By Christian Bergmann
The COVID lockdown seems to have brought many underlying stresses to the surface. This includes the underlying stresses involved in marriage and family life. In today’s The Australian, it was reported that divorce lawyers seem to have been receiving more queries than normal since the March lockdown began. In an Ipsos poll of 1005 people, more than a quarter said they knew someone likely to break up, separate or divorce after the pandemic was over. Where there were underlying cracks in the marriage, now there seems to be ruptures opening up. This is not an isolated Australian experience either. It is international. The president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers expects a 10 to 25% increase in divorce filings by the end of the year.
This is not good news. It is actually tragic.
One of the reasons why this is tragic, at least from the Catholic perspective, is that marriage has been considered up and down the centuries to be the highest possible earthly good. Marriage is not a matter of convenience, coincidence or chance, but it has been from the beginning ingredient in God’s plan for creation. It is a privileged means of grace; a sign set up from the beginning to reflect and image the interior life of God: the loving communion of the Trinity that brings forth new life and new creation from the sheer act of love itself.
This ideal, however, is built out of a great host of very small things, that when not attended to can begin to crack and rupture. Now, I have not yet reached even the end of my first year of marriage. My wife and I have a beautiful daughter of 8 weeks, and we have received this incredible gift during the COVID lockdown. One of the things we have noticed, however, has been the fact that we’ve benefited immensely from the hard work we put in early to the relationship. Before we were married, I’m talking about something as simple as communication. How easy it is to spend time stewing over something the other person said and not raise it, leaving something dwelling awkwardly beneath the surface of conversation. How difficult it is to have those hard conversations without getting defensive and putting what I want before the overall good of the relationship.
How easy it is to slip into complacency and take for granted the gift that has been given to us in the other person. How difficult it is to remember that the bedrock of any marriage is friendship, and we need to work hard to cultivate that friendship through play, through intimacy, through prayer, and by encouraging each other to pursue the good things that keep our hearts restless, whether creative or otherwise.
If we had not put in the hard work early, our marriage would not have had the strong starting point it has had. What we’ve benefited from has not been our work only, though. It was the work of those around us who helped prepare us for marriage: psychologists who knew what makes or breaks a marriage; other married couples who were able to witness to the joys and challenges of family life. Have those people around us during difficult times is of immense help, because marriage should not be a lonely road: it should be walked together.
But we both know there will be challenging times ahead. We are not dewy-eyed optimists. We are both well aware of the possible tensions, stresses, and challenges involved in a marriage that we vowed to last until the day we die. When those times come, we hope we can be ready. We hope we can reach out for help when we need to.
As many experts have stressed, the worst thing we can do during this pandemic (and they’re not thinking of issues of domestic violence here) is make the kind of enormous, life-altering decisions involved in breaking up a marriage or a relationship. The COVID lockdown is an entirely unique situation and does not represent the norm of life. Nor should it. On the contrary, it is a unique testing ground in which the foundations of our relationships are being pushed beyond the limits they might be used to.
Below is a great resource for those who are experiencing stress in their marriage and would like to seek help along the journey. People do not feel like you have to struggle alone. You don’t have to. Love demands everything of us and it’s not always easy.