Feeling the Stress of Sheltering in Place? Four ways to know if your marriage is healthy or ailing

Jesse and Barb* had been married for 34 years, raised three sons together and enjoyed seeing their grandchildren on a regular basis. But as a duo-income couple, prior to the COVID19 crisis they had never spent more than two weeks of uninterrupted time together. “We joke that this is the longest time we’ve had together in 34 years,” says Jesse, “but so, far so good.”

Before the COVID crisis, many busy couples wished to spend more time together. Today, under self-quarantine guidelines they may be getting more than they wished for. Unlike Jesse and Barb, however, some couples may discover that too much time together reveals chinks in the armor of their relationship which may not be easily repaired.

In recent months sheltering-in-place restrictions have thrown seemingly happy couples into forced togetherness — and relationship duress. News sources anticipate an up-tick in divorce rates once the quarantine lifts. In China, where restrictions have already lifted, divorces are said to have “increased sharply” — up as much as 25-percent according to one source.

How do you know if spending 24/7 with your spouse is simply “getting on your nerves” or an indicator of more serious relationship issues? Consider these factors.

1. Feel more needy than usual. Stressful times can make you feel more needy — or less willing to give. If you’re feeling less that supported emotionally, sexually, intellectually, and/or spiritually by your spouse it may be because you were previously getting those needs met elsewhere. Although no one person can (or should) be expected to meet all your needs, it’s possible that you and your spouse have drifted apart. A candid discussion could jump start greater intimacy in your marriage — or reveal places that need work. For tips on resolving marital issues, checkout the relationship insights provided by self-help guru John Gottman at gottman.com

2. You argue more frequently. The current pandemic is one of, if not the most, stressful events in recent history. Fears and anxiety are bound to surface. Resentments pop up and may go unresolved if you’re trying to “keep the peace” in a restless household. With nowhere to run or hide from the discourse, it’s easy for disagreements to escalate into full-blown fall outs. (In fact, domestic violence has increased since sheltering-in-place took effect.) If you and your spouse can’t seem to agree on anything, it could be a sign of a deeper disconnect that transcends the current crisis. Seeking the help of a marriage counselor or personal therapist may be a smart next step. (Many provide phone or video sessions.)

3. You’re at odds on safety issues. If your spouse is washing her hands 20 times a day and suiting up in full PPE to grocery shop while you stroll through Walmart without a care, you may be not in tune with each other’s concerns. Just because you don’t see eye to eye on safety precautions doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed. But if your approach to preventive measures is vastly different, it can show a difference in personality type, general self-centeredness or hyper-vigilance that can spell trouble in paradise. Check in with your partner to discuss your differences before they become resentments. Compromise could go a long way to remaining safe while feeling at ease at home.

4. Your spouse Is abusive. Historically, various forms of spousal abuse spike in the aftermath of natural disasters and financial down-turns. COVID-19 has served up both major relationship stressors at the same time. Agencies around the globe have reported an up-tick in reported incidents. In France, the police reported an increase of 30-percent. If physical, emotional or financial abuse has surfaced, seek immediate options to provide distance (for help go to https://www.domesticshelters.org/help/al/birmingham). What should you do if you find yourself faced with seemingly insurmountable spousal differences during this time of social isolation? Seeking the help of a skilled therapist can be the first step to determining if your problems are situational or more deep-seated. If divorce is in your future, reach out to a skilled family law attorney to gather insight and begin the process. Remember, when social distancing measures ease up, you may feel very differently about your spouse. This is a great time to learn about each other and how you can move forward together — either separate or as a couple — in the post-COVID-19 future.

* Not their real names.