The coronavirus quarantine conditions can easily add tension and stress in married couples. Having to stay home, manage drastic changes and take on additional responsibilities — while being together all the time — can open the door to heightened conflict and strife. But for couples who were already wanting to separate before the pandemic lockdown, the temptation to divorce can be even stronger. Here is some practical advice for those who were considering divorce even before the quarantine lockdown.
Reach out for help and support
First and foremost, if you’re considering divorce during this time, pursue help and support virtually through a counselor or therapist. While face-to-face communication is currently inaccessible, professional counselors are available for video or voice-only calls to help you process significant decisions such as filing for divorce.
Scheduling phone calls or video chats with trustworthy, relationally healthy friends or family can also be helpful.
Set boundaries in conversation
When engaging in conversation with your spouse during the lockdown, discuss certain topics only if it feels safe and hopeful for your relationship. Focus on “containment,” which means simply do your best to focus on not reacting negatively.
Ben Adamson, licensed associate professional counselor and associate marriage family therapist, encourages couples to think carefully before starting a discussion:
Pay attention to what is going on in your relationship. If engagement feels safe and hopeful, carefully pursue it. If engagement is intensifying the conflicts and resentment toward each other, slow down and seek more distance before trying again.
Try to avoid topics that can start “reaction fires” that can escalate quickly. This might mean certain sensitive topics of conversation are off limits for now.
Resist the desire to “control” your spouse
Trying to manage, control or direct your spouse can be tempting, especially if you’re already considering divorce. If you find your spouse behaving badly or making unhealthy choices, choose to own what is your responsibility and allow the Lord to deal with your spouse’s issues. However, if your spouse’s behavior threatens you or others, contacting professional resources is essential.
“Trying to be my spouse’s conscience and monitor their behavior as if they were a child generally exacerbates the conflicts, not resolves them,” Dr. Bob Burbee, a licensed psychologist and the clinical director of the Focus on the Family Marriage Institute, says. “Use the quarantine to get clear on where your responsibility begins and ends.”
Focus on caring for yourself
The Bible says to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Intentionally creating time and space to care for yourself — emotionally, physically and spiritually — will enable you to extend more grace and love to your spouse. Here are some ideas for self-care:
- Journal. Write your thoughts and feelings out when it may feel unsafe to share in your marriage during this quarantine. Unprocessed emotions and feelings can spark negative reactions that start unwanted “wildfires.”
- Listen to uplifting music. Music has the power to shift our mindsets into joy and hope when we’re under stress or thinking negatively. Turn on some worship music or relaxing tunes that will help bring your tense mood at ease.
- Pray. Set aside time to cry out to God. Similar to journaling, praying not only allows you to process your emotions and concerns but also enables you to connect to God, who will strengthen you.
- Do a favorite hobby. Whether it’s baking, watching a favorite movie or going on a hike, participating in activities you enjoy helps turn your mind away from overwhelming issues.
- Work out at home. Sometimes all we need is to get our blood pumping to help relieve stress.
Allow each other space and time to process emotions and self-examine. “Taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally will help keep your heart and mind pliable,” Adamson says, “so that when the time comes to work on the marriage, you are at the best place personally to put in the work.”
Try to improve your attitude and behavior first
If your marriage is at its lowest point, changing your own behavior can be one of the most powerful tools you have access to. You may not have control of your spouse or your situation, but you do have control of your personal thoughts and attitudes. While it may be difficult, choosing to look at behavioral patterns that you could work on is important. This will not only encourage your spouse but will also encourage you.
In many cases, changed behavior proves to be a more significant demonstration than an apology. “Apologies can be healing and appreciated,” Dr. Burbee says, “but changed behavior and patterns of engagement with our spouse will speak the most strongly to our commitment to the relationship and our affection for our spouse.”
There’s hope for your marriage. By taking time to seek professional help, prioritizing self-care, resisting the desire to control your spouse and sharing your concerns with the Lord, you can pave the way for a brighter tomorrow in your marriage. “A time of stress is not the time to make such a monumental decision,” Vicki Morgan, licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist, says for couples considering divorce. “Realize that this is a season — it’s not forever.”