There are no reliable statistics yet to back this up but I speculate that, for as many couples who have had to delay saying ‘I do’ because of lockdowns and coronavirus restrictions, there are just as many married couples saying ‘I don’t’ and heading for the divorce courts.
Working at Salomons as I do, it’s a joy to see couples tying the knot in these beautiful surroundings after maybe having to postpone their nuptials two, or three times or more. Many of them would have put their lives on hold before embarking on the crucial transition into marriage. This is still a big milestone even though we don’t necessarily do the marriage, living together and kids in that order any more.
Those at the beginning of their lives together have been tested by the interruption of best-laid plans and many will have been brought closer by the delays and disruptions of the pandemic. Tenacity, resilience and adaptability are skills which make every aspect of life work better. Alongside, love, respect and shared beliefs and values, they are crucial pillars of a successful relationship.
There’s nothing like repeated cancellations of expensive wedding plans to find out whether your future spouse is a keeper or a bride/groomzilla who turns out not to be as adorable as you once thought. And if you’ve been cooped up in a tiny flat with a shared kitchen table cum workspace and still want to be with each other at the end of the day, that’s true lockdown love. Shared parenting, step-parenting and home-schooling add to the challenges of keeping romance fresh.
Many couples flung together while furloughed had a rude awakening after years or even decades of spending little time together. Such is the nature of married life when work, kids and different interests outside of family life take priority over marriage vows. Being with someone 24/7 who has become a relative stranger or changed beyond all recognition over time can be the death of a stale marriage.
Others discovered a powerful reconnection which strengthened in these difficult times. Adversity makes us appreciate and value those we love all the more. And lockdowns have thrown couples together in ways which were unheard of in our previously busy lives.
Whilst some marriages have strengthened, others have died. Beginnings have been delayed and endings accelerated by the pandemic. Here are some tips for those figuring out how to have the best marriage possible and avoid becoming a statistic of the divorce epidemic which is sure to follow.
Time for Love
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‘Busyness’ is a way of avoiding difficult issues and a distraction from problems in a relationship. It can be uncomfortable doing nothing with your partner when both of you are used to rushing around and passing in the hall. Lockdowns made it much harder to make excuses for not having time for each other. Thriving relationships are those where time is spent maintaining and strengthening the bonds of security and commitment through open communication and prioritising ways to find pleasure in each other’s company.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
The strongest of relationships can be suffocating if there’s no breathing space. Too much dependence on one person is never a good thing. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and a couple spending all their time together without other diversions are bound to get on each other’s nerves now and again. It’s important to give each other space, even if you’re stuck in the same room all the time. Anyone who feels claustrophobic in a relationship will have a powerful urge to run away.
Adapt and Survive Divorce
Structure, order, routine and consistency are antidotes for stress and anxiety. When changes are global and out of our control, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and ‘aggy’. Forced confinement, the absence of a regulated working day and uncertainty about the future are unsettling, to say the least. The rhythm of every household changes whenever there’s a change in routine. Whatever lifestyle changes have been necessary, it helps to run daily life to a schedule of sorts, getting up at the same time, making plans, organising quality time together and keeping a diary.
Small children, ageing parents and distant relatives are shared responsibilities within a marriage. Division of labour requires collaboration and compromise as well as agreement about how to go about safeguarding family members and ensuring they are looked after properly. Couples who back each other up over family conflict and personality clashes will find other people’s dramas don’t have to be their crises.
Most people’s income has been impacted in some way by the pandemic. For some, the threat of real hardship is a marriage-breaker, as harmful to well-being as the coronavirus. When there are two earners in a household, costs are shared and savings can be pooled when income is reduced. When debts are rising and bills are unpaid, it takes a strong couple to ride it out until better times. Given that money is a major source of conflict in relationships, now is not the time to pretend the bank balance is healthy if it isn’t. An honest reality check and a joint commitment to curbing spending is the best way to stay in the black.
A Lifelong Commitment
I’m going to declare a bias here. Marriage is a wonderful, life-enhancing thing when it works well. Anyone coming to me about their marital problems will get my encouragement and support to put things right. Sadly, divorce is sometimes inevitable, particularly if one or both parties have emotionally checked out of the marriage. No one gets married with the intention of getting divorced. The disappointment and the emotional toll of broken vows and shattered dreams can be devastating.
Like all transactions, marriage has to have a point and a purpose for those concerned. It meets a complex mash-up of emotional, economic, practical and cultural needs. One couple’s perfect marriage may be another couple’s nightmare. Shared beliefs, values and goals give couples the best chance of surviving decades of change throughout their lifetime together. As a local newspaper reporter, I was sent to interview couples celebrating their golden wedding anniversary. The stock question was ‘what’s the secret of a long and happy marriage?’ The answers were mostly ‘never go to bed on an argument’ and ‘give and take’. There was often a twinkle in the eyes of these elderly couples, living proof that true romance never dies.