Surviving the COVID-19 Crisis Under the Same Roof

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By Ed Wimberly, Ph.D.

This is a season of loss.

Certainly the losses that some in our world are experiencing are far greater than the losses of others. Nonetheless, loss at this time is a reality for just about all of us.

In spite of the fact that the degree and type of loss varies from person to person and nation to nation, we all have in common the loss of two very important ingredients that are fundamental to our emotional and mental health and well-being: the loss of control over our lives as we have been accustomed to, and the loss of predictability and what we can expect to happen next. The uncertainty these losses bring can give rise to anxiety, and in turn, lead to increased stresses in our relationships with the ones we love the most.

In the best of circumstances, we lack total control and total predictability in and over our lives (I suppose this is why Woody Allen refers to us all as “normal neurotics”). But the more we are able to maintain a high level of both, the greater our sense of safety and optimistic outlook. And as a result of the loss of these two important ingredients during this time of crisis, we all run the risk of diminished emotional health and well-being, optimism, and a sense that we are and will continue to be safe.

The result of losing both control and predictability can inevitably wash over into the relationship we have with our spouse. Certainly it can affect our relationship with our kids as well but here the focus will be primarily on our marriage relationship.

While we are unable in the midst of this crisis to completely eliminate the potential for negative influences to creep in, there are some intentional efforts that when made might help maintain a good and healthy relationship with the one we share our roof with.

For what it’s worth, here are a few:

Space and Grace

Under normal life circumstances, our weekly schedules provide a normal dose of natural and healthy space. A friend of mine who has a very good marriage once commented that, “I hesitate to retire because my wife loves that I leave the house and go to work, and she loves when I come home”. Their need for space, provided by his work schedule, is valued and understood, even though they have a stellar marriage.

Needless to say, natural “space creation” is temporarily nonexistent for many of us, so the need for “grace” must come into play by understanding our spouse’s need for space without assuming there must be something wrong. Allow it, embrace it as necessary, and then come back together, understanding that the need for a little elbow room during this time is not only necessary for both of you, but normal.

Wake up, look up, get up and dress up

Wake up. Over sleeping is a natural temptation since it is a way of minimizing an otherwise very long day.  The danger is that it can lead to depression and loss of motivation.

Look up. After waking up, look up and be thankful that in spite of your circumstances, you probably have it better than the rest of the world. Start your day with a proper perspective; share together what you are thankful for in spite of your current circumstances.

Get up and dress up. Rather than staying in your P.J.”s all day long, get into the habit of “dressing for the day”. Dress as if you were ready to take on the world-even if you are in for another day of lock-up. This might just be me and possibly not be helpful to you (my wife tells me there is something comforting about her “all day P.J.” attire once in a while), but for me, it helps to dress for the day.

Reach out

Social distancing should not mean relational distancing. Under normal life circumstances, our tendency is to reach out to our friends via phone, text or other devices only when we have a question, a need, or a particular concern. In times like this, it can mean a great deal to the one receiving the call for the purpose of just simply saying “hi” and catching up, not to mention the positive that may be in it for us as well.

Together consider ways you can make a difference

One common habit found in successful marriages is the presence of a common cause or goal that is bigger than themselves. During this time of crisis, it is more difficult and may take a bit of creativity but there are opportunities to make a difference together from the comfort of your home and the shelter of the roof you share.

Find something to laugh together about every day 

For many, and even under normal circumstances, laughter may not come naturally or often. Even in the absence of a universal crisis, life can be difficult, leaving laughter allusive. Laughter can take a back seat to simply dealing with one’s reality. Now more than ever, laughter may take intentionality-an effort to look for a bit of much needed humor. Perhaps a bit less news and more “Friends”, “Seinfeld or “The Office” would be a good prescription for us all in order to prompt our laughter during this difficult time.

Routine vs. rut

A rut is simply a routine that has become an unproductive habit. And a productive and enjoyable routine that is not occasionally refreshed and reshaped can lead to a dull and boring rut.

Under normal life circumstances, there are many more options from which to choose, making it easier to avoid falling into a rut.  Currently-and hopefully temporarily-we have fewer options from which to choose, making it far easier for our routines to morph into ruts. So make it a habit during these times to occasionally change up little routines, and replace them with fresh ones. Rather than listing examples here of what changes to routine can help avoid ruts, perhaps it would be a good exercise to discuss what changes might best work for you with your cell mate.

And finally….

Cut each other some slack

Referring to another characteristic usually found in healthy relationships, both make it a habit of asking the question, “does it really matter?” before responding. Now more than ever, fewer of the small things should matter, and our asking this question before responding can lend itself to our surviving under one roof during this time of crisis. Allow me to give you a simple example out of my sequestered life with my wife, Joan (and by the way, I could not ask to be held captive with a better person):

(Joan from across the kitchen): “Ed, would you zap my coffee again?  Not quite hot enough”.

(Ed): “Strange. I zapped it for 25 seconds which should have been enough.  Must be something wrong with the microwave”.

(Joan): “I saw 15 seconds on the micro when you did it the first time”.

(Ed): “I’m sure I did it for 25 seconds the first time.  Must be something wrong with the micro”.

(Joan): “15 seconds”

(Ed): “25…”

We finally realized a bit of humor in our efforts to fill our time  trying to win, rather than simply fixing the problem. Note to self: Just re-zap the damn coffee Ed! (But for the record, I KNOW I zapped it for 25 seconds in the first place!!)

We all have far more time on our hands which lends itself to making small issues big issues-to pick at things that really do not matter. More than ever, it is important to ask the question, “Does it really matter?” before making an issue a bigger issue than it ought to be. And by all means, if it really does matter, address it, but with the intention of fixing the problem, rather than winning the battle.

So there you have it; everything you need to know in order to survive together under one roof in this time of crisis.

Not really. And I am certain there are more-and possibly better-ideas that work for you and your relationship. I hope you will share them since we could all use a little help getting through this time.

Ed Wimberly, Ph.D.


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