It has been almost a year since the beginning of the pandemic. Besides affecting our own emotional wellbeing, our jobs, our schools, our kids, it has also caused a lot of stress on our marriages. Research has shown how men and women have psychological differences in their handling of stressful situations. While most men tend to shut down and internalize their stress, women tend to reach out, vent their emotions to their friends, family, and coworkers.
Women unfortunately have not been able to go out and socialize with their friends the way they used to. Also, a lot of the household responsibilities have fallen on their shoulders. They are finding it challenging to ensure their children are doing well with their online schooling while trying to balance their work responsibilities. Finding child care, if they are working outside the homes, has not been easy either. A much higher percentage of women have either quit their jobs or have been laid off due to poor productivity.
All of the above has created substantial stress on marriages, leading to a lack of intimacy both physically and emotionally in many couples worldwide. This further induces a vicious cycle of one thing leading to another, leaving couples feeling isolated, helpless, and unfulfilled in their marriages. It does not have to be like this. Stress can both break or make a marriage. With some simple tactics, you can handle the stress of this pandemic together as a healthy couple and as a team. You can choose to serve as good role models for our children. Above all, you can build trust in each other as a couple, thus create lasting memories. Here are some simple strategies couples can incorporate to strengthen that emotional bond with our spouses during and even after this pandemic.
1. Try to communicate with your partner. Try your best to verbalize to your spouse what is on your mind and how you’re feeling. What you are worried about. If you tend to be an introvert, and not that great at verbal communication, write a letter, email, or a gentle text, and before you send it, ensure you keep it respectful and non-judgmental. Tell them how much you love them. If you are feeling stuck, anxious, and need some space and time, chances are your spouse will understand. And if they do not, at least you know that you tried, which is the best you can do.
2. Pray or meditate together for 5 to 10 min. If you are in the habit of praying, try to pray together, or meditate in a quiet space together. There is a value to the silent connection which can come by doing these practices together.
3. Do not expect that your spouse is capable of reading your mind. Unless you tell them what is on your mind, what you are feeling, they will not know, and many times they will create an impression of your feelings that may be incorrect. This can further increase that emotional gap between the two of you.
4. Help each other with chores. Doing chores together, trying new recipes together, and doing dishes together can help creating a relaxed environment, thus improving communication.
5. Try to create memories spending time with each other without children, like watching a late-night movie, a relaxing take out dinner at home, playing a card game, or watching an old classic TV show. Don’t wait for the other person to ask or initiate these activities! You take initiative.
6. Try to keep your egos and pride out of your marriage. It will hurt you both, and cause more stress. Saying goodbye to your ego when it comes to your relationship with your spouse is the wisest thing to do. Our spouses know our most vulnerable parts. We have seen each other naked, we are familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so there should be no room for ego in a marriage. Do not confuse integrity with ego, which we sometimes tend to do.
7. Be empathic with each other. We are great at showing empathy to strangers and friends, but we can be hard on our closest family members. We can take our families, our partners for granted during times of acute stress. As they say, charity begins at home, so show empathy for each other. If you see your spouse is stressed, offer to hear him/her out when he or she feels like talking. Also, give each other space by saying, “You seem distressed. I am here for you, let me know if you want to talk.” This is a good way to begin the conversation. Be more forgiving of each other’s shortcomings and mistakes especially during this time.
8. Encourage each other to seek help. If you notice that stress has accumulated so much that your spouse is always preoccupied, angry, anxious, not eating on time, his/her self care has deteriorated, sleeping less or excessively, is engaging in unhealthy practices like drinking, drugs, etc, have him/her speak to a professional about these issues.
9. Practice self-care. Remember we do have to be there for each other, but do not expect your spouse to be responsible for your happiness. Your happiness is in your hands! If you see your spouse is not meeting your needs or expectations during this time, assume that he/she may not be capable. So start taking care of your own emotional needs, by finding the right support, be it another family member, a friend, or even a counselor. You will notice once you are able to de-stress yourself, your relations with your spouse will improve as well.
10. Keep your expectations reasonable during this time. Sometimes it’s ok to not do anything substantial. Just hang in there, and stick to your routine, do your best, and remind yourself that this period will not last. Start planning, dreaming, and using your imagination about how things might be different and better once this is all over.
11. Remind each other of your strengths. Recollect the past good moments in your marriage, and also how you handled the stressful moments that your marriage may have witnessed during its course. Talk about the steps you took that helped you come out of them.
Above all, take the initiative to be the one who is patient, mindful, and a good role model for your partner. After all, you are the only one who is in charge of your half of the partnership. Applaud yourself for those qualities! Once this is all over, you will feel so proud of yourself, so accomplished, and realize how you nurtured your inner leader during this very difficult time.
Stay safe and remember, this too shall pass!