During a normal week, we might spend a chunk of time on the weekends with our spouse. On the weekdays, though, it’s usually only five or six waking hours together. Max.
But now we are in quarantine. Your spouse is there not just on the weekend, but Every Single Day from time you wake up until you’re fast asleep. In your space every single minute.
Now you’re noticing all the little things that bug you. The way he chews, how long she takes in the bathroom, what she’s wearing, his lack of grooming. They send you into orbit….if you let it!
And that is the secret to staying in love during a pandemic: Don’t let it. Instead, Shift Your Focus to ‘What I like about my spouse’.
In other words, if we want to make it to the other side of the quarantine with our marriages intact, and maybe even stronger, we’ve got to pay attention to what’s coming out of our mouths.
“But!” you exclaim. “How Can I Shift my Focus? He’s making me Nuts!”
First, I want to reassure you that ‘shifting your focus’ is just a skill. And it’s a skill you can learn, just like you learned the skill of driving.
Remember back to when you first learned to drive. Sure, it was hard at first, and took some effort. Getting behind the wheel and suddenly…“Oh, No! Did I push the brake too hard?” (As your mom or dad look like they have whiplash) -Or- “How soon do I turn the wheel so I don’t hit the curb?” (Whonk! On the curb.) -Or- “How can I tell if I’m in the middle of the lane?” (bumpa-bumpa-bumpa).
Wasn’t easy, was it? But you worked at it, and now you’ve got it down. Driving is easy.
Same thing happens with shifting your focus. You work at it, and it becomes easy.
One important thought before we get into the how to part:
Don’t beat yourself up if you are reading this and realize you’ve been ‘not very nice’ to your husband/wife. Cut yourself some slack. We are dealing with a Lot! Here is a sample:
We are living through a global pandemic. That has never happened in our lifetime. This is all new and very scary territory. We are worried about our jobs, our income, our future, our food supply. Will there be supplies when we need them? Children and grandchildren need an education. You are their teacher, with no training. Your kids don’t understand why they can’t go to their favorite places right now. Everyone’s getting cabin fever. And if that’s not enough, we fear about our loved ones dying. Yikes!
Isn’t that a whole lot of stuff running around inside our subconscious? Yes, Exactly!!
The worst part is that it’s all out of our control. It’s not like a hurricane for example, where you prepare, it hits and it’s over. We just don’t know when this will end. And all this stress makes it way too easy to become grumpy and edgy. So, please remember, no demanding perfection of yourself, and do make time each day for some self-care. We can only give what we have, and if I’m only full of angry stress, that’s what will come out.
Back now to “Shifting Your Focus”.
How do you do it?
First, do a self-check. Ask yourself why you are letting that bother you.
I’d like to share an example that helps with this self-check process:
Have you ever had a co-worker or friend who suddenly became really grumpy to you? And you are wondering what the heck is wrong? Why are they giving you such a hard time? Then you find out they’re having a life crisis, like their granddad just died, or their mom is terminal. Instantly you realize it’s not about you at all. You were just a convenient target for the stress and pain they were feeling.
Now let’s take it to ‘that thing that bugs me’. If I ask myself “Why I am letting that bother me?”, sometimes the answer is the same. My spouse is my ‘convenient target’. It’s not really about them at all. It’s my dysfunctional way to cope with my stress. I fool myself into thinking I’ll feel better if I get snarky at them.
I hear some of you saying, “So what’s the problem with that? I criticize him and I feel better.”
Sure, in the short-term you might feel better. But we’ve got to think about the long-term consequences to your relationship. I know there are lots of TV programs that show people being really nasty with each other, but somehow they stay great friends. Now in your experience, is that what happens in real life? Nope. Not in my experience, either.
So there is your spouse, dealing with all their quarantine stress, and you pile on some criticism on the top of that. Uh, oh. Not a recipe for a long and happy marriage.
Now to shift your focus, please consider these two items instead:
1.What are you grateful for in your marriage?
2.What do you like about your spouse? (What are his/her good qualities?)
Because the act of writing it down seems to help things stay in our memory, if you would, take a few minutes and write the answers to these. Maybe think about things like the sweet way your spouse supports you, or watches your favorite show (that they don’t truly like) with you because he/she knows you love it, or cooks dinner after a long day, or loves to take you out to eat or to the movies (when we could). He/she is a keeper.
Take your time writing them down. I’ll wait.
Now compare these lists with what you don’t like about your spouse. So sure, he doesn’t chew the way you like. Or she drops chips in the couch. But compared to the list of what’s right, the things that were bugging you are not truly such a big deal. It just feels like a big deal because so much of our lives is out of our control right now. We just need to shift our focus to stay in love.
Here is your Staying In Love Daily Challenge:
Start each day by writing down three things you are grateful for/like about about your spouse.
It could be something simple like “He enjoys my bad puns.” Or “He lets me warm my cold feet on his legs.” Or “She tells me she likes my bean dip.” Then, during the day, look for things you’re going to add to your list the next morning. This is how to focus on what’s right about your spouse.
Next, tell them what you like about them. Use a short, specific, sincere sentence, and a loving/happy tone of voice. “Thanks for making the coffee this morning!” “I appreciate you loading the dishwasher.” “You make delicious pancakes.” “Thanks for helping Julie with her math.” “Thanks for bathing the kids.” “I love your wit.”
After a few days of this, I’ll bet you’ll notice a positive change in your household atmosphere. And the kids will pick up on mom and dad being happier, too, and will be more relaxed and happy.
Now you’re free to start thinking of creative ways to enjoy your time together.
Do you want to make up a “Quarantine Date Night”? There are some sweet ideas on YouTube. Or play board games? Or make up a fun “Athletic Challenge”? “Some Good News” (“SGN”) with John Krasinski showed some fun ones, like the wife tossing socks into the washer while her husband tried to block her shots. Find things you can do to relieve the stress in fun ways together. You’ve got this!
As a final encouragement for Shifting our Focus: Helping our households and marriages stay strong are the best way to ensure we all make it through this together. And one day, we will be on the other side!