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Marriage in the Time of Quarantine

Parents find joy in the little things during stressful times

Published on: June 18, 2020

husband and wife sitting on their porch having coffee

The text message read, “Anyone else ready to throttle their husband?” It was from a friend, also a mom. Moments before, I'd finished a 6-feet-apart walk with a different friend, who also had aired husband grievances.

It seems a quarantine rite of passage that, at some point, spouses hate each other a little bit. It makes perfect sense: We are in close quarters, with no breaks, no babysitters, no grandparents and, therefore, no date nights. We are trying to co-parent kids who are off their routine and potentially scared about the circumstances that landed them home all day instead of in school. There may be financial or job insecurities, and we may or may not be trying to ration toilet paper.

Both of my friends had valid reasons for mild-to-moderate husband-hate. To quote a sarcastic Sondheim song, “It’s the little things you do together ... that make marriage a joy.”

The little things are the ones that annoy us the most, aren’t they? I, too, have had my moments. I’ve been irritated when my husband plays video games 45 minutes past the time he said he’d be up for dinner or when he doesn’t get up with our toddler. Sometimes just his face or breathing or chewing can make my blood boil. None of these are divorce-worthy offenses, of course. I know I have gotten on his nerves over the last two months as well by merely existing in the same confined space.

I’m not going to try to sell you on my perfect marriage, but there are a few little things we do together that honestly do make my marriage, well, if not a joy, then at least a safety net during quarantine. For one thing, we take turns working. It wasn’t on purpose, but his office shut down for the first six weeks and my job was intact. In May, he went back to work and I got laid off from my “real” job.

We didn’t control that, but now that we’re in the vibe of the “new normal,” we do an okay job taking turns. I have the kids all day, and when he gets home, I’m pretty touched out. He takes them and throws them around until they’re sweaty and exhausted and then puts them to bed, while I regain my sanity, catch up on chores, write or watch "Never Have I Ever" (BEST quarantine show so far). He joins me after a bit and we watch something until he starts snoring on the couch and I make him go to bed (so I can resume "Never Have I Ever" until nearly midnight).

The romance, like the devil, is in the details.

The flaw in the plan is that there’s not a lot of space for romance. I have questionable personal hygiene at this point and spend most days in sweats I’ve either slept in or plan to sleep in. I, arbitrarily, decided not to shave my legs during stay-at-home just to see what would happen. He doesn’t care, per se, but I’m not exactly wooing him with my girlish looks. His passing out on the couch at 8:30 every night doesn’t leave much time for those “date nights at home” boxes my social media keeps trying to sell me, or even time for a conversation beyond the laundry list of “what did you do today?”

I know this isn’t forever. When it's over, I’m lucky that I have a set of grandparents across town dying to take my kids off my hands for a bit. We will live to see another date night. I’m not going to tell you all the cute little ways you can keep romance alive when your hair goes gray and you’ve gone slightly mad from lack of adult interaction. That’s not my style, and I honestly think most of us don’t have the energy, emotional or physical.

The romance, like the devil, is in the details. The little things. He got takeout pancakes on Mother’s Day. He bathes the filthy, feral children. We have kept our sense of humor, most days at least, and can laugh over a good COVID meme or a funny kid anecdote. He’s learned not to begrudge leftovers and he doesn’t get on my case about the chaotic state of the house. I lightly nudge him instead of punch him when he snores. I stopped making fun of his beard (as much). I get up with the toddler on work days.

It’s not some romantic comedy up in here. It’s not a sweeping love story. It’s real life and it’s messy and hairy and gross and sometimes stressful and scary. The hope is that, when it’s over, when we want to throttle each other, we will remember that we made it through the plague, and if we can survive months without a babysitter, we can do anything.

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