Being put into a stressful situation will reveal the core of our relationships faster than anything else, so after this lockdown, what have we found?
An increasing number of articles and surveys are pointing to the mounting issues of divorce requests since the coronavirus lockdown pushed us all indoors with one another.
“Lockdown has not been easy for many marriages,” Lucy Denyer wrote for Friday Magazine. “A survey this week of nearly 1,500 people revealed that one in five of those cooped up with their partner says their relationship is on the rocks.
“Indeed, no matter how good your relationship, the pressure of being together for every single second of every single day, allowed out for only limited amounts of time, simultaneously trying to juggle work (if you’re lucky), rearing and educating children and keeping the house ticking over, without the option to leaven the mix with the odd dinner with friends, is enough to push things to boiling point.
“It’s hardly surprising that online searches for ‘I want a divorce’ have gone up 150 per cent since lockdown started.”
Suddenly being forced into close quarters with other people will inevitably highlight if many of our behaviors and communication habits are healthy or not.
As a small but vitally important aside, we’re addressing normal levels of conflict here.
If the relationship in question has become physically or sexually abusive, your approach should be to find a safe place to stay and then to seek mediation, prayer and counseling in order to decide whether the connection can be healed or should be severed. No matter how much you care for this person, not addressing abuse only trains the other person that this behavior is acceptable and should be tolerated by the ones who ‘truly love’ them.
All relationships have conflict, but it should never escalate to the point where someone has reason to be afraid for their own physical wellbeing. If you find yourself in this kind of dangerous situation, please, seek protection and professional help.
The Last Option in Conflict
The lockdown has acted as a strange catalyst on most, if not all, of our relationships. Some people are finding their marriages on the rocks, their housemates surly and incommunicative, their friends silent and estranged in this stretch of isolation.
Others may be connecting with friends, roommates, their spouse or family members in ways that they never had before the pandemic drove us all indoors. One friend told me that this quarantine has made her grateful for the man she married, especially for his sense of responsibility balanced with good humor; they have thoroughly enjoyed the concentrated time together without as many social obligations or distractions.
Why do some relationships grow weaker and others stronger? How do we make sure we follow the pattern of the latter rather than the former?
David Wilkerson pointed out a critical issue that could be the biggest contributor to problems in relationships, “Most Christians have no trouble accepting that the Holy Ghost leads us to Jesus, and we don’t have any problem believing that the Spirit is continually at work in us. Most of us have called on him countless times for comfort in our times of crisis. We give honor to the Spirit; we preach about him; we teach on his gifts and fruit. We pray to him, seek him, beseech him to rend the heavens and revive his church. Many Christians have experienced genuine manifestations of the Spirit.
“But it seems to me we know very little about what it means to walk in the Spirit. If I were to ask you what it means to walk in the Spirit, could you describe what it is? Could you explain it clearly to anyone who asked you?
“If we’re honest, we’ll admit that heaven is often the last place we turn when we need direction. Most often, we run to counselors, or spend hours on the phone with friends, seeking advice: ‘What do you think? Is it a good idea for me to go in this direction? Do you think I should do it?’
“Sadly, we go to the Holy Spirit as our last option, if we go to him at all.”
Because we’re all sinful, we will all at best irritate and at worst hurt our loved ones. Only constantly seeking out the Spirit’s conviction and instruction will heal the damage that’s already done and put us on the path to healthier relationships.
The Cornerstone of Character
As my mother always said, it takes two to tango. Very, very rarely can the success or failure of a relationship be laid at the doorstep of only one person.
In order for any relationship — regardless of whether it’s between you and a business partner, housemate, spouse, parent or child — to flourish in hard circumstances, there must be a mutual seeking of God’s guidance, honesty about one’s own flaws and good communication habits.
As Gary Thomas wrote in his book The Sacred Search, “Infatuation is something you find. Sexual chemistry is something you find. A lost cell phone is something you find. But a strong, intimate, God-honoring marriage that leads to a lifelong partnership and that fosters a sense of oneness?
“That’s something you make, and it takes a long time to make.”
While much of Thomas’s book deals with marriage partners, the core idea holds true. A good relationship doesn’t just happen; it requires discussion, strategizing and joint efforts. Most of all, it requires us acknowledging that we’re really not good at this, and we’re going to need both God’s help and our colleague, roommate, spouse, family member’s forgiveness. Constantly.
As Thomas concludes, “Humility matters more than money or appearance, as it is the character foundation of growth and godliness. You can always earn more money, lose a little weight, and gain a bit more muscle, but if someone’s character has no foundation, there’s nothing to build on.
“Humility is the cornerstone of character and the foundation of a growing, intimate relationship.”
We won’t be able to drum this up on our own, though. When we say something rude or passive-aggressive to someone else, do we listen to that twinge of conscience and immediately apologize? Are we willing to ask God to reveal our selfishness and then sit down with someone else and have an honest conversation about how we can be more considerate of their wants and needs? Can we point out when someone else dips into anxiety or arrogance without letting ourselves get self-righteous or bitter?
These kinds of qualities only come in a steadfast walk with the Holy Spirit.
Walking Forward Into a New Day
“The more constant the temptation, the more calloused our hearts can become,” Amy Dimarcangelo explained as she explored the difficulties of being a mother with three young children and a husband suddenly working from home. “…it is especially important to cultivate a soft heart.
“When our sin feels habitual, it’s tempting to embrace a spirit of resignation. Have hope for tomorrow—God’s mercies are new every day.”
Being locked in with others probably has revealed quite a bit about your methods of handling disagreements as well as theirs. Rather than just deciding that they’re a crummy spouse or bad child or poor friend, approach God and ask how he wants to change you and your ways of approaching a relationship.
We have a strong propensity to judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions, but we should flip that if we want successful, healthy relationships. Give others the benefit of the doubt. They’re probably not trying to irritate you when they forget their socks on the floor, leave dishes in the sink or talk loudly on the phone while you’re in a video meeting.
Go talk to the other person. Let them know the areas you acknowledge failing in and then gently — that adjective cannot be emphasized enough — point out areas of their behavior that are difficult for you.
Pray with each other afterward. Walking in the Spirit almost always involves community and people walking alongside you. After all, our daily communication with God and our loved ones can always stand to improve.