Recently, I spoke with my brother who lives in northern Italy. He is well and so is his wife and family but is tired of being confined to his home. Because of his age, he is 71, he is not allowed be go out. He has not set foot on a street for two weeks. I asked him how he was managing. He said: “I am not doing well. I am bored and I get easily irritated. To keep busy, I start working on an unfinished project, but I soon get frustrated because I need supplies, which I cannot get because I cannot leave my home.” Social isolation is a way to be safe, but it takes a toll.
Here in the United States, we are beginning to get a taste of the stress that the coronavirus brings to our society and our families. Restaurants and bars are closed, schools are closed, employers are asking their employees to work from home or just stay at home. Our whole life is being disrupted.
Being a family therapist by training, my mind goes to the needs of couples and families in these stressful times. My thoughts and prayers go to young families, those that are most vulnerable. With both parents at home, their income stopped, the children underfoot 24/7, their life is being turned upside down. This situation, especially if prolonged, brings high stress which can cause unexpected conflicts between the parents. The annoying small quirks and habits that under normal circumstances are overlooked, can now trigger negative exchanges that hurt the relationship and increase the tension in the family.
To survive, we need to learn to cope. We need to adjust and be flexible.
The Greek storyteller, Aesop, told a fable about an oak tree and a reed and how they coped in a situation of stress. One day an oak tree was boasting about his strength to the nearby reed and accusing the reed of being weak because, as reeds do, they bend to the wind. A storm came and the oak tree resisted until the wind uprooted it, while the reed, by bending to the force of the wind, was spared any damage.
Psychologist David Cates, Ph.D., director of behavioral health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, told Newsweek that for couples who have a strong foundation in their relationship, the current crisis can be an opportunity for growth. On the other hand, for couples with poor negotiation and communication skills, this situation can cause a crisis.
How do we adapt in these times of storm? We must be like the reed. We accept the danger of the reality we face and change our ways of doing things, keeping in mind that our priority is always our marriage and the wellbeing of our children, and the knowledge that God is our strength.
Here are some suggestions I gathered from several recent articles.
- Take care of yourself physically. Eat regularly, eat healthy food, exercise, get sufficient sleep, avoid overuse of alcohol, and develop a daily routine for yourself and your children that ideally includes time for work, exercise, learning, fun time and definitely prayer. Make time for prayer as a daily activity, and on Sunday, participate with your family in the Mass that is being televised or livestreamed.
- Stay connected with others. Get the facts about the evolving crisis, but limit news media consumption. Connect with others via phone, email, social media and text messages. Develop a daily routine for yourself and your children and spend quality time as a family. This is the time to pull out your old board games. Pope Francis reminded us, “We must rediscover the concreteness of the little things, small gestures of attention toward our family and friends.”
- Follow the protocols recommended by your local medical and civil authorities, such as limiting exposure, social distancing and hand washing.
- Prayer brings us face to face with God and gives us his perspective on life. God is the source of our hope. Hope is the light that guides us through uncertain times. Hope helps us relieve our stress.
In a gesture of caring for all couples, my wife Teri and I are making available one of our on-line marriage enrichment programs free of charge to any couple. To access it, visit the-virtues.net/online-free-program.
By John Bosio
Editor’s Note: John and Teri Bosio are the authors of all three books in the Joined by Grace program as well as the Joined by Grace prayer book.