When I worked for a Relationship and Family Therapists organization, one of our busiest relationship counselling times was often, January of the following year. There’s no guessing as to why this was the case. Couples who possibly didn’t spend enough time with each other much during the week were forced to spend Christmas together as a family, gathered under one roof!
Along comes coronavirus and the social isolation, bringing with it, couples who have strong marriages and those who don’t, couples who run away from spending time together because the marital relationship is on the rocks, and then there are those couples, who’d prefer work and or spend time with the ‘bit on the side’. And then we have our children.
It is unknown as to when COVID19 isolation will end. Families have found themselves thrown together like it or not…. The question keeps creeping up if in the past Christmas is stressful for many couples, how then will they and their children live through and thrive after the pandemic?
The outbreak of COVID-19 is a huge test on marriages and families, especially since there wasn’t any pre-preparation – unlike at Christmas.
I am going to give you a number of tips to help you keep calm and carry on in a healthy way, during the chaos of coronavirus, in the face of growing uncertainty and social upheaval. This article will help you focus on how to manage your marital relationship and family during this pandemic.
1. Take Stock.
The very first thing I’d encourage you to do is to pause and absorb the magnitude of what’s going on. This is something that has never happened in most peoples’ lifetimes. One thing it has demonstrated so far is that as human beings, there is a strong need to stay connected.
Talk openly about how you are feeling with your spouse and listen non-judgmentally to what they’re saying in return. Your family as a unit are all in the same boat. Remember, it’s okay to be anxious and fearful, however, do not let your ‘fears’ immobilize you. It’s also important that your spouse hear your vulnerability and is most probably sharing that similar feeling with you. The two of you have to be okay in hearing each other so that you can then take care of the children’s anxiety as well.
2. Embrace Change
It’s important to embrace the pace of change and create a sense of calm in the home. Make the most of the extra time you might have together by doing things you wouldn’t normally do because of your otherwise busy daily schedules. Only you know what these things could be.
Take advantage of this time, to build on top of your family and marital relationship with happier memories, especially if the relationship was/is on the rocks.
3. Reduce Anxiety
It’s crucial as a couple, that you implement strategies to keep your personal anxiety in check. Panic and fear might be contagious, but so are kindness and calm. Look for positive stories, and not dwell on the negative side of things.
It’s good to check the news in the morning … but then try and structure your day in a way that limits your exposure to media.
This is particularly important when you have children — if the children see you constantly glued to the television with a worried expression on your face, they’ll pick up on your anxiety.
And even though people are being told to avoid close contact with others it’s important that you as a couple, aren’t emotionally secluding yourselves from one another. Self-distancing is not the same as disconnection. Yes, you need to have plans and be aware of the risks but you also need to be able to spend time with each other.
4. Structure and Routines
I cannot say enough about the importance of structure within the home, during this period. This situation calls for new routines that replace the times you, you and your spouse and the children were out – these gaps have to be filled with new routines so that the family knows what is meant to happen when the household wakes up. Remember, it’s going to be an even bigger change for your children.
5. Time Spent on Connecting Outside of the Home.
Decide how much time you will spend with other people on the phone or online, will vary from person to person. You have that option. Connect with people not just on the phone but visually, like on Facetime, Zoom, Skype or Telegram.
Don’t waste your time spending the entire day, non-stop, hooked up to other people. Each person has to figure out a way to sketch some boundaries around that.
But even if you are structuring your time very carefully, how do you account for each other and your children? It’s very easy to blame your spouse for why you’re not getting out of the house and ask them to be responsible for it, or complain that they’re not motivating you. So try not to do that. Try to own your decisions and not drag whoever’s around you into your inner conflict with getting yourself to do something. Most of our conflicts are about how, in our heads, ‘fantasize’ about our dilemmas.
The other issue is to understand that you and your husband and children are, different people with different needs, and you need to understand us to be able to do things differently.
So make certain decisions for yourself, not for your spouse. If they want to join, great. If they don’t want to join, that’s probably great, too. We need boundaries around this ambiguous, endless period that’s all around us, so anything that can create differentiation, boundaries, or difference is really good for us right now.
6. Meeting the Different Needs in the Home
There are a lot of different needs in one home. Balance these different needs against each other, so that you can get your work is done, your spouse can do whatever he feels he needs to do, and the children too.
Ideally, if you have the luxury and the means, is to be in separate spaces. One goes in the bedroom, and one goes into the kitchen. If you can’t do that, there are things like headphones or earplugs, to create artificial boundaries. As a couple, respect each other’s space, and the children’s and try to be self-containing in that way.
Whatever you do, conflict is going to emerge, no matter what you’re going to follow, no matter whose advice, no matter what guidelines, there’s going to be conflict. There’s no way around it. However, as a couple, you are working towards reducing potential conflict as much possible and to the family’s best interest. Worst comes to the worst, ask your spouse “how do we resolve this?”
The problem solving itself is rarely the problem. We can figure out a way to do things. You start. I’ll go later. Let’s go to separate rooms. Let’s divide the day. Let’s call in someone else to do this part of the work. There are solutions, and if there aren’t any solutions, then people can just say, “You know what? We’re stuck in this particular problem, but we’ll get through it.”
Children come first. You have to be thinking that there is a young person there, and you have to think of their needs first. So, if you and your spouse aren’t getting along, that has to stop because it upsets the applecart. Having children in the family helps because there are little people who are more important than you right now.
Everything I’ve been saying so far is even more important for children. Like structure — children benefit a lot from knowing when it’s time to do this and when it’s time to do that and from keeping that structure predictable and firm. I would say, try to reduce expectations under these expectations. You’re not going to suddenly become school! If you can do two segments of 45 minutes where you’re doing something educational with your children every day, you’re doing amazing. That’s enough.
The rest is about passing the time well and figuring out a way to be a family together. It’s about having this be a pleasant experience, or at least an interesting experience even if it’s not pleasant. Children are looking at us with great interest as to how the world deals with this kind of thing.
Glib as it may sound, we’ll get through it, and we’ll learn from it. But for the moment we’ll need to get very good at mental health care, and the mental health first-aid that goes with it.
8. Areas of Conflict that You Can Think Ahead
The things that couples might fight about that are more predictable are issues such as what to do with the unstructured time with the children and one of the couple, wanting to micromanage the other.
Money, too. There’s less income. Who’s going to be bringing in the money? How are we going to do it? Should we go into savings – if you have any?
But being in the same house with no obvious end in sight, makes it feel like there’s a storm rumbling on the horizon. But I believe people are going to come together, beyond just couples. This is a chance for a lot of us to come together, not just in our small couple and family units but hopefully even globally. That’s my hope out of this.