Spending day after day in the same place can drive even the most devoted couples nuts. The truth is: lockdown has piled enormous pressure onto our marriages. While some couples have been able to embrace these in healthy ways (there’s loads of examples of how couples are being creative on social media feeds like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok), for others, it has exposed pre-existing cracks in the marriage, and things like regret, resentment, frustration, and anger may have rooted more firmly.
The lockdown effect
As Margie Wilson, counselling psychologist, explains, “Couples are shut in at home, spending far more time than usual in each other’s space. They’re having to juggle working at home, running the home, financial uncertainty and unemployment, and having to contend with their children’s online schooling.”
What’s more, the boundary between work and home is no longer clearly defined. As a result, working hours seem to stretch endlessly and work matters occupy your mind at the times when your focus could most beneficially be on your spouse and family. “There are huge demands on our time and the new daily routine can so easily replace meaningful quality time together,” says Margie.
To make matters worse, she says, all the usual support structures have been stripped away. “Schools and day care facilities are closed and family and friends aren’t able to visit or offer hands-on help and support.”
Increased levels of tension, anxiety, frustration, irritability and depression are to be expected, says Margie. “While some spouses may feel disconnected and distant from their spouse, some may feel trapped and smothered – a real sense of cabin fever!”
She explains that these new pressures often amplify problems that existed in the marriage before the lockdown. “The key components of a close, healthy relationship are often overlooked and neglected. There just isn’t time or energy for focusing on your spouse’s needs, for showing love, understanding and support. So, for many married couples, this may feel like a time of survival rather than growth.”
The good news is that the lockdown and all its accompanying stressors and challenges do not need to spell disaster for your marriage. If nothing else, being locked-down with your spouse for such a long time is fertile soil for learning things about them we never knew.
Try these helpful tips from Margie to help preserve and even strengthen your relationship.
Good communication is particularly important at times of crisis like this, says Margie. “Make sure you create regular opportunities to really talk openly and honestly about how you are each coping, how you are feeling, what decisions you feel need to be made and what you need most from each other.”
Show respect for each other
Be respectful of the different ways in which you may each be coping with the pandemic and lockdown, adds Margie. One of you may be obsessed with keeping up with all the latest news on the pandemic and may have little else to talk about while the other may prefer to try to get on with life. “You may not agree or understand your partner’s behaviour but try to be tolerant and supportive,” she says. “This is not the time for criticism, blame or conflict. So, try to be realistic about what can be achieved in such stress-filled times. And support and encourage your spouse if they feel that they are not coping as well as others.”
Have fun and laugh together
“Engage in low-stress activities together such as baking, cooking, and board or card games, even gardening,” she advises.
The stresses and pressures of lockdown on your marriage will remain with you long after the actual lockdown is lifted, says Margie, so if you want your marriage to not only survive, but thrive, now’s the time to take note and apply these principles to your marriage.
More about the expert:
Margie Wilson is a qualified counselling psychologist in private practice in Orchards, Johannesburg, She works with couples, adults and children. Learn more about Margie Wilson here.
Jacqui Bester is a homeschool mom to 5 children. She holds formal qualifications, and has years of experience, in the fields of education and psychology. She is the former co – editor of the Citizen’s online parenting platform and her writing has been featured internationally. Jacqui blogs about her day to day adventures, and misadventures over at One Messy Mama.