The current coronavirus pandemic with its external uncertainties that lie beyond our ability to control is an added source of challenge and stress on marriages and families.
Marriages are impacted differently depending on a variety of factors — the unique personalities between spouses, prior life experiences, pre-existing marital patterns, degree of spiritual grounding, mental health issues, employment and finances, family situations and support networks to name a few. These added stressors inevitably expose the vulnerabilities of a couple, hindering their ability to successfully manage and adapt to these unanticipated and intrusive changes as they impact them individually and as a couple.
Like a “crucible of love,” times of trial and loss are meant to draw us closer to one another in our sacrament of marriage and allow God to refine and deepen our love for one another — “for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow, to love and to cherish.”
God’s blessings in our trials
“Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)
Many of us are experiencing unanticipated yet welcomed blessings as a result of the pandemic, even as it has invaded and disrupted our daily lives. Quantity and quality time together as a family, less busyness and fewer external demands on our time provide an opportunity to step back, re-prioritize, and focus on the essential. Taking responsibility for our spiritual welfare, re-connecting with family and friends, appreciating the outdoors and looking for ways to serve others with a sense of solidarity in their need are activities that we can more fully engage in now.
Our perspective and outlook make a big difference in how we will weather the storm of the pandemic. The familiar Serenity Prayer from American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr reminds us of the wisdom of focusing our attention on what is in our control and giving the rest to God:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things that I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”
“Let go and let God” as the saying goes. God wants to bless our marriages and families through the trials of the situation facing us. Stay-at-home restrictions can offer many “silver lining” opportunities to bring greater unity in our marriages and help us become the at-home “domestic church” we are called to be.
The family that prays together
It starts and ends with prayer. Keeping our communication and connection with God open and intact through both individual and couple prayer as well as developing a liturgy of family prayer is crucial. Seize the opportunity of having more quantity and quality time available for drawing closer to God. Through daily prayer we give Jesus more direct access to inform our minds and mold our hearts for the betterment of ourselves and others. Is God wanting you, your marriage and your family to learn and grow from this? Seize the opportunity of the moment and be more aware of how God is working in your lives here and now.
The second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday) offers a reading from 1 Peter 1:3-9 that is well worth praying over amid the various trials of our pandemic situation.
“In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
A word about stress
Sustained periods of stress and uncertainty can leave us feeling unsettled and susceptible to emotional reactivity. Marital researcher John Gottman identified stress overflow as a primary reason why couples experience conflict and over time can develop unhealthy relationship patterns. The “fight, flight, freeze” reactions to perceived threats and increased stress symptoms should flag our need to consciously monitor and manage our stress reactions.
Excessive stress can exert a number of negative consequences on marriages – physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and relational. The article Managing Stress in Your Marriage offers valuable faith-based strategies to managing stress in your marriage and the podcast by popular speaker, Fr. Mike Schmitz, offers a scriptural basis for boldly coping with stress: Fr. Mike Schmitz: Dealing With Stress. These resources can help us be actors and not reactors when dealing with problematic stress due to the pandemic.
Keep it intentional
Trials can be both an opportunity and a catalyst for couples to find creative ways of expressing and deepening their love for one another. The more we intentionally strive to put on Christ-like love, the more we allow God to refine and deepen our love as a couple and attain “the bond of perfection.” How are the action verbs and qualities in this Scripture passage expressed in your marriage?
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.” (Colossians 3:12-15)
A good daily examination of conscience for married couples is the Scripture that many couples select for their wedding liturgy:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7)
As you read this, insert your name in place of “love” and “it.” Then, thank God for his blessings, and ask him to show you the ways you responded or failed to respond to your spouse. Ask for his forgiveness and resolve, with his help, to be a sincere gift of self to your spouse the next day.
Don’t try to go it alone
If you currently find your marriage struggling in a particular way during this period of pandemic, consider seeking help. You are not meant to go it alone; isolation from sources of needed support and unhealthy self-reliance can leave couples vulnerable to escalating conflict and a growing sense of helplessness or hopelessness.
The Archdiocesan Marriage Support Office is here to support your marriage. We offer support with trained marriage coaching couples and offer pastoral consultation and resources as appropriate.
If you are struggling in your marriage and feel alone or without qualified help, consider seeking confidential assistance. Please submit this Marriage Support Request Form or contact the Marriage Support Office at 313-237-5894 or firstname.lastname@example.org. All contacts are strictly confidential.