How COVID-19 Has Transformed My Marriage For The Better
"I think I need some help. I'm really depressed, and I'm having scary thoughts."
This is what my fun-loving, usually happy-go-lucky husband told me one afternoon that made my head spin. I was usually the one who struggled with anxiety and depression—so what was this about? We were 10 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and though I felt we'd been pretty lucky, apparently my husband wasn't doing as well as I'd thought. The tough part was he'd been putting on a happy face for me and our daughter, but he'd been in a dark place for quite a while.
My heart sank. Here I was, a health and life coach for many people around the country, yet the man who I saw every day was hurting—and I didn't see it.
A healthy marriage requires partners to be creative in meeting both people's needs, even when those needs are conflicting.
Sure, I knew that the mask-wearing made him feel disconnected, he missed seeing his family in person, and he longed for his jam nights with the guys—but people were dying from this horrible virus, and so we were following all the rules. He wasn't traveling internationally and domestically every three months like usual, he wasn't going into the office, we were sharing a small office at home, and for a while we'd had to juggle all of our work and video calls while caring for our 3-year-old daughter at home. But our daughter was back in preschool five days a week now, and though we'd had to quarantine at a moment's notice for 10 days several times, we could still do our jobs and get some child care—so we were grateful.
Couples, especially those that have been together a long time, can sometimes begin to assume that their needs are exactly the same. What I need must be the same as what my partner needs, and vice versa. But the truth is, despite being best friends, highly compatible, in love, and happy, my husband and I are still two separate people. Thus, our needs will never be perfectly aligned.
For me as an introvert, I'd actually felt relieved that I could turn down social outings "due to COVID," but my extrovert husband was devastated that he couldn't smile at strangers while shopping at Target due to masking or chat up a random guy at the sports bar during the big game on a weekend. So, in hindsight it makes sense that after a year of masking, social distancing, no work or personal travel, and very little in-person family-and-friends engagement, my husband was struggling.
We also found ourselves in some pretty heated discussions (aka arguments and fights) about our marriage and relationship dynamics that had been unhealthy for years yet not painful enough to be addressed up until now—now that we were trapped in our small home for months with very little space or distraction. It was as if all of our relationship challenges were staring at us all at once. Things we'd loved about each other were now reasons we couldn't stand each other—and after eight years together, six years married, we couldn't ignore them anymore.
The stakes are also higher during a pandemic. We are each other's emotional support system and one of the rare people that we can be around without a mask, so being there for each other is even more important right now. And when we are arguing, there is very little opportunity to have space from each other to cool off or get a new perspective.
But in the end, all the fighting and crying helped bring us together. I've always admired one aspect of our bond: that we allow our relationship to bend so intensely sometimes that it may break, and that is exactly what keeps us together. That we allow it to almost break instead of grasping for it to stay together. There isn't desperation—only desire for understanding and to learn and grow a bit more.
We need very different things sometimes in order to be happy and feel mentally well.
After that day that my husband shared his struggles, we spent a lot of time talking through what was bothering him and what was and wasn't working for him (and for our family) right now. There were a lot of needs not being met for all of us due to the pandemic, and we had to strategize—and fast—about what we could do to improve his mental health and the state of the family. We quickly scheduled therapy sessions for both of us and started making creative plans to get outside more and interact (even if virtually) more with family and friends.
The pandemic has transformed our marriage for the better in many ways. I've learned a lot about my husband (and our marriage) this year—especially how important certain needs of his are that aren't needs of mine. We've been forced to get our priorities in order, and we've learned just how fragile mental and emotional health can be even in the best of times.
The most important takeaway from the past year of the pandemic is that we've learned new skills and tools for connection and self-care. We know the things that are nice-to-haves in our life and the things that cannot be dropped. Here is a list of a few things that have helped us this past year:
- One-on-one talk therapy (virtually) with a couples' therapist and sessions on our own
- Weekly phone calls or video chats with family members
- Staycations and time away from the house (and chores!), especially including time together without our child (thank you, Grandma!)
- Monthly date nights where we get takeout and then sit in our car or at a park and talk (thank you, babysitter!)
- Nightly check-ins about the next day's agenda
- Weekday scheduled "us time," when the toddler is in school, to binge a favorite show, talk about how we are doing, or run errands together
- Scheduled days off and mental health days monthly from our jobs for a personal "retreat" (some days this is as simple as getting takeout and eating it in my car in the Target parking lot while I Marco Polo with friends)
We can sometimes assume that what we need must be what our partner needs, but this year has brought to light just how different my husband and I really are in some regards, despite how compatible we are as partners. We need very different things sometimes in order to be happy and feel mentally well. A healthy and successful marriage requires partners to be creative in meeting both people's needs, even when those needs are conflicting—and to be able to put your partner's needs at the same level of importance as your own.