As the specter of the coronavirus epidemic recedes in China and the quarantine is lifted, divorce filings are reportedly exploding. After almost two months of forced one-on-one time, it would seem that some Chinese couples are at the end of their rope. Divorce registry offices have been swamped since they reopened. “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,” a civil registrar told the English-language Chinese daily Global Times.
While China normally sees a peak in divorce cases every year after the Chinese New Year, the fact remains that confinement can legitimately exacerbate tensions. Here are “Seven Commandments” for couples in a period of isolation, to help them avoid tension and strife.
1Share your new tasks.
A new situation requires new organization. Quarantine, working from home, sudden unemployment, schooling at home, the new schedules of nursing and teaching staff—all of this turns upside down a couple’s usual organizational strategies. So the way couples organize time and tasks needs to be adapted to the situation.
In order to redistribute tasks, it’s important for both spouses to take stock of each other’s needs, obligations, and desires. Who manages the errands? Who is going to make lunch? How about household chores? If you’re schooling at home for the first time, who supervises which subjects? Who takes care of the children while both spouses are teleworking?
Clear and constructive communication will allow for fair distribution of all these new tasks. If you don’t make a plan together, the lack of organization or agreement could quickly become a source of tension and frustration.
2Adopt nonviolent communication.
Most couples can benefit from learning the basics of “nonviolent communication” (also called compassionate communication or collaborative communication). This strategy is a goldmine for better understanding between spouses, particularly welcome in these times.
Marie-Aude Binet, a marriage counselor and intimacy therapist, describes the four important steps to follow if you want to your spouse to listen to you: First, observe a fact that bothers you and describe it as you see it; say how it makes you feel; explain what you need in this regard; then make a very precise request in relation to this need. The secret is to express yourself in the first person—“I feel like this”—rather than using a “you” that could be interpreted as an accusation.
3Set aside some time for yourself.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but a healthy marriage involves each spouse spending some time alone. It’s a good idea to build into your new schedule some time for personal renewal—other than working remotely—without your children or spouse: time for you.
A jog, a hot bath, time for prayer, reading, or calling a friend—just a few minutes to find a little inner calm. If you have children, coordinate with your spouse in order to respect each other’s “alone time,” which is essential to your balance.
Just because you have to stay home doesn’t mean you have to look like a mess or smell like a caveman. Don’t let yourself go! This contributes greatly to the morale of both yourself and your loved ones.
5Spend quality time with each other.
This isolation is an opportunity to take the time to rediscover each other. No more evenings out with friends, no more meetings all day long, no more being saturated with movies on Netflix. This is an ideal moment to have deep conversations, to confide in each other your desires and goals, or to remember together your story as a couple. Put down your smartphone, with its incessant notifications, so you can better connect with each other some evenings. Take this opportunity to spice up your life as a couple, and reinvent new ways to keep the flame alive.
6Talk about things other than the coronavirus.
While this pandemic is an endless source of conversation topics, it’s also important to talk about something else.
Feeding our anxiety, without being able to provide a practical answer, is not the best remedy. This is especially true because it can easily provoke tension between an eternal optimist and an incorrigible pessimist, between an anxious person and a person who is more detached.
Vary the topics of conversation. Now’s the time to take an interest in something else and to share it with your partner.
7(Begin to) pray as a couple.
If you haven’t been already, this period of quarantine is an ideal time to begin praying as a couple. There may be time in the evening at home, and there’s no lack of prayer intentions or suggestions for beautiful texts.
This can be the time to start shared prayer, by simply reciting an Our Father and a Hail Mary together, or by inventing your own prayer thanking the Lord, asking Him for forgiveness, and presenting Him with your needs.
Praying together is a sure way to resolve tensions if there are any, and to take the first steps towards a deeper spirituality as a married couple.
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