Just two weeks ago, I was typing away on my office-issued laptop, surrounded by the co-workers I lean on repeatedly for brainstorming, banter and—if I’m being completely honest—bathroom breaks. (Lately, those have been primarily to wash our hands, but the point is we’re a close-knit bunch.)
Then, thanks to COVID-19, a massive staffing change was pushed through overnight: Instead of navigating the workplace with the smart, funny and charismatic colleagues I’ve come to know and love, I am now navigating it side-by-side with my husband. (Don’t get me wrong, he’s smart, funny and charismatic, too, but he definitely doesn’t love my work day banter quite as much.)
Our set-up? Well, we’re both working full-time from our couch and have a cute, but increasingly disgruntled employee toddler to manage in between the conference calls, virtual happy hours and miscellaneous projects on our plate. Without child care, this means we’re trading off everything from diaper changes to meal planning to efforts to engage our two-year-old in activities other than watching Frozen 24/7. (His preference, of course.)
It also means the pressure to check off matrimonial must-haves (good communication! proactive co-parenting! infinite patience!) is at an all-time high.
This is a stressful time. It’s not at all lost on me that as lockdowns lift in China (where COVID-19 originated), the divorce rate is going up, up, up. In an interview with the Global Times, a Chinese official reasoned: “As a result of the epidemic, many couples have been bound with each other at home for over a month, which evoked the underlying conflicts.” Eep.
Maybe that’s why I feel a renewed sense of urgency to triage every formerly low-impact relationship road block that I used to be able to walk out the door and shrug off. (Nothing a glass of wine and good vent session with my friend group couldn’t cure, right?)
For example, my husband’s inability to clean while he cooks. This used to be a problem I could roll my eyes at and ignore. (“It was a nice dinner—so what if he used every single pot and pan and wants to do the dishes on his own time,” I’d say). Now, it’s a direct threat to our entire union: “If we don’t come up with a system for this TONIGHT, the dishes will pile up, my frustration will too and we’ll resent each other simply because we have no room in a small space. OMG!”
Ditto the toddler meltdowns. Instead of taking them in stride and joking with my spouse about the drama that comes with our son’s oversized emotions, I can’t help but push my husband to co-sign on a united stance vs. his much more lax approach. (“It’s going to be just you and me for a while. If we’re not on the same page about how to manage his tantrums during a time like this, we’ll never be on the same page,” I reason a touch over-dramatic myself—oops.)
Because here’s the thing: I’ve come to acknowledge that while, yes, it’s true that a marriage is made up of two people, it also takes a village to nurture it and navigate the logistics that come with it. Right now, there’s no relief team (say, our nanny) coming in the door to give us a break from another epic toddler tantrum. And with a shelter-in-place order, we no longer have the ability to put physical space between us when we simply need a minute to come up for air. (No, social distancing at the grocery store doesn’t count.)
I’m not saying that our relationship is on the brink, it’s more that we have to extend a bit more care than typical in order to survive, evolve and thrive when we get to the other side of all this. (I will never take date night for granted ever again, that’s for sure.)
So, next steps? Well, my loving husband is leaning into the new normal with me—and staying open-minded about the idea of troubleshooting marital pain points as they come up. (For the record, he’s now allowing me to help him clean while he cooks and we’re both stepping up and prioritizing our toddler’s feelings together vs. letting stress rule during meltdowns.)
We’re also finding a new appreciation for the merits of healthy communication. We have nightly family meetings to anticipate the day ahead, work through any logistical issues (i.e. overlapping meetings) and carve out exactly when the other person will get a bit of “me” time. (These days, an uninterrupted shower is a gift.)
As for our marital outlook? One (quarantine) day at a time.