I wish I could remember the exact episode, but when I recently read the not-so-surprising-news that "the Rona" is currently causing the divorce rate to skyrocket, it took me back to a scene on A Different World when Colonel Taylor was telling some Hillman College students that, when he actually broke their school schedule down, they spent less than six weeks a year (I think it was even less than that, to be honest) in class. All that money, all that hemming and hawing, for six weeks of actual class time.
Well, guess how much time (most) married couples spend together on a daily basis? I must admit that I shot a side-eye at the internet that I had a challenging time finding some actual US data, but according to The Office for National Statistics in the UK, it's a whopping—I'm being super sarcastic—two-and-a-half hours. If they are retired, four. That's kind of a trip, once you actually let that sink in. I mean, it's not like the marriage survival rate was all that impressive before we started social distancing and quarantining (it's reportedly somewhere between 40-50 percent). Yet, folks weren't trying to, how did Keith Sweat once put it, "Make It Last Forever", when they only had to spend 14 hours out of 168 hours a week with the person they chose to become their spouse? Wow.
I wish there was enough time to break down many of the reasons why this is the case. There isn't. For now, I will say I think something that RHOA member Cynthia Bailey said plays a role. She said in a fairly recent Entertainment Tonight interview that a part of what has made it difficult to quarantine with her fiancé Mike Hill is 1) they both usually are on the road a lot and 2) oftentimes, whenever they have a disagreement, she would just walk off or stay in a hotel. Now that they actually have to sit and deal with one another, things are…well, challenging.
It can't be said enough that marriage only magnifies whatever issues already exist.
So yeah, it's kind of ironic, isn't it? "It" being the fact that, now that couples, all across the globe, who committed to being together, actually have to be together, they don't know how to deal. That's why I give a huge shout-out to folks like actor Sterling K. Brown and his wife Ryan Michelle Bathe who are holding their marriage down, in part, by having online sessions with their therapist while we're on lockdown. It's an in-our-face reminder that, if anything, this should be a time for couples to remember why they got together, to figure out what they need to do to stay together and how to be more realistic and beneficial in their relational approach.
If you are married (or currently living with your partner), you are quarantined and, as much as you love your boo, you wonder if the two of you can survive this test in your relationship, here are eight tips that can help you to not only merely tolerate one another, but actually embrace this "quality time 2.0" season that you're in.
1. Listen. Differently.
While most of us have heard the Paul Tillich quote, "The first duty of love is to listen" before, I don't know if a lot of us focus on the word "duty" that is in it. A duty is a task that comes with a particular position. Guess what else it is? It's a required moral or legal obligation. Deep, right? Based on this quote, whenever you tell your partner that you love them, a part of what you're saying is that you acknowledge that you are going to take on the task, that you've got the moral—and if you are married, legal—obligation to hear them out. And to listen fully.
And just what does a good listener look like? You allow your partner to complete their thoughts. You do your best to maintain eye contact as much as possible. You pause before responding. You give the kind of body language that conveys interest and respect. You ask questions in order to gain clarity. You try and put yourself in their shoes before reacting to something that you may not like or didn't expect. You don't deflect by changing the subject. You don't hear only what you want to. You listen in the way that you would want your partner to listen to you.
I can't tell you how many couples I work with who, while they seem to love each other, the respect is tossed completely out of the window. The reason why I say that is because they absolutely suck at listening to one another. If this time of quarantining does nothing else for your relationship, use it as an opportunity to sharpen your listening skills. It's one of the best ways to show your partner that, not only do you love them, but you esteem them as well.
2. Give Each Other Space
There is someone in my life who works from home, along with her husband. Boy, he is definitely the clingier of the two (physically as well as emotionally). Interestingly enough, that has gone up a bit more, ever since their county went into "Shelter at Home" status. Anyway, recently she told me that she told him that, since she was homeschooling their child during the week, she needed the weekends to get some of her own professional tasks done. When I called her that next Saturday to run something by her and I asked where everyone was, guess where her man was at? Sitting across from her in her office. She sighed while she said it.
