Protect yourself from marriage burnoutWritten by Dr. Greg Smalley
What's inside this article
Many married couples are experiencing burnout in their marriage because of lingering pressures and daily aggravations related to the pandemic. Add in being constantly bombarded by negativity and bad news, it’s no wonder that people are experiencing COVID fatigue.
The bottom line is all this worry and anxiety, bad news and negativity can cause us to feel emotionally exhausted and burned out. And unfortunately, this fatigue is probably affecting your marriage as well. Maybe you feel like you’re experiencing marriage burnout.
Instead of realizing how stressed they are by these outside factors, people mistakenly start to think that something is wrong with their marriage. For many couples, COVID and being quarantined together has given them time to reconnect. But eventually the euphoria wears off, and all that prolonged stress, uncertainty and time cooped up creates angry reactions (fight) or withdrawal (flight). And it’s easy to take out your fatigue and frustration on your spouse.
Protecting yourself from COVID fatigue and marriage burnout
Coronavirus-related quarantines are driving many of us to a breaking point, according to health experts. Massachusetts General Hospital calls it “quarantine fatigue.”
“Quarantine fatigue may look different from person to person, but overall, it’s defined as exhaustion associated with the new restrictive lifestyle that’s been adopted to slow the spread of COVID-19,” says Luana Marques, a research scholar for the hospital.
According to experts, that “restrictive lifestyle,” along with the chronic pressures that go with it and the constant stream of negative news we’re receiving, keeps our brains in crisis mode.
That mode isn’t always a bad thing, by the way. God created a part of your brain, the amygdala (which controls your “fight or flight” response) to protect you during times of high stress and danger.
But during prolonged stress and uncertainty, we get stuck in that chronic fight-or-flight mode, causing all kinds of physical, emotional and relational problems. And all those problems inevitably spill over into our relationships, especially marriage.
The good news is that we have ways to fight quarantine fatigue and protect your marriage from burnout.
Take great care of yourself
The road to a healthy relationship always begins with the person you can control the most – you. And in this season of uncertainty, you need to recognize signs that you’re exhausted.
Are you feeling overwhelmed or emotionally drained? Do you feel like you’re unable to cope with the constant demands you face? Are you tired of pandemic restrictions? You’re probably burned out on the whole business, and not many would blame you. Many other people are burned out, too.
Don’t ignore those feelings when you think you’re experiencing marriage burnout. Take time to pay attention to how you’re doing emotionally and put a name to your feeling.
What gives you rest and life?
But as a counterbalance, figure out what would give you “rest” and “life” during this stressful season. What brings you comfort? What brings you joy? Long walks through the neighbourhood? Watching a favourite TV show? Baking? Tinkering with the car?
Embrace those things as much as you’re able – within reason, of course. And instead of being harsh or self-critical, be kind to yourself and forgive yourself when you fall short of what you hoped to do. Remember, we’re all doing the best we can, and that includes you.
Renew your mind
Most importantly, renew your mind. Remember the words of Paul in Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
In the context of COVID, that means to think more positively. Instead of imagining that things will never get better, remind yourself that God is in control. (Tape a card with Romans 8:28 printed on it to your bathroom mirror, if that’d help.)
Stay away from social media or news outlets when they bring you down – they might make you think of marriage burnout even if it wouldn’t have crossed your mind otherwise.
Information overload will only make you feel exhausted and irritable. And instead of being harsh or self-critical, be kind to yourself, and forgive yourself when you fall short of what you hoped to do.
Understand how men and women handle stress differently
According to an article in Psychology Today by Nancy K. Dess, women tend to default to something called the “tend and befriend” phenomenon when under stress. Studies show that they “tend” to their children and “befriend” other women. Stressed-out men, meanwhile, often isolate themselves. They go into their “caves.”
I know remembering these core differences has been critical in my marriage. As a husband, if I’m feeling smothered by my wife, I remember that she seeks out close friendships for support and connection in times of stress. As a wife, if you’re feeling emotional detachment and distance from your husband, remembering that stress causes him to isolate can be helpful.
Connect with your spouse in new and different ways to prevent marriage burnout
It’s so easy right now to let your relational dialogue slip into the same stressed-out rut. Instead of allowing COVID to dominate your conversations, take at least 10 minutes to engage in “inner-life” conversations with your spouse.
Instead of talking about the issues, for instance, talk about how you feel about those issues: your fear and uncertainty, your stress and exhaustion – emotions that you can put a name to. Unpack honestly the losses you’re suffering – be it a job, a vacation or even your normal independence or routine – and allow your spouse to empathize.
These conversations are not opportunities to “fix” these problems. They’re about caring for someone in the midst of those problems – acknowledging, understanding and sharing the suffering that’s involved.
Go out and have fun
You may not be able to enjoy some of the events and “dates” that you and your spouse loved before the coronavirus hit. Some restaurants may still be closed. Movie theatres are slowly opening, but you may feel uncomfortable going. Just eating dinner and watching a favourite show at home can feel like a rut even in more normal times, but it feels exponentially worse now.
So, shake things up a bit. Go out hiking. Find a new sport you both can enjoy. According to experts, altering your routine will alter your brain chemistry by activating the brain’s reward system – the same brain circuits that were ignited when you were first dating.
Volunteer together. Visit a local museum, art gallery or national landmark. Go camping or hit the ski slopes. (Obviously, physical distancing rules apply!)
Stay in but be creative
Even if you can’t get out of the house, you can alter your habits inside. Instead of lying in your bed to watch a movie, watch in a different room. Play a board game or video game. Sign up for online cooking classes. Start a new ritual or tradition (e.g., morning coffee as a couple, exercising together, etc.).
And while you’re diving into some new diversions, here’s another new discipline to explore: practice daily gratitude for your spouse. Thank him or her for what they do and affirm what you most appreciate about who they are.
Look for ways to serve them, too. Make the bed when it’s typically his job. Cook dinner when it’s normally hers.
Be creative. You’ll be amazed at what a huge difference a little unexpected kindness can make.
We know that the coronavirus and the pandemic has been part of our lives for a long time. And there’s no getting around the fact that the virus has made life stressful for us all. But that doesn’t mean that your marriage has to suffer.
Be kind, thoughtful, honest and fun. And most of all, remember that God is always in control.
Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family and the author or co-author of several books, including Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage.
© 2020 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published at FocusOnTheFamily.com.
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