Right at the start, I want to offer you hope. I’ve been married for 25 years and we have survived the day-to-day marital difficulties as well as some things considered “Marriage Killers.” Our marriage isn’t perfect—no marriage is—but we have learned that it is possible to go from surviving to thriving. Remember: Marriage is two imperfect people, building an imperfect relationship, striving to fail better every day. Don’t lose hope.
Quarantined in a difficult marriage! You probably feel like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. That’s not an easy position to be in. Quarantine has probably magnified and intensified things that you were already struggling with in your marriage. You’re not alone. Many couples are discovering difficulties with quarantine. You and your spouse’s fuses are shorter now and you are stuck together with more to stress about and get angry about. Understanding that dynamic is important. It really is a rock and a hard place. Don’t draw any conclusions during this time and don’t make any big decisions.
Since we might be inching toward the end of quarantine, let’s think about why your marriage is already difficult. We are gonna run with the idea of “rocks” and “hard places” for a bit to talk about marriage. Some people expected their marriage to be this easy, fun, delightful walk in the park. Marriage has those moments, but… Every marriage is a rocky road. You will experience everything from a pebble in your shoe to a mountain that you have to scale. The stones on your rocky road come in all shapes and sizes. But there are ways to navigate them all and stay on the road together.
✦ Speaking of stones and rocks, a rock’s hardness is measured on something called Mohs Hardness Scale. For our purposes, this is now the Marriage Hardness Scale.
What is making your marriage difficult? Where are you on the Marriage Hardness Scale?
1. The Little Things (Marital Hardness Level: I Feel Annoyed.)
Examples: Oh, you already know them! (You can just mentally scroll through the list in your head.)
The bottom of Mohs Hardness Scale is talc. We know it as talcum powder. It’s soft, but it can get everywhere. This fine powder is going to work its way into all the unique cracks and crevices of your relationship. You may have married someone who is the complete opposite of you. Those differences can get annoying really fast. You may have married someone who is exactly like you. That too has its own challenges. The bottom line is that no matter what, you are two individuals with unique personalities, needs and habits. Don’t be surprised that your spouse does little talcum things that annoy you. (And don’t forget, you probably have little ways you annoy them too, just sayin’…).
You can do two things with Annoyance Level hardships—you can overlook them or you can address them. Overlooking them requires you to exercise patience, grace, empathy and humility. Addressing them is going to require conversation. “I feel X when you Y. Could you please Z?” You’ll need to be able to do both along this dusty road. Maybe that takes care of it; maybe it doesn’t. When it doesn’t…
I love this clarifying question: Is this a tension to be managed or a problem to be solved? You’re two different people doing life together. Some issues and annoyances don’t change. That’s normal. You can choose NOT to give things the power to annoy you. You can accept your spouse the way they are, warts and all. Learn to lean on your differences and put them to good use. Learn to laugh about them. (I know that sometimes the “little things” can bother me the most. If you let annoyances accumulate, if you give them power, eventually, they will bump you up a Hardness Level or two.)
2. The Not So Little Things (Marital Hardness Level: I Feel Discouraged.)
Examples: Disagreements about finances, sex, parenting. Constant busyness. Undealt with annoyances. Lack of good communication.
Some difficulties in marriage rise above the expected annoyances of living with another person. (And sometimes those annoyances, never dealt with, get aggregated and form a rock that is harder to deal with.) These rocks become “a thing” between you and your spouse. They can twist your ankle and trip you up. These rocks can also be picked up and weaponized—“You always… You never!”
Marriage is work. You’ve heard the saying, “You can work harder or you can work smarter.” Marriage requires BOTH. Yes, it takes effort, but a healthy marriage also requires some skill sets.
- How to respond instead of react. (Control your emotions, don’t let them control you. Know when to call “timeout” and cool off.)
- How to actively listen. (Body language—look like you’re listening. Put what you heard in your own words. Ask clarifying questions.)
- Conflict management skills. (Attack the problem, not the person. Use “I” statements, not “You” statements. Have a plan and rules for how you will handle conflict.)
- Intentionally staying connected. (Date nights. Learning your partner’s “Love Language” and exploring new ways to love them. Expressing gratitude. Being intentional about doing things that strengthen emotional and physical intimacy.)
When you can navigate the rocks as a strong TEAM, instead of tripping you up or being weapons, they become mile-markers of your growth.
3. The Big Things (Marital Hardness Level: I Feel Exasperated.)
Examples: Mistrust. Constant conflict. Boundaries being approached or crossed. Resentment.
These are boulders along the rocky road of marriage that can get in your way and make you change direction and get off course. You can become divided as you navigate different paths around the boulders and now you’re not walking together. You can feel the separate lives forming. Plus, you feel like co-owners of a small business named, Family, Inc. and your communication has devolved to a level that has all the romance of a business meeting—“Did you pay the electric bill? Who’s driving to soccer practice? What’s this charge on the statement?” Maybe, after a few boulders, you’re just trying to keep it together for the kids.
It is incredibly valuable to have a Marital Mentoring Couple. I’m talking about a couple that has made it 20+ years and has the war stories and the lessons they learned from them. People that will be honest with you and you can be transparent with them. You might be surprised to find out how normal and expected some of your “unique” problems are. Expectations are everything and finding out that some things are “normal” can take some of the power away from them and encourage you. A mentoring couple can pass on lessons, skills, and maybe more importantly—a new outlook and hope.
The boulders of marriage can unite you, rather than divide you. It’s all in how you approach them.
4. The Hardest Things (Marital Hardness Level: I Feel Hopeless.)
Examples: Infidelity. Apathy. Emotional Affairs. Contempt. Separate Lives Under One Roof.
You are going to face some problems and issues that seem “irreconcilable” along the rocky road of marriage. This isn’t an annoying pebble in your shoe, or a rock you can twist your ankle on or throw at your spouse; this isn’t even a boulder that has come between you. There are mountains to climb. And the fact is that you can also move up the Hardness Scale very quickly. Situations, issues, problems can escalate from Annoying, Discouraging, Exasperating, to Hopeless quickly if left unchecked and undealt with.
Don’t be afraid to call in the pros at this point. (Or at any point.) By pros, I mean marriage counselors. We have personal blindspots. We have marital blindspots. A counselor might be able to see what you aren’t seeing, hear what you aren’t hearing, and show you that you’re doing things that you both don’t know you’re doing. (Or NOT doing.) They can help you cultivate the skills that you didn’t even know were available or you were capable of. Don’t be ashamed of getting counseling. You probably already know couples that have benefited from it—you just didn’t know a counselor helped them. Even if your spouse isn’t willing to see someone, that shouldn’t stop you. It only takes one person to change the dance.
Fun (IMPORTANT) Fact: There’s been a lot of “rock” talk here. The hardest stone on Mohs Hardness Scale is the DIAMOND. That’s right. It’s likely that one of you gave a diamond on your wedding day and one of you received it and is wearing it right now. That hardest of stones comes in handy for ALL your marital hardships, especially for the hardest of situations in your difficult marriage. And you already have that stone! You’ve had it the whole time! Remember why you got married in the first place? When you climb the Marital Mountains together, you’ll find an incredible view and a whole new perspective.
Back to hope. This Marital Hardness Level can go from Hopeless to Hopeful. All of them have the potential to bring you closer together instead of driving you apart. Annoying can go to Amazing. Discouraging can go to Encouraging. Exasperating can go to Exhilarating.
During this quarantine, remember, you’re between a diamond and a hard place. You can do this.
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***