I've known this couple, ever since they got together; they are homies, for sure. But even the best of friends need time apart. All of us need time to ourselves. So yeah—let your partner watch a movie alone or go into another room to check emails or read a book. If you've got a Type A personality and you feel like quarantining is the time to check off your ongoing to-do list, don't take it personally if they want to do some projects alone or at a later date. Don't feel the need to be up under them through every phone conversation that they have. If sex is shifting into less frequency right through here, don't freak out; when you have less alone time, sometimes you are more protective of your physical space.
An author by the name of Katrina Kenison once said, "Solitude is the soul's holiday." Your partner wanting to spend time without you, especially during a quarantine, doesn't mean there is something wrong in the relationship; it simply means that they also value the relationship that they have with themselves. If you want them to be whole and happy individuals, you will encourage them to do what they need in order to cultivate that relationship…even if that means stepping away from you sometimes.
3. Still Plan Dates
One of my favorite pastor-authors on relationships is a guy by the name of Kevin A. Thompson. In his article, "No Wonder You Don't Love Each Other", he talks about the fact that, when a couple is not intentional about spending quality time together, that can cause love to fade over time. And just how much time should that be? A marriage counselor by the name of Garett Coan said in another article that, in general, "For the happiest, most harmonious relationship, the pro suggests spending 70% of time together, and 30% apart. That gives each of you enough freedom to explore your own interests while still being rooted and invested in your relationship."
Yes, we are in a different set of circumstances right now, since you are probably around your partner almost 100 percent of the time. But don't assume that just because you're both sitting on the same couch, sleeping in the same bed, or dealing with the same child simultaneously that you are actually nurturing your relationship. Order some takeout, light some soy candles and have an indoor picnic on the floor. TIDAL's hip-hop and R&B playlists are free to non-members right now; throw a 90s house party once the kids go to bed. Have a movie night together that features each of your favorite flicks as a kid. Play a few rounds of Stripper Twister or Fantasy Pictionary where you draw out your sexual fantasies and see if your partner can guess what they are. Make desserts together naked. Do things that will remind you that, just because you're (temporarily) confined to the same space, that doesn't mean that quality time and creativity have to suffer. Because you know what? They don't.
4. Be 2.0 When It Comes to Respecting Each Other’s Privacy
I dig the word "oneness" when it comes to married couples. For one thing, it's biblical (Genesis 2:24-25). Yet, just because two people have decided to "become one" (which means it is a process…a daily process), that doesn't mean that they aren't still individuals too. A lot of people seem to miss this when they are in a serious relationship. You each have your own phones. You each (probably) have your own social media accounts. You each have your own extended families, friends, co-workers and lives. And while your partner should be the one who you should feel the need to "hide from" the least, at the same time, they should trust you enough to let you have some freakin' privacy.
A quarantine makes things tense enough with you going through your partner's phone, semi-stalking their social media or sitting at the door through every phone conversation they are having. Give them some freakin' privacy while remembering that private is not a synonym for sneaky. Real talk, now is a great time to build trust in your relationship by letting your partner have privacy that they need, all the while reminding them to extend the same courtesy to you.
5. Avoid Becoming a “45’er”
What is a 45'er? I mean, I'm thinking that you can look at the GIF above this and guess. And while I could use Donald Trump, our 45th president, as a cautionary tale when it comes to so many things, what I'm going to go with today is dictatorship. A dictator is someone who is basically a control freak. In a marital union, I oftentimes say that it's someone who thinks that they have the right to treat their spouse like they are their child—and being an abusive parent, at that. Barking orders. Making demands. Acting like their way is always right while their partner's way is always wrong. Wanting everything to happen on their timetable. Being overly critical. Constantly trying to control how resources should be used. Throwing out ultimatums left and right. Who wants to live like that?
My mother's husband used to say all of the time that when someone sees a couple where the man is unbelievably handsome and the woman isn't a supermodel, what they have to keep in mind is most men will take "ugly peace" over "pretty loud" any day. What he meant by that is peace is beautiful to a man. Shoot, peace is beautiful to healthy and mature women too. Just look at our country right now. Trying to dictate is not only non-beneficial but it's counterproductive and extremely unattractive. Your partner is not someone to boss around; they are someone you are to work together with.
Now, more than ever, is a good time to focus on how the two of you complement each other, even in your differences. You are only going to cause resentment and, quite possibly the end of your relationship, if all you're focused on is how much authority you can exert.
