Nuclear Family on Lockdown: 7 Ideas to Keep Your Marriage From Melting Down While Isolating With Kids
As hard as it is to be separated from your work community, friends, and the daily pleasures of regular non-socially-distanced life, there is something to be said for the difficulties that have emerged from being in constant contact (and I mean CONSTANT) with the partner whom you supposedly love the most.
Maybe your love is relatively new, and there’s a teeny baby to occupy these long, weird, timeless days. I’m not talking to you, although I definitely know that this pandemic is effecting you all in some uniquely terrifying ways. But I’m calling out to the middle aged grumpy-ass married people who were slogging along through the exhausting life of dual-incomes, child-rearing, mortgage/tax/bills-paying, oh, and throw in some aging parents, among other things.
We are known as the sandwich generation, and although the percentage of adults who are married or living together has been steadily declining for the past few decades, that hasn’t dissuaded so many of us from giving it a go. Married people are a dying breed, and for good reason; being married is fucking hard, even during normal circumstances.
Being married while locked down within the confines of your home while trying to juggle all these new challenges is downright absurd. Actually, it is starting to feel like some kind of boring reality TV show-
Extreme Marriage Endurance Test!
Right now, we’re trying to maintain jobs that are either suddenly:
· remote/totally different/hazardous/nonexistent.
We’ve been thrust into the impossible tangle of roles of:
· parent/homeschooler/PE director/playmate/fear soother/drill sergeant/art teacher/ nurse/entertainment director/ television gatekeeper/short order cook/adjustment counselor/sibling mediator/schedule coordinator/pastor
(I’m sure I forgot something in that list.)
· Possibly facing economic stressors and terrors that all laugh in the face of a $1,200 direct deposit.
· Attempting to maintain some sort of physical activities to stave off all the gripping anxiety caused by everything above.
· Oh, and be loving and supportive of your spouse/partner/co-parent.
Recently, after people in many Chinese cities began to emerge from lockdown, record numbers immediately ran to file for divorce. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with divorce when a marriage has reached its expiration date, and a good divorce can be the reboot that makes life fun again. With that in mind, maintaining a partnership or marriage during relatively normal times takes work, and being committed during a global pandemic takes a new level of vigilance and compassion for yourself and your partner.
Here are my gentle suggestions for how to emerge from quarantine still on speaking terms, hopefully still married, and maybe even stronger than before.
1) Fall in love again.
Love isn’t always easy or automatic, as you probably already know. Even the unconditional love we have for our kids doesn’t run in a steady stream, but more fits, starts, blasts, and well, more trying times. I know that I can reliably reboot my love for my kids by spying on them when they are asleep. I’m well aware that it’s a bit creepy, but no matter how turbulent our day was, my heart just melts when I see that little dreamysoft face snuggled under the covers. Similarly, what can reboot your love for your spouse? Looking at your wedding pictures? Remembering a special time or first date?
For me, I look at my husband’s temporary driver’s license from when we were first dating. I remember the day so well- we’d been great friends all through the summer of 2004 when he finally confessed he was in love with me. The next day, I happened to spot his car in the parking lot of the RMV as I was driving by, so I dropped in to stand in line with him while he waited to get his license renewed. We were just completely giddy at the love that had blossomed from our close friendship. I remember kissing him in line, thinking that he was the kindest man I had ever met. When I look at that little pixelated grey picture I see his ebullient smile- the look of being truly in love. We were married almost exactly one year later.
So when I hate him, I look at that little black and white temporary license printed on RMV cardstock, and I can remember what it felt like to fall in love with him, and I hate him a little less. Sometimes, I look at the picture even just to fall in love with him all over again. I keep that picture framed on my shelf, as a little reset reminder to myself about our sweet foundation, and that we made a commitment as friends first and foremost, and how that friendship is infused into everything we do together as a team. The nature of love seems to be in restless motion, constant ebbing, flowing, shifting, and it’s our job to gently harness its power and let it shift and evolve, without letting it slip through our fingers.
2) Keep it sweet.
These are absurdly tense times, as you very well know. Many of us, actually I’ll wager that all of us aren’t at our best when we are stressed and freaked out. We may be snippy, melancholy, distant, ragey, obsessively eating everything, and that’s just a sampling of what went on in our house over the course of one afternoon!
Of the many regrets that people express at the end of their lives, not choosing happiness is among the top 5. Although this time is riddled with all sorts of difficult feelings and issues, we can choose to find the little bits of joy in a day. Choosing happiness just might be key to maintaining some sweetness between you and your partner during this time, because when you stay aware of what you appreciate around you, it’s not as easy to be a grump. Keeping it sweet means having a gentle compassion for yourself and all the myriad feelings that you are experiencing right now, and then sharing that same sense of compassion for your partner. We are all in uncharted waters, and striving to allow annoyances, mistakes, and high emotions to roll off our backs isn’t easy, but it will make life sweeter all around.
