August 2020

Presence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: How Covid-19 rejuvenated my marriage

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

We all know that marriage is no cakewalk. Throw in a global pandemic and stay-at-home directive and you have the perfect testing ground. Will it be a second honeymoon or the last straw?

My husband Tom owns a company based in Atlanta and travels for work, which has meant four to five days a week apart since we married and agreed to keep our home base on Hilton Head Island. For the first few years, I enjoyed my solitude, space, and freedom during the week. I could work, play, socialize, and eat and drink as I pleased, with plenty of time for self-care and recreation. Weekends were like an extended date (except for the laundry and a few household chores).

But after 15 years, I was weary of the arrangement. I found myself growing restless and resentful, while Tom seemed oblivious to the state of our union. Conversations had become stilted and measured, “I love you” hollow and rote. We were going through the motions of being married but living two distinctly separate lives.

While I never questioned my husband’s love for me, I often doubted my value to him. As I scrambled to create a meaningful life for myself, often taking for granted the lifestyle I was afforded because of my husband’s hard work and dedication, I often felt unseen, unheard and misunderstood at home—and more recently, a little bit bored and lonely. Our marriage was dying of the disease of disconnection.

Recognizing our need to spend some quality time together, last December, we went on a 10-day luxury cruise to relax, reconnect, and have some fun (all things we had forgotten how to do). While we had a good time, the magic didn’t happen. We both came home exhausted and sick with no new insight into how to live together in the real world. Our schedules returned to normal with all the same old problems and misunderstandings … until March, when everything changed.

Enter COVID-19
Prior to the pandemic, Tom had been entertaining the idea of retiring sometime in the next few years. I must confess that the mere thought of spending more than two days in a row under one roof with him was terrifying to me: too much conflict, not enough in common, too little connection. But here we were, suddenly thrust into the test lab.

The first week of lockdown, I felt like a pressure cooker on the verge of exploding. Forced to confront all the issues, big and small, that years of separation had spawned, my heart threatened to burst out of my chest with the next interruption. Tensions built as all the attention I thought I wanted from my husband became another source of stress and annoyance. His attempts at affection felt like demands, and my tolerance for togetherness revealed a flaccid patience muscle. Overnight, I went from starved to smothered. This was not the life I envisioned, and I began feeling even more hopeless.

Since locking myself in the closet was not a reasonable option and no number of chocolate chip cookies could soothe my nerves, the next best thing was to talk—face up to differences and problems that had been swept under the rug for far too long. After slogging through a few uncomfortable conversations, something miraculous began to happen. My husband was listening to me—really hearing for a change. He started expressing his love, admiration and appreciation, and I began to feel acknowledged and respected. As a result of the “happy wife, happy life” principle, I became more attentive to his needs and more open to his ideas. (See how that works?) While we both continued working from home, we made a point to stop work at a certain time and share our evenings in a more meaningful way. We enjoyed meals at home and started taking walks and playing board games after dinner. We found ourselves arguing less and laughing more. Before long, we were looking at each other across the table without the distraction of phones and other devices. It was just the two of us, relying on one another for the kind of conversation, stability and support not available in a chat box.

The real meaning of presence
Now that the world is beginning to spin again and Tom is traveling, we have made a commitment to find ways to spend less time apart. It has required some compromise on both parts: I am traveling with him on occasion and he is arranging to work from home more often. We also have a brand-new perspective on what it means to be present.
While time together provided the framework for the shift, we have come to realize that togetherness and presence are not synonymous. The opposite of present is preoccupied.

We can be physically present with another yet miles apart, distracted by our devices and to-do lists. On the flip side, we can be miles apart yet together in mind and spirit.
You see, presence is not defined by physical proximity but by a higher form of connectedness, uncompromised by time or distance. Presence is a choice.

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