Marriage is hard. Marriage during the COVID pandemic is harder.

Hey, you know what I was not expecting when I took my marriage vows? A worldwide lockdown with my spouse. I mean, I remember something in the vows about sickness and health, but in no way did I think that meant: “Sit inside with your spouse 24/7 in order preserve health/avoid sickness. No seriously, you’re not allowed to leave the house.”

I am 13 years into a marriage where for 10 of those years we’ve both worked from home. So, not only have we navigated marriage for over a decade, we have navigated A LOT of togetherness…. and the COVID lockdown was still a shock to our system. I imagine it’s been even more difficult for couples who don’t have this much experience in togetherness.

In case you find yourself in one of the “downs” of marriage ups and downs, here are a few marriage insights that help me:

Marriage is never harder than when your kids are little.

To all the parents out there with kids 5 and under this one is for you. My dad told me this after the birth of our second child and I’ve repeated it to myself 1,857,332 times over the years. Our kids are 8 and 9 now and I can say that my dad is right; little kids are harder on a marriage. The sleep deprivation, the constant supervision, the decisions and differing opinions on food, sleeping, discipline, technology, entertainment, and the overall energy level of little ones, drain you as a human and a spouse. A lot of us are still adapting to marriage when we decide to throw parenthood into the mix. These years are pure survival mode. For me, knowing it was normal and wouldn’t always be that way has helped me get through.

Don’t have difficult marriage conversations in the evening.

Do whatever you can to avoid a late-night discussion on a hard topic. It took me years to figure this out because, when exactly are you supposed to have discussions if not after the kids are asleep? You both work all day and the only time you’re together is at night. But you’re both tired at night and the discussion never goes as well as it does literally any other time of day. For a more productive conversation, schedule a time with your spouse when you are both prepared and not so drained.

Marriage isn’t 50/50, divorce is.

This one is easy to repeat to yourself when you want to throw in the towel. The rest of the quote says: “Marriage is 100/100, you’ve got to give it everything you’ve got.” I agree completely. However, when I first heard this quote it rang a different bell with me. Marriage isn’t 50/50, sometimes it’s 70/30 or 20/80. There are periods when one spouse pulls more of the weight and that’s ok. Marriage is a partnership, not a competition. You should both be contributing but don’t keep score.  

Be thankful.

I don’t have a perfect marriage but one thing my husband and I do well is show thanks. My husband thanks me for cooking dinner almost every night. He knows it’s not my favorite thing, especially for 4 months straight, and the appreciation goes a long way. I do the same with the tasks he completes, from taking out the garbage to playing with the kids, even if just long enough for me to regain my sanity. Acknowledging the little things lets your spouse know that you’re paying attention and you appreciate them. It also makes you more aware of all the ways they contribute. Now more than ever, it’s important we all feel both loved and appreciated.

Make time to be together…and apart.

When the kids arrive it’s easy to put your marriage on the back burner. Make time for your marriage any way you can; from vacationing together without kids to picking a Netflix series you watch together at night. Do something for just the two of you on a regular basis. Equally as important, in my opinion, is spending time apart. Taking time for yourself when you need it ultimately makes you a better spouse, and a better spouse makes for a better marriage. During normal circumstances, this can be anything from a night out, to a weekend away, to a solo trip for a week. Whatever you can swing! Now during COVID, sometimes I go to my room to read a book and give strict instructions that I’m not to be bothered for hours. You can also consider a walk or driveway drink with a friend. Getting away, even for just a few hours, gives you space to reset and feel like yourself again.

Give yourself and spouse a break

And one final insight, this is a very difficult time for everyone. Pandemics are not conducive to feelings of tranquility and calm. Don’t judge your spouse, yourself or your marriage too harshly right now. Marriage “downs” happen to all of us, and that’s okay.