We’ve been dealing with this whole COVID-19 business for several months now, and though society might not be as tightly restricted as it was a few months ago, the strain continues to wear on us, and through us, our families. Initially, we operated in what was almost a state of shock, every decision geared toward survival. Gradually, we have begun the scramble toward normalcy, but it has been made clear that that journey will be a long one – more of a marathon than a sprint.
However, the weight of that strain continues to bear down on our marriages and families. In case you have wondered whether your family was the only one that has experienced the “shock and scramble,” it was reflected very clearly in my private practice. From the end of March to the end of June, my prospective client calls dropped by more than 90% as most people were just trying to keep their ships afloat. By the end of July, I was receiving multiple calls per day as the longer-term, “marathon” effects of COVID began to take their toll on marriages and families.
You are not the only one. But how can we work to protect our families?
Let’s start with our marriages.
In the realm of earthly relationships, our relationships with our spouses are the most important. In the family, the couple is the foundation. If the foundation is strong, what you build upon it is more likely to be well supported and stable. If the foundation is weak or cracked, everything you attempt to build upon it will be at risk. Right now, increased work loads or job stress, family concerns, COVID pressure, and the general mayhem of life have caused many marriages to crack under the strain.
What can we do?
We have to start by looking at the problem. What do we, individually, need in order to be healthy right now? What do our spouses need? We cannot ask our spouses to love us in specific ways if we don’t know what ways are most needed! How can a husband know that his wife needs him to wrangle the kids without her for a few minutes when he gets home from work if she does not first realize that and then tell him? How can a wife know that a husband really appreciates a few encouraging texts during a difficult work day unless he acknowledges it about himself and then tells her?
“But they should just know by now! It doesn’t mean as much if I have to ask them to do it. I’ve hinted at it for long enough!”
That would be mind reading. Do not try this at home.
Looking for some help or inspiration? Try taking Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages Quiz online and sharing your results with each other. It’s free and can help you better understand how you and your spouse give and receive love in different ways (and the book is great, too!).
Anyone who has ever been in a romantic relationship knows that an “accidental date” wherein you find yourselves out and about together, having dinner or picking up groceries – while it can be perfectly lovely – does not count as a “real” date. There is something special about being intentional, making a plan, and setting aside time to be with each other that communicates how much you value the other person and your time together.
Once you and your spouse have uncovered some answers, you can start to be more intentional about how you show love to one another. Give each other some space or “alone time,” if needed. Be intentional about planning at least one (pandemic approved) date night in the near future, if possible – even if it is just a picnic in the back yard after the kids are in bed! Check in with one another often, at least once per week if not more. A simple outline for these “state of the union” meetings might look something like this:
- Prayer to bless the meeting and each other and to thank God for the previous week.
- What are 3 things I did this week that really made you feel loved, valued, respected, or cherished?
- What are 3 things/situations that I/we can do better this week?
- What are our goals for this next week?
- What do you need from me this week?
- Prayer to bless the upcoming week.
Being intentional about loving your spouse communicates how much you value them. Such work can go a long way towards building a strong team than can better face the challenges of this season.
What about our families?
Many of the principles we can apply to our marriages work very well with our families, too. If you want to know what your children need from you right now, ask them. Even more importantly, listen to what they say. If you have a child who struggles to communicate, keep trying and, meanwhile, watch how they respond to stress throughout the day. Does your daughter retreat to her room when her siblings get too loud? She might value quiet time as a way to handle difficulties. Does your son crave a hug from mom or dad after a hard day? His primary love language might be physical touch. There is a version of the 5 Love Languages Quiz for kids and teens, too!
Once you start building a better understanding of what your children need from you, you can plan ways to be intentional about loving them the way they need it most. Make plans to address the specific needs of each child, and check in with them often, too! Encourage them to share their concerns and experiences with you and love them by listening. Just like with your spouse, set aside time to make your kids a priority: plan a game or movie night, read together in the evenings, or go on a hike. Parents, don’t forget that this is a very stressful time for them, too. They are going to learn how to handle stress from you – doing some of the healthy things we’ve discussed here is a great place to start!
It all points back to God.
Every challenge we face is a reminder that we are called to obedience and to depend on our Lord. Challenges remind us to rely on His strength and to allow Him to shape our lives and families for the better – and for His glory. What is He trying to teach us during these storms? Our own strength fails us every time, but we can trust that His never will.
Sarah Bradley is originally from Eclectic and is a member at RHC. She is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist Associate and has a private practice in Auburn. She is married to John and mom to Asa.