This article first appeared in Itchen Valley News May 2020
Nicky and Sila Lee the founders of The Marriage Course say that it takes eight weeks to change a habit. It is for this reason that their course lasts eight weeks. By the time that you read this article, we may well be approaching the end of six weeks of coronavirus lockdown. It makes me wonder what habits that we have adopted during this time will remain and what will be forgotten. Many news commentators (faced with a blank screen and a deadline) start to speculate on whether the world will be a changed place after this crisis. Will we be less likely to rush to hospital or to the GP surgery for some minor complaint or be happy to be triaged on NHS 111 or by a doctor on line? Will we cut out flying abroad for holidays and cancel our intended cruise? But what intrigues me is what habits will change at home.
I think that many of us will have had an opportunity to think carefully through what we want to do with the rest of our lives. Do we really want to go on commuting? Does the pleasure of interaction with our colleagues face to face trump being able to stay in bed that precious hour longer? Who knows there may even be a new baby boom – the Corona Kids perhaps, those born around the new year 2021. But whether these major issues have been addressed during this time, it will, for so many, have been a wonderful opportunity to sort out a few relationship niggles which have been bugging us for years.
Harry Benson, who runs the Marriage Foundation, identifies four behaviours which are particularly challenging in marriages. He summarises them with the mnemonic ‘STOP’: Scoring Points, Thinking the Worst, Opting Out and Put Downs. It strikes me that at least one of these unhelpful actions are really quite difficult in lock down – Opting Out. There really is no choice but to confront issues, if one of the couple wants to face them. There is no escape! No running off to work or to the pub! For most of us, no West Wing of the house to run off to! Issues will need to be discussed. We will need to learn to listen, feed-back what we have heard and try to resolve it.
But for many of us, we won’t be facing such big issues to root out, but really things that go with both working from home at the same time. Lucy and I have been living and working from home for some years now, but even we have had to make some adjustments because of the lockdown. One of the big questions for us is what we call the ‘landscape’ issue! This means one or other of us (often me) imposing our agenda on the space and energy of our day together. This can start at breakfast by a ‘what we really have got to achieve today is…..’. In a normal week Lucy will be out busy half the time and I will be out busy often as well. This enables the other of us to get on with our own priorities at home. During lockdown we have found that we need to discuss how the day gets used – there is no exclusively private time or exclusively private space! So, it’s all about negotiation and what I have found is that it is best not to assume the outcome of that negotiation before you have started! Making that assumption tends to suggest that what you are doing is more important than what the other is engaged in…which may not necessarily be the case!
At the end of the day I think that Jesus’ perceptive injunction to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ at the very least extends to our spouses, and this lockdown is a good time to work out what that means in practice and provides the opportunity to change habits so that we all emerge from this strange situation stronger and wiser together.