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Marriage during a pandemic
Even with the pandemic still ongoing, it’s important to have regular quality "Couple's Time," away from the house and the kids.
Image by Taylor Hernandez via Unsplash

The Hows of Jing: How to pandemic-proof your marriage

BROAD CAST - Jing Castañeda (Philstar.com) - February 8, 2021 - 11:30am

Being married in the middle of the pandemic is a lot like being on a veeeeeery long family road trip. You’re having fun and are grateful for the time together, but you’re also driving each other crazy.

It is therefore not surprising for news companies to report that the pandemic could be causing marital conflicts and separations worldwide. BBC News has reported a spike in divorce inquiries and applications across the United Kingdom. The New York Times also reported the same thing, pointing to unemployment and economic challenges as additional stressors.

Survey results released in August by the international research company, Ipsos, have also shown that “one in five married or partnered people were fighting more with their significant other during this time, and that 30% of the couples who answered the survey said that they’re more annoyed with their partner than usual.”

So if you notice that you and your partner have been fighting more often, and you secretly look forward to any excuse to go out on an errand alone, don’t worry: there’s nothing wrong with you or your marriage. It’s part of the love (and hate) in the time of coronavirus.

But before these conflicts start taking their toll on your relationships, let’s take a look at the challenges couples face, and what you can do to pandemic-proof your marriage?

I recently invited relationship and parenting expert, Maribel Dionisio of the Love Institute, to guest on my PamilyaTalk episode on how to strengthen a marriage and keep the fire burning.

Since it’s the month of love, I’ll be sharing her tips with you, as well as other things I’ve learned from the books of some of the world’s top marriage and relationship counsellors, and from my husband’s and my training with the Ateneo’s Center for Family Ministries (RMT-CEFAM).

Challenge No. 1: You can't go on traditional dates

Maribel has always said it’s important to have regular quality "Couple's Time," away from the house and the kids. For my husband and I, we’ve made our bonding with good-friend and hairstylist par excellence Fred Panales of Hairshaft Salon as our regular hair-date at the Podium.

Nonong, doing our selfie-ritual after one of our regular hair-dates at Hairshaft Salon.


If you’re not yet comfortable with going to a restaurant, try to have your own “date night” at home. Go for a walk together, or cuddle up with a movie an after the kids are asleep. Wear your favorite perfume or lipstick, so it really feels like a special day.

But even on non-date nights, remember to reconnect physically and emotionally. Even just a few minutes of holding hands (and even kissing!) can make a big difference.

With good friend and Nonong’s and my regular ka-date, Fred Panales, owner of Hairshaft Salon.

Did you love "Crash Landing on You"? Are you currently obsessed with "Bridgerton"? They capture the dramatic romantic declarations and sizzling chemistry that tend to fizzle out after years of marriage.

The good news is that you don’t have to cross a heavily-guarded military zone to be together. But you still need to work on your relationship and show effort. I’m a big believer in love letters. You can say things on paper that you would struggle to say aloud, and if you’re not a wordsmith you can share a poem you found online. Or, you can do what one of our #PamilyaTalk viewers shared on the show: her husband leaves sticky notes on their fridge.

Challenge No. 2: You’re both very stressed – and tend to take it out on each other

The pandemic has increased our stressed levels and probably cut us off from most of our usual coping mechanisms like going out with friends or weekly mani-pedis.

When you’re in a bad mood, you can lash out and take it out on the people around you. Or, you can become clingy, sensitive or antagonistic. All the bottled-up stress makes any conversation a potential minefield—anything can trigger a fight.

Men can also deal with problems by emotionally withdrawing and “going into a cave." You’ll sense it and keep asking him what’s wrong, and feel shut out when he refuses to talk about it.

Stress is normal, but our reactions to stress and the way we handle it can affect our marriage. That’s why it’s important to have the emotional maturity to recognize our feelings and tell the other person what kind of support we need.

As discussed in Pamilya Talk, flexibility, the willingness to give and take, and trying to understand where your partner is coming from can really help.

“I’m feeling overwhelmed now. I need a hug.”

“I’m sorry I snapped at you. I am just feeling anxious now. I need some time alone to calm down.”

And we have to respect our partner’s feelings and needs. Every relationship needs emotional maturity, says Maribel.

Challenge No. 3: You don’t have boundaries

“Social distancing” is part of a healthy relationship, too! You need time alone—which is even more difficult now that the whole family works, studies and plays together under one roof.

You have to ask for this "Me Time" and treat it like any important Zoom call where nobody can interrupt. If you have young children who need constant care and attention, then plan ahead. For example, my friend Marjo and her husband have never had any household help. So even before the lockdown, they practiced something the “Saturday Shift”: on that day, one parent handles all their three kids and chores, so the other gets a full free day. They alternate the weeks so it’s fair, and the kids are so used to the routine that they’ve learned to respect the "Me Time."

Challenge No. 4: Bickering escalates into big fights

It starts over a small thing—like you getting annoyed by how he always leaves his laundry on the floor—and before you know it, you’re shouting at each other.

Stress and lack of space can turn any conversation into a minefield. When you see that you’re heading for an argument, take a deep breath and try to understand what your partner is saying. Ask a question, and listen without judgment.

“Talking is the most dangerous thing people do, especially when they are stressed,” says Harville Hendrix, who created the Imago method of marriage therapy and wrote Getting the Love You Want. “And listening is the most infrequent thing people do, especially when they are stressed.”

Remember, the point of communication isn’t to win an argument but solve a problem. And if neither of you are listening to each other, then you’re just fuelling each other’s rage. If you’re too emotional to think clearly, then it’s best to give each other time and space to calm down.

Challenge No. 5: Closeness can make you more critical

When you first start dating, even a simple text message can make you very kilig, and even his flaws are cute.

But as the years pass, we start taking sweet gestures for granted, and zeroing in on what he’s not doing.

The two most powerful words in a marriage are "thank you."

“Look for what partners are doing right and to express appreciation for it,” says Julie Gottman, who cofounded the Gottman Institute for marriage and counselling, and wrote several bestselling books with her husband John.

Thank them for making coffee in the morning, or remembering to buy your favorite cookies at the supermarket. Thank them for putting the kids to bed, even if you know it’s part of the routine. And try to make a habit of thanking them at least five times a day—especially if you’re annoyed or in a bad mood, because it will help you even more than it helps him.

Just like watering your plants every day, sprinkling your relationship with daily expressions of gratitude can make it grow stronger. It may even make your husband more eager to show affection or take initiative. In a way, it’s very similar to discipline: children respond better to praise and positive reinforcement, and so do husbands!

Aside from being grateful for what he does, it’s also important to accept him for who he is. We can only control ourselves, and for our peace of mind (and more peace in the household) , just let go of what we can’t change.

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I’d love to hear from you! Share your stories and tips or suggest topics at jingcastaneda21@gmail.com. You can also follow my social media accounts: Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Kumu and Twitter.

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