COUNSELING: How Do You Keep Your Marriage Healthy During COVID-19?

Gold marriage rings on string

By Rev. Dr. Ron Barnes, LSW, Executive Director and Marital Counselor 

Marriage is a wonderful gift. As a Minister when marrying a couple, I tell them they are entering a sacred bond as well as a sacred and lifelong ministry with each other.

In reality, marriage may be the most important ministry. It is a life reassuring and deeply meaningful bond when things are going well, and it is a dark and lonely place and feeling when that connection is wavering.

A marriage can be difficult to maintain if it is not taken care of on a regular basis. Couples often struggle when spouses live parallel lives due to separate jobs and busy family schedules.

How Much is COVID-19 Impacting Marriages?

The experts are telling us many marriages are suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for some couples, COVID-19 may have been a gift. They have been forced to spend time together and start to rebuild that marriage bond.

COVID-19 is certainly offering couples more opportunity to play together, work on house projects, talk more about their stress and feel more supported and cared about. The pandemic is definitely teaching us how important or unimportant one’s spouse is to each other.

However, the pandemic can do significant damage to our marriage if we:

  • Are always grouchy.
  • Complain constantly and argue.
  • Allow fear to have too much power.
  • Become more internal with our thoughts and become emotionally distant from our spouse.

When I marry couples, I encourage them to begin to willingly enter a more vulnerable state with each other. I believe this is how love really grows. The COVID-19 pandemic has made us all vulnerable, like it or not. It is capable of making us very anxious as it causes us to face our own mortality issues. This fear can paralyze us, it can cause depression and also make us run from our feelings. The semi joke going around during this pandemic is that people are becoming a hunk (working out), a chunk (eating more), a drunk (obvious) or a monk (relying on God more for help).

During this pandemic, allowing yourself to be more vulnerable with your spouse can significantly increase your marital bond if your spouse is also willing to be vulnerable with their feelings and thoughts.

How Do I Demonstrate Love?

When I do marital counseling, I use the book, “The Five Love languages” by Gary Chapman. The book focuses on expressing heartfelt spousal commitment by finding each other’s love language.

The 5 Love Languages are:

  1. Quality time together – Giving your spouse undivided attention and always being present when you are around them.
  2. Words of Affirmation – Showing affection by way of praise, appreciation and encouragement.
  3. Acts of Service – Doing small acts of kindness that helps your spouse each day.
  4. Physical Touch – Being physically affection by holding hands, hugging or cuddling.
  5. Gift giving – Appreciating the time and energy that went into a gift, no matter how small or large it might be.

Couples need to know how to best love each other in meaningful ways. COVID-19 only makes this more crucial. Learning what your spouse needs will deepen your relationship.

This may sound obvious but my experience as a Pastoral counselor has shown time and again that couples do not necessarily know their spouse’s love language. Spouses may think they know the other’s love language, but most of us do not have ESP (Extrasensory Perception). This requires being vulnerable and sharing with your spouse what your needs are. It may take actually realizing he or she does not have ESP, even if they love you.

Why Do Marriages Require Positivity?

The pandemic has made most, if not all of us, a bit or a lot more edgy. We are most edgy with those we live with and those we are married to (there is a certain degree of edgy allowance in most marriages). However, if this edginess becomes accentuated into more and more negativity taken out on one’s spouse then much harm can happen. More arguing or emotional distancing is likely to occur as a result.

The Gottman Institute, through many years of intense marital counseling with thousands of couples, discovered the magic ratio.

“Marriage has a magic ratio of 5:1, meaning that for every negative comment/reaction, it takes five positive interactions to balance out the psychological effect of the one negative,” Gottman says. “Having a ratio below 5:1 within conflict became one of the many potential divorce indicators. All couples disagree, argue and fight, but it’s important to know how to communicate effectively in those moments.”

The magic ratio can help couples work through difficult issues because it reminds couples to demonstrate positive interactions such as expressing affection and accepting their perspective.

How Do I Help My Marriage Today?

Jon Carlson and Don Dinkmeyer in “Time for a Better Marriage” encourage daily Marriage Maintenance Activities – a time where you sit down with your partner and share what is currently going on with you.

“Set aside 10 minutes a day, allowing five minutes for each to express feelings,” Carlson and Dinkmeyer advise. “When one partner talks, the other listens and no comments are permitted. You both share what is on your mind, in your heart and what you are experiencing: fears, apprehensions, hopes, joys, sorrows, feelings of anger and enthusiasm.”

This daily meeting can be an everyday release of tensions and worry during this pandemic and a check in that helps settle each spouse.

Carlson and Dinkmeyer say regular dialogue allows couples to share the important things that are rarely shared but are essential for people who love one another.

“Recognize that the dialogue is not an opportunity for you to ventilate or attempt to manipulate by making your partner responsible for your emotions, nor is it a time to make demands or requests,” Carlson and Dinkmeyer say.

Marriage is a sacred relationship. The bond is threefold. The couple and God. Praying together is a very intimate experience and bond building. It is important to bring your concerns to God, together. God wants to hear from us. God cares about marriage. He instituted it. So the need for prayer during this pandemic is very real. Those who pray together have a much better chance of staying together.

This pandemic has sent a strong message to us all on how precious and fragile life can be. And it has taught us how precious our relationships really are.

I’ll end here with what I end most of my marriage counseling sessions with: May God bless your marriage and please take care of each other.

We are here to help during this difficult time. If you or someone you know is struggling with loneliness, anxiety, depression or other struggles, give us a call at (412) 366-1300 or use our Digital Intake Form to schedule an appointment today. Hope is only a phone call away. And to receive more resources like this, you can sign up for our Email Newsletter.