Relationships under pressure
The pandemic has taken its toll on marriages. We ask Pastors Denis and Lorna for their views on this and their advice for young couples based on their experience of more than 35 years of marriage
Q: Last year a major UK legal firm reported a 122% rise in the number of divorce applications between July and October, compared to the same period in 2019. What would you say are the main contributing factors?
PD: From a broad-brush perspective, we’re being challenged on all sides: the external economy, the internal economy; pressures of working and living at home; pressures of having kids and home-schooling; job insecurity. This lifestyle that we’re living isn’t balanced.
PL: In terms of the massive increase in divorce rates - that’s pretty alarming. I think that some of that would be down to the fact that, in normal times couples could just ignore some conversations. A guy could go down to the pub and avoid certain conversations, or they’re like two ships passing in the night. Now with lockdown people have to face themselves, and I think that’s probably brought a lot of things to a head for couples.
I think it’s important to consider what foundations your marriage is built on. If it’s built on very flimsy foundations around how you got together and your values around marriage and family relationship, then that would have a major impact because people realise that there’s not much holding it together. So, there’s no real reason to go on, which is a shame, especially if there are children involved because the impact is more devastating.
For people who aren’t able to communicate domestic abuse has gone up exponentially as well among both men and women, because if they can’t deal their emotions the only way they can make themselves heard is through violence.
Unfortunately, there are some Christian marriages that are impacted as well. Part of our call to Christ is to die to ourselves and to our flesh. In marriage, the call is the same. If people insist on having their own way, then it goes against marriage. As Christians the Word of God is our foundation, so there’s the sense that if we’re tempted to stray, we can adhere to the Word of God. Looking at the Agape love where God looks through our faults, forgives them, we have to apply that love in our marriages as well.
Q: What advice would you give to people starting out in their marriage in this time of Covid?
PL: It’s a challenge for young couples because when you’re going into marriage you don’t know what to expect. Most of us have bought into this fantasy and fairy tale about the knight in shining armour who sweeps you off and rides off with you into the sunset. While it may start like that, the reality is that you’ve got to live real life and face real situations. If people buy into the myth of this kind of happily-ever-after and not think that there’s work to do, they’ll have problems.
The truth is that most of the work has to be done for yourself. We often go into marriage saying, ‘Okay he’s not perfect, but I can change him or her’, but the reality is we can’t change each other. We have to be prepared to change ourselves and to crucify our flesh.
So, I would encourage young couples just starting out to focus not on changing your partner, but on you adapting and changing yourself to accommodate and make that marriage work. if you don’t go in with that in mind then you’re going to feel like it’s not going to work.
Looking back on our own early marriage I thought ‘I could change this guy,’ and he probably came in with the same expectations, and we struggled immensely in the beginning. But fortunately, our foundations were in Christ and in the church, and we kept referring back to what God requires of us.
PD: I think it’s a bit more than knowing what God’s Word says. It’s also about having a strong identity in yourself as well as a strong identity in Christ. What I mean is a strong identity in the new self that God has called you to be. It’s knowing what the Christian faith teaches and being resolute about living it. Then, you’ve got to navigate how you’re going to deal with the pain of ‘S/He’s not listening to me,’ or ‘I can’t have my own way’, dealing with it in the best way that you can and acknowledging that you’re only human.
It’s also about understanding the limitations within the relationship. If you put all your hope in another person to make you happy, then you’re probably going to be quite miserable because no-one can make you totally happy. You have to find that within yourself and find that within God. No matter how strong you are as a couple and how deeply and madly in love you are with each other, at the end of the day you’re two very different people from two very different backgrounds and two very different homes. Living in Lockdown together for as long as we are will only amplify how different we are in personality and preferences. So, marriage is about lots of adjustment and a whole lot of compromise.
Q: Are there any positives about this situation?
PD: Yes! Obviously spending more time together allows you to get to know each other better. It helps you to see your own flaws as well as the other person’s. You’ve got more time to talk these things through.
People are asking, ‘Is there a global reset going on?’. Well, in some ways we’re all having a reset – a personal reset, a marital reset, a relationship reset. This is forcing us to look under the surface of where we’re at financially and emotionally. There are some positives. People should take this time to reset themselves, their relationship, their family. Reset their priorities and their expectations for the future. If we’re to use this time positively, I think that’s how we are to use it.
For some useful resources on relationships, marriage, singleness and dating and love head over to our Love and Relationships resources page