A lot of stark truths have been revealed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Truths about what we believe, how we cope, how we work, and how we relate to each other. Marriages in particular have been put to the test as couples everywhere try to navigate parenting, working, and running a household while learning how to manage stressors and situations they’ve never had to before. Arguments are common. So are harsh realizations. But the situation isn’t going anywhere.
While some couples are managing to make it through these times unscathed, others have experienced serious setbacks. Fatherly asked several therapists to shed some light on the biggest issues that have rocked marriages during the pandemic. They said that some couples, staring down a week of no scheduled outings, were faced to reckon with the fact that their relationship can’t exist in a quiet space. Others, frustrated by work situations, became overwhelmed by too much togetherness. Even more were wracked by financial stress.
All of the issues, whether they relate to your relationship or not are important to have on your radar so you can prevent them from infiltrating your marriage. As always, healthy communication, emotional awareness, and some good old fashioned hard work can stop the problems before they start.
Unscheduled Time Dredged Up Dormant Issues
For certain couples, quarantine revealed just how much of their relationship may have been constructed around other activities. Travel. Social gatherings. Children’s activities. All such things kept many busy and made it easier to avoid facing issues that weren’t working. “The time alone together has revealed for many couples that their relationship may not have substance beyond being on the move,” says licensed psychotherapist Dr. Markesha Miller, “and there may not be a genuine connection.”
A Lack of Independence Led to a Relationship Feeling Stale
As important as contact and communication is between married couples, it is also important to have time for individual activities and friendships. Absence does make the heart grow fonder, after all. With the world being the way that it is under COVID-19, finding time for independence has proven difficult. Without that outlet for individual discovery and release, certain couples have found that their own relationships have begun to stagnate.
“Relationships require each partner to have a certain degree of independence and unique experiences to bring to the relationship table,” says psychologist Moe Gelbart, Ph.D., Director of Practice Development for Community Psychiatry. “Being together most of the time can make the relationship feel stale, with nothing new to discover.” Scheduling alone time and discussing the means to make this happen can help drastically.
The Inability to Deal with Stress Fractured Partnerships
The pressure brought on by the pandemic is significant. And for couples who have not yet had to deal with a major crisis, it brought on considerable stress and created serious cracks and fissures in the foundation. The ability to find proper releases for stress while still being there for one another and your family is crucial for the livelihood of a marriage. So is teamwork. Many therapists said that the pivot required to maintain everything proved too difficult and marriages crumbled under the weight. “Issues related to serious illness, death/loss, job loss and economic hardships may have caused some couples who were not prepared to deal with this as a team to fall apart,” Gelbart says. Again, the approach here is to get on the same page and discuss your feelings but also to find means to handle stress in productive manners. Self-care is always important. But right now? All the more so.
Adapting to New Roles and Routines Proved Too Difficult
The immediate change in family life — and the loss of so many places that provided families structure — forced many couples to spend a considerably larger amount of time with their kids. For some, this proved too much. “Having children home 24/7 without the ability to go to school has changed the work responsibilities at home, and for some couples has stretched and broken them as a result,” says Gelbart. Again, this comes down to an inability — or unwillingness — of one or both partners to bob and weave with the moment. Adapting to new rules can be exceptionally difficult for those not accustomed to them.
“From providing emotional support to their kids to homeschooling on the fly to planning drive-by birthday parties, parents have needed to be exceptionally creative during this pandemic,” says Nicole Arzt, licensed marriage and family therapist, and mental health content expert for Invigor Medical. “For some couples, this has been extremely hard on their marriage.” There are no easy answers here. But parents need to have discussions about who does what when, how to find alone time, and how to shoulder everything to prevent imbalances.
An Inability to Handle Pressure from Extended Family Created Resentment
Guess what? It’s not just the people under one’s roof who are creating stress. Extended family can still put a strain on a marriage, even with lockdown. Many families have not been taking social distancing as seriously as others and that can create pressure to visit family members, attend parties, or even get together for dinner. “If you have extended family pressuring you to attend family events, that could put a strain on your marriage,” says Arzt, “particularly if you two disagree about how to handle COVID best.” For certain couples, the strain is considerable. Partners need to sit down and discuss rules about setting boundaries and where they as a family feel in terms of what’s safest for them and their children. Without a team mentality, it’s easy for frustrations to slip through.
The Financial Stress Created a Rift
Even in the best of times, financial worries can plague a marriage. Add unemployment, shuttered businesses, and garnished wages into the mix, and it’s no surprise that most couples are feeling the strain. “Unemployment has skyrocketed, and many people continue to feel worried about losing their job,” says Arzt. “Money issues are one of the top sources of conflict in relationships.”
They certainly are. And, as conversations about money are not just about money but often power, control, dignity and respect, without tact, conversations can crumble into real or imagined attacks and cause serious damage to a relationship. Couples need to talk about money regularly. But partners need to be tactful to avoid such behavior as going on the attack or becoming too defensive when having discussions. Financial intimacy is crucial, through good times and bad.
Sharing an Office Space Led to Frustration
The ability to go to an office is one we all took for granted in a pre-COVID world. Who knew we’d all long for the days of business casual clothing and always-burnt coffee? Gaining that distance allowed many parents to get a break from the goings on in their house — and allowed them to stay away from the nitty gritty realities of home life. For those fortunate enough to work from home, the abrupt pivot to working side by side with a spouse in a cramped office while also parenting.
“Many couples are now competing for shared space, resources, and quiet time to work,” says Arzt. “This can be undoubtedly stressful.” Couples need to genuinely express their need for personal space, notes marriage and family therapist Lambers Fisher. He recommends saying something along the lines of, “I love you, but I need some time apart so that I can have experiences I can be excited to share with you when I return.”