Dear Wayne and Wanda,
My husband and I have two young children, and have been pretty much on lockdown since mid-March. He and I are both working from home. The kids have been home, of course, with school canceled. It’s been extremely challenging trying to keep the kids engaged with learning, seeing as we are both working full time.
Why I’m writing today is because I am worried about our marriage. We were already in what I’d call a fragile state heading into March. When we got married, I really did consider him my best friend. These days, he feels more like a business partner. Our conversations are all about the kids and managing the household. I can’t remember the last time he asked me how I felt or wanted my opinion on something that wasn’t about dinner or the children.
Being quarantined together has made all this worse. Tensions are so high, we never have time together just the two of us, anymore. We have not been intimate in months. When we’re done with work for the day, the kids and chores need attention. Once we finally stop moving for the night, we’re both pretty much just on our phones or watching TV.
I don’t want to lose my husband, but I am at a loss for how to bring some connection and romance back into this relationship when we’re trapped indoors together and can’t even safely get a babysitter.
All long-term relationships have highs and lows, and COVID-19 has kicked you while you were down. What you’re going through is completely normal, and even relatable for so many other couples struggling to not metaphorically or actually strangle each other or their children as they work through the frustrations and tensions of this pandemic and its restrictions.
When we wed, we vow “for better or worse,” but let’s mentally amend that to say something like, “for better or worse, and when it’s worse, I will work my tail off to make it better again.” Because you can continue on your internal downward spiral of self-doubt and worry, and spend your evenings tapping away on your phone or blankly bingeing the latest Netflix series — or you can work on your marriage.
The operative word here is “work,” and because of COVID-19, you’re going to have to get creative. For starters, you need to actually do things together — no more solo phone or TV time. If it’s that hard, declare one or more nights to be technology free. Cook dinners together that remind you of some of your happier memories. Creates fun experiences that involve the kids, like backyard campouts or picnic outings. Suggest an early bed time, wear something slinky, and devote time to cuddling — no phones allowed!
And above all, talk to your husband. He can’t guess at how you’re feeling, and in fact he may have no idea you’re wrestling with this. Be frank about your emotions so you can work on your relationship together.
When couples declare they plan to spend the rest of their lives together, they — well, most — don’t literally intended on spending every single second of every single day until death do they part within reaching distance. There have to be breaks, there needs to be balance, and each person must hold on to some form of independence and identity. If not, you will feel like, well, business partners, if not cellmates or the couple that dresses the same.
I know that space and free time are scarce these days in your household, and it certainly sounds like a school and business setting. It’s really no surprise that you’re both feeling the daily pressure to keep the kids engaged, fed and safe, while also doing a good enough job in your respective careers to stay employed and keep a roof over your heads. Not to mention keep everyone healthy with a worldwide pandemic going on outside your doors. Stress! Exhaustion!
But as much as we all know that you need to have a serious reconnection with your husband — and Wanda has given you some amazing ways to do that — I think you both also need a break from the house, from the kids, from the responsibilities, and from one another.
I don’t care how you do it — chase a favorite hobby, Facetime with girlfriends and drinks from your backyard, hide in the closet with a book and a flashlight, or exercise with some fresh air. It’s smart, it’s healthy, it’s just what you, and everyone around you, needs. And while it probably won’t be easy to initially carve the time, once you get going it will become something of an expected routine that you all can live around. Encourage your husband to do the same and cover for him while he’s getting his break.
Can you imagine how lighter you’ll feel after even just a one-hour break from all of it? How looser he will be feeling? That’s the kind of space that can help you act more like partners and teammates than coworkers.
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