3) Chill out
Your child has an online algebra project due, you’ve got 16 zoom meetings this afternoon, the news alerts are constantly dinging into your phone, and you’ve got to wear a mask to walk the dog before you try to figure out what to cook for dinner. Many of us were stretched thin before, but this is undoubtedly a bizarrely next-level stressful time. Ironically, stress erodes immune response, so the more stressed we are, the more susceptible we are to illness. Now, more than ever, is the time to chill as much as possible. Maybe that means sending your spouse funny videos while looking serious in that zoom meeting, or maybe it means taking a family candy break in the middle of the afternoon. Certainly we all have responsibilities, but maybe you can find the wiggle room and let it slide a bit… or a lot. Maybe you’re a family that did yoga together before all this, or maybe now is the time to start. If yoga makes you cringe, then maybe now is the time for family fart jokes or a cookie party on the kitchen floor? I’m a fan of virtual dance parties, maybe even with costumes, if the mood is right. However you get there, whatever you do, be it silly, strange, or even brief, make the time to relax.
4) Take a break from each other
Depending on your living situation and the age(s) of your kid(s), you might be overlapping with your spouse physically and emotionally more than ever before. The home kitchen is now the all-day diner, school cafeteria, coffee shop, and for us, one of the make-shift home offices. Plus, we stop in for a snack every time we’re bored, so about every 15 minutes one of us or the kids in digging around in the fridge while we’re trying to get work done in the same room. With homeschool and parenting tag-teaming and the fact that you two are probably the only actual adults that you’ve seen in a while, this time is a recipe for being oversaturated with your spouse. When one of you is feeding the kids lunch and the other is trying to write a memo 3 feet away, the fun, sexy feelings that you may have once cultivated for your spouse can start to feel very, very distant.
During normal, you know, non-pandemic times, maintaining independence is essential for a healthy and functional partnership. Yet, this time can make us feel as though taking space is nearly impossible. Perhaps a modified concept of space can help us to stay connected without suffocation. Lately, I’ve noticed that my older child has this impressive ability to be like water, and quietly flow past us when he needs some alone time. He’s discovered that any space with a door can allow him some privacy, and as I’ve navigated my own needs for solitude, I’ve been inspired by my son. From wearing headphones to reading a book in the closet, securing some time that is yours alone may well keep your marriage from dying a painful suffocating death in the hermetically sealed coffin of your home.
5) Reach out to friends
Maintaining relationships with friends is a key aspect of maintaining independence even while quarantined. There may be nothing to talk about right now other than your theories on Carol Baskin’s missing husband and toilet paper alternatives, but our friends can keep us grounded and connected, and well, semi-sane. There are seemingly countless ways that friends enhance our lives, all of which can in therefore boost our marriages and intimate partnerships.
We’ve been aware that our spouses can’t meet our every need, but when were marooned at home with them for weeks on end it can feel as though they are the only option. Relying on your intimate quarantine-mate to be your end-all, be-all partner in everything will only set you both up to be frustrated, lonely, and disconnected. So think of that old adage about friends.. something about being worth their weight in gold, so you don’t, uh, end up hating your spouse with a fiery burning haterage? That doesn’t sound quite right…
6) News fast together
The constant blaring news cycle was interfering with my sleep and anxiety levels even before everything was extra alarming. But now! Now the news feels even more life or death, and many of us have been accordingly riding the rollercoaster a bit too much. The feelings of stress and powerlessness can spill over into our family life, straining relationships and decreasing our ability to function during these challenging times.
Try taking periodic breaks from the news together. Also known as ‘news fasts’, which are not unlike a time of decreased food intake to allow the body to rest and cleanse. The world will continue to turn without you watching for a bit, and if you both find a time to avoid the news together, it may bring you a bit closer as the panic briefly subsides.
Yes, we are in the middle of global pandemic. No, that doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed some fun. Yes, you are cooped up in the house with your children and maybe even an in-law or two, and the stress is eating us all up, which is all the more reason to get extra ‘cozy’ with your sweetie, even if your sweetie is the most annoying human you’ve ever met, EVER.
Sex is actually really good for you, not that we need respectable reasons to partake, but it’s nice to know that, isn’t it? Just because we can’t escape to quiet resort for the weekend and isolate in style doesn’t mean we can’t make our partnerships and marriages a little juicier during these long days of social distancing.
· Watching a family movie with the kids? Snuggle close, turn off your phones, and just enjoy being close to each other.
· Working from different sides of the house? Send your partner a sexy text describing what you have in mind for after bedtime.
· Tell your partner that they look especially handsome/gorgeous/strong/happy/lovely/healthy/wonderful today
· Kids bickering over their lunch? Why not sneak into the bathroom and make out?
· Take a walk and hold hands
· Leave little notes for your partner with reminders of why you chose them
During this time of extreme stress and anxiety, we not only need to work incredibly hard to preserve our sanity and our mortal survival, but our matrimonial survival as well. Married co-habitating people were a dying breed before this damn pandemic even started, let’s not allow this shit to kill our marriages too.
If you and your partner emerge from this time ready to call it quits, then more power to you both. Sometimes crisis is exactly what’s needed to burn away the buffer that was keeping something intact past it’s shelf life. So go forth and prosper in your new lives in the post- Covid world (or at least post Covid isolation world). These suggestions are merely meant as some gentle nudges from a friendly old married lady who believes that world peace will come if we all just have more orgasms and be nice to each other. Ok, it might be a bit more complicated than that, but not much….
During these times of extreme family closeness, our children are witnessing more of our partnerships and marriages than they’ve probably ever seen before. Our patterns and relational styles are setting the templates for their future intimate relationships, so we owe to our children to set solid, loving, and functional examples not only to be the stable and reassuring foundation that they need right now to get through this time, but to have a wealth of memories to draw from to guide their own love lives and intimate partnerships. So stay home with love!