There is a passage in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13 that contains some of the most practical and direct relationship advice ever put to page. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs." Wise words indeed, and words that have taken on extra meaning during this extended period of crisis.
What does patience look like when you’ve been basically homebound with minimal social contact for months on end? How do you manage to not "keep a record of wrongs” when you’re home with a spouse all day every day and petty annoyances gradually becoming maddening vexations? How can we keep our relationships strong as we get through this (hopefully) final period of uncertainty and stress?
Honesty and interest
Honesty is one of the most important elements in any relationship and that has never been more apparent. Spouses should be able to talk to each other about anything openly and without fear. From important matters of the home and family to all the little inconsequential thoughts and observations we make throughout the day, everything should be on the table.
Nothing breeds resentment like feelings left unexpressed. If you feel like you are unable to talk to your spouse about something it will create a wall between the two of you that will only get taller with time. Being honest with your feelings might not always be the most pleasant thing when you need to address a problem, but it’s far better than bottling them up and letting them fester into something that hurts the love you have for each other.
This is especially true when you are not able to discuss things with other people. Even small observations like talking about the plot points of a show you like or speculating on the Blue Jay’s chances next year (not good) are important. They might not seem like all that vital, but God created us to be social creatures and that kind of exchange and sharing of what matters to us and what interests us is essential to a healthy and happy life. We must recognize that the social outlets we used to enjoy are just not there anymore, but we still need the release they provide. All of which means you need to take a more active interest in what your spouse cares about and wants to discuss.
Understanding instead of resentment
Of course, honesty means nothing without understanding. There needs to be a real effort from both people to accept each other’s feelings when they are expressed, as well as an equally strong effort to stave off the all-too-common impulse towards defensiveness and blame shifting.
Think of it this way, if your partner has the courage to tell you "hey, you’ve been doing X lately, and it’s been bothering me” you should be grateful they let you know. They’ve given you a chance to talk it over and find a solution rather than letting it grow into something worse, that’s good! The last thing you want to do is get sulky, defensive, and insist it’s not a big deal, that’s only going to let your spouse know two things. 1) That you don’t think their feelings or opinions are "a big deal” and worth considering. And 2) that there is no point in trying to address things between you calmly, the only options left are resentment and recrimination. That’s how you start adding pages to that record of wrongs Paul was talking about.
Genuine understanding is difficult, but it is the path to a strong and stable relationship. When your world shrinks down to the size of your home and your social circle only includes those in it, you must accept and embrace each other even when it’s tricky.
Make sure you’re spending quality time together, not just lots of time
Sure, you may be spending all of your time together, but has it been quality time? It’s easy to fall into comfortable ruts in a situation like this. Yes, you might be watching TV together every night, but if you’re not talking or engaging with each other you might as well be in separate rooms.
Make time to focus on each other. Turn off the background noise and have a conversation. Plan a date-night meal that is a little fancier and elaborate than normal. Take a walk together or even just a nice country drive. Anything that lets you unwind, enjoy each other’s company, and break up the routine a bit is good!
Now more than ever, love needs to be patient. It has been a tough year, but the end is in sight. What kind of relationship you’ll have at the end of it is a choice you and your spouse have the power to make.