Several weeks ago, before the “sheltering in place” orders and the rise of “social distancing,” we fancied ourselves as marriage experts. We had developed elaborate systems to divide roles and responsibilities. We felt more connected than at any other point in our marriage. We were even writing the final pages of a book together on, you guessed it, marriage.
Then along came COVID-19, and, overnight, all our elaborate systems and habits were disrupted, all by a virus that, thankfully, neither of us had.
There was the question of how we were going to keep doing our weekly date-hike ritual on Saturday mornings. “What do we do with our 8-year-old daughter when the grandparents (her usual babysitters) are in self-quarantine lockdown?”
There was the question of dividing basic tasks around the house. “Who cooks dinner and reads with our daughter each night now that Kaley’s no longer traveling for work and we’re all here at home, all the time?”
There was even the question about how to find time to be alone. “Now that we’re working from home, never more than 50 feet apart, and homeschooling a small child, how do we avoid getting totally sick of each other?”
In short, we’ve been experiencing what so many other couples have reported these days—that the shock of COVID-19 extends well beyond the public health system and the economy. For most busy professionals, this pandemic has also disrupted years and even decades of habits that shape the way we do marriage.
So how can we ensure that our marriage survives and even thrives during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic? Here are three practical strategies.
Build a new system of roles and responsibilities
Every marriage has a structure of roles running silently in the background. With the disruption of COVID-19, these old arrangements may no longer make sense. And that’s a recipe for one of the most toxic experiences in modern marriage: The resentment-fueled battle over who’s doing more, who cares more, and whether things are fair.
The solution is to add a bit of structure and clarity to the chaos. Have a conversation about your roles and responsibilities. It can be helpful to write out a list of what you are each doing around the house on a piece of paper. Then, consider this essential question: How should we change the system to account for life in quarantine?
This is a conversation that will go beyond helping you adjust your system of marriage during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a conversation that will also help you create a more intentional structure of roles and responsibilities once things go back to normal.
Spend quality time together
With kids, pets, and few available childcare resources, this may sound like an almost impossible task. But see if you can carve out even just 30 minutes a day to be together.
Go for a walk. Have lunch together. Talk about an idea you have. Exercise together. Make a point of blocking out this time to invest in your relationship. There’s one other key tip for making the most of this time: See if you can stay off your smartphone and other devices.
Take time each day to be alone
In the pre-COVID-19 world, the experience of time alone happened organically. It was built into the day in the form of your time commuting on the train, driving to work, or sitting on an airplane. But now, with many couples working from home, alone time has all but vanished.
So it’s worth building some time into each day for being alone and away from your partner. Go for a solo walk around the block. Meditate. Sit outside by yourself. Go for a run. It may sound strange, but it’s this feeling of separation that allows you to come back to your partner with a greater sense of excitement, interest, and desire.
Like any shock to the system, COVID-19 can either make things much better or much worse in marriage. We think it’s worth viewing this new world of work and life together at home as an opportunity. It’s a chance to create a new, more dynamic, system of marriage.
Nate and Kaley Klemp are authors of the forthcoming book The 80/80 Marriage and the creators of The Marriage 3.0 Self-Guided Retreat. Nate is also the coauthor of the New York Times best-seller Start Here: Master the Lifelong Habit of Wellbeing, and Kaley is the coauthor of the leadership best-seller The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership.