Maintaining marital bliss during quarantine
Illustration by iStock and Development and Alumni Relations Staff March 31, 2020
How to keep the peace in close quarters
Normally, you and your spouse get along well. But coronavirus self-quarantining has created a situation where you and your spouse are stuck at home for weeks or months, which can be a recipe for friction and challenges. What can you do to maintain marital bliss coping with coronavirus quarantining and all its uncertainties?
J-P Laurenceau, a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Delaware, is trained as a marriage/relationship therapist and does research in the field of intimate relationships and health. Here are five tips he recommends for dealing with the marital strife that comes with living in this new era of coronavirus and can be implemented by one or both members of a couple.
- Treat your spouse/partner like a good friend. If you and a good friend were to be quarantined together in close quarters for an unknown period of time, how would you deal with the inevitable conflict that would arise? Would you yell, insult, or call your friend names? Would you give them the cold shoulder for days at a time? Would you fault them for overreacting to this crisis or for being too laissez-faire? Probably not. You would (or should) remind yourself that your friendship (marriage) is more important than almost any argument over coronavirus. From this viewpoint, it's easier to approach your partner (and any conflict) with compassion and respect.
- Acknowledge your differences. As two individuals, one partner is going to be more sensitive and reactive to the threat of coronavirus than the other. One orientation is not objectively better or worse than the other, and both orientations to dealing with threat can help the couple and family cope with life's slings and arrows in the long run. If necessary, practice the "serenity prayer" by acknowledging what you can ask your partner to change about how they deal with threats and what you need to accept about who they are. (Extra points if you can learn and understand why your partner is different from you — which will require you to be curious and listen rather than blaming.)
- Each of you should speak (and be heard about) your important needs. This tip is one that Laurenceau’s wife has taught him over the years. Each family member has the right to speak their core need(s) during times of trouble or crisis. Often, this need is so poignant it is critical that you listen and honor the importance of your partner's needs — even if you don't agree or feel the same. (Extra points if you can be curious and understand why they have this need.) If both partners can speak and acknowledge each other's needs, this can be the starting point for identifying solutions.
- Know when to turn to other family or friends and practice self-care. While your spouse may be your closest confidante and typical source of emotional support, don't expect your partner to address and/or meet all your needs and problems, especially when you are spending the majority of the day being quarantined together. Some needs can be met by the partner or relationship; while others might be best handled by turning to other family members and/or close friends and colleagues. Still other needs can be met by going for a long walk or bingeing on Netflix for an hour or two.
- Remember that each of you is sacrificing for a larger shared goal. Avoid statements of blame such as: “The problem is that you are too laid-back about this crisis and don’t care about our safety.” Statements like this make your spouse an adversary. Instead, try to find common ground and view the problem from a shared perspective. Self-quarantining (and tolerating the discomfort and constraints that come with it) is each partner's contribution to help keep both the family/couple safe as well as neighbors and community safe. This sacrifice is an expression of generosity to each other and for the greater good.