Dear Emuna,

You mentioned in one of your articles the challenges of dealing with the coronavirus isolation when a husband and wife have two different coping strategies. I would like you to elaborate on this please because it’s causing extra stress in our home. My husband is much more easy-going than me (I would say a little too easy-going!). He’s following the government guidelines, but he has no problem with take-out food, with talking over the fence to the neighbor, and, most irritatingly of all, telling me to loosen up.

Additionally, since he is always around (a preview of retirement?), he is very desirous of my attention – when it’s convenient for him with zero regards for my schedule. I appreciate that he wants to be with me, but I feel resentful that he appears to lack respect for my needs. All of these issues are creating tension in our home at a time when all I want is connection and a united front. Can you help me please?

Sheltering in Place

Dear Sheltering in Place,

We are all facing variations on the theme of your challenges. It’s a time of opportunity for closeness yet also a time when our differences can be exacerbated, and tensions heightened if we’re not careful.

You get credit for noticing the issue and trying to address it. Let’s begin with the general picture. Other than the mandatory government-imposed guidelines, there is no right or wrong way to approach this. We need to begin by removing all judgment from our perception of our partner’s activities and behaviors. I may cope by exercising; he may cope by listening to music. I may like jigsaw puzzles; he may prefer long solitary walks. Everyone should do what works for them.

In addition, it would be nice to find a shared activity but it’s certainly not obligatory. I recommend that the two of you find something in the spiritual realm to work on and study together. It will deepen your relationship and certainly help you both with your coping tools and skills.

In terms of issues like whether you feel comfortable getting take-out or not, there is also no right or wrong (at least so far) but since it may be an issue that impacts you both (even if one of you is buying and one is cooking, the one cooking may be more fearful due to the introduction of the take-out), I would fall back on an important marriage lesson my teacher taught us. This applies during all times, not just today’s unique environment. We should give in to the one for whom it is the most important. If your fear overwhelms your husband’s desire for take-out, he should give in to you. If his desire for take-out or his embrace of a certain attitude and philosophy, perhaps a desire to help the small businesspeople who own restaurants is greater than your potentially slight concern, then you should give in. When there is no clear right or wrong, it’s best to give precedence to the spouse who cares most deeply about the issue.

As with all situations, awareness is key. You’re not really frustrated by your husband’s behavior. You’re frustrated because you’re cooped up and frightened and the future is unknown. And vice versa. It’s lovely that he wants to spend time with you and I’m sure you can gently suggest that you schedule that time according to your plans as opposed to random, arbitrary times. But that’s just a small detail. The real issue, as I said, is that this is a particularly challenging time. And we all have choices to make. We can rise to the occasion and take advantage of the moment to learn and grow and connect with those we love. Or we can allow the tensions to overtake our reason. Or miss the gift of time that has been granted us.

Enjoy having a spouse who wants to spend time with you and focus on what unites you instead of what divides. Try to understand his perspective and ask him to understand yours. What better time to sit still with a glass of wine and talk it out? And most importantly, this is your chance to make the most of your relationship with each other and with your Creator. Don’t waste it on petty squabbling. Find a book you like and study it together. You will find that it leads to greater closeness, understanding and connection to God. Now that’s a shared activity I could get behind.