Located between two coronavirus “hotspots,”1 watching the economy shut down, and worrying about our high-risk loved ones, our anxieties simmer and sometimes get the best of us. Will our income be cut? Will our home suffer more damage as we await critical repairs that have now been postponed? Will our children fall behind academically as we unskillfully try to educate each on different learning platforms? You know the story because you’re living your own version of COVID-19. Add your worries to this list. We all feel it: this is too much, Lord.
Our marriages are strained. We try to team up and endure difficulty with grace and patience. Maybe we do well for a day or two. But if you’re like us, your usual pattern of relating to each other under stress reappears. The temptation is either to turn on each other or to turn inward in preoccupation during these times. Some of us maximize the threat while others minimize it. But each of us consistently uses one approach over the other. It’s so normal for two spouses to deal differently with stress, chaos, and uncertainty. Under duress, one becomes controlling, louder, and angry while the other quickly grows withdrawn, silent, and irritable. One is hot anger. The other is cold anger. Neither is good. There’s no need to evaluate as to which is better or worse, but of course we do.
What’s worse is that we start keeping a mental accounting of which of us is more impacted. If your children are at home, you can compare who gets more uninterrupted time to do the tasks required or who is parenting better or more. If it is just the two of you, you can easily compare who is working more around the house, or you might dwell on simple annoyances that are more easily overlooked with some healthy separation. Resentment can build.
But the truth is, God has given you this person for just this moment in time. Your spouse is not the enemy (Eph 6:12), but someone who, just like you, is weak, suffering, and prone to struggle under this stress. Moreover, your spouse is your co-laborer in a historical moment that can, if left unchecked, weigh your marriage down with anxiety, depression, anger, and growing resentment. What can you do not to flounder in the fog and friction of this “war”? How can we actually strengthen our marriages during this pandemic?
Here are six things we are finding helpful.
Value Faithfulness above Productivity
We are living in a historical moment that we will likely not see again in our lifetime. It is good to remember we are not in normal routines. In our home, we are trying to continue working while also homeschooling our stir-crazy children who think they’re on holiday and now have access to technology throughout the “school day” (which means constant temptation to venture from spelling to YouTube or any number of apps). We are holding important virtual meetings from our bedrooms and trying to schedule them when someone is not practicing the piano. Yes, it is good to try to keep life as normal as possible, to prioritize order and a clean organized home, but things are not normal right now, and we need to make allowances for that. Our daily task list will look different each day, and we must adjust our standards for productivity accordingly.
Our daily temptation is to measure the success of our days by what we accomplish. But this time of life should remind us that bearing fruit is not the same as getting things done. The fruit we seek is the fruit of being faithful with what God has given us today. Galatians 5:22 is clear on that: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” When we call this to mind, we are less tempted to withhold grace by judging our own or our spouse’s productivity.
Entrust Yourself to the True Protector
While we wait for a declining curve of coronavirus cases, we can be tempted toward trusting in false gods and not even know it. If we wash our hands, don the right mask, get the right antiviral drug, stand six feet away, or receive enough money from the government, we will be okay. These are all increasingly prudent things to do, but good things make bad gods. Our hope is not in these things; our help is in the God who rules every molecule of our universe. It is good to remind ourselves that he sustains the sparrow (Matt 10:29–31), he commands the wind and waves (Mark 4:39), and he is Lord over every detail of the created order (Job 38–39). Your Father has you and your family’s life square in the palm of his hand. This day’s hope is not in protecting you and your loved ones from the coronavirus or economic harm. This day’s hope is in the true Protector. With security rightly placed in him, we can relate better to one another.
Walk in Love on a Path to Prayer
Countless blogs and books have been written encouraging husbands and wives to pray daily together. Almost all describe how prayer works to foster intimacy as a couple draws near to God and one another. Prayer is a significant way to grow a stronger, more unified, and intimate marriage. But when Peter writes about prayer, he actually moves in the opposite direction than we typically think (1 Peter 3:7, 12; 4:7). He does not focus on the emotional and relational benefits of praying together. Prayer is not primarily a means of relational intimacy. Peter says it’s the couple’s relationship that helps their prayers. How a couple relates to each other makes their prayers either effective or ineffective, powerful or hindered, free-flowing or clogged. And it also impacts how God hears and responds to them. He has a special openness to our prayers when we are treating each other with understanding and honor. He is particularly vigilant and attentive to us as we genuinely seek peace and one another’s well-being.
