Well, we live in unprecedented times as many of us are adjusting to a global crisis. We are recording this episode in the middle of the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic, with some of our listeners in cities in full lock-down and others nervously awaiting the community spread of this disease. Certainly, it has created considerable stress and new issues to negotiate. Today, we’d like to help you understand how these kinds of crises impact marriage, but more importantly, how your marriage can help you buffer the storm. 

How Coronavirus (Or Any Crisis) Affects Marriage

We want to start by normalizing what many are experiencing during this time of crisis. This is a very stressful time. Under this kind of stress, all sorts of issues are going to show up: things related to your family of origin, how you wish to feel supported under duress, communication differences, sexuality issues, attachment, and also loss.

To start with the loss issue, many people have lost the regular rhythm of their normal routines. You may find yourself no longer gathering with colleagues at work every day. If you had kids in school, you’ve lost your quiet time at home and the routines you were accustomed to. You may have lost the ability to gather with your church community, go to the gym, and head to the grocery store without fear. There is a lot of loss all around us even if the coronavirus is not in our neighbourhood. And if it is? There could be tragic loss as well. All of this comes with a lot of stress, so we’ll start by looking at how stress affects your marriage.

Stress Affects Both Spouses

Even if you are not personally as stressed, if your spouse is feeling it, it will bleed over into your experience too. Studies have shown that there is more of a correlation in wives experiencing the stress of their husbands than vice versa.[1] So if your husband is stressed, even if you weren’t, you are going to pick up on that and are likely to have an empathic response. It’s just really hard to get through a time like this untouched by what is going on around you.

You May Disagree on How to Handle the Pandemic

At ordinary times in life, you may disagree about how to handle money or whether to spend holidays with family or away on vacation. Similarly, you can also disagree about how to handle crises like this pandemic.[2]

These disagreements could be related to your family of origin. If your respective family of origin handled crises in different ways, your spouse’s approach to handling the current crisis may be much different from yours. For example, you may believe that this is a time to connect (carefully, and with social distancing) and help one another out as much as possible by sharing resources. But your spouse may feel this is a time to stockpile and hunker down and really protect yourselves and your children. Normal disagreements and differences in the way your family of origin styles tend to show up during a time of crisis.

You Deal with Stress Differently

It may also be that you have very different ways of coping with stress. This will be accentuated right now. One spouse may want to control the situation and take every possible step to ensure safety. That would be more of a doing or busy response — nothing wrong there. But the other spouse may just really need to talk about their fears and anxieties. You can see how it would be easy to have a disconnect: one spouse wondering why the other is not helping with what needs done, and the other just longing to sit down and be able to talk it out.

Naturally, if you don’t take time to communicate with one another, the stress of this crisis can make you feel estranged. So, it is important to pay attention to how the pandemic may be affecting each of you differently and how you respond both respond to it.[3]

Your Attachment Style Impacts Your Stress Response

We have talked about attachment style in past episodes (episode 251-254) and this is relevant when you are under stress as well. If your attachment style is avoidant or dismissive, you will tend to use distancing coping strategies, whether it’s through busyness or really adhering to social distancing, you pull back from other people. In your marriage, this can make it challenging to keep a close connection as a couple.[4]

If your attachment style is anxious, you may find yourself very sensitive to your spouse’s availability and getting increasingly upset with his or her distraction in the crisis, leaving you feeling more alone or even a little abandoned.

On the other hand, individuals with a secure attachment style are able to demonstrate more efficient problem-focused coping when under stress. For those of you that have worked hard on your marriages and your attachment to one another, this is a time when your marriage really becomes a source of resilience and strength for you.

Now, the good news is that, even if our attachment styles weren’t all correct heading into this crisis, we can still leverage what we have and where we are at for the better. For example, if you are more anxious in your style can you channel that energy into preparing for this challenge?

How to Protect Your Marriage in a Global Crisis

For this week’s bonus content, we have drafted a guide with additional ideas to help you navigate this crisis more effectively as a couple. It will help you get on the same page and recognize the essentials of what you can do to navigate this pandemic more as a team rather than as passing ships.

Marriage Tips for Managing the Pandemic Crisis

We want to give you several tips to help you navigate this time as successfully as possible.

