Small spaces with little way out 24 hours a day, seven days a week, present a real test to any marital relationship. Will sheltering-at-home result in increased marital strain and divorce in America as it has in China, where divorce rates have already increased sharply during the COVID19 pandemic? Iran has witnessed significantly increasing marital detachment since the quarantine went into effect in that country. The UK is also vigilant with the British Parliament warning to expect a spike in divorce. The chatter among matrimonial-family law and relationship experts in the United States is to anticipate similar tribulations in marriage during this country’s extended confinement.
But let’s not throw in the towel too quickly. We can encourage and foster peace in our relationships with selected fundamental tenets founded upon centuries old wisdom. Judaism refers to the outcome of observing these prescriptives as “marital harmony,” or in Hebrew, shalom bayit:
When a husband and wife, or a partner, relate to each other in a harmonious way they actually bring God’s Presence into their home. Now, that certainly will elevate anyone’s life, regardless of how you define God or where you place God in your life. How do you get along harmoniously? Don’t cause pain – give pleasure. That’s sounds so simple to remember. Like eat healthy and exercise. Yes doing it is quite a bit more difficult. Read on.
Ancient philosophers have taught “A husband should honor his wife more than himself and love her as himself. He must always be exceedingly careful to show honor and respect to his wife. He should speak pleasantly to her.” Similarly, the Sages taught that “A wife should honor her husband exceedingly… She should be his queen and he, her king.” Of course, this is an ideal and when it doesn’t quite work out like that, you have to know how to request change. One thing is for certain and that is a central point of enhancing a marriage: respect the obligation to honor each other, whether or not you feel like it. Don’t be so sensitive that you fear taking the first step to improve the relationship.
When you do things to help each other, be sure to take genuine pleasure in doing so. A primary, if not the best way, to increase loving feelings is to GIVE to each other. Do acts of kindness for each other daily.
Here are five basic qualities necessary for a successful marriage:
a) Have a good eye to see the good in your spouse/partner and judge him/her favorably
b) Be a good friend and thereby totally and unconditionally accept each other, be completely helpful to each other, and be encouraging and supportive
c) Be a good neighbor so you can be available when you need to be and give privacy when that is requested as well
d) Attempt to see the outcome of your actions so you will avoid saying or doing anything that causes your spouse/partner any suffering
e) It is important to have a good heart in order to achieve truly selfless love – there isn’t any other kind of love that builds a healthy, loving and positive relationship.
Spouses and partners who have a positive relationship consider themselves as “one.” They become the closest of relatives. View yourself as one and you will do everything you can to help “yourself.” A wonderful story comes to mind about a gentle older man who accompanies his injured wife to the doctor. When the physician enters the exam room and asks what brings his wife in, the husband answers, “Doctor, my wife’s leg hurts us.”
When spouses or partners work on improving their own character and see marriage as the crucible in which their own character development is best accomplished, meaningful growth, respect and appreciation for each other will emerge. View your spouse or your partner as yourself and the dictum, “Love your neighbor as yourself” will be easier to apply.
Avoid words that cause pain. That means not accentuating the negative qualities of your spouse or partner. Magnify your spouse’s or partner’s positive traits and minimize negative ones.
We are taught that, “According to the difficulty is the reward.” Thus, the more you work at meshing your divergent personalities, approaches, and patterns in your marriage, the more you will grow and improve. Always use tact. All of your actions, everything you do, can be elevated.
Sure, arguments will occur between people and particularly in the midst of this COVID19 quarantine. Understand that all relationships, particularly marriage and especially during this period of intense isolation, require the inescapable need to adjust, to be flexible and to not display extreme or overly rigid thinking and behavior. Instead of turning away from each other in the midst of a tense time, try these simple and powerfully effective ideas:
- Stay away from labeling. Neither you nor your spouse/partner are “idiots,” “morons,” “jerks,” or body parts.
- Stay away from “mind-reading” or “fortune telling.” You don’t know what your husband or wife, partner, is thinking for sure, nor do you know how s/he will be in the future. So, don’t tell him/her what s/he “will always” or “will never” do.
- Stay away from blaming the other for what you feel. You feel what you feel because of your beliefs. Critically examine what you are thinking instead of making the other person responsible for what you feel.
- Stay away from sharing a “laundry list” of problems. Use the “five positives to one negative” ruler to determine how well your relationship is going. That’s a good target goal.
- Stay away from acting like a spoiled child and instead bring your adult to the discussion. You do have discussions, right?
- Stay away from interrupting. Set time periods, listen, paraphrase what your spouse/partner said to you before beginning to express your thoughts and feelings. Check to be sure you heard correctly what your spouse or partner said and correct what you didn’t get right before responding. Oh, and respond, don’t react.
- Stay away from irrationally believing that having arguments means the end of your relationship.
- Stay away from ANY criticism. That’s the magic. Ask for what you want, don’t criticize what you are getting.
Happiness in your relationship comes from within you. It won’t come from the other person, it won’t come from anything external to the relationship, and it won’t come from any condition in the relationship. In fact, we learn from thousands of years ago in the Talmud, that “Any love which is dependent on something, when the ‘something’ ceases, the love ceases. Any love which is not dependent on anything will never cease.”
COVID19 will melt away. Your love, your marriage, doesn’t have to. Be sure your loving relationship isn’t dependent on “getting back to normal,” or reliant on the quarantine ending, as the Talmud points out, and you’ll be living happily ever after this pandemic and any other strains the world will see in the future.