The COVID-19 pandemic triggered significant changes in relationships and routines for many married couples and their families last Spring.
Parents who were accustomed to dropping off their children to school before rushing off to work, suddenly found themselves taking on the additional task of helping their children navigate distance learning while adjusting to the pressures of working at home. Grandparents and grandchildren who once delighted in each other’s warm embrace struggled with the challenges of social distancing and stay-at-home orders.
This disruption in the marriage relationships for couples young and old has the potential to either split or strengthen marriages. As Catholics, couples are always called to love, for better or for worse.
“With marriage, it’s a challenge to really intentionally express and receive love from each other, but more than ever during this time of a pandemic where there’s fear and uncertainty,” said Linda Ji, director of the Office for Family Life. “You’re constantly around each other at home, or you’re balancing more tasks than you normally would have because of distance learning or lack of childcare. All the more, the temptation is to be business partners or household co-managers, which married couples are. But, we are also married couples and that means we do have to be intentional about expressing and sharing love and appreciation for each other.”
Jurand and Amy Mrugalski, who have been married for 8 years, looked for the silver lining when Jurand was laid off from his job in May. He had worked for a large organization in the real estate industry. Amy continues to work full time and has adjusted to a work-from-home schedule while Jurand looks for work and helps their five-year-old daughter with distance learning twice a week. They also have a 19-month old daughter and both children returned to their daycare during the week once it reopened. The couple are new parishioners at St. Cecilia’s parish in Tustin.
“Previously Jurand worked Saturdays and Sundays and into the evening so we didn’t have a lot of family time together. Now we do,” said Amy. “So for us, while recognizing all of the suffering that people are experiencing because of COVID, for just our little immediate family there’s been a lot of benefits because we’ve been able to have that time together.”
Jurand added, “For me, (I’m) keeping the focus on others like our neighbors and community and Church. As well as having those opportunities with my wife and one-on-one check-ins just to see how us as a family are doing mentally, physically, spiritually. Keeping the norms of routines going. Having the patience, communicating, and being flexible has allowed us to go through these challenges.”
Joe and Teri Cruz, married for 36 years with older children and several young grandchildren, also reached out to others during quarantine last spring. They were jokingly called “first responders” among their family and friends because when the pandemic began, the couple would check in with each of them to see if their needs were met. The couple are also leaders of the Marriage Encounter ministry at Santiago de Compostela Parish in Lake Forest and often help other married couples.
Joe works in sales and has also had to adjust to working at home. Prior to the pandemic, Teri was involved in the lives of her grandchildren and cared for them daily while their parents worked. While the pandemic has forced them to slow down and has brought more time for each other, their biggest challenge has been social distancing from their large family, especially their grandchildren.
“Just the other day, one of the grandchildren hugged us for the first time,” said Teri.
“And that was everything,” said Joe.
Couples are choosing to find a variety of ways to strengthen their marriages and build up their families as they navigate the unknown.
“According to the theology of marriage, the church describes the love between a husband and wife as that which reveals Christ’s own love for the Church, which is a really tall order,” said Ji. “But we say that it can happen because God gives us the grace to do so. In a time of pandemic this is maybe one of those times where we can really see that happen, when we can see couples overcome these tremendous challenges and work together and love each other and make those sacrifices that are necessary to carry not only each other but their families.”
Working together doesn’t have to mean headline displays of love. Small things can make a big difference.
“Whether it’s words, actions, gifts, whichever it is that your spouse understands as an expression of love,” said Ji.
Communication is also key but it shouldn’t always be about logistics and scheduling. It should include expressing how much you love each other.
Resisting the temptation to feel overwhelmed is another key reminder.
“Relationships have strengths,” said Ji. “Highlight the things that you’re doing well and celebrate that. It could be as small as you’ve maintained a sense of humor and can laugh with each other. Take time to celebrate it.”
Some couples may feel like there is no time, while others might feel that they have a lot of time. Either way, making the choice to spend quality time to pray together, to work on relationships is important.
“Be gentle with each other because God loves us so much,” said Ji. “So if you can look at your spouse in the way that God is looking at your spouse then it’s tremendous mercy and compassion during this time.”