As the world grapples with COVID-19, families have been confronted with unprecedented and unimaginable changes and unforeseen stressors, from the obvious health concerns to financial uncertainty.
As a marriage and family therapist, I’ve witnessed firsthand the strain that this pandemic has put on marriages due to the countless triggers that have emerged.
These challenges have certainly tested many couple’s resolve to stay together. This may be especially true for remarried couples who are blending two families, often have differences in parenting styles, increased financial stress, and may experience a decrease in romantic time after they marry due to increased demands.
Unlike first time married couples, remarried partners often don’t have time to form a secure bond as a couple before they face the reality of joining their two distinct worlds. For instance, Suzanne, 46, and Ted, 48, remarried last year and each brought two children from their first marriages into their blended family. Even though they mutually decided that they’d move into Ted’s house (because it was larger), it’s been a huge adjustment for all four of their children to blend and share space.
During a recent counseling session, Suzanne put it like this, “I love Ted and his two daughters but it’s been tough selling my home and moving my two girls into his home. We were in a rush to get married because we thought it would help our kids so I lost money on the sale of my condo. Then last month I was laid off as the manager of a local restaurant. The kids bicker a lot and we’re stressed about money.”
Ted responds, “I guess I was blindsided after Suzanne and her daughters moved in. Having four girls under the age of twelve living in a three-bedroom ranch has been tight, especially after the stay at home order went into place. Suzanne and I don’t have much time alone and it’s putting a strain on our new marriage.”
Spending more time at home with your partner in a blended family can shed light on how sharing space often increases conflict and can lead to breakdowns in communication. The realities of working from home such as stress from parenting, step-parenting, home-schooling, and inadequate space, are unchartered territory for so many.
How Couples Can Stay Together Amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic
How Can You Improve the Quality of Time Together as a Stepfamily During COVID-19?
As you adapt to these unprecedented conditions, you and your partner will benefit by keeping a healthy perspective and turning a potential negative into a positive by finding the silver lining in the physical and emotional closeness demanded by the coronavirus pandemic. It’s hard to remember to do this when you’re experiencing financial stress or having an argument. But make sure that your partner knows that you’re there for them, and do things that show love and affection for him or her.
The hectic lifestyle that defined many marriages before coronavirus often contributed to couples suffering from a lack of physical and emotional intimacy. You now have the opportunity to slow down, center yourself, and reconnect with your partner in a completely new way.
While staying at home, you may find it rewarding to get back to the basics and develop habits that revolve around couple bonding and togetherness. In these uncertain times, we can all take a deep breath and bring intention and invention to leisure time. These five simple suggestions below will go a long way toward fostering love and remind you why you got together in the first place.
Even though your gym may be closed due to the coronavirus, couples can create an exercise routine that supports a sound body and mind. By working together to walk, or hike, or bike, partners can play a part in improving their physical fitness as a team. Plus, an added bonus is that couples who work out together experience a boost in their sex life!
Tune in to Each Other:
Over time, many couples drift apart. Research by Dr. John Gottman shows that couples who have happy marriages have a sense of shared meaning and closeness based on becoming intimately involved in each other’s worlds. Use the time at home together to ask your partner questions such as “what is your dream job?” or “what’s your ideal vacation?” You might be surprised at your partner’s responses. Be sure to listen attentively when they speak and ask them questions to show interest.
Make the small moments of connection count with your partner:
According to The Penn State University, research team actions speak louder than words when it comes to expressing love. “We found that behavioral actions—rather than purely verbal expressions—triggered more consensus as indicators of love.” For instance, leaving a love note or making coffee for your partner may be more important than giving him or her a compliment.
Make Your House a Home:
It’s often difficult for couples to carve out intentional time together to indulge in the things to inspire, amuse, and entertain them. During this period where we all must “stay at home,” couples can find new recipes and turn mundane dinners into delicious home-cooked meals. Movies and music can be enjoyed together. The simple act of watching a film or listening to music together after the kids go to bed can strengthen your bond as a couple.
If you’re questioning your commitment to each other and you’re unable to repair and get back on track after arguments, it’s a good idea to seek professional counseling. Most therapists will provide Telehealth therapy on-line to support individuals and couples during the pandemic. Couples counseling can help you unpack your stress and focus the energies of your sense of unity and belongingness if you’re receptive.
It’s especially important for remarried couples to find intentional time to express positive emotions and appreciation to each other due to the demands of daily stepfamily life. Suzanne puts it like this: “I never realized the importance of spending time alone with Ted until the pandemic hit. We really missed our time together because he started working long hours to make up for me being laid off. I’m trying to make a point to show Ted how much I appreciate him every day and give him plenty of hugs.”
Even in the best of times, happiness in a second marriage can be difficult to sustain. However, fostering a safe space where you and your partner (and family members) can turn to each other for support, is key to helping you all weather the storm. If you are patient and try to reframe this time as an opportunity to get to know each other better, you may be surprised that you might actually grow closer and strengthen your connection as a couple and a stepfamily.
And with “stay at home” and or quarantine orders across the globe creating a new and precarious dynamic for households, take comfort in knowing that you’re not in this alone and that ultimately, you’re stronger together.