Recently there was a headline in the Daily Mail which stated: “Divorce rate spikes across China after ‘couples spend too much time together during coronavirus home quarantine’, officials claim.” Lawyers in the UK predict similar results, stating this can happen during prolonged time together as they have seen during long holidays. Is your spouse driving you a little more crazy than usual? If you are experiencing a little more irritation or stress in your relationship these days, you are not alone! With everything in our world turned upside-down and being confined in close spaces, especially with kids running around the house, it makes total sense we might get a little more irritated and short-fused with each other.
Rather than divorce, let’s choose a healthier and more redeeming option. Let’s choose to be faithful to our commitment to each other. Let’s also choose to be honest about our circumstances and the stress and strain we may be experiencing. Often what is lurking underneath the friction we experience is a lot of fear and anxiety.
How a Crisis Attacks our Lives
I recently listened to a podcast by Dr. Henry Cloud, the co-author of the awarding winning books on Boundaries. This particular podcast talked about the impact of a crisis on our lives. Dr. Cloud talked about five God-designed systems within each of us that when these systems are working well, we experience well-being, but when some of these systems are under attack, we can have seasons of struggle. During a crisis, all five of the systems are under heavy attack! If in fact our total being is under full-fledged attack, no wonder our marriages can struggle and lead many out of hopelessness to call it quits. Dr. Cloud suggested the importance of understanding the attack and then making choices to deal with the attack. I think his ideas are perfect for helping to keep our marriages protected during these times. Here is a brief summary of the five systems of your life that are currently being attacked. As you read through each of these, think about how these are impacting you and your marriage.
We have been designed for connecting with God and others. We are social beings and how we have connection with others is vitally import. Think about how this crisis has attacked your systems of connection. We have connection with people all of the time mostly in person and in close proximity. Who are the people in your life who you have regular connection with and are now disconnected from them because of this crisis?
All of us in varying degrees have a sense and need for structure and routine in our lives. Our structure and routine have been immensely attacked. Think about your normal routine. What has changed now that you are social distancing and staying at home? Chances are work, school, church, recreation, and many other day-to-day activities have vastly changed. One example for me is fitness. My normal routine is to go the fitness center mid-morning 3-5 times each week. Now that is gone. I feel more lethargic and miss the time in the gym and interaction I have with people.
Emotions (Fight, Flight or Freeze)
God gave us our emotional system to help us know when we are in danger and we can quickly respond. We normally either fight, pull away (flight) or freeze. Which one do you tend to do when you feel stressed or endangered? This crisis can assault our warning system and overload it. We are constantly amped up by negative news and social media. When this happens the emotional part of our brain overwhelms our logical and thoughtful part of the brain. We can give into catastrophic thinking or dwell too often on what may never happen but since our brains have been effectively “hijacked”, we often do not think straight.
OK, admit it. You are a control freak. Some of us may be more freakish in this regard but we all have a need for a sense of control. Our God is a God of order, not chaos. How out of control do you feel at times during this crisis when there seem to be so many things outside of your control? What are some things that you are feeling the effects of that are out of your control?
The last thing that comes under attack is our need for competence. In our regular routine of life, we are exercising our competence in any number of areas depending on the tasks and activities we do. Much of our normal life has changed so the things we naturally do to exercise our competence have been reduced or even removed. We are definitely impacted when we do not feel like are accomplishing anything.
As you look through these items, what are your observations of yourself and how do you see them impacting you as you are currently experiencing life? As a result, how does this impact how you are responding in your marriage? A healthy approach to times like these is to find regular times where you can have destressing conversations rather than letting things build up and responding in hurtful and sinful ways. Research has shown the positive impact of having stress-reducing conversations on marriage. Marriage expert and researcher, John Gottman, has found that couples who do not engage in stress-reducing conversations often see their emotional connections fail and their relationships suffer due to feeling overwhelmed by their circumstances. Here is a good post of this on his blog: https://www.gottman.com/blog/emotional-attraction-the-stress-reducing-conversation/.
Take some time over the next week and engage in daily stress-reducing conversations using the five areas of your life that Dr. Cloud describes. You might pick one system for each day. Make sure you follow good “active listening” techniques which include taking turns, reflecting back what your partner says, do not give advice, and show genuine interest in what your partner is saying. You can get more ideas for “active listening in this Gottman post: https://www.gottman.com/blog/how-to-stress-reducing-conversation/ .
When you are both done sharing, pray for each other.
Formulate a Plan to Defeat the Attack
Once you have listened to each other and been able to process the fears and anxieties experienced in these areas, take some time together and brainstorm some choices you can make to ward off the challenges of these attacks. Who knows, you may find some ways to deal with things now that will have a lasting effect when the crisis is over.
Here are some suggestions for how you might address these areas:
- worship on-line
- regular on-line video meeting with important people in your life
- walk your neighborhood and speak to those you see
- make a regular time for Bible study or prayer
- make stress-reducing conversation part of your new structure
- play a family game together each night
- practice deep breathing
- take your thoughts captive (2 Cor 10:5) and replace with the truth of God’s word
- stress-reducing conversations
- practice gratitude
- make two lists, one of things you cannot control and the other of things you can control, allow yourself 5-10 to review the out of control list and then set it aside for the rest of the day. Look at your list of what you can control and focus on those things
- limit your exposure to news and social media
- learn a new skill
- take an on-line training class
- set some goals to knock some tasks you never have time to work on (guys, your “honey-do” list)
Growth Through Crisis
You may have heard the phrase “never let a crisis go to waste” in the media. Some may use this phrase for motivation for power and control. However, I believe God is saying to us that we can grow and experience His kingdom living even in a crisis. In fact, we may have an opportunity to see our lives differently in this crisis that He will use to show us His love in deeper ways and allow us to grow in our love and obedience to Him. It is possible in this crisis that you may be able to initiate some new practices that will have lasting impacts on your marriage and your children and the generations that follow. One such practice may be to have daily stress-reducing conversations. When I talk to couples and ask them how often do they have conversations where they are not talking about conflict, the kids, and tasks on the calendar, I am most often met with blank stares! I get it. Life is full and busy but when we neglect our time for emotional connection on a regular basis, our marriage will suffer. I pray that the result of this crisis is that there is a movement of God in couples finding greater emotional and spiritual connection together as they participate in daily stress-reducing conversations together.
By Doug Valot