So, in these times of quarantine and restriction, pray! But do so with a heart attitude that prioritizes the ability to pray with hopeful expectancy that your prayers will rise unhindered to God’s ears.
Clothe Yourself with Humility
Living in a bunker together with an invisible enemy surrounding you may have drawn out depths of your hearts you did not see coming. We’re living in (too) close proximity with those we love but without the daily graces of routine, healthy separation, and maximum productivity. Most of us do not operate optimally when we are anxious and feeling threatened. Sin is very real, and we will see it! Like the man who wears a shirt and tie to his Zoom meeting but below the camera shot sits in red running shorts, we can put on a good show for those “out there” while our spouse and children have a clear view of the selfishness and conceit in our hearts. Yes, this is discouraging as we aim to bear fruit.
But rather than despair or resort to the well-worn patterns of relating to each other under duress, use this time to practice humility and repentance. In God’s economy, these are some of the most powerful moments of intimacy in marriage. Like reviewing an algebra problem that went awry after making an error as you tried to solve the equation, go back, locate, and fix the mistake you made with your spouse before trying to move forward. Be very suspicious of your heart, erring on the side of not trusting your motives and calculation of wrongs done to you. Let no offense fester before you go to your Father and ask for conviction on how you started, responded to, or escalated the strife. Then quickly repent, go, and repair with your spouse.
Our words are powerful in the lives of those around us. They can build up or tear down, bring healing to an offense or escalate a fight. What a privilege it is to wield such tools to buoy a discouraged or fearful spouse. In the last two years, we have faced the hardest years of our life together. Many nights we have found ourselves recounting the events of the day and turning to each other for comfort, faith, and affirmation. By God’s grace, we are not often both defeated on the same night. So it seems to work out that we take turns reminding each other of God’s sovereignty, faithfulness, steadiness, and goodness. We have read the Psalms to each other as we fall asleep or placed our phone on the pillow between us to softly play a favorite worship song that reorients our heart to the Father who loves us. We have gently spoken truths against the accusations, fears, and doubts that attack (especially at bedtime) so the other can drift into slumber.
During this pandemic, do not underestimate the importance of reminding your spouse of what is true, worthy of praise, and commendable—especially as the day wanes. Read Scripture, sing songs, pray with and for one another, speak encouragement.
You Are a Team with a Common Opponent
The anxieties and exhaustions of this season tempt us to turn on each other. Just last night, we had words over a parenting issue, phrasing our discussion as if the problem was the other’s fault. Perhaps there are things our spouse needs to see and change, but treating our spouse as the enemy attacks your teammate, not your opponent. As we battle out COVID-19 and its effects on our family, we need to strategize how we can confront this problem together. One thing our family does often is call a family time-out. We stop normal activities and call everyone together to get a game plan on how to tackle a situation as “Team Sironi.” Far too often we have gone beyond the point of “this isn’t working,” and it never ends well.
Why not do this with your spouse too—a routine reorientation on how things are going and what needs adjustment. How can we share the added load of educating our children? How can we jointly enforce house rules needed to make things operate more smoothly? What are the besetting weaknesses and sins in each of our hearts that we can watch out for and preempt? What tempts us to turn inward in an unhelpful way when our relationship faces heat?
All told, COVID-19 is challenging all of us in one way or another. Some of us are deeply enjoying this extra time together. For others, the wheels are coming off. But let’s be candid—being confined at home will bring out the lifelong differences and incompatibilities within your marriage. The virus has not caused these things but intensified them. This is not likely the time to try and change your spouse’s habits or to resolve the differences between you. Recognize that these differences will heighten in this season and give each other grace. Don’t make big marital decisions, but take Leo Tolstoy’s advice to heart: “What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are but how you deal with incompatibility.”
Will you join with us as we try to use this time of quarantine to fortify our marriage? It is hard to see now, but when the COVID-19 crisis has waned, we will look back and see how God used this time for our good and his glory.
1. New York and Philadelphia.