Your Fifty-Day Marital Survival Guide
Short and blunt ABC's of sustaining your marriage during the next fifty days of the pandemic.
Many U.S. scientists believe that the peak has passed and in fifty days our lives should significantly improve. Fact? No. But whatever we’re short with facts, let’s make up for in optimism.
Our collective loss of control escalates our anxiety level. Heightened anxiety fans the sparks of disagreement and can magnify them into full scale arguments. One of the couples that I counsel commented, "Fifty more days...it will be a miracle if our marriage last fifty more minutes!"
Here are the short and blunt ABC's of sustaining your marriage for the next fifty days.
Avoid judgmental questions and harsh start-ups, effective today.
Here is a neutral question: Debbie what time is it?
Here is a judgmental question: Is this how much coffee you normally drink at work? The difference is clear. Maintain some distance between you and your spouse during work hours and avoid snooping around or being nosey.
Avoid “you” statements because they evoke defensiveness. Use “I” statements because they evoke empathy.
Try this: I am overwhelmed and can use your help now.
Not this: You never lift a finger to help me.
Use A soft start-up like this: I feel like I've been stuck in the kitchen alone all week rather than a harsh and judgmental one such as: I'd faint if you ever helped me make dinner.
Avoid disagreement escalation. Use repair attempts such as "Wait, let me rephrase that." Dr. Eileen Feliciano wisely suggests, "Don't show up at every argument that you are invited to".
A winning rule of thumb: If your goal is family well-being in a respectful partnership, then before you say or do something to your spouse ask yourself, is what I am about to say or do going to bring me closer or further from my goal? If further – stop yourself (Michelle Weiner Davis).
Be the first to use these three words and use them liberally: Appreciation, Affection, Admiration. These words are a win-win for marriage.
B is for respecting boundaries and one another’s space. Anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher suggested, "Creating a safe space can help people to feel in control so they feel happy instead of helpless...or even hostile." Another superb Fisher-ism is: Invoke the platinum rule: Do unto your spouse as she wants to have done for her.
Space is more than just having elbow room. "Space and privacy have emerged as a class divide; more valuable than ever to those who have it and potentially fatal to those who don't” (NY Times 4-13-20).
Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. Whether you call it "money in your emotional bank account" or "positive sentiment override" (Dr. John Gottman) your go-to position needs to be: My spouse means well; these are dreadful circumstances that we are in together. They’re not mean intentions.
I am calling for a fifty day moratorium on criticism of each other's character! We must stop ourselves. If you have a complaint about a specific behavior of your spouse, state that simply and civilly.
Say this: We need to work together for thirty minutes daily to keep order here.
Not this: I never realized how big a slob you are.
Commit yourselves and your children to a daily routine.
Commit yourselves to the triangle of health: Sleep-Nutrition-Exercise. These aren't suggestions...they’re essential!
Couples don’t need to think alike but they need to think together (Rabbi Ralph Pelcovitz, obm).
Decide that you will put meaningful effort into your marriage and keep the dreaded “D” word off the table and out of any conversations. Now is the time to protect your marriage; there will be plenty of time later if you choose the “D” route.
Do the best that you can; don't keep score.
Don't institute or eliminate any major rules especially with children.
Don't make any major decisions especially something as substantial as whether or not to have another child in the future.
Do seek out professional marital advice using video counseling from a licensed therapist. Don't wait out the fifty days thinking that things might work themselves out; they just might not.
Most importantly: do be forgiving. Whether you are married three years or three decades, you must understand and actualize this: Forgiveness is not a feeling - it is a decision!