The first few weeks of shelter-in-place, we passed like ships. Like tired zombies, trying to figure out how to keep our children on a schedule, our emotions under some semblance of control, and a church afloat.
He is good in a crisis. I, generally, am not. Yet, I’ve also caught myself saying, “I’m surprised I have not had a complete meltdown.” I chalk it up to a year or more of consistent spiritual disciplines, especially getting comfortable with God in silence and stillness (thanks Pete Scazzero!).
As we’ve emerged (is that even the right word, since we’re still sheltering in place?), from that first haze of the first few weeks, I realize some patterns that have helped us be more than zombies. At best, we’re just super tired. At worst, we fight off depression, despair, or anxiety depending on the day. But we’re learning to still grow together.
I do still feel like we’re in some giant holding tank, waiting to see if the water will rise or if it will drain out without any warning. Will our kids do okay? Will we learn better habits as a family? Will life return to any form of “normal”? Will we lose friends or family? Will my husband and I treat each other like co-workers in the small cubicle of our house, or will we work at creating a new family culture — a new marital culture?
As we’ve found glimmers of hope where our marriage is flourishing (rather than dying of neglect), might I suggest 5 ways to stay married? They’re gentle reminders to lovingly tend and care for your spouse and marriage during quarantine.
- Ask for what you need.
It’s easy to try to insinuate what you might need emotionally, physically or spiritually. But passive aggressive behavior does not help anyone friends. It’s also hard to even know what we might need at any given moment. When the emotional temperature rises and we realize that one or both of us is getting to the breaking point, the other jumps in. It’s natural that this COVID-19 business has sometimes got the best of us — whether it’s figuring out housework, or work, or schooling children from home. We give each other grace for a reset. Go for a walk. Go for a run. Get the cortisol out of your body. Take a bubble bath. Wake before the kids to get alone time.
- Focus on liturgies of the body.
It’s all too easy to get stuck into a rut of “what ifs?…” these days. Our heads go a million different directions and we try to control the instability of the future through worry and anxiety. Please do get help with medication if you suffer from anxiety disorders. But if you’re the average worrying type in a global pandemic (and even if you find yourself particularly anxiety-prone), getting yourself back into your body can help. Yes, do things alone (like walks, savoring a cup of tea or taking a bath), but also do things together.
During the first few weeks of the pandemic, it was incredibly anchoring for me to hold my husband’s hand in bed while we read prayers before sleeping. Prioritize sex at a time before you’re utterly done in. Use your bodies in loving and gentle ways. Feed yourself good food and remember to drink water. Your body shows you your own limitations and your own humanity. Care for it. Care for your spouse’s, too — offer small comforts like a hand, a backrub, time close together and time apart too.
- Stay in today.
No one is served by asking your spouse the latest info or if he has a sense of the feasibility of his small business, her freelance work, or what’s to become of their beloved industries down the street. We simply don’t know. We plan as we can for the future, but when future worry changes how we live and love today, we’re likely to grow apart.
What you can control are things like how you love, how much news you choose to ingest, and who God has put into your life for you today. For me today, that looks like loving my children and following up on their assignments. It looks like cooking some good meals and putting away the dishes my husband washed yesterday. It means choosing to stay off social media and the news when it becomes overwhelming. It means knowing when to say yes and no, for the good of our family, our church, and our neighborhood.
- Find ways to celebrate.
You don’t have to go all John Krasinski SGN Prom (though you can and you should if you have the energy to do so). But you may want to find small things to celebrate. We’ll have a glass of wine and a walking date. When our kids are rowdy on a walk, I take a second to hold his hand.
While searching for beauty in the mundane has been a spiritual discipline for me, I’m also learning how to do it with my spouse. We celebrate wins: I cut his hair under quarantine and we’re still happily married (ask me about how it lead to a total fight in our first few years of marriage sometime). We sigh as we make it through another day, another week.
But we also choose to respect each other’s boundaries. We’re all under high-stress due to the flip-flop of news, information, projections, and how our worlds have been drastically and suddenly changed. We’re learning to flow with that. Suddenly one spouse needs to have some time alone? Done. One needs quiet and a show and the other wants to read? Okay, great, we will connect another night.
- Commit to spiritual anchoring points.
The only steadfast anchor we have in our marriage is Jesus. A year or so ago, we started Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (a course with Pete Scazzero) and lead our church plant through it. While it helped us heal from some really deep wounds, it also opened us up to the Man of Sorrows who keeps company with our grief and pain.
We’ve learned to practice silence. We are more comfortable in the unknowing. We have a sense in our bodies that God will work things together for our good and his glory, that isn’t trite, but is hard won through dark and anxious nights. These have prepared us to pray bold prayers together, to stay close to each other in the unknowing, and to know that we can confidently and securely entrust our futures to our Good Shepherd.
Things like stillness and breath prayers provide anchoring points in the overwhelm. Reciting a well-known prayer or committing Psalm 23 to memory can calm your nerves while you do your 29th load of laundry in a day. Time (even very short time) in the word of God brings comfort and clarity. Committing to prayer with your local congregation counteracts your isolation and ennui.
There are no sure answers. I do not know how to respond to the likely growing cases of abuse when the world is on edge. (Except if that is you, please text someone for help and they can be your voice when you do not have one, to bring in the necessary help to advocate for safety and justice). But I do know, that for those of us who are likely to turn on those we love most when we’re confined to our homes in petty and angry ways, that these anchoring points have helped our marriage grow stronger cords of belonging and safety. I find myself in a global pandemic more sure of Jesus and more sure of my marriage.
I encourage you to find your own anchoring points. To help I do have a little list of helpful things available to you and special podcast episode to help you find those things that will anchor your soul to the rock of Christ. It is my prayer that you and your spouse would find that what you’ve sown during this pandemic season turns into a flourishing plant that surprises you with delight on the other side.