost their businesses. Certainly, marriages felt the strain of all the health and financial uncertainty.
And then there was the impact of isolation. Loved ones admitted to the hospital were unable to be accompanied or visited by friends and family. Singles were particularly isolated. Extraverts struggled more than others with the lack of social connection. Many struggled with depression.
The Covid Pandemic Increased Negative Coping Mechanisms
As stress and anxiety levels rise, people need an outlet. We need to do something with it. Peter reminds us that the best thing we can do is to bring our fears and anxieties to Jesus. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
Searching for an Escape: God does care for us, and He knows that when we don’t bring these cares and anxieties to Him that it eats us up from the inside out. For many, the pandemic dramatically increased stress and anxiety which created a sharp rise in negative coping mechanisms. Using alcohol and drugs, shopping, eating, or pornography to numb and to cope increased dramatically. And these behaviors all have an addictive quality meaning that it takes more and more to achieve the same effect. What starts out as an escape, can easily become something that forms a stronghold in one’s life. Sin always has this affect. It promises what it cannot deliver and then it ensnares. Furthermore, all these negative coping mechanisms predictably impacted the marriage relationship. Broken trust and increased conflict led to an even greater sense of isolation.
Need a Reset: Sometimes in life we need a reset, and this is certainly true in marriage. Divorce is not the answer. As we emerge from a global pandemic many couples are trying hard to find each other and to find their way again. The Hopeful Tomorrows Retreat can help you find hope and a path forward to rekindle, heal, and restore your marriage.