Keeping your marriage vows under coronavirus quarantine

Photo by Branimir Balogović on Unsplash

“Man,” said my friend, “there’s going to be a lot of divorces after all this.” Being single, he did not speak from experience. In fact, he is a bit stir-crazy, an extrovert currently working from home and living alone without even a pet. But we married folks have heard  and perhaps have made plenty of jokes, kidding-not-kidding, about the “corona divorce.” Two people living one married life is never a seamless arrangement. And the enforced togetherness mandated by our collective Covid-19 pandemic precautions, coupled with the stripping away of outside jobs and interests and distractions, has tested the stitches of the vows that sew our marriages together. 

How? Here’s a quick wedding-vow-refresher course for those who have never made them or who prefer to stick with plausible deniability.

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For better, for worse: A marriage that lasts beyond the honeymoon usually has a greater amount of for-better time than for-worse, but it is the for-worse times that often enlighten us, temper us and bring us closer. With time, we learn each other’s strengths and each other’s triggers. Being sensitive to the lessons learned in the for-worse times can smooth the way to for-better times. My internal warning buzzer sounds, for example, when my husband asks, “Are you O.K.?” This signals that he is not O.K., and I just wait until whatever is bothering him surfaces. And he knows that I ask even more questions than usual when I am agitated, and he does not actually have to answer all of them. These insights were not gained overnight.

The enforced togetherness mandated by our collective Covid-19 pandemic precautions has tested the stitches of the vows that sew our marriages together. 

[Explore all of America’s in-depth coverage of the coronavirus pandemic]

For richer, for poorer: Those of us with government jobs or retirement pensions have never been exactly rich, but we do have the present blessing of steady income. For those who have been laid off or whose regular work has evaporated, however, these are the scary, for-poorer times. Money problems contribute mightily to marital problems, and the virus has put money problems on steroids for many families. For-richer does not always coincide with for-better, but I know from our leaner times that having enough money to pay your bills can make everything seem better. For-poorer has always been a knotty aspect of marriage vows, even without the backdrop of a recession or a pandemic. The challenge of balancing the budget is magnified in stressful times, and here we are.

In sickness and in health: This might be the most pertinent and terrifying of all wedding vows in the time of Covid-19. From all accounts, this particular infectious disease is a monster, and my husband and I are cranky if one of us gets a head cold or throws out a back. 

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These small health concerns are of no consequence now: A trip to the doctor for any ailment other than a life-threatening one is not happening. In normal times, caring for our own and each other’s health is a big chunk of the in-health vow. In those normal times, of course, a serious illness can link to the for-poorer times, as family medical expenses can lead to financial hardship and even bankruptcy. In-sickness is not a vow for the hesitant. This virus can result in death, which figures in a later vow. 

On the other side of the pandemic, we may see “corona babies” and “corona divorces.” May we also see the best in each other as we live our vows in the time of quarantine.

To love and to cherish: Love is the meat on the bones of our marriage vows. Love is what prompted us to believe that this impossible, maddening, exhilarating sacrament of intimacy could work. Love inspires all those songs: all you need, makes the world go ’round, a many-splendored thing, a battlefield, made for you and me, etc. But romantic love is only the beginning (another song). 

Cherishing each other involves the more selfless bits of love, like kindness, respect, forgiveness, patience, gratitude and the whole bowlful of fruits of the Spirit. Cherishing means that you are down with putting another person’s happiness and well-being above your own, but not in a creepy, exploited way. It is hard to explain, but marriage requires that you be emphatically yourself and that you be emphatically one-half of a partnership at the same time. It is sometimes a complicated dance and sometimes as easy as walking. And as tender as loving and cherishing sound, they must be tough as jerky to endure.

Till death do us part: When we older married couples face the statistics, we expect that one of us will outlive the other. I have always thought it would be ideal to go out together—say, in a tsunami or a plane crash—as well as more practical for the kids. Strangely, this virus may be an equalizer for us married folks as we isolate together. The virus is also sobering: The fact that Covid-19 kills older people at a higher rate is spiking demand for online wills and advanced health directives. Death is indeed the final parting for spouses, but in normal times we do not like to talk about it. We instead pray for togetherness in life and in death. 

Although maybe just a little less togetherness right now.

The blessed vows that we make before God on a happy day, surrounded by family and friends, wearing our best clothes and serving our best food, toasting and dancing, our eyes full of promises and stars, join us to each other now during this unprecedented, at least in our lifetimes, medical catastrophe. On the other side of the pandemic, we may see “corona babies” and “corona divorces” and “corona miracles.” May we also see the best in each other as we live our vows in the time of quarantine, imperfectly, improbably, insatiably, irritably and in love.

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