We all know that we need to nurture our marriages. Thanks to COVID-19, date nights are off the table and frankly, most of us are so physically and mentally exhausted from what this season is asking of us that we can barely muster the energy for a hug.
But given that we have at least another month of confinement and disruption from our normal routines, how can we make sure that we don’t end up completely disconnected?
When I’m in crisis mode – which aptly describes this season – I tend to become very businesslike. I’m efficient, but not exactly gentle or warm. That can leave my husband feeling distant from me.
Frankly, we can’t afford emotional distancing at this time.
I need him and he needs me.
The psychic toll that the climbing death rates, the uncertainty of who’s carrying COVID, and the daily interruptions in our normal life have left us both feeling vulnerable and scared.
And the truth is none of us are immune from the external and internal turmoil caused by this microscopic virus.
Though all of our scenarios are slightly different, there are common ways that we tend to respond to chaos and disruption. It might manifest as trying to micromanage your household. I actually asked my husband to ration his almond butter consumption last week because we are almost out and I feared we wouldn’t find any more! We might self-medicate by consuming more than normal amounts of comfort foods or binge watching Netflix.
Eating an entire bag of chips in one sitting is much easier than giving voice to the panic that has washed over me on several occasions during the past few weeks. But in addition to the extra pounds that are surely accumulating, coping behaviors won’t necessarily help me to meet my spouse’s needs—or get my own deeper needs met.
If we can identify what we’re feeling and what we need from each other and then communicate these discoveries to our spouse, we’re more likely to find points of connection and move toward each other.
Some of those needs might be simply logistical. Given that the boundaries between work and home have blurred, what do you need to get through your day?
My husband and I need the exact opposite environment in order to get our jobs done. He’s a drama teacher who leads worship on the weekends. He thrives on social interaction that borders on chaos, mess, and constant give and take with his colleagues. I need quiet, order, and to be left alone. Our first week of shelter-in-place was not pretty.
Now, four weeks in, we have a brief “production meeting” every morning to make sure we don’t interrupt each other at the worst possible moment. (I chose to make myself a fried egg the other day thinking he was done leading worship for his school’s chapel on Zoom. He wasn’t. The smoke detector went off thirty seconds before he needed to start the final hymn. Oops.) We also delegate day-time chores (which I normally take care of) and cast lots for who goes grocery shopping.
Finding the time and energy to connect as lovers has been much more difficult. (And we only have one almost-adult child living with us.) As I talk with my friends who now have young kids at home all day, they concur: not much is happening between the sheets other than fitful sleep.
In an effort to be intentional, my husband and I actually decided to abstain from sex until after Easter and direct our energies to prayer (see 1 Cor. 7:5). This has felt deeply meaningful—though at times quite difficult. We’re also choosing to hug more often and longer and make sure we snuggle most nights before bed. None of these meet the same needs as sex but they are keeping us connected which is important.
Though we are not necessary meeting each other’s sexual needs at this time, we are working hard to connect emotionally and spiritually.
We’re praying more. And we’re regularly coming to a full stop and asking each other how we’re doing. Putting your devices away, holding hands, looking each other in the eyes, and giving your spouse your full and undivided attention for fifteen minutes does wonders to help ease any aloneness or feelings of frustration. (And do be honest with each other. This is not the time to pretend you’re doing well if in fact you’re struggling.)
Hopefully, we’ll come out on the other side in another month or two. In the meantime, don’t waste this opportunity to learn news ways of loving and supporting your spouse.
Dorothy Littell Greco is the author of Making Marriage Beautiful and the forthcoming Marriage in the Middle. She’s also a photographer, mom, and wife. When she’s not working, she loves to walk in the woods, bike on flat surfaces, and kayak slow rivers. She lives with her husband of 29 years and their fluffy cockapoo outside Boston.