By Kathy DeMott
The joy and excitement of a wedding, honeymoon, and a bright future together launches new marriages. The comfort of a seasoned marriage supports couples as they face ongoing responsibilities of children, careers, health concerns and aging parents. The marriage relationship is ever changing, depending on the stages of life.
Enter Covid-19, an unexpected pandemic which has driven many couples back together, in the comfort of their homes, working, teaching children, and spending more time together than ever before. “Finally, the time we’ve missed being together,” or possibly, “Finally she ran to the store and I have a minute to myself.”
For some couples, Covid-19 has strengthened their marriage and family dynamics. Michael, married for almost 30 years, and who has struggled with health problems, said Covid forced him home as his company was non-essential. He used the time to get outdoors, exercise and spent more time with his family. “Covid-19 has been the best thing for me; I realized what I have, my wife and I are closer than ever, and I’m taking better care of myself.” According to the American Family Survey, 55% of couples have reported greater satisfaction in their marriage during Covid-19.
For others, the stress of being home has increased tensions and underlying issues. According to data collected from Legal Templates, a company that provides legal documents, there has been a 34% increase in the sales of their divorce agreement compared to the same period in 2019. This leads counselors and attorneys to speculate that divorce is on the rise. Couples married less than 5 months have the highest rate of divorce since Covid-19 began. That’s attributed to the lack of support systems and commitment.
Many couples stay so busy with careers, sports, school and community service that the underlying marital issues are put to the side. With Covid-19, and the shutdown of many activities, the tensions have risen and relationship problems have come forward.
There is help.
Jessica Parr, a therapist at Bronson Vicksburg Family Medicine with a master’s degree in social work, confirms there has been an increase in the need for therapy in the past year. People are feeling more stress and often need a neutral person who is non-judgmental. Bronson offers its patients a therapist to speak with to help manage their stress. Although their social workers don’t offer marriage counseling specifically, often if an individual meets with them they can help with coping strategies which can decrease tension. If needed, they can refer to marriage therapists.
Likewise in Schoolcraft, Wellspring therapist Danielle Buchheit, a licensed professional counselor, has also seen an increase in patients experiencing anxiety and depression due to Covid-19. Wellspring practices an integrated model of primary care which includes medical and behavioral services in one location. Dr. Curtis Buchheit oversees the medical care while Danielle and two other therapists see patients for additional mental, emotional and spiritual care as needed.
Connections for Psychological Wellness is located in Vicksburg and currently has six therapists available for individuals seeking help. Owner Meredith Taft, a licensed professional counselor, encourages families to get help when they first experience tension or disagreements so they can learn communication skills and boundaries to strengthen their relationships. Often, couples wait until the marriage is in crisis to seek help.
Kalamazoo Marriage Resource offers proactive tools to help support couples before and during marriage. Directors Chad and Kristen Cottingham share a passion “to help build life’s most important relationship.” KMR also hosts community date nights to foster fun, romance and “edutainment.” It hosts marriage classes and retreats which allow couples time to learn and connect on deeper levels. For information on their events, weekly encouragement and tools, visit http://www.kalamazoomarriageresource.com or follow on social media.
KMR offers SYMBIS, Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, a pre-marital assessment which can identify a couple’s strengths and potential weaknesses. The couple then meets with a facilitator to process the results to gain new insights and practical tips for their relationship.
Tips from area counselors include focusing on your partner’s positive qualities during Covid-19, engaging in healthy communication by listening, asking open-ended questions, setting time and space boundaries if working from home, making time for each other, reading books on marriage or watching videos on YouTube. Authors such as John Gotham and Gary Chapman provide relationship guidance.
Kalamazoo County has many counseling resources available. Most accept insurance or offer a sliding fee or payment plans. South County Community Services is available to help with applying for Medicaid and other financial options. For free and low-cost agencies, explore Catholic Charities of Kalamazoo, Meaningful Connections Counseling, or Psychologytoday.com for local therapists.
By Kathy DeMott