Marriage in Quarantine
COVID-19's effect on relationships - and what can be done
Posted Apr 24, 2020
Most marriages have a natural course that starts with idealization. It is found in the wedding ceremony, a grand societal gesture of love and hope. It is ‘til death do us part.
Yes, very nice. But, we don’t live with an idealization of marriage or with someone who is less than human. To make marriages work, most married couples must segue through incremental disappointments that lead to loving a real, flesh-and-blood person, who also loves you, a flawed, but authentic real guy or gal as well.
The Starter Marriage:
James Hollis, the great contemporary Jungian scholar, calls this process the “starter marriage” which he derives from ownership of one’s starter home. In the beginning, you love your home, but don’t yet know if mowing lawns is for you, or cleaning garages, or whether a big home is a blessing of space or a hazard of more room to clutter up. Do you like neighbors close, and kids (prior to COVID-19) running out to play, or do you prefer, space—is city living your thing, or is the incessant stimulation and endless expense just too much?
Small Cracks—Real Resentments:
She is organized, but you don’t enjoy feeling like you’re falling short. He makes a good living, but acts like things are coming to him as a result. Kids come along. He wants to snuggle, and you just need your space—he gets hurt or angry—and you feel like you’re dealing with an extra child. She has a temper—or he does. Or, just change the gender for any of these conflicts—or think of more. These issues are no different for same sex partners.
The question becomes, can we make this work?
So, marriages generally stall over these issues over time. Some folks get into work like patterns with their husband or wife, getting kids to school, making money, tending to the house—sharing a social life with friends and extended family.
But, for those who want more—and most do—resentments can take over. You withhold your attention, she withholds her affection, sex becomes less than romantic; you both tiptoe around hot spots (which now carry a more ominous meaning) that can erupt into a fight.
Some, move on, learn from the experience, and find happiness in the next relationship. The starter marriage teaches us about who we are, what we need, and how we can be there for another person. And, just as often, folks adjust, intelligently understand what is going on, and develop awareness that includes setting good boundaries, as well as empathically being there for your partner.
The negative feedback loop becomes a positive feedback loop.
With this isolation, and forced time with each other, most of us are regressing. That means that we are functioning a bit less maturely than when out and about. We sleep later, or go to bed later. We are not as disciplined with food, diet or exercise. We are more anxious about our financial position, more likely to retreat, anger or be irritated. For some, the problems can escalate into abuse, towards your partner or the children, or transition into psychiatric disorders like anxiety or depression or chemical dependency.
To step up in a marriage under duress is to bring healing to a place of brittleness. It is worth the effort, something that you may find pride in years from now.
In the next piece in this two-part series, we will explore these three proactive psychological positions (adaptive—intelligent—aware) that can enable a better marriage, even when stuck together in adversity, like this world wide pandemic.
Turning a negative situation into a positive one is worth the effort.
Love, after all is an action verb.
We don’t always have control over our circumstances. COVID-19 may be teaching us that lesson. But, what we do with what we are given truly counts. That is a source of human dignity that transcends our time—and is one of the deepest spiritual truths—that is timeless, and yet relevant this very day.
Breathe deeply—it may be well worth the effort.
Thanks to Gabriel Banschick for editing & formatting.