During this period of lockdown MFL Westminster have invited different groups to share their insights to help support and nourish marriage and family life.
Our thanks to Nigel & Rose Stokes for this contribution:
Coronavirus is not just a threat to our health.
It’s also a challenge to our relationship
Across the world, couples are rediscovering the joy – and the pain – of living together 24/7. Without warning, millions of previously interdependent spouses now share living AND work space with each other and with their children under various lock down levels. For some, this is a welcome disruption to their routine but for others, it’s bringing into sharp focus the abrasive edges of their relationships. How do we take this daunting pandemic situation and channel its energy for good in our relationship? (underlined words are links to further help).
Name and claim those emotions
Blaming our emotions on someone or something else is not helpful. Our emotions are our own. Once we recognise and name them, claiming them as ours, we can make an intentional choice on how we choose to act on them (and remember - open, honest sharing of our emotions with God is one of the highest forms of prayer.)
Unregulated self-expression is one of the boundaries where we need to be particularly vigilant at this time of close living. Our loved ones deserve to be protected from our worst selves, yet often they are the first to be subject to the brunt of our intense emotions. If there is no one at home or among your network with whom you can safely process these emotions, try online help such as the BreakThrough course which includes activities to help identify your conflict triggers and so process intense emotions either together or individually.
Healthy Boundaries & Routine
When we’re working from home, we also need boundaries between work and rest. For those of us for whom this has been a new experience, it takes a conscious effort to establish a start and end time to the workday to avoid work absorbing too much of our time. Our families and our spouse need our attention too. An undisciplined routine not only robs oneself of much needed recreation, it also robs them. The changes in our daily routine necessitate important discussions among the family. If not done already, previous behaviours and spaces need to be renegotiated. For example, if the family room has become someone’s workspace, clearly others are not free to have the TV playing there all day! Routines are also important for our mental health. They help us avoid our time being whittled away in preoccupations, such as mindless TV, gaming or social media, that to excess can leave us feeling empty.
One of the most vulnerable relationships to a lack of routine is our marriage. We tend to prioritise everyone else before our relationship. When we’re spending so much time together working, it can be tempting to make our recreation an individual pursuit. But just being around each other as we work, is not quality sustenance – we need to consciously plan and execute dedicated couple time. With social isolation and the closure of cinemas, restaurants, etc. this requires creativity. Try reading a book together (one can read out loud), having a candlelight supper after the children are in bed, or have a moonlight picnic in the garden or on the balcony.
It’s a difficult situation right now and some of us are facing truly miserable circumstances, but it’s not hard to think of reasons to be grateful - for our home in which to shelter from the virus, for sunny days, for each other (even when we drive each other crazy!). Gratitude helps us avoid being overwhelmed with despair and to rise above our difficulties. It fosters optimism and makes everything else in our life brighter. Practise gratitude daily. Make it a habit to affirm your spouse on what you appreciate about them today. It’s free and it’s the heartbeat of loving!
One of the fruits of an awareness of our blessings is that we can more easily reach out to others. Service to others can help get us out of self-pity. No matter how hard we have it, there’s always someone who is worse off.
Finally, practise forgiveness. There will be a myriad of annoyances in our life right now; kids underfoot, our spouse absorbed in work, careless comments and annoying habits. Being together so much may also mean that old wounds will be triggered more readily by the other. In the current scheme of things, this is small stuff and it’s really not worth losing our peace over.
Christ paid the debt for our sins so that we could have the opportunity to have eternity with Him. Think about that for a moment. Think about it when you’re brooding on some minor offence suffered from your spouse or one of the kids. As we have been forgiven, let us forgive each other.