Surviving COVID--as a couple

Check out these tips to stick together in your marriage during the pandemic.

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"The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven." ~John Milton, Paradise Lost

Being locked down with your partner can be one or the other, depending on what you do about it and how you think about it. By following a few simple rules, and adopting one crucial attitude, you can make a heaven of hell. 


The Rules   

  1. Stay out of each other's hair.

For each of us, there's a rhythm to the way we work. Being interrupted breaks that rhythm. Before the lockdown, you and your partner were not interrupting each other at random times to, for example, discuss dinner plans. Continue to leave each other alone during the workday, even though you are just steps away from each other. But…

  1. Schedule time devoted to each other.

For my wife and me, that's our early morning walk. That's plenty of time to find out how the other is and discuss tonight's dinner plans and last night's movie. Sometimes our lunchtimes coincide, but because of our schedules, often they don't. And that's OK because we know we are going to be getting together for a sit-down dinner with no screens of any kind and no other distractions. 

  1. Allow your partner to enrich your life.

Just say YES. No matter how compatible we are with our partner, we're not clones. We have different tastes and preferences. And we often think we will not like something our partner would like us to try. But, hey, you never know. So, whether it's a new recipe or a movie or whatever that you're sure you're just going to hate--if your partner suggests it, just agree to it. You may be surprised. 


The one crucial attitude -  Rachmones

When my 97-year-old mother (a Holocaust survivor) uses that Yiddish word, she uses it to mean "compassion:" "Esther broke her hip, and I had such a rachmones on her."  But the Hebrew word that rachmones derives from is actually closer to "mercy." Rachmones is not a kind of feeling--but a kind of understanding.

When I ask you to have rachmones on your partner, I am asking you to understand their suffering. "My partner doesn't look like they're suffering," you say, "drinking a beer on the couch and watching the game."

But what I'm referring to is the suffering we all share by virtue of our humanness and fragility:  We're all trying to maintain our sense of security and belonging, dignity and self-worth, and hope for the future. Without these essential supplies, it's hard for us to go on.

In this difficult world, we don't have unlimited access to these essential supplies. We worry about maintaining them--this is the suffering we all share.

When we think of all people as suffering human beings, when we consider for a moment what it's like to live in their skin--when we have rachmones --it's easier to feel compassion toward them.

Your partner suffers too, but they're trying their best. Remember that your partner is trying their best. It is easy to forget this when our partner is irritating us.

But if we can manage to remember, even in that moment, that our partner is simply trying their best, then we can free ourselves from the grip of our anger and ask, "What's the story right now with my partner?" Having rachmones on our partner helps us both get past the anger and back to where we both want to be--helping each other maintain our essential supplies.     

And when you can do that, you are also having rachmones in its other sense. You are having mercy on your partner. Because while it is possible to have compassion for anyone, we can only have mercy on someone whose fate is in our hands. And your partner's fate is in your hands every day. Because your partner loves you, because you matter so much to your partner, your actions have great power to affect your partner for good or ill. So, when you are feeling angry at them, try to take a step back: Remember that this person suffers too and is simply trying their best--and have rachmones

I wish both of you health and happiness through this pandemic.

Sam R. Hamburg, Ph.D. is a psychologist in Chicago. He is the author of Will Our Love Last? (Scribner) and The Newlyweds Book (Amazon ebook). He is also on the adjunct faculty of The Family Institute at Northwestern University.

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