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Managing COVID-19 Lockdown in an Unhappy Marriage

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistApril 23, 2020
From the WebMD Archives

Being in lockdown is hard enough. But being stuck with a partner you don’t get along with can feel like torture. Whether your relationship is overtly hostile or just strained, it’s time to call a truce. Remind yourself that the current situation is temporary. Once the crisis passes, you will be able to decide how to proceed with your marriage.

In the current crisis, it can help to keep in mind this adaptation of an old saying: Do you want to be right or do you want to survive this lockdown?

If you choose being happy (or at least not miserable), then you may need to be take some conscious steps to communicate differently than you have before.

Consider applying these rules when you find yourself in a disagreement with your partner:

Do not attack or criticize your spouse. This will only prompt a defensive or attacking response.

Stay focused on the immediate issue. Stick to the present disagreement and avoid discussing broader relationship issues. If you are using the words always or never, then you are not focusing on the situation at hand. Conversations about underlying problems can be saved for a later time.

When you tell them what is upsetting you, keep it short and simple. If you try to cover every detail, your message may be lost.

Listen to your spouse’s concerns – even if you disagree. Try to understand the issue from their perspective. Rather than immediately correcting what you think they are getting wrong, consider what it is like for them to have their view (even with having the facts wrong). Though it can be difficult to do, make an effort to empathize with what they are feeling. If you’re able to do that, tell them what you are hearing them say and that you can empathize with them. You may be surprised to find how much more open they are to hearing your perspective once they feel that you have truly heard theirs.

With these rules in place, you will be able to more effectively discuss how to manage life under lockdown. Some important topics to cover are:

Arranging for alone time: You might each have a room for yourself (if your home is large enough), or you might agree to scheduling alone time in the bedroom or other room.

Working from home: If one or both of you work from home, consider how to do this without disrupting each other.

Dividing up household chores: How will you keep track of food you need to get, and who will do the shopping? If you have a pet, who will walk it and feed it? And, of course, how will you manage keeping your home safe from the virus?

Parenting: If you have children, it’s essential to find a way to manage the responsibilities that come with caring for them. For instance, decide who watches the kids when, what time meals will be served, and who will be eating together. You will also need to decide how the children’s day will be structured. This includes how much TV or electronics are okay. (If you are not in agreement about this, it can be a source of great tension. Again, remember that you are negotiating what to do for a limited amount of time.)

Despite the problems you were already feeling before the pandemic, do your best to give each other the benefit of the doubt when tensions arise. Think about whether your spouse is reacting to their own feelings of being overwhelmed, scared, or anxious. As hard as it might be to muster compassion, consider whether there is a way to help them feel safe. As you focus on putting one foot in front of the other, ask yourself: What do I need to do to get through this time as best as possible? Then, using the suggestions above, do it.

(Please note that this article assumes that you feel safe in your own home. If you do not feel safe, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline anytime by calling 1-800-799-SAFE(7233) or by chatting with them online https://www.thehotline.org/help/. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.)


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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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