6. Go the Extra Mile
Former anchor Diane Sawyer once said, "A good marriage is a contest of generosity." On the heels of that, if someone were to ask me about a constant problem that I see with a lot of my clients, it's how freakin' selfish they are. It's like, they didn't get married in order to do much giving at all; all they were focused on is what they need and want. In other words, they didn't want a partner; they wanted a glorified servant. The (healthy) marriages I know that have endured consist of two people who don't do the bare minimum or even keep tally on who's done what. Both spouses are invested in meeting each other's needs—and doing it lavishly so, when at all possible.
Generous is a pretty dope word. It means you are unselfish. It means that you aren't mean or small-minded. It means that you aren't petty. It also means that you give willingly and liberally. So many marriages don't make it because, rather than honing in on what they should be giving, they only think about how to get more from their spouse. In a time in our history, when so many are in a state of lack, strengthen your relationship by doing more for your partner, by intentionally going the extra mile.
7. Don’t Hold Grudges
Something that I find to be pretty childish is holding a grudge. Now, for the record, I'm not saying that I'm not someone who used to do it; I'm simply saying that it's immature. It wastes time. It doesn't resolve anything. And, low-key, it's a way to emotionally manipulate someone. This doesn't mean that if your partner irritates you or even totally pisses you off that you shouldn't take some time to process. But a day is very different from an entire week—and yes, I know quite a few couples who go the week-long route. It gets them absolutely nowhere.
In order for this quarantine to go as smoothly as possible, you and yours are going to need to be in a good space—physically as well as emotionally. That is going to require patience, forgiveness and learning how to let some ish go (which means, once you say it's done, you quit bringing it up). You don't have enough space, literally, for everything to be an issue or a battle, so purpose in your mind, each and every day, to not hold grudges; especially about inconsequential stuff. Right through here, it's better to be at peace than to "win" every issue or discussion. Maturity teaches a person that. And a healthy relationship is a really good teacher.
8. GET. SOME. SLEEP.
Just because you may be home a lot more, that doesn't mean that you are calm, relaxed or that you are getting a quality night's sleep. With all that is going on right now—job shifting, bills increasing, kids home, etc.—it's not like you're exactly on a vacation. That's why, for the sake of your sanity and the stability of your relationship, it's important that youget some quality sleep. If you don't, it can lead to fatigue, moodiness, irritability, forgetfulness and even depression. And what about any of that sounds like it's helpful in a relationship?
If you are so stressed out that you can't seem to fall asleep, no matter how hard you try—well, if you've read enough of my articles on here, you know that sex was going to come up. When you engage in coitus, it triggers the natural hormones oxytocin, dopamine, prolactin and progesterone. All of these help to relax you, put you in a good mood, and make it easier for you to get a good night's rest. Not too long ago, I wrote the article, "The 'Seasons Of Sex' That Married People Go Through" yet if there was ever a time to focus more on "10 Wonderful Reasons Why Consistent Sex In Marriage Is So Important", "10 Things Couples Who (Consistently) Have Great Sex Do" and "10 Simple Ways Married Couples Can Make More Time For Sex"—for the sake of your sleep, sanity and relationship, this would be it!
BONUS: Keep Your Expectations As Realistic As Possible
OK, so back to why divorce lawyers are making such a killing right now. From what I've read, financial strain and also rich folks wanting to get out while their net worth is down are two leading reasons. As someone who actually specializes in reconciling divorced couples, I just want to say three things about that. One, divorce is serious and rarely a "solution" to anything (check out "What Some People Regret About Their Divorce" and "6 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Ending Your Marriage"). Two, very rarely do we make wise decisions when we're anxious, tense or stressed out. Meaning, just because your partner may be getting on your very last nerve right now, you've gotta admit that these are some pretty extenuating circumstances that we are all in right now. Make sure that your emotions (and cabin fever) aren't getting the best of you. There's a Scripture in the Bible that says, "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up." (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10—NKJV) Now is the time to lean on your partner; not push them away. And three, be realistic about what you're expecting out of your relationship during this quarantine.
Just like your man may not be a cakewalk all day, every day, you'd have to be a total ego maniac to think that he's not making some serious compromises to try and keep things smooth sailing with you as well.
Bottom line, you and yours can get through this—if you want to. Don't let a virus infect your relationship. You're stronger than that. Your love is bigger than that. Y'all are better than that.
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