1. Discuss Your Needs 

How are you doing with asking for what you need during this crisis? Have you offered your spouse the opportunity to talk about how you can better support him or her during this pandemic?[6]

2. Talk About Your Past

As previously mentioned, your personal history becomes relevant during times of stress. Did you go through times of crisis when you were a child? How did your family respond? How is that shaping your response to the current crisis? Talking about your past can help you to separate your own assumptions and defaults to consider how your respective histories are influencing your present choices.[7]

3. Discuss Past Struggles You’ve Gone Through Together

It can help you review the difficult times that you have navigated before. Reminding yourselves of your resilience and your ability to overcome past hurdles can give you some reassurance and hope that you will need to find your way through this crisis as well.[8]

4. Hire a Counselor

Counselors who work with Emotionally Focused Therapy help couples process, validate, and normalize their emotional experiences and find comfort with one another. This empirically supported method of therapy helps clients recognize difficult emotions, make sense of them, and then manage the emotions with a new perspective that includes the support and empathy of your spouse.[9]

5. Communicate More

We cannot stress this enough. More stress? Communicate more. If it becomes necessary to not be physically close (e.g., isolating from one another within your home due to symptoms) during this crisis, it will be especially important to increase your communication so you can stay emotionally connected.

Sometimes, when anxiety is high, there can be more controlling and criticizing behaviors as worries leak into our interactions. You do need to discuss problems, but you need to be really intentional about constructive communication and support one another.[10]

6. Recognize the Crisis is the Crisis

Sometimes, all the stress, disruption and changes can make it feel like your marriage is in crisis when in reality your marriage is just in a crisis. Note the difference between being in crisis and being in a crisis. They may actually feel similar. A crisis like this pandemic can shake your core sense of wellbeing and can make you feel isolated, threatened, neglected and so on. It’s important to note the impact of these external factors so you don’t unnecessarily blame your marriage for the difficult feelings you’re experiencing.[11]

7. Develop Resilience

This crisis is an opportunity to develop resilience as a couple. Resilience, described extensively by Walsh (1998), is the “capacity to rebound from adversity strengthened and more resourceful.”[12] Resilience is extremely important during a time of crisis. Crisis can actually help strengthen your marriage as you work together to navigate the challenges it presents.[13]

8. Be a Secure Base

One specific way you can develop resilience as a couple is to be a secure base for one another. The negative effects of stress can be buffered if emotional support is perceived as available from “even one reliable source.”[14] If your spouse can rely on you for support that can help relieve the stress of this pandemic.[15] Ask yourself what you are doing to be that person that your spouse can turn to for support, and how you are making yourself available to your spouse.


[1] Mina Westman, Dalia Etzion, and Esti Danon, “Job Insecurity and Crossover of Burnout in Married Couples,” Journal of Organizational Behavior 22, no. 5 (2001): 467–81, https://doi.org/10.1002/job.91.
[2] S. H. McDaniel, W. J. Doherty, and J. Hepworth, Couples and Illness (Medical Family Therapy and Integrated Care, 2014), https://doi-org.ezproxy.student.twu.ca/10.1037/14256-008.
[3] McDaniel, Doherty, and Hepworth.
[4] M. C. Pistole, Amber Roberts, and Marion Chapman, “Attachment, Relationship Maintenance, and Stress in Long Distance and Geographically Close Romantic Relationships,” Grand Valley State University, 2010, https://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=counseling_articles.
[6] McDaniel, Doherty, and Hepworth, Couples and Illness.
[7] McDaniel, Doherty, and Hepworth.
[8] McDaniel, Doherty, and Hepworth.
[9] McDaniel, Doherty, and Hepworth.
[10] {Citation}
[11] McDaniel, Doherty, and Hepworth, Couples and Illness.
[12] Froma Walsh, Normal Family Processes: Growing Diversity and Complexity (Guilford Press, 2012).
[13] McDaniel, Doherty, and Hepworth, Couples and Illness.
[14] Pistole, Roberts, and Chapman, “Attachment, Relationship Maintenance, and Stress in Long Distance and Geographically Close Romantic Relationships.”
[15] Pistole, Roberts, and Chapman.