Keeping COVID-19 stress out of your marriage - 5 ways to strengthen your relationship during the pandemic

HOUSTON – For most of us, the COVID-19 era brought another expected time of being at home with our spouses or partners all of the time. Families are cooped up, some parents are trying to work while taking care of kids. It’s been enough to put even the strongest relationships to the test.

Marriage spotlight: meet Tristen and CC Sutton

Tristen and CC Sutton have been married for 13 years. The pair even had a radio show called “Making Marriage Great Again.” So, when the stay home, work safe orders came down, they knew they had to create a plan to keep their marriage bond strong. Especially since Tristen would now be working from home with CC.

“At first, we started off with ‘I’m gonna use the camera and the microphone at this time and put it on your calendar,‘” recalls CC.

“We were only children trying to share,” Tristen chimed in.

“So needless to say, that didn’t work,” CC explained.

Before the pandemic, CC was super social, with networking events, dining out and even ballroom dancing. Now, it was all canceled.

“We know we’re gonna have some disagreements. How are we gonna handle those?” CC asked. “Out of love. That is our code word for, ‘Hey, I really need to tell you something that you’re probably not gonna want to hear right now. But I need you to de-arm or deactivate the clap back that’s within you so we can have a civil conversation and you can hear my side and I can hear yours, in a civilized manner and in peace,’” explains Tristen.

All that extra love has helped them and hitting the road has also helped the marriage stay in stride too.

“We could not stay in these four walls forever, so the very first thing we did was got a bike,” said CC.

“I was so glad that we got it because there we love it,” said Tristen. “We ride an average of 10 miles every morning…it helps get our minds open and fresh and we actually spend time talking to each other.”

Marriage spotlight: meet Cameron and Casey Timme

Cameron and Casey Timme from Kingwood are also working on their marriage bond during this time. They have been married for 11 years.

“We are used to each other’s quirks by now,” said Casey.

But this year has not been easy.

“People (have) got to realize it’s not just them, it’s not just their house,” said Cameron.

They’ve managed to put a positive spin on the situation for their marriage and for their three kids.

“I’m big on the power of perception and positivity. If you look at this as an opportunity. When else in the entire history of the last 20 years have you been able to just slow down,” said Cameron.

From special dinners to family outings in the neighborhood, the Timme family is thriving. But it’s a choice.

“Focus on what you have to be thankful for,” said Cameron.

“When you are having a hard time, when you are in a rut, when your life is stale — go back to that wedding day, go back to that day you met. Remember what attracted you,” said Casey.

While the Timme and Sutton families are actively working on their marriages, unfortunately, this is not the norm.

Divorce cases expected to rise

A survey of divorce lawyers found new divorce filings are expected to increase somewhere between 10% to 25% in the second half of this year. We did some checking to see what the numbers look like in our area. Here are the number of divorce filings made in Harris and Fort Bend counties between March and July of 2019 and 2020:

YearHarris CountyFort Bend County

Those numbers could change because divorce courts have been limiting in-person business for months. We also checked numbers in other counties in our area but haven’t gotten back the final numbers just yet.

Never too late to start working on your marriage

Licensed professional counselor Aaron Bunker works with couples on their relationships. He also wrote a book to help marriages called “A Stronger Knot.” Bunker has seen first-hand, the toll this pandemic is having on people.

“A lot of them are struggling,” said Bunker. “(They tell me) Our marriage is not doing great, we are not connected.”

The key to making it work during high-stress situations: Be intentional.

“Proximity alone does not always equal connection,” explains Bunker. “It very much can pull us apart because we are seeing the best and probably the worst of your spouse. There is this battle we have to really be intentional.”

5 things you can do now to help your marriage

1. Start by giving grace

“It’s ok to mess up. Expressing a lot of leeway and forgiveness and say, ‘hey I don’t expect perfection from you,’” said Bunker. “If my wife doesn’t do something she said she was going to do - it’s not the end of the world.”

2. Affirm your partner every day. Compliment character instead of actions

“You are driven, you are persevering, you are caring,” Bunker explains. “Those sorts of things instead of thanks for doing the dishes. Sometimes that unintentionally communications conditional love.”

Bunker says affirming can also be just reassuring them. He tells his wife every day that he “chooses” her.

“I don’t want her to think I just chose her 12 years ago (when they got married). I choose her today, and I choose her today and today. There is something so secure in feeling chosen.”

3. Tell your partner what you need

“I need to spend quality time with you this week. Versus, ‘I need you to put your phone down,‘” said Bunker. “It’s a negative, it’s a critique of that person.”

4. Take time to hug each day. It matters

“I recommend couples to do a 20-second hug, two times a day,” said Bunker. “That’s a long hug. And a three-second kiss. We want to have oxytocin where we are connecting. Oxytocin is a hormone in your body that helps you feel closer and connected to one another. Oxytocin is really important in a marriage. The reason for the 20-second hug is there is a release. It just feels so good to be close to you.”

5. Dates should continue even if you don’t leave the house

“It’s about the quality of the connection and the time together, the purpose of a date is to fall more in love with your spouse,” said Bunker.

You can set up a backyard picnic or special coffee time in a quiet place. Bunker suggests when you go on your date, there should be topics that are off-limits, like the kids or work. Ask open-ended questions with the goal of getting to know each other better.

“I want to continue to learn about my wife,” explains Bunker. “I’m asking how I can meet her needs, I’m asking how I can serve her, plus I want to get to know her. I want to continually get to know more and more and more of her. So many times we get in this idea of when we are dating we do a good job of pursuing each other’s heart. The tragedy is when that stops. The purpose of a date is to continue to pursue the heart.”

10 Questions to ask your partner on your date

  • What is your best memory from your childhood?
  • Of your friends and family, who do you think has the best relationship and why?
  • What is the best part of us being together?
  • Does anything keep you awake at night that you haven’t told me about?
  • Why do you love me? *When do you feel most loved by me?
  • If we could go anywhere tomorrow, where would you want to go and why?
  • What are you currently most sad about? Most happy about?
  • What is the most embarrassing moment in your life?
  • Which people do you most admire and why?

Some of these questions come from the free app from relationship expert John Gottman. He created popular “card decks” where people can ask questions with the hopes of connecting with their partner. There is an app version of this, and it’s free!

About the Authors:

Award-winning TV producer and content creator. My goal as a journalist is to help people. Faith and family motivate me. Running keeps me sane.