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Stay married through a crisis

I’ve been seeing a lot of jokes on social media about the possibility of a baby boom during this time of crisis while we are all doing our part to stay home and protect the health of others. But the less talked about possibility is that divorce rates could increase due to this stressful time.

For some couples this may mean spending more time in close quarters with their spouse than they have in months (or years). Research tells us that the average married couple spends 37 minutes in conversation a week. The more we are required to practice social distancing, the more this number may change.

This crisis is well timed for some couples, a chance to spend more quality time together. But for others this means being locked up with the person they don’t particularly like right now. The obvious is clear: more time together means more opportunities for negative interactions to occur.There is another option though…we can take this time to look for and create positive interactions with our spouse. Small things add up and now is the time to make deposits into the emotional bank account of your marriage. The general rule of thumb I often tell couples is this: If you see an unattractive quality in your spouse try to see this quality in yourself, and if you see an attractive quality in your spouse try to also see this in yourself!

I’ve created a small list of things you can do to create space for these positive changes to occur in your marriage:

Create a ritual of connection. A ritual of connection is a protected time where you and your spouse can have each other’s full attention. Before the coronavirus outbreak, this might have meant a weekly date or the 30 minutes after the kids go to bed where you watch your favorite tv shows together. My suggestion would be that you pick a task or time where you can simultaneously manage your stress and spend time together. Go for a walk together, sit outside in the sunshine, lock the bedroom door and have your coffee in peace, take a shower together, or help each other cook a nutritious meal. Make your spouse a priority!

Create new roles. I know we all have our chores/tasks in the home and keeping these do create a sense of normalcy. However, things are not so normal in the world right now. Now is the time to offer a helping hand. With the amount of anxiety in your home the simpleness of doing the dishes or taking out the trash for your spouse can be the equivalent of extending an olive branch. Have a talk as productive as you can about how to keep the household running smoothly when one or both of you finds yourself working from home (or worse, out of work.)

Look for ways to serve your spouse. And alternatively don’t deny your spouse opportunities to serve you as well. I know the biggest reactions I will get from those statements is “what if my spouse refuses to change? What if they won’t serve me back?” This is where you have to make a change in yourself. You cannot control how your other spouse will react to things, but you can make a choice within yourself to set aside selfishness within your marriage and seek to serve your spouse. Oftentimes when our spouses see a change in our hearts they are inspired to do the same. Be that inspiration! An example of a way to serve your spouse would be thinking of their love language (Don’t know your love languages? Take this quiz) and doing something that is aligned with that. This could be giving them a compliment, offering a hug, bringing home their favorite candy from the grocery store, or taking the initiative to wash their car.

Leading relationship researchers John and Julie Gottman recommend that you and your spouse have a “state of the union address” at the end of each day. This means asking each other three questions: What is working? What is not working? What do you need? Things in our world are changing hour by hour it seems and it is more important now than ever to stay up to date on your partner’s inner world and needs. Talk about your love languages as they are amplified in need right now.

Something extremely important to keep in mind is that it is possible that your spouse’s basic needs are not being met–they don’t have access to the same foods, resources, and may not feel safe during this unpredictable time. We need to approach each other with curiosity, empathy, patience, care, and kindness. An inflexibility around your relationship during this time will hold you back from growth and good.

And finally, talk to a therapist! We are here. Even if it means we are separated from our clients through monitors /screens we are still available and have taken measures to ensure you will not walk through this alone.

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