Marriage is not for the faint of heart.
In Canada, 38% of marriages end in divorce with countless others in separation. In 2020, 2.7 million married couples called it quits, resulting in twice as many divorces than in year 2000. With this trend showing no signs of slowing down, couples face an uphill battle to ensure the longevity of their union.
Impact of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has tested even the strongest relationships by amplifying the stress and uncertainty couples face. These added pressures have left couples mentally depleted with little focus or energy to invest in their relationship. Here are a few of the biggest challenges couple are facing:
Increasing parent workload
For couples with children, COVID-19 brought many unexpected changes to routines and childcare. With children initially being sent home, beginning online or hybrid learning, then returning to school only to be sent home again, couples have had to make continual adjustments to their work and daily routines. With restrictions limiting access to childcare, extracurricular programming, and recreational facilities, parents are spending more time exploring creative ways to keep their children entertained and engaged and less time focusing on each other.
Nothing stresses a marriage like financial worries. With the economy fighting its ways back from a standstill, many couples are still reeling with the financial impact of the pandemic including job and income loss. While government programs have attempted to ease some of the financial hardship, the anxiety of not knowing if or when things will get better can have a devastating impact on a couple’s ability to connect with one another.
No place to blow off steam
Couples in the pandemic are recognizing the value of their social and recreational activities. These “fun times” not only starve off boredom, but they provide a much-needed outlet for each partner. These enrichment activities allow each partner to cultivate their own sense of fulfillment and boost their mental health. When outlets such as these are removed and couples are forced to remain (and possibly work) at home, stress builds up in the home and relationship much like steam in a pressure cooker.
Relational Land Mines
Some relationships where not ok before COVID. Relational landmines are issues in a relationship that have gone unaddressed (knowingly or not) and can cause significant disruption. Common relational landmines include poor communication, unspoken resentment (grudges), lack of meaningful connection/intimacy, or issues of trust. Each of these add pressure to the relationship and decrease its chances of survival if they remain unaddressed.
How to beat the odds
If any of these ring true for you or you are facing other struggles in your relationship, there is no need to throw in the towel just yet. Despite the statistics, the stresses, and the weight of a global pandemic, many marriages are doing simply fine with the most dedicated couples reporting drastic improvements since the beginning of the pandemic. Here is how they have made it:
Couples with a lighter load do better. Where possible, look for stresses to offload, to free up mental space to connect and be present with your partner. It can be tempting to feel like everything we do HAS to be done but that is not always true. If you are struggling with ‘handoff’ consider asking yourself, “If I was bed-ridden today, what could I hand off to someone else?”, or, “What am I doing that truly does not have to be done”.
Take time to talk to your spouse about the demands and pressures you each have individually, and the demands on you as a couple. Acknowledging the psychological weight you both carry and how it may be impacting your ability to connect can help build trust and empathy. Just remember to ask your partner about their experience instead of assuming you already know.
Pick your battles
Choose when and how you address conflict carefully. To do this effectively, remember to avoid the 3Fs. This means never engage in a conflict when you are A) Fired Up, B) Frightened, or C) Fatigued. Intense emotions and exhaustion have the ability to hijack your brain and increase the possibility of escalation. Engaging in this state is more likely to create relational landmines than it is to resolve them. Make a pact with your spouse that both of you will take time to calm down before addressing any difficult or sensitive topics.
Just like we cannot see the forest for the trees, it is even harder to see the patterns of the relationship you are in. This is why more couples are opting for professional support such as a couple’s counsellor or marital therapist. Having a non-biased third party can provide you with perspectives on struggles and strengths of your relationship that otherwise may have gone unnoticed. They can also lighten the load by working with you both to create a positive path forward.
Relationships face transitions over time just the way individuals do. Each new phase (courting, moving in, marriage, becoming parents etc.) requires intentional check-ins and communication as things change. By committing to prioritizing the health of your connection and relationship you give your marriage the best chance at a happily ever after.
To learn more about how to strengthen your relationships, or to learn what supports are available click here.
Bonnie J. Skinner is a Registered Psychotherapist and Certified Canadian Counsellor. Having developed her career in community based mental health across Canada, Bonnie now owns and operates a practice in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario where she helps individuals, couples , families and organizations overcome obstacles to their chosen goals.