This March, after 14 years together, it looked like our marriage was over.
Just months ago, I was preparing to tell my two young children that their father and I had reached the end of the road. Then, the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown came careering into our lives unexpectedly. Six months later my marriage is stronger than ever, and I believe Covid-19 saved it.
If recent headlines pointing to a marked increase in online divorce searches are to be believed, we’re on the brink of a mass post-lockdown separation. Evidently, a lot of us have been simply tolerating our partners until the end of lockdown, and preparing a new life for afterwards which doesn’t include them.
At the start of the year, my husband Mark and I were preparing to become a statistic. We were not so much on different pages as on different planets – he was content with our lives as they were, while I was always striving for more. We approached everything differently, from important things like parenting our two boys and dealing with our finances, to more trivial matters such as cleaning the house or cooking dinner. I felt overburdened with life admin and a simmering resentment had built up within me towards Mark for not ‘pulling his weight’, as I saw it then. We were drifting further and further apart, arguing constantly, both of us always on the defence.
I also experienced a worsening of my ongoing depression leading up to lockdown, which may have coloured my viewpoint to a certain extent, and my poor husband bore the brunt of my daily battle with this. When lockdown was announced, followed by Mark being furloughed, I felt for sure that would be the final straw and we would come out of this pandemic as single parents.
“With the shrinking of our world came a lowering of my expectations of life, including of Mark, in a good way.”
It’s easy to see why the omnipresent threat of catching Covid-19 and the enforced lockdown would put any relationship under strain, even more so if you’ve also had to navigate the minefield of homeschooling one or more children. For a couple like Mark and I, who had different approaches to parenting before lockdown, having our parenting techniques tested to their limit in this way would surely be too much pressure to bear.
Except, for us, it wasn’t. To be clear, we did not find homeschooling easy; it felt like torture at times. If we weren’t dragging our two boys, five and seven, to the dining table to do their work, we were cajoling them out for a walk to make the most of our allotted one hour of exercise time. Our days were simplified all of a sudden. Priority number one: get their lessons for the day done. Priority number two: get some exercise and fresh air. Nothing else mattered as much as those two daily goals.
Of course there were other things to do like sitting up until midnight to get a shopping delivery slot and ordering toilet roll off Amazon, but we were militant in our pursuit of our two key aims each day. We divided the school work equally, with the children handily having three daily lessons each. I usually took the more theoretical subjects like maths, science and English, while Mark taught history, art and geography.
And it worked well, really well. We made a list at the start of the day and carried out our tasks diligently. I’m ashamed to admit now that Mark’s commitment to the lessons surprised me, and I was firmly put in my place when it transpired that the kids actually responded better to him than to me.
“Lockdown was make or break for a lot of couples and I can understand why.”
With the shrinking of our world came a lowering of my expectations of life, including of Mark, in a good way. What really mattered became very apparent, and squabbles about chores and money paled into insignificance. We were healthy and together, safe in our little family cocoon - the four of us against the world. I also found that my depression lifted somewhat, as I felt less pressure to have to perform each day to inevitably be found wanting.
I saw Mark properly for the first time in a while, and was reminded of what there was to value and cherish in him. Where once I had reprimanded him for not taking things seriously enough and being too childlike, we all now enjoyed the lighter moments of fun he regularly provided. I realised how serious I had become lately, and Mark reminded me how important it is to just play sometimes, to be in the moment rather than always worrying about the future. Every day I noted how thankful I was that he had been furloughed and was around to help with the homeschooling. I don’t know how I would have done it without him.
The pandemic has destroyed many relationships and taken too many lives; lockdown was make or break for a lot of couples and I can understand why. But it didn’t break us as I thought it would and, if we find ourselves in another lockdown, I’m confident we will cope as well as before, if not better.
I can’t be ‘grateful’ for the pandemic because of the widespread devastation it’s caused, and of course we are not out of the woods yet. But Covid-19 saved my marriage and, as hard as it was, I’m grateful for the time we got to rebuild ourselves as a couple. It seems we’re stronger than we thought we were, at the roots – where it really matters.
Sarah Bones is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter @sarahboneswrite
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