Trouble in quarantine paradise, married friends? I understand.
My stay-at-home honeymoon ended pretty quickly too. But it did teach me an important lesson, one that promises I’ll not only emerge from this crisis still married, but with a better relationship than before. It can be the same for you.
The first few days of my family’s coronavirus quarantine were—well, to put it bluntly—a shitshow. I have three preschoolers, and they were the calmest of the bunch. Most of the tension, stress, raised voices, and angry words were lobbed between my wife and me.
It’s funny, actually. On my wedding day, if you would have gifted me a month of working from home and Click-list for groceries, I’d have probably kissed you right on the mouth. Running high on sexual tension and wedding cake, my newlywed brain would have been dreaming of my wife and me re-establishing our own Eden on earth—a thirty-day sex-topia fueled by binging Parks & Rec, Chinese takeout, and too much Aldi wine.
Seven years and three kids later, that newlywed fantasy is nothing (I repeat, nothing) like what we’re experiencing right now. In our current quarantine scenario, I work too much, my favorite Chinese takeout place is closed indefinitely, and going to Aldi to buy wine is a health risk. Sex-topia? Don’t even ask me about it.
At the height of my frustration, I learned I wasn’t alone. Even an armchair expert and a Disney princess were having a rough patch—they just happen to have theirs in front of the world.
A few days into the mass quarantine orders, Katie Couric went on Instagram Live with America’s favorite celebrity couple, Dax Shepard (Host of the Armchair Expert podcast) and Kristen Bell (the muggle sister from Frozen) to talk quarantine and COVID-19. The couple, known for being refreshingly honest, didn’t hold back.
When Couric asked if the pair were getting along, Bell and Shepard looked at each other and chuckled.
“We’ve been at each other’s throats real bad over the last couple [of days],” Bell responded. Shepard jumped in to say the bad blood ended “about eight minutes ago,” before Bell came back with, “This is as physically close as we’ve been in a couple of days. We’ve just found each other revolting.”
Shepard signed off the call with the ever-so-sweet, “Turns out, America’s sweetheart has some character defects.” Ouch. Talk about a mic-drop exit. My man probably earned another night on the couch with that one.
That’s when I realized I wasn’t doing any better than Dax. That’s precisely the attitude I had been taking at home. “If my wife would just __________, then this quarantine would be awesome.” I could fill in that blank with a hundred things.
If she’d just keep the kids quiet for two hours so I could get some work done.
If she’d just stop interrupting me to take out the trash and do the dishes.
If she’d just stop asking me when I’m finally going to clean out the gutters.
If she’d just stop worrying so much about this disease.
If she’d just return my advances.
If she’d just…..
When it was just thoughts floating around my head, pinning everything on my wife seemed perfectly reasonable. But when I heard Dax actually articulate what I was thinking, the spotlight suddenly and unexpectedly grew hot.
Does Kristen Bell have character defects? Undoubtedly. But so does Dax.
Does my wife have flaws? Yes. Do I? I’d like to plead the fifth, your honor.
It reminds me of a story that Jesus told about two guys. One had a speck of sawdust in his eye. The other had a whole freakin’ log. When I focus on my wife’s faults, on the ways she drives me up the wall and makes this quarantine more difficult than it has to be, I’m like the man with the log in his eye, insisting he can see well enough to clear the speck of sawdust from the other. It’s embarrassing, really.
I’m not saying my wife doesn’t have some sawdust, she does. But it’s exceedingly more helpful if I spend my time finding and excavating my own logs instead of fixating on hers. Where are the places that I’m difficult? What are the things that I’m doing to add stress to my wife and kids’ days? What character defects am I tossing into this quarantine stew?
Marriage works best when the partners focus on the other—not from the point of judgment, but of service. What can I do to help my spouse today? What would unexpectedly bring a smile to their face? What attitude do I need to have to make our home more peaceful? What chore should I do before they ask me about it? Can I GrubHub dinner from their favorite restaurant? Will Aldi do Instacart just for wine? (Seriously, I’m asking.)
Throughout the Bible, marriage is pictured as two becoming one. An early church leader said it this way, “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies… no one ever hates his own flesh, but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church.”
It’s a mystery, but this quarantine has shown me that when I care for my wife above myself, I end up getting cared for in the end. But when I think of myself before her, neither of us win. Surviving (dare I say, thriving?) under quarantine really is as simple as that. It may not be easy, but it’s supremely uncomplicated.
Of course, valuing her above myself doesn’t mean that I won’t be honest or have a conversation if something is constantly rubbing me the wrong way. Vulnerability and communication are crucial for a thriving marriage. But it does mean that I’ll stop assuming she alone is the problem—that this whole thing would just be fixed if she’d get that sawdust out of her eye. It means I don’t take the luxury of ignoring my logs anymore.
Everybody wants to be the hero. In these long days at home, don’t fall for the temptation to make your spouse the villain. Lots of things in our world are changing, but you and your spouse still rise and fall together. Before you point out their sawdust, spend some time fishing out your log. Apologize when you focus on yourself. Make a bold move to value your spouse. Find a different way to do it tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. Even if they don’t catch on. Even if they don’t return the focus or the favor.
Before we got married, I got some sound advice from a trusted advisor. “When you’re in a battle,” she said, “Remember to fight it back-to-back, not face-to-face.” This pandemic is unlike anything we’ve faced before. It’s stressful and alarming. Some days, it feels like an all-out battle. We’re much more effective when we face it with our backs together, instead of taking swipes at each other.
Sooner or later, the pandemic will pass. My marriage, on the other hand, I’m counting on for the rest of my life. A marriage that lasts for the long haul, one that blesses everyone who comes into its orbit, isn’t achieved by accident. It’s not based upon finding your “soul mate.” It’s built by intentional choices, every day, to treat your spouse like the hero of your story and not the villain. Pandemic or not, there’s no better day to start than today.